The People of Gibraltar
1705 - Two Centuries of Smuggling - La Cosa Nostra

Moses Levy and Manuel de Andrade Sylva - Joshua Levy and General Don
Manuel Nuñes Chanto and Alexander Woodward - Mr. Canepa and Marcus Bland
Robert Wilson and Robert Gardiner - Frederick Sayer and Lord Napier
Dr Scandella and John D. Stewart

“Yo soy aquel contrabandista 
que siempre huyendo va
cuando salgo con mi jaca
del peñón de Gibraltar

y si me salen a resguardo

y el alto a mí me dan
dejo mi jaca al escape
que ya sabe dónde va”

“Yo soy la Contrabandista

que meto tanto ruío
yo me voy con mi marío
a la plaza de Gibraltar

Lyrics of an 19th century fandango


"Cuando salgo con mi jaca del peñón de Gibraltar" ( Unknown )

To become a member of any of Gibraltar's better known 19th century institutions such as the Calpe Hunt (see LINK) or the Royal Gibraltar Yacht club, (see LINK) one would normally have to be a military officer, a top colonial administrator or a mega-rich local merchant. As regards the Garrison Library (see LINK) there was not a chance in hell of even putting a foot across the threshold if you happened to be a local.

Yet there was another equally well-known - not to say notorious - Gibraltarian institution which also came into its own in the very early 19th century. This one was open to all-comers - resident or alien, rich or poor. In fact it would have been the military who might have felt excluded. Over the next century and a half one could always guarantee that large chunks of the population would become if not fully paid up at the very least associate members of this particular 'club'. 

It was known as "el contrabando" by the Spanish, as 'the import and export trade' by British merchants back in London and by wealthy locals in Gibraltar, and as smuggling by just about everybody else. Whatever one wished to call it, by the end of the 19th century Gibraltar had earned itself a rightful reputation as one of the world's premier smuggling depots.


Felucca off Gibraltar - the world's premier smuggling depot   ( Mid 18th century  J. Wilson Carmichael ) (See LINK)

Discussed over the years in the literature the main debate was between those who thought that free-trade should be protected at all costs and if this smuggling into Spain was a problem then the problem lay squarely with Spanish fiscal inadequacies and had nothing to do with Gibraltar, and the opposing view which was that the British authorities were condoning an immoral and illegal activity.

Understandably, those adopting the first interpretation tended to be those British suppliers in the UK who were making a fortune, as well as those Gibraltar merchants at the chalk-face who directly supplied the goods to the smugglers. As one modern local historian puts it:
Countless . . .  modern Gibraltarian families who, were we to draw an extrapolatory genealogical line back in time, would be able to trace the origins of their present wealth to the scheming of some moustachioed contrabandista.

Gibraltar Contrabandista near South Port Gates ( Unknown )

Nowadays, the polemic is rarely discussed and modern histories of the Rock hardly mention it - or indeed smuggling as such - other than as footnotes or as anecdotal curiosities. It is a curious anomaly although I would say that most Gibraltarians seem quite content that it should be dealt with as an admittedly rather grubby yet at the same time a relatively unimportant part of our past history.

In my opinion, attempts to whitewash the past inevitably fail - in this case even more so than usual. As I have tried to demonstrate in several other articles that I have written on Gibraltar (see LINK), the history of the Rock has always been written from the perspective of military events led by military men who were not Gibraltarians and never from that of the people who actually lived there.

In contrast smuggling is an activity to which Gibraltarians do belong. More, it is an essential part of their history, a civilian enterprise that had little to do with the British establishment. It was their very own Cosa Nostra. Without the economic ramifications of smuggling the overall history of the Rock would have been just as different today as if the British had lost the Great Siege. 


The Great Siege of Gibraltar   ( 1810 - Engraving of John Singleton Copley's - Siege and Relief )  (See LINK)

But for all the futile attempts by one or two Governor's to put a stop to it, smuggling was always an activity that lay well outside the control of the military authorities - despite the fact that it was often argued that it undermined the discipline of the officer class and corrupted the rank and file. A consequence of this is that most mainstream British historians have tended to ignore Gibraltar's long connection with the smuggling trade. This kind of marginalisation finds it origins in the curious fact that it was the British merchants back in the home country who were the main instigators and perpetuaters of the trade. It was one thing to denigrate the local population:
For the two hundred years that we have held this town we have made it a resort of smugglers, gipsies, vagabonds, African rogues, Spanish rebels a "sentina gentium".
. . . quite another to name and shame those Manchester merchants and other British entrepreneurs who were the main beneficiaries of the overall operation. 

Regardless, Gibraltar does have a long and complex - and well documented - history. Smuggling immediately became a permanent feature on the Rock from the very beginning of British rule. It was an inevitable consequence of Queen Ann's decision to declare it a free port. The very text of the Treaty of Utrecht (see LINK) already shows misgivings on the part of Spain as to what the future might hold in this direction. Those misgivings were well founded. They soon became a reality. In 1720, according to the Scottish writer, Thomas Gordon. (See LINK) :
(Gibraltar) 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 . . . . which is probably one of the first historical references actually advocating the use of Gibraltar as a base for smuggling - whatever the inconvenience to Spain. 
Well before that there were letters of protest from Spain to the British Government in London. They confirmed that the trade was still worthy of intervention at the highest level. Here is a small quote from a lengthy letter from the Spanish Ambassador - the Marques of Pozobueno -  to the Duke of Newcastle, British Secretary of State for the Southern Department. It was dated January 1727 in Spain and Dec 1725 in England.
. . . contrary to the express and literal Tenor of the Treaties, they receive and admit the Jews and Moors . . . not to mention the Frauds and continual Contrabands which are carried on there to the Prejudice of his Majesty's Revenues.

1727 - 1st Duke Of Newcastle when he was Southern Secretary  ( 1730s - Charles Jervas )

The British Historian and ex-governor of Gibraltar William Jackson has this to say about the above complaint:
The . . . Spanish charge of smuggling . . . . was  . . . in any case  . . . for the most part carried out by Spanish nationals outwitting their own Spanish revenue men.
It is a revealing comment whichever way you interpret it but it does tell the reader exactly where the author's sentiments lay.


Plans for buildings and sentry boxes to be built on the north end of the Neutral Ground "para impedir por tierra el paso de contrabando"  (1727 - Antonio Montaigu de la Perille )

In the late 18th century, even somebody like Governor George Eliott (see LINK) was driven to forbid the trade in tobacco - not on the grounds that it was being imported into Gibraltar for smuggling purposes but because it had become:
 . . . a small proportion of British commerce and it is foreign not British . . . 
His idea as to what constituted a 'small' proportion of trade was curious but in any case he was wasting his time. So much so that one modern author wrote that he was 'amused' by the fact that after one hundred years of multiple Spanish complaints about contraband activities, two "natives" declared themselves as smugglers by profession in the 1792 Gibraltar census. 

