The People of Gibraltar
1781 - Quitting the Place

General Boyd and Eliott - Colonel Charles Ross and Mr. Browne, 
George Koehler and Isaac Benzacar - Solomon Benzimra
Tourale and Moses Israel - Benady and Carol
Belilo and Maro
Lieutenant General Boyd, Eliott’s second in command was one of the few who did not make his home outside South Port gate. Boyd had been Governor just prior to the Siege and would follow this up with two further stints after it had finished.   He had taken up quarters inside a small bomb-proof casement ever since the Spaniards had started to bombard the town. He had done so with the purpose of preventing ‘as much as possible, his soldiers in this time of confusion and distress, from making too free with the effects of the inhabitants.’ Unfortunately in this case the words ‘as much as possible’ actually turned out to mean ‘without much success.’ 

The Duke de Crillon ordering the bombardment of Gibraltar apparently without much success ( 1783 - Satirical Cartoon - L Coley )
Boyd is yet another Gibraltar military character who had a rather good press over the years. This assessment was not universally accepted by his officers who found him somewhat overbearing. To give one example he seems to have had a running vendetta with a certain Colonel Charles Ross who soon after his arrival in 1773 soon found himself on a ‘disagreeable footing’ with Boyd. 

Their quarrels were of such intensity that they soon reached the stage where court-marshals were required. Ross came out of it all this quite well and was eventually promoted to brigadier; all this - according to Spilsbury ( see LINK ) - ‘to no small amusement of the Garrison.’ Later in 1782 Ross became a Member of Parliament and during a debate on a vote of thanks for Eliott and his officers in 1782 he strongly objected to the inclusion of General Boyd. When his amendment to that effect was not seconded he left the chamber in disgust.
Map dated 1782 copied almost entirely on another one dated 1782 by Guillaume Delahaye.
The main difference is the disappearance of the mention of Admiral Wager and the addition of the huge Spanish fortification in La Linea   ( Unknown )   

Boyd was also reputed to have been extremely laconic when dealing with his underlings. In fact he was famous throughout the Garrison ‘for the shortness of his despatches’. On one occasion when he was worried that the ships sailing to London would leave Gibraltar before his letters could be put on board he dashed off a note to his agent, a certain Mr. Browne, asking him to buy supplies for his own private stores. It consisted of three words - ‘Browne –Beef – Boyd.’ The reply which eventually came back with the appropriate meat was equally terse. ‘Boyd – Beef – Browne’

Lieutenant General Robert Boyd
Yet other hardship that afflicted Gibraltar during the Siege was scurvy. For some reason there are very few records of its unpleasant symptoms appearing among the local population. This may of course be simply a case of omission but it might also be because of a persistent diet of wild leeks and dandelions which would have given them some protection as both have small but significant amounts of ascorbic acid. 
But there are plenty of references to suggest that this deficiency disease had a big impact on the troops. There were a few lemon trees in the gardens of the Convent but they hardly produced enough to go round. The first fruits were – according to Lt George Koehler - always sent to the hospital and that was about it. By a pure fluke a small naval force sent out to attack a Dutch convoy managed to capture a Danish ship carrying a full freight of oranges and lemons. Some historians delicately suggest that Eliott ‘bought’ these from the Danish captain as neither Holland nor Denmark was at war with Britain at the time.
Whether he did or not, the lemons were immediately sent to the hospital where they were issued to the patients. The effects were astounding. Men who had been almost given up for dead quickly convalesced and were back on duty within days. The rest of the lemons were preserved – six parts of lemon juice to one of brandy – to ensure a supply for the future. This concoction was probably not as effective as the fresh juice but as Alan Andrews suggests ‘there is no record of any soldier who did not find it consoling.’
Nevertheless scurvy was still an unknown quantity in the 18th century and there were still all sorts of weird and wonderful foodstuffs that were thought to either prevent or cure it. One was a kind of portable soup made up of dried vegetables and concentrated fruit juice – with all traces of vitamin C destroyed from over-cooking. Other remedies were malt, sauerkraut, vinegar, mustard, molasses and beans. When the Garrison ran out of lemons, Garrison orders instructed that ‘one quarter and half a pint of vinegar’ was ‘to be issued to every ration till further notice.’ The Hanoverians, much to their delight, were given sauerkraut.

An old print of the Rock from the Spanish Lines

Histories of the Siege tend to give the impression that the bulk of the civilian population left the Rock as soon as they became aware of the possibility of a serious confrontation with the Spanish. This may not quite be the case. Trade in Gibraltar was beginning to pick up during the 1770s and the locals would have been loath to leave. 

