Hadji Ben-Azed and Ben-Nerood - Ben-Haﬁz, Rafael and Mesias
George Walter Thornbury was a very English author. He was born in 1828 and is reputed to have died when he was 48 years old in a 'lunatic asylum'. The writing style and content of his book - Life in Spain Past and Present which was published in 1860 makes one wonder whether he was not already well on his way to madness.
His chapters on Gibraltar are tedious and repetitive and his chauvinism and anti-Spanish -sentiments are tiresome even making allowances for the epoch in which he lived. His racism is evident throughout. His metaphors and similes are so opaque as to hinder rather than aid the reader and his attempts at humour - and there are many - do everything possible to destroy the notion that all Englishmen have a good sense of one.
Gibraltar from the Spanish frontier post north of the Neutral Ground ( Late 19th century - Jean Laurent ) (See LINK)
Throughout the book - including those sections on Gibraltar, he makes use of two imaginary British officers which he uses as props to praise his countrymen and insult the Spaniards. The following example will suffice.
Let me introduce them. Ensign Spanker, of the Four hundred and fourteenth Light Infantry, and Lieutenant Driver, of the Ninety-second Bombardiers; lion-hearted fellows, thoughtless as Mercutios, audaciously English . . . This is how we first saw Gib, generally known to subs of the Driver and Spanker class familiarly as “ The Rock.”. . .
Spanker looked up . . . “ By-the-by, if you want any Moorish curiosities of the scorpions, don’t go to Ben-Azed’s in Waterport Street. He is the most awful rogue in all Gib.” [Nota.Bene .-Scorpion is a military term of contempt for Gibraltar tradesmen.]
“The officers seem a pack of muffs,” says Spanker privately to me; “I see we shall have a pretty trouble in Gib with these Irishmen.”
Only yesterday, on the neutral ground, one of their (Spanish) beasts of officers splashed me all over, on purpose, as he rode by; and then, when I cut him in the face with a back-handed blow of my whip-scissors! What do you think he did?”
“Drew his toasting-fork.”
“Knocked him down, of course, and left him there, till the Spanish guard came up, with whom I put him in arrest for insulting an English gentleman and officer.”
A Spaniard and his 'toasting fork? ( from the book )
That will have to do for Spanker but it was much the same for Driver. Nevertheless in between these interludes, the author does offer a few useful comments on mid 19th century Gibraltar and its civilian population that might be worth quoting.
While in Seville - A bell rings. It is the dinner-tocsin. “La comida e pronta; dinner is ready, gentlemens,” says Rose, the waiter and guide, in a double-barrelled proclamation, he being one of those split-tongued sons of Gibraltar who act as guides and waiters all over Spain.A rare mention in the literature that their ability to speak English as well as Spanish must have been useful to those Gibraltarians who were prepared to live in Spain and earn their liveliood as suggested above.
Arrival - That night I fell asleep in the hot boarded bedroom of the Club House Hotel, Gibraltar, which once, I believe, a great man's house, (see LINK) is now merely a great house for travellers, and rears its yellow-ochry bulk in a sort of small market square just out of Waterport Street, which is the High Street of Gib.The market Square was known as the Commercial Square at the time - today it is called John Macintosh Square.
First Impressions - I fell asleep after doing battle with the mosquitoes, and thanking Heaven for getting, after many wanderings, under the red and blue cross . . . A great boom and bellow . . . awoke me. I ran to the great folding glass window and looked out . . . A gigantic military serenade given by the governor to some hidden Moorish beauty . . . the usual night-tattoo . . . a dozen rattling drums and petulant, ear-piercing fifes.
There they are just opposite the guard-house, where all day languid young fops in scarlet lounge in the balcony and read the Times . . . Now they burst out with “The British Grenadiers," with a tow-row-row that must make the sleeping Spaniards turn in their beds and finger the long knives under their pillows. Now they form two deep and storm away down the main street, and I fall asleep ere “God save the Queen” has died out in the distance.
