The People of Gibraltar
1749 - Humphrey Bland - The Riff-raff of Various Nations

Lord George Beauclerk , William Herbert and Edward Braddock


A paragon of virtue, honesty personified, a rigorous administrator and a man to be trusted. When one compares Humphrey Bland with everybody who held his job before him as Governor of Gibraltar, all four clich├ęs hold good. Elsewhere he has been described as a bluff, methodical, proficient general officer who took his duties seriously:  In 1749 shortly before he was appointed Governor, he is quoted as having advised a junior officer:
You are quite unacquainted with my character, or you wou'd have been more punctual in several parts of your Duty . . .
In 1750 Lieutenant-Colonel James Wolfe - the man who took Quebec by climbing the Heights of Abraham but - as every English schoolboy knows - would rather have written Gray's Elergy - was not overly impressed with Bland's blunt disciplinarian facade:
I am afraid General Bland is not quite so well-bred and polite as might be wished. He has a roughness about him that breaks out sometimes into ill-manners when he is in authority.

A contemporary mirror image of the west side of Rock  ( 1750 - Cavallero Renau )

There is also a story about a confrontation between Bland a Spanish General who threatened him with his army. Bland wasn't having any of it;
Why, sir! If you dare to give me any of your damned nonsense I will kick you from Hell to Hackney.
Although he was appointed Governor in 1749 and was eventually replaced by Thomas Fowke in 1754, he was only in Gibraltar from 1750 to 1751, while commanding officers such as Lord George Beauclerk, William Herbert and Edward Braddock took turns at holding the fort - so to speak. Meanwhile he was back home in Ireland or London, presumably pondering on various intractable problems - such as, for example, how on earth he was going to attract the 'right kind' of people - by which of course he meant British Protestants - to settle on the Rock. Most of those who were already there  were definitely not what he had in mind:
Jews, Genoese, Spaniards, Portuguese, Irish Papists, Scotch pedlars and English bankrupts, the riff-raff of various nations and religions ready to commit any fraud in their power. . . . Protestants, if encouraged, would prove a strengthening to the Garrison since they were more to be relied on than Papists though born here.
His original remit was twofold. Firstly he was instructed to evict those who were living in:
. . . houses chiefly inhabited by Jews, Moors and Papists of different nations which may prove dangerous to the town ( and then Lease them to ) His Majesty's Protestant Subjects. ( There was ) no legal problem . . as all the ground is His Majesty's.  
He was then required to make sure that:
You may let at an easy rent to encourage His Majesty's Protestant subjects to settle there, which will be a strengthening of the place whereas at present those houses are cheaply inhabited by Jews, Moors and Papists of different nations, which may prove dangerous to the town.
But, and this was something  that would take up much of his time, he was also  ordered 
to redress the civil grievances of which the inhabitants … had complained.
And they certainly had much to complain about. His various attempts at pacifying the natives has been dealt with elsewhere, (see LINK) but the truth is that his greatest claim to fame lies in his 360 page Treatise of Military Discipline which was published in 1727 - long before he was appointed Governor of Gibraltar at the almost pensionable age of 64. His vigour and good health, however, are not in question - he married Elizabeth, daughter of George Dalrymple of Dalmahoy just after he had left the Rock for good. He was 70 years old.


A contemporary mirror image of the west side of Rock  ( 1750 - Cavallero Renau )