It was a time when ships from Tangier, Tetuan, Algiers, Mogador, Genoa, Livorno, Malaga, Cadiz, Mahon, Estepona, Lisbon and Britain were constantly loading and unloading goods at the various moles. Odd and lucrative monopolies remained in place and would do so throughout the Siege. Only eight people were allowed to sell tobacco on the Rock at the time. Many were making their fortunes. It was not a good time to leave.

A very peaceful view dated 1780. It suggests that the Franco-Spanish forces still thought the place could be won by blockade and that the bombardment had yet to commence. ( Lt. Colonel William R. E. Booth )    ( See LINK ) 

There is no question, however, that some civilians did leave the Rock. The records of the Secretary’s Office in Gibraltar for 1781 indicate that the Governor encouraged civilians to go by offering them various incentives such as allowing then to travel to Mahon free of charge aboard Minorca Transports. People who preferred to go to England or were ‘desirous of going’ were asked to leave their names and many did so. 

In fact quite a few must have taken up the offer as ‘fifteen merchant ships carrying two hundred passengers’ shortly set sail for Britain. These were the bulk of the British Protestant civilians. Later a Dutch vessel was recorded as having taken 150 women to Malaga. They were probably mostly Spanish and may not necessarily have been as keen to leave as their British counterparts.
In 1782 orders were issued that boats leaving the Rock would not be allowed to take civilians with them and on one occasion a boat-full of soldiers’ wives bound for Lisbon were actually taken back to the Rock much to their dismay. However, a ship carrying ‘54 Genoese passengers’, all registered as inhabitants of Gibraltar,’ did manage to leave for Genoa before the hostilities began. A Venetian ship and two Dutch vessels also took on board some of the inhabitants who were ‘apprehensive that the garrison would be besieged and thought it eligible to seek asylum in time.’
The counter to these records of an orderly withdrawal is given by John Drinkwater. ( see LINK ) His version offers a rather sweeping statement. From the very beginning ‘scarcely a boat or vessel left port without being crowded with Jews or Genoese who preferred a residence in Barbary or Portugal to remaining in Gibraltar where the necessities of life’ were becoming everyday more scarce.’
He does however make an indirect proviso that somewhat negates the impression he gives of a mass exodus. The inhabitants had been instructed to stock up with six months of provisions by a Garrison standing order. They were reminded of the regulation several times and warned that there would eventually be serious food shortages. The bulk of the non-British population found it almost impossible to comply with this ridiculous regulation; most local families found it hard to feed themselves adequately on a daily basis. Stocking up for six months was completely out of the question for anybody other than the wealthiest residents.

The Spaniards meanwhile  seem to have been busy reconnoitring the place - and made quite a good job of it. Here is a detailed plan of the coast from the New Mole to Europa Point  (  Fausto Caballero )   

Some were therefore compelled ‘to seek subsistence by quitting the place’ but more than a few decided to weather the storm.  As Drinkwater also acknowledges, for very many of them what little they owned in Gibraltar was probably all they had.  A quick glance at the lists of surnames of people who were residents of the Rock in the mid eighteenth century and others taken after the Siege is convincing enough evidence that those that did leave almost certainly came back as soon as it was possible to do so.
A good number of Jewish families also left for London rather than the more obvious Barbary Coast. It proved quite a good choice for some. Isaac Benzacar was one of them. Benzacar was an agent for Solomon Benzimra, a Gibraltar millionaire with houses in both the Rock and Malta. He made his money by importing all sorts of goods from all over the world. Some he sold in Malta but most of the goods he sent to Gibraltar for re-export by his brother Jacob.
A glance at the plethora of different kinds of goods that he sent to Gibraltar is enough to explain his enormous wealth. Among the many non-perishable items were leather, earthenware, Sicilian silk, German linen, handkerchiefs calicos, clothes, thread, sequins, Barbary bees wax, Indian goods, charcoal, tobacco, soap, iron bars, cochineal and telescopes. Perishable goods included fruit, sugar, pepper, cloves and other spices, wine, coffee, French beans, butter cheese and many more not just from nearby Europe but from faraway places such as India, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Martinique.

