The People of Gibraltar
1779 - Half the Reprobates of England

William Green and George Augustus Eliott - Ellis Cornelia Knight
Lieutenant Koehler and Mrs Green - Ince and Baron Munchhausen
Samuel Seldon and Lewis Littlepage - Roger Curtis  and Mr. Logie 
Antonio Smilie  and Mrs Upton - Antonio Armente and Signor Leonetti
Mr Maxwell and Col Cochrane  - Captain Witham and Admiral Darby.
Historically Gibraltar has always proved impossible to defeat by siege, blockade or direct attack as long as its fortifications were in an adequate shape, its defenders had command of the sea and its overall commander was the kind of man who would be prepared to stick it out for as long as it took.
During the Great Siege Colonel William Green had made sure of the first and the Royal Navy and its Admirals – (see LINK) as well as the odd local privateer - ensured that the second requirement would also be well covered. As regards the third, few could have picked a better man than General George Augustus Eliott.
Sir Joshua Reynolds painting of Eliott as Lord Heathfield, keys of Gibraltar to hand. Constable is reputed to have said that the picture was ‘almost a history of the defence of Gibraltar’ - Lieutenant George Koehler’s famous invention – the gun with a depressing carriage - is shown on the background. A modern art historian on the other hand claimed it had religious meaning – the keys were actually those to the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet another critic – James Barry - suggested it was ‘of such extraordinary merit as to have silenced instead of exciting envy.’ He then ruined this rather ambiguous compliment with a real back-hander – it would have been a really great painting if it had been executed full-length
Eliott is by far the most memorable character of the Siege. He was an ascetic, a vegetarian and a teetotaller although his much vaunted abstemiousness may not have been from choice – he suffered badly from gout. Ironically, many years after his triumph in Gibraltar he retired to Aachen in Germany where he died of palsy, allegedly brought on by drinking too much of the local mineral water.
He never slept more than four hours a day, was always up at the crack of dawn and was something of a health freak. Keen on exercise he thought nothing of leading his troops on forced marches around the Rock in the middle of summer. As one of his subordinates predicted, it would not prove easy to starve such a man into surrender. He was right.
Intellectually Elliot was also up to the task. He had studied both in France and at the University of Leyden, had served in the Prussian Army and spoke fluent German and French. He was a man admired by friend and foe alike. From the army's point of view, however, he was an 'eager beaver,' and an absolute nuisance. He was also the kind of Scot that Englishmen tended to detest.
Descriptions of Eliott are almost unfailingly reverential and the various quotes attributed to him are all either complimentary or humorous. The source of many of these are taken from the memoirs of Ellis Cornelia Knight, (see LINK) an English writer and painter who seems to have been on nodding terms with just about every well known person of her era. She was a lady-in-waiting to Princess Charlotte of Wales and a friend to Johnson, Burke, Reynolds, Goldsmith, Pitt, Charles X of France, the Hamilton family in Naples and of course Nelson. In fact Miss Knight celebrated the admiral’s later victories in such patriotic verse, that she was often referred to as ‘Nelson's poet laureate’.

Ellis Cornelia Knight
She also counted among her acquaintances the young Lieutenant Koehler, General Eliott's aide-de-camp during the Siege of Gibraltar and it is from him that she gleaned a series of anecdotes about Eliott that she included in her memoirs.
Eliott, despite his penchant for eating vegetables – as well as ‘milk, puddings and farinaceous food’ - did not force his preferences on his diner guests at the Convent. He was, it seems ;
 . . . particularly attentive to procure for his officers every comfort in his power, and his own table was always remarkably elegant and agreeable. 
Whenever he gave ‘grand dinners after reviewing the regiments’, he often insisted that the tables be decorated with ‘columns of hoops covered with canvas, all wreathed round with natural flowers’; all this of course before the blockade had started to bite.
He also owned a good library, ‘and passed a portion of every evening reading the works of ancient authors, particularly Caesar's Commentaries.’ He also seems to have fancied himself as something of an amateur poet. A great favourite was a parody on the old song of the Vicar of Bray apparently of his own creation and which he was often found humming to himself; 
And this is law I will maintain
My tune it ne’er shall alter                                                                                         
That whosoe'er is King of Spain                                                                                        
We will keep Gibraltar.
It was not, as Miss Ellis Knight points out, ‘the only poetical effusion of the gallant general’. He also composed the following lines on a young lady who died as a consequence of dancing too much and drinking too much ‘lemonade’.

Do you know who's gone away?
Do you know who's gone away?
The masquerade and lemonade
Have done for Jenny Conway

‘Away’ or ‘Conway’ must have been pronounced differently in those days. Either that or the General was simply not as good a poet as he was a soldier.

