The People of Gibraltar
1888 - Ho Chi Minh City to Algeciras - Mr. Henderson's Railway

Alexander Henderson and John "Juanito" Morrison - Louis Lombard  and Juan Bosano 
Horatio Jones Sprague, J.A. Garbarino and J. Marsden.

From 1704 - when Gibraltar was taken by Anglo-Dutch forces (see LINK) - and right through to the late  19th century, literally hundreds of writers, tourists and casual visitors to the Rock published their thoughts and opinions of the place. Some liked it, some didn't but they mostly had one thing in common - they all arrived by boat.

The overland trip through Spain was rarely an option. The roads south through Andalucia be they through Seville or Cordoba inevitably ended up in places such as Ronda from where a combination of atrocious - not to say non-existent - roads, the lack of any decent resting places and the constant threat of being held up or even murdered by bandits made land travel to Gibraltar a veritable no-no.


From the mountains of Ronda to Gibraltar   ( Mid 19th century etching - Unknown )

In 1889 the July supplement of the Scientific American magazine (see LINK) carried an article by Horatio Jones Sprague (see LINK) the American consul at Gibraltar. Among other things he mentions the following.
After many consecutive years of heavy outlays, difficulties, and constant disappointments, a new English company has recently succeeded in commencing the construction of a railway from the neighboring Spanish town of Algeciras to join, via Ronda, the railway station of Bobadilla, on the railroad line toward Malaga. It is presumed that when this railroad will be in running order it will greatly benefit this community . . . .
By the late 19th century of course, the various private companies that ran the Spanish railways were well on their way to connecting all the main provincial capitals of the country but even as late as 1880s the Malaga and Gibraltar Railway Company had failed in its attempt to connect Malaga with the towns of Marbella and Gibraltar despite being heavily financed by British capital. The Great Southern of Spain Railway with its rather ungrammatical name, never managed to get any further South that Granada.


In fact it was only at the very end of the 1890s that travel book authors such as Henry George O'Shea (see LINK) would be able to write:
Ronda is recommended to tourists in the South of Spain, who may seek a cool summer residence. The new line from Bobadilla to Algeciras renders it easy of access to all, whether coming from Gibraltar or the north.
In 1880 a Spanish company - Ferrocarril Directo de Jerez a Algeciras y Gibraltar - had another go and published plans for a route that would take passengers to Algeciras via Jimena de la Frontera. But it was not to be - the company ran into financial trouble and was forced to close.  


All however was not lost. In 1888 the assets of Ferrocarril Directo were auctioned and the rights to build and run their proposed railway were purchased by Greenwoody & Co of London.  Once all the local and national red tape had been overcome the newly formed Algeciras (Gibraltar) Railway Company Ltd - heavily financed by the British businessman Alexander Henderson - took over the actual construction of the railway.


Alexander Henderson

Luckily for the company, a French engineer - Charles Lamiable - had already drawn up the necessary plans for the section of the line from Bobadilla to Ronda, an extremely difficult project over mountainous country. The man in charge, however, was John Morrison, a well known British engineer and a side-kick and personal friend of Henderson.  Morrison became the General Manager of the undertaking but the man who was in charge of building the railway was a Gibraltarian - Captain Louis Lombard


John "Juanito" Morrison and friends - Reading between the lines and despite his friendly nickname  - Morrison does not seem to have been a very popular figure. To be fair I have never been able to discover why.

The Lombard family had been in Gibraltar since the mid 19th century. Many of them and their ancestors had been ship owners, sea farers and naval engineers. Also - to put it bluntly - they were very rich. At least one member of the family had been involved in the construction of the massive new dockyard project in Gibraltar which began only a few years after the Algeciras-Bobadilla railway was completed.

Captain Lombard's Gibraltarian background gave him an insight into the essentially claustrophobic nature of life in Gibraltar - not just for the residents and Garrison but especially for its top colonial administrators who were accustomed to better things back home. A proper land route by rail to and away from the place would be more than welcome. 


Captain Louis Lombard

Lombard, however, was well aware that the Spanish authorities would never agree to a direct railway connection between Spanish territory and the Rock. Applying some lateral thinking Lombard came up with the ideal solution. The terminal would be in Algeciras and the connection with Gibraltar would be by ferry boat. 

Originally a stockbroker, Alexander Henderson had made his fortune by financing railroads. Trains were his passion and by 1899 he was already chairman of the British Great Central Railway which eventually metamorphosed into the London and North Eastern Railway - of which he was also part of the managing board. It was a few years prior to this, however, that he met Captain Lombard while travelling to South America on railroad building business.



( from The Tatler )

One can only presume that it was on one of these meetings that Lombard brought up the possible Algeciras-Bobadilla connection. Although it was not exactly and immediately obvious that such a project would prove financially viable Lombard was nevertheless aware that the rights to build just such a railway were readily available as they had been purchased by Greenwoody in London. He later contacted Henderson and convinced him to finance the scheme.

Different figures have been bandied around as to the cost of building the line and one ball park figure arrives at an astonishing one billion pounds sterling in today's money. It is an awful lot of cash by any standards and confirms Henderson's enormous economic clout. It also explains why the completed railroad has so often been referred to as "Mr. Henderson's Railway" with never a mention of the crucial role of Captain Louis Lombard - or that of its engineer, John Morrison.


