The People of Gibraltar

1865 - Richard Airey - The Charge of the Light Brigade

Richard Abrines and Emile Bonet Jnr - Francis Imossi and Solomon Levy
Richard Parody and Michael A Pitman - John R. Recaño and Joseph Shakery
Musgrave Watson and Richard Parral - John and John Anthony Bonnell
Lieutenants Frazer and Inglis.

Richard Airey is perhaps best known as the man responsible for drafting and issuing the order for the Charge of the Light Brigade. Less well known was another 'charge' - this time a personal one for incompetence in matters of provisions and transport for the troops. He was eventually cleared of these but never quite recovered. Instead he was made Governor of Gibraltar, a post he held from Sept 1865 to July 1870


Sir Richard Airey ( The National Archives ) 

He and his wife had probably not yet had a chance to explore the charms of his new home in the Convent when he was faced with two massive problems - the aftermath of a cholera epidemic and the very newly formed Sanitary Commission - oddly yet appropriately named forerunner of Gibraltar's City Council. It was this later that would probably gave Governor Airey more trouble than anything else he had to face during his term of office.

Almost immediately after arrival  he was more or less obliged by circumstances to promulgate the 'Sanitary Order for Gibraltar' confirming the appointment of a Sanitary Commission and defining its duties - not all of them as wide-ranging as some of the locals involved would have liked. The first Commissioners were Richard Abrines, Emile Bonet Jnr, Francis Imossi, Solomon Levy, Richard Parody, Michael A Pitman, John R. Recaño, Joseph Shakery, and Musgrave Watson.

The cholera outbreak had meant that the Relief Committee in Gibraltar had already been in action a few months previously. Land communication with Spain had been closed for 13 weeks during which time the disease had done its best to support the Government's policy of restricting population growth on the Rock by killing a large number of people. Airey's own report to London - he calls it Asiatic cholera - puts the number of deaths at around 420. A generous 14 000 dollars were collected at a public meeting and soup kitchens were set up to help out. Nearly 200 families were in particular need of help.

The main work carried out by  the Sanitary Commissioners during Airey's term was the extension of the drainage and water supply of Gibraltar, a costly affair in which one would imagine more than one local merchant proudly took credit while at the same time lining his very pockets. Lady Airey laid the first stone of the new public works. When it was completed in 1868,  its inauguration turned out to be a grand if noisy affair with a Royal gun salute being fired together with a feu de joie by troops lining the roads during the ceremony. Commercial Square and at the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned were both grandly illuminated for the duration. 

Airey's wife was obviously no shrinking violet. About a year earlier it was she rather than her husband who presented the 86th County Down Regiment with their new colours. It is perhaps symptomatic of the times that there are any number of photographs and engravings commemorating this trivial event but not one of the inauguration of the new drainage and water supply for the Rock.




Lady Airey presents new colours to the 86th County Down Regiment ( 1867 )

In August 1866 a correspondent saw fit to write a short article for the United Services Gazette which he usefully entitled Gibraltar As It Is. The unusual lack of restrain in his various criticisms makes this writer believe that this was indeed what Gibraltar Was Like.
Bowling along, we reached the Alamida, ( sic) the lounge of the garrison, with its trim walks, easy nooks, and Turkish kiosks, the rotten-row, the flirtation corner, of " Gib." Here congregate the ton and the demimonde, officers in mufti, ladies in mantillas, Spanish grandees in strange costume, Moors in the while and flowing burnous, a strange, mixed throng, jabbering in the tongues of every nation of Europe.
But we have already trespassed too much on your limited space . . . so let us at once change the theme and the style. My object ashore in Gibraltar was something more than mere pleasuring. Having heard of the dreadful ravages made by the cholera among the military during last summer, we made it our business to visit and ascertain by observation and inquiry the sanitary conditions under which the epidemic proved so fatal. 
Visiting every barracks, from Europa Flats to the Casemates' on the north front, and submitting them to a narrow scrutiny . . .we arrived at the obvious conclusion that there must exist predisposing causes to account for their periodical recurrence . . . . The predisposing causes told briefly are, first, as regards the city of Gibraltar, overcrowding, bad drainage, and a general neglect of sanative measures. Secondly, bad water - bad in quality and scarce in quantity. 