Many a night afterward, tired from wild-boar seeking in the cork-woods, or after wild Tartar scampers on horseback over the sands of Saint Roque, or after cavalry charges to outpost stations at Catalan Bay, (see LINK ) or through the parade to Ragged Staff (See LINK) and Europa Point . . . or smoking chats in chairs outside the hotel door, I heard that band, yet never did the exhilarating insolence and tumultuous exuberance of military stirring national ardour rouse me as it did that first night in Gib.
I sleep, I thought, beneath the countless guns of England, guarded by her sons, who are my brothers. Gib’s governor is my governor, her cause is my cause . . . There is an exquisite sense of contrast in coming into Gib out of Spain. At once from the land of black fans and red sashes round the waist you pass to English bonnets and black coats - from quails and garlic to roast beef and pudding. Yesterday you were in a bull-ring, now you see a cricket-ground and a race-course, (See LINK) though it does run round a church-yard.
Hardly an accurate comparison - there cannot have been all that many English bonnets worn by the majority of the population who were far from being English, and while perhaps not often given to eating quail, neither could most of them afford roast beef and pudding. The racecourse was indeed very close to the graveyard in North Front.
Yesterday, stunted brown-caped soldiers, mean and beaten - to-day, the bold scarlet jackets, “fellows” big-boned, large-hearted, and of an honest white and red. Yesterday, high-grated windows, with bars that are but ladder-steps for daring lovers - to-day, grimy glazed windows and the snug dirtiness of Wapping.
Several others have also used the Wapping" analogy to describe Gibraltar's housing deficiencies, - including the originator of the phrase who preferred the adjective 'stuffy' to 'snug.' (See LINK)
Yesterday, homeless, comfortless posadas that you walked into uncared for and ungreeted - to-day, the Old King’s Arms spreads its gilded gallows-sign across the main street . . .
Waterport Street looking north - The 'Old King's Arms' stands at the corner to the left of the men wearing top-hats - the hotel's sign is just visible on a post in front of the trees ( 1870s - George Washington Wilson ) (See LINK)
The men we meet here are not dry, brown-faced, under-sized Andalucians, but plethoric, red-faced majors, bursting with fat, bile, and choler; no dancing-footed and Arab-blooded majos, but puff-faced privates, in white blouses, talking at the corners of streets about how many “goons” such a battery holds in the broadest and cheeriest Lancashire.
As for the shops, they are real higglers’, (itinerant peddlers) and chandlers’ (traders), just as you see about the Minories, (street in London) and out of their dim snuffy recesses break at intervals real old Englishwomen, free, genuine, motherly old laundresses and charwomen, such as puff at your winter fire in the Temple, or stir the dust about, which they call sweeping, in Gray’s Inn.'Snuffy' - Could this be an unhappy compromise between the author's 'snug' and Richard Ford's Stuffy?
Not that the Spanish element is at all dead in that cluster of houses under the great batteried rock. No; you still see the pale brown girls with the shining black hair, the dusty muleteer with the embroidered Moorish gaiters and strings of pack-mules-still the quick-eyed Spanish children, munching melons, or wrestling in the old Roman way, that you see in bas-reliefs, holding each other’s wrists.One and only mention I have ever come across of Roman wrestling as a sport in Gibraltar.
The Moors - You still hear in every shop Spanish curses and Spanish greeting. The cigar-shops are Spanish; the names over the doors are all Joses, Pepes, and Pedros, or, if not Spanish, Jewish. And is there nothing to remind you that you are close to Africa, scarce a gunshot distance from the pirate country of the Lower Atlas . . . There are some thousand Moors resident in Gib. You meet them everywhere; kingly and erect in their rhubarb-coloured slippers, bare brown legs, and blue and white robes, Othellos every one.
You meet them at sunrise, trooping to some eastward-pointing ramp, where they may kneel toward Mecca and think of the Prophet, as the saffron fire kindles to burning rose. There they go, past the Jews’ synagogue, and the new Moorish-looking church by the King’s Bastion, with their haiks and striped camel’s-hair-looking hoods, black and white lined. It is good to see the quiet gravity and the imperturbable regularity with which they repair to their early matin service, as if religion were something else than a thing to quarrel about.
