The People of Gibraltar
1779 - Hardy Town - The Coward’s Retreat 

Major Hardy and Moses Israel - Mr Benady and Mrs Taurel 

William Davis, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Daniel - Mr. Pearson and Messrs Lynch’s 
Messrs Hind and Co and Mr. William Boyd - Mr. Henry Cowper and George Boyd
Mrs. Eliza Terry and Mr. Thomas Field - Mr. Isaac Aboab and Mr. Abraham
Saul Cohen and  Mr. Abudarham Taurel - Cansino, and Mr. Portugal
Gavino, Delarofa, Porto and Martines – Montobio and Vialle

Histories of the Great Siege of Gibraltar are invariably a cracking good read – particularly if you happen to be British - and by “British” I mean the home grown variety. On the other hand, the Spaniards and the French would definitely be wise to give them a miss. Nor should all that many Gibraltarians be all that enamoured. Some might perhaps experience a certain schadenfreude when they learn how tens of thousands of nasty Spaniards and their equally unlikeable allies got their come-uppance by a few plucky Britons - with the help of the odd Hanoverian.


Gibraltar during the Great Siege   ( 1795 - Robert Sayer and John Bennett )

But the manner in which contemporary historians – most of them British military men stationed on the Rock during the Siege – somehow managed to infer that the behaviour of the local population during the hostilities tended towards the unattractive if not the cowardly might not be all that palatable to the more critical Gibraltarian. The manner in which many of these histories comment on the setting up and use of a temporary shanty town which the civilian population used as a refuge from enemy fire throughout the Siege is a case in point.

Why the town came into existence is easy to understand. During the previous Siege of Gibraltar which took place in 1727, the range of the enemy land guns firing from the isthmus limited their damage to those areas of town known as Villa Vieja and the Barcina – in other words its most northerly part.


Spanish map showing the Spanish lines on the left and the town of  Gibraltar on the right    (  1779 -  Unknown – detail )

But by the start of the Great Siege in 1779 the Spaniards had built themselves a powerful defensive line of fortresses across the isthmus – La Línea de la Contravalación (see LINK) - which allowed them to push their attacking options further southward and nearer the town of Gibraltar. This together with improvements in the range of their ordnance allowed the enemy to open fire on just about the entire town almost at will. 

Bombardments soon became regular, persistent – and lethal.  For the civilians to remain in their town houses when these were taking place would have been foolhardy. Most of them were therefore more than inclined to move as far southward as it was possible in order to be out of range of the enemy guns setting up temporary shelters wherever they could.

It is hard to tell exactly when the shanty town actually became a reality but it must have been at the very start of the Siege. John Drinkwater (see LINK) offers a clue when making the following notes dating events that took place in August 1779:
The inhabitants had been warned in time to provide against the calamities which now impended: the standing orders of the garrison specified, that every inhabitant, even in time of peace, should have in store six months provisions; yet by far the greater number had neglected this precaution. 
These unfortunate people, as they could not expect to be supplied from the garrison stores, were compelled, in general, to seek sustenance by quitting the place: some, however, were induced to weather out the storm, by the property they had in the garrison, which was probably their all, and which they could not remove with themselves. 
Those of this description, on application, obtained leave to erect wooden huts and sheds at the southward, above the Navy hospital; whither they removed their principal papers, &c. that they might be secure from the annoyance of the enemy, in case the town should be bombarded.

The Navy (Naval) Hospital    ( 1747 - James Gabriel Montressor )  (See LINK)

Elsewhere Drinkwater names these huts and sheds as either Hardy Town - or Hardy-town - possible after the officer supposedly in charge of the place - Garrison’s quarter-master general, Major Hardy of the 56th Regiment – who one would have supposed would have had better things to do during the Siege.