There are also several anecdotes about certain less than earth-shattering events which took place during the Siege itself. One or two of them hint at Divine intervention – others may be apocryphal. One evening in the middle of a long drought that had dried up much of the water supply on the Rock one of Eliott’s officers was taking a walk through the gardens of the Convent when he realised that most of the plants in it would soon be dead through want of water. Being a remarkably devout man, the officer began to pray for rain. 

Suddenly a shell from the enemy flew over his head and struck the ground a few yards' distance from him.  ‘Instantly a plentiful stream of water gushed forth’ which sufficed for the entire garden and never failed them’ throughout the Siege.
On another occasion, a few days before an imminent attack by sea, General Eliott was taking a leisurely stroll with two of his aides-de-camp. It was ‘a little after midnight’ and they were discussing various defensive possibilities.  Suddenly ‘a ball of fire sprang from behind a certain part of the Rock and fell into the sea’. According to Koehler, Eliott raised ‘his hand with characteristic vivacity’. ’ I accept the omen’, he exclaimed waving his hands ‘like a Roman of the ancient times’.  

Koehler went on to claim that ‘it was afterwards ascertained that the spot where the meteor first appeared was the site of the batteries that destroyed the ships, and that the spot where it fell was ‘the exact part of the bay in which those ships were moored’.
The ‘depressing-carriage’ gun,  Lieutenant Koehler’s great invention. It allowed the artillery to bear on the Spanish lines lying well beneath them. According to Drinkwater, it was ‘highly approved of by the Governor and other officers.’

There are however several comments from other writers that show a rather less attractive side to Eliott's character. During the Siege smallpox broke out in town on at least two occasions. The first occurred among the Jewish population and was more or less contained when Eliott imposed strict quarantine measures. The second proved less easy to control. The chief engineer’s wife, Mrs. Green (see LINK) kept a diary during this period. According to her the smallpox raged ‘greatly and has got among all the regiments.’ Her doctor appealed to Eliott to allow him to administer inoculations against the disease – Edward Jenner’s vaccination was still in the future. The Governor refused and the death rate increased especially among the children.
A fortnight later Mrs Green was in even greater despair: ‘we hear,’ she wrote, ‘that a great person in the garrison says he thinks it a fortunate circumstance to those soldiers who have large families to lose three or four children.’ The ‘great person’ was of course Eliott. 

Mrs Green's husband, William Green. From a portrait now hanging in the Convent. He was a colonel at the time
Reading between the lines Eliott was not the absolute paragon of military virtue and understanding that many a commentator would have us believe. Spilsbury (see LINK) criticizes him for ordering the men to work at night during the excavations of the Rock that were carried out by Sergeant-Major Ince and his Company of Soldier Artificers. The reason given by the Governor was that there should always be somebody on the alert in case they were attacked. It was a poor excuse. As Spilsbury argued , if that was so ‘how come their arms were left in Southward?

Eliott seemed to have realised that his orders were somewhat illogical and offered another rational: the work, he suggested, was very tiring so it was best for half the men to work while the other half slept. What he failed to take into account was the fact that anybody caught sleeping at whatever time of the day was invariably put on a charge.
The Governor also arrested an officer who failed to carry out what he considered to be a Garrison Order. This was unfair as Eliott seemed to expect all Garrison Orders to be obeyed even if they were not written down specifically in the guard book. This not only required a good memory, but was paradoxically also contrary to another Garrison Order issued by the Governor himself ‘which said that the Town Major shall see all orders relating to the guard wrote in their book of orders.’

 A similar perspective but showing King's Bastion on the bottom left in action against the Spanish and French fleet

Spilsbury isn’t the only one to question some of the Governor’s actions. According to another observer, even though he knew of the effect that Barceló’s gunboats were having on the civilian population he ‘paid little regard as little or no damage had been done by them and he did not deem it prudent or worthwhile to expend ammunition on them.’ Later, but not before several people were killed and the gunboats began to bombard the place during the night, he finally retaliated by shelling the Spanish camp at the Orange Grove.

British artillery shelling the Spanish lines
Most historians, caught up in their descriptions of the war and its effects on the soldiers and their officers - as well as in the euphoria of their final victory – never seem to find the time to tell us what made Eliott tick. Samuel Ancell (see LINK) is perhaps the only one who gives us an insight into what drove the man. ‘It seems as if he always had his eye on the gallant Lewis de Velasco who maintained his station to the last extremity.’  At first sight Velasco was an unlikely man for Eliott to pick as his ideal of a commander under siege. For a start he was Spanish.
Yet Eliott could have done worse. Velasco was already a veteran when he ended up in command of Havana’s Morro Fortress when it came under attack by the British.  His personal bravery kept up the moral of his garrison of whom less than half survived the continual bombardments and repeated assaults.
The story goes that when Velasco was wounded and the surgeons were operating in an attempt to save his life, the British ordered their troops to remain silent. Velasco didn’t make it but his name became a bye-word for bravery and leadership, not just with the Spanish but also with the British forces. Eliott happened to be second in command during the attack on Morro Fortress.
Bombardment of Morro Fortress, Cuba    ( Richard Patton )
Cuba actually had some rather happy memories for the Governor: he made a huge fortune from the prize money awarded for capturing Havana – most of it not altogether above board - which he then used to buy himself a large estate in the village of Heathfield in Sussex.
Of the more war-like themes dealt with by British historians of the Great Siege there are two that stand out. The first is an event that has gone down in history as ‘The Sortie’. (See LINK) Two or so years into the Siege, the British carried out a daring raid behind the Spanish lines. A large number of enemy soldiers were killed and millions of pounds worth of damage were done to their stores and equipment. 