With what pride they pass those sneaking-looking Jews in their sloughing trowsers and blue and white cloaks - their prescribed costume - slinking in their mean black-tufted caps to their daily cheatings - ignoble money-lending old men and sloppy over-grown striplings, eaten up with the ulcer of selfish greed.According to the 1840 census there were 15,554 residents in Gibraltar. Of these 15 were 'Moors.' By 1860 the population had risen by an additional couple of thousand people but there is little doubt that the Moorish will not have risen materially. Thornbury's Moors were visiting traders who would be returning home to Barbary probably that very same day.
Shopping . . . There they go, all our old friends, Mordecai, Shylock, Gehazi, Judas, and Company, with their hanging sleeves, past the great cigar-shop of Rodriguez, looking up at the old battered Moorish castle . . . wonder that the thundering crash of that nightly gunfire does not frighten them from the place; and perhaps it would, for it can be heard even in the Ronda Mountains, where the smugglers are . . .
So let us return to the Moors, for the Jews are not worth stopping with, and enter this shop of Hadji Ben-Azed, dealer in Barbary curiosities. Ben-Azed is a pilgrim, as the word Hadji implies, and he is quite sultanic as he leans with crossed legs against his counter. He shows us necklaces of little sharp-pointed white shells from the Morocco (Rif) coast, fit for the necks of Abyssinian princesses; bracelets of gold sequins, such as maids of Athens would clasp their white wrists with; yellow slippers, turned down at the heel, barred with bars of blue, and stamped with seals of Koran legends; and Arabian leather sacks of rare, fragrant tobacco, which smells like flowers.
He pats, with regal complacency, princely cushions of red morocco, worked with gold thread, and roundels and lozenges of green velvet. He shows me clumsy pouches, stiff with tarnished lace, knives large as scythes, and huge straw hats, with brims as wide as cart wheels. When I shrug my shoulders, and do not headlong buy, he warns me in good Spanish and bad English of one Ben-Nerood, a black merchant, who deceives The Anglis, and sells spurious cigars too cheap . . . He assures me in a whisper that the governor had been that very day in his shop, and said, “By the Prophet! Ben-Azed, you are the honestest rogue in all Gibraltar” . . .As with all else, much too overcooked - the devil, they say is in the detail, and to be described by Thornbury can be a death by a thousand cuts. If you happen not to be English that is.
But what sort of a place is Gib ? Well, it is a curious huddle of semi-Spanish houses, flocking together down to as near the water as the strong lines of ugly-looking forts will let them; and because they cannot take up all of what would in another place be quay, there are batteries run up the steep sides of the rocks as high as they can go, gathering round the tall, raw, square-looking old Arab castle of Tarik, which French and Spanish shot in the great old sulphurous-flaming siege have punched with holes till it is pock-marked all over . . . It is now . . . ( the Moorish Castle) giving it a look of scorn, a prison for debt; and wonderful stories are told of the strategic skill with which several Gib officers contrive to keep out of it.
And there, with its flimsy-looking red and yellow stucco, pitted terribly, it stands, just as when Eliott stood near it, old Titan, amid the smoke, as Reynolds grandly painted him, with the fortress key clenched grimly in his hand.
General George Augustus Eliott - Governor of Gibraltar ( 1787 - Joshua Reynolds ) (see LINK)
The Tourist - Everywhere in Gib the perpetual sense of vigilance and defiance fills your mind : you pass down Big Gun Alley, where a huge bombshell of the old siege is let into the corner of the street hall, and, lo! but a turn from Main Street, with its cigar-shops, stores, chandlers, clock-makers, and Moorish curiosities, you are on the outer road, which is walled in with batteries.
The King’s Bastion . . . faces the Spaniards of Algeciras, grinning at them with its fang teeth: how neat, clean, and firm the stone-work is that the convicts (See LINK) still chip and hammer at, with its bomb-proof barracks, its terraces, and slanting roofs for yawning guns!
Yonder, a little reef in the sea is a low line of wall for fresh batteries; and this long jetty with guns is the famous Devil’s Tongue that Drinkwater (see LINK) mentions. Line after line, all along the rock, first the harbour, then the Ragged Staff (see LINK) then the bleak headland, Europa Point, where the great attack was once made, are everywhere mechanical-looking sentries, red or blue, threatening and defiant to angry, scowling-looking Spaniards, who talk of Gib as a place only lent to us, and one day to be given back with thanks.
