The People of Gibraltar
1814 - General George Don - The Greatest and the Goodest

General Colin Campbell and Charles O'Hara -  General Monet and Major-General John Smith
Juan Mateos and Giovanni Maria Boschett - Rev Louis Orfil  and St Bernard of Clairvaux
Maria Margaretta Don and Benjamin Disraeli - Joseph Abudarham and Major James Rowan
Henry Morgan and Bartholomew Montobio - Sergent Traverso and Sergent Gavaron, 
Sergent Bensadon and Sergent Repetto - General Alos and James Bell
Aaron Cardozo and Giacomo Galliano - Judah Benoliel
Alladyce, Rankin and Ross - Smith and Sweetland
Thomas Trigge  and Henry Fox - Colin Campbell
Dr Bolton, Dr Fellows and Dr Pym - Romaine Amiel

On the 2nd of April 1814 Lieutenant General Colin Campbell died after the prolonged effects of having contacted yellow fever while acting Governor of Gibraltar. He was buried in  the Convent next to one of his predecessors, Charles O'Hara.

On the 1st of January 1832, General Sir George Don GCB, GCH, Campbell's successor as acting Governor died of influenza in Gibraltar. Three days later he was buried with full military honours in the very new and rather unattractive English Church which would later be known as the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Appropriately he himself had ordered its construction.


The Protestant Cathedral of the Holy Trinity  ( Early 20th century postcard ) 

Pall bearers and chief mourners were restricted to a veritable roll-call of the very highest military officers of the Garrison. The Spanish Governor of the Campo Area - General Monet and his sons - were also there and three rounds from various pieces of artillery were fired from the King's Bastion as well as minute guns from Algeciras during the long drawn out proceedings.

It would require a careful review of sundry local archives to discover the names of any local residents who attended the funeral but some of them must have been there. General Don was held by all - especially the locals - to have been the best Governor of Gibraltar in its long history.  Considering the kind of military men who had been awarded the honour in the past one would have thought it relatively easy to merit such an accolade. Perhaps - but in the case of General Don it was well deserved - although perhaps not as much as most  accounts would have it.   

During the nearly eighteen year interval between Campbell's death and his own appointment with heaven Don is reputed to have been responsible for, among other things, much needed repairs to the Naval Hospital, the founding of a museum of Natural History and Pathology, home care for the poor, free vaccination against small-pox, the establishment of sundry boards of inquiry that included civilians, improvements, in the sewage system, the water supply and sanitation generally, the installation of street lamps,  the first ambulance service, the opening of two gateways at Waterport, and the construction of the Casemates Barracks.


General George Don

Perhaps it is worth remembering that throughout the better years of the British Empire, the authorities often required the friendly collaboration of what were then known as 'the natives'. The fact that almost the entire population had left the town of Gibraltar after the Capitulation in 1704 meant that the 'natives' in this unique case were mostly Genoese, Jewish and Spanish immigrants together with a sprinkling of Protestant British-born individuals.

It was mostly from the latter category that General Don drew from to make up his civilian administrators such as those required to man the Revenue Department, the Pratique Office, the law courts and the various health and medical services. There were only about forty in total.

Nevertheless, such was the wealth and power acquired by some of the local residents since the end of the Great Siege and especially during the Peninsular War, that Don was more or less forced either to listen to and eventually approve of projects which they were keen on or take them into his confidence to seek their backing for some of his own pet projects. 

Whatever the case, perhaps the four things that General Don is best remembered for were his abolishment of the regulations that allowed only Protestants to own land,  the establishment of the Gibraltar Exchange and Commercial Library, ( see LINK ), the creation of the Alameda Gardens, the setting up of a proper civilian police force and that of a hospital for the civilian population.

My suggestion that he is 'reputed' to have been responsible for all these benefits - rather than that the more commonly held belief that he actually was - is based on my perception that whenever any of the above improvements are mentioned in mainstream history books it is invariably General Don - and only General Don - who takes the honours. Any mention of local involvement tends to be anonymous. 

