The People of Gibraltar
1750 - Humphrey Bland - Rubbish and Trumpery
William Hayles, Colonel William Herbert and Lord George Beauclerk
General Edward Braddock and General Thomas Fowke
Admiral John Byng and Sebastian Puchol
The creation of the Law Courts and the appointments of Justices of the Peace are often referred to as the introduction of English law in Gibraltar. As far back as 1721, a large number of London merchants with strong trading connections with Gibraltar had petitioned Parliament to set up Civil Courts that were independent of the local military government. 

This was a follow-up so to speak of William Hayles and his debtors’ prison initiative which has already been mentioned. The proposal was considered quite favourably and an attempt was made to come up with an even more radical proposal. In the end as often happens in such cases it got caught up in interdepartmental politics and nothing was done.
Bland’s Courts and JPs derived from these ideas. The introduction of judges and juries for major cases was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately only two Judges were appointed - the Governor and the Judge Advocate, a Governor appointee. Theoretically there was to be a third judge in the form of a British merchant but the appointment was never made. As regards JPs, these were chosen by the Governor from worthy British citizens who were required to swear an oath - of all things - against transubstantiation. In other words Catholics were excluded from any position of power. Great pains were also taken to ensure that no member of the Garrison could ever be hauled up in front of any of these courts.
Less important but nevertheless indicative of Bland’s overall philosophy was the way in which he tried to manipulate the market to favour the Protestants. He allowed British merchants to pay a very small amount of duty on the import of wine but doubled the duty for everybody else. It is less easy to understand his motives when he decided to dictate the kind of drinks sold in public houses and began by prohibiting the sale of spirits. He then followed this up with the sale of a licence to a Jewish merchant allowing him to set up a distillery for a Moroccan brandy called Mahya which he personally found undrinkable.
He also interfered in the import trade by insisting that all the linen brought into Gibraltar – whether for use on the Rock or for re-export - had to be of British manufacture. In Gibraltar the word ‘re-export’ was and probably still is synonymous with smuggling. This perennial activity had been going on to a greater or lesser extent depending on the kind of person who happened to be Governor at the time. Bland was determined to stamp it out once and for all. 

He decreed that the volume of imports should be determined by how much could be consumed locally. Unfortunately for Bland the traders as always found ways to circumvent his regulations and his successors very quickly found it convenient to ‘modify’ his restrictions. A favourite way to get round the ‘volume of goods’ limitation was to avoid officially landing them in Gibraltar. Instead they were stored in hulks which were found dotting the bay and over which the Governor had no jurisdiction whatsoever.

Photograph of the northern part of the bay taken in the early twentieth century. It shows just a few of the hulks that continued to dot the bay for yet another century or so
In many ways the ‘Articles’ were a series of measures dictated by a military governor under instruction from his superiors in London. They should really be considered as Bland’s interpretation of English law subsumed within the requirements of a military fortress. His was always the last word. Rather than improve condition for the locals, their main effect was to create a very real divide between the legal rights of British Protestants and those of everybody else while at the same time denigrating the rights of the majority of the local population.
The regulations were nevertheless an important turning point in the social history of Gibraltar. They were important because they failed. They continued in force for 60 years but they never achieved their main objective which was to create a different kind of Gibraltar to that which it eventually became. They also led to an increase in a different type of corruption to that which had been prevalent during the days of Stanwix, Hargraves and the rest, as the locals tried to circumvent any number of rules and regulations which they very quickly understood had not been introduced to favour them.
Bland’s attempt at improving the overall appearance of the town was also a failure. He had noticed that large areas of the town such as the 'Grand Parade, around churches and barracks and many back lanes’ were all unpaved. Up to that point householders had only been responsible for keeping the front of their property in good repair. Bland arranged for a tax to be levied on the inhabitants based on house valuation and the Grand Parade was duly paved in 1749. But the rest of the paving soon came to a halt and the condition of the streets became even worse than they had been before. Anything in Gibraltar that required taxation had a nasty habit of failing.
This last statement implies a reference to Gibraltar’s well known free port status and suggests that the locals were defending their rights to a free market. If they were, they would have been defending something that didn’t exist. State interference may have been indirect but it was everywhere; the best places in town were occupied by the military, the movement of goods and people was arbitrarily restricted for security reasons, and the lack of any taxation was replaced by the need to pay bribes. Bland’s interference in the linen market and intervention in the volumes of goods allowed to be imported were just another layer of restrictions that the local merchants were obliged to put up with – and eventually overcome.
Bland’s book, A Treatise of Military Discipline, was considered ‘the Bible of the British army when it was first published in 1727, long before he had set foot on the Rock. Its success must have influenced his thinking on how things ought to be run in what he understandably thought of as a military fortress. Bland’s obsequious dedication to his King is worth quoting:
‘Sir, I most humbly beg your Majesty’s pardon for laying this treatise at your feet; which I presume to do upon no other foundation, than that of my zeal for your service; and I hope, from your Majesty’s known goodness that you will be pleased to excuse its errors . . .’
Despite Bland’s best efforts Gibraltar continued without any form of self government. Proposals to introduce some sort of City Council were frequently discussed – especially after yet another annoying local complaint over some capricious regulation or the other, but nothing was ever done about it. One excuse was that there were not enough suitable civilians to take on the job, which was a less insulting way of saying that the locals were an uneducated rabble and really not up to the job. The other problem was cost. Nobody wanted to pay for a civil administration if it meant having to introduce any form of tax. Politically this meant that the only way the civilian population could give vent to their grievances was through the presentation of petitions and memorials.

