The Rock from the Bay in the 1850s ( English school )
I have no idea who G. Fort was other than he was an American who lived for a while in Tangier during the mid 19th century and published a collection of his letter in 1859 which he somewhat whimsically titled Coos-Coo-Soo or Letters from Tangier in Africa and in which Gibraltar is mentioned several times. His introductory note to “the reader” is as follows:
It was once my lot to reside, during seven years, in Tangier, on the coast of Africa. Ever since my return home numerous friends have been urgently requesting me to give them, in print, a series of letters, written whilst living there. These oft-repeated Wishes have at last been reluctantly granted, and the letters are before you on the following pages.
Coos-coo-soo is the name of the favorite, national dish of the Tangierines, and is composed of several different articles. As these letters are descriptive of the various different races who compose the population of Tangier, the name has been deemed very appropriate for the title of this book by
The fact that he lived nine years in Tangier - and that the letters must have taken a while to compile and publish - make it hard to decide exactly when he visited Gibraltar. The late 1850s is the best guess I can offer.
As regards the reasons given for the title, he might as well have been describing the population of Gibraltar – although of course couscous can hardly be described as popular on the Rock. Whoever he was and whatever the precise dates of his visit here are some quotes from the book.
Across the Ocean - Dec 23rd - We arrived at Gibraltar this evening after dark, and were obliged to cast anchor at some distance from the town, and there await the visit of the health officer.
The Rock ( 1870 – J. A. Wylie )
Very much we fear we may be condemned to a place in quarantine; as the health regulations of this port are very rigid. . . . we see (the Rock) in the darkness of a moonlit night like some huge animal crouched in repose but having its side full of open and glaring red eye-balls . . . the town lamps and lights from the windows. At nine o’clock a gun was fired from the top of the Rock, its roar came booming around us like a clap of thunder. It reminded us that we were in a warlike and military region . . .
Gibraltar at night ( Unkown )
Quarantine - Dec 24th - This morning we arose very early. At about 8 o’clock a boat from the quarantine guard-ship came alongside of ours, and an officer in it received our American bill of health, with a pair of long iron tongs and dipped it in vinegar. Then, after asking our captain a long list of questions, the officer ordered his men to return to the guard-ship, where he had to exhibit our bill of health.
“Disinfecting with vinegar a dog which had crossed the cordon” – Cholera continued to cause serious problems in Gibraltar from 1840 right through to 1896
In the course of a few hours the same boat returned, and told us that we would have to move into the quarantine ground, and there remain— he could not yet tell how many days. They said that our paper would have to be examined more fully before it could be decided how much longer we would have to remain prison-bound.
The hateful, yellow ﬂag then was hoisted to the head of our mizzen-mast, and we were towed, by our own boats I believe, into the quarantine ground.And why was this done?
Our bill of health was clean—the port from which we sailed was perfectly healthy - butthere was at that time an epidemic disease, said by the English newspapers, to be prevailing in one of the cities of the United States, which city was more than a thousand miles distant from the port we had left more than sir; weeks ago, and at a town not more than two days sail from Gibraltar, the very same disease is now raging, with more virulence, than it has ever done any-where in North America.
In August 1828 a cholera epidemic swept through the Colony and 1,667 people died. Various establishments including churches – and hospitals - were forced to close for the duration. A second less virulent cholera epidemic occurred in 1834. The difficulties that Fort and his fellow passengers were encountering were undoubtedly a consequence of these two epidemics.
All this is positively true; but we are treated with severe rigor, because our port is known to be careless and very remiss in its quarantine regulations. It was very trying, but, like all other evils, it had to be borne. The (to us) interesting question is now, the one so oft repeated - How long?
All day long we have waited in vain for an answer to this important question. In the afternoon several boats, containing the friends of the captain and some of our passengers paid us kind, considerate, but very distant visits. They were obliged to keep a wide space of water between them and our ship, and even that privilege was granted them only by especial favor from the officers -of the guard-ship.
