The People of Gibraltar

1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 2. First Impressions

Giuseppe Codali

The Rock from the Spanish Frontier (Unknown )

Fifteen years earlier the young Benjamin Disraeli (see LINK) had written about Gibraltar:
I write to you from a country where the hedges consist of aloes all in blossom: fourteen, sixteen feet high. This Rock is a wonderful place, with a population infinitely diversified. Moors with costumes radiant as a rainbow or an Eastern melodrama; Jews with gabardines and skull-caps; Genoese, Highlanders, and Spaniards, whose dress is as picturesque as that of the sons of Ivor.
A year before the arrival of the Loreto nuns William Makepeace Thackeray (see LINK) formed a similar impression of the people in Gibraltar’s main street:
In Main Street the Jews predominate, the Moors abound; and from the ‘Jolly Sailor’ or the brave ‘Horse Marine’, where the people of our nation are drinking British beer and gin, you hear choruses of ‘Garryowen’ or ‘The Lass I left behind me’; while through the flaring lattices of the Spanish ventas come the clatter of castanets and the jingle and moan of Spanish guitars and ditties.  
It is a curious sight at evening this thronged street, with the people, in a hundred different costumes, bustling to and fro under the coarse flare of the lamps; swarthy Moors, in white or crimson robes; dark Spanish smugglers in tufted hats, with gay silk handkerchiefs round their heads; fuddled seamen from men-of-war, or merchantmen; porters, Galician or Genoese; and at every few minutes’ interval, little squads of soldiers tramping to relieve guard at some one of the innumerable posts in the town. 

Squads of soldiers in front of the Garrison Library in Governor's Parade  ( Mid 19th century H.A. Turner ) 
(See LINK)

The military were much in evidence. The nuns could hardly have avoided the impact of seeing one terrace after another mounted in those days with the latest and most terrible guns. . . It was clear that the Army was in charge, and the Governor’s word was law. The civilian population counted for little. There were numerous occasions when Governors for security reasons had actually made efforts to keep civilians out of the fortress altogether, hence the precautions over identity papers and the strict rules about entry to and departure from the garrison, right of residence and the right to own or lease property.

Fortress Gibraltar - The Northern Defences - ( 1879 - Captain S Buckle )

In the early days after the capture of the Rock in 1704 civilians had been tolerated only in so far as they served the requirements of the military. Inevitably a permanent civilian population  attached itself to the Rock anyway, and over time the military authorities found themselves obliged to look after their basic needs if only to ensure their own garrison’s freedom from disease. 

Occasionally Governors took the requirements of the civilian population into account and made improvements for the collection of potable water, the regular supply of food from Morocco and – when not at war – from Spain, the hygiene in the markets, the sewage system and the sale of food about the town; sickness amongst the civilian population could affect the military and might have dire effects on the readiness of the troops to defend the fortress. The creation of the Alameda Gardens in 1815 (see LINK) was the result of one of these improvement projects. . . 

Money for the gardens was raised from public lotteries and voluntary contributions, and a Head Gardener and Horticulturist, Giuseppe Codali, was brought over from Italy specially to oversee the new project. Codali stayed on in Gibraltar, and just three years before the arrival of the Loreto nuns the Italianate sunken garden and bridge were opened and the Alameda project was completed. 

Guiseppe Codali Butti

The South district, beyond Southport Gate, now became desirable as a residential area for those who could afford to live there, the open spaces and the development of these and other gardens offering a healthier living environment than the crowded town. . . .