However, an undated and ambiguous comment by a local inhabitant – B. Cornwell (see LINK) – appears to push the construction of the shanty town to a date before the Siege actually started and gives it the alternative name of Black Town – which may very well have been the original one before it was thought necessity for Major Hardy to take charge of the place. 
 . . . the inhabitants had, during these troubles; erected a large number of wooden sheds for their shelter, with a view of securing themselves in the time of the blockade from the fire at the land side, in case a siege should take place . . . The name of Black Town was applied to this temporary retreat. 
Captain John Spilsbury (see LINK) who was also present during the Siege also commented on the place in his diary.
29th (September 1779) - New Jerusalem, on a piece of ground above South Barracks, laid out for the Jews to build on, goes on fast.
Black Town, Hardy Town and now “New Jerusalem” – this is almost certainly an ironic reference to the Jews that Spilsbury also mentions in his diary entry. I suspect it was his own personal or private name for the place as nobody else uses it. He was also quite wrong - the place was by no means used exclusively by Jewish residents. Even the odd British officers found the place a convenient refuge. Elsewhere in his diaries he refers to it as an “Encampment” near Buena Vista.

( 1779 - 1783  - John Spilsbury )

During the late summer of 1780, the Spanish Admiral Barceló discovered that the temporary town and surrounding area could easily be bombarded from the sea using small gunboats. They were usually used at night and with great effect. For a while General Eliott (see LINK) – the Governor at the time - tried to counter these incursions by setting up appropriate batteries on both the New and the Old Moles. (See LINK). He even anchored two hastily armed hulks (see LINK) just off shore. But neither of these measures made the slightest difference.


A Spanish gunboat   ( Unknown )

On the 12th of April 1781, Admiral Darby arrived in Gibraltar with his convey of nearly a hundred ships, an event known in history books as the second relief of Gibraltar. The ships saw off an attack by the enemy and at a quarter to eleven that morning managed to anchor just off the New Mole and Rosia Bay and out of reach of enemy guns. These were now trained on the town itself. More than 100 pieces of heavy artillery opened fire. The civilians who only minutes before had been congratulating each other on the arrival of a fleet with much needed provisions now hurriedly moved away southward to the relative safety of their huts in Hardy Town – or as Drinkwater rather more dramatically put it:
. . . . changed their exultation to sorrow, and flocked, old and young, men, women, and children, in the greatest confusion, to the  southward, leaving their, property, unsecured, to the mercy of the soldiers. 
Also in April 1781 Samuel Ancell (see LINK) an eyewitness to the siege, wrote to his brother about the establishment of sheds, tents, huts and the like in the southern part of the Rock: 

The inhabitants have begun erecting temporary sheds — some in the Gullies between Buena Vista and Europa, others on Windmill-hill, nor is there scarce any part of the Rock out of the reach of the enemy's land fire, but what is covered with marquees, tents, huts, &c. &c. 


Howe's Relief of Gibraltar    ( 1781 -  Richard Paton ) (See LINK

Ancell is perhaps the only witness to suggest that the locals did not just occupy the area above the Naval or Navy Hospital identified previously as Hardy Town but that they also did so in other places further south such as Windmill Hill. According to Cornwell who also witnessed the arrival of Darby and subsequent bombardment, the soldiers – which I interpret as the lower ranks – were also camped in tents in or near Hardy Town. The more southerly and therefore much safer locations were perhaps also reserved for the military. 

Cornwell also offer a rather different version of events that took place after Admiral Darby’s arrival.
The careful male part were busily employed in packing up their more portable and valuable effects to convey them to Black Town, the temporary retreat . . . situate at the south part of the hill, about 200 yards out of the reach of the enemy‘s fire from the land side. 
The problem with Drinkwater was that he had what seems like an axe to grind. It is quite obvious that it was not just the locals who fled from the mayhem caused by the enemy guns – the soldiers must also have been caught by surprise and forced to do so as well - they would hardy have stood around laughing at civilians taking refuge while waiting to be blown up to smithereens themselves. In fact most of them moved southward just as the locals had done while others took refuge in the newly built - and very bomb-proof – casemates of King’s Bastion. The fact that the soldiers later took advantage of the mayhem and destruction to more or less pillage the town must have stuck in his craw. (See LINK