 Unidentified British officers planning the 'Great Sortie' probably in the Convent.

The event became so famous throughout Britain and Europe that it was often incorporated into works of fiction. Rudolf Erich Raspe in his tongue-in-cheek ‘biography’ of Baron Munchhausen claimed that the whole affair was the brain-child of his unlikely hero who 'dressed in the habits of a Popish priest', was actually responsible for stealing across the enemy lines and blowing up their guns.
Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Munchhausen – aka – Baron Munchhausen
The sortie was nevertheless an exceptional military exploit within a remarkable British triumph.  In fact its success assumed such exaggerated importance at the time that many at home in Britain were convinced that the Spaniards had been completely routed and that the Siege had come to an end. 

This picture seems to encapsulate the fiasco - at least from a Spanish and French point of view -  known to posterity as 'The Sortie'   

Yet another drawing of the Sortie by an unknown artist in the patio of the Convent. The fellows with the tall hats are probably grenadiers   ( Late 19th century - John Marshsman) 
Such was the case of an Irishman, Samuel Seldon, trying his luck at a spot of blockade-running shortly after the event. Sailing his ship the Governor Elliot towards Gibraltar the captain continued his course until he came up opposite the Spanish batteries. When the officer on duty challenged him he answered in English. He was, he said, from Cork. His reply was met by thunderous gunfire from the enemy. Realizing his mistake, the Irishman moved hastily away and only just managed to escape to the safety of the old mole.
When asked by the British authorities why on earth he had tried to anchor so close to the Spanish lines the Captain was unabashed. He had heard, he answered in an incomprehensible southern Irish brogue, that the British had carried out a sortie that had completely burnt down the Spanish batteries and spiked all their guns. He thought he would be able to anchor safely anywhere in the Bay.
The Sortie with the Governor George Eliott center stage and no sign of Baron Munchausen. Although the picture honours Eliott and the triumph of the Sortie it can also be interpreted as a tribute to the man lying at its centre. Captain Jose Balzan a Spanish artillery Captain who was mortally wounded while defending the fort of San Carlos on his own after his troops had abandoned him. 'No sir, no,' he is reputed to have said to Eliott. 'Leave me. Let me perish amidst the ruins of my post. At least one Spaniard will die honourably.' Overall the picture is a ringing endorsement of British genius. The success of a military engagement against overwhelming odds, the cowardice of an enemy who runs away, and the humanity of the British commander at the moment of victory. Unfortunately the central story is almost certainly a myth  ( John Trumbull )  
In general terms most authors consciously or sub-consciously seem to have perceived the Siege as a triumph of Protestant values against those of corrupt Catholic adversaries. The defence of the Rock by the British was morally magnificent, the strategy and tactics of the enemy a combination of the spineless and the incompetent.
They may have had a point as regards Catholic incompetence. In sharp contrast to the many tales of British successes the Spanish and French forces stand accused of having attempted one of the most inept strategies ever seen in battle. The official name given to this piece of ineptitude is the Grand Assault. Everybody else knows it as the affair of the ‘Floating Batteries’. It was a fancy name given to an armada of ships supposedly unsinkable and fireproof and which proved to be neither one nor the other.
British accounts of this cringe-worthy debacle understandably attribute most of the honour for sinking these ships to the unerring aim of their own gunners and the ingenious idea of using red hot shot. 

Savage satirical engraving   ( 1783 T. Colley ) 

A separate account by Chevalier D'Arçon – the Frenchman responsible for the idea in the first place – may just possibly be more correct if only because it confirms the sheer ineffectiveness of the Franco-Spanish commanders.

Jean Claude Eleonor Le Michaud d’Arcon
Desperate to make a breakthrough after years of failure the Spanish authorities in Madrid had set up a competition for anybody who could come up with a plan for ‘a method to reduce Gibraltar’. It was open to anybody and every military crank in Europe sent in his suggestion. Each one of them was more harebrained than the next.
To give one a flavour of the kind of plans submitted there was one proposal that recommended the erection of a mountain higher than Gibraltar from which the Franco-Spanish forces would be able to dominate the Rock. The author of this plan had calculated the total amount of cubic yards of earth and man-hours required to carry out his project. He asserted that his scheme was more economical than prolonging the siege in the conventional way - and he may well have been correct.

