In 1856, the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maxillian consulted the elderly German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt on the possibility of organising a scientific mission. Humboldt supported the Archduke's plans and the result was a 2 years and 3 months circumnavigation of the globe on the Austrian Frigate SMS Novara. It set out on 30th April 1857 and returned home on the 30th August 1859
The Novara - note Gibraltar, top left ( From the Book )
One of the members of the expedition, Dr. Karl Scherzer, took it upon himself to publish a record of the entire expedition. He wrote it in English as he thought that this would open it to a wider audience, which is perhaps why it took him 15 years and 21 volumes to complete. The title was almost as long - Narrative of the Circumnavigation of the Globe by the Austrian Frigate Novara, in the Years 1857, 1858 and 1850.
More importantly from our point of view, the ship visited Gibraltar on the 20th of May 1857 and remained there for ten days. Dr. Scherzer's comments on the place appear appropriately in Volume 1 and are quoted below together with a few of the pertinent engravings that appeared in the book.
. . .Gibraltar was already strongly fortified, when it belonged to the Andalusian kingdom, but its grandest fortifications date from the treaty of Utrecht (1713), when it became an appendage of the British crown. Stupendous and incomparable are the works which since that period have been executed on it, though the calcareous formation of the locality and its numerous caves may have considerably facilitated their construction.The fortifications were indeed impressive but most of the stone was quarried from the eastern side of the Rock. As far as I know the caves - and there are many in Gibraltar - were never used for this purpose.
The English authorities, who so kindly assisted in the scientific researches, obligingly furnished each individual of the frigate's staff with a written permission to inspect the fortifications as often as they pleased and thereby afforded them the particular gratification of being able to view and admire these vast structures in all their details. Excellent and well-kept roads lead to the principal fortifications, which only begin at an elevation of several hundred feet above the town.
The galleries, hewn in the solid rock, forming a kind of casemates, are of such breadth and height that they may be conveniently traversed by a man on horseback with his hat on. They have been constructed at an immense expense of labour and money, and are designated by various names, as "Upper gallery," "Lower gallery," "Queen's gallery," "St. George's Hall," and so on. . . .
. . . At the period of our visit, there were mounted on the different fortifications 707 guns, about one hundred of which peeped out of the smaller embrasures. Since that date, however, the number is said to have been increased so as to amount now to about 1500.During the stay of the Novara, it fortunately happened that the birthday of Queen Victoria was celebrated, and thus an opportunity was offered of seeing the fiery mountain in full activity. Though the occasion was peaceable, yet the imposing spectacle gave a tolerable idea of the elements of destruction which Gibraltar could put in action if really attacked.
The governor of the fortress, surrounded by a brilliant staff, in which the Spanish governor of Algeziras and his officers played but a sorry part, reviewed the garrison . . . and whilst the troops defiled in slow and quick step, lightning and thunders issued from all the crevices and embrasures of the artificially-perforated rock; huge volumes of dense smoke followed, and a rolling subterraneous rumbling gave the mountain exactly the character of a volcano suddenly burst into action.
The echo of these salvoes of rejoicing must have been heard, not only in the adjacent parts of Spain, but also on the more remote coast of Africa; and he who was ignorant of the real cause, might have supposed it a grand rehearsal of that fearful tragedy which the English seem determined to perform in the event of an attack.
A similar military review to that described above held in North Front ( 1882 - The Graphic )
The supposition, however, that the guns of Gibraltar are able entirely to command the Straits is erroneous, for these, at their narrowest part, are 12½ miles wide, and not even the Armstrong guns, with which the fortress has lately been furnished, have so extensive a range. The English are, however, able to command the Straits by a fleet, which would find in the Bay of Gibraltar a sufficiently safe and roomy anchorage.
From the fortifications, a narrow and rather steep path leads to the telegraph station, at an elevation of 1300 feet above the level of the sea. Steamers and men-of-war, as soon as visible, are signalled from this point by means of immense balls and flags. It would be very difficult to signal merchantmen in the same way, as, during a prevailing westerly wind, multitudes of ships often appear to the eastward of the rock, anxiously waiting for a favourable easterly breeze to carry them through the Straits; in the same way the westerly horizon is sometimes crowded with ships, prevented by contrary winds from entering the Mediterranean.
We found at the station an Aneroid-barometer, and a thermometer. The advantages for navigation and physical science of extensive meteorological observations, regularly made, are so evident, that it is astonishing to see how often opportunities are neglected for making them, such as are offered here.
Signal Station with the 'balls and flag' signalling system mentioned above ( 1840s - A Guesdon ) ( see LINK )
There was no opportunity for seeing any of those families of monkeys, the occasional appearance of which on the Rock of Gibraltar has given rise to tales found in books of travel of the existence of a submarine communication . . .
The calcareous caves are very remarkable. That on the western side, called St. Michael's, situated at a height of 800 feet, is the most important. It contains beautiful stalactite formations, and seems to be of considerable extent; it has, however, not been closely examined hitherto, as only a small part is conveniently accessible.
St. Martin's Cave, on the south-east, likewise about 800 feet above the level of the sea, is smaller, but its stalactites are of a purer whiteness. A third was discovered a few years since on the eastern side of the rock at a height of only 80 feet, the lower portion of which consists of accumulations of sand and recent shells. There have also been found bones and teeth of large herbivorous animals.