I am not entirely sure what it is that amused him. Was it that they had actually dared to declare themselves as member of an illegal profession, or was it because there were only two individuals who had dared to do so? 

By 1803:
Gibraltar was thriving as a port where few questions were asked regarding the origin or destination of goods.

Smuggler and smuggler's wife ( Early 19th century - White )

A year later most people on either side of the frontier had other matter on their mind as the yellow fever epidemic (see LINK) rampaged through the populations. In Gibraltar it killed about 10,000 people and there is no reason to suppose that some of them were not smugglers. Even tobacco smuggling, the easiest and most rewarding of all contraband goods, came to an abrupt halt.

Within the next decade or so subsequent if less virulent epidemics managed to delay a resurgence of the trade. During the Peninsular War which began in 1807 Britain and Spain were allies and the Gibraltar authorities made an effort to make it rather more difficult for the smuggler than previously. 

The Spaniards also increased the number of guarda costas - or coast guard ships - stationed in Algeciras just across the Bay, and sent down several companies of well disciplined and mean looking infantrymen to stop and search people along the roads leading to and from the Rock.


Algeciras    ( 1880 - William Lee Hankey )  

The French Count and military attaché Alexandre Louis Laborde had this to say about the efforts being made by everybody to crack down on smuggling:
. . . it must be acknowledged, that lately more precautions have been taken in this respect and more opposition made to this smugglingSeveral king's ships, called guarda costas, are employed to prevent it, which are continually cruising from the bay of Algeciras, before all the Spanish ports in the Mediterranean. 
There are also some companies of Catalonian light troops stationed along the roads and footways on the coast leading to Gibraltar; they pursue smugglers with activity, and oblige them to show their passports, and by searching with the most minute attention and questioning them adroitly, detect the impositions they practise.  
The vigilance with which these men conduct themselves as well as the commandant of the district, who is placed at the last office along the line, is beyond description; the trappings of the horses and the clothes of the men, even the soles of their shoes do not escape examination.
But of course the main reason why smuggling was on the decrease was because there was plenty of money to be had elsewhere - just the sale of prizes by local privateers more than made up for any loss of revenue. In any case the "legitimate" export of other goods into Spain continued with a vengeance. The Juntas were short of everything - not just tobacco - and Gibraltar was more than willing to supply it to them - not just with the tacit approval of the British authorities but with their encouragement. 

Which was not surprising as this "legal" trade was - as always - mainly controlled by London where most of the profits ended up. It was said that by 1809, just about every Spanish ship that put into port at Gibraltar was guaranteed to set sail for their home ports loaded up to the gunwales with what would previously have been considered as contraband goods. 

The Peninsular War may have made life easy for everybody while it lasted - but the future had also been seen to. An extensive network of carriers had developed during the war in order to circumvent French intelligence. When Napoleon finally met his Waterloo and things returned to 'normal', Gibraltar found itself with a new and ready-made network for smuggling goods into Spain. 

It might also be true to say that the sheer volume of money changing hands during the war meant that the Rock had become an irresistible attraction for all sorts of people who legally or illegally had now become residents on the Rock - with every intention of taking up smuggling when things went back to normal. 

Little wonder then that smuggling increased exponentially during the next few years. In fact one would say that from the end of the Peninsular War and onward for the next few decades, smuggling in all its forms became something of a way of life both on the Rock and its hinterland. Whole families on either side of the frontier became involved and methods and networks were passed on from father to son. 

The wealth generated by smuggling was not confined to the Rock. By the end of the first decade of the 19th century the town of Algeciras just across the Bay from Gibraltar, had been converted from a sleepy, run down village to a prosperous well run town.

Here is John Carr writing in 1809:
(In Algeciras) the streets were cleaner, and the houses handsomer, than I expected in a town, which owes much of its present opulence to smuggling and privateering. 

Mid 18th Century print of the port of Algeciras

Perhaps the greatest volume of contraband was by sea. The merchandise was purchased by Gibraltar merchants who kept them in large warehouses appropriately close to the port. When pressure from the British authorities made this impossible, the merchants resorted to loading the stuff on to hulks in the Bay, ready for loading on to smuggling vessels in due course. Easily evading the overstretched Spanish customs ships the contraband was taken to a pre-arranged rendezvous somewhere along the Spanish coast where they were picked up by other smugglers. Mules were then used to move the goods - often in long caravans of more than two hundred at a time.


Arrieros de Gibraltar  - a rather diplomatic title for a picture which actually represents a couple of smugglers and their mules near Gaucin, half way between Gibraltar and Ronda ( 1830s - David Roberts )  (See LINK)

The goods invariably ended up in Ronda. It was a convenient place to use as a distribution centre; it was close to Gibraltar and Cadiz, it lay at the centre of a particularly awkward terrain, and many of the narrow mountain passes that led to it were only known to smugglers.  The route was known somewhat curiously as 'el Camino Inglés' and it was customary for romantic travellers with a penchant for the exotic to travel this way, via Gaucin despite the fact that it was the most awkward and dangerous route possible.


Ronda - first destination of goods smuggled from Gibraltar by sea to Spain  
  ( 1884 - Manuel Baron y Castillo Smugglers Ronda )  

But it wasn't just Ronda. As the modern Spanish historian Rafael Sánchez Mantero tells us:
En esa ruta había lugares muy señalados como Jimena, Cortes de la Frontera, Igualeja, Écija, y sobre todo Ronda. . . Sin embargo. . . hay. . . testimonios. . .  que el contrabando procedente de Gibraltar llegaba hasta las costas del Levante, o hasta las zonas muy del interior peninsular. . . . . . la época dorada del contrabando . . . es la primera mitad de siglo XIX . . . 
In 1812 even Lord Castlereagh the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the time, leaves us in no doubt as to where his sympathies lay. According to him the smugglers' boats were first laden with goods within the protection of the port, biding their time until they were sure that the Spanish guarda costas were safely out of the way. 

They then took to the sea and sailed and landed their contraband according to 'previously planned stratagems.' If they were unlucky enough to be chased by the Spaniards, the guns of the Rock would fire on the chasers. The policy of the Government was always - Castlereagh insisted - 'to 'give encouragement and protection to the smugglers.' No surprises there. Castlereagh was no slouch when it came to defending free trade 


Lord Castleragh (1812 - Dorothy Hardy)

A case in point which highlights both the amount of money sloshing around at the time as well as the attendant risks that had to be taken was the trial of Peter Heaman and Francois Gautiez which was held before the High Court of the Admiralty in Edinburgh in 1821. 