A few minutes before sun-set a health-boat came alongside, and put on our deck a guard to watch our actions. He was armed, and had authority to enforce his commands over us. He seemed to be a very good humored, and well-disposed person, yet his presence was unpleasant, because it was forced and unwelcome. We could not resist feeling that he was a spy on our movements. . . . .
Christmas Day on the Bay of Gibraltar - This morning the health officer came alongside and informed us of our doom. Then there was grumbling enough on all sides of us.The guard grumbled because the bed the captain had allotted him was too short, and too narrow - it did not suit him “at all, at all.”The men of the crew were grumbling, because they had to work on Christmas. . . .then guard, men, mate, steward, captain and passengers all grumbled because we were condemned to a quarantine of fourteen days . . .
At 8 o’clock we heard the shrill music of fifes and drums on board the guard-ship, and also the distant harmony of a full band, playing martial tunes on shore. Then the ringing of bells on the vessels around us, sounded very pleasantly; and gradually, amid the tingling of bells and melodies of a variety of music, our ill humour vanished, so that we began to make merry over our prolonged confinement. . . We find there are near us at least forty square-rigged vessels, and about double the number of lateen-sailed ones.
The weather is fine - the sky is clear . . . Meanwhile the guard and the captain entered into conversation, and seemed to have come to the wise and commendable conclusion to become better acquainted. . . .
They were still having to make the best out of Gibraltar’s draconian quarantine regulations half a century later – The title of the article carrying the above sketches was “Avoiding Quarantine” ( 1884 – Probably from the Graphic Magazine )
A provision-boat comes alongside every morning, with fresh meat, vegetables, bread, fowls, eggs and milk, so that there is no impediment to our living on the fat of the land, provided we have money to pay for it. The price is high, but our captain is liberal, and buys like a prince. His money has to be thrown into vinegar before it can be touched by the boat people.
This afternoon another boat came near, and threw on board our ship a basket full of dainties for one of the passengers, from his kind friends on shore. At about two o’clock, P. M. the captain ordered his gig to be manned, and, after having given us a hint to prepare for a treat, he told us to take a seat in it with him.
As we did so we noticed that he was dressed in his best land-suit, and looked exceedingly well. When we arrived within speaking distance of the guard-ship, he asked for leave to row around the quarantine ground, stating for his reason that one of his lady passengers wished to see some person on another part of it. A lady’s wish is, sometimes, as good as law, to even the rigidity of a quarantine officer, and he, this time, condescended to grant the captain’s desired permission . . .
The captain used his privilege to the utmost, and kept us in motion until sun-set. The water was very clear and beautifully smooth; the smallest pebble at the bottom of the Bay was distinctly visible. This remarkable clearness of the water is said, by the weather-wise, to be a sign of an east wind, which here, brings dry and oppressive weather: it is so injurious to some persons on the Rock, that they are obliged to keep within doors as long as it lasts. It sometimes continues during five or six weeks.
The east wind is known as the “levanter” by the locals. It is anything but dry. In fact it is its high humidity that makes it so oppressive. But yes – it does indeed sometime linger for more than the residents would have wished.
Liner passengers watching the Rock with its top covered by the familiar cloud formed by the east wind ( Mid 20th century )
The view of the town of St. Roque, in Spain, with its large church and monastery crowning the centre of a high hill, is very beautiful from this place. The bells of the church were ringing a merry peal for Christmas, and several bands of music were playing animating and gleesome tunes on shore.
After spending some time in rowing along the Spanish shore, we went in and out between the rows of the many small vessels that contained a large proportion of our companions in quarantine. The greatest number of these were laying under the gay and flashy flags of Sardinia and Portugal.
We passed as closely to them as we could, to see their mode of living and view their domestic arrangements. Their comforts were not numerous; neither did they occupy much space. A box or basket of charcoal, a small clay furnace, a frying pan, a pair of rusty old tongs, a few tin cups and plates, a large brown earthen dish, a bottle of olive oil, another of cheap sour wine, a bag or box of hard bread, were all the articles they required to make them superlatively happy.
