The People of Gibraltar
1865 - John Mackintosh - And His Daughter Adelaide

Dorothy Ellicott and E.B. Cottrell - Adelaide Peacock and John Peacock
Charles Middleton, Marcus Hill and Victoria Canepa - Peter Canepa and Gerome Saccone
James Speed, C.W. Mathiesen and John Carrara - J. Lucas Imossi and Francia and John Onetti,
Y. Bergel and Joseph Rugeroni - J.J. Russo, P.G Russo and Adelaide Mackintosh

When I lived in Gibraltar during the 1950s I was certainly aware that our main square (see LINK) was named after a local philanthropist called John Mackintosh but I have to admit that even as a reasonably educated teenager I knew very little about him. Nor did any of my friends - at any rate I can’t recall any of them - nor any of my older acquaintances - ever having mentioned his name as a person at all. It was therefore with some curiosity that I approached my preliminary research into what I hoped would be a short article on the man and his works. It was an eye opener. 


The one and only portrait of John Mackintosh I have been able to uncover ( Unknown date –Unknown artist )

Gibraltar has had its fair share of general histories published during the late 20th and early 21st century of which the following are perhaps the most well known – George Hill’s Rock of Contention (1974), Jackson’s The Rock of the Gibraltarians (1990), Maurice Harvey’s Gibraltar a History (2000). Jackson mentions the Square but not the man, the rest mention neither. Of the general histories Philip Denis in his rather less well known Gibraltar and its People (1990) is the exception to the rule and at least offers half a paragraph’s worth of his name, dates of birth, death and marriage - and his occupation.

Other less general publications such as H.W. Howes’ The Gibraltarian (1951), John D. Stewart’s Gibraltar the Keystone (1967) also give Mackintosh a miss. Tommy Finlayson’s The Fortress Came First refers to an event – the evacuations of the civilian population from Gibraltar - that took place after Mackintosh had died. He does however make a passing dereference to the generosity of a Mrs Mackintosh who donated £2500 to a fund set up to help evacuees who had been sent to Britain. I can only guess that she was John Mackintosh’s widow.

In her book on the story of Gibraltar’s City Hall – An Ornament to the Almeida (1950) - which is full of detailed historical information and exact dates about the goings on in Gibraltar’s main square this is all Dorothy Ellicott had to say about John:
A bye election was held to fill the vacancy caused by Mr. Russo’s resignation and a Mr. E. B. Cottrell replaced him as chairman. It was at this time that the wealthy John Mackintosh died and the City Council decided to give his name to Commercial Square in order to perpetuate the memory of his many benefactions to Gibraltar. Then in May 1940  . . . .
In other words the changing of the name was just worthy of a sort of footnote rather than a major event in Gibraltar’s social history. 


Main Street – The square lies somewhat to the left of the sign   (1950s )

Nor is there any mention of the man in any of the yearly editions of the Gibraltar Heritage Journal – unless somebody has written about him in the more recent editions. Tito Benady in his Streets of Gibraltar refers to Mackintosh as a philanthropist a couple of times but carries it no further. So who was this enigmatic gentleman who nobody seems to have bothered about yet was nevertheless a household name in Gibraltar? 

Mackintosh’s father was also called John. He was a Scotsman who had settled in Gibraltar in the mid 19th century while his mother was Adelaide Peacock the daughter of another Scot, John Peacock, a well known shipping agent in Gibraltar at the time. 

According to Cecil Isola in his Autobiography of a Colonial Doctor, when Peacock died a good old British colonial tradition was upheld and the family returned “home” to the UK – in this case his widow and his two daughters. Other sources – Delilah Mckillop-Smith in a short article on Mackintosh - suggest that Adelaide was actually one of twelve children. 

I not at all sure as to how many children Peacock fathered but at least one of them - Mackintosh’s mother Adelaide – did not return home. She had by then married John Mackintosh senior.  In 1865 John Mackintosh junior was born in the family house at 22 Prince Edwards Road. What should have been a happy event will no doubt have been over shadowed by John Mackintosh senior’s death – he died very shortly before his son was born. 


