The People of Gibraltar
1706 - A Population of Rogues and Swindlers

George Byng  and George of Hesse - John Shrimpton and Roger Elliott
Thomas Stanwix and Thomas Cockayne - Mr. Durand and Ralph Congreve
Stanhope Cotton and Patrick Murphy - Catherine Crumpton  and Harry Belasyse
Andrew Archer and Simon Garcia  - Perez de Padilla and John Guise
Thomas Missing and Francisco Garcia Caballero - Charles Cornwall and Juan Romero
Franco Balbuena, Rabbi Abram and Ximenes

Shortly after the taking of the Rock, Queen Anne declared Gibraltar a free port despite the fact that she actually had no authority to do so. The Rock was technically still part of Spain. It placed Gibraltar in a kind of political limbo that would not be resolved until several years later. There are several theories as to why the English chose to make Gibraltar a free port. One of them is that they wanted a place that would rival Livorno, the only free port in the Mediterranean at that time. The presumption was that trade, as the saying goes, would follow the flag.
An extension to this theory was offered by an English historian writing in the middle 19th century. ‘The taking and keeping of Gibraltar’ he wrote, ‘was symptomatic of more than just military and naval ambition: a free entry to the Mediterranean and Turkish trades was vital.’ He was wrong if what he meant was that Britain needed Gibraltar in order to be able to control entry into the Med. The Rock had never been able to stop anybody from sailing through the straits. But he was quite correct if he meant that whoever wished to trade in the area required a proper base. Minorca may have even better but once Britain had ceded it back to Spain the Rock was an excellent alternative.

The reality was that Britain did not require the Rock simply to trade. What she did need was a naval base that she could use to protect what was already becoming an extensive export market in the Mediterranean. Clothes made of cotton, for example, were an important English commodity which was being sold in great quantities to Italy. Most of the coffee that was so in demand in the fashionable coffee houses of London came from Turkey. In fact as Eric Chipulina mentions in an article on the subject in the Gibraltar Chronicle, the London Trading companies were so successful in the Levant that they had become the most important European influence in Constantinople.

Characteristic Turkish Coffee House of the late 17th century

The hallmark of the Enlightenment! The London Coffee House traders.

In almost every case the foundations and upkeep of Britain’s ‘trading stations’, spread all over the world were laid by stock companies in London while the British Government provided naval or military protection and granted the necessary monopolies. The ordinary business men then moved in with their families and children and created many corners of many foreign fields that became for quite a while warmer versions of England.

Gibraltar incidentally has the distinction of being one of Britain’s first overseas possessions. For a period of about two hundred years from 1704 to 1900, the Act of the Union, the control over India, Cooke’s voyage to Australia, the seizure of the Cape Colony, the annexation of the Falklands, establishment of Hong Kong, and the purchase of Suez all occurred after the taking of Gibraltar. It was also one of the more long-lasting. The areas coloured red on the old Mercator maps increased and then decreased over time but the little red dot at bottom end of Spain kept its colour.

Unfortunately for British dreams, the repopulation of Gibraltar with home grown colonists never happened. The bulk of the investors in London remained unconvinced and most British merchants refused the incentives on offer to reside on the Rock. In the end those few anonymous Spaniards, Genoese and Jews became in effect some of the very first members of Britain’s Colonial Empire and it was they and not their masters who would eventually make the most of Queen Anne’s generosity.
Imperial Federation map of the world by Walter Crane. A beautiful map showing the extent of the British Empire during the late 19th Century although the word 'Freedom' at the top sits rather uneasily with the scenes of colonial exploitation shown on the margins. Not really visible at this scale, Gibraltar is underlined in red.
For the moment, however, they were, unknown, unloved, and usually dismissed as an irrelevance both by the Garrison and the British Government in London. In general terms the one certain thing that can be said about 18th century descriptions of the local population, was that they were consistently negative. Authors with no evidence whatsoever about the characters or morals of the people they were describing were invariable uncomplimentary.
For example, when the garrison required the services of some men to repair the walls of the town which had been brought down by bombardment during the blockade, the workers were described as ‘a sinister collection of labourers retained for the sheer manpower necessary.’ Just in case the reader was in any doubt as to their undesirability they were also portrayed as ‘vagabonds from the surrounding countryside who fancied a living and private pickings among the loose security of an undermanned newly-sacked town.’

