The Rock of Gibraltar ( 1704 - Huquier Fils )
Allow me to begin with a small conundrum - Bennett (see LINK) or Bennet? I have no idea which is the correct spelling as both are used indiscriminately throughout the literature. In this particular article I have opted for the latter simply because that is the version used by one of my principle sources for this essay - Whitworth Porter’s History of the Corps of Engineers publishes in 1889.
But to continue - In November 1700 Charles II of Spain died and in no time at all France and Spain agreed that the Bourbon Duke of Anjou, would become Philip V of Spain. Just about everybody else who was anybody else in Europe disagreed with this decision – especially the Hapsburg Archduke of Austria who also happened to be the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. He felt that it was he who should have inherited the vacant throne as Charles III of Spain.
The Archduke of Austria and for a while pretender to the throne of Spain ( 1711 - attributed to Martin van Meytens )
The result was the aptly named War of the Spanish Succession in which Austria, the Netherlands and a few others – including of course Great Britain - supported the Archduke’s claims. The French, as always, were getting too big for their boots.
In August 1704 about four years into the war - and almost as an afterthought - Anglo-Dutch naval forces led by Prince George of Hesse attacked and took Gibraltar in the name of the hopeful Charles III.
Prince George of Hessen-Darmstadt (1704)
In September 1704 a counterattack began under Philip V’s captain general of Andalusia Marquis of Villadarias, an event known to posterity as the 12th Siege of Gibraltar.
Francisco del Castillo Fajardo, II Marqués de Villadarias - Marquis of Villadarias
Meanwhile on the 5th of November – an appropriate date if ever there was one - Captain Joseph Bennet a Queen’s Engineer landed in Gibraltar. He would go down in history – if for nothing much else - as the first officer of the Engineers to Land on the Rock. He had been sent to lend Prince George a hand at defending the place something which he did immediately and with unflagging energy:
Every night with great energy (he) removed from the foot of the principal (or curtain) breach all the rubbish that had accumulated and threw it up as a mask in front thus keeping the escarp itself inaccessible and raising a new counterscarp.
It all sounded very efficient and matter of fact – but there were serious problems. On the 6th of December 1704 an exasperated Captain Bennet wrote a letter to his bosses which included more of the same – but with a sting to the tail.
. . . . there was no defence in the Ditch, I ordered a double range of Pallisadoes in the middle, and seeing the Ground was very narrow for them to the Chernin Covert, I begun a Mine, and carried out my Galley 100 ft. before I made returns and so continued the Traverses till I branched out Six Chambers of nine feet square which had Ten Barrels of Powder in each, and which run under all that space of Ground ; and seeing the Enemy made their Approaches to 100 Yards from the Glacis, fearing they would work to find my Mines, I endeavoured to make another Galley before all the Chambers which must meet them; and to see the work of many hundred foot of Ground well supported with Timbers and Planks near six foot high, people could hardly believe it could be done in the time, but our Miners worked Night and Day.
( 1705 - Colonel D’Harcourt )
“A double range of Pallisadoes” – or palisades (R) across the ditch (moat) protecting the Land Gate (T) – the six branching chambers with powder are shown as (q) ( 1705 - Detail of Colonel D’Harcourt’s Map )
Besides all this trouble I had another difficulty to surmount, which was that many Officers had a design to quit the place and blow up the works, but I always opposed them, and mentioned the Garrison could be kept with the number of good men we had, and no more, as I believe you will have an Account of.
Some was for cuting my Throat (sic) and others for cutting off my Ears &c. We had other Villains in Town and they were Fryers that kept a correspondence with the Enemy; they gave an Account of our strength, what men were killed and wounded every day, what Guns dismounted, likewise the approaches, and when we work’d in the night to repair them, for the Enemy to fire on us and thro‘ Bombs.
I don’t know exactly what kind of reply he got but what I do know is that on the 7th of February 1705 Talbot Edwardes took over as chief engineer. As far as I can make out he must therefore be acknowledged as the first to hold the post in Gibraltar.
On March 2nd, Bennet completed a nine-gun battery and the Prince George celebrated the event by giving fifty gallons of punch to the working parties – a rather unwise choice of reward. Hesse himself drank the Queen’s health, and named the place the Queen’s Battery. By April the Siege had petered out into a rather ineffective blockade.
