The People of Gibraltar
1884 - Manuel Rodríguez - The Murder of María Alecio Eva

Richard Eva and Adolfo Eva - Private Albert Setford and Private Harold Hodgkins
Sergeant Charles Dunkley and Major G .J. Gilbard - A. Patron and Don T. Otun
Henry Pisani and son - Frederick Solly Flood and Señora Quiti 
Doctor Joseph Baglietto and John Azopardi - Carmen Davis and Mr. W. Seed 
Antonio Gonzalez and Ana Gonzalez -  Dr William Turner and John Dodero
Charles Armstrong and A. Dumoulin - Monsignor Narcissus Pallarés and Francisco Contreras
Sapper Nettleton and Joseph Xerri - Amabile Spiterri and José Calvo
Dr. Scandella and Dr Twiss - Mary Lane and Charlie Bosano


A deceptively idyllic picture of the Rock (  1885 - John Miller Adye - Governor of Gibraltar at the time )

On the evening of the 4th of November 1884, 1 a Spaniard called Manuel Rodríguez  did what many of us do at that time of day - he came back home from work.  In his case this was to a cottage in Rosia Steps that he shared with his 34 years old common-law wife Maria Alecio Eva and her two sons by a previous partner - 12 year old Richard and his brother Aldolfo who was deaf and reputed to be somewhat dim-witted. Luckily Adolfo was not at home that day.



The Rosia area - Rosia Steps would probably have been somewhere to the left    
( 1870s - George Washington Wilson )  ( see LINK

Although Rodríguez was a gardener by profession, he was at the time employed as a labourer by the Royal Engineers Department in Gibraltar. María Eva was a local girl who worked as a charwoman. They had lived together for ten years but they were not a happy couple and spent most of their time together arguing and quarrelling - usually about money - or the lack of it. Of late the quarrels had taken a nasty turn. That evening was no exception.

When Manuel asked María  a question she ignored him. When he continued to pester her she told him that she refused to answer 'those who do not give me bread'. Annoyed by her response Rodríguez  completely lost his temper. He grabbed hold of her, threw her on the floor and stabbed her with a knife.

After perhaps a moment's horrified hesitation Richard rushed out of the house calling for help. A passerby, Albert Setford who was a Private of the Medical Staff Corp, ran into the house and found Rodríguez grapling with María on the ground. He was still holding his knife. Stetford shouted for assistance and tried to disarm Rodríguez. The sentry on what was known as the 'Number 1 Post' and which happened to be close to the house, heard Stetford's call and relayed it with his own call for assistance.
 'A file of the Guard!' He shouted.
This was heard by Private Harold Hodgkins and Sergeant Charles Dunkley both of the 1st Surrey Regiment who were on Hospital Guard duty that day.
'Look out' warned Stetford as the two soldiers entered the house, ' He has a knife in his hand.'
Together they overcame Rodríguez and managed to disarm him. But it was much too late. By the time Dr. Twiss of the Medical staff arrived on the scene she was dead.
'Are you going to send me to prison?' asked the Spaniard in English

The Military Hospital in Rosia - Albert Setford almost certainly worked here. The 'Number 1 Post' where Hodgkins and Dunkley were on duty must have been very close by, probably on the other side of the road 
(  Early 20th Century Beanland Malin ) ( see LINK )  

Rodríguez  was arrested and taken to the police station. He was charged the following day. According to a report in the Gibraltar Chronicle ( see LINK ) at that time the Police Magistrate and the Coroner were one and the same person, a certain Major G .J. Gilbard. ( see LINK ) He  also happened to be ADC to the Governor and the author and compiler of the Gibraltar Directory ( see LINK ) which make one wonder how he found the time to fit everything in.

It was an awkward situation that should have required some pretty fancy footwork by the local legal establishment. It didn't. Completely unfazed, the Coroner's Inquest gave a verdict of 'willful murder' against Manuel Rodríguez and he was committed for trial. During the preliminaries, Rodríguez  was represented by a local solicitor, Mr. A Patron. He had probably been employed by the Spanish consul, Sr. Don T. Oturn.

The case of the Queen v Rodríguez  began about a month later with the prisoner pleading 'not guilty'. He was represented by two local barristers, Henry Pisani and his son. Both were well known in the trade but they were not - as yet - Queen's Counsels, as the first round of appointments of 'Silks' would not take place until a year later.