One of the suggestions sent to Madrid as ‘a method to reduce Gibraltar ( Unknown )

 Here is another suggestion ( J.T. Machon )   

This plan entailed the sinking of specially designed ships to provide a barrier against enemy ships       ( Unknown )    

  A difficult to understand proposal   (Pedro Santiago de Amabiscar)   

 Another impossible extravaganza (Alonso de Lozada )   

A rather more rational approach which approximates the floating batteries concept
 ( Unknown )     

Forerunner of the floating batteries idea ( Unknown )                  

Another forerunner of  the winner's suggestion  ( Unknown )   

Yet another plan this time by somebody who describes himself as a 'Mariscal de Campo y Coronel de Artilleria'  ( Joseph Dattoli )      

The one that might have done the trick. Invading England ( Unknown )

But it was d'Arçon and his ‘floating batteries’ idea that won the competition. According to the Chevalier the reason that his plan failed had more to do with bad luck and a series of dreadful in-house decisions than anything that the British had actually come up with.

Elliot telling his men what to expect with a rather unconvincing Rock of Gibraltar as a background. The officer in the picture from which this engraving was taken does not look at all like Eliott   ( C. M. Metz )   
It was d’Arcon's contention that one of the floating batteries – the Talla Piedra – was set on fire by a rather ‘lucky’ shot. Somebody then immediately took the absurd decision to abandon the attack and to set fire to the rest of the batteries. The order was so ill-timed and ‘so badly executed, that several of the batteries ‘were set on fire before the crews had evacuated them.’  It was the final indignity. By 1783 the enemy forces had given up any hope of taking the Rock and retired after more than three and a half years of ineffectual conflict.

Perhaps one of the lesser known of the many contemporary and not so contemporary pictures of the ill fated ‘floating batteries’. The painter looks down on King’s Bastion and a heavily damaged town. The soldiers on the bottom left of the picture are marching up what is left of Main Street.
Not all the casualties of the floating batteries fiasco were Spanish. Lewis Littlepage an American who had once been Polish Ambassador to Russia had made the regrettable mistake of volunteering to join the expedition of the Duc de Crillon against Minorca in 1782. He then compounded his error by accompanying the Prince of Nassau Siegen to the siege of Gibraltar where he was blown into the sea while manning one of the batteries. Luckily he was saved by British sailors.
Later as he watched the floating batteries burn Eliott is reputed to have turned away with a rather whimsical expression on his face. ‘They will make us pay for them’ he said to nobody in particular, ‘for they have a hundred thousand witnesses to prove that it was we who set them on fire.’ As he walked up and down, watching the conflagration, ‘he caught himself humming one of his favourite airs: 'Le matelot brule au milieu des flots.’ He was referring to the crowds that had gathered that day to watch the outcome of the battle from the hills above Algeciras.

 Eliott looks on as the floating batteries burn.'Le matelot brule au milieu des flots.’ ( George Carter )  
Eliott will also have noticed that a certain Captain Roger Curtis and a handful of sailors had set out in small boats and were now in among the burning batteries. They would spend most of the night risking their lives trying to rescuing as many of the enemy as possible.

The gallant Roger Curtis rescuing sailors from the burning batteries. Perhaps Littlepage was one of them  ( C. M. Metz  )   

Scene before Gibraltar on the morning of the 14th of September 1782. This is part of an enormous picture painted more or less in the style of Goya with the heroic Roger Curtis holding center stage  ( James Jefferys )
Curtis was an unusual character as well as a good case study of how inadvisable it was for anybody to show respect for people that the British establishment of the day thought were not deserving of it. He was eventually promoted to vice-admiral but was rarely accepted by his peers. A contemporary Captain once said of him that he was;
an artful, sneeking creature, whose fawning insinuating manners creeps into the confidence of whoever he attacks and whose rapacity wou'd grasp all honours and all profits that come within his view.
This over-the-top antipathy was not deserved. As a young lieutenant he spent several years operating off Newfoundland and soon formed a very good opinion of the native population. He found them a peaceful and attractive people, an opinion that did not go down well with his superiors.
In 1778 he quite rightly refused to sail to the Far East probably under orders to join Rodney on his continuing illegal activities in this part of the world. It earned him the life-long enmity of Lord Sandwich. A year or so afterwards his ship was attacked by a large Spanish squadron off Minorca and was he forced to take refuge here. His refusal to leave the port and attack enemy shipping was later criticized by his second-in-command. The man was unaware that Curtis was waiting for a 25 ship convoy. When it arrived he bravely escorted it to Gibraltar bringing in much needed supplies.
This particular relief of the Rock is rarely – if ever – given any prominence in any history of Gibraltar. One of the reasons is that Curtis arrived shortly after Darby and his much larger fleet. Curtis however, did manage to land all his provisions something that Darby signally failed to do. He also stayed there. As regards Gibraltar itself, Curtis was personally opposed to his county’s possession of the Rock. It was an opinion that would hardly have gone down well under the circumstances. Yet Nelson - who knew him well - described him as ‘an able officer and conciliating man.’

