Luis Bravo de Acuña and Sir Charles Wager - Thomas Revell and Lieutenant Browne
Lieutenant Macnamarra and Admiral Jervis - Giovanni Maria Boschetti and James Solas Dodd
A quick look through the popular literature will produce at least two unsubstantiated claims - that Ragged Staff is traditionally the place where the Governors of Gibraltar first land on the Rock and that it is the oldest wharf in town. The first may indeed have an element of truth. At any rate the steps leading up to the wharf from the sea is still called Governors' Landing. The second however is misleading. Rather than being the oldest it was actually newer than both the Old and the New Moles although the reason for the confusion is easy to understand.
A map by the early 17th century Spanish engineer Luis Bravo de Acuña shows that the Moorish line wall - together with the old Moorish gate known as la Puerta de Algeciras, (see LINK) had collapsed and had been replaced by a wooden palisade 1. Appropriately this has given rise to the suggestion that the name Ragged Staff may have derived from what the newly arrived British thought of as a shoddy piece of Spanish workmanship.
Wooden palisade and ruins of the old Puerta de Algeciras
Despite its date, it is hard to tell whether this was the original Puerta de Algeciras - Puerta de Mar - or the 1736 Ragged Staff ( 1747 - Unknown - detail )
The wharf served its purpose until the 13th Siege of Gibraltar after which Sir Charles Wager, the first Lord of the Admiralty and a man who had actually taken part in the taking of Gibraltar in 1704 and the 13th Siege of Gibraltar 2 - ordered that a proper victualling yard be built there. This in turn gave rise to yet another if unconvincing theory that the wharf and its gate were called after Sir Charles - possibly on the grounds that it had once been known as Wragged Staff. 3
Admiral Wager doing his thing during the 13th siege ( 1727 - Nicholas de Fer - detail )
In 1736 an L-shaped wharf was built roughly in the same place as the original landing place making it newer than both the Old and the New Moles. 4
A very rudimentary Ragged Staff wharf with a complex entry system is shown on the centre of the picture ( 1779 - William Test - detail from a 1740 sketch by William Skinner ) (See LINK)
British Treasury records also suggest that a year later an agreement was reached between the Treasury and the Victualling agent, Thomas Revell, to erect a series of workhouses and other buildings close to Ragged Staff and to improve its gate and bridge. 5 The various modifications to the wharf were meant to make it easier to land provisions and to supply water to ships in the bay. It was 350 feet in length with a break towards the south to offer protection from the wind. 4
Although there is some evidence that the site of the original British gates concurred with those of the present day ones, 1 exit and entry from the wharf was no easy matter. For a start there was a flight of thirty nine stone steps at the end of which there was a draw-bridge which was thrown over in the morning and raised at night.
At the foot of these stairs on the right hand side when going down, there was a channel through the wall which carried water to a stone basin which was used for storing water. 1 This was transferred to ships anchored in the Bay in casks which were loaded on to small boats using stump masts known to the navy as ragged staffs - perhaps a better reason as to why the wharf was given its name. 6
There is, however, yet another theory as regards the origins of its name. The wharf and its gate was close to Charles V wall and a ragged staff formed part of one of the many coat of arms of the Burgundian emperor. 7 The fact that the coat of arms of Charles V shown on the top the nearby South Port Gates do not incorporate any kind of staff, ragged or otherwise make the suggestion unconvincing to say the least.
Perhaps as a consequence of its unusual name, the wharf was often referred to not as Ragged Staff but as as a 'watering place' in many late 18th century foreign maps of the Rock - at least one British plan refers to it as the Mole of Aigade.
Ragged Staff identified as Mole of Aigade ( 1808 - J. Stockdale )
In 1779 at the start of the Great Siege, Ragged Staff was considered important enough to warrant an improvement to its defences. A work of masonry was carried out on the wharf in order to mount two guns on it to deter enemy attempts to land anywhere close. 8
During the 19th century, the wharf and its awkward entry system is mentioned in several anecdotes written by British military men some of which were apparently considered quite humorous in their day. One will suffice to make the point.
During the Great Siege of Gibraltar, Lieutenant Browne of the Brilliant Frigate had wined and dined at the mess of the 12th regiment and rather the worse for wear had forgotten about the lateness of the hour until he had heard the firing of the evening gun. Rushing down to Ragged Staff he found to his dismay that the rope ladder that was required to get to the wharf had been removed.