A summary of the evidence shows that a schooner called the Jane belonging to a Jewish merchant of Gibraltar, Moses Levy, was carrying eight large barrels on board containing nearly 40 000 Spanish hard silver dollars. It was an enormous amount of money. It was being sent to an agent in the port of Bahia in Brazil by three other Gibraltar merchants - Manuel de Andrade Sylva, Joshua Levy and Manuel Nuñes Chanto - almost certainly for the payment of tobacco earmarked for future smuggling. When one considers the kind of mark-up expected in the contraband trade, these three individuals were almost certainly assured a very comfortable old age.

Unfortunately Peter Heaman and Francois Gautiez - ship’s mate and cook respectively on the Jane - had other ideas. They murdered the captain, Thomas Johnson and the rest of his crew, chucked the bodies overboard and brought the ship up to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland where they scuttled the boat, divided their loot and made off for Edinburgh.

That these two were eventually caught, convicted and hung for their crime is neither here nor there. The important thing to understand is that this was no exceptional schooner carrying an extraordinary cargo. These kinds of transactions were two a penny. Also worthy of note is the fact that the names of the traders in question are decidedly un-English. Two were Jews; one was Portuguese or perhaps Brazilian but the man who owned more than half the value of the money on board was Andrade and he was a Gibraltarian.

In 1827, Gibraltar theoretically ceased to be a free port when charges were levied on hulks and pontoons in the Bay by an Order in Council. These 'ships' were all smuggling depots and their sole purpose was to evade the import duties that would have been incurred if the goods had been brought ashore. 

Worse was to come. In the summer of that same year the Duke of Buckingham visited Gibraltar and witnessed a Xebec flying the British Flag attacked and taken by several Spanish guardas costas, despite being well within range of the guns of Gibraltar - He was beside himself with indignation. 
 . . . . she turned out to be a Maltese vessel, built, no doubt, for smuggling, and had most probably landed her cargo on the coast of Valencia. The guarda-costas had information respecting her, and followed her from the Spanish coast.  However this might be, they had no right to attack, take, and strike the British flag, under the nose of a British garrison. . . . The Lieutenant-Governor means to make a strong remonstrance on the subject both at Madrid and in London, and to make use of the incident to press for a naval force here.
Both the epidemics and the increased vigilance against smuggling did take their toll. As the visitor Charles Rockwell commented in 1842
As an evidence of the degree to which this . . . is affected by smuggling, there is the fact, that when in 1827 an epidemic disease prevailed in Gibraltar, which led to non intercourse with Spain, the number of operatives in the tobacco manufactory of Seville was suddenly increased to 7,000, in order to meet the demand.
Nevertheless by 1828 Gibraltar became the tenth-largest external market of the United Kingdom. A large proportion of the Rock's exports from the UK were manufactured cotton goods with eighteen and a half million yards of the stuff being imported into Gibraltar. When one considers that the census in 1829 recorded a civilian population of over 16,000 civilians living on the Rock it would seem that each and every person was buying over 1,000 yards of cloth a year. 

But there were other problems. As the British authorities always seemed to have difficulty finding out exactly how many people living in Gibraltar were actually entitled to do so, they were understandably reluctant to issue permits to aliens for short stays on the Rock.  This gave rise to series of almost paradoxical memorials to the Governor from some of the local merchants.

The first came in 1830 and originated from the Exchange Committee, the unofficial voice of the ‘commercial body of this place.’ (See LINK) They came to the point quite quickly. If the volume of imports into the Rock was to continue as before then there had to be a relaxation of the rules applying to short stay permits. 


The Exchange and Commercial Library - headquarters of the Exchange Committee   ( 19th century postcard )

Although they did not mention it in so many words the merchants were actually referring to the fact that any alien requesting permission to enter the Rock required a respectable person from Gibraltar to put up a bond as surety for their good behaviour. As the aliens were invariably smugglers who were ‘not of a very distinguished rank in society,’ their behaviour was often unacceptable and quite a few respectable locals were losing a lot of money. The Governor, General Don treated the request with the contempt it deserved and refused point blank to alter the rules.

By 1831, the Neutral Ground had become the 'new' smuggling battleground. According to an anonymous account in the United Services Journal:
When I arrived at Gibraltar, it (the Neutral Ground) was the seat of a very handsome village of wooden houses, bedecked with little flower-gardens, leafy wall-climbers, green window-shutters, and all the usual cottage ornaments, but now every vestige of it is swept away, and the road from the garrison, that displayed an animated and rural picture a few months ago, has become an open waste. This has been done by the orders of Government, but for what reason we do not know. Some conjecture that it was to prevent smuggling . . .
That same year, Arthur de Capell Brooke, a visitor on his way to Morocco, offered some information as to how the Spanish authorities were also attempting to stop the never-ending flow of contraband across the frontier:
The road, after passing the Spanish lines, proceeded across the remainder of the sandy isthmus for about three miles . . . Having proceeded a short distance, we passed two round towers; at the last of which was a military post, where I was obliged to produce my passport. These towers, which are met with at intervals along the Spanish coast, are used for the prevention of smuggling . . . .
The use of the towers was a waste of time. Yet another visitor gives us an insight into exactly how ineffective they were as preventive measures against smuggling;
This was a large round tower, without a door, but with a window instead, at the height of eight or ten feet from the ground, from which hung a ladder of rope. These 'torrones', (sic) which extend with little interruption at about half a league apart along the coast from Velez to Gibraltar, are for the accommodation and telegraphic of the soldiers employed in the prevention of smuggling. Each contains eight or ten men. The rope-ladder, being drawn up at night, secures them from being surprised by armed bodies of contrabandistas.  
. . . The contrabandista, who conducts business on a large scale, receives his orders in the country, (Spain) proceeds to Gibraltar, well provided with funds, buys the goods, freights a bark, and sails for the coast where he wishes to land. Here the vessel arrives generally at night; should she, if discovered, not respond satisfactorily to the hailing of the soldiers, a fire is lighted outside the nearest torron, (sic) and one tower after another repeats the signal, till, in a short time, all are on the alert, and a strong force of soldiery is ready at any point where a landing may be attempted. This is the legitimate course of events; but more generally the matter turns out otherwise.  
A “composition” is made. The vessel stands off during the day, but at night runs in towards the land, and the contrabandista rows ashore as a simple cavalier, and proceeds to the nearest tower. He answers the sharp challenge of the sentinel, “Quien viva?” by requesting to speak to the commanding officer on the station. When closeted with him, he confesses at once that he has a cargo of contraband goods to run ashore, and offers the soldier a good share in the spoil as the price of forbearance.  
It cannot be expected, in a country where most public servants, from the prime minister to the lowest aduanero, either peculate, or are open to bribery, and where it is hardly considered dishonourable, but almost one of the duties of an official station so to do - that an ill-paid military officer would make a display of public honesty, which would neither be understood nor appreciated

Torre de Guadarranque - a medieval tower by the river of the same name opposite Gibraltar

But regardless of how easy it was to smuggle goods into Spain, it was obviously still not enough for the merchant princes of Gibraltar. They wanted more. In 1837 they wrote a memorial to the Governor, Alexander Woodward which requested a relaxation of the rules on aliens preventing the admission of foreigners into Gibraltar as servants. According to the memorialists, the natives of Great Britain were apparently of  'very bad character both men and women . . . . soon habituated to drinking', and the natives of Gibraltar were even worse:
 . . . . the most idle, insolent, drunken and worthless class in the community' having acquired dissipated habits by mixing with soldiers . . .  and yet across the frontier 'many respectable and even valuable household servants might be procured if they were permitted to enter the Garrison.'
Governor Woodward would have none of it and turned down their request. He was well aware that this had nothing to do with improvements in the quality of household servants in Gibraltar and everything to do with making it easier for smugglers to cross the frontier legally.