22 Prince Edwards Road

I am not sure whether this has any relevance to John senior’s death but 1865 was the year in which the colony suffered its third serious cholera epidemic in which around 600 people died. It was also the year in which the authorities set up what they hoped would be a more rigorous Sanitary Commission to replace the old Paving and Scavenging Committee. (See LINK

Whether young John was sent to Britain - either to escape the worst of the epidemic or for his education I simply do not know but I presume he must have spent at least some of his adolescent years in Gibraltar. What I do know is that he lived in London as a young man and that he had found himself employment in the City of London and was beginning to show the kind of business acumen that he would continue to exhibit for the rest of his life.  It was something that he may have inherited some of it from his father who had also been a reasonably successful businessman. 

John senior’s partnership with two other local merchants in 1840 - Charles Middleton and Marcus Hill, the MH in the still extant MH Bland and Co (see LINK) - made him a relatively rich individual in his own right. So much so that according to a semi-official history of the company:
In 1861 John Mackintosh became a ship owner with the purchase of the 69 ton Adelia in a bid to compete with other British Companies.

The tug Adelia – bought and registered in Gibraltar in 1861 by John Mackintosh senior and then sold to MH Bland and Co in 1865

When John junior returned to Gibraltar he joined Peacock & Company which dealt in cotton goods as well as the shipping trade. It was owned by John Peacock who according to at least one reference was John’s uncle. My own view is that it seems much more likely that the gentleman in question was in fact John’s grandfather. Whatever the relationship he joined as – or was soon promoted to – chief clerk. It proved an excellent move. When John Peacock died Mackintosh took over the company.

Mackintosh was 44 years old when he married Victoria Canepa in June 1909 in the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. (See LINK) It suggests that Mackintosh was a Catholic but I am not at all sure that this was indeed the case prior to his marriage to Victoria. Curiously he, together with only one or two other merchant families with British sounding surnames such as Smith and Speed were the only ones who were prepared to join the colonial authorities whenever they needed to congregate in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. (See LINK) In those days the Catholic Church frowned on this kind of religious fraternisation.

Victoria’s father was Peter Canepa, her mother one of seven Saccone sisters - yet another affluent local family. One year before the marriage Jerome Saccone had joined forces with his main rival James Speed to form a company that would eventually be known in Gibraltar as Saccone and Speed an institution that had held what was tantamount to a monopoly in the sale of beer, wines, spirits and tobacco to the Royal Navy – and not just in Gibraltar. In other words, Victoria who was 13 years younger than John was anything but penniless when she became his wife.


Villa San José - the Saccone family’s pied-à-terre in La Línea    (Postcard )

Well before that Mackintosh apparently found the time to father three children to an unknown Spanish lady – elsewhere described rather less respectfully as a “Spanish woman”. Nor have I been able to discover the names of his three presumably illegitimate children. His one and only legitimate daughter – named Adelaide in honour of her grandmother - was born with serious mental problems which affected her during her entire life.

It was a personal tragedy that must surely have affected John and his wife enormously – for example they never had any other children - but it certainly didn’t dent his capacity for hard work and his ability to make enormous sums of money.

Whether this was the start of Mackintosh’s drive to become one of the top dogs among Gibraltar’s merchant elite is hard to decide. In fact from now on the chronology of John Mackintosh’s financial and commercial activities becomes something of a nightmare – especially without recourse to primary sources and the regularity of the omissions and contradictions found in secondary ones. 

Apparently one of his first moves was to enter into partnership with C.W. Mathiesen a shipping agent and consul for Denmark. He followed this up with another partnership - Crusoe & Mackintosh - with which he developed the lucrative coal business that would occupy much of his time during the early 20th century. He also inherited the Danish consulate and added the Norway one as well for good measure. 

