The People of Gibraltar
1779 - The Jews of Gibraltar - The Great Siege


In 1778 France declared war on Great Britain. In 1779 Spain followed suit and the Great Siege of Gibraltar began. It would last until 1783.  The British were not caught by surprise. In April 1778 the Governor's Secretary issued the following instructions;
Inhabitants of the age of 12 years and upwards to inrol their names in this Office within ten days from this date and hold themselves in readiness to render assistance to His Majesty's Arms, and for all Inhabitants to provide themselves with and keep up a sufficient stock of flour and Biscuit to serve each Person three months . . .

Gibraltar before the Siege ( Unknown )

Seven months later they were further warned that:
. . . inhabitants upon examination found unprovided with the supply required by order of April 9 last; will not be allowed to remain in the garrison.
In June all communications with Spain were cut and the Spaniards began fortifying their side of the isthmus. In Gibraltar 300 Jews and Genoese labourers were employed to clear sand that had accumulated from in front of the fortifications, so that the guns of the Garrison would have a clear field of fire.  At the same time many of the inhabitants started to leave what was obviously about to become a war zone. Britain, Morocco, Minorca, Italy and Spain were preferred destinations. 

When extra regiments arrived in July, accommodation was required for an additional 60 officers mostly among the civilian. As the Jews at that time owned 25% of all the registered houses on the Rock, 15 of them were allocated to Jewish families. 

As the shortage of food began to tell occasional small ship would take the risk of bringing in supplies from Morocco or even from Spain. Privateers from the garrison also brought in a number of enemy prizes and also forced some neutral ships to come in and sell their cargoes but generally their cargoes were inadequate for the requirements of either the Garrison or the civilian population.

For example, The rowing boat Hare, which was Jewish owned, was fitted out as a privateer. It had a notable success in September. The Jews' boat brought in a Dutch Dogger, from Amsterdam to Malaga, laden with wheat, cheese etc, which is bought for the Garrison. . . . It seems that the Jew boat got 50£ for bringing in the above Dutch Dogger . . 


A Dutch Dogger  ( 1846 - Clarkson F. Stanfield ) ( see LINK

 Moses Toledano, who owned several boats, later described how on one particular trip to Tangier
 . . . he was pursued by the Spaniards.. . and to save himself from being seized by them threw himself over board and swam ashore to Tangier tho' two miles distance, and his Boat was taken'. 
David Hassan was less lucky; he was taken in another boat in 1779, and spent the whole war as a prisoner in the Spanish penal colony at Oran.

In April 1781 Abraham Israel, whose wife had died at the beginning of the Siege, wrote to his brother Moses in London. It is a unique record and possibly one of the very few written commentaries written by any local not just about the Siege but about anything that happened in Gibraltar since 1704.   
. . . the 12 instant at 5 o'clock in the morning a small King's Sloop appeared with the news that the Convoy and our Grand Fleet were behind, at 8 in the morning all the convoy and fleet was in sight, which was a glorious sight and having a fine wind at 10 they were all very near Rosia Bay. 20 Spanish Gun Boats appeared with one Gun each of Eighteen and Twenty-four pounders and began to fire upon all the convoy but as our frigates went to them bravely they all fled, after this the Spaniards opened all their Land Batteries upon the Town and at least 50 Mortars and begun to throw such fire as was incredible for a human person to believe such destruction and confusion. 
Consider the state we were in, some dying some wounded, my first care was to get out and abandon all that we had in the Houses and warehouses, and carrying out a Handkerchief of Cakes not to die with hunger. Thank God we saved our lives and we are now here with such Miseries and Heartache to see ourselves ruined without knowing how to help ourselves . . . 
. . . our Houses and Warehouses are thrown down and this not our only misfortune but Thieves robbed all they could from our Warehouses that were Shot . . . I applied immediately at the risk of my life to see if by Dint of Money I could save anything . . . of all my Goods, House, furniture, wearing apparel, provisions, and everything, all the wearing apparel of our father and mother and so on, of nine chests of Cloath of my dear Sarah nothing can be found. . . 
Almost all the inhabitants go away, some to England, others to Mahon. The Perils are great and for as much as I find myself obliged to embark my Dear Father, Mother and Brother Solomon with my dear Juda for your place . . . Look after these poor old people as they go at their age, upon the Seas, and neither of them can move, and to add, I always had money enough in Cash, and now I wanted it I have it not. The Town is already destroyed and Burnt . . .
Soon afterwards the authorities allowed the inhabitants to move away from their houses in the north which were more susceptible to bombardment by the Spanish batteries and built themselves some huts in the south: 
 . . . New Jerusalem, on a piece of ground above the South Barracks, laid out for the Jews to build on, goes fast.
New Jerusalem would increase in size in order to accommodate the entire civilian population as well as some of the garrison personnel. It would change its name firstly to Black town and then to Hardy Town, the name of the officer who was in charge of the site. 



