The People of Gibraltar
1967 - John Stewart’s Keystone - Chapter 18 to 28

Chapter 18. Albert Memorial
In colonial cultures, such as . . . Gibraltar, the rich will fight to keep the collection and distribution of charity in their personal and private hands.  . .  it is also of course, a source and show of power but there is a far older and more subtle motive behind it – the idea of acquiring merit . . . .
I must say that I tend to agree with Stewart’s sentiments in general and I am sure they applied to Gibraltar as well and probably still do. He does overdo it a bit by listing and more or less ridiculing a whole gamut of Gibraltar’s past and present charitable organisations – St Vincent de Paul, the Jewish Poor Fund, the Protestant Poor Fund, the Trust Fund to house the poor, the Ladies Needlework Guild, the Emergency Food Supply Committee, the Red Cross . . . and so on. 
Military governors, all elderly generals, with radical or even liberal views, are as rare as  . . .  holy water in an Orange Lodge. Typically they had no views at all, except as to their rank and profession. Should by some mischance a Red General happen to be sent to Gibraltar, the merchants knew by experience that he could probably be defeated and dismissed as the freak purist General Gardiner had been before.
Spot on, in my opinion. In the early 20th century, the merchants managed to get London to recall the then governor General Sir Archibald Hunter, not because of his left wing tendencies as he none, but because he wanted to improve Gibraltar as a fortress at the expense of its merchant class..


A disapproving Sir Archibald Hunter and his rather happier wife


Representatives of the local merchants – Albert Porral and William Sallust-Smith - cheered on by the hoi polloi on their way to London to present their case and successfully get Hunter off their backs

Chapter 19. A Little Learning
. . .  in 1952 public education in Gibraltar . . .  was half a century behind the British model . . .  starved and retarded ever since its very tardy introduction. School buildings were disgraceful slums, furniture makeshift and battered, books few and filthy, and the great majority of teachers were . . . “unqualified”. Twelve years of steady improvement have not overtaken this terrible backlog . . . and many Gibraltarians have said it to me . . . that the vast majority of the community are ill-educated, by British standards, and bound to remain so for life.

The chemistry lab at the Grammar School in the 1950s – which I remember very well – nothing special but not quite as grim as Stewart depicts it  (With thanks to H. Linares)

I am not sure about the “slums” but having lived through the decade in question he does have a point – we were poorly educated by British standards at the time - although he does ruin it a bit by going out of his way to ridicule our poor command of colloquial English:
“You will get us into a scrape  . . . and if we get into a scrape, who is the scrape goat? Me.”“Why do we employ such people” the Governor asked . . . “Because sir”, said the Gibraltarian, “at the salaries we are paying who can I recruit? No one except the rif and the raf!”

The Christian Brothers who taught in the local Grammar School during the mid 20th century - I had the misfortune to be taught by one or two of these fellows – the headmaster at the time was Brother Foley – sitting second from right - a nasty piece of work if ever there was one

Chapter 20. The Goodness and the Grace
British we are; British we stay! The blatant and aggressive patriotism of the Gibraltarian is not merely based . . . on self interest. A more important cause is the momentum . . . of the great Victorian epoch. The views and values of the Gibraltarians . . . were formed and forged during the 19th century, and such is the colonial time lag that they do not tend to change.
I am not sure about those values but the name of the long-lived queen does indeed permeate Gibraltar – the Victoria Stadium, her statue in Governor’s Parade (see LINK), Victoria Battery, Hotel Victoria, Victoria Race Course, Victoria Gardens  etc etc . . . 


The rather beautiful Victoria Gardens at North Front – it had long been demolished to make way for the WWII airstrip by the time Stewart arrived   ( 1930s Postcard – L Roisin )  (See LINK

The frontier was closed by General Franco in 1969, long after Stewart had left Gibraltar. It remained shut until 1985. In my opinion the psychological and financial effects of this closure have had a greater effect on Gibraltarians than any previously held Victorian values.


Spanish workman taking home his tools after his last day of work just before the frontier closed in 1969

This paragraph also offers an insight into the class system prevailing in Gibraltar at the time. At the top, the Governor, senior officers and one or two very rich, British-educated locals followed by less senior officers and less rich British-educated Gibraltarians  - then non-commissioned officers and Gibraltarians of moderate means followed by soldiers, sailors and airmen and the majority of Gibraltarians. At the bottom of the heap are the commuting Spanish workers and the then relatively new immigrants – the Indians. The people, says Stewart are frankly and openly class conscious.