Yet another author, Charles Edmond Carrington, insults by association when he reminds readers of an inglorious previous history that had nothing to do with them. Gibraltar, he wrote, was the disreputable haunt of smugglers just as it had been in the early days when the Catholic Kings of Spain populated it with ‘rogues and swindlers’. It was a reference to a time when Gibraltar had been part of Spain and inducements had often been required to get people to come and live there. As far back as the 14th century the Spanish Government had tried to repopulate Gibraltar by granting freedom to convicted criminals who agreed to do so. ( see LINK

The problem of course was one of perceived appearance rather than reality. Modern historians writing about 18th century events read and quote from records written by 18th century Britons. It was an era where engrained prejudices against foreigners were the norm. Non-military events take a back seat; even more so if non-British ‘natives’ had anything to do with them. Over a period of one hundred years after the Capture of Gibraltar, hardly any Genoese or Spanish inhabitant of note makes his or her appearance in any history. Whoever they were they always appear as part of a shadowy, amorphous group of very little consequence. The odd Jewish merchant may be given an identity and condescendingly congratulated for his financial help. The rest are just as anonymous as their Catholic brothers. ( see LINK

Generally, there is an understandable tendency to produce impressionistic accounts that bear a greater relationship to fiction than to fact. It was far more interesting to embellish a few negative aspects taken from original sources than have nothing to say. So-called observers confused residents with distasteful visitors and descriptions of the later become the characteristics of the former. The Papists were forever associated with treachery, idolatry, mumbo-jumbo and ignorance. The Jews were a necessary evil and the Moors were simply exotic traders in fancy dress who appeared to spend most of their lives lounging about in Main Street. In fact almost all of these Moors were non-residents who were continually on the move from Barbary to Gibraltar and back.

Tetuan. Moroccan town opposite Gibraltar where many of the Jewish residents originally came from.
It is quite true that making Gibraltar into a free port eventually led to the introduction of a pervasive tradition of smuggling that would sour relations with Spain right up to the present day. The real blame for this, however, lay not with the local population, but – as I have already suggested - with the first lot of British military governors and commanders. There is black irony in the notion of so many self-regarding people in positions of power being tempted into so much criminal activity simply on the basis of their own Queen’s' illegal' proclamation.
To understand the type of existence led by the local population during Gibraltar’s early days as a British possession one needs to appreciate that the Governors were virtual dictators and that they and many of their underlings were utterly corrupt. They could do whatever they wanted within the Garrison and did so. From the very beginning the Governors created monopolies for goods and services which benefited nobody but themselves. Ironically they actually paid little attention to Gibraltar’s free port status and imposed illegal licences on every possible transaction.
Thomas James ( see LINK ) gives the example of one unnamed gentleman who on taking over the reins immediately set out to destroy the free market by 'establishing his own contractors and making a clear two thirds profit on all sales'. Nothing moved into or out of the Rock without some payment having to be made. Even the fish market was monopolised. The Jews were reputed to have got the worst of it as sliding scales were often applied to the purchases of licences and they were made to pay the most. The less exalted officers of the Garrison were not immune to these shenanigans. Those who sought to enjoy themselves shooting partridges on the Rock were required to pay the Governor for the privilege.

The man who can be identified as the first person to realize that there was plenty of money to made on the Rock – albeit illegally - was actually not one of its Governors but a Rear-Admiral. George Byng had been the man in charge of the bombardment squadron during Rooke’s capture of Gibraltar. ( see LINK ) Having done the dirty work he very quickly set about paying himself for the effort. The first thing he did was help himself to a couple of dozen Spanish brass cannon. Unfortunately two of these actually belonged to his nominal boss, Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt so he was forced to return them. To make up for this loss he ‘bought’ all the wine in Gibraltar with a view to taking it back with him to England. In fact he was probably pilfering just about everything he could lay his hands on.