Yet in 1832 a Gibraltarian shopkeeper Mr. Canepa obtained no less than forty-six permits of residence for people who he claimed worked for him in his retail trade. They were in fact smugglers, who according to a police report, carried with them goods of considerable value on their frequent journeys back to Spain. Also according to the police,
 . . . as the nature of their trade required concealment from the Spanish guarda costas they usually timed their visits for the darkest periods of the moon'.
A contradiction in terms? This was petty smuggling on a grand scale. Small scale smuggling by individuals both by sea across the Bay and by land over the Neutral Ground would continue and increase as the years went by. By the late 1830s, the Spanish government decided to up the ante and made Cadiz a free port in direct competition with Gibraltar. However, as Charles Rochfort Scott wrote in his Excursions in the Mountains of Ronda and Granada (see LINK):

The whole affair was, in fact, a temporary expedient to raise money by selling Cadiz permission to smuggle. At the same time, the Spanish government - by offering foreign merchants a mart which, at first sight, seemed more conveniently situated for disposing of their goods than Gibraltar - hoped to give a death-blow to the commerce of the British fortress, which it had found to thrive, in spite of all the iniquitous restrictions imposed upon it; such, for instance, as the exaction of duties on goods shipped from thence, double in amount to those levied on the same articles, if brought from the ports of France and Italy.

The scheme succeeded in reducing smuggling from Gibraltar - but not for very long. Those double duties on imports by Spain were music to Gibraltarian ears rather than a deterrent. By 1840, visitors such as Baron Dembowsky were appalled:
Those red coats which in London were to me the source of joy here fill me with the same sorrow which Spaniards must feel . . . you should see the shamelessness of the Andalucian smugglers, spoon fed and almost respected by the authorities.  They strut about the streets of Gibraltar as if they owned the place. Woe to the Spanish customs officer who forgets Gibraltar is not Spanish and dares enter the Neutral zone or British waters in the heat of the chase.
The following year those who argued that the smuggling from Gibraltar into Spain was immoral were dealt a serious blow by Lord Palmerstone, British secretary of state for foreign affairs. His answer to a series of angry complaints made by the Spanish Government included the following:
Although every Government has a right to make what fiscal laws it pleases, and to execute those laws within its own territory, yet no Government has the right to ask or to expect the Government of another country to help it in the execution of such laws . . . If then the Spanish Government wish to put a stop to that smuggling . . . (it should be) by a revision of the Spanish tariffs in harmony with the wants and wishes of the Spanish nation . . .
Of course Palmerstone interpretation of international law was that of the most powerful commercial nation on earth - and nobody else's.  According to George Hills (see LINK):
This was the age . . . when the free trade theory was held in Britain with the reverence of the Holy Writ . . .
The next decade, it was back to business as usual. The French economist, Charles Moreau in his 1843, Estadisticas de España estimated that British goods worth 86 million reales annually on average were being smuggled into Spain. In 2014 that would have translated approximately into £100 million pounds. It is a sobering thought that he may have underestimated the figure by a considerable margin.


A rather appropriate composition - from left to right, a Spanish smuggler, HMS Trafalgar and what is probably a British gunboat    (1851 - G.P. Mends )  (See LINK)

During the entire decade of the 1840s, visitor after visitor never failed to mention smuggling, usually with noses tightly held between thumb and forefinger to avoid the stink. For example, in 1842, again according to the Rev Charles Rockwell.
The amount of goods of all classes smuggled into Spain from Gibraltar is estimated at about $20,000 a day, or more than half a million a year, and yet no small proportion of them are carried on the backs of mules and horses, through the midst of Spanish soldiers.
In 1845 the Rev William Harris Rule (see LINK) noted that:
The habits of these person in a place where the dregs of all the neighbouring countries contribute to make up the aggregate, and where a living is obtained, not so much by honest labour and honourable commerce, as by supplying the army with provisions, and smuggling British goods into Spain, in violation of the laws of the country, (whether good or bad, is not the question,) cannot be industrious or moral.
The immorality of supplying an army with provisions is difficult to understand but there you have it. The following year it was T.M. Hughes (see LINK) who wrote:
. . . Smuggling in Andalusia seems to have attained systematic perfection. It embraces all society. The anti-tariff interest is here omnipotent. The first Constitutional officers of most municipalities are leagued with the system, and the most influential members of the community are contrabandists chiefs . . . Smugglers constitute a standing army, and often muster five hundred strong. They make or foil political events. Their will must be consulted - their mandate is law. To oppose them is to be swamped. . .  The very name of “custom-house” is here synonymous to all that is most contemptuous is the language. “Aduana,” in common parlance, is the designation of a resort for robbers; it is even used to signify "bordelo," and the 'aduanero', or custom-house officer, is likened to a ferret.
The same year, the Rev William Robertson (see LINK) opens up a new and rarely mentioned venue of smuggling activity:
(Catalan Bay) is a fishing village, very neat and clean, with little gardens between some of the houses, and a pretty sandy bay in front. It belongs to Gibraltar, and offers an exceedingly convenient place of refuge to the smugglers, who, when hard pressed by the Spanish coast-guard, and unable to make their escape through the straits into the bay of Gibraltar, are sometimes obliged to run their craft ashore here, where they are under British protection.

Catalan Bay  ( Mid-19th century - H.S. Bush ) (See LINK)

Also in 1845 there was another absurd request to the authorities this time from Marcus Henry Bland the chairman of the Exchange Committee. Bland had established of a very successful shipping company on the Rock in 1810 and was keen that it should continue to prosper. Like everybody else he was keen that Spaniards be allowed to enter the Rock without too much fuss and bother.

He was of course opposed to aliens being admitted willy-nilly and that permits should only be issued to those that should ‘warrant their being admitted.’ This air of reasonableness was lost when the main thrust of his argument became clear. He wanted the Governor to allow Spanish smugglers into Spain on the strength of what were known to be forged passports on the grounds that the understandably uncooperative Spanish authorities were refusing to issue the real McCoy. The Governor - this time it was Sir Robert Wilson - said no.


