The People of Gibraltar
1783 - Not of the Most Scrupulous Stock or Standards

Gavino, Viale, Rombardo and Parody - Abudarham, De la Rosa, Cansino and Martinez
Burke, Hassan, Upton and Helmstadt – Mrs Upton, Twain, Green and Crillon
Eliott, Drinkwater, Portugal and De la Rosa - Porro, Montobio and Aboab
Abraham, Cohen, and Taurel - Thomas Cowper, Turnbull, Field and Hind
Dalling, Carvalho and Cornelia Knight - Koehler and Mrs Green
From whatever source constant descriptions of death and destruction take on a sense of the surreal.  One dull evening Major Burke, the town-major of Gibraltar, was sitting playing cards with two other officers in a house near King’s Bastion. In the middle of a deal a stray shell crashed into the room putting out the candle. It also unfortunately fell on his lap. In those early days shells did not necessarily explode on impact. The long fuses attached to them tended to burn for quite a while. His card-playing friends immediately leapt out of the room and were unharmed. Poor Burke, however, was pinned down by the weight of the shell and was blown to pieces.
The actual number of civilians killed during the Siege is not available but it was probably quite high. An ambiguous table of figures giving details of military casualties in 1781 suggests that this could have been higher than 100 for that year. Many of course will have died of natural causes particularly from the lack of proper food. The majority survived, one of them at least through sheer luck. An unnamed character walking about the upper Rock fell down a precipice of ‘about 150 feet high, struck 3 times on rock before he got to the ground and was not hurt.’
In fact it takes a long trawl through contemporary documents to come up with specific names of non-British civilian casualties. An Irish journal, The Hibernian Magazine of 1806 - sub-titled a Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge - includes the family names of Gavino, Viale, Rombardo and Parody among a list of ‘losses’. Another offered by B. Cornwell ( see LINK ) includes the names of Abudarham, De la Rosa, Cansino and Martinez. Neither list is in anyway surprising as some of these families each owned perhaps even up to five properties each on the Rock and would all have been extremely reluctant to leave their homes no matter how unpleasant the circumstances.
Mrs Upton, ( see LINK ) as the wife of a British officer, was well off enough to employ several locals as servants. She makes various references as to how they helped her and her children cope with the dangerous conditions prevalent on the Rock. Eventually, however, she decided that her children came first - her ‘conjugal affection’ , she wrote, had to give way to her ‘maternal tenderness’ - and  accordingly she applied for and obtained leave to embark in one of the first ships bound for England. She probably left on one of Admiral Darby’s ships when he returned to England.

Catherine’s husband, John Upton joined the same Manchester regiment as John Drinkwater. The above is a copy of the recruiting poster. The army must have regretted their description of Gibraltar as ‘the best Garrison in his Majesty’s Dominions’ as well as their decision to highlight the generous provisions on offer.
The appearance of the town had been deliberately made worse by the actions of parties of soldiers pulling up paving-stones. Civilians were also involved in digging up the streets from the Esplanade right up to South port Gate in order to minimise damage caused by the ricochets of cannon balls and other ordinance. One hundred and ten people were employed in all, 60 Roman Catholics, 30 Jews and 20 British civilians. Eliott was in effect undoing his own work. Like Bland thirty years before him, he had noticed on arrival the atrocious state of the streets of Gibraltar and had immediately ordered them to be repaved and repaired. 
From a British point of view the Jews seem to have acquitted themselves very well during the Siege. One particular local, Abraham Hassan, joined one of the regiments as a soldier. He was so outstanding in his contribution that Governor Eliott granted him a small property near South Port after the Siege. Later Hassan must have risen to some prominence as he was instrumental in promoting Jewish Freemasonry in Gibraltar. In 1786 he became Grand Master of Hiram’s Lodge.
But it wasn’t just the Jews who were useful to the Garrison. In 1782, several Genoese inhabitants were taken prisoner by the Spaniards while they were trying to make their way back into Gibraltar. They had been employed to spy on the Spanish forces. They actually managed to escape from the prison-ship they were held in and brought back to Gibraltar valuable information concerning the famous ‘Grand Assault’.
Four Portuguese inhabitants were also privately employed by the Governor to send and receive messages from Barbary. Apparently they always used the same small boat and carried a camel with them wherever they went. The Moorish authorities surprisingly allowed them to use the animal to carry their boat overland so that they were able to arrive in one place and leave from another.
John Drinkwater ( see LINK ) also mentions, ‘about 300 Jews and Genoese’ who were employed ‘levelling heaps of sand near the gardens at the neutral ground, so that should ‘the enemy approach, they might not receive any protection’. Other fatigue parties were engaged in pulling down towers and steeples that could be used as markers for the Spanish artillery. The tower of the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Crowned was one of the first to go. For many years the Protestants had been called to church by the beat of a drum, a throw back from the days when certain Governors had objected to the noise of  church bells. Now the Catholics were obliged to follow suit.
 The Cathedral before Eliott decided to vandalise the place. The two tiers above the entrance to the left - including the clock and the bells - were removed.