View of the Castle and the old town from the Devil's Tongue ( 1870s - George Washington Wilson )
Everywhere pyramids of black cannon balls, like so many Negroes’ heads collected as tribute, and near the Parade, where the rock walls us in on one side, are stacks of gun-carriages, rows on rows of rusty dismounted guns, mischievous and cumbrous; and with these, piles of carriage-wheels in heaps like black cheeses. Everywhere Death’s playthings laid up in ordinary.
South Port Gates - "Everywhere pyramids of black cannon balls" ( 1870s - George Washington Wilson )
The civilian in Gib seems a mere tolerated accident, and the young military "blood” delights to tell you that, in case of revolt or war, the government, to whom nearly all the houses and shops belong, would sweep them away at one swoop, and plant fresh batteries upon their sites.In this he was correct. Come World War II, the entire population was evacuated for the duration.
The Weather - But with all this parade of war, I have not yet mentioned the great rock galleries that honeycomb the rock, particularly on the north side, facing the Neutral Ground, which looks toward Saint Roque. Look up at the great hull of gray rock, scarped and unscalable, with the dark square spots in irregular lines around the middle of the crag . . .
This heat is not always so extreme. It is the levanter, or east wind, the dreaded sirocco of the rock now blowing; the tyrant of Gib, as the west wind is the liberator; the noxious fire-blast that spoils old generals’ tempers and produces extra parades; that tosses all the great ships to and fro between Cabrita and Europa Point, and strews the shore with broken nut-shells of stranded barks.
This is the dry, hot wind, that makes the mosquitoes more shrill of song and more poisonous . . . This is the wind that brings flocks of scarlet-coated subs to the golden grapes at the King’s Arms to thirstily drain sangaree, (sangria?) shandy-gall, claret-cup, and endless foaming yellow tubes of Bass’s bitter. This is the wind that blights and shrivels . . .
( Late 19th century advertisement )
. . . At last we are in, under the low, mischievous lines of harbour forts, where concealed cannon snarl and make faces at you; and under the great pile of limestone and marble, which soars high and broad fourteen hundred feet above the crowd of jostling red, blue, and yellow boats, that push for the water-gate (see LINK) by the Fish Market. This is the port of Gib . . .
The old market - The three archways on the left, known as Waterport Gates, led directly to the Commercial Wharf
The author then treats us to a rather truncated 19th century version of the history of Gibraltar from Tarik to Eliott in which he tells us:
George the First would have given up the rock at Utrecht, but he did not.But he soon returns to the main topic:
The People. . . to see its four thousand Moors, fifteen thousand Spaniards, hybrid tradesmen, pimps, Jews, rogues, and higglers, let alone its five thousand soldiers, its stiff generals, stuck-up doctors, and starched red-faced majors, you must go to Commercial Square, where the Exchange is, and General Don’s bust, the club, library, and open-air auctions. Here you will see the yellow-slippered, purple-robed, brown-legged Moors, looking complacently at the long row of hams, or the piles of empty beer-bottles that the ivory hammer is knocking down for sale, or standing proudly and stoically watching the gold-laced band, or the groups of red-sashed captains chattering at some guard-room door.
Commercial Square and the Exchange and Commercial Library ( 1890s - Unknown) (See LINK)
Here, proof to all Gibraltar fevers are the real scorpion women, of a pale, clear, brown complexion, in their red cloaks and hoods, edged with black velvet - such a peculiar dress; but we are in the region of odd costumes . . . Next those soldiers, with breeches half of leather, and who, from the tartlets of gold lace on their breasts, their straddling gait and obtrusive switches, I take to be horse artillerymen, are a group of shirking effeminate Jews, in loose blue cloth dressing-gowns, white linen drawers, straggling sash, and white buttoned caps: they are talking with the well-known negro date-merchant, who lives near the Four Corners, where the Moorish captains wait for passengers or consignments.