As an aside, this event turned out to be of some discomfort to the British establishment - the Chief Justice of Gibraltar was forced to refuse the QC application of the Police Magistrate - a Gibraltar based English lawyer - because rather embarrassingly, he had never been called to the Bar. His name was Frederick Solly Flood. 2

This was the same man who had been casually appointed as Attorney General over the heads of his much more qualified locally born colleagues while at the same time managing  to make a complete hash of the famous Marie Celeste enquiry ( see LINK )


Contemporary photograph ( Unknown )

During the trial young Richard was allowed to give evidence. His statement was recorded in the Gibraltar Chronicle.
Am near 12 years old and a Catholic.  Have not been to school for the last year and can neither read nor write.  Have lived with the prisoner and my mother most of my life.  Prisoner was fond of me, but sometimes chastised me.  He paid for food and clothes for me.  My mother works as a charwoman and earned 4 ½ reals a day and her food.  Whilst sitting on the bed the prisoner spoke to my mother three times and the same words each time.  

The pipe was broken to pieces, not the same pipe as produced but one like it.  I know prisoner was sitting on the bed half an hour because Sra. Quiti told me.  She is no relative. I know a man called Gonzalez whom  I see here.  I have seen him speaking to my mother two  or three times.   I have not seen him  speaking to my mother for two or three days before November 4. They were not friendly.  

I saw Sra. Quiti  the night my mother died before soldiers left.  She began the conversation and said that he had been sitting there half an hour.  My  mother did not go to town that day.  Prisoner and my mother often quarrelled but I don't  know about what.  Since I was up at the Police Court no one has told me what to say.
Richard's brother Adolfo also gave evidence.
I was not present when my mother died, as I am in service. I know that my  mother and prisoner constantly quarrelled and were always on bad terms. I knew that the prisoner and my mother lived together many years as husband and wife. I have seen prisoner use a knife now produced for tobacco and plants but not for any other purpose. He is a gardener.
There were also a series of technical interventions by, among others, Doctor Joseph Baglietto, the Surgeon in charge of the Civil Hospital. He gave details of his post-mortem examination of the deceased which seemed to indicate that the prisoner had indeed stabbed her.


The Civil Hospital where Dr Baglietto carried out his work

The prosecution then called a character witness, John Azopardi, a friend of the prisoner for 14 years. He confirmed that Rodríguez and María often quarrelled. He had met the prisoner and his son earlier on the day of the incident. He had seemed very excited about something. He had asked him if he would look after his son but Azopardi, had refused. He had also seen María in town that morning.

A neighbour called Carmen Davis also gave evidence. She had lived near them for about 4 months and she confirmed that they were always quarrelling. She had never seen the prisoner's face covered with scratches but she knew that it was jealousy that caused the quarrels. María had a violent temper.

The evidence of the Chief of Police, Mr. W. Seed, was succinct. He told the court that when he had charged and cautioned Rodríguez , the prisoner had replied;
Está bien, lo he hecho. lo pagaré . . . . Otro  hombre tiene la  culpa.
It was now time for the defence to have their say. Henry Pisani's main thrust was that the evidence given by the principle witness for the defence was worthless. Richard was, he claimed 'perfectly ignorant', had no idea of time, and had obviously been coached by the Prosecution. He had also lied. He had denied that his mother had been in town that day whereas Azopardi's evidence confirmed that she had been. In fact, she had probably gone there to meet her partner's rival.

Pisani senior claimed that the attack had probably been instigated by María, and that she had fallen on the knife in the struggle. For the defence he then called their neighbour, Antonio Gonzalez who told the court that María  often came to his house to confide in him about her difficulties. He didn't know whether the deceased had any affection for him, or whether she had any confidence in him. He had none in her.

His wife, Ana Gonzalez also gave evidence. María, she said, was intimate with her husband but merely as a neighbour. Very recently her husband had handed her some letters. These she had given to Mr Patron. She never spoke to the prisoner about them but she did comment on them to the deceased.

Pisani then cross-examined Dr William Turner, the Medical Officer of the Civil Prison and got him to agree - albeit reluctantly - that the scratches and bruises on the prisoner could  have been done by somebody assaulting him. Another witness John Dodero stated that he had know the prisoner for 18 or 20 years that he was a gardener by trade and a sober man of generally good character. Charles Armstrong, a Merchant of Gibraltar who had known Rodríguez  for 3 years, confirmed that he had employed him as a gardener and that his general character was very good.



The Civil Prison in the Moorish Castle where Dr William Turner worked  ( 1880s - The National Archives - Unknown )

 And that was more or less that. During a lengthy summing up the presiding judge came up with the following conclusions - none of which augured too well for Pisani's client. Basically the prisoner's own voluntary admission of his guilt served to put it beyond doubt that the prisoner had killed  the woman.  But was it murder? Or was there sufficient evidence of some sort of provocation? If the jury thought that Richard Eva's evidence was believable then there was no provocation - and the Judge was inclined to believe his evidence despite one or two anomalies.

