The People of Gibraltar
1779 - Lifted His Leg and Squirted Contempt

George Augustus Eliott and John Drinkwater - Admirals Rodney, Darby and Howe
Admiral Juan de Lángara and Prince William -  Colonel and Mrs Green
Captain Henry Lynch and Peter Lynch - Mary Ashbourn and McCarthy
Captain Fagg
General George Augustus Eliott, Governor of Gibraltar, had always maintained an excellent relationship with General Mendoza, his opposite number in Spain. On a hot day in July 1779 the Governor visited Mendoza to congratulate him on his promotion to a post elsewhere. It must have been an embarrassing moment as Mendoza already knew that war was about to be declared between the two countries whereas Eliott had not yet been informed. 

The ultra-courteous Mendoza offered Eliott a cup of hot chocolate, made some small talk about the weather and sent him and his officers packing as soon as it was politely possible to do so.  When they arrived back in Gibraltar they found the British consul in Tangier waiting for them with the latest news from London. Spain and Britain were at war.

Charles III, Catholic King of Spain, looks away from an imaginary representation of the Rock during the Great Siege

The Great Siege is still one of the most written about events in the history of Gibraltar. Much of the information comes from several officers of the garrison who wrote detailed accounts in the form of journals or diaries. The level of available detail as regards military matters has meant that many general histories of the Rock have tended to use the Siege as a center-piece. In modern works such as William Jackson’s Rock of the Gibraltarians or Maurice Harvey’s Gibraltar, ( see LINK ) complete chapters are dedicated to it. In Ernle Bradford’s Gibraltar it takes up a quarter of the book. Repetitiveness has made the event take on a life of its own.   
Of the various eye-witness journals written specifically about the Siege, John Drinkwater’s A History of the Late Siege of Gibraltar ( see LINK ) is perhaps the most famous and certainly the most quoted but many of the others are remarkably similar in content. In every one of them the Siege is described as one of the most brilliant episodes in British military history with every sortie, skirmish and exchange of cannon shots held up as shining examples of the bull-dog spirit of the British military man.

John Drinkwater Bethune. The one on the right appears to be a caricature, the one on the left a kinder portrait perhaps.
There were about four and a half thousand soldiers and slightly more than three thousand civilians in Gibraltar a few months before the Siege began. How many of the later actually stayed on during the Siege is very much open to conjecture but one would guess that at least two thousand did so, including women and children.
So much so that the first casualty of the war was a local woman. As noted by Drinkwater, ‘it was singular that a female should be the first person wounded in this remarkable siege.’ Another observer also noted that on the same day the ‘enemy, in an unprecedented manner, inhumanely fired at a clergyman performing a ceremony over the body of a diseased soldier.’ At least Drinkwater refrained from accusing the Spaniards of having specifically targeted a female.
Most of the troops were quartered in barracks to the south of the town. When reinforcements arrived, however, billet money was supplied to a number of officers so that they could hire lodgings from the inhabitants.  They were of course, able to choose the nicest places available with the result that that ‘many very elegant officers’ houses were interspersed among the houses of the locals.’ From complaints made to London after the Siege it is almost certain that most officers never paid out a penny of their billet money.
Effectively the Siege began in the late summer. The combined Spanish and French fleets began their blockade of the Rock after gathering an enormous army behind fortifications at La Linea . For nearly four years both the Garrison and the civilian population were brought to the brink of starvation. 

1779 Spanish map of the Lines. When the Spanish built the formidable forts of San Felipe and Santa Barbara they joined them together with a defensive wall which they called La Línea de la Contravalación. Behind it a ramshackle town slowly came into existence. Its inhabitants were mostly people catering for the needs of the enormous army manning these lines. In many ways much like what had happened in Gibraltar. When the forts were later destroyed by mutual consent during the Peninsular Wars the name became an anachronism.