Admiral George Byng – 1st Viscount Torrington
In a letter to the British military Commander in Portugal Hesse complained ineffectually that ‘everything is being taken aboard the ships’. There had been ‘enough flour for 3000 men for six months. Now it was ‘all gone.’

Hesse had a legitimate cause for complaint. ‘I do not know how to hide from you’, he wrote, ‘the little keenness that these English officers show in wanting to undertake any matter of importance.’ He had never, he insisted, seen such disorder or so little will in the English troops. They neglected their duties and were drunk every day. They were, one would guess, too busy pilfering.

Major-General John Shrimpton - the man Drinkwater ( see LINK ) forgot - was deputy Governor under Hesse and continued where Byng had left off. He also got his men to load another ten cannon on to Byng’s warship, the Ranelagh, and had them sold in Lisbon for a neat one hundred percent profit. Of the thirty two brass cannon of Gibraltar every single one was stolen. But unlike Byng who was in it for the quick return, Shrimpton was the first to realise that Gibraltar offered endless possibilities for a steady flow of income. Traders, for example, were only allowed to enter the town if they paid him for the privilege. He considered all accommodation as his own private property and pocketed the rents. Customs and excise were personal fiefdoms to be exploited as he saw fit.

In fact he became a British law unto himself. One year into his Governorship he obliged the commander of a man-of-war to abandon his orders and return to London with some personal message or other. The commander of the vessel, Captain John Wall, presumably irritated by this arbitrary misuse of power, claimed a gratuity from the treasury in recompense for his roughshod treatment. Not being entirely sure what to do, they gave him £10 out of the Secret Service funds. A year later London sent Shrimpton a reminder. Gibraltar may have been declared a free port but duties were still being demanded and received. Could he please let them know what he intended to do about this? He paid no notice. Actually he could hardly afford to do so.

Shrimpton had married the daughter of the Earl of Essex under the delusion that he had married into money. In fact he soon found out that all her inherited property was mortgaged to the hilt and that her family’s many debts required immediate repayment. Being a Governor of Gibraltar offered him an easy way to solve his problem. Eventually, he tired of his many acts of embezzlement and having paid off most of his debts, set off in search of glory. Instead he was captured by the Spaniards in the Battle of Brihuega, politely returned to England under parole and was never seen again in Gibraltar.

When Colonel Roger Elliott the senior regimental commander on the Rock took over as Governor in 1707 the overall system was well in place. He was, incidentally, the first Governor of Gibraltar to be appointed by the British Government. His time in office is best remembered, to put it delicately, as one of ‘mercenary opportunity’.

Colonel Roger Elliott – The very first British appointed Governor of the Rock
The arbitrary nature of his corruption can be appreciated from contemporary documents that record his imposition of a poll-tax on Jews of ‘2 Moedas’ of Gold. Whenever he happened to be short of cash he would raise some by the simple expedient of placing ‘an order on the church door with the names of about four or five people, ordering them immediately to leave the Towne; which they not being willing to do, were obliged to raise two or three Moedas of Gold each man for leave to stay’.

Elliott was another Tangier veteran who had served under General Percy Kirke, a man who was well known throughout the army for ‘the roughness of his manners and the wildness of his life.’ It meant that he already knew a thing or two about corruption and was well aware that he had been left in charge of an isolated back-water which he could run with virtually no interference from anybody. His venality was such that the Secretary of State in Britain was actually concerned that he would sell Gibraltar back to Spain and pocket the money.

The Treachery of Colonel Kirke - 1685. What the good colonel was up to can only be guessed at.
London’s worries were probably unwarranted as he actually instigated the development of new and expensive fortifications on the Rock. As he lacked any proper approval from London, arguments over the validity of his accounts eventually caused him more headaches than if he had actually sold Gibraltar back to the Spaniards.

When Elliott finally left the Garrison he did so in good shape. Not so Gibraltar or its civilian population. Even by his own account it was now ‘in distress’ as well as short of ‘coals, candles and bread.’ Perhaps his greatest claim to fame was that his nephew was George Augustus Eliott, the man forever associated with the Great Siege of Gibraltar. ( see LINK

His successor, Brigadier General Thomas Stanwix, was of similar persuasion: as a modern observer put it he saw ‘nothing wrong in believing that his own interests coincided with those of Queen Anne.’ When she in turn formally ratified Gibraltar's Free Port status by order of council, she simply confirmed the continuation of the inevitable free-for-all. She also made it difficult for future historians to estimate the volume of trade going on in Gibraltar as very few records were kept of any transactions.