King's Bastion in Bastion bottom left and a ruined town of Gibraltar on the right  ( 18th century - Richard Paton )

One modern historian has noted that Hardy Town was sometimes ironically referred to as either the Coward’s Retreat or the Female Camp but does not tell us who exactly was insulting whom. The inference is that it was the Garrison who were jeering the cowardly locals but if so it is hard to understand why. According to John MacDonald (see LINK) who was General Eliott’s butler during the Siege:
The inhabitants were furnished with tents and formed a sort of camp near Blacktown, where they afterwards built themselves huts with the wood the ruins of the houses in town afforded. The troops then in town, viz., the 12th, 39th, 56th, and 72nd, together with three Hanoverian regiments, viz., Hardenburgh’s, Reden’s, and La Motte’s, were ordered to the south, except the 72nd, which was quartered in the King’s Bastion bomb-proofs. All the rest were encamped on the face of the hill, all along from the end of the south barracks to Europa Gate.
It is hardly believable that the troops would have made fun of the locals when so many of them were taking exactly the same or even safer precautions themselves. 

By the 9th of May 1781 by which time the place must have been well and truly “laid out” Spilsbury mentions it again:
About midnight a shell fell into a house, South Shed, and buried about lit people for 2 or 3 hours, but they were got out by the assistant of the piquet, except a child belonging to the poor woman 58th that was killed some time ago, which perished by it. . . .  
At between 1 and 2 a.m. came the gun-boats, 7th time, and fired as before. Three Jews, one that had lost all he had in town, near £10 000, his clerk, and a relation, a woman, were killed by a shell in their house in Black Town. 
. . . . Likewise two butchers one Carrol an Irishman and Belilo a Jew together with a sergeant of one of the regiments . . . 
On the 4th of July 1781 Spilsbury continues:
In B. Town a shell bursting threw up a cask, oatmeal, out of a house, which fell on its end near the same place, without receiving any damage.
And on the 19th more of the same:
About ½ past 1 am came the gun-boats, 13th time and staid about an hour. No alarm but a shell’s falling in B. Town. 
Spanish gunboats in the Bay   ( 1783  - John Mace )

Spilsbury had by now abandoned the name “New Jerusalem” and called it either South Shed, the B. Town or Black Town – the later probably descriptive of its dark appearance as well as its lack of hygiene. The man who lost all that money is identified in another report as Moses Israel, his clerk as a Mr Benady and the woman as Mrs Taurel. 

Commenting on this tragedy, Drinkwater had this to add:
A splinter of the shell which was so fatal amongst Mr. Israel’s family is now exhibited, as a curiosity worthy of notice, in Sir Ashton Lever’s valuable museum . . . 
It is also quite evident from Spilsbury’s comment that although the shanty town was more or less unreachable from the land it was now very vulnerable for the sea – especially from those previously mentioned gun boats operating under the orders of the Spanish admiral Antonio Barceló. By November 1781 the place was no longer even safe from land guns. According to Drinkwater:
In the forenoon of the 16th (November 1781) a long-ranged shell, from the St. Carlos’s battery, burst in the air over Hardy-town, and a splinter of it flew a distance of more than three miles. . . . 
The Dons fired 66 shells and 68 shot; several people killed. . . . Splinters from their shells come to B. Town and as far as the Hospital.
There was little to be done as regards land fire and as for those persistent incursions by the Spanish gunboats from the sea, General Eliott continued to show a rather indifferent attitude towards them.

