General George Don
Letters from Gibraltar No 3. . . Now, Gentlemen, for a description of the place; but it must be after my own fashion. I will have nothing to do with the jargon of geographers.. . . In the early part of the year it is particularly delightful to approach the bay of Gibraltar on a voyage from England. One glides, as it were, from winter into summer - from a cold, foggy, rainy atmosphere, to clear air, warmth, and sunshine . . . The haters of Gibraltar will tell me that we have here incessant and overwhelming rains. Granted - we have, for a few weeks in the year; but those rains all come without intermission, and we feel no more of the annoyance for nine months.
Shipping off Gibraltar ( 1830 - Vilhelm Melbye ) ( see LINK )
The present name of Gibraltar we are gravely assured by many more modern writers, is only a mispronunciation of Gibel Tariff which, in the Moorish tongue, means Tariff's Mountain assuming that this name was given on the taking of the rock by Tariff, a Moorish chief.It was a common mistake at the time to believe that it was Tarif ibn Malik rather the Tariq ibn Ziyad who was responsible for giving Gibraltar its name. ( see LINK )
As you approach to the nearest place of landing, which is called the New Mole ( see LINK ) - a pier of granite, projecting a considerable length, and mounted with heavy guns - you leave on your right the outstretching sea-ward la of the mountain, based on steep black rock, resembling the rugged battlements of an old castle, about forty or fifty feet high, studded round with detached rocks, and deeply marked by time and the wear of the sea.
The New Mole ( 1870s -George Washington Wilson - detail ) ( see LINK )
This stony bed of the land sweeps in grotesque-work round all the outward end of the hill, surmounted by detached houses, gardens, &c. beautifully rising one over the other, and edged by huge guns that peep out from apertures, made both by nature and art. This is the skirt of the rock, as I said before. You now land on the pier, and ascend to the surface of this skirt by steps. You pass through a battery or a strong gate, where you are at once delighted and surprised by the view of as pretty a village as you might expect to meet in Switzerland.
You see a plaza or square before you, formed of neat yellow and white houses. Not in line, like a company of soldiers, or a London suburban-terrace, but irregularly beautiful; over these rise gardens and cottages on the up rearing hill - the thick vine hangs out its branches, and the yellow wall and green window peep from behind them: beds of flowers and vegetables catch the eye from various openings, and the blossom of the peach intermingles its colours with the ripe yellow orange . . . Above the village, on the hill, stencils a large, handsome, white building , like an English manor-house, and above that again little villas, hedged, gardened, and embowered in profuse foliage. The large building is a barrack, and most of the smaller are quarters for officers.
The 'white building' was in fact South Barracks. ( see LINK ) The smaller ones - as suggested - were the officers quarters. ( 1860s - George Washington Wilson )
Approaching the lower gate, ( see LINK ) the road winds through the thickest foliage, and on your right, peeping from a hollow, overshadowed with fig-trees, you see the simple gravestones of the British officers who from time to time resigned their lives in the service of the garrison. You look down into it, through the outstretching branches, over an old wall of two feet high, in which there is a small rustic gate, and so green and shaded and beflowered is the dell, that were it not for the emblems of death that there rise from the turf, you would take it for a pleasure bower.
This cemetery—the last barrack of the officer - bears with it the appropriate associations ofhis profession; one of its walls is a rampart, and near it are piled huge shot and shell, and guns and mortars; the sentry walks night and day beside it, and the martial music of the parade floats over its graves from the daily parade on the Alamaida. It bears its relative rank too, when compared with the wide, bleak, unstoned burial-ground of the private soldier, on the sandy beach at the opposite extremity of the town . . .
William Maginn must have been thoroughly impressed by Gibraltar's cemetery. Not content with this rather over the top prose he also wrote two poems describing both Trafalgar cemetery, and the soldier's burial ground in North Front. Here is the first;
The Trafalgar Cemetery
On the Calpeian peak mourn not
That Britain's chieftains lie,
It is a home, that fairy spot,
Holy and high !
There murmurings from the fitful sea
Lull to profound repose;
Young flow’rets blush, and many a tree
In fondness throws
Its shadowy arms athwart each grave ;
Whilst every odorous breath
That fans the turf which wraps the brave.
Seems wooing death!
There, ramparts of the cincturing wall
Echo the sentry's tread:
There shell and mortar, gun and ball,
Speak of the dead!
There passionless, each hero sleeps,
Whilst o'er his sylvan grave
Wild, solemn, battle-music sweeps,
Blessing the brave!
There the youth doom’d to slumber stays
His agile steps. to sigh ,
For him, the brother of glad days
Gone darkly by!
Trafalgar Cemetery is in the middle distance just to the right of the single South Port Gate. ( 1860s - Unknown - Detail )
. . . The whole length of the town is about a mile. Let my reader fancy himself walking with me from one end to the other, and I will describe as we go along. I have no doubt he will then have a tolerably clear view of Gibraltar.