This lack of statistical information extended even to the accounts and estimates which were periodically submitted by the Governors in order to obtain funds for their various projects. In one instance Stanwix was bluntly rebuffed. He had included an item under the open-ended heading of ‘extraordinaries’ and his superiors decided that they had had enough. He wouldn’t get a penny until he explained exactly what these extraordinary items referred to.

The Governor was not the only British official to be more or less caught with his hands in the till. Thomas Cockayne, the first of a long line of Colonial Secretaries of Gibraltar spent some time in the Tower of London after being accused of making a false statement. He had declared that a cargo of hides imported from England had been in bond for over six months and was therefore exempt from duty – ‘to the loss of her Majesty’s revenue.’ As usually happened with this kind of problem his friends in London managed to get the whole thing deferred for another day. He returned as if nothing had happened and invested his ill-gotten gains by buying up - illegally - various properties on the Rock.

Queen Anne incidentally seems to have had a soft spot for Gibraltar. During Elliott's she ordered her Master of the Great Wardrobe to deliver to the Bishop of London a large Bible, two Common Prayer Books and two surplices as a gift from her Majesty to the Church in Gibraltar. It cost the treasury £21. Considering the vast amounts of money that were being squandered on Gibraltar nobody was prepared to grumble at her generosity.

Quite apart from any concern about whether their money was being spent wisely or not, London was generally unimpressed by Elliott’s worries about the need for improvements on the Rock’s defenses. When the Secretary of State Lord Dartmouth instructed a Mr. Durand to go to Gibraltar and report back on whatever he thought was necessary for its security he also told him that his orders were conditional and that he was not to comply with them if he thought that his services were more necessary elsewhere: not exactly an inducement to travel to a place that most British officials considered to be a complete dead end and the worst garrison in the world.

Old German map of Gibraltar. Unusually Charles V wall is shown with a parallel Moorish wall to the south. The hospital in the center seems to have had its own fortifications.
In point of fact Mr. Durand’s services were more than necessary in Gibraltar, not so much for reasons of security but to find out where the money was going. Shortly after he was supposed to arrive in Gibraltar several resident merchants were forced to ask London to pay them a large sum for work carried out on the fortifications so that they might be able to pay the local workmen they had employed. They followed this up with what amounted to a veiled threat. They urged prompt payment from the treasury so as ‘to encourage their further assistance as the necessities of that place may require.’ It worked. They got paid.
One exceptionally notorious intervention occurred shortly after Stanwix’s arrival. He made an offer to the British civilian population that he knew they were unlikely to refuse. If they undertook to repair their town houses at their own expense they would be allowed to enjoy it free from rent and taxes. When several families tried to take advantage of this offer they found that Stanwix - as well as Colonel Ralph Congreve and Colonel Stanhope Cotton, ( see LINK ) his successors as Lieutenant-Governors - refused to honour the deal and continued to insist on the payment of rent.
Records exist of a petition to London signed by an ex-sergeant, Patrick Murphy as well as Catherine Crumpton and several other military widows. They complained bitterly that as soon as they had repaired their homes Colonel Cotton had asked them to pay him large sums of money. As these were well beyond what the house DIY improvers could afford they were predictably thrown out of their newly repaired houses which the Governor then rented out at exorbitant rents to the increasingly prosperous local merchants.

In this particular incident one of the widows took her case to London and the Governor ‘was obliged to follow her ladyship home and make it up with her as best he could, which being done, she returned again to Gibraltar in triumph’. It was a rare victory for at least one local over a Governor of whom it was said, ’took it for granted that every person in the Garrison was his slave and every house his estate.’

When Cotton returned from London he found it harder to continue as before and delegated much of his dirty work to a deputy who apparently ,’did and then retired,’ but not presumably before making his own little nest egg. His successor was a man called Bowes ‘a very fit man and his own Lieutenant-Colonel, who plundered merrily for some time’. ( see LINK ) Bowes then fell ill and died on his return to England.