By the late nineteenth century the community behind the lines became a proper town. In 1870 it was given the name of La Línea de la Concepción on the grounds that the Immaculate Conception was part of the traditions of the Spanish army that had played such an important part in its creation. Today it is commonly referred to as  La Línea (Unknown)       

1780 view from the top of the Rock of the Spanish Fortifications at La Linea
To anybody reading a history of the Great Siege it soon becomes obvious that every British protagonist who happens on the scene will always be described in glowing terms either as admirable human beings or as heroic military figures. This is true not just of those who lived through the Siege itself but also those who simply gave a helping hand.
In the later case, three of the principle protagonists were the Admirals Rodney, Darby and Howe. The almost out of proportion importance given to these three is understandable. The famous defense of Gibraltar would never have succeeded without them. All three were responsible for relieving the Garrison at strategically important moments in the conflict and their portrayal as sailors of genius is reinforced by reminders of their happy knack of being able to out-manoeuvre enemy squadrons with frightening regularity.
A difficult to interpret allegorical print showing Gibraltar in the background. The scales of justice seems to be weighing up the relative worth of the various nations and personalities  involved in the Siege. Rodney - labelled 4 - is the man in the hat with feathers. The fellow with the coins falling out of his pocket - labelled 7 - represents those who would do anything for money.

Rodney, for example, is reputed to have accepted the surrender of no less than four enemy admirals during his long career and was unquestionably an extremely able officer who deserved most of the accolades showered on him.  But he also had his faults. He was vain, intemperate, selfish and unscrupulous. Unstinting in his efforts at seeking out prize money – even when it was inappropriate to do so - he often used his lofty position in the Admiralty to push the fortunes of his family well beyond what was considered proper by his peers.
On one occasion he captured the Dutch island of St Eustatius during one of his many semi-legal forays into the Caribbean and then over-reached himself by confiscating every ounce of booty he could lay his hands on.  He then failed to take into account that some of it actually belonged to English merchants stationed on the island. They promptly took him to court and questions as to his behaviour were eventually brought up in Parliament.
It was also while he was at St Eustatius that he arbitrarily ordered all the local Jews to be deported to England forcing them to leave their wives and children stranded on the island. Adding to their humiliation he ordered his men to strip the lining of their coats to make absolutely sure that they were not taking any gold coins with them.

 The island of St. Eustatius taken by the English in February 1781 and pillaged by Rodney
There has often been speculation about the amount of time Rodney's spent enriching himself rather than using his ships to harry and  pursue the French Fleet. It has even been argued that if he had changed his priorities the outcome of the American War of Independence might have been different. In the end he never made any money out of St. Eustatius. Rodney's convoy carrying his loot back to England was intercepted by the ultra-brilliant French admiral, Picquet de la Motte. The value of his lost ill-gotten gains has been valued at well over 5 million pounds. He also lost no less than 26 of his ships.
Admiral George Brydges Rodney

Contemporary  satirical print - 'The overjoy of M. de. le. Motte. Piquet at the bringing of the St Eustacia Fleet into Brest' (  E. Hedges  )  

Rodney’s famous entry into Gibraltar with a huge convoy and several captured Spanish ships in tow are often described as an act of bravado; a buccaneering seaman achieving a difficult goal against all the odds. The reality was somewhat different. Rodney was in command of a fleet that was far more powerful than that of his enemies both in size and in quality. His captures were an isolated ship of the line and fifteen merchantmen that he happened to come across by chance on his way to the Rock. After the fiasco of St. Eustatius, Rodney needed all the kudos he could get.

A picture showing the aftermath of the Midnight Battle which did not take place in view of Gibraltar but is perhaps shown allegorically to commemorate his relief of the Rock  
( D. Serres )  
That isolated ship captured by Rodney - who was ill at the time and spent the whole battle resting in his bunk - has become the source of a much quoted anecdote. It was commanded by Admiral Juan de Lángara who was wounded during the battle. He and his ship were taken back to Gibraltar under the command of a young midshipman. 

When a convalescing Lángara came to pay his respects to the Governor he found out that the midshipman in question was the King’s son Prince William who would later become the ‘Sailor’ King, William IV. There isn’t a history of Gibraltar that does not mention the Spanish Admiral’s astonishment. 
Well does Great Britain merit the empire of the sea when the humblest stations in her navy are supported by Princes of the Blood.
Admiral Juan de Langara

The Siege according to La Gaceta de Madrid. On the left is Admiral Langara, on the right Barceló

Far less quoted but perhaps more interesting, is the fact that the Prince managed to get himself into a spot of local bother despite being chaperoned and shown the sights by the chief engineer, Colonel Green.