Chapter 21. Beyond the Pale


During the 1950s up to 13 000 Spanish men and women came to Gibraltar . . .  all the hard and much of the skilled work of Gibraltar was in the hands of these Spaniards, and they were well liked and respected on the Rock.

Spanish workers crossing the airstrip on their way to Gibraltar

The “Pale” of the title of this chapter is La Línea, which the author describes in excruciating detail. Here are just a few quotes from a lengthy list. They refer to La Línea in the 1950s.
No one came to this cul-de-sac of Spain from necessity . . . the town has no natural features, no rivers, no woods, no good land, no beach worthy of the name. The town has no history nor traditions except reprehensible ones, no raison d’être except La Piedra Gorda. . .   
. . . a sordid and uncherished place, a town where men live because they must, rather than because they choose. . . . 
There in La Línea in 1953 the very essence of squalor lay everywhere n the ill-lit streets - broken bottles, nettles, ashes, excrement, the all-pervading odour of urine and rancid oil and rotten fish and cabbage  . . . . 
All the social evils of a modern city and port have been transported from Gibraltar to La Línea . . . from British to Spanish territory. Overcrowding, unemployment, poverty, consequent diseases, vice and crime have – ultimately – been banished from the Rock and tossed into the frontier to her sister city. . . 
Reading the above at the time of writing (2017) one would be tempted to write it off as a grossly over the top description of Gibraltar’s relationship with its next door neighbour. Unfortunately the writer is old enough to remember exactly what conditions were like during those never ending post civil war years that Stewart is referring to. 

When I was 18 years of age I was both ignorant, apolitical and convinced that my ability to speak two languages was a reflection of my innate superiority over others. With like minded friends I would often go to La Línea to enjoy myself at very little expense. It was indeed a poverty stricken town.

In many ways that was its main attraction. It was the one place on earth where we were rich. Besides it was not all doom and gloom. Their annual fairs were better than ours, there were bullfights and the evening “paseo” was superior to anything Main Street had to offer. Besides it was possible to eat in their many taverns and restaurants the kind of food that was not available in Gibraltar – and for peanuts. In other words it was exotic in a way Gibraltar would never be.



The Plaza de Toros in La Línea – The town may have been a dump but it was an exotic and exciting place in comparison to safe but boring Gibraltar – if you really wanted to enjoy yourself, Spain was the place to go

And yet in retrospect I must have had my misgivings. A multitude of beggars both old, young and in between followed you around immediately you went through the frontier and continued to pursue you for longer than you would have wished. I suspect it was the sight of those unfortunate beggars made a greater impression on me that one would have expected from a naive, self-satisfied provincial lad. The truth is I remember them well and I still – a thousand years later – sense the underlying unfairness of it all.



Shanty town in el Conchal, a barrio of La Línea

Chapter 22. Gibraltar Adolescent
In 1922, and not before, the Governor appointed an Executive Council. This brought Gibraltar, after more than two centuries of British rule, into a new stage of colonial development. It is on record that, soon after the new council was called, the tide rose and fell four times in two hours. 
The “Adolescent in this chapter refers to Gibraltar’s political awakening from a military fortress to the creation of the AACR - the Association for the Advancement of Civil Rights - as founded by the trade union leader, Albert J Risso and its development into a political party under Joshua A Hassan after World War II.


Joshua Hassan – later Sir Joshua – posing for the cameras – He would be elected Mayor of Gibraltar, and later First Minister for a period stretching from 1955 to 1987

Chapter 23. Gibraltar’s Coming of Age

A self-explanatory title and a continuation of the preceding chapter, it briefly covers the evacuation but is mostly about the development of local political representation and Gibraltar’s perennial battle against taxation – Queen Anne and her free port had much to answer for. Generally Stewart adopts a rather facetious approach to the manner in which local politics dealt with British attempts to introduce fiscal changes during the mid 20th century.