( 1800 - Unknown )
In a panic he approached the officer in charge of the Ragged Staff guard, an 'honest, worthy but blundering Irishman' by the name of Lieutenant Macnamarra. After some discussion - using the rope-ladder after hours was against regulations - Macnamarra allowed himself to be persuaded and Browne was able to board his waiting boat which made its way toward the Brilliant.
Unfortunately in his haste he had forgotten to find out the password for the night and when accosted he was reduced to saying that he didn't know it but that he was Browne of the Brilliant. 'I don't care who you are,' replied the sentry, 'but if you don't put back I will fire into your boat..'
The next day there was hell to pay and both Browne and Macnammara were placed under arrest. Macnammara, who was fearful of the consequences wrote several petition to the Governor, George Eliott and suffered the agony of waiting for a reply. When it came the Governor had arrived at what he thought was a rather Solomonic solution ; Whatever the Navy decided to do to Browne, he would suffer the same fate. Then" said the Irishman, "I hope they hang the rascal"! 9
In 1781 it is mentioned by James Solas Dodd (see LINK) who refers to it as a small jettee in which the ships' long boats lay to take in their water. 10 In other words, no change. In fact by 1794 British naval commanders tended to try and give Gibraltar a miss as they considered that its watering facilities left much to be desired. 11
In 1797 it became evident to Admiral Jervis, the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet who was convalescing in Rosia House in Gibraltar a year after his successes against a Spanish fleet at the Battle of Cape Saint Vincent, that the water that cascaded down the Rock during the rainy season and which had previously been soaked up by the Red Sands of the Alameda, were now being stopped from doing so by the Grand Parade ground that had recently been built there. It meant that large quantities of loose sand were accumulating alongside Ragged Staff wharf making it only possible for ships to enter it at high tide.
Admiral John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent ( William Beechey )
A year later, he decided it was time to do something about this and found time to recommend various improvements to the status of Gibraltar as a base for the Royal Navy. On his recommendations, four huge water tanks and a new victualling yard were built by a local contractor, Giovanni Maria Boschetti (see LINK) near Rosia Bay. (See LINK) The idea was to make it easier to move goods and ordinance to and from a proper wharf and to have a permanent reserve of water for servicing the ships. 11
In 1820 an article written by a visitor to the Rock, suggests that access into Gibraltar via Ragged Staff remained just as awkward as it had been almost a century before.
. . I directed the boat's crew . . to pull round to Ragged Staff. The wall at this place is of great height, and near its top is left a small gate, at an elevation of fifty or sixty feet above the quay which projects into the bay beneath. It is attained by a spiral stair-case, erected about twenty feet from the wall and communicated with at the top by means of a draw-bridge. This gate is little used, except for egress of those who are permitted to leave the Garrison at nightfall. 12
In 1830 the wharf became involved in the yellow fever controversy (see LINK) and the argument as to whether the disease was contagious or not when one of the guards contracted the disease. The place was considered to be far enough removed from the rest of the town as to have made him immune to it. 13 Grist to the mill for members of the non-contagion theory.
By 1840, the most remarkable object on the wharf continued to be the guard house which could still only be accessed by a long flight of steps. The lieutenant in charge was responsible for checking every single person who entered and left the Rock by this wharf. According to yet another visitor, anybody given a rough time by the officer could later assuage their feelings at the Tumble Down Tavern which was just to the south of the guard house. 14
In 1863 prisoners held in convict ships (see LINK) at the New Mole were employed to dredge and build a new wharf at Ragged Staff. After six months hard work using stones from the local Viney Cottage quarry, the foundations were finished and the work was ordered to be given over to the military and the civilians. This was not well met as the prisoners had done an excellent job. They were eventually allowed to finish the work they had begun. 15
A donkey in Ragged Staff wharf. It is still hard to tell where the gates were and how exactly goods were transported into and out of the place ( 1870 - Unknown )
In the late 20th and 21st century, the building of the Queensway Quay Marina and other developments have more or less overtaken both the name and the original purpose of the wharf. Nevertheless two impressive openings running through the massive southern line wall are still clearly labelled as Ragged Staff Gates perhaps to remind us of its important role in Gibraltar's long historical connections with the Royal Navy.