All the ideas, initiatives and their execution seem to have been British led, none of them based on local demands for improvements, all of them examples of British foresight and generosity.  It simply wasn't so. 


The Rock at the time of General Don ( 1830s - J.M.Van Braam )

Make no mistake - As I have mentioned before, Don was probably one of the best Governors that Gibraltar has ever had - but a quick review of the history of British Colonial rule is enough to convince most unprejudiced observers that the proper welfare of the non-garrison residents of Gibraltar right up to the middle of the 20th century and who were neither rich nor influential could hardly have been said to have been the priority of any pre General Don administration. 

So the question is, how is it possible that a man, who by his own admission detested anybody who happened not to be English, has come to be thought of as the father of modern Gibraltar. Perhaps the best way to answer this is to review some of those projects that we most associate with him. 

The Civilian Hospital
When General Don first arrived in Gibraltar, the second yellow fever epidemic was still raging. Major-General John Smith had been given temporary command after Campbell's death and had ordered a strict quarantine on all visiting ships. No exception was made for the newly appointed Governor who was forced to remain on board the old San Juan for about six weeks. It must have concentrated his mind. 

The San Juan Nepomuceno - to give the ship her full name - had been captured during the battle of Trafalgar and had ended up, first as a hulk in Gibraltar Bay and then as a prison ship. She cannot have been the most comfortable of quarters for a newly appointed colonial governor. It has been suggested that he had already planned for a new civil hospital even before he had actually set foot on the Rock. A more likely scenario is that what he actually saw once he had landed must have convinced him that something - anything - had to be done.  

One has to take into account that General Don, as did almost everybody else, was convinced that yellow fever ( see LINK ) was a contagious disease. He must have been appalled by the conditions on the Rock after a very few days after his arrival. Almost the entire garrison lived in tents in the Neutral Ground or in hulks in the Bay, the town itself filthy and mismanaged by regulations that dated back to the mid 18th century. 

Little wonder then that he set up a series of meetings with local people to find out what had to be done. The building of a new hospital for the local people was given some sort of priority. The place chosen - almost certainly not by him - was the Blue Barracks a building which was derelict at the time. 


The town of Gibraltar immediately after the great Siege. The large building on the right was the Spanish hospital of San Juan de Dios which was known to the British as the Blue Barracks and used by them for other purposes after 1704  ( 1793 - Capt Thomas Davis ) 

I am certain more than one of the local taking part in the proceedings will have reminded him that this building had been used by the navy as a hospital before the construction of the sumptuous Naval Hospital  in 1746. ( see LINK ) Prior 1704 it had appropriately been the site of Juan Mateos Spanish hospital of San Juan de Dios.( see LINK )

Work began in March 1815, the first patients were accepted in August, although the formal opening only took place in July the following year. Appropriately named the Civil Hospital consisted of three department - one each for Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish patients. 

The man chosen by Don for the conversion of the barracks into a hospital was a local man, Giovanni Maria Boschetti, whose curious relationship with Don is dealt with in another article ( see LINK ). Once the hospital was finished, Boschetti became one of the six governors that Don appointed to run the place. Perhaps he was one of the people responsible for the plaque once found on one of the walls of the quadrangle of the hospital. It stated that the place had been paid for by the Gibraltarians. It was - apparently - the first time that the word "Gibraltarian" had ever been used. 

As regards the daily maintenance of the hospital, Don combined donations with new taxes on anchorage, bread, and flour.  In other words he made sure that the overall cost to the British administration was just about zero. Patients were also required to pay. In other words more BUPA than NHS. 

Nevertheless the hospital proved a success. In 1887 the British administration took advantage of Queen Victoria's Jubilee by linking the enlargement and partial rebuilding of the hospital with this event. A couple of years later they carried matters somewhat further by renaming it the Colonial Hospital. 


The Colonial Hospital ( Mid 19th century - Unknown )

In 1963 - the hospital finally under local government control - the name was changed yet again. The Reverend Louis Orfila, Chaplain of the hospital at the time, delving into Gibraltar's medieval history, reminded us that the expulsion of the Moslems from the Rock by Catholic Spain had taken place on the 20th of August 1462, the feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux who had ever since been regarded as Patron Saint of Gibraltar.  