Sir Robert Thomas Wilson   (1848 - Vanity Fair )

But the gut feeling of the British authorities was that the British merchants and their local agents were both morally and technically blameless. From their perspective the seller was:
. . . as much bound to inquire whether his customer is a contrabandist as whether the ropes which make fast his bales may be converted to the purposes of suicide.’
It was a ridiculous argument - but it was enough to sooth many people's consciences.  In 1848 the British authorities in London made a huge mistake and appointed General Sir Robert Gardiner (see LINK) as Governor of Gibraltar. Within a few years of his term of office, he managed to antagonise both the Spanish authorities and the big-wigs of the local Exchange Committee - the first because he had allowed British troops to land in Gibraltar in contravention of international quarantine laws, and the second because the Spaniards had retaliated by closing the frontier to the detriment of local trade both licit and illicit.


General Sir Robert Gardiner ( 1850s - William Salter )

He also committed the unpardonable sin - in the eyes of the local merchants at any rate - by insisting that:
. . . all forms of smuggling were objectionable not only because of the demoralising effect of bribery on soldiers of the Garrison and officials of the Spanish excise service, but also because it damaged Anglo-Spanish relations.
But there were other factors at work that were affecting the smuggling trade. By the turn of the decade the new Government in Spain under General Ramón María Narváez had adopted a strong anti-smuggling line that did in fact make an impact - to such an extent that a Canadian visitor to the Rock, John Esaias Warren, was of the opinion that:
. . . the secret traffic formerly so extensive between Algeciras and Gibraltar is now almost entirely destroyed.

General Ramon Maria Narvaez 

However, all things good or bad eventually come to an end. Narváez was facing too many internal problems to bother too much about Gibraltar and the Exchange committee - with a little help from their good friends and suppliers in Manchester took Gardiner on. (See LINK) In 1855 he was recalled. By 1855 everything was back to normal. This is how a popular tourist handbook of the era put it:
The traveller near Gibraltar will see enough of the contrabandista and a fine fellow he is: a cigar and a bota of wine open his heart at the fire-side, and he likes and trusts an Englishman, not that he won't rob him if in want of cash. The Contrabandista of Ronda is one of the most picturesque of his numerous class in a locality where “everybody smuggles" . . . Almeria is a chief town of the district, and residence of petty authorities, who - se dice - get wealthy by encouraging smuggling from Gibraltar. 
. . . Malaga, besides legitimate traffic, carries on great smuggling with Gibraltar . . . by which the authorities, especially commissioners of customs and preventive officers, are said to get rich. ..The partridge shooting and wild-boar hunting, near Tetuan are good; a small steamer, set up it would seem, to facilitate smuggling, runs from Algeciras to neighbouring ports.
The beginning of yet another decade and it was more of the same;
This is just the case with Gibraltar. It is a very nest of contrabandists; and “the trade” is rather fostered than discouraged. If a Spanish revenue-boat chases a smuggling craft within reach of the Rock guns, it is considered quite a right, and even a pleasure, to fire upon her for “encroaching". 

It would be hard to say which of these ships would have been bound for Gibraltar carrying either legitimate trade or goods intended for smuggling - or which ones would have been carrying contraband from the Rock    (1850s -  Vilhelm Melbye)  (see LINK)
  
In 1856 Sir Robert Gardiner, now ex-governor of Gibraltar and back in the UK, decided to vindicate himself in the eyes of his superiors in Whitehall and sent a private report (see LINK) to Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister of the day. It dealt with his unease on recent political developments which he felt were interfering with Gibraltar's role as a military fortress. More importantly they clearly described his misgivings as regards smuggling.
There is a hidden contraband trade here, and an open one. The one is carried on by freighting vessels with English contraband goods . . .the other, though carried on openly, is to all intents and purposes smuggling, the goods being known by the buyers and sellers to be contraband . .  
From the first early opening of the gates, there is to be seen a stream of Spanish men, women, and children, horses . . . passing into the town . . .moving about from shop to shop till near noon. The human beings enter the Garrison in their natural sizes, but quit it swathed and swelled out with our cotton manufactures, and padded with tobacco, while the carriages and beasts, which came light and springy into the place, quit it scarcely able to drag or to bear their burdens . . . .
Although mentioned previously, this is perhaps the first recognisable description of that peculiar phenomenon known locally as contrabando de hormigas - petty smuggling across the Spanish frontier on the North end of the Neutral Ground by literally thousands of people on an almost daily basis. To repeat, it was 'petty' in the sense that the individual smuggler was only carrying small amounts of merchandise - tobacco, coffee, butter or whatever goods were unavailable or more expensive on the Spanish side of the border. But the numbers involved ensured that in total it represented a very profitable trade to Gibraltarian traders - and their merchant suppliers.


Queues of Spanish workers retuning to Spain after working in Gibraltar each with their own small supply of contraband goods - the photograph gives one an idea as to why it became known as contrabando de hormigas

Gardiner's private report to Lord Palmerston did not remain private for long. The letter was leaked and answered in a pamphlet that went under the ironic title of How to Capture and Govern Gibraltar. It was written by somebody who signed himself anonymously as 'The Author' and was no doubt instigated by both the merchants in Gibraltar and their allies in Manchester. It was addressed to the Presidents, Vice-presidents, and Members of the Chamber of Commerce, and to the Commercial Association of Manchester. The preamble was a synopsis of what was to follow.
 Gentleman . . . . Sir Robert Gardiner, K.C.B., ex-Governor of Gibraltar, has recently issued from the press . . . . a violent unauthorised publication, in which he once more assails the Freedom of the Port of Gibraltar. The legitimate trade between that Port and Spain, and with the countries bordering the Mediterranean, is stigmatised as a nefarious traffic, stained with vice and crime; and the honourable merchants who carry on this commerce, many of them connected with Manchester, are loaded with opprobrious epithets, and described as being plunged in deep-rooted moral turpitude. 
It was a hatchet job - and it worked. The local merchants had won the day and smuggling continued as usual - and not just with the acquiescence of the authorities but with their direct help.  When the Quaker social William Tallack visited Gibraltar in 1861, he witnessed - and disapproved of - what he thought of as a completely unjustifiable policy. Gibraltar was - he wrote:
. . . a very nest of contrabandists; and “the trade” is rather fostered than discouraged. (See LINK) If a Spanish revenue-boat chases a smuggling craft within reach of the Rock guns, it is considered quite a right, and even a pleasure, to fire upon her for “encroaching.” 
A resident at Gibraltar gave me an animated account of the exercise of such a “right” on an occasion when he was standing close to some gunners on one of the forts, and who were watching with interest a fast-sailing smuggler being chased by the Spanish revenue officers. Several unsuccessful aims were made at the latter as soon as within reach, but not so as to prevent the pursuit. “Here, let me try at her!” exclaimed an amateur bystander. 
His shot immediately took the Spaniard close to the water's edge, and the officers had barely time to get out of her into a boat near them, before she sank.Years afterwards (and, I believe, during a visit to England), the same gentleman who had witnessed it was narrating it to a company as an instance of a peculiarly skilful aim at a rapidly moving distant object, when one of the persons present joined in with “Ah! You are quite right there, sir; for I am the very man who fired that shot:” and he proved to be the one.Many similar incidents are fresh in the memory of the Rock people. 
Still one does not see the necessity for such interference with the just administrative rights of Spain. It is no essential part of the purposes for which the Rock costs Britain upwards of a thousand guineas for every day throughout the year.
In the late 1860's there is evidence of a temporary reversal of fortunes;
As a commercial station Gibraltar is rapidly sinking into insignificance. Before the introduction of steam, and when there was but little direct trade between Barbary and Great Britain, the place acquired some importance as an intermediate port of commerce; and gained an unenviable notoriety as an extensive smuggling depot. . . .
Smugglers on their way through the sierras from Gibraltar to Ronda  ( 1881 - Gustav Dore )