Then going up to some quiet tavern, “Ale and spirits sold here,” under the sign of the “Good Woman,” in Horse Barrack Lane, stroll a white-bloused party of Crimean men; and mixed up with the crowd that pushes roughly through, backward and forward, are Spanish ladies, bareheaded, with fans held up to keep the sun off'; English nursery-maids and refractory “Master Alfreds,” who will pull the stray dogs by the tail, regardless of consequences; white-plumed and mounted generals, returning perpetual salutes; yellow-gartered muleteers, with donkeys laden with strings of water-jars - four in each rack; staring-looking travellers, looking at maps of Gib; subs in mufti, cavalierly gay; and subs mounted on spiteful well-blooded hacks, tearing off for a mad gallop to Saint Roque or the cork-woods. (See LINK)
The Calpe Hunt, "off for a mad gallop to Saint Roque" ( 1876 - The Graphic )
Step out of this past the governor’s house, once a convent, just to get a quick look at the slopes of gunners’ cottages and officers’ quarters slanting down from the middle heights of the rock, and you get at once to a parade, flanked by answering batteries, when silent red sentries, under suspended mats, wait grumblingly for the relief guard. Fifteen hundred miles from England, yet such a sense of England’s power!
We are growing; we are strong for our age. We shall be, I think, stronger still. Here is power incarnate; the English lion has, indeed, seldom inhabited a nobler den. This is Gib by daylight; but at gunfire there is a wondrous change. You are seated in an officer’s quarters perhaps, watching the ape’s tricks at his door, or discussing the military trophies over his mantel-piece.
Suddenly a yellow glare flashes across your eyes . . . It is the Evening Gun - signal for all stray Spaniards to toss off their last nip of brandy, and hurry to their smuggling boats, with their packages of bad cigars and devil’s-dust calicoes. If you go out now just beyond the terraced roof of the King’s Bastion, where some Moors are praying, you will see the key sergeant and his assistant going round, locking up the three miles of gates and palisaded wickets . . .
. . . This is Gib, that Ford calls “a bright pearl in the crown of an ocean queen;” and Burke, “a post of power, a post of superiority, of connection, of commerce, one which makes us invaluable to our friends and dreadful to our enemies,” and, therefore, is not to be imperilled . . .
. . Know that there are crowds of angry men sleeping under yonder quarantine flag off the harbour merely because there is cholera at Hamburg, plague at Tripoli, and yellow fever (see LINK) at Vigo; yet the angry men submit, because England chooses to truckle to ridiculous timid Spanish quarantine laws. . . .
. . . I seize the occasion to propose a trip to Africa . . . We toss our napkins on the back of our chairs . . . and summon the waiter. . . The waiter with the immobile yellow wax mask of a face comes, napkin pinched under his left arm—“Africa-sir-yes-sir;” he will be gone, and anon he will be with us again. He will go to the Four Corners, the cross-roads where the sea-captains pace and bargain. He will then look for Ben-Haﬁz, the Arab captain of the Ceuta xebec, "The Young Man’s Escape" who was generally to be found smoking his cheroot, and quite in the clouds at the tavern called the “Good Woman” (a woman without her head), in Bombproof Alley. He will bring us the padrone, or report progress.
Leaving Gibraltar - . . . I had heard the Jews howling at their synagogue like so many invoking priests of Baal . . . I had squeezed Gib dry . . . there was not a drop more juice in it . . . I had from the hotel window, through the green bars of the jalousies, watched the Moors at prayers, I had . . . gone to Catalan Bay, that quiet, storm-washed fishing-station, with its melancholy one officer on duty . . . fêted with bitter beer . . . the guides, Rafael and Mesias, had shown me everything for a few hard dollars . . .
I had been introduced to the monkeys, and thought them deserving of promotion, as they sat chained to pillars, and dressed in little scarlet jackets . . . I had even, after a look in at the Romish church, which I at first mistook for the theatre, and another look at the half-Moorish Protestant church, clambered to the higher regions of the garrison library, (see LINK) where I had been shown, through a glass door, the awful governor himself, terror of subs, reclining on a sofa, and reading the Times (only six days old) with infinite relish . . .
In fact, I had done the Rock . . .