According to Cornwell:
Gen. Elliott (sic) long time had suffered these gun-boats to approach very near the walls, from whence they kept up a pretty smart fire on that part of the hill to the southward, at the back of the Pavilions and Naval Hospital, where the soldiers that were off duty were encamped, and where the inhabitants had . . . wooden sheds for their shelter. . . .  
The General paid little regard to the fire of those boats, as little or no damage had been yet done by them, and he did not deem it prudent nor worthwhile to expend the ammunition of the garrison on them; 
Nevertheless an increasing number of dead and wounded must have made him decide that something had to done. According to Cornwell the turning point seems to have been the death of Moses Israel and the others mentioned above but also that of Carrol and Belilo Irish and Jewish butchers respectively and that of a sergeant of one of the regiments.
Finding those nocturnal visits from the gun-boats now so frequent, and knowing it was done solely with a view to alarm and distress our people, more than with any prospect of reducing the place by such paltry methods, the General came to a resolution to attempt, in like manner, to rouse and harass their grand camp near the Orange Grove; and for this purpose, whenever their gun-boats made their nightly visits, two double-fortified sea mortars, which had been fixed on the Devil's Tongue or Old Mole . . . were constantly fired on the Spanish camp.
A tit-for-tat policy which probably did little to improve the situation in Hardy Town which was probably one of constant upheaval every time the gunboats made an appearance:
It was distressing on those occasions to see the poor inhabitants at Black Town jumping out of their beds, and scouting away half naked along the rock, the women affrighted, with only a blanket thrown over them, clasping their infants, and flying to some cavern in the hill for shelter, the shells and balls from the boats whizzing everywhere round them, and sometimes alighting on a house, where a whole family were residing, 
By the 24th of August 1782 the inhabitants were living more or less permanently in Hardy-Town. According to Drinkwater, on the anniversary of St Louis, they began to remove their bedding and other possessions further south towards Europa. They were convinced that the Spaniards would celebrate the anniversary of St Louis with a particularly violent cannonade and were no longer felt safe despite the distance between Hardy Town and the Spanish lines.



Hardy Town shown between and just above South Barracks (Caserne) and the Naval Hospital (Gd Hospital)     ( 1799 - Barbie du Bocage – Detail )

A year later in September 1782  the abject failure of the enemy to take Gibraltar using their so-called Floating Batteries (see LINK) and nearly a month later the third and final relief of Gibraltar by Admiral Howe in October 1782 meant that the Siege was for all intents and purposes well and truly over.

It took quite a while before the shanty town was finally dismantled – mainly because the town lay in ruins after the Siege and remained so for years. For reasons of his own Cornwell went out of his way to give us a long list of many of the more well off civilians who were inconvenienced in this way. 
. . .the principal were William Davis, Esq. a Mr. Kelly, Mr. Daniel, Mr. Pearson, Messrs Lynch’s, Messrs Hind and Co. Mr. William Boyd, Mr. Henry Cowper, George Boyd, Mrs. Eliza Terry, Mr. Thomas Field; there were some Jews and Roman inhabitants likewise who possessed property in the place, and most of course have suffered proportionally; of the former Mr. Isaac Aboab, Mr. Abraham and Saul Cohen, Mr. Abudarham, Taurel, and Cansino, were the principal; of the Roman Catholic proprietors Mr. Portugal, Gavino, Delarofa, Porto, Martines, Montobio, Vialle (see LINK) , were the chief. . . 
For too many of those neither important nor rich enough to appear on the above list there were no longer any homes – however humble - to return to. It meant that the end of the Great Siege was not quite the end of the curious history of Gibraltar’s 18th century shanty town.

Major-General Kenyon in his Gibraltar under Moor, Spaniard and Briton mentions a Haynes’ Town without offering any further details. Could it be that this was yet another name for the encampment? Captain Haynes was Garrison quartermaster in 1787. Perhaps he was made responsible for the place which continued its existence for several years after the Great Siege had ended.

If so then at one time or the other this odd conglomeration of  ramshackle wooden sheds ended up with a curiously large number of names - South Sheds, the Encampment, the Cowards Retreat, the Female Camp, Black Town, New Jerusalem, Haynes’ Town -  and the one that for some reason became the one most quoted  in the literature - Hardy Town.



The town of Gibraltar in ruins   ( 1793 - Captain Thomas Davis )