Nevertheless and as in other colonial outposts the wealthier and more educated members of the non-British community were occasionally allowed to become very junior partners in the administrative structures of the town. A very select few were invited to prominent local military events and - at least outwardly - treated as semi-equals by their masters. 
There is little doubt that if a civil administration had been introduced alongside the military government by the late eighteenth century Gibraltar would have developed in a very different way. Before he left, Bland ordered two further head counts in 1753 and 1754. Not surprisingly both lists are almost identical. In round figures there were 400 British, 600 Genoese, a similar number of Jews, 180 Spaniards and a handful of other nationalities, a total of some 1800 inhabitants.

Both counts confirmed the failure of his ‘Gibraltar for the Protestants’ policy. The 1754 count does offer an additional titbit of information; there were over 400 Catholic children living in the town. This last statistic suggests that family life was starting to become a distinct possibility on the Rock. Additionally, the historian Thomas James offers an interesting postscript. When the ‘coast barks arrive in numbers to supply the place, then the Catholics increase.’ This, he wrote, has induced many ‘who have observed their return from mass’ to believe that there were many more Catholics living in Gibraltar than appeared on either census.
Thomas James ( see LINK ) was an eighteenth century historian of some repute. He produced a massive two volume opus about the Straits of Gibraltar and ‘those ports of Spain and Barbary that lie contiguous thereto.’ Known as The History of the Herculean Straits it was published in 1771 but his descriptions of Gibraltar were based on what he had seen of the place during a six year visit which coincided with Bland’s term of office. 

He was it would seem an admirer of the place. Gibraltar, he suggested, would prove ‘a very signal advantage’ to Britain and well worth the expense. It would become ‘a sure station for our ships of war, a safe retreat for our merchant ships, a refreshing place for both and a curb for the piratical states of the opposite Barbary shores’. A fifty percent prediction rate one would say.
Among his lengthy descriptions of the Rock and its fortifications there is hardly a mention of the local population. There is, however, a suggestion that dealings between the merchant classes and the military were still not always honest and above board. Whenever the two head clerks of victualling office were summoned to give a report on the state of the provisions in warehouses they were always required to do so under oath.

According to James in the 1750s the victualling stores had far more provisions than the Garrison would ever need – he gives a figure of over ten months stock – and employed nearly a hundred people - all of them British. The unstated implication was that even under such a stickler for the rule book as Bland there were always ways to make money illegally, in this case by the simple expedient of ordering far more goods for the Garrison than were actually required.
Describing the town he remarked on the red colour of the soil which began at Landport Gate and continued to the barranca near the new mole to the southward which was the place where criminals were executed. Town buildings were made from four kinds of materials, ‘stones from the hill, tapia, petrified sand, and a variety of shell from the bay’. A few were made of brick and the roofs were tiled and terraced although many of the upper rooms in houses used by non-British locals had no roofs. Some of the houses had mirandas, which commanded magnificent views of the Bay and of Spain and ‘Mauritania’. 

