The People of Gibraltar

1842 - Robert Thomas Wilson - Good Soldier but no General

Colonel D. Falla, Town Major and Joseph Shakery - Richard Abrines and Emile Bonnet, 
Benjamin Carver Jnr and Joseph Crooks - Francis Francia Jnr and Francis Imossi
Solomon Levy and Richard Parody - Michael Pitman and John Recagno
Musgrave Watson and Mr. Torrens, Master of the Hounds - Juan Gavino
Mr. Bracebridge and Corporal MacCleod - Captain Dundas and Mr. Weeks

General Sir Robert Thomas Wilson was a distinguished army officer who fought in the Peninsular Wars. He was also a writer on military matters as well as a member of Parliament. He was Governor of Gibraltar from October 1842 until his death in  December 1848

Sir Robert Thomas Wilson

The 'no general' comment is probably a reference to his dismissal from the army in 1821 for having ordered troops to stop shooting over the heads of an unruly mob that was attending the funeral of George IV's wife Queen Caroline.

In October 1842, shortly before he was inaugurated as Governor, the Owen Glendower arrived from Chatham with 200 Convicts on board. They would eventually be employed in public works many of which took place or were started during Wilson's term. (see LINKWilson apparently was keen advocate of Convict labour. In 1847 the Gibraltar Chronicle writes that; 
The new works at Gibraltar are going on with surprising activity. Nothing can exceed the energy of the Governor in pressing for their completion. He is at the works at five o'clock every morning where he personally inspects everything. 

The extension of the New Mole, built with convict labour. Most of the stones were cut by them as well  ( 1860s - George W. Wilson )  (See LINK)

There were so many convicts working in Gibraltar at the time that the complement usually assigned to Van Diemen's Island - today's Tasmania - had to be reduced, much to the disgust of the local Governor  - Sir Eardley Wilmot. Quarantine regulations were probably also a headache. According to a complaint by a local merchant addressed to Lloyds they were out of date, unique to Gibraltar and in urgent need for revision as they were interfering with trade.

On a lighter vein Wilson issued a Garrison order forbidding the use of Mesmerism by Garrison doctors. Another on gambling was perhaps far more revealing as to what the officer class in Gibraltar was up to at the time.
The Governor has had the mortification to find several officers of this garrison, in disobedience to the most express orders of the Sovereign, and to the great prejudice of the service, have been engaged in gaming transactions, which have brought ruin in their train upon one of the party.  
It is a vice of such a pernicious nature —a pest in a garrison, so destructive of discipline, personal welfare, and that good feeling which should pervade brother officers, instead of making a prey of one another, as to render the severest condemnation imperative.  . . . D. Falla, Colonel, Town Major.
Elsewhere, Spain was in turmoil. Queen Isabella II of Spain was not even a teenager at the time and the country was run by a Regent, Ramón María Narváez, a man who was perceived by many as a reactionary.  Wilson tried to keep well clear of the politics and maintained a reasonably good relationship with whoever happened to be his counterpart in the Campo Area. It cannot have been easy as the Spanish authorities were in the midst of their periodic anti-smuggling campaigns. 

Isabella II of Spain, later in life  ( 1869 )

Nevertheless a Gibraltarian by the name of Joseph Shakery was waylaid by bandits while on his way to San Roque the town mayor sent out troops to rescue him. They killed one of his attackers, captured the other and set Shakery free. Wilson immediately wrote to the 'Alcalde a letter of thanks for his prompt action. 

Twenty odd years later in 1865, the same Joseph Shakery would be elected as one of the twelve Commissioner of the Sanitary Board - forerunner of gibraltar's first City Council. The others were,  Richard Abrines, Emile Bonnet, Benjamin Carver Jnr. Joseph Crooks, Francis Francia Jnr, Francis Imossi, Solomon Levy, Richard Parody, Michael Pitman, John Recagno, and Musgrave Watson.

Very shortly after taking office Wilson must have been introduced into the pleasures of the Calpe Hunt. A short account of the first ride of the season in November appears in Bell's Life Magazine. According to their correspondent.
At 11 o'clock, almost the entire garrison assembled at the first vents (la primera Venta ) Immediately the pack was thrown into cover by a justly popular master Mr. Torrens . . .  I was pleased to see how well a favourite sport is kept up in this foreign land.

1876 - With the hounds at Gibraltar ( 1876 The Graphic ) (See LINK

This carefree account runs counter to a comment by a contemporary author on the what it was like being an officer of the British army stationed in the Colonies during the summer of 1844. 
The army and the navy used to be - you may get a commission and then go broil in Bengal, get the yellow fever in Jamaica, imprison yourself on the Rock of Gibraltar, or doze away your life in a country barrack . . . 
Not a year into his term and the USS Missouri caught fire and exploded in Gibraltar harbour.
The crew were rescued and Wilson threw open the gates of Gibraltar to the survivors. It must have appeared to the Americans as an unprecedented act of courtesy as it was recognized by a resolution of appreciation from Congress. 

The remains of the frigate - a hazard to shipping - were then removed by divers, piece by piece from the shallow waters of the harbour. It was then that a discovery was made that put a slightly different completion on the event. No9 less than 20 000 shackles - not just for men but for women and children - were recovered from the wreck. As suggested in an editorial in the Times, the Missouri had been involved in the slave-trade. (See LINK)

In 1844 the French were also creating waves in Barbary - apart from Spain, Gibraltar's traditional supplier of fresh meat and vegetables -  as 8,000 men under Marshal Bugeaud defeated 45,000 Algerians under Abd-el-Kader. The capture of Algeria put France at something of an advantage in the Mediterranean and was viewed with great suspicion by the British authorities in London and indeed Gibraltar. 