View of the Casemates below the Moorish Castle and the old town
In the third place, as regards the barracks specially, I have no hesitation in saying that they are overcrowded, badly ventilated,  (the ceilings are all low, a great defect in a military building), and many of them badly kept. In fact, judging from the little that came under our notice, we concluded that lime whiting was one of the lost arts in Gibraltar. 
Another predisposing cause . . . the great consumption of alcoholic drinks among the troops. . . . 
It was during Airey's term of office that the British Government set off on what has often been described as 'one of the most expensive affairs of honour in history.'  It took the British 40000 soldiers, more than 40000 animals and a cool nine million pounds to defeat the Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia, a man who 'could muster only a few thousand troops and had long ago ceased to be Ethiopia's leader in anything but title.' 

The affair became known in history as the British Expedition to Abyssinia - but it is those 40000 animals that interest us here. If there was money to be made one can be sure that the merchants of Gibraltar would be up to it. In September 1867 somebody bought from Spanish suppliers 1300 mules for the use of the expedition forces. All did not go according to plan. 740 of these were rejected as unacceptable. Nevertheless, they must have passed on the cost. The average price paid by the army for the mules was nearly  £24 - an exorbitant amount of money to pay for any animal.  

In September 1868 Don Gaspar Segura, the mayor of Algeciras died in the Civil Hospital after he was wounded while trying to escape to Gibraltar on the S.S Rodolfo. He would be one of the first victims of La Gloriosa - a revolution headed by General Juan Prim that led to the removal of Queen Isabella II  

Shortly after the Spanish Consul at Gibraltar announced that several other individuals compromised by the insurrection in Cadiz had taken refuge in Gibraltar. Airey, presumably with the consent of his London bosses agreed to allow them to stay in Gibraltar until they could find a steamer to get them out safely. Gibraltar would soon become a hotbed of spies and conspirators of one faction or the other.


General Juan Prim

Long before this, in 1841, a Spaniard, Agustin Parral had founded a printing press with intention of creating a Spanish language newspaper. Successive Governors refused him permission to do so. They may have been worried about the publication of political articles that might have caused trouble with Spain but a far more likely explanation lies elsewhere.  They were probably loath to allow a rival to the Garrison run newspaper - the Gibraltar Chronicle ( see LINK ) - to offer the locals a different perspective to that of the establishment.

In 1868, however, Airey gave in and El Calpense was born. It was read both by the locals and by the people of the Campo area and unlike the Chronicle its contents included reviews of the Spanish as well as the British press and soon established itself as a popular daily newspaper. By 1878 it had a circulation of about 500 copies - at least 100 more than the Chronicle. The newspaper closed down in 1968, perhaps as a consequence of the closing of the frontier with Spain in 1968.



In August 18th 1868 an earthquake shook Gibraltar It was also felt in the Spanish lines and in San Roque. The Gibraltar Directory - perhaps witting tongue in cheek - stated that clerks of the Telegraph Station at Windmill Hill were 'throw from their chairs.'

In 1869 an obscure British naval officer called Admiral Grey created a furore when he suggested that the British swop Gibraltar for Ceuta. Some wag suggested that 'it was very clear what the old sea-dog' wanted. 'The chance of taking the old fortress again.' 

Another letter to the editor of the Times by a certain Major-General Walpole who had been stationed in Gibraltar previously, argued that the main difference between Gibraltar and Ceuta was that the first could defend itself 'without the assistance of a fleet, with a moderate garrison against any force that could be brought against it by sea or by land' whereas Ceuta couldn't.

In Feb 1870 there was a serious landslide between Devil's Tower and Catalan Bay.( see LINK )  Huge boulders covering the road made access to the village almost impossible.


