Alexander Slidell- Mackenzie was born in 1803, joined the US Navy in 1817 but is mostly remembered for his actions as Captain of the USS Somers.
His handling of the only mutiny ever to have taken place on any American warship led him to order the execution of three young members of the crew. Mackenzie was exonerated by subsequent enquiry and court martial - but the court made the unusual point of not commending him and his actions continued to be criticised by many of his colleagues for the rest of his life.
USS Somers - only two mutineers are shown hanged ( Unknown )
However . . . he was also an author and a military historian and it is the second of his two volume work - A Year in Spain, by a Young American - that is of interest here. It was first published in 1829 but it is hard to make out when he made what must have been quite a long trip. My guess is somewhere around 1823 to 1824.
The first few pages of the Chapter of Gibraltar are given over to the usual - if in this case rather extensive - potted history and general description of the Rock. But this was followed by a series of interesting - if by no means charming - observations.
The People - The population of Gibraltar is about twenty thousand, consisting of people of all nations, brought together by the facilities which the place possesses for trade: for, situated as it is at the entrance of the Mediterranean, it affords a convenient entrepôt, whence valuable cargoes may be distributed over the adjacent coasts.
There is also an extensive demand for the subsistence of a large population entirely dependent upon external supplies. Though this mixed society must be detestable to the permanent inhabitant, it offers a singular and amusing study to the stranger.
Difficult to make out who exactly Mackenzie thinks of as a permanent inhabitant. Could it be the English?
Often have I been diverted during a lazy hour in gazing from a window of the library upon the assembled multitude below. It furnished indeed a singular medley of humorous characters and persons. The high-handed hauteur of his majesty’s officer, as he lounges at a corner, in utter scorn of the busy crew of bargainers; the supple cit, who bows breast low to him in hope of a nod of condescension, ere he turns to cheapen the beans or coffee in the hands of some still humbler broker; the less supple bearing of a rough skipper, accustomed to bang and bully and be a little king upon his own quarter-deck; the sullen demeanour of the turbaned Moor, who sits cross-legged at a shady corner . . .
Barbary Hawker - Probably Moorish, possibly Jewish (1820 - Unknown )
The Jews . . . and the filthy, slipshod, abject Jew, who sells slippers or oranges, or serves officers, merchants, sailors, or Moors as a beast of burden. These Jews come from Barbary, (see LINK) where they settled in great numbers at the time of their expulsion from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella. Many of them are traders and very rich, living in great state. These assume the European costume, and lose everything of the Jew but his characteristic physiognomy; but the greater number serve in menial offices as laborers.
They wear loose bagging breeches reaching below the knee, a tunic, and a haik or capote of cloth or of bed ticking. This garment is very large, with sleeves and a hood. It is put on like a shirt, without any opening except for the head and hands. Their garb is indeed much like that of the Moors, except that instead of a turban, which in Morocco would be taken away from them head and all, they cover their shaven crowns with a close skull-cap. They are an ill-formed, disgusting race, with a bent and abject bearing, immense fish-like eyes, and fleshy swollen ankles that receive no protection or support from the large slippers which they drag after them overthe pavement.
A Jewish citizen of Gibraltar ( early 19th century - Unknown )
Even by the usual anti-Semitic standards of the mid nineteenth century, the above really takes some beating - although perhaps Sir John Galt come close in his Voyages and Travels. (see LINK)
Spanish Smugglers - It is impossible to conceive a stronger contrast than is furnished by these poor oppressed Israelites, and the well-tumed, gaily dressed mountaineers, who come for contraband goods from the Sierrania of Ronda. These noble-looking fellows are alike free from haughtiness and humiliation. Bred among the mountains, and passing half of their lives in the saddle, with their good carbines beside them, they are accustomed to avenge their own wrongs, and own to none but their village curate, the girl of their hearts, and the Virgin Mary.
The romantic view of the Spanish smuggler ( 1861 - Richard Ansdell )
The Mad Greek Captain - Not the least singular figure to be seen upon change at Gibraltar was an old Greek captain, who made a voyage to America many years ago, carrying a cargo of wine which went to a bad market. On his return to Gibraltar with a Flemish account of the proceeds, the poor Greek was thrown into prison, whence he only escaped with the loss of his reason. He still continues in Gibraltar, wanting both means and inclination to get away from the scene of his misfortunes, and living rent free in a little hovel upon the flat roof of the theatre.