For example in 1953 the Government proposed a 10% import tax on certain luxury items such as cars, watches and cameras – and one apparently odd item, razor blades. Resistance was as expected. 
The immediate result was the resignation of the elected members of the Legislative and Executive Councils . . . on the grounds that the Governor’s actions were undemocratic, disrespectful to the Council, to the People’s representatives, hence to the people of Gibraltar. . . They even said . . . that to tax razor blades was to attack self-respect and to penalise the poor man, whose beard was as tough as, or tougher than, that of the rich . . 

Razor blades

Stewart then apparently asked a Treasurer official as to why - razor blades of all things - had been included in the import tax list. The answer was that Gibraltar imported and sold enough razor blades to shave half the population of Spain. It was in fact an indirect reference to the kind of smuggling that was going on at the time. Then in 1953, the Government dropped the Trades Tax and more or less replaced it with Income Tax.
The tax was a small fraction of British income tax and the lowest in the British Commonwealth. The shrewd man, and he is not in short supply in Gibraltar, was thankful for small mercies. “Hay que pagar algo para los monos”, a small businessman shrugged at me. . . He had in mind the old saw that whilst the apes remain on the Rock, so will the British. 

Tourists by Southport Gates (see LINK) looking up at a monkey looking down from Charles V Wall (See LINK)    (Beanland Malin Postcard ) (See LINK)

Chapter 24. Out of the Frying Pan


The chapter deals with the further developments of Gibraltar’s lengthy journey towards self determination in which a plethora of well known political characters make their appearance, to boot: A.W.Serfaty, A,P Montegriffo, Mary Chiappe, A.J. Baldorino, Peter Isola, Sir Peter Russo (a reputed millionaire) Solly Serruya, Guy Stagnetto, Louis Triay – all of them treated affectionately and with respect. The chapter ends as follows:
The Committee of Twenty-four was sitting in New York and actually waiting for Gibraltar’s petitioners to arrive as promised. The Spanish petitioners were already there. . . . Hassan and Isola had to fly out to the UN . . . a few hours later they were fighting for the very life of the Gibraltar Community and winning for it a form of retrieve.


 Joshua Hassan and Peter Isola back home to a hero’s welcome after their visit to the UN 

Chapter 25. Into the Fire

This chapter mostly deals with Joshua Hassan of whom Stewart offers several memorable - if often over critical and condescending quotes;
(Hassan) would rate as clever man anywhere; in Gibraltar, with its limited human resources, he appeared as a genius . . . He lacks verbal felicity and boldness, invention and inspiration.There was a King Hassan on side of The Straits, one in Morocco and one in Gibraltar. . .Joshua Hassan is the plaything of democracy . . .Like his people, Hassan has no fixed, overall pattern to his politics, except to remain British. . .Sir Joshua Hassan can never rise to greatness, but he is as good a man as little Gibraltar is ever likely to find.


Hassan and Isola addressing the crowds

Chapter 26. Contraband Continued


The Malaga newspaper “Sur” stated in March 1965 that 300 smuggling ships cleared the port of Gibraltar in 1959, a peak year carrying 800 cases of tobacco . . .  the main smuggling traffic has turned towards American cigarettes which are of course not manufactured in Gibraltar
An article in the Gibraltar Chronicle also stated that:
In one six month period last year . . . the statistics of the American Department of Agriculture noted that Gibraltar imported 841 million American cigarettes . . . similar research would show . . .that not only cigarettes but a multitude of curiously assorted goods were coming into Gibraltar in great quantities for the first time . . .  
Gibraltar has become the operations centre for smuggling organisations. Gibraltar is not a free port but it is the next best thing. Imported goods are put into bond, for which a modest fee is paid. . .  
In spite of the million-pound windfall from dubious imports, and lavish free grants of money from the tax-payers of the United Kingdom, Gibraltar’s social services still lag far behind those of the welfare states of Europe. . .
Chapter 27. Question Time


The Queen and her husband Prince Phillip surrounded by local worthies of the Gibraltar Executive Council – Mayor Joshua Hassan sits to her right - The gentleman sitting second from the right is Dr. Codali who happened to be the Chipulina family doctor