Catalan Bay ( 1868 - George W. Wilson )


In May 1870 several members of the local Bonell family - some correspondents put this as John Bonell, his nephew John Anthony and two servants - were captured by brigands near their farm at El Zabal Alto in the local Campo de Gibraltar. The Brigands soon released Bonell senior somewhere in Cadiz on condition that he was to return within a short period of time with a ransom of 27 000 dollars or -  as they say in kidnapping stories - he would never see his nephew alive again.



John and John Anthony Bonnell

John returned to Gibraltar  in order to do what he could to raise the money. Although he was a wealthy man he knew it would be impossible for him personally to raise such a large amount in such a short period of time - 27000 dollars translates into £6000 - a veritable fortune. Luckily he was able to persuade an admirably generous Airey to give him a loan from the Colonial Chest. according to Abel Chapman in his book on hunting  - Wild Spain:
. . . the then Governor of Gibraltar was freely "hauled over the coals" in the House of Commons at the time.

The Loan ( From an article by local historian Paco Galliano )

He returned to Cadiz and with the help of a Mr. Reade, the British Consul in Cadiz, paid off the kidnappers and John Anthony was released unharmed. The following day the Guardia Civil managed to track down the gang at the Venta de Guadiaro, near Seville. During the shoot-out, three of the gang and one Guardia were killed.  Later still a public subscription in Gibraltar raised 500 dollars which was donated to the family of the dead Guardia Civil.

The case became somthing of a cause celebre, perhaps because the Bonnells and their servants were thought of by the British newspapers as Englishmen - which would probably have pleased John Bonnell who was not just wealthy but also quite an influential Gibraltarian. However, with their usual disdain for any attempt at accuracy in the spelling of foreign surnames, the British Press persisted in naming  the unfortunate victims incorrectly as either Bonell, Bonnel, Borel or Borrell.



Gibraltar from El Zabal  ( Unknown )

A fortnight later lieutenants Frazer and Inglis were attacked while on a beach near Campamento. They managed to escape on one of their horses and later their attackers were caught by the Guardia Civil. Soon after the bandits that had kidnapped the Bonells were also captured and a portion of the Ransom money was recovered.


Gibraltar from Campamento ( 1850s - Unknown )

That same year saw the opening of the submarine telegraph cable from Portugal and England to Gibraltar as well as the opening of the Suez Canal. Both were important event in the history of Gibraltar as they immediately increased the port's commercial possibilities. According to local historian Dorothy Ellicott,        
'Gibraltar's importance as a coaling depot increased with the opening of the Suez Canal . . with the Rock as the first of a chain of coaling stations stretching all the way to India, Australia and the Far East. Fortunes were made in the coaling trade.'
Mid term Airey sent his boss - the Earl of Granville - the usual Governor's 'state of the Nation' style report for 1868 - which is probably worth quoting in full.
RevenueThe revenue for the year from all sources amounted to 36,873 L. 9s. 9d., which compared with that of 1867 shows an increase of 226 L. 7s. Id.  
ExpenditureThe expenditure of 1868 amounted to 36,788 L. 6s. 9d., being 100 L. 10s. 3d. less than the estimated expenditure, and exhibiting an increase over that of the previous year of 3,471 L. 12s. 9d. This increase is to be accounted for principally by the payment to the Sanitary Commissioners of the sum of 4,500 L., the stipulated contribution from the Colonial revenue in aid of the drainage works, &c., now in progress, and by the further payment of 1,497 L. 3s. 4d., for the purchase by the Crown of a house and ground required lor the enlargement of the principle thoroughfare in the city. 
Notwithstanding these extraordinary disbursements there remained an available surplus revenue on the 1st January, 1869, in the Colonial chest, 7,692 L. 8s. 3d., and invested in exchequer bills, 7,200 L., making a total surplus revenue, available for 1869, amounting to 14,892 L. 8s. 3d.
Legislation. During the past year, a further sanitary order in Council was passed, and six Ordinances were enacted and allowed by Her Majesty in Council, the most important of which are, 
" An Ordinance for taking a Census from time to time;" "An Ordinance for Compulsory Vaccination;" and "An Ordinance for the Registration of Deaths;" 
The only alteration that has been made under the head of taxes, duties, fees, &c., is the authorization of grocer's wine licences, by an order in Council of the 17th May, 1867, which came into operation on the 1st January, 1868. 
Sanitary Works. During the year 1868, the extension of sanitary works in connection with the drainage and water supply of Gibraltar, have been undertaken by the Sanitary Commissioners under the sanitary orders in Council of 1865 and 1868. The estimated cost of the works in progress is 35,000 L., towards which the Imperial Parliament has granted 10,000 L., and a further sum of 4,500 L. has been contributed from the Colonial revenue. 
The works were inaugurated on the 20th February, 1868. They have progressed satisfactorily, and up to the end of the year about three-fifths of the whole were completed. 
Population. A census of the population of Gibraltar was taken by the Registrar of Births in the month of November, 1868, and the table of population is filled up on this occasion from the last census returns. The last preceding census was taken in 1860, when the enumeration of the inhabitants, exclusive of the military population, showed an aggregate of 17,647 persons, of whom 2,185 were aliens on temporary permits.