Nor will he associate with any creature except with dogs, of which he has a whole family. In the night season, while. the strumming of the orchestra below, the rant of the players, and the rattle of the castanet come faintly to him, he sits upon his threshold and holds communion with his friend the moon; and when the noontide heat drives him from his hovel, he seeks the shade below, and moves from side to side keeping in the shadows.
Poor fellow! well do I remember to have seen him in America in my boyish days; and many a time, when I have been plodding the weary road that led to the school, with dictionary and Julius Caesar hanging heavy at the end of my strap, have I come upon the track of the Greek, and followed him street after street, filled with wonder at his outlandish garb and the bigness of his breeches.
It chanced one hot morning, as I was emerging from my lodgings, that he was sitting in the shade of the doorway. The place was private, and I found some excuse for opening a conversation. But I made a bad choice in putting him in mind of America; for he presently grew enraged, swore like a trooper at the American merchants, calling them, in not very genteel Spanish, all the rogues he could think of. He vowed that he would go to Greece, fit out a ship, and sink every American he met.
Gathering himself up out of the dirt, he drew his red cap over his brow, and strode off followed by his dogs, as if bent on the immediate execution of his purpose. He was a fine-looking veteran, with a muscular frame, a manly face, and long red moustaches. Upon the whole, he would have made no contemptible figure on the deck of a rover. But, poor fellow! his imbecility will defend us from his revenge; for he will never be able to tear himself from the society of his faithful dogs, nor from his friendly hovel on the top of the theatre.The theatre with the flat roof was almost certainly the one in Castle Street - known locally as Calle Comedia for obvious reasons. It belonged to Henry Cowper, a local goldsmith. It was a place where the Garrison put on their amateur productions and where perfomances of Spanish Dancers and Italian singers were held.
The diversions of the garrison consist in rambles about the Rock, and in balls, theatres, and operas, often performed by distinguished Spaniards, who here starve and languish in exile. Picnics, where a party is formed to go into Spain in carriages and on horseback, and dine in a cork-wood or under the poetic shade of an orange orchard, furnish also a favourite diversion. (see LINK)
Catalan Bay - There are also many pleasant excursions on foot and horseback within the circumscribed extent of the Rock. Such is that to Catalan Bay, a little fishing-settlement planted upon the shore, immediately under the overhanging projection of the mountain. I chanced to be caught there one day in the rain with a couple of my countrymen, and we had an opportunity of experiencing the insecurity of this singular nestling-place.
Catalan Bay - the cross like object top right was the mast of the curious signalling system used on Signal Hill ( 1861 - Henry Stratton Bush ) ( see LINK )
Hardly had we taken refuge in the tavern and drawn our horses in after us—-for there was no stable—when we heard a rumbling noise as if the mountain was sliding down upon us, and presently a crash of rafters. We all ran out, some with hats, some without; all the huts of Catalan Bay poured forth their inmates—boys and girls, men and women ; the fishermen left their nets, which they were hanging over their boats upon the beach, and crowded round in confusion.
The fact was, a piece of the Rock had detached itself from above, bounded down the declivity, and dashed through the roof of a house; but no one, however, was hurt; so we joined the fishermen in thanking God, and when the rain abated took horse and rode home. .
They were lucky. In 1811 a huge stone fell in Catalan Bay killing 18 individuals and injuring quite a few Spaniards from San Roque who had taken shelter there. They had been driven out of their homes by the French during the Peninsular War.
French forces finally laving San Roque and a Levante cloud over the Rock ( 1800s - Gerald Hare )
The South - But a far pleasanter promenade is to sally out of Charles the Fifth’s gate, (see LINK) at the south, in the direction of the Alameda. Here you find the beautiful parade ground for the exercises of the soldiery, and may, perchance, be present at a drill. Nothing can exceed the exact precision with which the British troops perform the exercise. The Prussians and Austrians, though famous for their tactics, can by no means compare with them. . . The bands are not so good as those of the Spanish or French guards, nor the selections of music at all comparable; but the concerts of bugles, playing the merry or mournful airs of Scotland, are truly exquisite.