According to the Colonel's wife, early one morning the fifteen year old Prince was dragged off for a lengthy tour of the Rock including some scrambling around in Saint Michael's Cave. This was followed by what must have been an extraordinarily boring stroll through the gardens of the Mount - the official residence of the Chief Engineer

Later, happily left to his own devices, he managed to get himself involved in a brawl in one of the local pubs. It needed an official intervention by Rodney to get him released from custody. His rather lame excuse was that local Garrison soldiers had insulted the Royal Navy. It seems far more likely that he had been thoroughly fed up with all those endless lectures on the impregnability of Gibraltar’s bastions and it's unique flora and had thought to ease the pain with a few extra rations of grog.
Prince William. It is difficult to image this fellow being involved in a brawl
The young Prince did eventually make up for his misdemeanours by producing a detailed drawing of those self-same fortifications which he later presented to his father, George III. One wonders whether the King was impressed with his son’s ‘first naval essay’. Soon after the end of the American War of Independence George was quoted as saying that he ‘would wish if possible to be rid of Gibraltar’. He doubted – quite correctly in many ways - whether any peace would ever be complete without the Rock being back in Spanish hands.
The Spaniards incidentally soon avenged themselves of Rodney’s earlier victory when – despite the British admiral’s attentions - they captured East and West Indies convoys of more than sixty ships and their escorts. They were carrying cargoes worth two million pounds. The London merchants - many of whom were making a fortune supplying Gibraltar - were neither amused nor enamoured with Rodney when they received news of their ships being brought into Cadiz in triumph. 

Relieving Gibraltar may have been good for British moral; a loss of two million pounds was not. Unfortunately Rodney was not the kind of man to admit to any personal failings. On those occasions in which he actually lost a battle – and he did lose a few - he blamed it on the carelessness of his captains; which is what he did on this occasion.
Admiral George Darby on the other hand was a relative nonentity who had so far had a thoroughly uneventful career. His rise through the ranks was mostly due to his association with the ‘ludicrously inefficient’ and 'thoroughly corrupt' Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. As commented previously he was not a man with whom any association was something to be proud of. It was Sandwich who had suggested Rodney’s illegal attack on St. Eustatius.

Vice-Admiral George Darby with Gibraltar in the background.
Darby’s seamanship and judgement has been described elsewhere as mediocre at best and lethal at worst. His much admired relief of the Rock during the Siege came at a price that was far more than the Rock was worth. While he was busy re-provisioning in Gibraltar he was forced to relax his blockade of the port of Brest. The French Admiral de Grasse slipped out of the harbour, crossed the Atlantic and defeated the British squadron at Chesapeake Bay.
It ensured that British reinforcements were unable to help the British army in America and led to the surrender of General Cornwallis. It was the most significant defeat for the British Royal Navy in the almost 400 years. In fact it is the opinion of many a commentator that the Great Siege of Gibraltar was won at the expense of the American colonies. 

Late eighteenth century satirical print showing Britain regretting the loss of her American colonies, while France gloats and Spain blames the French for the failure to retake the Rock. Holland looks on impassively  ( J. Gillray )   

The British man of letters and born cynic Horace Walpole memorably misjudged Darby’s relief of the Rock in a letter to a friend. 
The Spanish fleet kept close to Cadiz ( but Darby ) lifted his leg and just squirted contempt on them.
The reality was that it was Darby who got thoroughly wet with his own ‘squirt’ - the wind had been blowing in the wrong direction.

Horace Walpole
To be fair Walpole normally tended towards sarcasm when referring to the Siege. He was, for example quite surprised at the ‘enormous profusion of housebreakers, highwaymen and footpads’ who were committing ‘the most wanton cruelties’ in London.  He thought that life in the capital should have been far safer ‘considering that the Siege had consumed half the reprobates’ of England. 