A curious engraving rather unusually dedicated in equal measure to both Elliot and Curtis. The fellow standing and holding up his sword is presumably Curtis.Only one person is shown as being saved from the sea ( Robertson )  

Vice-admiral Sir Roger Curtis
The story of the floating batteries, however, has lived on  . . . and on . .  to the extent of having become a cliché of the Great Siege. Even before the war had ended more than one person in Britain had been forced to put up with more than enough of it. One late evening in Streatham during the summer of 1782 Dr. Samuel Johnson and his female friend Hester Lynch Piozzi were having a meal with a couple of Quakers one of whom attempted to regale his companions with a story about red-hot cannonballs being ’thrown with amazing dexterity.’
After a while Dr. Johnson turned towards the raconteur and fixed him with a cold stare. ‘I would advise you sir’, he said with a growl, 
. . . never to relate this story again; you can scarcely imagine how very poor a figure you make in the telling of it.
The Destruction of the Floating Batteries at the Siege of Gibraltar by John Singleton Copley. It was said that sixty thousand people came to see this picture when it was first exhibited - which according to Arnold’s Magazine of Fine Arts was ‘an instance perhaps not to be paralleled by any age or nations.’

Engraving by William Sharp of the above picture
Reliefs, privateers and other methods non-withstanding, when relations with Spain made it impossible to bring in fresh produce from the mainland arrangements had to be made to have as much as possible brought in from the usual source – Barbary. The success or otherwise of these arrangements always depended almost entirely on the powers of persuasion of whoever happened to be the British consul in Tangier. At the start of the hostilities the man in question was a Mr. Logie – the diplomat who had brought Eliott the bad news after his visit to Mendoza. ( see LINK ) It was his job to ensure Britain’s good relationship with the Sultan of Morocco.
Al’ Alawi Muhammed III Sultan of Morocco up to 1790 may have been the man that Logie had to deal with.
Well before the start of the Siege, the Spaniards had done everything possible to ruin Logie’s already precarious position in Tangier. The Spaniards’ success was achieved by ‘bribing’ the Sultan. The British, of course, never paid out ‘bribes’. They gave the Sultan ‘presents’.
Every so often Logie would return to Gibraltar in order to – as Alan Andrews put it – ‘arrange for further baksheesh’ not just in hard cash but also in the shape of military ordinance which the Sultan was always perpetually in need of. As the British also used Tangier as a sort of post office for all communications between Gibraltar and London, Logie often also took on the role of messenger boy for all despatches between Eliott and the Secretary of State.
On one occasion he was returning home from Gibraltar aboard a Moorish galley when the boat was intercepted by a Spanish warship. Showing great presence of mind he cut a loaf of bread in half, scooped out the soft dough and put Eliott’s letter to London inside. Distancing himself even further from the problem he managed to convince a Moorish sailor to deliver the loaf to his home in Tangier. He got away with it but the Spaniards seem to have guessed what was going on and he was soon reduced to sending trusted Moorish servants to collect and deliver despatches.
Eventually the Spaniards managed to discover the identity of one of his messengers as well as his travelling arrangements. When the British sloop Fortune docked in Mogador they waylaid Logie’s man, read the messages from London that he was carrying and then offered him a thousand dollar bribe not to give the show away
Logie’s, however, had foreseen the interception and had instructed his messenger to accept the bribe. He had arranged for his man to be carrying false despatches. Eliott received the real ones by another route the very next day.
This cat and mouse game was kept up for several months but eventually the Emperor of Morocco - influenced by a series of larger than usual bribes from the Spanish court - threatened the inhabitants of Tangier with the ‘most dreadful effects of his resentment, if they held any friendship with the English’. He then put Larache out of bounds to the British and soon afterwards all foreigners other than Spaniards were refused entry into the town. He followed this up by ordering a group of local merchants to demand an audience with the British consul.
Logie was unable to refuse and was obliged to suffer a long and humiliating confrontation in which the Sultan and his attendants  ‘spat in his face, pointed 500 daggers to his breast, and called him every 750 opprobrious appellations’ that could possibly be imagined. The consul realised that his time was up. He managed to escape but he was forced to do so in such a hurry that his poor wife ‘fell twice from her horse’ as they galloped towards the boat that would take them to the relative safety of Gibraltar.
The Spaniards one big success of the year meant that they had managed to cut off all supplies of fresh food to the Rock. It was a signal for Eliott to carry out his much touted experiment of living off four ounces of rice for eight days, an unconvincing stunt which failed to persuade anybody to follow suit. It reminds one of those modern politicians who punish themselves by trying to live for a week solely off the amount of money they would receive on Benefit. They then return to their normal well-off lives and tell the party faithful that they could easily have survived on even less. In any case, and as Ernle Bradford so bluntly put it, those ‘hearty Englishmen and Hanoverians’ were hardly going to find it possible to subsist on the diet of a ‘Chinese coolie.’
The Sultan’s actions meant that the local bakers soon ran out of flour and were forced to ask the authorities for protection. Bread was an important staple for the locals and people were beginning to fight with each other simply in order to keep their place in the queue.
Samuel Ancell, noted that by 1779 that;
. . . the bakers shut their doors and delivered the bread through a wicket protected by a guard, as the crowds were so pressing that they were under apprehension of their house being pulled down.’ 
A local by the name of Antonio Smilie whom Ancell describes as a ‘capital Genoese baker, told him that he had hardly any flour left to serve his family much less the public.                     
Catherine Upton, the wife of a British lieutenant was a resident on the Rock during the first years of the Siege. She kept a diary. According to Mrs Upton ( see LINK ) by 1781 there was hardly any flour left and that all the bread that the civilians could look forward to was; 
 . . .a small quantity that was baked and sold in one particular place. A guard’ was obliged to be kept at the door to keep the people from tearing each other to pieces! A handkerchief was then thrown in at the window with the money in it, and no person was suffered to purchase two loaves.
When Eliott instructed the Garrison soldiers to stop using flour to powder their hair in the usual manner someone ironically made the comment that ‘the Governor has bought up all the hair powder and eats the puddings made of it.’ Eliott is reputed to have had a very sweet tooth with a predilection for any kind of pudding.

