Benito de Soto
In other words not much on Gibraltar but the odd comment on some of the towns of the Campo that lie on the way to Ronda. The first was San Roque.Letters from Gibraltar No 5I have at length paid my long-expected visit to Ronda, where I witnessed a genuine Spanish bull-fight, and made one of the crowd that swelled the fair of that city. The subject is worth speaking about, therefore I will endeavour, Gentlemen, to give you a sketch of my excursion . . .
San Roque is a considerable town, and completely caps a conical hill: the houses, like all the towns of Andalusia, are white, and their roofs of a sunburnt and mossy-brown-coloured tile. From Gibraltar, the place does not look very striking, owing to the desert sand that stretches from the Neutral round almost to its base.
But to look at the town as we did from an inland hill, like its own, and see it glistening at sunrise, in its natural frame of mountains and green foliage, on a sweet May morning, and to see its skirts stretching into various fertile valleys, richly gardened, and watered by bright rills; to catch from behind it a view of the shining bay, and the dark gigantic chain of the African coast - to throw your eye along the smooth Mediterranean on the left, and mark the sun springing from it, and scattering a thousand shades and colours over the whole - thus to see San Roque, is, indeed, to behold a beautiful scene.
San Roque with Gibraltar in the distance ( 1879 - Jean Laurent )The author also offers a very rare treat - a description of a named local inhabitant. It is not something easily found in the literature of Gibraltar in the 18th century.
By the time a short breakfast was concluded, and our eatables for the journey, as well as our personal luggage, packed on the back - not of a mule or a donkey - but on that o my friend's servant, a thick, short, dark, rock Spaniard, the morning gun had fired . . . Sebastiano, my companion's servant, who acted the part of guide as well as burro on the occasion, soon led us into a path like a sheep track . . .
The phrase 'rock Spaniard' is particularly interesting in that it shows that at least in the mind of this particular officer, the inhabitants were really indistinguishable from the Spaniards. They may have lived on the Rock but they had very little to do with British - other than as servants or indeed objects worthy of being made fun of. No doubt he was not the only officer on the Rock who thought like that.
It was at this place that Sebastiano proved to us that his strength was more available than his courage. The Ladrones became the subject of his comments, and he devised many plans for our adoption, in case we should meet the robber, Jose Maria, ( see LINK ) and his gang. He that was all the previous way bounding before us, heavily laden as he was, now hung behind, admired the length and breadth of the Highland dirk I carried in my belt, requested his master to exhibit at his breast pocket the handle of the only pistol we possessed . . .
The 'robber', Jose Maria Tempranillo ( 1830s - John Frederick Lewis ) ( see LINK )
The party then moved on to Gaucin where they stopped for the night at a posada. The author suggests that a full description will give any traveller a general idea of what to expect as regards accommodation not just in the Campo area but just about everywhere in Spain. Taking this last with a pinch of salt, this is what he had to say.
The doorway by which we entered was wide enough to admit three or four mules abreast, and opened at once into-the great public apartment, which was irregularly paved, and somewhat lower than the level of the street. The room was large and oblong, the wall whitewashed; a large deal table at one end, in company with two long forms, and at the other a spacious hearth in which was a charcoal fire on the ground, producing the melody of stewing eggs, and little bubbling earthen pots, together with the odour of garlic and foul oil.
Two bright brass pans, a copper chocolatero, and a few other kitchen utensils hung over, and at each side of the fireplace. A bench at one side of the apartment, two feet high, ten or twelve feet long, and about six feet broad, which, being covered with a mat, was the general 'bed' of the nightly guests, and furnished gratis, provided they brought with them horses, mules, or asses, and no food to give them; - several old wooden stools were scattered about, and a lamp bearing two lights illumined the whole.
A large square opening in front of t door showed a spacious stable, crowded with mules and asses contentedly champing their barley, and the house seemed well stocked with guests of a motley character, but chiefly muleteers, all too busy to pay any attention to us.
The muleteers could quite easily have been smugglers carrying their goods from Gibraltar along the dangerous sierra all the way to Rhonda. Gaucin, which is about 40 kilometres from Gibraltar.
A view of Gibraltar from Gaucin ( 1849 - Genaro Villaamil Duguet Perez )
The landlady, an ancient and burly dame, with her gray hair strained back from her front and tied in a bunch behind, took as little notice of us; and Sebastiano, who was well accustomed to such scenes, without ceremony, laid down his burden, took off his jacket, and in a moment had placed for our accommodation near the large table, one of a smaller size, with two stools; then lighted a lamp which he took from its retirement, and hung it on the wall near the spot where we were to sit. This done, he proceeded to prepare our supper from the materials in his from the materials in his wallet. Had he not done so, we might have waited long enough before the people of the house would take that trouble.
You must not only serve yourself in the Spanish inn, but carry with you your provision, unless you will be content with bread, wine, and eggs. Besides,the more you bustle and do for yourself, and the more provision you bring along with you, the greater respect the innkeeper will have for you.
Our forager soon became as intimate with the landlady as if he had been bred in the house, and by that means procured for us some additions to our own fare, such as milk and butter; and, as I always take tea at night when fatigued on a march, he succeeded so far as to obtain from the Donna a China tea-pot, which she had hoarded as a curiosity without knowing its use, for half a century; it is true it could not boast of a lid, but we nevertheless did not despise it.
Sebastiano also obtained for us a greater favour; this was a promise of a separate sleeping-room, as we were 'cavalleros,' although, by the by, we could not boast of horses. Having changed our dress, etc. in this little dark room, which was on the same floor with us, we sat down to supper with a keen appetite and perfectly refreshed.
Our bed-room contained one large bedstead, or wooden frame, on which was a paillasse, a pair of sheets, and a thin cotton coverlet, fringed with white muslin; blankets could not be furnished. The walls were newly whitewashed, the floor paved, and a few small wax images of the Apostles with one of the Crucifixion, half a dozen little prints of such as the Holy Virgin and Fernando Settimo, together with earthen-ware vessels, garnished the apartment. This was the best accommodation the house could afford . . . .And that was about it. Apart that is from a rather cryptic note at the end of the letter which suggests that Maginn was present during the trial of the pirate Benito de Soto. ( see LINK )
It is but justice to the individual who acted as interpreter on the trial of Soto the pirate, to say that the criminal did not say - 'Speak Spanish, and I will understand you.' The prisoner's words were, 'Certainly you speak Spanish to me, why should I not understand you?' The distance at which I stood from the pirate, together with the manner of the man, I confess, made a false impression on me.Difficult to tell what that was all about.
Benito de Soto ( 1820s - Unknown )