Running out of options, Cotton then found an appropriate Lieutenant-Colonel in London and came to an agreement with him. Cotton would leave Gibraltar while his protégé would continue the good work and both would share the proceeds equally. Unfortunately for Cotton, his man was an even bigger crook that he was. He refused to share his earnings and ‘played as good a game upon his Colonel as the Colonel formerly had done to the Garrison and poor inhabitants.’

Several histories of Gibraltar make reference to this little affair; none, however, bother to mention that many non-British locals were just as unfairly treated. Shortly after the destruction caused by the Franco-Spanish blockade, ‘several Genoese built sheds and small houses in the old ruins by leave of the Governor.’ A month or so after ‘they had laid out their money on building them,’ they were notified that they would be evicted if they refused to pay Hudson – the Governor’s secretary – an unreasonably large amount of money as a monthly rental. There is no record of what these people eventually decided to do but one can be sure that it would have been much harder for them to take the matter up with London as Catherine Crumpton had done.

Theoretically the aggrieved British residents should have continued to focus their anger on their own administration. But reason and anger often fail to coincide and there is no doubt that these and other similar events did much to foster a lot of ill feeling towards the Jewish, Spanish and Genoese civilians by the British born residents and the Garrison rank and file. The British felt that their status and privileges were being eroded to the same level suffered by the non-British residents.

Stanwix, like Elliott before him, was quite given to writing to his superiors in London about the state of ‘distress of the garrison for want of necessities’. These hypocritical begging letters seem to have eventually stuck some chord within the bureaucratic machinery of the treasury. They ordered a memorial to be sent to the War Office to see if it could be possible to finance the garrison on a more rational basis. Stanwix was horrified.

In a sense Stanwix was unfortunate in that during his term of office there was a change of government in Britain. The newly elected Tories decided to appoint a ‘Commission of Inspection to the Army in the Peninsular.’ Their remit was to ‘enquire into what their predecessors and opponents had done wrong’: a bit like asking a husband when he had stopped beating his wife. The inspectorate was made up of three officers headed by a certain Sir Harry Belasyse.

How this gentleman managed to find himself in this position is hard to understand. Sir Harry had been second in command during the assault on Cadiz in 1702 and ended up being court marshalled for his generally appalling behaviour and more specifically for his unrestrained looting in Puerto de Santa Maria. It was impossible for the court not to find him guilty and he was stripped of his position in the army. His rehabilitation had more to do with party politics in Britain than to any change of heart on his part.

As regards his two colleagues, one of them was Andrew Archer. When this gentleman eventually returned to England he managed to get himself elected to the Commons but was only allowed into the House ‘on the promise of future good behaviour.’ It is not known whether this had anything to do with his involvement with the inspectorate.

The inspectors’ first port of call was actually Italy. They were supposed to find out whether the amount of money being sent to their allies was being spent appropriately. They found it impossible to establish if this was the case or not. After a short and ineffectual visit to Minorca they finally arrived in Gibraltar. 

Here they had been instructed to investigate the subsidies spent by the Chief Engineer, Colonel Bennett. ( see LINK ) It took them a very short while indeed to find out that ‘the abuses that have been committed here have not been by the engineer but by the Governors.’ They also found that the victualling of the Garrison had not been audited for years and that the financial administration of the hospital left much to be desired. Even given their general incompetence and predisposition to find fault, they were genuinely appalled by conditions on the Rock.

Some of the declarations taken by the inspectors are guaranteed to bring a rueful smile to the face of a modern reader but their contents were anything but funny to the people who made them. In 1712, for example a native of Gibraltar by the name of Simon Garcia told the inspectors that he had often observed the Masters of vessels entering and leaving the port of Gibraltar being forced to pay exorbitant amounts of money to Stanwix’s secretary. 

Two Genoese ship captains, Juan Battista Pelussa and Antony Maron backed him up in their own statements. This business had been going on while Elliott was Governor but Stanwix had increased his tariffs to such an extent that they simply could no longer make a profit. They had therefore decided that in future they would give Gibraltar a miss. It was all, as Simon Garcia testified, ‘of very great prejudice to the Garrison of Gibraltar.’

