Thomas Gordon - born in 1691 - was a Scottish writer who, together with John Trenchard published the weekly periodical The Independent Whig, from 1720 to 1723. The first one was published at the time of the rejection of the Peerage Bill in December 1719. The second was published in 1720 under the informative but cumbersome title of Considerations Offered upon the Approaching Peace and upon the importance of Gibraltar to the British Empire.
This article, from which the quotes below are taken, should be read within the following context. In 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Gibraltar was taken by Anglo-Dutch forces in the name of the Spanish pretender the Archduke Charles of Austria. (See LINK) The British hung on to the place and Queen Anne declared it a Free Port in 1705. Subsequently the Rock was ceded to British by the Treaty of Utrecht (See LINK) which was signed in 1713.
Despite all this, Gibraltar was initially seen by the British Government of the time as more of a bargaining counter than a strategic asset. On more than one occasion between 1713 and 1728 proposals were made to exchange Gibraltar for other concessions from Spain. The proposals were vetoed by the British Parliament following public protests - including this one by Thomas Gordon.
. . . a complete Tract of Land should be annexed to Gibraltar for the Convenience and Maintenance of the Garrison, as is usual in these Cases and ought to have been done at first. At present they have not a Foot of Ground about it, either for Gardens or Pasture but are cooped up within their Stone Walls, and left to make the best of their enclosed Rock.
The ambiguous wording of the Treaty of Utrecht specified that Britain would enjoy "the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging". However, it also insisted "that the above-named propriety be yielded to Great Britain without any territorial jurisdiction and without any open communication by land with the country round about." In other word if Gibraltar was to be of any use to the British, "a complete Tract of Land should be annexed . . . for the Convenience and Maintenance of the Garrison."
Without such Conditions and Securities all Treaties signify nothing, and may, and probably will be broken as soon as made. Here we can expect no help from Allies and Guarantees who will always emulate and privately conspire against the great Naval Power, and growing Trade of England, which is the Envy and Terror of the World. . .
They know very well that a fortress conquered by the fleets and Armies, by the Blood and Treasure of England, and solemnly yielded up by Treaty made with England, became part of the English Dominions, and subject to the Legislative Power of England and could not ne disannexed but by an Act of Parliament and consequently, any Agreement to deliver such a Fort to an enemy, is High Treason . . . . . I shall endeavour to undecieve them . . . and this I shall do by shewing the Advantages and Importance of that Port to the Sovereignty of the Seas.
The Town of Gibraltar is built on a Rock which reaches a league into the Sea . . . it is joined to Spain by a small Neck of Land, which being narrow and plain may be easily cut through and separated from the Continent, so as to form the whole into an Island; and it is undoubtedly true that a Mole may be made at moderate expense capable of holding Thirty large Men of War.The Mole in question is that at Rosia Bay which was eventually used by the Royal Navy to great effect for many years.
Rosia Bay ( 1870s - George Washington Wilson ) (See LINK)
It lies within a few leagues of Tangier, in Africa and commands the Mouth of the Streights. It sees all Ships that sail the Mediterranean to the Ocean . . . and consequently makes it impracticable for other Nations to Trade there without our leave, but by the protection of such fleets and Convoys as will make any trade unprofitable.
At the same Time it protects our own Traffic and furnishes Storehouses either for War or Commerce, and a convenient Place for Refreshment to our Ships in their Voyages to and from Africa, Italy, the Levant, and sometimes the East and West Indies. It gives us the Means of carrying out a private and advantageous Commerce with Spain, nonewithstanding all the Prohibitions they make, or Precautions they can use.
. . . It separates and divides Spain from itself and hinders all communication by sea . . and consequently must keep them in perpetual Dependence and put them under a Necessity to court our Friendship, as well as Fear our Enmity.
This must be one of the first historical references advocating the use of Gibraltar as a base for smuggling - whatever the inconvenience to Spain. Thomas Gordon continues at length describing the negative effects not just on Spain but on France by 'England' holding on to Gibraltar. He then turns his attentions to the cost of putting into practice what he preaches.
Bay of Gibraltar in 1705 ( Leynslager )
But we are told, the keeping is a great Charge to us. Strange and surprising Instance of our new Frugality and good Husbandry. That we, who for Thirty Years have rioted in millions, and till Heaven blessed us with the present ministry, never minded what we gave nor to whom, we who drained the Exchequer and mortgaged the Nation should now from a Principle of Saving sacrifice the whole Fruit of all our Experience to prevent a charge which is but equal to that of a few useless pensions!
. . . It has been alleged that Port Mahon will answer all the Purposes of Gibraltar . . the contrary of which must be evident to any who but looks into a map.. . But I think nothing is plainer than that it would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to keep the Island of Minorca without the Possession of Gibraltar . . I think we ought to keep always in view, for then Gibraltar will be the only Resource we have to carry to carry on any trade in the Mediterranean . . .
Two important posts might be kept with little charge to England . . Methinks it would be worth the . . British Parliament to ask a few Questions concerning them. . . What protection do the People meet with and what Civil Government is established among them, and how the military interferes with it?
Whatever he might mean by a Civil Government it was not that of the very few actual residents living on the Rock at the time - they would have to wait more than another couple of centuries for anything remotely approaching this. He was probably thinking on the lines of expats following the flag and coming over for a spot of trade.
I am persuaded, if they were made Free Ports . . they would soon grow so Rich and Powerful , as in a great Measure to pay for their own Protection. Gibraltar lies more fortunately for trade than Leghorn.
Not entirely sure what he meant by that 'if'. Gibraltar had been made a free port and it was better placed than Leghorn for trade. Whatever, Gordon won the argument. Gibraltar remained if not English, then British, continued to be of use to the Royal Navy and became a haven for smugglers right up to the present day.