Hardy Town   ( 1799 Barbie du Bocage - Jean Denis )

Not that moving south would offer them all that much protection. In May 1781 according to Spilsbury:
The Jews, one that had lost all he had in town, near £10 000, his clerk, and a relation, a woman, were killed by a shell in their house in Black Town
Sadly the  Jew who had lost everything - including his life - was Abraham Israel, the man who had just written to his brother about the destruction of his warehouses. B. Cornwell, I his description of Gibraltar incorrectly identifies him as Abraham's brother - Moses Israel - who was fortunately in London at the time.


Catherine Upton ( see LINK ) - the wife of a Captain who was stationed in Gibraltar at the time - also left us a rather less laconic description than Spilsbury of what happened that day.
I will now endeavour to describe that dreadful night, which made me determined to leave Gibraltar; but language will convey but a faint idea of the horrid scene! About one o'clock in the morning, our disturbers the gun-boats began to fire upon us. I wrapped a blanket about myself and children, and ran to the side of a rock; but they directed their fire in a different manner from what they had ever done before. 
They had the temerity to advance so near, that the people in our ships could hear them say, Guarda Angloise! which is, Take care, English! Mrs. Tourale, a handsome and agreeable lady was blown almost to atoms! Nothing was found of her but one arm. Her brother, who sat by her, and his clerk, both shared the same fate . . . Many other people were sent to their eternal homes, but I do not know their names. After what I had seen and suffered, I was of opinion it was not courage but madness to stay.
Mrs Tourale's brother was Abraham Israel and his clerk was Abraham Benider, grandson of the interpreter to various British delegations to Morocco as mentioned previously. His father Jacob was luckily in London at the time.


The Great Siege    ( W.H. Overend )

But perhaps even more distressing is the fact that the British seem to have taken a very different point of view about  people like Abraham Israel and their financial losses.
For six weeks this tremendous cannonade continued without any intermission . . . . The town, now deserted by the population, became a prey to the excited troops. The shells breaking through the buildings and bursting the walls of the store-houses, opened the vast accumulation of spirits, provisions, and stores which the greedy Jews and other merchants had hoarded up, waiting till distress should raise prices to an usurious standard. 
When the soldiers discovered these long-secreted hoards, and remembered the suffering and privation they had gone through for the want of the very supplies these warehouses contained, they gave unbridled license to their resentment, and, regardless of punishment, and infuriated with drink, plundered without restraint.
That those who were able to hoard, did so - although many would not have thought of it as hoarding . The civilian population had actually been ordered to make sure they had put away enough to feed themselves for six months. Equally unfair is the phrase 'greedy Jews and other merchants'. It deflects from the fact that those 'others' almost certainly included British-born merchants who could easily have been classified as the generally the richest and 'greediest' merchants in town.


In October there was an outbreak of small-pox among the civilian population. As would happen in the 1804 yellow fever epidemic ( see LINK ) the Jews were blamed - and for the usual illogic.
. . .  the garrison remained healthy until at the end of October, some alarm was created by the out-break of small-pox among the Jews, a class of people whose habitual filth was at all times sufficient to engender any malignant disease.
Yet despite the chaotic environment of war, the local Jewish women tried hard to maintain their traditions and customs. As both of the Jewish synagogues were too close to the Spanish lines for comfort, the service for Yom Kippur was held in the Jewish cemetery in the South. 
The Jewish women go to their burial ground and make great cries and noise for, or to, some of their dead.
But Jewish mores were obviously not a priority for the British:
The Jews' burying ground dug up in the night by Captain Witham.
Understandably, more and more Jews were taking every possible opportunity to leave the Rock. In February, we are told, '40 Jewesses sailed for Minorca.' Unfortunately during the Siege itself, and as a final indignity, the Spaniards expelled those Gibraltarians who had taken refuge in Minorca after they had recaptured the island. The Spaniards tried to return them but Eliott, in view of the wartime conditions in the besieged garrison, refused them admittance. 

In March;
Three officers paid smart money, about 30 guineas, for beating and abusing a Jew. It is the first time they have found protection in this place.
In the autumn of 1782, Admiral Lord Howe made his more than welcome arrival. It was the third and final relief of the town. When he left for home, and more of the inhabitants took the opportunity to sail to England. In October, the frigate Tisiphone escorted several ordnance ships to England. There were 160 Jews on board.