Their favorite dish was composed of fresh sardines, fried in oil, and freely sprinkled with red pepper. Some of the boats were so rich as to own a guitar, and on board of them there was no lack of music and dancing. . . .
The northern part of the Bay viewed from the Rock with San Roque in the distance on the extreme left ( Late 19th century – G. W. Wilson ) (See LINK)
Still on Board - Dec 26th - This Bay is said to be in some places 125 fathoms deep. While we were yesterday going on our pleasant row, around the quarantine ground, we saw several persons on board of a Portuguese mistica of War, who were said to be prisoners, for having been caught at night while swimming about the quarantine ground; which breach of law subjects them to the penalty of their lives.
A British Mistica off Gibraltar ( 1844 - George Lothian Hall ) (See LINK)
Their statement is, that they were engaged in a squabble with some comrades on the shore of the neutral ground, and that unintentionally they had killed one of them, and were trying to escape from the dead man’s relations, who were pursuing them when they were caught swimming. They are now waiting for the expiration of their quarantine, to be taken ashore, and there stand their trial before a legal tribunal. . . .
Upon our hurrying up to the deck, We were delighted to find that the pratique officer was actually at our side, and politely telling our captain, that Mr. H. S. our worthy and gentlemanly Consul, had interceded for us to the Board of Health, with so much earnestness, that they had called a meeting to consider our case, and that the result of their meeting was a resolution to set us free without delay.
The gentlemanly Consol was either Horatio Sprague or his son Horatio Jones Sprague (see LINK) depending on when exactly Font’s narrative took place – the older Sprague died in 1848 and was immediately succeeded by his son.
Horatio Sprague senior on the left, his son on the right
The hateful little yellow flag was immediately torn down, and trampled underfoot by one of the sailors, and the beloved “Star Spangled Banner” was soon floating aloft in its place. At half past one o’clock we weighed anchor, and were towed into the admittance ground. We again came to anchor at three o’clock. Then the captain and one of the passengers went on shore, with our American passports, to obtain passes for liberty to enter the gates of Gibraltar.
They remained on shore until near sun-set; and then returned on board without them, but we were promised that they should be sent to us on the following morning. We were expecting to make our home at the house of an American friend, until we could meet with an opportunity of going over to Tangier.
The captain congratulated us on the good fortune of having a friend to stay with, and said something which prejudiced our feelings against the Gibraltar hotels, and added that if we had not, he would be glad to have us remain on board his ship, until our departure for Tangier.
We landed today between three and four o’clock, and went to the residence of our American friend. We found his family all in sad confusion, and overwhelmed with grief. He had just been suddenly seized with a severe illness, and was scarcely expected to live. It was impossible to intrude upon them at such a time.
We felt very unwilling to go to a hotel, and at the same time, we did not want to return to the ship—we were so tired of it. Thus we lingered and loitered in the street, in a state of indecision, until we perceived that the evening shadows were beginning to lengthen, and with them the conviction darkened our minds, that we must determine to return to the ship very soon, or the sun would set - the gun fire - and then the gates would close upon us, and we would be obliged to take shelter for the night, in a hotel.
As soon as we had made up our minds to return to our old quarters, we started on our road towards the gates; we had not proceeded more than a few yards, when a pleasant looking, and well dressed little boy, came running after us, and he told us, that his mamma wished us to return with him to her, and to do her the pleasure of giving her our company to dinner which was then nearly ready.
Which Fort’s party duly did. The lady was apparently “an old friend, but one upon whom (they) had not felt at liberty to call without an invitation.” Fort’s criticism of the local Hotels seems rather overdone. They were by all accounts quite expensive but by the 1840s there were several that were not that bad. This is what Richard Ford – not exactly renowned for his love of the Rock or its inhabitants - had to say about them in his 1855 Handbook. (See LINK)
“ Club-house Hotel" is good and reasonable; rooms cool, large, and airy; very prudent travellers may agree about prices beforehand: “Griffith’s Hotel,” table d'hote, at 2a. 6d. “ Dumoulin’s French Hotel,” Fonda de Europa, cheap and airy. Parker Hotel, Calla Real . . . The hospitality of the Rock is unbounded . . . .