Mackintosh bought out Crusoe and renamed the company Mackintosh & Co. In 1923 it became a limited company. Elsewhere he also purchased a controlling interest in a Newcastle-on-Tyne coal business called Thos. H Seed & Company as well as that of the Cornish Chellew Shipping Company a firm that owned and managed cargo ships. 

Later while he probably still maintained his stake with Chellew he set up his own local Calpean Shipping Co. and in 1934 carried out a series of unusual transactions – it bought the SS Ensign from Chellow and then sold it back to them two years later. The Calpean company also had Chellew build three other ships for them – all with interesting histories – the SS Auretta, the SS Justitia and the MV Statira.

The Auretta – GRT 4571 - was built for Calpean Shipping through Chellew in 1935 and then purchased by Chellew a year later. A casualty of WWII she was mined and sunk north of Ostend in 1945. 


The SS Auretta

The Justitia was also built for Calpean Shipping through Chellew in 1935 and also purchased by Chellew in 1936. Another WW II casualty she was torpedoed in 1940. 

The Statira – GRT 4862 - was built for Calpean in 1936 and purchased by Chellew in 1937. In 1940 she was bombed and set on fire in the Atlantic somewhere near Stornoway and later salvaged and scrapped.


The MV Statira

I am not quite sure what was behind the idea of getting Chellow - over which it seems he had considerable clout - to build three substantial cargo ships and then sell these back to the same company. Whatever the reason I am certain that it must have been a profitable exercise. 

Nevertheless my guess is that the principle source of income for a large number of his companies was coaling. During WWI Mackintosh owned or controlled the Gibraltar Coaling Co., the British Coal Co., Imperial Coal Co. and John Peacock and Co. He also acted as commission agent for other well known Gibraltar firms such as John Carrara & Sons, J. Lucas Imossi & Sons, Francia & Co., John Onetti & Sons, Y. Bergel and Joseph Rugeroni & Sons. 

WW I of course brought its own problems in so far as coaling was concerned. Gibraltar had always been a very busy port. During the war it became even busier with ships from the Royal and Merchant Navy as well as other civilian vessels calling at Gibraltar for coaling purposes. But there was a fly in the ointment that put rather a dampener on the expectancy of a huge increase in profits. Gibraltar was placed under martial law and the authorities tried to make use of their extra powers to force the coaling merchants to reduce their prices. 

The following is a quote from a communication that was sent to the Gibraltar Coaling depot which was made up of the principal coaling merchants - the London Coal Company, Smith Imossi and Co, A. Mateos and Sons and the previously mentioned MH Bland and Co Ltd which was run by the Gaggero family - John Mackintosh – who else – was the director of this impressive band of brothers.
. . . the keeping up of the coal supplies here for British and Allied Shipping, and perhaps for neutral ships in the service of the Allies, is a war necessity, and should be treated on a non-commercial basis.  

Coal and cranes on the North Mole

Mackintosh and the members of the Depot were not amused. It meant that whereas they would be unable to sell the stuff at a decent profit, the Admiralty's main supplier - the London Coal Company run by Lambert Brothers - would be able to continue charging them for purchases at the going rate. I don’t know what was eventually negotiated between the parties involved and I don’t have the necessary figures to prove it but I doubt whether any of the owners of those huge coal stocks littering the hulks and moles of Gibraltar suffered any undue hardships. 


The British Fleet at Gibraltar Harbour (Unknown date )

When WWI came to an end and things were returning to normal the Union Coal Company – the name of yet another firm run by Mackintosh - was once again making substantial profits - but there were, as they say, serious problems ahead. The interval between WW I and WW II produce a change that would essentially lead to the destruction of the coal trade. Larger ships – both military and civilian - were now being built with engines that ran on oil rather than coal. Steven Constantine in his Community and Identity puts it rather nicely:
Few in Gibraltar seem to have been nimble enough to spot the transition. One man in particular, John Mackintosh was acute enough to make the switch – and died in 1940 with an immense fortune, leaving a trust fund valued at £2 000 000.
In other words an immense amount of money for a small place like the Rock that can be calculated to be worth anywhere between £100 million to half a billion pounds at the time of writing. It was a bequest that was managed by an investment company Pyrmont Ltd incorporated in Gibraltar and of which John Mackintosh himself was a director while he was alive. Little wonder that when he died he was considered the richest man on the Rock.