A soldier is sweeps the floor of Willis’s Battery. The long hair under his strange looking protective helmet suggests that the picture was painted after Eliott had stopped the practice of using flour to make up the soldiers’ head dress. Barrels filled with earth form a sort of shelter to the right of the cannon   ( Drawing by George Koehler )

Samuel Ancell also describes the sorry scenes of men wrestling with each other, women entreating and the children crying, 
 . . . . a jargon of all languages piteously pouring forth their complaints. You would think sensibility would shed a tear, but yet, when we are in equal distress ourselves, our feelings for others rather subside. Compassion is very extensive, but self-preservation shuts out all condolement.’
His honesty is refreshing but his statement about the soldiers suffering equally from a lack of food is incorrect. The soldiers ate poorly but they were guaranteed at least enough to keep starvation at bay. Not so the civilian population where the majority were forced to subsist on a diet made up almost exclusively of dandelions, thistles and wild leeks; if they were able to find any of these on a Rock stripped bare of anything remotely edible.
Snaring sparrows was considered a worthwhile activity despite the birds’ obvious lack of nutritional value. The very common lizards and small snakes, however, may have been out of bounds as they were;
. . . frequently caught by soldiers who, after drawing their teeth, treated them with every mark of fondness.’ 
The soldiers may not have been hungry enough but the locals would have gladly eaten these reptiles. The Garrison had of course been on rations as soon as the authorities had realised that almost all the supplies that were supposed to have been stored had actually already been sold. Who sold them and why has never been made clear. Several additional measures were therefore urgently taken - some of them peculiarly English.
All horses were to be turned out of the Garrison unless the owners could prove that they had one thousand pounds of feed for each horse. The eating of horse meat was obviously not to the Garrison’s taste. The Governor did shoot his own horse – probably to set an example - but the horses of all other senior officers were reprieved.  Dogs were also ordered to be shot but the British Garrison found it hard to kill their pets and the order had to be repeated again and again.

Rather undramtic picture of the Rock during the Siege (Daudet)

The troops were not made up entirely of British nationals. Three Hanoverian regiments making up a total of about 1400 men were stationed in Gibraltar from the start. They had been on the Rock since 1776 on the specific instructions of George III – in other words from the start of the Great Siege. They must have been a valuable asset during the war as they tended to be far more disciplined - and sober - than the British with whom they got on surprisingly well.
According to Spilsbury, ‘the Germans’ generally conducted themselves very differently from the British, ‘for though young, sprightly and even buckish, they never appear in any riot, or in doing anything that can bear the least censure; how different their education.’ Apparently as most of them knew no English they were taught to drill and follow instructions ‘by the ruffle and flan’ of the drums. 