Another deposition was taken by the inspectors while in Lisbon on their way back to England. This time the declarer was a Spanish officer, Lieutenant Perez de Padilla who had been employed as a soldier by the British army in Gibraltar since 1709. That same year together with another 40 Spanish soldiers he made a ‘sally’ into Spain and brought back a couple of hundred oxen, a thousand sheep and a large number of horses and goats. When he tried to sell these to the local merchants, Elliott intervened and forced the soldiers to sell the animals to him for a pittance. Apparently Perez was not just annoyed at being swindled by the Governor but was also rather put out by Elliott’s carefree use of bad language. The expression ‘Goddamne, Goddamme’ seems to have been one of his favourites.

In 1713 Elliott ‘ordered the fitting out of a cruising vessel in which went thirty three Spaniards.’ These he then sent out on what can only be described as a pirating mission. Soon enough they returned with a couple of large decked boats known as gabarras which were immediately confiscated by Elliott and sold as prizes for a large amount of money - all of which he pocketed. When the Captain of the cruiser protested that neither he nor his men had been paid he was put into prison and whipped for three days. He was then informed by the town major that he would continue to be whipped unless ‘he made him a present upon which he was forced to begg and borrow seventeen moedas of gold.’ Lieutenant Perez finally decided that Gibraltar – for all its money making possibilities - was just not worth the aggravation. He therefore ‘retir’d’ himself ‘to Lisbon.

Elliott’s obsession with being paid in ‘moedas’ is a curious one. The coin probably refers to the Portuguese gold Moidore – moeda de ouro – although this was by no means the normal currency in Gibraltar. The Spanish doubloon was the preferred gold coin at the time. In fact coin usage on the Rock was extraordinarily complex during the early 18th century and it was always difficult for anybody to ensure that they were not being ripped off in any given transaction.
For example there were two varieties of the Spanish coin known as the real  in circulation. One was called the real de plata and the other the real de vellon. The first was made of real silver and the other of an amalgam of silver and copper. The silver one was worth well over double the value of the other. British regimental officers had always received silver reales to pay for their soldiers salaries. Some of the officers, however, decided to create the fiction that the real was a real regardless of whether it was made of silver or vellon. This disreputable ploy allowed them to pay their soldiers in reales de vellon thus cheating them out of nearly 50% of their pay.
By 1727 matter came to a head and a certain Colonel John Guise insisted that his officers repaid their soldiers the amounts that they had deducted illegally. According to Daniel Defoe, ( see LINK ) this may not have endeared him to his officers but it had certainly delighted his soldiers who considered him ‘a man of honour and a soldiers’ friend.’

Real de plata. Many European countries generally used the Spanish dollar over other forms of silver currency. It was favoured because it had a milled edge which would deter the shaving of silver from the edge of the coin.
A few years later the authorities decided that in future, all military personnel in Gibraltar would be paid ‘according to the value of money in England.’ Nevertheless the custom of paying soldiers in reales continued for many years. To make matters even more complicated in 1737 Spain introduced another coin called the real de plata fuerte which was slightly more valuable than the real de plata. It is almost certain that those in Gibraltar who knew how to do so would have taken good advantage of the inevitable confusion. The Governor would most certainly have been one of them.

One major change brought about by the military inspection was the setting up of a proper victualling contract to service the garrison. In effect this meant that a single merchant became responsible for the overall requirements of the military in Gibraltar. The person who seems to have been awarded the first contract was a certain Thomas Missing whose name, on reflection, was quite appropriate. A resident of Portsmouth he rarely if ever visited the Garrison. He was probably appointed because he was already the victualling agent for other British garrisons such as Placentia and Annapolis Royal, all of which had made him extraordinarily rich and had allowed him to exert all sorts of pressures on the commission appointed to select a ‘suitable’ candidate.