In 1889 the "The Algeciras (Gibraltar) Railway Company Ltd" got to work. The line was built in sections. The first bit from Algeciras north towards Jimena de la Frontera was completed in 1890, the next south from Bobadilla to Ronda in 1891 and the final connection from Ronda to Jimena in 1892. It was 178 kilometres in length.



Picture used for the original time-table booklet - the aqueduct was not Moorish - it was built by the Spanish during the late 18th century


Gibraltar from Algeciras - with aqueduct in the middle distance   ( 1902 - Alfred East ) (See LINK)

The economic boost to the entire neighbourhood - including that of Gibraltar itself - must have been considerable. A Gibraltarian - Juan Bosano - wrote in his memoirs:
Cuando mi padre trabajaba con la compañía del Sr Dotto, el hizo todos los trabajos de plomería en todas las Estaciones de la Compañía de Ferrocarriles entre Algeciras y Bobadilla. Entonces la compañía era Inglesa.
Contracting out for the different jobs required for the project must have been quite common and Bosano senior's experience even more so.



Opening of the Algeciras-Bobadilla  Railway   ( 1890 - Illustrated London News )

In 1892 the Algeciras terminal station was built on the banks of the River Miel and a connecting railway line from the station to a newly built wooden mole. Also financed by Henderson, the main objective was to make it easy for train passengers arriving in town bound for Gibraltar to catch the also brand new Elvira ferry boat. The popularity of using the line as a means of accessing the Rock can be gauged by the fact that four years later a second ferry boat - the Margarita - joined the ferry service. That rather flimsy mole - some have argued - might have been the precursor of the vast container port facilities that exist in Algeciras today.


The Elvira and the Margarita - I don't know which one is which  (1900s Postcard )   


The Aline ( 1900s - Postcard )
The literature suggests that all three boats were named after daughters of various members of the Henderson family - but again I don't know which ones 


By 1897 the French Sur Express had extended its service from Paris via Madrid to Algeciras and by 1898 the Company's offices in Algeciras were well established. The General Manager was still John Morrison - known locally as "Juanito" - and the rest of the staff was made up of what were probably either Spanish locals or British personnel. The two 'Secretarios de Dirección, however, were almost certainly Gibraltarians - J.A. Garbarino and J. Marsden. Lombard continued as a shareholder. The Ayuntamiento in Ronda incidentally, were furious that the company had decided to have its head office in Algeciras rather than in Ronda. 

Although no longer part of this story, the sheer popularity of the line led many a passenger to realise that both Ronda and Algeciras were worth a visit for their own sake. To cater for this, Henderson built two magnificent hotels - the Victoria in Ronda and the Hotel Reina Cristina in Algeciras.  The undoubted charms of the later easily seduced the more well off local residents and members of the Garrison of Gibraltar to give it frequent visits. In fact it led to an influx of people from the Rock who built themselves homes in Algeciras.


The text on the above publicity poster for the Hotel reads as follows:
Situation and view unrivalled. Grounds 2 acres in extent. Perfect sanitation. Private water supply of best quality. Fireplaces in all rooms. Illuminated apartments. Artists' studios with dark room. Private suites of apartments with all modern conveniences. 
Convenient Tourist Centre. Special arrangements to meet the P&O, Orient and other SS companies at Gibraltar. Within convenient distance of Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Tangier and Ceuta. Golf, Polo and Hunting . . . sea-bathing. Mean winter temperature 35o, summer . . . 85o. Practically continuous sunshine all the year round.  
Beanland, Malin & Co- Gibraltar (See LINK)
That private water supply was provided by another English company - the Algeciras Water Works. The arrangement never functioned to everybody's satisfaction and in the early 20th century another English firm - The Andalucia English Water Company took over. No doubt the English were loath to leave something as important as personal hygiene in the hands of local Spaniards. 

In 1906, a Spanish newspaper, El Liberal came up with this;
. . . el soberbio hotel ‘María Cristina’, (sic) el mejor y más caro de España, donde el más modesto hospedaje cuesta una libra esterlina, con su precioso parque, su confort puramente británico . . .
Another curiosity - During WW II those 'dark rooms' were used by German spies based in Algeciras to develop the photos they had taken of military and naval activity on the Rock. 



Photograph of Mr. Henderson, now Lord Faringdon possibly taken after his retirement with his grandson, granddaughter and great grandson

In 1975 a photograph album containing several rather poor but historically unique snapshots taken along the start of the Algeciras - Bobadilla railway line was found in a rubbish bin in Algeciras. The family of the owner presumably gave it little importance and dumped it after his death. The following copies have been taken from an article by two Spanish historians - Juan Carlos Pardo González and Jose Manuel Sampedro Guerrero 


Puente sobre de (sic) la Carretera


Algeciras - Puente de Rivancho


Los Barrios - Estación


Puente del Guadacortes (sic) 


San Roque - Muella (sic) de Mercancias


Estación de San Roque -Panoramas


Jimena Estación 

Today, the line is run by the Spanish railway network - but it may still retain its record as part of the longest possible commercial railway journey - without leaving the rails - of the 10,600 miles that run between Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City and Algeciras.