The smuggler as a romantic figure ( Late 19th century - Gustav Dore )

The smuggling trade, which was for so long a source of constant irritation between Spain and Great Britain, has now almost entirely ceased. It is true, that on some occasions small cargoes of Manchester goods or tobacco are taken as a venture, but as a trade, smuggling has expired.
Spain, however, still maintains a rigid vigilance over the sea-board in the neighbourhood of the Rock, and revenue boats are constantly on the alert. The captures made by these revenue cruisers are not, however, confined to smuggling craft alone.
The above, however, was written by Frederick Sayer (see LINK) who was at the time the Civil Magistrate of Gibraltar. In other word he was in charge of the police and was ultimately responsible for making sure that all those unsavory characters swarming all over the place buying tobacco and other smuggling goods were kept out of Gibraltar. That Sayer failed miserably to accomplish this can be gleaned from comments of another visitor writing in 1873:
Being a free port, there are no custom duties (except on wines and spirits), consequently most things are so cheap as to induce smugglers to carry on an extensive trade with Spain, which persists in continuing to maintain her prohibitory duties on English goods. 
It was a comment reinforced by Mr. Reade, the British Consul in Cadiz. Writing to Lord Napier the Governor of Gibraltar at the time, with a copy to the Earl of Carnarvon, Secretary of State for the Colonies, he informed both that in 1876 there was four times as much tobacco coming in illegally from Gibraltar as the Spanish Government were buying legally.

On 1874 at eight o'clock in the evening an event occurred that induced the Captain of the Port of Gibraltar to set pen to paper and write to one of his bosses, the Colonial Secretary.
I have the honour to report, for the information of His Excellency the Acting Governor, that  the British Steamer 'Cadiz' left the anchorage . . .  last evening for Malaga and stopped after passing the New Mole to take eight Spanish Faluches in tow (laden chiefly with tobacco)  . .  . . After passing Rosia (see LINK) she was attacked by Spanish guarda costas . . . .  no time was lost in despatching a boat from the 'Samarang' as well as an armed boat from H.M. Gunboat Pigeon neither could find any trace of what had occurred. One thing is clear; a British steamer has taken to sea eight smugglers straight from this anchorage. It is no unusual occurrence, and not contrary to any port regulation. . .
The letter is hard to interpret. Was it a protest against such a blatant act of smuggling?  Disapproval at the involvement of a British Steamer? Or was it the attack by a Spanish guarda costa on a ship carrying the British colours?

Whatever the case it eventually gave rise to a proposal by the Secretary of State for the Colonies - Lord Carnarvon - to introduce a tax on imports of tobacco. This in turn led to a glut of correspondence and 'humble memorials' over the next two years in which members of the Exchange Committee and the Bishop of Gibraltar, Dr Scandella gave their reasons as to why they did not want any such taxation. With visits to London and some support from Lord Napier the proposal was left to wither on the vine and the proposed tax was postponed. It still is. (see LINK


Right Reverend Doctor Scandella Roman Catholic Vicar Apostolic of Gibraltar  (1870s )

In 1879 contrabando de hormigas once more makes its appearance in the literature. The author of the Gibraltar Directory of that year (see LINK) thought it a worthwhile topic to include in his book:
Here also are the carabineros, whose duty is to examine all carriages, baskets, and bundles for articles liable to duty. This is done most strictly, but individuals are let off more easily, or how can we account for the groups of men and women whom the traveller will see on parts of the neutral ground, close to the road, packing themselves and each other with cotton ant silk goods, tea, small parcels of tobacco, and other contraband articles. These must escape search, or it would not be worthwhile to run the risk.

The Graphic Magazine ( 1893 )

Nearly ten years later it was more of the same from the same author (see LINK) with one or two refinements.
On leaving our sentries we pass over a road generally in most excellent disrepair and soon the long line of white stone sentry-boxes indicates the Spanish Lines . . . Here are also the Carabineros, whose duty is to examine all carriages, baskets, and bundles for articles liable to duty. This is done most strictly, but individuals are let off more easily, or how can we account for the groups of men and women whom the traveller will see on parts of the road, packing themselves and each other with cotton and silk goods, tea, small parcels of tobacco, and other contraband articles. These must escape search, or it would not be worthwhile to run the risk.

Women smugglers - known locally as as matuteras (see LINK) - preparing to cross the frontier   ( H. Woods )   
(With acknowledgments to Dan Carlton ) (See LINK

Dogs were also sometimes enlisted to do the work. They were brought in from Spain and starved throughout the day. At night they were loaded with as much contraband as they could carry and then allowed to run back home for their supper. The Spanish frontier guards entertained themselves by taking pot shots at the poor animals but enough of them got through to make the system worthwhile. In both Gibraltar and Spain, dogs were an inexpensive commodity.


A Spanish frontier guard shooting at dogs smuggling merchandise from Gibraltar into Spain - note the dog’s short ears. These were often clipped short so that the dogs would makes less noise when they shook off the water after reaching the shore.

In 1890 yet another visitor (see LINK) gave us a lengthy review of this type of canine smuggling;
Linea has a bad name for being a nest of smugglers; but whether it is worse than other frontier towns, which afford special facilities for smuggling, and therefore offer great temptations, I cannot say. It is a constant source of complaint on the part of Spain that Gibraltar is the headquarters for smuggling across the frontier. This is not at all surprising, since . . . it is a "free port." 
The extraordinary cheapness on one side of the Neutral Ground, as compared with the dearness on the other, is a temptation to smuggling which it requires more virtue than the Spaniards possess to resist. The temptation takes them on their weakest side when it presents itself in the form of tobacco, for the Spaniards are a nation of smokers . . .  
Many amusing stories are told of contrabandists. One honest Spaniard had a wonderful dog that went through miraculous transformations: he was sometimes fat and sometimes lean, nature (or man) having provided him with a double skin, between which was packed a handsome allowance of tobacco. This dog was a model of docility, and would play with other dogs, like the poor innocent that he was, and then dart off to his master to "unload" and be sent back again! It was said that he would make several trips a day.. . 