The truth is that even with the best and most honest will in the world, servicing the military requirements of the Rock on a piecemeal basis was an absolute nightmare. The following is an inventory of so called ‘necessaries’ delivered to the Rock in the year 1713 by a never-ending list of suppliers and tradesmen:
 . . . emptons and provisions: corn powder, powder barrels, ship carriages etc., iron work, musquett barrels, Union flags of Beauport with halyards and Jack flags, rope lanterns, gold lace and gold buttons for the Artillery Train, bedsticks etc., harness, laced hats, worsted and yarn stockings, tallow, etc., spirits of wine etc., birch brooms etc., fir baulks etc., saltpetre refined, painting work, packing, repairs to office boat . . . . ‘
The new system was theoretically much more efficient but in practice it was anything but. Mr. Missing’s agents and individual tradesmen at the chalk face were a collection of British, Jewish, Genoese, Moorish or Spanish locals, all of them well aware of how long it took in those days of sail for correspondence to move from London to Gibraltar and back. There was, to put it mildly, a general air of unaccountability which lent itself to the making of money by those who were not really entitled to do so. In other words nothing had changed, Stanwix continued much as before and the only thing that one can tell from the correspondence between London and Gibraltar is that the teething problems faced by the new system persisted well into middle age and beyond.

It also meant that for far too many years too many officials from the Governor downwards were allowed to line their own pockets with impunity. They forced much of the civil population into a routine of bribery and corruption and Gibraltar became a ‘squalid brothel-street bazaar’ instead of growing into the rich commercial city it might have so easily become. Several years earlier the British Admiral Robert Blake had given us his cutting description of Tangier then under British rule. It had, he said, a flourishing trade, a European population, a pleasant cathedral and many fine buildings. Within a few decades the English by their corruption, intolerance, and bad government had completely ruined the place. He might have been describing Gibraltar.

The effect of all this on the non-British local population is not too difficult to gauge; the ordinary man-in-the–street tried to cope as best he could with the arbitrary rules and regulations but the more enterprising found it profitable to pay whatever heavy bribes and premiums were required. It paid. They usually ended up becoming one of those characters that appear with unfailing regularity in all histories of Gibraltar – the rich merchant.

At this point it is probably worth trying to clarify the term ‘merchant’ which is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the word ‘trader’ as mentioned previously. In Gibraltar the word appears contradictory; it seems to have both a rather open as well as a very specific meaning. Anybody who is described as one is a cut above the rest of the population. Merchants were not just invariably well off but also seemed to have been able to defend themselves – usually in the form of written memorials to London - when they felt that the authorities – in other words the Governor - was treating them unjustly. It was not the kind of thing that the rest of the population were normally allowed to indulge in.

The question is – who were these ‘merchants’? In the first place when the word is used in isolation, as it is in many historical accounts, the reader is never sure whether the author is referring to somebody who is British, Jewish, Genoese or whatever. There is also a problem in distinguishing between British merchants who were residents of Gibraltar with those who lived in Britain and simply used local agents or employees to act on their behalf.

During the first decades of the 18th century there is little doubt that there were very few merchants that were not of British origin and that some of them did in fact reside – at least some of the time - in Gibraltar. They were the ones who owned the best houses on the Rock. However the people who they traded with, in other words those who actually bought goods from elsewhere and then sold it to them, were all predominantly either Jews or Genoese who were almost all local residents or Moors, Spaniards and others who were not. When the policy of populating Gibraltar with British Protestants failed many of the local resident Jewish and Genoese traders took over the lucrative role of merchants from the British - as well as their beautiful and expensive houses.

To add to the general confusion, there were also British merchants who resided either in Cadiz or Alicante. They had something of an axe to grind as they could see that their competitors in Gibraltar were undermining their own legitimate trade. There was also increased pressure on London to allow the King of Spain - despite the fact that Britain was almost always at war with his country - to have some sort of representative on the Rock. But it was not until 1717 that Francisco Garcia Caballero was appointed Spanish Consul at Gibraltar.

As a curious aside, Stanwix had been Lieutenant-Governor of Carlisle before being appointed Governor of Gibraltar and his main challenge there had been to stop smuggling across the border between England and Scotland. One can only speculate as to whether his many malpractices on the Rock originated from his experiences there.