Main Street and the Griffiths’ Hotel ( 1839 – William Lacey ) (See LINK)
Do you wish to know what a mess-house is? It is a long low building, in which the officers of the garrison take their meals, we believe at the expense of the British government. Truly they are well fed. We understand that they have their choice to take their meals at the mess-house, or to receive larger pay and find their own provisions. The majority of the unmarried and some of the married ones prefer eating at the mess-house.
A First Walk in Europe – Jan 8th – Yesterday we took a walk out on the surface of this most wonderful place . . . . The Rock of Gibraltar was called (they say) Cape Calpe by the ancients . . . The meaning of its present name which is composed of two Arabic words, Gibel-trek is literally translated into English Mountain-road. (see LINK)
It is doubtlessly the strongest fortification in the World. The garrison within its walls at this time is supposed to consist of several thousand armed men. Their number varies at different times, as the regiments of the British army are constantly changing about from one place to another, and are always coming and going, according to the will and commands of the Commander-in-chief. . . .
The place at present is provided with dry meat, butter in firkins, and breadstuffs from England, Ireland and the United States (and) with fresh beef, poultry, eggs, and oranges from Barbary. Wines and liquors are imported from France and Spain. Fruits and vegetables are brought in abundantly from Spain; figs, raisins and honey are supplied by Smyrna and other places in the Mediterranean.
The Bay of Gibraltar yields an abundant supply, and a great variety of excellent fish. The oysters are not ﬁt to eat; they have a strong copperish taste, which renders them unpalatable. But where there is such an abundance of’ so many other good things, those selfish and hard-hearted creatures may be easily dispensed with.
A walk through the business part of Gibraltar is very amusing; there are to be seen in it people from every part of the globe. Their different modes of costume, and the variety of languages which they speak, make up a continual confusion of sights and sounds which are seldom seen or heard in any other place. While viewing them one might easily fancy that here is the centre of the different veins of the World, and that Gibraltar is the heart of that World . . .
Main Street Gibraltar ( 1877 – The Graphic )
The town is built on the North-Western portion of the Rock, it begins at the water of theBay, and extends nearly half way up the side of the Rock, and is about one mile in length. It is surrounded by a strong thick double Wall, which near the water is faced by batteries.
These batteries are strongly armed with cannons of the largest calibre on carriages, and heaped up with immense piles of balls and bomb-shells. To be ready to kill and destroy their fellow men appears to be the ruling object of the rulers of the place. Not only the town but the entire Rock is constantly, day and night, (Sundays not excepted,) under the strictest and most rigid martial law.
The Devil’s Tongue Battery
Sentinels are stationed here, there, and every-where all over the place, just as they would be if the town was besieged by a numerous array of fighting enemies. Our eyes are constantly being dazzled with the sight of their brilliant red coats, and the bright gleaming of their highly polished arms.
After a certain hour at night—the hour is changed according to the will and pleasure of the Governor - no person is allowed to walk the street without being able to give the watch-word, (which is frequently changed,) unless they have in their possession an especial permit. If anyone would attempt to pass a sentinel after that certain hour, without answering his roughly toned question, "Who goes there ?" by repeating the watch-word, or showing a permit, to be out late at night, he would be taken prisoner and detained under arrest until next morning.
The Governor of Gibraltar is the civil and military head of all authority, and is in his way, almost royalized. He reigns like a monarch over his little territory, and is treated with unbounded respect and honor. He mixes very little in general society, and appears to be almost alone in his official grandeur.
It is hard to tell exactly who was Governor during Fort’s stay – from 1842 to 1848 it was Sir Robert Wilson (see LINK) - from 1848 to 1855, Sir Robert Gardiner. (See LINK)
Sir Robert Wilson on the left and Sir Robert Gardiner
Society here is divided in the higher circles into two different classes, and I suppose may be considered as a true copy, in epitome, of society in England. The two classes are the military and the civilian: the civilians are the rich Merchants, and the military class is composed of officers of the Army and Navy, and the various Consuls, if they are salaried officials. If they are not salaried by their own nations, but are merely commercial agents, engaged in business for their own private benefit, they are considered as belonging to the civilian rank.