A smuggler's dog shot dead by Carabinero
Smuggling is going on every day, and every hour of the day; and the Spaniards say that it is winked at and encouraged by the English in Gibraltar; to which the latter reply that whatever smuggling is done, is done by the Spaniards themselves,  for which they are not responsible. A shopkeeper in Gibraltar has as good a right to sell a pound of tobacco to a Spanish peasant as to an English sailor. What becomes of it after it leaves his shop is no concern of his. 
Of course the Spanish police are numerous, and are, or are supposed to be, vigilant. The Carabineros are stationed at the lines, whose duty it is to keep a sharp look-out on every passing vehicle; whether it be a lordly carriage rolling swiftly by, or a market wagon; to poke their noses into every little cart; to lift up the panniers of every donkey; and even to thrust their hands into every basket, and to give a pinch to every suspicions-looking parcel. And yet, with this great display of watchfulness, which indeed is a little overdone, somehow an immense quantity slips through their fingers. Many amusing stories are told of contrabandists.  

The Frontier ( 1888 )
One honest Spaniard had a wonderful dog that went through miraculous transformations: he was sometimes fat and sometimes lean, nature (or man) having provided him with a double skin, between which was packed a handsome allowance of tobacco. This dog was a model of docility, and would play with other dogs, like the poor innocent that he was, and then dart off to his master to " unload" and be sent back again!  
It was said that he would make several trips a day. In another case a poor man tried to make an honest living by raising turkeys for market; but even then fate had a spite against him, for after he had brought them into town, he had no luck in selling them! The same ill-fortune attended him every day. But one evening, as he came out of the gates looking sad and sorrowful, the Carabineros took a closer inspection of his cart, and found that every turkey had been prepared for another market than that of Gibraltar, by a well-spiced "stuffing" under her motherly wings!
The following year the Graphic Magazine thought it worthwhile to amuse their readers with even more detailed information on these smuggling dogs.
The Spanish authorities are either lukewarm or lazy about the traffic of smuggling tobacco into Spain through the free port of Gibraltar. Any effort in stopping smuggling appears to rest with the English; and this too in the time of much commercial prosperity of the Rock resting on this traffic.

1881 - The Graphic Magazine
Many bags of tobacco each evening are passed by means of men and dogs - dogs especially trained by means of punishment  . . . to escape the notice of the carabineers and their rifle-bullets; that this is at times unsuccessful is shown by their wounds. 
Towards sunset, the dogs pass through the gate of Linea, openly, cheerfully, and keen on the sport (there are but a few Spaniards patrolling the Neutral Ground) and gather near the British limits, where tobacco is at times buried; here, however, more interest is taken; a picket marches out from the huts and spreads at the double at the 100 yards line; near them no unearthing is allowed. 

Spanish Contrabandist ( 1861 - Richard Ansdell - detail )   (see LINK
Tobacco, however, in red paper packets and not unlike chocolate, is brought freely out and about gun-fire - dusk - the fun begins. Carts depart and the dogs are laden and started with the occasional death of man or beast, things go on their course . . . . the Spanish soldiers rarely wants a smoke without the means of his gratification. Regarding the matter thus in its merely subjective level it is curious when one remembers that these scenes are enacted in Europe. . . . 
. . . . . Towards sunset, the dogs pass through the gate of Linea (Spain), openly, cheerfully, and keen on the sport (there are but a few Spaniards patrolling the Neutral Ground) and gather near the British limits, where tobacco is buried at the 100 yards line; nearer them no unearthing is allowed.
Perhaps an important factor the success of dog smuggling was that for much of the 19th century there was no frontier fences between the Rock and the neighbouring Spanish town of La Línea. Instead the Spanish authorities maintained two rows of Garitas or sentry boxes spaced about a hundred meters from each other.  It was between these two rows of sentries that the dogs had to run their nightly gauntlet. It wasn’t an easy business for anybody; the guards had to be very careful not to shoot each other.


The Neutral Ground viewed from the Rock showing lines of sentry boxes known as garitas  ( 19th century )

By 1895 the British authorities in Gibraltar were taking an even more laid back approach to the question of smuggling. This is what the Governor Sir John Adye had to say about it.
As a proof of its commercial activity I may point out that Linea, which five and twenty years ago was a mere Spanish village at the other end of the neutral ground, is now a town of twelve thousand people, large numbers of whom visit Gibraltar daily, bringing in supplies of food, forage, vegetables, and fruit, &c., and leaving again at night with English goods. In fact, it has become a suburb, as it were, of the city. The trading facilities of Gibraltar are beneficial to the country round, and are fully appreciated by the inhabitants of that part of Andalusia.
It was an elegant if patronising way of mentioning contraband. The people of La Línea may have brought legal produce into Gibraltar but the stuff they took back home was contraband. The Governor's approach was to turn a blind eye on the obvious. It was not at all surprising when one considers the amount of trouble the topic had caused his predecessor, Lord Napier.


General Sir John Miller Adye   ( Unkown )


Gibraltar  ( 1885 - John Miller Adye )

As in the past, the main complaints from the British authorities were that Spanish frontier officials were all too willing to accept bribes from every individual passing through the frontier. They had a point, but the truth was that this kind of land contraband was a drop in the fiscal ocean compared with bulk smuggling by sea - of which by far the most profitable merchandise was tobacco.

A new century was just round the corner but little had changed and little would for the next hundred odd years. In 1903 the Graphic magazine published a full page picture with the following caption:
A Smuggler's Dash for Liberty - An Exciting Scene on the Frontier at Gibraltar - The other day, while a party of us were at  . . . the Captain's Guard-House on the north frontier here, we saw, about one hundred yards from the British lines, a Spanish smuggler running towards the sea, with two Carabineers on horseback after him. It was an exciting scene, and I think we were relieved to see the man escape capture.

A Smuggler's Dash for Liberty - An Exciting Scene on the Frontier at Gibraltar ( 1903 - The Graphic )

In 1909 - according to Sir William Jackson - the War Office was seen on saving  money on its overseas garrisons in order to build up the British Expeditionary Force and it was decided that:

. . . . that savings could be made if the line of sentries across the isthmus could be reduced. There were also Spanish complaints about tobacco being run by dogs across the frontier and smugglers being able to evade the sentries at night. . . . The decision to build a fence was communicated to the Spanish authorities who saw the logic of the proposals.
Despite Jackson's last comment the Spanish authorities did nothing of the sort. What they did see was further encroachment by the British into the Neutral Ground without any subsequent reduction in smuggling. It is noticeable that Jackson quotes large chunks of suave British replies to Spanish objections yet fails to quote from any correspondence from the Spanish side. The main problem was that the Spaniards were right - the fence did little or nothing at all to stop smuggling.