 The title of this rather dark print uses the exact same words as those used in Parliament to thank Elliot and his men for the eventually successful outcome of the Siege.
The Lamotte mentioned in the title was August de la Motte, the  German general in charge of the Hanoverian troops involved in the Siege  ( Richard Patton ) 
The Germans were also credited with an ingenious way of hatching eggs and rearing chicks during the worst period of food shortages. Incubation was simply a matter of wrapping the eggs in cotton wool and keeping them warm in hot water. Not having a proper chicken to rear the chicks they used a capon. They plucked the poor birds feathers and then stung the exposed skin with nettles. When the capon was released among the chicks it soon found that the broods’ soft, warm down was the best place to be to ease their irritation.
During some of the earlier battles of World War I, British troops were often surprised to find among the German casualties and prisoners, soldiers bearing shoulder flashes with the name 'Gibraltar'. They were men from Hanoverian Regiments celebrating their historical connections with the Rock dating back to the Great Siege. They had kept 'Gibraltar’ as a battle honour, and were known in Germany as the 'Gibraltar Battalions'.

World War II German Army shoulder flashes.
The Hanoverians were not the only foreign troops on the Rock at the time.  In 1782 several Corsican soldiers and their captain Signor Antonio Armente, arrived from Leghorn to add to the international flavour of the Garrison.  Unlike their Teutonic counterparts they were not thought much of by the British troops despite the fact that unlike the Hanoverians they had come ‘voluntarily to offer their service in defence of this place.’ The fact that they were so similar in appearance to the local population may have had something to do with it.
When an intended review of one of the British regiments had to be put off because they were not ready for it, the Garrison took to calling them the ‘Second Battalion of the Corsicans’. The real ‘First Battalion’, however, took it all in their stride and the men were assigned a guard post just above ‘Middle Hill’. For many years afterwards this area became known as ‘the Corsican Post’. Armente was later joined by ‘Signor Leonetti, a nephew to Pascal Paoli, the celebrated Corsican general. Paoli was in exile in London at the time spending much of it entertaining Dr. Johnson who according to Garratt ‘loved to dine at his house but affected contempt at his ideas.’

Pascal Paoli
Other than the chronic shortage of food, there was one aspect of the war that affected the locals perhaps more than any other. As they watched the preparations for war gathering momentum, the civilians soon realised that the town itself was probably the most dangerous place to be once both sides started firing at each other. Being mostly to the north of the Rock it was the closest place to the Spanish guns in La Linea. According to John Drinkwater ( see LINK ) the locals took the ‘necessary precautions’.  They obtained ‘leave to erect wooden huts and sheds at the southward above the Naval Hospital’ and about two hundred yards out of reach of the enemy.’
The area was at first jokingly referred to as New Jerusalem and then later as Black Town because of its horrendously unhygienic conditions.  Unfortunately Barceló’s gunboats were able to fire their guns into the encampment and did so to great effect, causing extensive damage and significant loss of civilian life. Making jokes about what to call this rather ineffective refuge soon lost its appeal and the place eventually came to be known as Hardy Town after the name of the military officer who was placed in charge of it.

 Detail from a 1799 French Map showing the location of Hardy Town    ( Barbie du Bocage Jean Denise )  

The road to the south. Hardy Town probably occupied most of this area.
Most accounts leave one with the impression that it was only the non-British locals who abandoned the main town and left for the south whenever the Spaniards began their bombardments. The truth is that eventually almost everybody did, including the officers. In 1781 during a particularly heavy cannonade by Spanish gunboats, part of a shell fell through a shed in the Black Town owned by a Mr. Maxwell and then ‘made its way through the bed of Major Baugh of the Thirty-ninth Regiment who resided in same house.’ A long range shell also fell on Colonel Cochrane’s tent in Scud-hill – considered to be one of the safest places one the Rock – but he escaped unscathed.

Those Spanish gunboats proved so effective that the British felt the need to try to build some of their own. Here is a rudimentary design for a 42 footer drawn in 1782 but probably never actually put into practice    ( Unknown )
Cornwell has left us with a vivid account of the first time the population was forced to flee the town and head for the south. After a ‘most dreadful bombardment’ the inhabitants found themselves ‘in deepest distress; mothers were seen clasping their tender infants; children were running wildly about scared and crying; while the carful male part were busily employed in packing up their most portable and valuable effects to convey them to the Black Town.’
Ancell is another who also remarks on the ‘timidity and fearfulness’ of the locals after hearing the noise of the first British cannonade. ‘The Jews and Jewesses exhibited the most descriptive amazement, accompanied with significant shrugs and eyes raised to the skies; with nimble steps they took shelter at the southward.’
Ancell was being naive. It was not the noise of the British cannons that made the people afraid. What scared them was the knowledge of the inevitable answering bombardment by the Spanish. Spilsbury, however, insisted that it was not just a fear of a Spanish response that made them flee.  He wrote;
The inhabitants leave the town when they know Captain Witham is on the batteries.
Apparently Witham believed in firing his entire battery all in one go and then ‘keeping up an almost incessant fire.’ On one occasion he set the whole area ablaze injuring his own men and risking the lives of everybody close by.