To these rules there are of course some exceptions; but they are the exceptions and not the rules. The civilians call the military, “The liveried servants of H. Majesty,” and the military contemptuously style the civilians, "The stupid, plodding trades-people.”
Generally the merchants are the richest, and they live in splendid houses which are handsomely furnished.In point of intellect and respecting other moral and religious qualities, they are about equally divided: there are good and bad in both classes. Under the houses are dug in the solid rock large tanks into which the rain is conducted from the roofs over them, and on these tanks the residents of the houses mainly depend for their supplies of water.
The ground floors are used for storage, the rooms of the second stories are used for counting houses and business offices, and in those of the third stories are the dwelling places —the parlors, kitchens and bed-chambers, all on one floor, for the use of the families. They are large and well ventilated rooms. The houses very seldom have a fourth story. The retail stores are generally on the ground floors and are very well supplied with an abundance of goods and attentive clerks . . . .
A Walk on the Rock – Jan 16th - About half way up the rock, there are the ruins of an old Moorish castle. (See LINK) I presume, you know that this town was formerly owned and inhabited by that once powerful, but now fastly diminishing nation - they are to be my future neighbors.
When we went out of the southern gate of the town, (see LINK) we came to a very beautiful small graveyard; it is finely shaded by large trees, and richly ornamented with handsome and costly tombstones. This grave-yard is very small, so small that I do not think it is more than a hundred feet long . . . it is used only by a favored few of the most distinguished officers of the British government.
This graveyard was once called the Southport Ditch Cemetery but is now usually referred to as the Trafalgar Cemetery – although only two sailors who died during the battle are buried there. The cemetery is no longer in use for burial purposes.
Trafalgar Cemetery ( Late 19th century )
To have a friend or relative buried on the rock is considered a great honor. The usual place of interment is on the Neutral Ground, where it is said that at the depth of three feet, the coffins float in water. To be buried on the Neutral Ground, is viewed with great dread and aversion by those who are not natives of this place. Such persons, if they can afford it, generally have their deceased friend’s mortal remains conveyed to their native country.
The natives of the rock are accustomed to the shallowness of the neutral ground graves, and do not seem to care much about it. There is a Jewish burying ground, high up on the south of the Rock, which is said to be filled up with graves, and, on that account, theJews of this place, (who are numerous,) are also obliged to bury on the Neutral Ground.
After going past the beautiful little grave-yard, near the town-gate, we entered the Alameda. This is an elegant and much frequented public promenade ground. There is in one part of it a large, well gravelled space, nearly square, which is used very often as the drilling place of the privates. To witness the operation is very painful, and well calculated to make one pity the poor soldiers. But it makes them perfect in their profession, and is profitable to their nation . . .
The Parade at the Alameda ( 1840 - G. Vivian T Boys )
On this space also, we were told, that the public services of the Established Church ofEngland are held on Sunday mornings, for the benefit of the soldiers. On such occasions a large bass drum is used for a reading-desk, which is covered by a British ﬂag.
This square, or space of ground, is entirely surrounded by high and luxurious hedges of the scarlet blossomed geraniums, they are very beautiful, with their dark green leaves, and their bright, gay flowers. They grow in the open air all the year. Snow and frost never show their destructive operations on this highly favoured little spot.
The other parts of the Alameda consist of walks, hedges, flower beds, fruit trees and sweetly-scented shrubbery. There are also present, some very fine orange and lemon trees. In one spot there is a beautiful little rustic bridge, which is tastefully constructed over a deep, though narrow chasm or cleft in the rock. The railing on the sides of the bridge appears to be made of the tangled roots of a tree; they look as if they had been cut out and put up as they once grew, beneath the surface of the ground.