Satirical cartoon on the War Office fence - note female and male smugglers as well as a fully laden smuggling dog on the left. The Foreign Secretary at the time was indeed Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon


A postcard sent by an American visitor home to New York with the following text written on it:  "The man is a Spaniard. The Fence is there to try to stop the smuggling of tobacco which goes on the year round"

By 1917 Frederick Harrison was perpetuating the view that for the first two hundred years that British have held the town they have made it a resort of smugglers, gipsies, vagabonds, African rogues, Spanish rebels.’ It was, he wrote, notorious for being;
 . . . . a systematic emporium for the smuggling of Spanish products into Britain, of British goods into Spain.’
The suggestion is that smuggling may not have been all one way and that the British Treasury was also suffering the consequences. I am almost certain that the author was misinformed.





Smugglers and their dogs   ( Early 20th century )

Even fictional accounts in which the Rock is used as a suitable backdrop for tales of derring-do smuggling often took pride of place. In A.E.W. Mason's novel, The Summons, the following dialogue takes place:
He could have said in so many words. "Your tobacco factories are on French soil, and your two hundred feluccas are nominally owned in Gibraltar . . . Jose's father had left him . . . a couple of thousand pesetas. With this José Medina had gone to Gibraltar, where he bought a Felucca, with a native of Gibraltar as its nominal owner; so that José  . . . might fly the flag of Britain and sleep more surely for its protection. At Gibraltar, with what was left of his two thousand pesetas  . . . he secured a cargo of tobacco."  
"Gibraltar's a free port, you see, said Hillyard."José ran the cargo along the coast to Benicassim . . . He ran the felucca ashore one dark night." Suddenly he stopped and smiled to himself.
"I expect José Medina's in prison now" 
"On the contrary," said Graham, "he's a millionaire"
The Summons was published in 1920 although the story itself takes place in the 1912.

In 1934, an unknown newspaper published a photograph with the following caption:
A group of female smugglers parade their wares in the Spanish town of La Línea which acts as a trade center for the British Dependency of Gibraltar. 
It is a caption that simultaneously pin-points the Spaniards as culprits and exonerated Gibraltar as an innocent trade center.



Spanish smugglers 'parading their wares' in the Spanish town of La Línea  ( 1934 - Fox )

The inescapable fact is that contraband in all its various forms has continued to be part of Gibraltar's commercial activities throughout the 20th century. The net result is that smuggling stories have now become almost too commonplace to quote. Here is one for the record.

One taxi-driver who attempted in 1935 to run 197 pounds of tobacco through the frontier in the normal course of his employment was unexpectedly challenged by the Carabinieri at La Linea and decided to retreat with his booty- and his challengers - intact. He promptly reversed his car, turned and roared back over the Lines at high speed, with two highwayman-batted guards in his vehicle. One of them was holding a loaded pistol at his head, but omitted, for reasons concerning his own safety, to pull the trigger. The most serious charge the driver faced in Gibraltar - for the only disgrace of the smuggling episode lay in its failure - was a police accusation of driving to the public danger.


The pervasive and long reaching nature of the culture of smuggling throughout the region is nicely demonstrated by the following example. During the late 19th and early years of the 20th century ceremonial military occasions were two a penny in Gibraltar. Events such as Royal birthdays were often a good excuse for massive parades which were given an extra aura of importance by inviting Spanish Campo Governors and commanders to come over with their mounted escorts and added colour to the celebrations. These visits were very popular with the Spanish guards. They always offered an excellent opportunity for risk-free petty smuggling.


The Military Governor of Algeciras visiting Gibraltar during the King's Birthday celebrations (1900s - Unknown ))




The King's Birthday. "Brilliant ceremonial Parade at North Front attended by H.E. General Urbano Palma Governor of Malaga, and escort . . . ."  (1933)

In 1963 the United Nations Committee of 24 announced - much to the dismay of the entire population of the Rock - that the time had come to decolonise Gibraltar. Among the many arguments and counterarguments put forward by all sides whether Gibraltarian, British or Spanish, one was never really discussed.
The Spanish representative, Jaime de Piniés, thus argued that  . . . his country's economy was being damaged by contraband smuggled from the Rock into Spain.
A couple of examples of how Spanish labourers smuggled small quantities of goods across the frontier   ( Mid 20th century - Tito Vallejo )

In 1967 John D. Stewart in his Gibraltar - The Keystone suggested that: 
It is impossible to describe Gibraltar without mentioning the smuggling trade, with its formative effects on the past, present and future of the place and the community. Having mentioned it, let us explore it thoroughly.
And so he does in a whole chapter with the title of 'Contraband' occupying a dozen pages. Stewart has often been accused as being anti-Gibraltarian; hence it is no surprise to learn that the author disapproved of smuggling, in particular the reluctance by British authorities in taking on the Gibraltar merchants.


Gibraltar smugglers - a posed photograph   (mid-19th century - Robert Peters Napper )

By the beginning of the 21st century, things were - depending on one's point of view - as bad or as good as ever. The British historian, Maurice Harvey, for example  introduces several new complications:
. . . it was alleged ( by the Spanish) that Gibraltar had become the center for drug smuggling and money laundering, particularly of drug related money. Tobacco smuggling had of course a long pedigree and was carried on or condoned as much by the Spanish as by the Gibraltarians. . . . it is difficult to believe that Gibraltar itself was in any transit route for drugs from North Africa.
To conclude, all the arguments pro and against smuggling, whether it was essentially an immoral or an illegal activity, or whether it was simply a consequence of irresponsibly high Spanish tariffs, whether the British and Gibraltarian merchants were looking away from the blindingly obvious or whether the blame lay squarely with those Spanish officials who shamefully allowed themselves to be bribed, have little relevance to my main premise - that smuggling is one of the most important economic, political and social factors in the creation of a Gibraltarian identity.

Unfortunately it is a premise that does not seem to sit well with many Gibraltarians who much prefer to identify themselves with British military triumphs which have little to do with them. It is in my opinion a curious irony that its contemporary inhabitants can probably recognise the names of every important combatant that took part in the Great Siege of Gibraltar but is still unclear as to who exactly founded the town they live in - that they can easily find out everything to do with British gun emplacements, batteries and bastions, but are still dubious about who exactly built Gibraltar's most imposing historical building, the iconic Moorish Castle (See LINK)

Nor can they as yet identify the origins of Gibraltar's very own code-switching patois (see LINK) or the reason why they are known to themselves and others as Llanitos. That so many Gibraltarians should fail to recognise their debt to smuggling is therefore simply par for the course. 

Por tabaco a Gibraltar
a Roma se va por bulas
por tabaco a Gibraltar
por manzanilla a Sanlucar

Lyrics of a 19th century Alegrias



( 21st century - Unknown )