The People of Gibraltar
1859 - The Jewish Refugees - The Purchase of Palestine 


In 1859, Muhammas ibn Abdurrahman became the King of Morocco and was immediately confronted with a thoroughly unwelcome problem - a war with Spain. It was caused by Spanish demands that the King grant Spain a series of political and military concessions in North Africa. By 1860 the Spanish army had occupied Tetuan and was moving quickly towards Tangier. They never got there as a Spanish hegemony in Barbary was not in the best interests of the British. They intervened, concocted a peace treaty, and that was the end of that.


A contemporary but fanciful Bay and Rock of Gibraltar    (1858 - John Wilson Carmichael )   (See LINK )

The campaign, however, caused immense hardship to the Jewish residents in Morocco forcing them to ask for refuge in Gibraltar and Algeciras. Both the British and the Spanish authorities agreed and - in so far as Gibraltar was concerned - a large number of refugees were allowed to enter and remain in the fortress. 


Jewish refugees living in tents in North Front ( 1860 - Unknown )

The actual number of displaced people involved is hard to tell. Some sources reveal very precise figures. A Jewish source suggests 1754 in total of which 681 were allocated tents in Gibraltar's North Front. This did not include an indeterminate number who might not have registered with the police. A  Spanish source gives a ball-park figure of 3000 refugees with another 600 allowed entry into Algeciras and Tarifa.  By the summer of 1860 they were still there living in what can best be described as miserable conditions. To add to the general chaos a tremendous storm destroyed the encampment shortly after it was set up.


A Jewish family in one of the North Front tents apparently coping rather better than might be expected   
( Le Monde illustr√© )


Another artist's impression of the refugee tents at North Front (Unknown )

Various Jewish worthies both in London and in Gibraltar took up the cause of the refugees and a public subscription fetched over $40 000. The French Government were urged to take the lot to Algeria and find work for them, a request which fell on deaf ears. One particular rumour had it that the fabulously rich Lionel Rothschild intended to purchase Palestine and restore the Jewish state. It came to nothing. 


Lionel de Rothschild  ( Vanity Fair )

Instead the British banker and philanthropist Moses Montefiore - also pretty well-off but by now seventy-nine years old - offered his services to intervene. He did this by using the sure-fire method of splashing large amounts of money into the appropriate places - in other words the already well lined pockets of the top Moorish hierarchy - and the entire area returned to its normal, backward reactionary past.


Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, 1st Baronet  (Unknown ) 

As an example of how the other half live when their very own compatriots are forced to sleep in unhygienic tents, a biography of Montefiore had this to say about his stay on the Rock. 
At Gibraltar, Sir Moses was received cordially by the Governor, General Sir William Codrington (see LINK) . . .  As a mark of respect, a military band was ordered to play before his house in the evening and the Governor gave a banquet in his honour. A gratifying proof of the benevolent interest of the Home Government in the Mission was afforded by HMS Magicienne being placed at Sir Moses Montefire's disposal  . . .
Most of the refugees eventually returned to Morocco - the majority six months after their arrival and no doubt helped on their way by the cessation of Government rations. Some, however, curiously decided to remain in Spain - a country not exactly well known for its fondness for Jews.