Dr John Hennen
In 1830 an article on Gibraltar appeared in The London Medical and Physical Journal. It was a critique written by the editor - John North - of an account or pamphlet written by Dr. John Hennen (see LINK) Medical Superintendent to the Garrison of Gibraltar during the various yellow fever crisis. (see LINK)
The title of Hennen's article was: Sketches of the Medical Topography of the Mediterranean comprising an account of Gibraltar, the Ionian Islands etc etc . . . and although it understandably deals mostly with yellow fever and its possible causes the author also offers several interesting descriptions on the kind of places that the poorer people of Gibraltar lived in during the first decades of the 19th century and possibly well after that. John North quotes extensively from Hennen as well as giving a good account of his own opinions.
The Poor of Gibraltar - The poorer classes of society, Dr. Hennen says, are crowded together in apartments of a very bad description.
Mid 19th century photograph that suggests that the town continued to be just as overcrowded then as in Hennen's day ( 1850s - Francis Frith - detail ) (see LINK)North then goes on to quote Hennen at length:
"To say that all (the apartments) are bad, would be exceeding the bounds of truth, or even of probability; but I am justified in asserting, that the majority are strikingly deficient in size, ventilation, and the means of cleanliness, and that some are utterly unfit for human habitations. . .
. . .l shall therefore merely give the summary of two or three reports l made in the spring of 1826, on the dwellings of the poor; and I may premise, that there are many infinitely worse off, in all respects, than the inhabitants of those places . .
Victualling-office Lane - In the premises of a Jew in ‘Victualling-office lane’ l found on a ground floor, seven occupied apartments, one store-room, and one necessary, built around an area of twenty-five feet by seventeen feet five inches: this area was encumbered with casks, baskets, and jars piled along the walls, and the upper part was curtailed by a projecting gallery, so that the space left for ventilation was reduced to eight feet five inches by five feet six.
The entrance was fortunately wider than usual. Of the occupied apartments, two only had windows to the street; two had small, irregular slits in the upper part of the wall, which admitted air from without, and the others had neither air nor light, except what they derived from the area; cross ventilation was therefore impossible. On this ground-floor, twenty-four individuals (including children) lived. In one of the apartments next the necessary, with no other means of ventilation than a door, three women and one dog slept.
The cubic contents of this wretched kennel were short of 200 feet. Above, the rooms were of a better description, but they contained twenty permanent inhabitants, besides a day school, in which, when I visited it, there were fifteen children.
Governor's Lane - In another Jew's premises, in ‘Governor's Lane,’ the sheds, which were built round an area originally twenty-eight feet by twenty-four, at the time of inspection were not overcrowded with population, but the cubic contents of the area were diminished nearly one half, by the erection of a new shed in its centre.
Jewish Labourer of Gibraltar ( Mid 19th C - M. C. Perry - detail ) (see LINK)
Main Street - In another Jew's lodging house, in the main street, near the court house, three adults slept in a wooden shed of six feet long, five broad, and six high; the necessary wall formed one side of this commodious dwelling!
Boyd's Building - In the middle area of Boyd’s buildings, confined and choked up by lumber, 189 persons were crowded together, some of them sleeping and cooking, in places called rooms not larger than two ordinary sentry-boxes.
Some of the areas are crowded with water butts, old mats, oil jars, and lumber of all descriptions, affording a nest for filth, and a fruitful source of putrescent exhalations, independent of their seriously diminishing the cubic mass of air, the circulation of which is still further obstructed by lines and poles crossing the areas for the purpose of drying linen.
In many tenements there are no necessaries; in many others, one small hole serves to receive the ordure of twenty families. In the centre of the area, there is, in the best class of houses, a grating, which communicates with a drain; in several, this grating and drain are altogether wanting.
General Don - Upon the whole, although Gibraltar is improved to a degree scarcely to have been contemplated by those who knew it before his Excellency Sir George Don (see LINK) took the command, it is even now a town, in many parts of it confined and ill ventilated, in which innumerable obstacles to cleanliness exist, and with a population, filthy in themselves, and over-crowded, perhaps, beyond any other community in the world!"Perhaps the best answer to this rather imperialistic and one-sided analysis is to found in a lengthy footnote by John North.
Gibraltar v London - We shall take our own great city as an example. No unprejudiced traveller, who has examined London, would I should think deny that it is one of the cleanest, if not the very cleanest, first class city in the world. The streets are swept, the flagging brushed, the scavengers go round every day with their bells and carts.
So it is also in Gibraltar. Everything visible to the passing stranger bespeaks the most perfect propreté. Here (in London) the public health has been uninterruptedly excellent for the last hundred years; there, for the last thirteen - how could it have been otherwise where there is such, perfect cleanliness!
Let another traveller penetrate into the courts and alleys about St. Giles's: let him mount to the murky garrets, or descend to the damp cellars; let him observe the contrivances to which poverty and the want of space force the squalid, but prolific inmates. Let him examine the underground city, the countless streams of sluggish filth that pour the deadly fermenting sordes, and even the dissolved remains of thousands of human beings into, the bosom of old Father Thames, from which the living millions drink; and if an epidemic there should be then or have been lately raging, he will exclaim. How could it have been otherwise, where there is so much filth and wretchedness? Thus it is with Gibraltar.
Gunner's Parade - plenty of space and clean as a whistle ( 1834 - Colonel H.A. Turner ) (see LINK )
From Waterport to South Port - Let any man enter that city by Waterport gate, (see LINK) or Bayside barrier, pass through the market, (see LINK) the ‘Grand Casemates Barracks and on to Southport gate, (see LINK) by any route he pleases, to the splendid Alameda and public gardens. Let him traverse the town in any other direction, (say from the Line wall to the Arengo palace, (see LINK) or the Chief engineer's quarters,) and if he has seen a much cleaner town, in any country, we shall yield all claim to topographical accuracy.
View of the town looking north with Arengos Palace on the right (1883 - Frederick William J. Shore )
But let the stranger pry into the penetralia of the indigent, into the common outlets and receptacles of inevitable dirt, and he will meet with enough to offend his delicacy: not so much, however, as in many parts of this great metropolis, not half no much as in many cities in warm latitudes. . . .
He who would find the causes of yellow fever in Gibraltar will take you to the wretched habitation of the widow and her helpless brood whom bitter poverty has driven to the vicinity of the public privy, or the sewer. But these poor creatures have enjoyed good health for years and were not the first to be attacked by the late epidemic. . .
Let us conclude, then, that Gibraltar is as clean and as well policed as the most unswerving military discipline, and the best-directed municipal regulations, can make it; but that . . an endemic doctor, could find in it, as in every other city in the world, its portion of private poverty and filth.
Is it not a pity, we had almost said a shame, that the host of evidence on this important subject, brought before the Board of Commissioners in Gibraltar, in 1829, should not have been published by our government?
Yes indeed. But then such information would not have sat at all well with those in authority. In particular the long held myth that during his tenure as governor, General Don had waved his magic wand and had cured every one of Gibraltar's many problems. Elsewhere we learn that:
Persons of English parentage, who have been born at Gibraltar, are called colloquially, but not contemptuously, 'Rock scorpions!’ yet they are not shunned nor despised; they eat, they dance with you; nay, they marry you, and the race of scorpions is continued ad infinitum!And that was about it.