There was no real  evidence that Gonzalez was the cause of the jealousy between them and the letters mentioned by both him and his wife were worthless because it could not be proved that they were written by María.

It was a lost cause. The jury  retired and it took them thirty  minutes to return to court. The foreman,  Mr  A. Dumoulin, read out their 'Guilty' verdict with a recommendation to mercy on the grounds that there might have been provocation.

What followed was that nightmare of the old British legal tradition - the Judge put on his black cap and sentenced Manuel Rodríguez to be hanged by the neck until dead and his body buried in the precincts of the prison. He offered no hope whatsoever that the jury's recommendation for mercy would prosper.


A 19th century sketch of the Court House - All Gibraltarians were equal in Gibraltar - but some were more equal than others  ( Unknow )

So what to make of this sad tale when looked at through the more liberal views of the of 21st century. Perhaps the one canard that ought to be shot out of the sky is the opening sentence in an article in the Gibraltar Chronicle about the trial of Manuel Rodríguez. It went like this;
One of those terrible crimes which happily are so rare in Gibraltar was committed yesterday evening . . .
To put this in perspective, two months after the trial Monsignor Narcissus Pallarés was brutally assassinated in the offices of the archives of the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. The culprit was a butcher who was later found to be insane. 3

A couple of years later, another Spaniard, Francisco Contreras was hanged at the Civil Prison after mortally wounding Sapper Nettleton. 4 In September 1886, Juan Murien was killed by a man named Achinelli. In this case the jury's verdict was manslaughter and Achinelli, was sentenced to life imprisonment. 5

In 1889 a Maltese, Joseph Xerri was executed for murdering his compatriot Amabile Spiterri on the previous Xmas Eve, and seven years later José Calvo, a young Spaniard, was executed for the murder of two Maltese individuals 6  - and so on and so forth. Not exactly Chicago but not a city of Angels either.

The thing that strikes the casual reader of this list is that almost everybody involved was neither Gibraltarian nor British. The question is - were these people just passing through and causing trouble or were they recent immigrants like a large number of others who were lazily referred to by the British authorities as citizens of their country of origin instead of as legitimate residents?

Throughout the 1870s Dr. Scandella - Catholic Bishop of Gibraltar - had gone out of his way to constantly refer to legitimate Maltese residents as 'the scum of that people', 'the dregs of society, 'habituated to vice', 'a public disgrace', as well as 'worthless' and 'filthy' - and this even though research by local police magistrates at the time proved again and again that the Maltese were by no means any worse than anybody else.  Unfortunately Scandella's persistent propaganda was eventually regarded as gospel truth by a large number of the local population. 7


Gibraltar from Sierra Carbonera in Spain (1884 - John Miller Adye )

To compound the problem, in 1871 that paragon of legal uprightousness - Frederick Solly Flood - decided to lump the Maltese as 'other strangers' rather than as residents, regardless of their legal status. He was of the view that they lacked 'Britishness' - even though they were in fact citizens of a territory that had become British in 1800 and were technically as British as he was and entitled to reside on the Rock. 8

All of this must have created the most incredible social and financial stresses among the Maltese and anybody who was not quite kosher - such as any recently arrived Spaniards who were almost invariable dismissed as either petty smugglers or troublemakers whether they had the necessary permits or not.

 As for the court case, it is also hard to say whether the verdict was a fair one. Pisani was one of the best lawyers in Gibraltar - but he lost this one. That Rodríguez was responsible for stabbing María seems certain. There were too many witnesses to believe otherwise. Yet the Judges insistence that jealousy had nothing to do with the killing is hard to believe. The Jury's recommendation of mercy must have been based on their belief that Rodriquez had been provoked in some way. Indeed, they arrived at this conclusion despite the Judge reminding them of just one part of the prisoner's statement -'Está bien, lo he hecho. Lo pagaré'  while ignoring his follow up - 'Otro hombre tiene la  culpa.'

The evidence does not really allow one to speculate as to who exactly was this other man. Could it have been Antonio Gonzalez? The business of the letters is also intriguing. I have no idea as to how the law stood in this respect in the late 19th century but it would have been interesting to have been able to read their content. Young Richard's evidence is also suspect. It is hard to tell what Richard might have addressed his 'step-father' under normal circumstances but his insistence on calling him  'the prisoner' is odd and leads one to suspect that Pisani's assertion that there was a certain amount of coaching by the prosecution was correct.

Manuel Rodriquez was eventually reprieved although this did not warrant a mention in any of the Gibraltar Directories at my disposal. On the other hand nor was there any mention of the actual event.

Finally I must acknowledge the help given to me by Mary Lane and Charlie Bosano, both  distantly related to poor María Alecio Eva. Without their help it would have been impossible  to write this article.


Gibraltar in the late 19th century  ( Unknown )