As we pass the gate on the flat, we see a wide, clean, macadamised street of handsome but irregularly built houses, some white, some yellow, and some light blue. This street appears to be about 3 or 400 yards in length, and to terminate in a small square of high houses, the left side of which is 'the Convent,' formerly a religious house, but now the dwelling of the Lieutenant-Governor.
Nothing of the bourgeois here presents itself. The busy staff pass to and fro, ponied subalterns fling up the dust before you, second-hand Tilbury's rattle along, while the sober chaises of Benedict captains glide softly under the shade of the English parasol. Sentries slap the butts of the firelocks, and orderly-serjeants slowly move the open palm to the brow. All here is military and 'consequence;' the centre of our little aristocracy, the seat of our colonial government.
The Convent before the building of a balcony in front of the main door and the King's Chapel renovations ( 1860s - Unknown )
The lieutenant Governor in question was General Sir George Don, a man who was probably more responsible than most for the kind of Gibraltar Maginn describes in his letters.
You pass the Convent and find your way continued through a narrow street of shops, the view terminated by a glimpse of another irregular square or plaza. Here you are jostled by soldiers off duty, passing backward and forward, our olfactory nerves are tickled by the fumes of Spanish garlick, and if you gaze too intensely at the sly faces that peep out upon you from overhanging green window-shutters, you will run the risk of breaking your knees or your neck upon the rough and worn-out pavement.
A rather uncomplimentary first mention of the locals - of which according to the 1830 census there were nearly 18 000. Hopefully not all of them peeking slyly out of Gibraltar's distinctive Genoese style window shutters. The reference to a macadamised street is unusual in that this type of road construction pioneered by Scottish engineer John Loudon McAdam only made its appearance around 1820.
The second 'plaza' mentioned by Maginnis probably the Casemates which lies at the northern end of Main Street ( 1844 - George Lothian Hall ) ( see LINK )
Here you pass streets of a similar character, branching to your right, and through them you catch occasional views of houses topping houses high up the side of the mountain. The streets which diverge from your left are of a neater and more quiet aspect; they run down towards the line-wall, which, as I said before, continues parallel with you all along, is like a handsome quay, and may boast of mansions that would not disgrace the chartrons at Bourdeaux. You pass on from this narrow street into an open plaza. Here you pass streets of a similar character, branching to your right, and through them you catch occasional views of houses topping houses high up the side of the mountain.Fine mansions have always been few and far between in the main town. The only building that would qualify as worthy of a chartrom of Bordeaux along the line wall would have been Aaron Cardozo's House Its front entrance faced the Commercial Square.
The pink building is Aaron Cardozo's House ( 1844 - George Lothian Hall )
You pass on from this narrow street into an open plaza. Here is the principal Catholic Church with its open gates. It has a handsome cathedral-like interior. Its lighted altar gleams out upon you as you pass, and your ears would be pleased with the peals of its rich-toned organ, were it not for the accompanying voices of the choristers, and the unmeaning clatter of its truly Spanish bells above.
This, like all Spanish churches, is a public lounging place for black-hooded idle old women and amatory young ones. To its frequenters may be added gaping soldiers and ennuied officers of the garrison. We have grand doings here on festival days— crosses, wax lights, perfumed smoke, images, chalices, and rosaries perform their part in the show, and the holy choir treat the congregation with the choice overtures of Rossini !
Passing the Catholic Church, you see before you the best part of the town-the finest portion of the main street. The shops are of superior appearance, and the houses high and regular. Twenty or thirty yards onward you find one side of this street forming, with three other rows of handsome houses, the largest square in the town.
A little inward on your left in this square is the Exchange, a commodious building, containing an excellent library. Here the merchants meet, and before its doors men of all nations congregate—the dark Moor with his showy turban, his white hike thrown around him in graceful and capacious folds, his yellow slippers, bare legs and bearded chin ; the native Jew, with his round black cap, embroidered short-sleeved garment, his sash, and mantle; the white-hatted Englishman ; the cloaked Spaniard, and the long-waisted Hollander. Here are the adventurers of commerce, talking all languages with but one meaning - interest.
The Exchange and Commercial Library on the right ( see LINK) facing the Commercial Square ( Late 19th Century - Cumbo and Montegriffo postcard ) ( see LINK )
Having continued through the remaining portion of the main street, and fairly escaped the capricious antics of the panniered mules that crowd it, you come to the fortifications of the north end of the rock; through these you pass fairly into the neutral ground, and the wide face of Spain lies before you.
The view towards Spain from the northern fortifications ( 1828 - T.M.Baynes ) ( see LINK )
Describing the population as a series of stereotypes is anything but unusual for 19th century visitors - the literature is full of similar portrayals. Maginn's memory may have played him tricks. If one walks through Main Street from north to south one would encounter its various plaza's in the following order - Casemates, Commercial Square, Cathedral Square and the Convent. Maginn gives these incorrectly as the Convent, Casemates, Cathedral Square and Commercial Square.