Those notorious ‘press-gangs’, he also thought, would have thinned their numbers’ to such an extent that there can’t have been too many of them left in the capital. Going out for dinner in London, he added as an afterthought, was far more dangerous than ‘going to the relief of Gibraltar.
Finally it was Admiral Richard Howe’s turn. It is difficult to judge just how good a seaman he was, but it was said that his uncommonly fast rise in the navy was entirely due to his grandmother, the Countess of Darlington and the mistress of George I.  His was the third and last relief of Gibraltar. He took advantage of a gale that scattered the Spanish fleet and sailed unopposed into the bay together with a large number of merchant ships. 

The Duke of Richmond in a long-winded speech in the House of Lords was adamant; Gibraltar had been saved not by the Governor, General Eliott or anybody else for that matter but ’chiefly by Lord Howe’. He may have had a point but the Admiral’s luck deserted him a short time later. His squadron had a rough time when the Spaniards finally managed to take him on - this time on their own terms.

Admiral Richard Howe’s relief of Gibraltar (Richard Paton)   

 A rather inaccurate picture showing the combined French and Spanish fleet taking on Admiral Howe in the Bay of Gibraltar which they never managed to enter.

 Satirical print of Lord Howe's Relief  ( Unknown )  

Howe’s sailors had given him the nickname of Black Dick both because of his swarthy complexion and his perpetual bad temper. His superiors were under the illusion that he was revered by his sailors - to such an extent that when somebody was required to talk to the men during the great mutiny at Spithead the Admiralty asked him to do so. His friends were swift to give him credit for his handling of a surprisingly successful outcome to the negotiations. His enemies on the other hand were quick to point out that he had given in to every one of the mutineers’ demands.

A contemporary cartoon showing the mutineers that Howe had to negotiate with. They were known as The Delegates in Council, or Beggars on Horseback
There was a small coda to Howe’s successful relief of the Garrison. One of the ships in the convoy, carrying ‘the women and baggage’ of several regiments on board was dismasted and captured by the Spanish. Two months later ‘a flag of truce arrived and about 150 women taken in the brig,’ were returned to Gibraltar. 

As a modern historian observed the Spanish authorities despatched these troublesome wives and partners with a ‘genial shrug of their shoulders and complete understanding.’ In Gibraltar the authorities were rather less considerate. Before being allowed to return to their husbands, the women were all made to report to the naval hospital ‘where some few were detained by the faculty as exceptional’ or as somebody else put it, the great majority were found to be ‘disordered’.

Admiral Richard Howe. It is doubtful whether he enjoyed having his portrait taken

Rodney, Darby and Howe, and in fact the whole of the Royal Navy did have one big advantage during the late eighteenth century that had little to do with their own personal courage or genius. Most of their ships were copper-bottomed. This method of protecting the under-water hull through the use of copper plates was pioneered by the British in 1761 and twenty years later, The London Magazine records that it was by then a common feature on all British warships.
It was meant to defend the ships’ wooden planking against attack by shipworms - actually a type of bivalve clam - and to reduce infestations by barnacles. The aim was to allow ships to stay out at sea for longer periods of time without needing to come into port to have their hulls cleaned – in itself a huge advantage as more ships were always available to tackle the enemy at any given moment.
An additional side effect that had not been foreseen was that it also reduced the growth of weeds on the hulls and radically increased a ship’s speed and manoeuvrability. It gave British captains an enormous advantage over those of other nations whose seamen were probably just as good as they were but did not have copper-bottomed ships. But there was one disadvantage. The additional time at sea significantly altered the rhythm and difficulty of the work of the seamen. This increase in workload was one of the main reasons for the Spithead and Nore mutinies

Part of a poem written in 1789 by the Baroness Elizabeth Craven, an English beauty of the day. She based her poem on a manuscript written by a French officer who took part in the Siege on the Spanish side. The poem pokes fun at the poor Frenchman but the reference to copper-bottom boats is curious.
Nevertheless the British were offered a decent challenge from their enemies. As the Siege wore on, Vice-Admiral Antonio Barceló became probably the most notable – certainly the most memorable - of the Spanish naval commanders. He was a tough and uncompromising sailor who had come up through the ranks mainly on the back of his relentless actions against the Algerian corsairs that infested the Spanish coasts.