The census of 1868 gives 8,540 males, and 9,523 females, or the total of 18,063 persons, of whom 2,281 were aliens on temporary permits; exhibiting an increase on the 8 years of 320 persons in the fixed civil population, and of 96 persons in the alien floating population. Allowance, however, must be made for the number of deaths from Asiatic cholera in 1865, supposed to be about 420, and for the number of inhabitants of Gibraltar, who have emigrated, principally to South America and Algeria since 1860. 
Their number is estimated at 590. The military population in 1868 amounted to 5,280 males, and 1,088 females, or a total of 6,368 persons, making the total gross population of the city and territory of Gibraltar, 24,431 souls. 
 It is satisfactory to observe, that notwithstanding the great demand for alien labourers required in connection with the extensive sanitary works now in progress, that there has been no great augmentation (only 96 persons) in the number of the alien floating population since 1860 ; a satisfactory proof of the efficacy of the existing permit system in controlling the influx of aliens into this already over-crowded fortress. 
Births and Deaths. The registrar's returns show that the number of births among the civil population registered in 1868, was 523, while the deaths were 447, including 46 deaths among aliens and resident strangers, showing a decrease of 48 births and 59 deaths as compared with the year 1867. 
Education. The number of public schools at the close of 1868 was the same as in the previous year, namely seven. 
1 Public School. 1 Church of England School. 3 Roman Catholic Schools. 1 Wesleyan School ; and 1 Infant and Industrial School. 
In the school returns some slight fluctuations are apparent. The number of scholars in attendance was 1,703, being an increase of 165 over the preceding year. The schools are supported by voluntary contributions, the grant from the Colonial Revenue in aid of the expenses of these establishments, being in proportion of one-third of the collections obtained by subscriptions during the year.
ShippingThe shipping returns of 1868 exhibit a considerable increase of tonnage both inwards and outwards. The tonnage inwards during 1868, was 1,519,046; in 1867 it was 1,317,284, The British vessels numbered in 1868, 1,181,705 tons ; in 1867, 991,351 tons, showing an increase of 190,354 tons. 
Sanitary State of the Garrison. The sanitary state of the garrison, and of the civil population, throughout the year, has been remarkably good, and it is pleasing to me to be able to notice the apparent prosperity and satisfactory prospects of the Colony. 
I have, &c., The Earl Granville, K.G., (Signed) RICHARD AIREY, &c. &c. &c. Lieut.-Gen. and Governor.


Lord Airey's Battery found just north of O'Hara's Battery was completed in 1891 and named after the Governor. Nearby is Lord Airey's Shelter, the site for a classified, World War II military operation known as Operation Tracer