“Part of Queens Battery at Willis’s (Battery )” ( Late 19th century - A C Poggi ) (See LINK)
Nevertheless thoughts were still focussed on improvements for the defence of the fortress – something which met with the full approval of Captain Bennet. So much so that in April the Prince saw fit to mention his high regard for his engineer in a letter to the Earl of Galway.
. . . Mr Bennet . . . mérite bien S.M. Britanique considère ses bons services
Galway agreed and Bennet was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel with a Queen’s gratuity of £200 with the added pleasure of seeing his immediate boss - Talbot Edwardes - leave Gibraltar. It meant that he was also promoted to the post of Chief Engineer - a promotion he may well have later come to regret.
Little money has been laid out fortifying Gibraltar considering the work that has been done. The place is now very strong. . . .
It must have been galling to be wrongly accused of profligacy when it was quite evident that there was such blatant corruption in high places and elsewhere. By 1712, Bennet had become thoroughly disenchanted and wrote a report about his concerns to the Earl of Dartmouth who was the Secretary of State for the Southern Department at the time:
That in a short time after the place was declared an open port, many people came from all parts to reside in it, and gave any money for houses, both in large fines and heavy monthly rents . . . The Jews come daily and in great numbers from Barbary, Leghorn and Portugal to inquire into every particular circumstance of the place, and have their correspondents abroad; those from Barbary have raised the price of provisions to a very great degree; and indulged by their paying high fines and rents, so that they have some of the best houses in town, and thinking to ease themselves of these taxes and great rents have complained to the court of Mequinez.
The Earl of Dartmouth
Bennet's considered opinion was that the person who was mostly to blame for this administrative lack of control was Brigadier-General Thomas Stanwix, one of the most corrupt administrators the Rock has had the misfortune to have had as Governor. Bennet was also rather cynical about the dubious legality of Queen Anne making the place a free port.
. . . . the true reason that Gibraltar was made a free port was that the Emperor of Morocco, having received complaints of the Moorish Jews in Gibraltar, would not allow timber, lime and bricks etc for the fortifications until the Queen made it a free port.It was perhaps ironic that it was Bennet himself who was sent to Morocco to negotiate with the Emperor albeit armed with a letter signed by Queen Anne. It was dated 1710:
To the . . Noble Prince . . . Muley Ismael . . Emperor of the Kingdom of Fez, Morocco, Taffilet, Lus . . . . Our Govenour in Gibraltar having represented to us that the houses there are in a ruinous condition . . . do make it our request to you that you will grant leave to Collo Bennet . . . to treat with the officers of yr Imperial Majesty to cut down timber, and make Bricks, Tile and Lyme about the coast of Alcazer, near the Streight’s Mouth wth free liberty to Transport yee same for the use of said Garrison. We for our part shall embrace all opportunitys to show our esteem for yr Imperial Majesty and our Royal favour to yr Subjects . . . your Imperial Majestys most Affectionate Friend “ANN R”
Queen Anne ( Unknown )
Muley Ismael proved quite amenable to the request but according to Whitworth Porter :
. . . . (he) coupled his consent with so many conditions that no practical benefit ever ensued from the negotiations.
It was also around this time that Bennet also arrived at the very valid conclusion that the only possible reason why Great Britain was spending so much time and money on both repairing the town and improving its fortifications was because it intended to keep the place.
He also had a very personal gripe - the Governor's shenanigans and the delays by the London treasury had forced him to spend nearly £2000 of his own money on repairs and improvements to the garrison's fortification. He was beginning to suspect that it was quite likely that he would never be properly repaid. Even worse his pay and allowances were not only being paid in arrears but were being offered as debentures rather that cash.
. . . That Colonel Bennet’s Account for his personal pay as Engineer at Gibraltar be stated and that a Bill be allowed and debenture made out to him for what shall be due to the time of his discharge.
In other words all payments would be delayed until he retired. When he did so in 1714 he had to wait until the following year when he received £1356 in the form of a debenture dated yet another year in the future and almost certainly much less than he was probably due.