Admiral Barceló bombarding Algiers
He was a rough and ready man, supposedly popular with his sailors, and reputed to be unable to sign his own name. During the Siege his gunboats proved to be one of the most effective weapons against the British. He received scant help from any of the other Spanish naval commanders and on their own the gunboats proved incapable of stopping the large British fleets sent to supply the Rock.
Admiral Antonio Barceló: an illiterate lover of good food who also happened to be a very good sailor.
The amount of damage and the considerable cost incurred by Barcelo’s gunboats has perhaps never been properly acknowledged. Many years later, Captain Thomas Dodd, Secretary to the Governor suggested that Britain should build a few of their own. ‘The mischief done last war and during the siege by the Spanish Gun boats’ he wrote in his report, ‘is incredible. They crippled our Frigates and harassed and destroyed our Trade.’

In Cadiz they said of him;
'Si el Rey de España tuviese Cuatro como Barceló,Gibraltar fuera de España, Que de los ingleses no'.

 Published in the mid 19th century in a Spanish magazine as a tribute to Admiral Barcelo, the above picture pinpoints some of the most important areas of the Rock at the time.

One way or the other, Rodney and his colleagues contributed enormously to the success of the British defence by delivering relief convoys to Gibraltar exactly when they were most needed. Rodney managed to break the blockade and reach Gibraltar in the spring of 1780, bringing reinforcements and an abundance of supplies. In 1781 Darby's squadron entered the bay of Gibraltar escorting 100 store ships from England laden with food and other produce. The next year it was Howe’s turn.
These well documented reliefs, however, were not the only ones that kept the Garrison and population alive during the four odd years of the Siege. As soon as the hostilities began, the Governor, following the advice of his naval commanders, issued letters of marque to numerous local privateers, who ‘immediately went out and captured some small prizes, with wine, brandy, and other necessaries, that will be much wanted;’ a curious insight into what many British officers and others - believed to be ‘much wanted’ provisions.

1779 View of the Rock and surrounding area  ( Unknown Spanish artist )
One man who seems to have kept a very watchful eye on boats entering and leaving Gibraltar during the siege was Samuel Ancell, ( see LINK ) a soldier and writer who served as an army clerk during the Siege. His book, A Circumstantial Journal of the Long and Tedious Blockade and Siege of Gibraltar takes the form of a series of revealing letters from the author to his brother in England.
His account is full of references concerning prizes brought in by local privateers. On one occasion, Ancell wrote, local seamen captured a Dutch vessel bound from Amsterdam to Malaga with what one would imagine was quite a useful cargo of wheat and cheese which was duly sold to the Governor for £50. On another a schooner from Larache laden with livestock and Corsican soldiers arrived in port. The provisions were the property of the master of a vessel that had been forced to put into Larache to avoid being taken by the Spaniards. Described as a native of Gibraltar he was yet another local trader doing his bit for the war effort.
Yet another army officer and diary keeper was John Spilsbury ( see LINK ) who later published his own Journal of the Siege of Gibraltar.  Spilsbury mentions in passing the presence of a ‘Jew’s boat’ which suggests that it was a well-known fixture in the port. Another xebec called the Succéss owned by another Jewish businessman was also very active during the 1780s.
Spilsbury, however, notes with disapproval that the Jewish owners of these boats were paid good money for their efforts. It is perhaps a good example of the kind of selective criticism which just about every history of the Siege is peppered with. Many privateers commanded by British captains also thought it worth their while to run the gauntlet of Spanish gunboats to land supplies in Gibraltar. That they were just as much in it for the money as the Jews is self-evident yet rarely stated. On the contrary, those that are mentioned are invariably treated as if they were heroes.
People like the mariner Captain Henry Lynch, for example, seem to have been able to get through the blockade with either of his two xebecs the ‘Traytal’ and the ‘Flying Fish’ with relative ease. Lynch, who described himself as from ‘Galloway in the Kingdom of Ireland’, was an unusual blockade runner in that most of the cargo he brought with him from Britain was ordinance for the Garrison rather than food supplies.
His fame was such that some people in Gibraltar still think that a small alley in town called ‘Lynch’s Lane’ was named after him – it was actually named after yet another rich British merchant called Peter Lynch who would never have soiled his hands commanding a privateer. As a coincidence Henry Lynch was one of the beneficiaries of the various houses, lands and tenements owned by the previously mentioned Mary Ashbourn. ( see LINK ) She described him in her will as ‘my well beloved friend.’ He was obviously doing very well both on land and at sea.
Admiral Barceló and his gunboats may always have managed to make life difficult for ships trying to break the blockade, but privateers bringing in captured ships and supplies were a constant feature throughout the Siege. Most were manned by local Genoese crews even if many of the owners of the ships were profiteering local British residents. During peacetime local seamen had learned their lessons well. They had become quite adept at escorting smugglers in and out of Gibraltar in order to protect them against capture by Spanish revenue cutters.