So where did the money for this extraordinarily generous bequest go? I am sure the actual wording of his bequest is probably available to those interested in reading it but in general terms they can be summarised as follows:


1.  Scholarship endowments providing annual grants for university and college students.
2. The creation of the John Mackintosh Hall cultural centre containing a public library, theatre, conference hall, gymnasium, halls for exhibitions and other public functions and a wing for higher education.


3. The John Mackintosh Wing built as an extension to the then Colonial Hospital with 76 additional beds fully equipped for medical and surgical work including an intensive care unit for medical and surgical work, an intensive care unit for cardiac cases and a nurses training school.
4. The construction of three John Mackintosh Homes to house the aged and poor of different faiths and maintained from estate funds.
5. A Magistrates’ Poor Fund providing annual help for poorer residents.


One has only to glance through the above bequest to appreciate Mackintosh’s overwhelming generosity and his interest in improving the welfare of the people of Gibraltar by improving opportunities for the young and addressing the financial and physical needs of the old, the sick and the poor.  

However in so far as trying to find out what he was like as a person outside his business interests I can find nothing in the literature other than but platitudes. He is said to have enjoyed taking his vacations in San Sebastian – a popular summer holiday resort for the wealthy - as well as in Switzerland and Pau which were similarly popular in winter. Apparently he was well read and fond of music and is generally described as an approachable and popular man. 

And yet, at least to me, the overall picture does not ring true. Mackintosh’s political leanings were those that come naturally to the rich and powerful. When he was alive he was certainly anything but charitable to those who were the poorest and most numerous of his employees – the coalheavers. (See LINK) Throughout his life he made every effort to depress the wages of these men as much as possible so as to boost his earnings and those of his of the coal merchant friends. 

Starting with the coal heaver’s strike of 1890 and right up to the Great Coal Strike of 1928 there were at least a dozen instances of industrial action of some sort or the other by Gibraltarian or Spanish workers or by both. The results were usually identical. The economic power and influence of the merchants was always more than enough to see off these futile attempts by the poorer sections of the populations of La Línea and Gibraltar.

During the Spanish Civil War (see LINK) right-wing sympathies among the moneyed classes were the norm rather than the exception. In fact the colonial authorities were of the opinion that some of these people were active fascists. 

For example in February 1938 General Queipo de Llano - the rebel commander of Andalucia with a well deserved reputation for brutality - held a public rally in La Línea in which quite a few Gibraltarians attended.


General Quiepo de Llano – on the right - and his friend on the left

According to the British Daily Herald, a number of “Gibraltarians fascists” attended the rally as well as a good cross section of the Rock’s more affluent merchants including Joseph Imossi, Captain Joseph Patron, James Andrews-Speed and his wife and both J. J. and P. G. Russo. 

Clip from the Daily Herald  (March 1938 )

Mackintosh probably gave this one a miss but it’s not too difficult to guess where his sympathies lay. During the last few last days of the Civil War, Imossi, Thomson and Mackintosh sent lorry loads of food to Madrid to assist the rebel Nationalists who had just entered the City.  

Whether all this adds up to explain a rather less than enthusiastic rapport on the part of the public towards somebody who is still by far its most generous benefactor I find difficult to gauge.  My gut feeling is that his entire life was driven by the tragedy of his daughter Adelaide – and that much of what he accomplished – including his extraordinary bequest – he may have thought of as some sort of atonement for something which however illogically he considered himself to blame.


Gibraltar Parliament Building – Mackintosh was posthumously awarded the Gibraltar Medallion of Honour by Parliament in 2008  


The bust and plaque of John Mackintosh on the building were unveiled in 1974