“The railing on the sides of the bridge appears to be made of the tangled roots of a tree“ ( Late 19th century postcard )
In another place there is a handsome vine-covered summer-house, which is called the pavilion, on account of its beautiful shape. It is very delightful to sit on one of the many seats, or to walk about over the flower-decked paths of this lovely Alameda, and listen to the martial music which is almost incessantly greeting our ears.
Almost constantly we are within hearing of melodious sounds of some kind of musical instruments. Sometimes a whole band of skilful performers will be filling the air with enchanting harmony. At others, a group of well-trained bugle players will be exercising their melodious faculties, while they sit, perched high up, almost out of sight, and hidden by the expanded leaves of wild palmetto bushes, upon a neighboring pinnacle of the stony rock . . .
Farther south-—beyond the precincts of the Alameda, there are several little cottages, which i are used as summer residences. They are very pretty, and very small—perfect little fairy palaces. From this Alameda, there are several narrow roads, cut out of the solid rock, and they lead the way, by zigzag turns, to the top of the rock.
The ground in which the plants and trees grow, we were informed, was carried there at the expense of the British government. Where it was carried from, was a question which we forgot to ask. Perhaps it was brought from Spain.
The Neutral Ground is covered with barren sand. Half Way up the side of the rock, and on a line with the town, in an eastern direction, there are a few remains of an old castle, which was built by the Moors, in their by-gone days of national prosperity. There is not about them much of the appearance of a castle. They look more like a heap of useless old stones.
I can only guess that this is a second reference to the Moorish Castle. It seems somewhat surprising that even as late as the 1840s it would have been left in such a derelict condition.
The ruins of the Moorish Castle ( 1834 - Frederick Leeds Edridge – original painting is coloured )
On one part of the highest ridge of the rock, there is an ancient tower, which is also said to be of Moorish construction. It was formerly their Watch-tower, and appeared to be on the highest spot of the whole rock. The English, with their superior and scientific knowledge of altitude, discovered a pinnacle which is considerably higher than the site of the old Moorish Watch-tower, and on it they have erected their flag-staff.
On the same spot they have built a battery of several large cannons. It is from this highly elevated battery, that the morning and sun-set guns are fired, which are the signals for opening and closing the town gates. There is also fired from the same battery a gun at 9 o’clock, P. M. The sun-rising and sun-setting guns are fired off at the moments in which the sun makes its first appearance above, and when it takes its departure for the night beneath the horizon. There is something very sublime in this public announcement of the beginning and ending of one more day of our mortal career upon earth.
I find it hard to interpret the above - As far as I know there are no remains of any Moorish watch towers anywhere along the top ridge of the Rock although the Signal Station once boasted a Spanish church known as the Hermita de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.
Signal Station - the tower on the left may have been what Fort was referring to ( John Miller Adye ) (See LINK)
The fact is that your present correspondent is no friend to gunpowder, in any way or for any purpose except on one day of the year, and that day is the fourth of July. . . .
On the centre of the side of the rock, there is the entrance to a large cave, called St. Michaels, the end of which has never yet been discovered. Several persons have been known to lose their lives by endeavoring to find it. Some people believe that it ends in Africa. But such a belief is founded only on conjecture; there is no solid fact to sustain it.
The excavations which are large and strongly mounted passages, cut out of the solid rock, many, many feet beneath its surface, are very curious and well worth a visit. (See LINK)
St George’s Hall - Fort’s “excavations” are what is usually referred to as the Galleries, a series of military tunnels with embrasures for cannons excavated in the late 18th century ( 1835 - H.E. Allen (See LINK)
A day later G Fort left for Tangier- and that was more or less the end of the author’s descriptions of Gibraltar – a bland but in some ways useful account of the Rock in the mid 19th century. As always the non-British locals are hardly given a thought – while he was in Gibraltar he was surrounded by nearly 16 thousand of them of which nearly 13 000 were classified as “Papists” 1 600 as “Jews” and only 1 400 as “Protestants”. But then he was simply a product of his time and in many ways better than many.