The People of Gibraltar
1782 - A Cunning Plan - Escalas Le Vaisas

Things were not going too well for Spain during the Great Siege of Gibraltar (see LINK) which lasted from 1779 to 1783, when Charles IV of Spain came up with a rather hare-brained scheme. He thought that a bit of lateral thinking might be in order and decided to hold a competition asking for ideas on how to capture the fortress. 

Charles IV of Spain

The inevitable result was that every military crank in Europe gave it a bash and he ended up with 69 replies. One of them was this anonymous attempt which was sent to the Duc de Crillon, the French commander of the Franco-Spanish forces fighting against the British.

Louis Berton des Balbes, Duc de Crillon et de Mahon   ( Earl 19th cent5ury )

The written plan itself is both unoriginal and completely unworkable - as can be gleaned from the description and sketch shown below.

The author spells the word “levadiza” incorrectly twice - "Lebaiza" in the title and "Le Vaisas" in the text but the annotated map of the Bay which was attached to the plan was a good one. It suggests that the author might have had at least some first-hand knowledge of the Rock. 

Map and accompanying captions attached to plan of attack

Poor spelling is again very evident - “Gibaltar” on the map although the correct version does appear in the text. Southport was still being referred to in Spanish as La Puerta Nueba (see LINK) even though it had been built well over 200 years previously. Bonfires were apparently lit here - and at two other of Gibraltar’s many gates - La Puerta de Tierra (see LINK) - Land Port - and La Puerta de la Barcina - the Barcina Gate (see LINK).

This last one probably situated at the southern end of the Casemates must have originally guarded the entrance into and out of Main Street. La Puerta de la Barcina is hardly if ever mentioned in British histories of the Rock. It certainly wasn’t there after the Great Siege by which time I would imagine it had been destroyed. As it no longer served any purpose it was never rebuilt.

As regards the mines under the “Glacis” beyond the “Esplanad” - today’s Casemates - the area is known to have been mined during the very early 18th century and seems to have been of sufficient importance to appear as such on several contemporary maps. 

T = Land Port Gates - U = Casemates - Y = Waterport Gate and Q is described as “our mines” ( 1704 - Col D'Harcourt - detail )

The “poco de clibio” - refers to the relatively low low and climbable walls along Waterport and the Grand Battery facing north.

Needless to point out that the proposal was never put into practice - although perhaps it would have been less painful if they had. The proposal that was eventually chosen was one suggested by the French engineer, Jean Claude D’Arcon which involving the use of fire-proof and unsinkable floating batteries - which in the event proved neither one nor the other. 

General Jean Claude D’Arcon

Cross-section through a prototype of one of D’Arcon’s floating batteries

The real thing - a fire-proof and unsinkable floating battery duly set on fire and sunk by red-hot shot in the Bay of Gibraltar  (Unknown )

Finally I think it is quite possible that this was not the first time our anonymous “military expert” had come up with this particular proposal for an assault on Gibraltar. The following very similar illustrations dated 1777 or earlier, lead me to suspect that they were proposed by the same person.