The northern section of the Grand Parade with South Port Gate (see LINK) on the left (1866 - Charles Anderson )
Alameda Gardens - On passing the parade-ground you enter the delightful gardens, which, in very defiance of nature, have risen within a few years upon the declivity of the Rock. Much of the soil which supports the trees and ‘shrubbery has brought from the main land. 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, in her graceless red cloak, a Provencelle duly attended by her gallant, or a gracious Gaditana.
The gardens - the brain child of General Don (see LINK) - the Governor of Gibraltar at the time of Mackenzie's visit - were still relatively new as the first walks had been inaugurated. It seem unlikely that any soil was ever imported from the hinterland as it would probably have disturbed the rich and probably unique ecosystem of the Red Sands environment that underpin the gardens.
The Alameda Gardens in the 20th century ( 1917 - Graphic Magazine - detail )
Moorish Castle - Much of the structure has been removed designedly, or battered away by the balls of the besiegers, who have also left their marks upon the remaining portion. The spiral stairway, or rather path, like that of the Giralda, is crumbling to a ruin, and a fig-tree has fastened upon the battlements: enough, however, remains to form an imposing feature in the picture of the Rock, and to give lodgement to a guard of soldiers and to the public hangman, who lives here out of sight and out of mind. This worthy functionary is occasionally called upon to do justice on a Spaniard, who, forgetting that he is in a land of law, has appealed, according to the custom of his country, to the arbitration of the knife.
An odd comment as records of Spaniards being hanged in Gibraltar in the 18th and early 19th century are few and far between. The question of hangmen must have continued to prey his mind after his experiences on the USS Somer. In his follow up book - Spain Revisited which was published in 1838 he only metions Gibraltar once;
Thus in Gibraltar, where the population is still Spanish, to a considerable extent, the usage has been maintained of quartering the hangman in the old Moorish Alcazar.
Moorish Castle (1830s - William Mein Smith ) (see LINK)
Then follows an extensive description of a visit to the Galleries - something which led him to write the following eulogy:
There is indeed much at Gibraltar to convey an exalted idea of British power. Here is a nation which occupies a mere point upon the map of the world raised by a concurrence of causes to the rank of a first-rate power, and occupying all the strong-holds of the ocean; by the multiplied industry of an inconsiderable population, buying the alliance of ‘greater nations, making war and peace at pleasure, and sitting at the helm of European policy.
Nor is her greatness only physical: her Newton, Bacon, Shakespeare, Milton, Scott, and Byron stand alone and unrivalled in the world at the head of whatever is excellent. It is a proud thing to be able to claim a common origin with this singular people; and when we revert to our own country, where a kinder‘ nature seconds all our efforts, and where a boundless territory leaves unlimited room for development; when we remember that we have adopted all the beauties of that social system under which Britain has prospered, without any of its deformities . . .
The British Tree of liberty - The Rock in the background is supposed to represent Gibraltar ( 1804 - H Humphreys )
Signal Hill is paid a visit, the view admired, St Michael's Cave explored:
The Rock of Gibraltar would be considered a very singular production of nature, if it had not St. Michael's Cave ; and if it possessed no other claim to attention, this alone would render it remarkable. . . . As it has been penetrated by the hardy and enterprising to a great distance—on one occasion by a surgeon of the United States navy, who descended by ropes . . . a depth of five hundred feet - a wild story is current, that the cave communicates by a sub-marine passage with Africa.
And for a grand finale, those wretched monkeys . . .
The Apes - As they are very innocent animals, and form a kind of poetical appendage of the Rock, strict orders have been issued for their special protection. While I was at the Rock, however, two drunken soldiers one day undertook to violate these orders . . . As they were rambling about the declivity, below the Signal Tower, they happened to come upon the traces of a party of monkeys, and at once gave chase.
The monkeys, cut off from their upward retreat, ran downwards; the soldiers followed . . . In this way they approached the perpendicular precipice which rises from the Alameda. One of the soldiers was able to check his course, and just saved himself; the foremost and most impetuous, urged on by a resistless impetus, passed over the fearful steep, and fell a mangled and lifeless corpse upon the walk of the Alameda.
The next morning the slow and measured tread of many feet beneath my window, the mournful sound of the muffled drums . . . told me that they were bearing the dead soldier to his tomb.