The few original Spanish properties which remained were two storied. They boasted patios with a profusion of lemon, orange or pomegranate trees growing within them. The outside walls were painted blue, yellow or black, or just whitewashed which seemed ‘perverse’ as the glare of the sun was enormous in such a sunny climate. Inside, the rooms were often ‘wainscoted, papered, stained, and painted as fancy led the inhabitants.’ It all sounds much nicer than it probably was.
As with all other Protestant visitors he could not resist having a go at the Catholic Cathedral, a place ‘where worship is performed therein according to the superstitious rites of the Church of Rome.’ Inside he found a place ‘where many lamps were burnt before the shrines on days of dedication and festivity. A great many amulets hang against the pillars and walls; silver legs, arms, pieces of cables, shirts and other such rubbish and trumpery’, can be found everywhere as offering to the saints.
The making of Gibraltar into a free port, was a ‘noble step’ in his opinion but he was well aware of how the authorities had undermined whatever advantages it might have brought to commerce in Gibraltar. ‘Alas’ he wrote, ‘the poor inhabitants and others groaned under the severe decrees of arbitrary power.’ Rather unexpectedly he suggests that any changes for the better should be credited to Colonel William Herbert - who was temporarily in command in 1752 - rather than to Bland. It was to this ‘good, wise and honest Governor’ that he attributed the ‘bending of the stubborn neck of oppression’ and the ‘total abolition of all monopolies.’
In one of the chapter with the title ‘Curious Incidents’ he suggests that Herbert’s actions had been instigated by the insistence of the officers of the Garrison. It seems that at a weekly mess meeting the officers had discussed the situation and had decided to draw up a memorial on the subject. This was done and the resulting letter was ‘left on the coffee-house room, for such officers in the Garrison to sign as pleased.’ 

James doesn’t tell us what happened after the memorial was presented to Herbert but from his previous comments it would appear that he must have done something about it. If this event actually did take place - and it almost certainly did as Thomas James himself was one of the signatories - it would mean that Bland, for all his rules and regulations never tackled this aspect of Gibraltar life as thoroughly as other historians would have us imagine.
In fact one gets the impression that Bland was not exactly a hands-on man. If Alexander Pope is reputed to have written his odes about nature with his back to the garden window then Bland almost certainly wrote his Articles well away from Gibraltar in the comfort of his London home. Whatever the case, he must have been away for much of his tenure. During the period from 1751 to 1754, Lord George Beauclerk, General Edward Braddock and the above mentioned Colonel Herbert were all temporarily in command while he was ‘on leave’.
Among other trivia James mentions that in 1752 it was so hot that people could hardly breathe and neighbours were seriously worried that their houses were on fire. There was a smell of sulphur all over the town and even the birds became so distressed that they flew into the houses presumably to try and avoid the heat of the sun. The following year yet another strange event took place. 

On a clear but sultry evening a ball of fire appeared unexpectedly out of the western sky and shot eastward at a tremendous speed. This strange eighteenth century UFO was described as a pale blue and white object which reminded one of flaming alcohol. Those who saw it thought it would hit the side of the Rock but it eventually missed Signal House by quite a bit and broke up into slivers of fire. The whole thing ended in an enormous explosion of such brightness ‘that a pin could be seen in the streets’.
In 1756 Bland was replaced by Lieutenant General Thomas Fowke and the British promptly lost Minorca. Admiral John Byng was blamed and subsequently court marshalled. As the British historian Garratt points out, they had picked the wrong man for the job. ‘A dull pompous fellow’ he owed his position entirely to the fact that he was his father’s son.’ The elder Admiral Byng had led the bombardment squadron during Admiral Rooke’s capture of Gibraltar.

Admiral John Byng

Historians writing with hindsight suggest that Gibraltar was as much to blame for the Admiral’s failure as his own incompetence. This rather sweeping statement is based on a series of conjectures the first of which is that Byng’s main defence during his court-martial was that he was worried that the loss of any of his ships to the French in Mahon would have mean exposing a weakened Garrison at Gibraltar.
The second was a more prosaic reason which highlights the general atmosphere of military decline and decay that prevailed on the Rock at the time. Byng had brought his ships to the Rock for re-fitting prior to setting off for Minorca. Unfortunately there were no proper docks in Gibraltar at that time. Even worse, he had been informed by the local storekeeper and the master shipwright that the ‘careening wharfs, storehouses, huts etc’ were entirely useless.

Ships were simply brought up against the wharves and half-hearted attempts were made to clean them. In fact according to Andrews the facilities in Gibraltar were not just ‘fantastically feeble’ but practically non-existent. For example there were no ‘sheer-hulks’ -old discarded ships cut down to the water-line - which were normally used to raise the ships for a proper cleaning of the hulls. It meant that the ‘refitting’ was essentially a sham and that Byng’s ships turned out to be far slower and less manoeuvrable than the French.