Smuggling must also have caused him not a few headaches. (See LINK) As a one of the many visitors to Gibraltar of the mid 19th century wrote; 
Gibraltar is the great British depot for smuggling goods into the Peninsula. You see vessels lying in the harbour, and are told in so many words they are smugglers ; all those smart Spaniards with cigar and mantles are smugglers, and run tobaccos and cotton into Catalonia; all the respected merchants of the place are smugglers. 
The other day a Spanish revenue vessel was shot to death under the thundering great guns of the fort, for neglecting to bring to, but it so happened that it was in chase of a smuggler ; in this little corner of her dominions Britain proclaims war to custom-houses, and protection to free-trade. 

A census taken during Wilson's governorship showed around 12000 British subjects, 3600 aliens. Other than 1400 Protestants 1700 Jews and a few others the rest were Catholic. 
One wonders what percentage of those 3600 aliens were involved in contraband.

In 1844 another unusual occurrence. An ass called Valiant belonging to Captain Dundas of the RN shipped on board a frigate bound for Malta struck a sand bank off the Point de Gat and the ass was un fortunately thrown overboard.

A few days after, when the gates of Gibraltar were opened in the morning, the guard was surprised to see Valiant waiting to enter the town. When allowed to do so he trotted off immediately to the stable of Mr. Weeks, a merchant. It was a place that he had formally formerly occupied. Incredibly and without guide or compass the animal had safely negotiated a journey through 200 miles of mountains and countryside intersected by streams and other hazards in a very short period of time.

1n 1845 came the inauguration of the clock in the Stanley Tower near - so called because it had been sent out by order of  Lord Stanley, Secretary of State for the Colonies. The clock was fixed on to the South West tower of the Moorish Castle Walls. A few months later, the governor with a little help from their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cobourg laid the foundation stone of Wellington Front.

William Makepeace Thackeray (see LINK)  visited Gibraltar during Wilson's tenure and left us with one or two vignettes of the period;
The young men in the coffee-room tell me he goes to sleep every night with the keys of Gibraltar under his pillow. It is an awful image, and somehow completes the notion of the slumbering fortress. Fancy Sir Robert Wilson, his nose just visible over the sheets, his night-cap and the huge key (you see the very identical one in Reynolds's portrait of Lord Heathfield ) peeping out from under the bolster ! 
In 1846, Wilson sent an official report to William Gladstone. It offers a snapshot of the Governor's views on Gibraltar during the previous year.
Sir, I have the honour to transmit herewith the 'Blue Book' for Gibraltar, repaired for the year 1845, accompanied by such observations, which the limited means of this colony afford, viz.  
Revenue and Expenditure - The receipts show a decrease on the year, compared with the previous year 1844, of 3183 L arising from a. falling off in the six following principal items of revenue, viz.,  
Wharfage toll, duties on wines, duties on spirits, auction fees, rates and duties in the port department, and ground rents,” amounting to 3086 L. to be accounted for; independent of a very perceptible diminution in the trade of the colony, from greater Vigilance on the part of the Spanish authorities in enforcing their fiscal laws, Gibraltar became, in 1844, the general rendezvous of several foreign squadrons for observing the events then occurring in Western Barbary or Morocco, consequently there was increased consumption in that year.  
The expenditure is also greater than that of 1844, by 2422 L; but under this head are included payments into the military chest, as “surplus revenue,” which, in 1845, amounted to 4000 L., and should be considered imprests by this government in aid of general revenue.  
Education is advancing, the number of elementary schools having increased. Public buildings are in good order. Civil hospital is well conducted, and the funds of the institution permit the construction of a ward for the reception of insane patients, an establishment much required in this community.
The irritatingly bland tone and generally uninformative content of the report is similar to those of other 'Blue Books' issued by Governors of Gibraltar preceding Wilson - as well as many that came after him.

His comment of the 'limited means' of the colony is hard to understand.  There is no doubt that Spanish intransigence as regards their 'fiscal laws' - in other words trying to put a stop to smuggling - will have had some effect on the well-being of the Rock. But not much. As mentioned previously, the authorities in Gibraltar had very little respect for Spanish Revenue ships trying to do the job.

The fact that he feels that an asylum for the insane was just what the doctor ordered for the locals probably says more about Wilson's opinion of them than that they were particularly prone to madness. 

In 1847 the Theatre Royal - designed by a Mr. Bracebridge - was inaugurated with Verdi's opera Nabucondonosor. The Duke of Ostrogothia was present that day as was the Marchioness of Niza and the Governor and his daughter. The prologue was written by the Governor himself and read by one of his minions - a certain Corporal McCleod. 
Apparently when he ended the reading with the immortal words - God Save Britain's Loved and Lovely Queen - all in capital letters - the audience spontaneously got to their feet and roared their approval with a series of heartfelt hurahs. Those were the days of Empire.

The Theatre Royal or el Teatro Real -on the left - would go on to become something of an institution in Gibraltar. It eventually becoming a very popular cinema. 

In 1848 the Governor agreed to a 99 year lease for property No. 743 in Prince Edward's Road to the Trustees of the late Juan Gavino.  Don Juan had left a large part of his not inconsiderable wealth to charity and two years later property 743 would become Gavino's Asylum for paupers and orphans. By 1888 It maintained 28 aged paupers and 18 orphans.

Coat of arms of the Gavino family

Then Gibraltar experienced a wonderful sight. A westerly wind persisted for over three weeks which meant that all wind driven ships travelling out of the Mediterranean through the straits were unable to do so. On the 23rd of April the wind having changed direction, 300 ships that had gathered in the Bay of Gibraltar, at Algeciras and at Sandy Bay, all set sail at the same time for their various destinations. 

Congested shipping lanes off Gibraltar ( 1852 - Vilhelm Melbye)