Barceló's gunboats in action. This rather peaceful looking picture suggests that the boats were taking on a privateer rather than the Royal  Navy. ( John Mace )

 View of the Spanish Batteries ( 1780s -  Roberts )   ( see LINK

One local owner of these ships, a certain Mr. Anderson, must have made a fortune out of the war. His ships are recorded as specialising in intercepting Spanish ships laden with produce. On one occasion Mr. Anderson felt confident enough to offer to send one of his ships to Barbary in order to bring in much needed food if the Governor promised to go halves with him on the costs. For some reason his offer was refused.
The risks of course were considerable and not all privateers had it all their own way. The Doloris, owned by a local called McCarthy was taken by the Spaniards while trying to enter the port with supplies from Algiers. Another trying her luck all the way from Belfast was waylaid by the Spaniards and ran aground near the Devil’s Tower losing all her cargo and most of her crew. These British blockade runners dealt in small luxury food items such as turkeys, chickens and exotic fruits, anything that would guarantee them a high price. They were the kind of goods that would end up on the well laid tables of the military elite.

Official propaganda was loath to accept that British merchants were actually making money out of the Siege. Here is the authorised version - a ship from Lisbon battling against the odds to bring in fruit for the sick  ( Unknown )    
The larger Gibraltar vessels were all owned by British residents who could rarely be accused of being overly patriotic. ‘Doubtful captures’ – in other words ships that had been taken by acts of piracy – were not brought into Gibraltar with their much needed provisions but were taken to various ports along the Italian coasts where they were conveniently but erroneously condemned as war prizes with the connivance of dishonest British vice-consuls. It was also by no means unusual for one British privateer to be boarded by another and the booty and prize sold as far away from Gibraltar as possible.
To make matters worse, tales of purely British privateers bringing in supplies are usually dealt with as the stuff of school-boy adventure stories - despite the fact that most of these boats were run by men who were only in it for the money.  Perhaps the most famous of all the British privateers was the already mentioned Captain Fagg and his 24 gun cutter called the ‘Buck’. With a little help from the batteries of the fortress, his brilliant seamanship and a ship that was more maneuverable than anything that the Spaniards had at their disposal Fagg made it through the blockade.

The not quite so heroic Captain Fagg and his ship the Buck

The story goes that after having been warned about the difficulty of trying to get into Gibraltar Fagg had replied with a rhetorical question. Was there, he asked, enough room for a coach and six to get in? There was and he did. This little tale of derring-do is rarely left out of any history of Gibraltar. In fact in some it occupies a prominence out of all proportion to its importance. In Bradford’s history of the Fortress it takes up all of three pages. The reason, of course, is because it encapsulates the image of the daring British underdog overcoming a superior enemy against all odds; the perfect allegory for the Siege itself. 
Unfortunately the story is not quite as clear-cut as it is made out to be, nor does it have a happy ending. Fagg, far from bringing in any provisions had taken the risk of breaking the blockade because he was in desperate need of them himself. According to Spilsbury, Fagg was totally unaware that Gibraltar was under siege; he only took the risk of coming in because he was down to his last tin of ’biscuits’.
In any case, worse was to follow. When Fagg ‘drove his coach and six’ back into the Mediterranean after the Buck had been generously allowed to be refitted, he was overhauled by a French frigate with a captain who happened to be an even better seaman that Fagg. The Frenchman damaged the Buck with several broadsides, Fagg surrendered and his ship was taken as a prize. She avoided the final indignity by sinking before she could be brought into a French port. There is no news as to what happened to Captain Fagg.

Although this picture is dated 1780 it seems to represent the Rock a few years before the Great Siege began   ( John Mace )