The name met with approval, and the hospital has been called by that ever since. It was a rather odd choice - a name, with very Spanish and very Catholic connotations for a hospital that was meant to be for Jews and Protestants as well as Catholics - and in a place not exactly renowned for its interest and admiration of its own lengthy and convoluted Spanish history.

The Alameda Gardens
The creation of Alameda Gardens is another well known Don initiative. The name itself is curious. In the early 19th Century what is now known as John Macintosh Square was called the Alameda - or as the Almeida by the British who apparently found it hard to pronounce the real thing properly. 

Whatever the reason it was the area of the red sands south of South Port Gates that were identified as the ideal place to create some sort of garden for the recreation of a local population that had in the past been mostly cooped up within the town walls. With his usual financial acumen Don made sure that none of the costs would be borne by his administration - the whole thing was financed by the locals themselves. Without so much a blush he repealed the bylaws that prohibited lotteries, raised the necessary from the proceeds of eight of them and then promptly repealed his repeal so to speak and made lotteries illegal once more.


The 'New' Gardens   ( 1828 - F. Benucci ) ( see LINK

 It has been suggested that General Don's wife, Maria Margaretta or Lady Don probably paid a key part in the conception and design of the gardens. When Benjamin Disraeli ( see LINK ) visited the Dons ( see LINK ) he commended her on her gardening and described her as ‘although very old .. excessively acute .. with an aptitude of detecting character' She was 67 at the time. 

Nevertheless it must have been her husband who insisted that a bust by Richard Westmacott of Wellington, a man who had very little to do with Gibraltar, be placed in a prominent position in the middle of the gardens. It was made from melted down bronze from guns captured by the Duke and the finished article was placed on top of marble pillar from Lepida. Not cheap. But with his usual parsimony the Governor made sure that it would not be his department that would bear the costs - he simply withheld one day's pay from everybody in the Garrison.


Bust of the Duke of Wellington in the Alameda Gardens   ( 1846 - J. M. Carter )  ( See LINK )

It is interesting to speculate why Don chose Wellington rather than some other perhaps more suitable British hero such as Eliott ( see LINK ) for example, whose bust was in fact also erected within the gardens in 1858 and long after General Don's Death. Could it have been a personal hang-up, a hidden acknowledgement that he himself had spent the entire Napoleonic Wars as Lieutenant Governor of Jersey and well away from the fighting?

It has always been suggested that the gardens were a huge success - which may have been the case several decades after it had been opened.  But it certainly wasn't after it had just opened when the first walks were inaugurated in 1816. Nor did the addition of Wellington's statue seem to have made much difference. According to the American Alexander Slidell-Mackenzie ( see LINK ) it was relatively unpopular in the 1830s. 
And yet - will it be believed ? - The Alameda is but little frequented except upon a feast-day. The English avoid it always on weekdays because it is so solitary, and on Sundays because it is run down by the commonalty. Occasionally, at the evening hour, one may meet a Genoese . . .
Perhaps a decade later it was still out of favour. According to George Dennis ( see LINK )
The Alameda is adorned with choice shrubs and flowers, with arbours, statues, and fountains, but, notwithstanding its charms, it is rarely frequented by the inhabitants of Gibraltar.
By the mid 19th century the gardens finally became everything that all those responsible for creating it had intended. This is what the American diplomat and visitor John Dix ( see LINK ) had to say about it in the 1840s.
The Alameda  . .  consists of beautiful walks, groves of forest trees and shrubbery, with here and there a fountain or a statue, and with a gravelled square on its western side sufficiently capacious for the evolutions of a regiment. On several days in each week two of the military bands are upon these grounds, far enough removed from each other to avoid the intermixture of sounds, and the walks, groves, and square are, on these occasions, always thronged with the population of the city. This is the chief source of public amusement in the place.
The Exchange and Commercial Library ( see LINK
For reasons that I have as yet to fathom, General Don is given credit for the establishment of this important local institution. But apart from his presence in 1817, together with his senior staff and a military guard of honour during the laying a foundation stone somewhere on the east side of Commercial square I cannot find any evidence that he had very much to do with it - other than of course to allow it to happen. 