Howe's relief of Gibraltar ( 1782 - Richard Paton )

In February 1783, however, the Great Siege finally came to an end. The following month those who had left began to return to an almost non-existent town, such was the damage caused by enemy bombardments. In May, a Venetian ship brought the first Jewish refugees to from London. 


Gibraltar after the Siege - "an almost non-existent town"  ( 1793 - Capt Thomas Davis )

But not all of them were able to return as some found it impossible to raise the money for the fare home. The following is a list of those unfortunates who were forced to apply to the British Government for help.

 Mayr Abicasis - 80 years old - 50 years an inhabitant of Gibraltar, a wife and two daughters
Joseph Abitbol - His family had probably lived in Gibraltar since at least 1739.
Judah Benetas - 73 years old - 45 years an inhabitant.
Abraham Benady - one of the more distressed inhabitants, with a family of five helpless children.
Menahem Nahon - with a family of six children, all natives.
Rahma Botibol - an unfortunate widow. 
Zimol, widow of Juda Sananes - with two helpless girls to support and a boy.
Moses Nahon - an inhabitant of Gibraltar, where he was married and kept a shop.
Jacob Henriques Cardozo - native and inhabitant, with a wife and two small children.
Abraham Pariente, jun. (or Jonah) - referred to above as a bachelor merchant
Luna, widow of Joseph Attia - with a helpless family of four girls, all natives and inhabitants.
Jacob Levy - a native and inhabitant with a wife and five helpless children
Isaac Serfaty - an inhabitant, who formerly attended at the Jews' Brandy Warehouse.
David Nabarro and family. 
Abraham Anijar - a butcher, with a wife and three young children.
Moses Toledano - with an old mother and three sisters, all natives. He had evaded a chase at sea by the Spaniards, as described above
Abraham Señor - with a wife and six children, all natives.
Moses Hassan  
Aron Levy - an inhabitant. 
Mary, widow of Phineas Toledano.
Isaac Levy Bensusan - native.
Isaac Dasa - a very old inhabitant, with wife and family.
Joshua Levy - a native, with wife and five children. 
Solomon Beniso, native, with a wife and six children.
Donah, widow of Jacob Benshannan - an inhabitant for many years.
Mordecay Molenguy.
Ruben Melul - inhabitant.
David Benady - native.
Meriam, widow of Abraham Hassan - with five children.
Joseph Wanano - inhabitant upwards of 20 years, kept a grocer's shop.
Reyna Toledano - native and orphan.
Isaac Taurel - formerly broker to H.M. Forces. 
Jacob Shannan - native. 
Abraham Massias - inhabitant upwards of 40 years, with a wife and six children.
Isaac Ambram - inhabitant. 
Isaac Lara - former vice-consul at Tangier and Arçila.
Saml. Cardozo Nuñes - silversmith - a younger brother of Aaron Cardozo ( see LINK ) 
The distressed widow of Jacob Matana and three orphans - she held the licence for the Jews' distillery referred to above.

The petitions were organised by Isaac Aboab but interestingly, he got other Gibraltar merchants to help, by signing the petition as well - including Juda Israel, John Turnbull, and John Ward, jun. ( see LINK )  None of the petitioners appears to have received aid from the British Government, and many of them remained in London.



Gibraltar not long after the Siege  ( 1790s - George Bulteel Fisher )

In 1783 a number were assisted with 'despachos', sums of money to help them to pay their passages out of England. Jacob Levy and David Nabarro were given assistance to return to Gibraltar and so did Menahem Nahon, one of the original petitioners He was given five guineas for a 'despacho' for Gibraltar for his family and himself; others also asked for help. Some of the petitioner of the previous year - as well as others - finally managed to obtain the necessary money to return among them:

Ruben Melul - family of 6 
Zimol Sananes - family of 4 
Moseh Toledano - family of 3
Meriam de Abm. Hassan - family of 5
Moses Nahon - family of 4 
Haim Levy - family of 3
Moseh Benjamin - family of 4
Jos. Benaim 
Jos. Matana - family of 5 
Abm. Benamor 
Sel. and Jac. Masias - family of 2

The post-siege population in 1787 stood at 3386 inhabitants, slightly up on the 1777 census figure of 3201. Meanwhile the Jewish community continued to go from strength to strength. While its dominant position during the early years of the century did not carry into the next it is worth recording that in 1860, out of a total civilian population of 15 467, no less than 1625 were Jewish. Not bad for a persecuted people and a tribute to the people of the Gibraltar - Jew or gentile.  



Other articles on the Jews of Gibraltar.

1704 - The Exodus 
1728 - The Return
1750 - The Establishment
1757 - The Calm before the Storm