The People of Gibraltar
1785 - Robert Burns - Soldier's Joy

Robert Burns wrote 'Soldiers Joy' in 1785 three years after the failure of the Franco-Spanish Grand Assault against Gibraltar took place and two after the end of the Great Siege itself. ( see LINK


Robert Burns

I am a son of Mars who have been in many wars,
And show my cuts and scars wherever I come;
This here was for a wench, and that other in a trench,
When welcoming the French at the sound of the drum.

My Prenticeship I past where my Leader breath'd his last,
When the bloody die was cast on the heights of Abram;
And I served out my Trade when the gallant game was play'd,
And the Moro low was laid at the sound of the drum.

I lastly was with Curtis among the floating batt'ries,
And there I left for witness, an arm and a limb;
Yet let my Country need me, with Elliot to head me,
I'd clatter on my stumps at the sound of a drum.

And now tho' I must beg, with a wooden arm and leg,
And many a tatter'd rag hanging over by bum,
I'm as happy with my wallet, my bottle and my Callet,
As when I us'd in scarlet to follow a drum.

What tho', with hoary locks, I must stand the winter shocks,
Beneath the woods and rocks oftentimes for a home,
When the t'other bag I sell and the t'other bottle tell,
I could meet a troop of Hell at the sound of a drum.


Leader breath'd his last - That would be General James Wolfe, who died from shot wounds while taking Quebec during the Seven Years War

Heights of Abram - Battle of the Plains of Abraham during the Seven Years War. Our 'soldier' must have served in Canada

Elliot - General George Augustus Eliott, Governor of Gibraltar and the man in charge during the Great Siege 


General George Augustus Eliott - Baron Heathfield ( 1787 Joshua Reynolds ) 

Moro - Morro Fortress The scene of a ferocious battle during the. It is a curious reference. Most historians, caught up in their descriptions of the war - as well as the euphoria of  victory, or distress in defeat - never seem to find the time to tell us what made people like Eliott tick. Samuel Ancell ( see LINK ) in his 'Memoirs of Eliott' is perhaps the only one who gives us an insight into what drove the man. 

It seems as if he always had his eye on the gallant Lewis de Velasco who maintained his station to the last extremity, and when his garrison were flying from his side or falling at his feet, disdained to call for quarter, but fell gloriously exercising his sword upon his conquerors.'

Velasco was an unlikely choice for Eliott to pick as his ideal of a commander under siege. For a start he was Spanish.  Yet Eliott could have done worse. Luis Vicente de Velasco e Isla was a veteran when he ended up in command of Havana’s Morro Fortress when it was attacked by the British in the Battle of Havana during the Seven Years War.


Luis Vicente de Velasco e Isla ( Unknown ) 

His personal bravery kept up the moral of his garrison of whom less than half survived the continual bombardments and repeated assaults. The story goes that when Velasco was wounded and the surgeons were operating in an attempt to save his life, the British ordered their troops to remain silent. Velasco didn’t make it but his name became a bye-word for bravery and leadership, not just with the Spanish but also with the British forces. Eliott happened to be second in command during the attack on Morro Fortress. 

The floating batt'ries - Known officially as the Grand Assault, everybody else knows it as the affair of the ‘Floating Batteries’. It was a fancy name given to an armada of ships supposedly unsinkable and fireproof and which proved to be neither one nor the other.  British accounts of this cringe-worthy debacle understandably attribute most of the honour for sinking these ships to the unerring aim of their own gunners and the ingenious idea of using red hot shot. 


Eliott and Floating Batteries ( John Singleton Copley) ( see LINK


A separate account by Chevalier D'Ar├žon – the Frenchman responsible for the idea in the first place – may just possibly be more correct if only because it confirms the sheer ineffectiveness of the Franco-Spanish commanders ( see LINK ) Half the reprobates 

Curtis - Captain Roger Curtis - This unusually attractive individual - together with a handful of his sailors - was a hero of the Floating Batteries fiasco. After the British had well and truely repulsed the assault they set out in small boats and spent most of the night risking their lives trying to rescuing as many of the enemy as possible from among the burning ships. ( see LINK


Captain Roger Curtis   (1781 - C. M. Metz )