"Rock cavern in Gibraltar" ( From the book )
. . . Gibraltar has little to attract strangers to settle; barracks, military store-houses, and fortifications, render the appearance of the place peculiarly monotonous, the more so that there are no elegant buildings, or fine shops, on the rock. There was nothing observed, however, to confirm the statement, in a celebrated geographical work, copied by all later compilers, that "most of the houses are painted black, to soften the glare of the sun, and prevent an attacking enemy having a distinct view of the place."
The town, which is built in terraces on the side of the rock, is accessible only from three points. The greatest portion of the traffic passes through the so-called Old Mole ( see LINK ) at the north end, whilst the entrances on the south are generally used by men-of-war sailors only. All are opened at 5 in the morning, and, according to the season, shut between 7 and 8 in the evening, precisely twenty-five minutes after the first signal-gun.
This closing of the gate is attended with ceremonies verging on the comic. A broad-shouldered corporal, carrying in his hand a heavy bunch of immense keys, marches, visibly impressed with the importance of his mission, in measured steps, accompanied by a number of red jackets with fixed bayonets, towards the massive town-gate; the bridge is then, with much ado, drawn up, and the horribly-creaking gate, with great exertion, closed, bolted, and finally locked.
This was is still known as 'The Ceremony of the Keys". It is carried out on appropriate occasions.
After "gun fire" no one can leave the town by the Old Mole; at 10 pm, however, and at midnight, a little postern is opened, through which those jolly stragglers, who have forgotten in merry company the measure of time, may slip out to return to their floating abodes. From this hour till morning all communication with the harbour is arrested, and the utter impossibility (except in extraordinary cases) of leaving the town after this hour, has given rise amongst the people to the saying, "There is only one thing more difficult than to get out of the town after midnight, and that is to get in."
There are in the city two Anglican churches, one Wesleyan, one Presbyterian, two Catholic chapels, and two synagogues. The garrison library, ( see LINK ) where likewise a great number of journals and magazines are kept, possesses 22,000 volumes, amongst them several very rare and costly works, especially of ancient Spanish literature.
It was founded in 1793 by Captain Drinkwater, ( see LINK ) and has been hitherto kept up by private subscriptions and the profits arising from a printing-establishment attached to it.Gibraltar owes to the energy and public spirit of the governor, Sir James Fergusson, the foundation of several important establishments and undertakings. Since the beginning of his administration in 1856, the number of public schools has been considerably increased, the town supplied with gas, and well-arranged public baths established.
Lieutenant-General Sir James Fergusson succeeded Sir Robert William Gardiner ( see LINK ) , who had committed the cardinal sin of trying to curb smuggling in Gibraltar. The local merchants - who had an axe to grind and much money to lose in this respect - took him on and managed to get London to remove him. Fergusson's administration of the Rock can therefore understandably be described as one that let sleeping dogs lie.
The city does not possess a single well or spring; the water used is obtained from tanks, in which the rain is collected. The quantity of rain that fell during the twelve months of 1855 amounted to 78 inches; in 1856, it is said to have been only 24 inches. Nevertheless, there is at no time any scarcity of water. The Government have lately caused the erection of a distilling apparatus for making sea-water fit for domestic purposes, which, however, hitherto has not been used.
The population of Gibraltar, including the garrison of 6000 men, amounts to about 20,000 souls, consisting of Spaniards, English, Italians (mostly Genoese), Portuguese, Moors, Turks, Greeks, and Jews; indeed, a mixture of races, customs, and manners such as scarcely can be found at any other place in Europe. The native residents call Gibraltar briefly the rock, and themselves, with a kind of pseudo-patriotism, rock people, though by the officers of the garrison and navy generally complimented with the name of "rock-scorpions."
A rather uninspired engraving of the Rock ( From the book )
The permanent settling of foreigners, in consequence of its being a fortress, requires a number of formalities, which have the effect of limiting the population; and even the English portion must be considered migratory, as it consists chiefly of military and government officers, who, after the lapse of certain intervals, exchange in regular order.British control over immigration - and its many 'formalities over the years - never seem to have had any real effect on limiting the population which continued to grow year by year.
The only really beautiful walk in the place is Elliott's Gardens, situated at the south end of the town, laid out in a grand style, but disfigured by a tasteless bronze statue of General Elliott (afterwards Lord Heathfield), the heroic defender of Gibraltar in 1782. In the evenings, when one of the military bands is performing, the grounds are thronged by visitors on foot, horseback, and in carriages, whilst loving couples, of all races and grades, ramble in happy union through the shady avenues.
The 'tasteless bronze' of Eliott was in fact a very recent replacement of something even worse - a colossal wooden statue carved from the bowsprit of the Spanish man-o-war San Juan, taken at Trafalgar. It was replaced by the present eyesore and the wooden one taken to the Governor's residence at the Convent.
Wooden statue of General Eliott at "Elliott's Gardens" or Alameda Gardens ( 1846 - J.M. Carter ) ( see LINK )
Near the gardens, towards the south, is a second quarter of the city, which mostly consists of government buildings. On the lowest terrace, which juts furthest into the sea, stands the lighthouse, on the celebrated "Europa Point."
( The National Archives )