Those who did fork out the money were represented by what the press called the Grand Jury and Merchants' Society. The Protest Merchants were represented by David Johnston, the Roman Catholic by John Maria Boschetti, ( see LINK ) and the Jewish by Joseph Abuderham. ( see LINK )  

Shortly after the creation of the Garrison Library, it was the locals themselves who set up their own version in an out of the way side street. In a parody of its military counterpart it also proved too small to deal with its growing number of publications. One hundred and sixty of Gibraltar’s merchants came to the rescue by raising enough money to construct a stylish new building on what was then a prime site. 
  

Exchange and Commercial Library  ( 1846 - J.M. Carter )   ( see LINK )

There is no doubt that it was the exclusivity of the Garrison Library that was the driving force behind the establishment of the civilian version. The former was run by military officers like a private club and for their own amusement. Visitors were often made welcome but local residents were not. As far as I can make out General Don did little or nothing to change this rather humiliating state of affairs which remained a feature in Gibraltar right up to the middle of the 20th century.

Nevertheless, the local committee running the new library, many of them wealthy British born merchants were well aware on which side their bread was buttered and ordered a bust of the Governor to be placed in the newly constructed building. It was paid for by voluntary contribution. Under the bust was a plaque which read :
By Voluntary Subscription of the Inhabitants and in Grateful Remembrance of His Paternal Government under which this Building was erected, Anno Domini 1818 is placed this bust of George Don, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order and Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Military Merit of France, General of His Majesty’s Forces, Colonel of the Thirty Sixth Regiment of Foot, Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief of the Garrison and Territory of Gibraltar etc etc etc
The last phrase is a curiosity. General Don proper title was actually Lieutenant Governor of the town and Garrison of Gibraltar in the Kingdom of Spain. Neither he nor the bust's subscribers would have been too keen on the last bit and opted for etc, etc, etc. instead. In 1830 - and during Don's tenure - the problem was solved.  The official designation was changed to 'The Colony of Gibraltar'.



The Gibraltar Police Force
On the 25th of June 1830, the responsibility for policing the town was transferred from the Town Major - a member of the armed of the armed forces who was essentially the commander of the military police  - to a civil policed magistrate - Major James Rowan. The reform was made public via a proclamation which - among other details contained the following;

. . . his majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies Major James Rowan, to the office of Civil Police Magistrate, he will on the 25th inst ( of June 1830 ) assume the direction and superintendence of the Civil Police  . . . and Henry Morgan, who has been appointed Director of the Police and Supervisor of Markets, as well as several Persons who are to compose the new Police Establishment. . . .

Both the Magistrate and the Director had English surnames, the first with military rank.  
The rest of the force which included the odd non-British resident was dismissed under the catch-all of 'Persons. Not much change there. Of the seven inspectors only one had a non British name - Bartholomew Montobio. Of the eight Sergeants there were only four - Traverso, Gavaron, Bensadon, and Repetto.


Gibraltar Policeman ( 1890 - Triay Family Collection )

Civic Pride
According to the British historian Sir William Jackson - himself a Governor of Gibraltar in the late 20th century - it was General Don who first instilled the notion of civic pride among the local inhabitants. This rather patronising statement is backed up by reminding the reader that before Don arrived on the scene, Gibraltarians tended to live in specific communities depending on where they were from originally - the Spaniards and Genoese in the northern part of town,  the Portuguese around the Moorish Castle and the Blue Barracks, the British in the King's Bastion area and the Jews just about anywhere. 

Gibraltar's perennial housing problems have persisted right up to the present, but the situation inherited by Don cannot be blamed on the local residents. On the contrary, a total lack of interest on local living conditions by preceding administrations, the failure of the administration's persistent policy of getting home-grown protestants to come and live in Gibraltar and the discrimination against anybody who was not a protestant to own property lay at the heart of what Don took to be a lack of civic pride. The almost complete absence of any political power by the civilian population and their complete subservience to the need of the Garrison didn't help much either.