This chapter reviews the much discussed Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht and a more or less conventional analysis of its various clauses. But he does add one or two opinions of his very own.
They . . . call the Gibraltarians a false, prefabricated population, a mongrel race gathered up from the rejected scraps of others . . . also let us bear in mind the sad words of the Spanish Premier Cánovas del Castillo “Son españoles los que no pueden ser otra cosa” . . . The Gibraltarians have only to look over the hedge to see this . . . they choose not to become Spanish citizens.
The Queen’s visit in 1954 during her Coronation Tour – and its security arrangements after Franco had issued his warning that Spain could not guarantee her safety on the Rock - is also commented on with one humorous aside:
The security men were aware that there was not a single anti-British citizen in Gibraltar nor a voter against Santa Claus. The four or five perambulating lunatics and tramps, all harmless but unsightly, were made her Majesty’s guests under lock and key. . . 

Tobaila, Gibraltar’s one and only tramp at the time having a rest on the steps of the Exchange Building where the Executive Council had their meetings and almost certainly a place which would be visited by the Queen - He was duly carted off to hospital for a clean-up and only released when the Queen had well and truly left


Spain’s later frontier restrictions and a subsequent boycott on visiting Spain by the Gibraltarians is also given a critical review - none of it sympathetic to the people of the Rock.
 . . .  ninety percent of the people ceased visiting Spain . . .  I, and a few more ex-patriate officers could not agree with this policy . . . British customs at Dover applied far longer delays than the Spaniards had heard of and that they might well “insult” a Gibraltarian suspect or his wife, by calling a strange doctor to subject them to the most undignified physical explorations. . . . In 1965 the Admiral of Gibraltar took some of his officers into Spain to play polo. On his return he was physically attacked by a local mob led by taxi drivers . . .
Chapter 28. The Debate Continues
“In September 1963 the Committee of 24, in pursuance of its mandate to put a speedy and unconditional end to colonialism in all its forms, turned its attention to Gibraltar.” So begins a pamphlet  . . . published . . . by the elected members of the Legislative Council in 1964.
The Gibraltar representative went once more to New York to present their case. Spain remained frustrated and Gibraltar remained British. To cut a very long story short the verdict of the UN was that it noted the disagreement and invited Spain and the United Kingdom to find a negotiated agreement. 

The Committee had washed its hands and knocked their heads together, and told them to reason together. But mere reason, sad to say, will never solve the Gibraltar Question. It also offered the usual three recommended courses for emerging colonies – none of which would work in the case of Gibraltar: 
Independence: Britain throws Gibraltar overboard in breach of the Treaty of Utrecht. . .  Spain would be justified in making the Rock untenable.
Integration: . . . full political incorporation of Gibraltar with the United Kingdom. It would not suit Britain and would infuriate Spain.
Self-Determination: . . . This, leading to immediate declaration of Close Association with Britain is the timidly voiced official choice. But . . . it would be in breach the Treaty.
And then Stewart’s grand finale:
For the Gibraltarians and for me for a while, with them, the way of life was too good to last . . . I lived in Spain throughout 1965 and found no hardship of any kind. Were I a Gibraltarian on the day of reckoning I would accept Spanish citizenship and I hope, go into Spain like St James of old, armed with the knowledge of human worth and dignity and the vision of the good life. . . .  if the Gibraltarian with his special experience can help that beautiful and generous country to achieve government as good as Britain’s, then his children or their children may come to live as he himself has lived, with the best of both worlds.
My Own Conclusion 

Things have moved on enormously since Stewart wrote his book. So much so that much of what he writes – including his criticisms – are really of little relevance today. But what he wrote is, in my opinion, an important social history of the Rock as viewed by an outsider - however limited in both time and scope. 

As I am actually old enough to have lived on the Rock during the years under review I understand the flavour of much of what he writes. I don’t really think he was anti-Gibraltarian. He was just being blunt. Somehow I prefer that approach to the one offered in so many a general histories of the Rock - books with titles such as The Rock of the Gibraltarians, for example, written by a military ex-Governor in which the Gibraltarians of the title hardly make an appearance until the last 36 out of a total of 331 pages.  

Gibraltarians are often criticised as being overly touchy people. We are but I can understand why. For many years they and their ancestors have had to live a precarious existence on the Rock mostly despised by their colonial masters on the one hand and periodically inconvenienced by Spanish governments of one sort or the other. Little wonder that we are who we are - we ought to be much, much worse.