It was not just with the locals that Stanwix tended to give his dictatorial tendencies free rein. He could be just as obnoxious with his military contemporaries. When the Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, Charles Cornwall, took up residence in Gibraltar in 1717 he almost immediately found himself at a disadvantage. He discovered to his dismay that he could not get a single soldier to admit to his authority even in matters relating to the ships in port. Stanwix refused to do anything about this and a quarrel soon developed between the two men. It was common gossip that the Governor encouraged his officers to ‘drink damnation to the admiral.’

Juan Romero, ( see LINK ) the old hero from pre-blockade days, also made a point of giving us his views on the kind of cultural milieu that he found himself in. As a Catholic priest trying to cope in thoroughly un-Catholic circumstances he was of course bitterly opposed to the many changes brought about by the British both in laws and local customs. British corruption may have been rife but he didn’t spare himself when criticising his own people. In particular he censured the idle clergy, both secular and regular, who had managed to come back to Gibraltar. They were the ones who had always been anxious to return to the good life which they had once become accustomed to and which was definitely not available to them in San Roque.

Some clerics, however, may have escaped Romero’s censure. In 1713, Father Franco Balbuena, a Franciscan friar and one of the few who remained on the Rock after the takeover, was thrown out of Gibraltar. He was accompanied by a Jewish Marrano who he described as ‘a physician from Spain,’ and a man that had proved himself extremely useful as a medic. During the late 15th century Jews who had been forced to convert to Catholicism were known as ‘Conversos’. Those that continued to practice their Jewish faith privately were given the insulting name of ‘Marranos’.

One of the many persuasive methods used during the Spanish Inquisition to interrogate Marranos into confessing that they were actually still Jewish.
The physician was expelled from Gibraltar under the pretext of being a Marrano or as Balbuena out it, on ‘the pretence of his having circumcised and married in the town.’ In reality they had both been thrown out of town because they had refused to pay Stanwix’s exorbitant demands for money to continue their work among the community.

Recent research in Malta has suggested that there were a number of Marranos living in Gibraltar before 1704. The physician mentioned by Balbuena was probably Rabbi Abram, a refugee from a crypto-Jewish community in Seville. During his unsuccessful personal negotiations with the British administration, Father Balbuena also mentions that the Governor employed a Jewish intermediary by the name of Ximenes. Perhaps ‘bribe-collector’ would have been a better word to describe him. Whatever the case he may very well have been either a Converso or a Marrano.

Balbuena made his way to Lisbon where he was lucky enough to be able to make a complaint to the British Army inspectors before they left for England. Basically his protest was a simple one. As Prior of the Order of St Francis he had been in charge of the Convent and Church of the same name and he objected to the arbitrary manner in which he and his three fellow fryers had been thrown out of the place. Just after Gibraltar had capitulated some of the officers had used the place as their living quarters. When Elliott arrived he liked the Convent so much that he also threw his officers out and made it his own.

Old plan of the Convent.  Note that the entrance was not on the Main Street side but via the church. The Gardens gave on to the Line Wall close to the sea.
The Friars, however, were allowed to stay on although the gardens were made out of bounds to everybody other than the Governor. When Stanwix took over he also made the Convent his home. Unlike Elliott he promised the fryers that he would allow them access to the gardens. Unfortunately ‘the two moydores of gold paid to him every month by the gardener was more powerful than his word and promise’: no garden for the fryers. To add insult he threw out one of the fryers from his lodgings and installed his cook. He then converted Balbuena’s room next door into a pantry. The final straw was the conversion of the Church of St. Francis into a Protestant chapel in 1713.

In order to clear the church of Catholic bric-a-brac one of the Franciscans friars was ordered to make an inventory. The final item on the list states that the inventory was ‘una suma de lo que hay en la Iglesia; y en todo ello no ay prenda de plata, excepto dos coronas.’ A modern local historian has suggested that the comment signifies either that the church was rather poorly endowed or that the fryers had already prudently removed everything of value. A far more likely scenario is that the British – in the shape of Shrimpton, Elliott and Stanwix - had already well and truly ransacked the place.

Balbuena’s declaration may have added to the various indictments which eventually led to the removal of Stanwix as Governor but essentially he had been wasting his time. The Convent has been used as the residence of British Governors of Gibraltar ever since and the Church of St. Francis is still a Protestant chapel.