A quote from a local historian might convince the reader the General Don could hardly be credited with instilling any notion of civic pride among anybody living in Gibraltar who was not British;
General Don  . .  was  . . . a prolific letter writer, his correspondence leaves no doubt about his views on Gibraltarians, whom he cordially despised. His first thoughts on arriving at Gibraltar were to move the civilians to Windmill Hill, to make the town less crowded and more salubrious for the military.  
Luckily when he found out that the total population was very much larger than he had though, he changed his mind. 

Yellow Fever ( see LINK
When yet another serious outbreak of yellow fever occurred in 1814, it was generally acknowledged that the illness flourished among those living in overcrowded house - something that was the norm for most of the local population. According to the 1814 census about 8000 poorer Roman Catholics and Jews shared 4000 rooms between them. 1

In an attempt to remedy this state of affairs, Don came to an agreement with General Alos, the Spanish Governor of the Campo area to allow ;
. . . a large proportion of the inhabitants who had not had the fever, to establish themselves temporarily on the Neutral Ground as near as circumstances would admit, to the front of this fortress. 
Alos not only agreed but ensured that these people would be supplied with their from Spain. Don, however, took it one step further; The people camped there would come under his jurisdiction justifying it because he thought that to leave those,
wretches of the worst description  . . would have been exposing it to every evil of licentiousness prejudiced as well to it as to the troops encamped in the vicinity.
The troops, of course, had been previously allowed to camp there since 1812, as a temporary measure during the Peninsular war. Once the emergency was over, the British simply stayed put. 



Temporary village in the Neutral Ground - by now more or less permanent ( 1831 - G .H. Smyth )

Settling the Titles to Lands
In what must have been the nth occasion that the Government in London became preoccupied with that old Gibraltar chestnut that too many people who were not of British origin were being allowed to own or lease property. That this situation had been more or less created by London's own appointees - the Governors of Gibraltar - some of whom allowed it to happen for the right reasons - the garrison needed people to supply and service it - and some for the wrong ones - the Governors were lining their own pockets - made it no less easy to solve. 

In the early 1820s, General Don set up a committee whose members were given the official title of 'Commissioners for Settling the Titles of Lands in Gibraltar'. The premise was that the concessions to non-Brits had gone too far, that in any case the length of the leases was too long and that the ground rents were far too low. 

There was a flurry of anxiety from the usual suspects - the richer inhabitants had much to lose. In the end however, the British government agreed - albeit reluctantly - that there would in future be no distinction between the British Subjects whatever their religion and wherever they happened to have been born. The only prerequisite was that they had to prove residence on the Rock for fifteen years rather than five as before. 

For several years after that the commission dedicated itself to finding a method to tighten up controls over who could in fact be allowed to enter and who would be allowed to stay. But of course by now it was much too late. The deed as they say, was more than done and the majority of land and house owning Gibraltarians were not just pleased with the overall outcome but more than willing to sing the praises of General Don - who as far as one can make out - really had little to with the setting up of the committee or the outcome of its deliberations.

The Paving and Scavenging Commission
General Don was by no means the first Governor to tackle questions of health and safety on the Rock. As early as 1804 Lieutenant Governor Thomas Trigge had already divided the town into districts and had created a Committee of Public Health. Their remit was to move the sick out of town, to bury the dead and to protect the property of both. 

The committee was made up of five individuals - Alladyce, Rankin, Ross, Smith and Sweetland.  each a British born resident and a respected member of the local community. In other words, not one of them was either Catholic or Jewish.

When Henry Fox took over as Governor he renamed the Committee into a Board of Health '. It was chaired by the chief medical officer and bolstered by the addition of three civilian doctors - Bolton, Fellows ( see LINK ) and Pym ( see LINK ).

When it was Colin Campbell's turn to become the next Lieutenant Governor,  he changed the composition of the committee and added ten leading local merchants which did not exactly open the flood gates but did at least include people who if not truly representative, at least belonged to the two ethnic groups of the of majority of the local community. 