The business ledger of the Benzimbra family
During his stay in London Isaac – who must have made quite a bit of money himself as a middleman for Solomon – met ‘Rachel’ who according to family tradition was the daughter of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. She had converted to Judaism and married Isaac around 1785. The historian Alfred Rubens suggests that the arrival of so many Jews from Gibraltar, many of them wearing rather exotic dresses, created quite a stir at the time. Isaac must obviously have been rich enough to have been allowed to hobnob with such exalted company as ladies-in-waiting to a Queen.
Solomon Benzimra married Isaac’s daughter Esther when he was 26, which as Anthony Lombard reminds us in an article on the Benzimra family, was rather unusual as ‘youthfulness was not normally a feature of grooms among the Jews of Gibraltar’. His wealth allowed him to buck the trend.

Esther Benzacar in the early 19th century
One symbol of the amount of money the family had managed to accumulate was a Gainsborough style portrait of one of Esther’s brothers. The picture which is still extant is ripped into three pieces. Tradition had it that it was torn by Esther on her death bed when she realised that she would be unable to see the brother depicted on it before she died. He was on business overseas at the time.
Later as the Siege gathered momentum many non-British locals would pay the price for having opted to stay on. Catherine Upton ( see LINK ) witnessed a ‘handsome and agreeable’ local lady called Tourale being ‘blown almost to atoms! Nothing was found of her but one arm. Her brother, who sat by her, and his clerk both shared the same fate.’ The Tourale surname is recalled elsewhere as either Taurel or Tourak. Her ‘brother’ was actually her brother-in-law. His name was Judah Israel ( see LINK ) and he was apparently well known to the British locals and much respected by everybody. He was reputed to have been worth upwards of £10 000. His clerk was also Jewish and his name was Benady.
That same night Catherine Upton actually just missed another tragedy. Two local butchers one an Irishman called Carrol and the other a Jew by the name of Belilo were killed while inside one of the sheds close to where she happened to be at the time. A black by the name of Maro who had been a resident of the Rock for many years was standing beside the two unfortunate butchers but somehow managed to escape unscathed.
Later it became something of a joke among the officers of the Garrison to ask him how he had managed to avoid getting killed. ‘Oh!’ replied Maro. ‘De ball nor de bomb no hurt me. I bomb proof.’ Yet another victim was a Genoese youth, ‘endowed with every grace and amiable disposition’. He was about to be married.
Mrs Upton also recalls a local woman in a neighbouring tent in the Black Town.  She was cut in two by a shell as she was ‘drawing on her stockings.’ On another occasion a local servant returning to his master’s house in town found the place in ruins. As he rummaged around a shell passed through the roof and went straight through what had once been the bed of his mistress.
A rather more laconic paragraph taken from Drinkwater describes the effect of a single Spanish shot. It ‘took off the legs of two men of the 72nd and the 73rd regiments, one leg of a soldier of the 73rd and wounded another in both legs; thus four men had seven legs taken off and wounded in one shot.’ In this particular case, warnings of an approaching missile had been disregarded by the soldiers. The Garrison normally employed local boys – almost certainly non-British - with ‘uncommon quickness of sight’ to act as lookouts for any tell-tale puffs of smoke.    

A rather uncomplimentary picture of Eliott telling people what to do on King's Bastion    (1780s - Engraving by T.Maldon from George Frederick Koelhler)
Rather luckier were a couple of corporals who were sleeping in a tent when a bomb exploded inside and hurled them several yards into the air. Although unharmed they found that they had lost all their clothes. ’Damn it’ cursed one of them, ‘I don’t care for the loss of my clothes but I have lost all my money.’ He had put all his savings in his pocket for safe-keeping before going to bed. Just as lucky was a Genoese lady who was blown out of the window of her house in South Port Street after it was hit by a shell. Other than a slight bruise ‘she suffered no damage.’
These lucky escapes were the exception. A year and a half after Rodney’s relief, the signal station at the top of the Rock sighted a huge convoy of merchantmen travelling toward the Gut. By the time the first of the ships had dropped anchor there were hundreds of civilians crowding the New Mole. At that precise moment the Spanish land batteries opened fire and the mass of men, women and children were caught by the long range guns as they tried to flee through the town to the relative safety of the south.

A contemporary and unconvincing Swedish version of the north face of the Rock

Late eighteenth century map from which the Swedish one was probably  based. This one, however fanciful, is far more informative ( Unknown )    

As for the Governor, much is made of the fact that he remained in the Convent throughout the hostilities. Not quite as well known is that a large and spectacular cave called Poca Roca found near the old Isolation Hospital in the upper Rock was specially prepared for his use as an emegency residence. 

Poca Roca cave. It difficult to see exactly where Elliot was supposed to have slept had he made use of this place ( 1798 - Reverend Cooper Willyams )     ( See LINK )