Old print showing Gibraltar’s defences responding to attack by sea. Captain Witham’s batteries are in there somewhere

Later the worst fears of the civilian population became a frequent reality and very often the Spanish bombardments proved so severe that they had to leave most of their personal property behind as they hurried away to safety. When they returned they often found that the soldiers had stolen whatever they hadn’t been able to take with them and then forced them to pay ‘very enormous sums,’ to get at least some of their property back.
Drinkwater gives us a similar story. 
Such was the terror of the miserable inhabitants, that many of them fled nearly naked to the remote parts of the rock and even here they could scarcely deem themselves secure. They flocked, old and young, men, women, and children, in the greatest confusion, to the southward, leaving their property, unsecured, to the mercy of the soldiers.
The relationship between the non-British locals and the military, always poor deteriorated even further during the siege. On one occasion a group of drunken soldiers took refuge in the Catholic Cathedral.  Feeling relatively safe from yet another heavy bombardment they continued to ‘carouse and be merry’. Staggering about the ruined interior of the church one of them found a statue of the Virgin Mary. One of the soldiers proposed that ‘as a piece of fun’ they should place the virgin in a whirligig. The rest of the soldiers agreed, but one of them proposed that as ‘military men and particularly Englishmen’ it would ill become them to punish anybody without a trial.
The mock court-martial found ‘her Ladyship’ guilty of drunkenness, debauchery and other high crimes and the statue of the Virgin inside the whirligig was paraded through the streets. When the Governor heard about this he ordered the statue to be moved immediately to the Convent where ‘she was by no means exempt from further insult and disgrace’. Drinkwater considered all of this quite amusing and something of a prank. Apparently so did everybody else in the Garrison. None of the soldiers were ever punished.

It was not, however, the only time that the statues of the Cathedral had been put at risk during the Siege. On one memorable Maundy Thursday Mass the barrage from the Spanish guns became so intense that the entire congregation had fled the church. The vicar, Father Francisco Messa,  was left more or less on his own. On Good Friday the bombardment intensified and the priest decided that discretion might after all be the better part of valour. He left the church for a safer place taking with him as many valuable items as he could.
By Easter Sunday the Church was ablaze. Messa changed his mind about the relative value of discretion and returned to his church where he salvaged the statue of our Lady of Europa. Surrounded by flames it had just about been ready to catch fire.  When he returned safely to Hardy’s Town carrying his trophy aloft he was met by hundreds of grateful parishioners, singing his praises to high heaven.

Front cover of Fray Jerónimo de la Concepción’s Cadiz Ilustrada  in which he describes various claims of miracles that occurred in Gibraltar that were attributed to Our Lady of Europa.
At some point during the Siege the Spanish gunners took to bombarding the Rock systematically if inexplicably with ‘three shells every twenty four hours.’ This continued over such a long period of time that the British soldiers began to call the shells ‘the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost’. It was a good enough joke although the predominantly Catholic civilians probably didn’t find it at all funny. In fact they probably viewed it as yet another gross insult to their religion and traditions.
To make matters worse Drinkwater was unable to resist making a rather more serious observation. Could it be ‘he wondered’ that ‘such a superstitious’ nation as Spain might in fact be attaching some ‘bigoted respect’ for this trinity of shells? When a more normal rate of bombardment was unleashed on the town, the joke was replaced by a feeling of indignation.  What the Spaniards were doing was a ‘cruelty unparalleled in the experience of war’.
The British historian Frederick George Stephens, ( see LINK ) in his book Gibraltar and its Sieges’ published in 1872, was among the many who continued to feel thoroughly upset nearly one hundred years after the event. 
All but fanatics ought to denounce the atrocity of bombarding cities in order to annoy forts which could not be reduced.’ 
With unconscious irony he then gives us detailed figures for the number of soldiers killed during the bombardment but somehow manages to remain silent on civilian casualties.
Although Stephens’ history is one of the more dispassionate accounts of the Great Siege the selective nature of some of his observations are by no means impartial. His resentment at the infamy of the Spanish gunners is nowhere apparent when he glosses over some serious looting by drunken British soldiers that took place just after the relief by Admiral Darby. This event created almost as much damage to the fabric of the town as anything that the Spanish guns in La Linea had managed up to that point; and was far more inexcusable.

The whole of Europe seems to have become obsessed with the Great Siege - Maps such as these detailing the types of ships used, the disposition of the batteries and other minutiae of the battle,  proliferated thoughout the late 19th century and beyond(unknown) 
The Spanish bombardment was to continue, with varying intensity until only two buildings in the whole of the town area stood untouched. Constant repairs were made to the Convent, but the rest was left in ruins. According to Drinkwater 
. . . the buildings in town exhibited a dreadful picture. Scarce a house north of Grand Parade was tenable; all of them were deserted.