Nor were their new, additional remits of earth shattering political consequence - they were made responsible for cleaning the main streets twice a day and for getting the householders to put their rubbish out for collection. 

Not entirely unconnected with the yellow fever epidemic of the previous year, in 1815 a meeting took place of yet another 'Grand Jury' of the great and the good. Presumably chaired by General Don, - the greatest and 'goodest' of them all - it came to the unarguable conclusion that it would be a good idea to look into the possibility of improvements in public health. Far less of a good idea - at least to the locals - was a discussion on how it was going to be financed. 

Surprisingly the members agreed that rates should be charged on all households in order to pay for the main streets to be cleaned and to improve the almost non-existent sewage system. Later this was extended to include the cost of paving some of the streets.  Unsurprisingly, the charge was met with some resistance by most of the more well-off civilian householders who were always loath to give up their perceived traditional right to enjoy life on the Rock without ever having to pay any kind of taxes whatsoever - on anything.


A clean and nicely paved Main Street  ( 1870s - George Washington Wilson ) ( see LINK )

Don by-passed them by setting up a special commission with absolute rights to raise taxes. Among its members were some well known local individuals - James Bell, ( see LINK ) Aaron Cardozo, ( see LINK ) Giacomo Galliano and Judah Benoliel. ( see LINK ). It went by the rather disparaging name of the 'Paving and Scavenging Commission'

To supervise the thirty-three districts that he had divided Gibraltar - twenty seven within the town and six outside it - he appointed sixty six 'gentlemen' of the town who would 'act in this capacity gratuitously.'
 . . . having expressed their readiness . . . to cooperate in the measures of this government towards the security of the public health, their services are most gladly accepted.
By 1819 the commission's remit included responsibility for:
Lighting the said Garrison and Town of Gibraltar (as well as) Paving, Repairing and Cleansing the Streets (and) the Making and Repairing of the Sewers and Drains… 
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, making and repairing of sewers and drains was not the end of local intervention in the affairs of the Rock. Nor was it even the beginning of the end. But it definitely was the end of a beginning that would lead to the formation of a proper City Council and from there to the type of civilian autonomy - however restricted - that exists today.

Nevertheless, the honours heaped on General Don for directly or indirectly improving the sewage system of Gibraltar is seriously misplaced. As the surgeon of the 12th regiment and a long time resident of Gibraltar - Romaine Amiel (see LINK) once put it in a report to the Edinburgh Surgical Hospital:
ln 1815, the reconstruction of the drains took place . . .  In I828, the drains were much filled with filth . . .On the lst of August there was more rain, which brought the contents into action, so that the effluvia arising from them were very like those arising from the dirt deposits in 1814. 
As to the state of the drains  . . I can state, that, both in the town-range and King's Bastion, they appear to have been, and continue to be defective. In the lower square of the town range, the drain from the soil-pit was choked up, and burst open a short time before the regiment was sent to camp: and, in the King's Bastion, the sewers . . . frequently allow the corrupt substances to accumulate at their entrances, and emit during the summer months exhalations highly offensive.
Property 
Don's investigation into who owned what in Gibraltar - a problem that General Humphrey Bland had tried with singular lack of success to solve in the mid 18th century - is yet another case in point. When the local property owners heard about it they immediately asked the Governor to suspend the investigation. General Don understandably refused but the locals persisted: they sent him a memorial and asked him to forward it to the Prince Regent.


The Prince Regent - the future George IV   ( 1815 - Sir Thomas Lawrence )

Don refused to do so without adding his own critical comments. The locals responded by sending a delegation to London to argue the case with the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Their efforts were duly rewarded and General Don was forced to back off.

But the most important aspect of this affair is that the locals were able to express their rights collectively as residents of the Rock. No doubt the initiative was restricted to a very small group of elite and the well-off residents - but a certain communality of spirit was demonstrated by the fact that memorials were always signed by three representatives of each of the three main communities - the British, the Catholic and the Jewish.

The Exchange and Commercial Library was beginning to be worth its weight in political gold.