Byng also complained that 
there were few or no stores in the magazines of Gibraltar to supply any of the squadrons that may want them, 
which was probably not true as the stores always tended to be overstocked. Nor could he get anything repaired as there were ‘no artificers’ and he could get ‘no assistance from the carpenters of the fleet.’
Something that came out in his trial that had little to do with his lack of seamanship and everything to do with his greed was that Byng had taken for ever to get to himself to Gibraltar. He was accused, quite deservedly of ‘unnecessarily prolonging his journey by waiting and beating about’ hoping to pick up prizes. Making money was quite evidently the root not just of all evil but of almost any activity associated with the top brass of the British army and navy in those early days – especially if it had anything to do with Gibraltar.

Execution of Admiral Byng

Byng was eventually executed – almost certainly as Voltaire had suggested - pour encourager les autres. The Governor of Gibraltar Thomas Fowkes was not but he should have received a similar fate as he was equally responsible for the fiasco. He simply hadn’t provided the naval support that Byng had required. In the event he was arrested and taken to trial where he prepared his own defence in writing and allowed the Judge advocate to read it. He had two attorneys standing beside him as prompters throughout the proceedings.

Basically his defence alternated between saying that the orders he had received from London in the form of three separate letters were either contradictory or that they were incomprehensible. The court eventually found him guilty and suspended him from service for a year.

 The King followed it up by dismissing him altogether but later relented. Fowkes is still the only Governor of Gibraltar to ever have been court marshalled even though there were more than a few who probably would have deserved it far more than him. When Fowkes left the Rock for the last time he is reputed to have said with tears in his eyes that ‘he had been assured in his own mind that his bones would be laid in the Red Sands of Gibraltar.’
Lord Blakeney, the Governor of Minorca who actually surrendered the island to the French was left untarnished by the whole affair. But there were many who argued that his rather supine methods of command – he was 82 years old at the time – had been part of the problem. It was, they argued, 
. . . the duty of a governor to remain in one place to receive intelligence,’ but that did ‘not imply that it was his duty to remain inactive - much less to shut himself up in his own house.

Political cartoon on the loss of Minorca to the French

The loss of Minorca and the way it was lost had a big impact on Gibraltar; the immunity that British ships had enjoyed from the Barbary pirates was lost almost overnight. In the past such immunity had been based almost entirely on an appreciation of British sea-power. The loss of Minorca brought about a change of perception. On the other hand without Minorca the importance of Gibraltar as a naval base increased dramatically.
Demographic links between Minorca and Gibraltar also increased. The island had been captured in 1708 by Anglo-Dutch forces as a consequence of the War of the Spanish Succession, the same war that had led them to capture Gibraltar. The French recapture of the place after the Byng fiasco was short lived, however, and not long after their celebrated invention of mayonnaise the place was back in British hands. The new owners adopted an extremely harsh attitude towards the civilian population and the Minorcans left in droves.

Most went to Florida but a good number came to Gibraltar.  In 1782, during the War of Independence the Franco-Spanish forces retook the island only to lose it yet again sixteen years later during the French Revolutionary Wars. It was only in 1802 that the place was finally returned to the Spanish Crown by the Treaty of Amiens.  One small consequence of all these interruptions was that there were nearly two hundred people living in the Gibraltar in 1791 that were of Minorcan descent, the second largest Catholic ethnic group after the Genoese.

Old print of a woman from Minorca in national costume with the port of Mahon in the distance.
Fowke should perhaps have paid more attention to his predecessor when he took over as Governor. Bland – who must have been a busybody of the first water - didn’t just hand over the reins but left his successor with specific instructions on exactly what he had to do on just about everything – including the minutiae of everyday administration. He ordered him not to change any of his staff and in particular to retain his old secretary.  He also gave him due warning that under no circumstance should he even think about separating the offices of secretary and cashier as it would only lead to trouble and insisted that he should appoint a well known British resident as the person responsible for receiving those all important fees from the licensing of alcoholic drinks.
The freshly installed Fowke - Byng an invisible cloud somewhere in the future – felt confident enough to ignore Bland. He promptly appointed a man called Sebastian Puchol as Inspector of Revenue and as such in overall control of all that lovely wine and spirit money. It was an interesting choice. Puchol was from Minorca – as far as one can make out – and definitely not of British descent. Later, when Puchol asked for permission to buy a house, Fowke supported his request – which was in complete contravention of Bland’s Article 1.
List of salaries of the officers stationed in Gibraltar for the year 1750. Compare Bland's salary of £700 per annum with the £20000 Hargrave managed to make out of ground rents and wine duty during his term of office.