1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 4. Gibraltarians
William Cole and Mr Walters - Mr MacKay and Anthony Cozzanegra
Mr Villiers, Surgeon, Dentist and Cupper
In the mid-1840s Gibraltar was enjoying a boom in trade. At the turn of the century the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Trafalgar put paid to any possible threat from France and gave Britain control of the entire Mediterranean. Nelson had ensured British naval superiority for much of the 19th century. Gibraltar was Britain’s own port at the entrance to the Mediterranean and so local merchants made full use of their opportunities. The turnover of goods from Manchester in particular grew to immense proportions.
Gibraltar ( 1862 - Sayer )
The civilian population now numbered about 16,000 in total, of which 4,000 were foreigners from France, Morocco, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Genoa. The British Gibraltarians – that is, those born in Gibraltar, whatever their ancestry which in any case was usually mixed, were beginning to exist as a distinct group, with roots in Gibraltar, a love of their homeland, and expressing a hotchpotch of a culture drawn from an amalgam of all the countries of their forebears. They numbered some 11,000 out of a total of 12,000 British Subjects. There were about a thousand civilians, mostly businessmen and their families, who hailed from the British Isles.
The nuns may not have been too startled by the fashions and customs of the English and of some of the other affluent members of the community whose attire at least would have been similar to that of Dublin or London. The assorted costumes of Genoese, Portuguese, Moroccan Berbers, Jews and Spaniards were a different matter. There was also a distinctive Gibraltarian outdoor mantle or cape which the women wore over their clothes. It was made of red material and edged with black velvet around the hood, hem, front panels and arm openings.
This garment appears to have been peculiar to Gibraltar. It is interesting to note that at that time the British Military used a great deal of red in their uniforms and one wonders if bales of the famous ‘Stroud scarlet’ woollen material tended to ‘fall off the back of a cart’ now and then.
Lady of Gibraltar in her national costume
The poorer Gibraltarians lived for the most part at the eastern edge of the town, up the steep hills, and in the narrow streets, in the alleys and passages, and in the crowded ‘patios’. This was the area where the Loreto Sisters were soon to open their first free school. By December the following year a hundred and fifty pupils were attending this school.
The more affluent Gibraltarians lived in Main Street and its narrow branch streets, and also in the larger houses in the less crowded ‘South’ of the town. The strange mixture of English, Spanish and Italian architecture, the cosmopolitan crowds in front of the cafes, and the strange looking vehicles (small horse-drawn ‘gharries’) must have been a source of wonder to the newcomers.
Gibraltar gharry ( late 19th Century )
On the day the Chronicle (see LINK) announced the arrival in Gibraltar of the nuns it also carried a number of short notices about other events:
The public execution of William Cole, a prisoner, would take place at Rosia Parade. Cole had killed his Guard, Mr Walters, when the latter had reprimanded him “for idle performance of his work”;
Mr MacKay and Anthony Cozzanegra advertised their availability as tutors;
Mr Villiers, Surgeon, Dentist and Cupper, has the honor [sic] to inform the inhabitants of Gibraltar that he continues to fit Artificial Teeth, from one to a whole set, in the most approved manner, affording ease to the mouth and facility of speech. (He operated at No 1 Convent Place, “near the Apothecary’s shop”.