The famous Treatise does not really have anything to do with the people of Gibraltar - but that is not the case as regards the various reports and recommendations which he produced specifically for the place under his charge so that future Governors would follow his example rather than that of the grossly appropriate behaviour of his predecessors. Unfortunately, although the document is undoubtedly available to those with easy access to the British library or perhaps even the archives of Garrison Library in Gibraltar, they are definitely not available to the casual historian. One of these is a document found in the Landsdowne MSS collection written by Bland. The title is lengthy but self explanatory:
An Account of Lieutenant-general Bland's Conduct during the time he was governor of Gibraltar, showing the methods he took to establish his majesty's revenue, the property of the inhabitants, and the civil police of the town in all its branches. With the methods taken by him to cultivate a good understanding with his neighbours the Spaniards and Moors. Written by himself for the information of those who may succeed to this command. Given at Gibraltar 3rd day of May 1751 
According to the author it was written so that:
. . . his successors may not labour under the same disadvantage as himself, to find everything in confusion, and no information of any kind left to guide them.
I have not read this document, but there are plenty of clues and quotes elsewhere that can allow one to guess the gist of his many opinions and recommendations. For example, when Bland first arrived he was appalled to learn that there were no civilian Magistrates. It meant that any number of judicial decisions had to be taken personally by whoever happened to be Governor at the time and who invariably had little ideas to what was legal and what was not.
Bland's proposal was that the authority of the 1720 Court of Common Appeal be extended so that it would be able to try cases that involved :
. . . Frauds, Pilfering, Personal Assaults and Abuses and other breaches of the Peace, not extending to life and member.
His bosses in London actually came up with more than he had asked for by delivering the Third Charter of Justice in 1753. They changed the name of the Court of Common Appeal to the Court Merchant, and extended its jurisdiction just as Bland had wanted. But they also created a Criminal Court  would deal with:
Murders, Felonies and all other Crimes, Treasons excepted. 
The Judges would be the Governor, the Judge Advocate and one very British Merchant. Absurd to our modern ears, all three had to swear on oath that they did not believe in transubstantiation - in other words that they were not Papist. 


The  town of Gibraltar   ( 1750s - M.de Barras de la Penne - Detail )

Smuggling also caused him a few headaches:
Soon after my arrival here, having made a strict inquiry into the nature of the smuggling trade so much complained of, I found that it produced little or no advantage to Great Britain, or even to the Town of Gibraltar, as it was carried on by a parcel of insignificant persons, promoting their own ends, and with no view beyond them. . . . . . . if you are confined to one market, you become the property of those people, who impose what condition they think proper on you; but by having several open, they will all court you for your custom.
In his conclusion to one of his last reports to London he reveals - albeit indirectly - that he had found it impossible to stop the contraband trade. 
Conclusion - When we are entrusted with such commands as Gibraltar, where we have jealous neighbours to deal with, we ought to be continually on our guard not to give any occasion for cavils or disputes that may draw a misunderstanding between them and us, which, if carried to a height by not putting a stop to them in time, would involve our country so far in the quarrel as to cause a rupture between the two nations. 
This shows the necessity we are under of conducting ourselves in such a manner as not to be the cause of such a rupture by any imprudent step of ours, but to avoid giving offence as much as we possibly can, that the damage our country may receive by a breach may not be laid justly to our account. If it should, how much have we to answer for?  
Infinitely more than we can repair. Let us, therefore, suppress our passions, govern our actions by reason and moderation, protect all those under our command in the full enjoyment of their property, deal justly with our neighbours, and be satisfied with, and live on our income, without grasping at that of others. This is the sure way of being rich, at least in good works, if not in money, which will insure a much higher pleasure to the mind than all the illegal gains of the world can produce, and render us respected men after our death. 
I have aimed at nothing further than doing justice to my Sovereign and country in the government I was honoured with, and in conveying my ideas of it to those who shall come after me. If I have succeeded in that, my end is answered, and I shall think my time wellbestowed, and my labour sufficiently rewarded.

Gibraltar and its Campo - a smuggler's paradise     ( 1750s - I.D. Gromlemanze  )

Some of his predecessors had positively encouraged smuggling, but when Bland's successors tried to suppress it, they found that they were  unable to do so.  A few British Merchants in Gibraltar together with their home suppliers and a little help from their friends in Parliament were more than enough to thwart any attempt to stop their God given right to import whatever they liked and sell it to whoever they pleased - regardless of whether the goods were obviously going to be smuggled into Spain.

The irony is that the trade was relatively small when Bland was Governor. A hundred years later, when Gibraltar became a trading free-for-all as a consequence of the Napoleonic and Peninsular Wars, it was estimated that the money made from smuggling in Gibraltar was worth the phenomenal sum of more than one million pounds. (see LINK) For the Spanish authorities, the word 'contrabando' became a synonym for the Rock of Gibraltar. The legacy of all this is probably still with us.