Even more damage was caused to the town when Eliott ‘published a placard’ ordering the locals to remove any loose timber from houses which had been damaged by the bombardment. He was concerned that they would catch fire and endanger the garrison’s stores and magazines. He followed this up with a threat: if the locals failed to comply, the timber would be confiscated and ‘converted to the King's use.’ 

It was the perfect excuse for soldiers to enter and loot wherever and whenever they pleased. When a lieutenant of the 56th regiment was placed under arrest for plundering wood it was because he had made the mistake of stealing it from the house of a British worthy called Mr. Dalling rather than from that of one of the locals.
There was of course another good excuse for removing timber from houses; throughout the siege firewood was always in very short supply as there were very few trees on the Rock. In the early days of the war, however, an enormous number of logs floated into the Bay and within reach of the Garrison. 

It seems that the Spaniards had cut down an entire nearby forest and the logs had been swept to sea by a violent storm. The soldiers were ‘occupied for three days in getting it in’. When this supply was nearly exhausted, they were saved by another stroke of luck. Several old Spanish fire-ships were taken, and the wood on their hulls was enough to last them for the rest of the Siege.

This shortage of firewood eventually forced the authorities to make sure that ‘all the linen of the town and Garrison was washed in cold water and worn without ironing'. It was an imposition that was mostly felt in winter. 
Cornwell lists the names of some of the people whose properties were destroyed during the Siege. In every case the damage was almost certainly caused by Spanish cannon but British troops may have been responsible for some of it. Among the list of Catholic owners were people with names such as Portugal, De la Rosa, Porro, and Montobio. 

The Jewish names he mentions were Aboab, Abraham, Cohen, and Taurel. Thomas Cowper, owner of the theatre near the Castle was one of the more recognisable names among the worst affected British civilians. The theatre itself, however, seems not to have been damaged; the officers put on at least two plays during the duration of the Siege, one called ‘Cross Purposes’ and the other ‘True Blue’.
Paradoxically those very few British merchants that had decided to remain in Gibraltar were the first to become disenchanted with their Governor. Ground rents – without receipts – were imposed on properties with houses that in their case had certainly been destroyed not by Spanish bombs but by British soldiers and those few that were left standing were requisitioned as soldiers’ quarters or as storehouses. After innumerable meetings and representations they finally threatened Eliott with an ultimatum; they would all return to England in order to bring about ‘law suits against the military for pulling down their houses etc.’
In the end they restricted themselves to sending a ‘Petition and Memorial’ to the House of Lords identifying themselves as ‘Inhabitants and Proprietors of Houses in the Town of Gibraltar’. Among other things they complained about ‘the most injudicious liberties with the property of un-armed inhabitants’ taken not just by the common soldiers but by their officers as well. Annoyingly for this particular ‘historian’ they preferred to ‘hint at such facts in general expression than specifically in the form of a particular detail.’
The signatories were mostly people with English surnames such as Turnbull, Field, Hind, and so forth. Henry Cowper, was also one of them. Tellingly the only non-English name was that of David Carvalho who would eventually become leader of the Jewish Community in Gibraltar.
Among all this pilfering and squabbling the main problem persisted; the food supplies from Barbary had come to an end. The Emperor of Morocco had been briefed by his spies. They were of the opinion that the British would never be able to hold out. On the strength of this information the Emperor accepted a hefty bribe from the Spanish and stopped all traffic with Gibraltar. Salt pork became the staple diet. It had been held in the stores for so long that ‘the very smell of it’ was ‘sufficient for a meal’.
Unfortunately for most of the Garrison there were few alternatives to the official salt diet. Catherine Upton writes furiously about the injustice of it all. ‘Four of five breaks, at different times’ came in from Minorca but the food they brought in were sold at such a high price that very few subalterns – of which her husband was one – were able to afford any of it.
Samuel Ancell ( see LINK ) agreed with her. When a small settee from Minorca arrived in port with ‘wine, oil, sugar, honey, onions, turkeys and other necessaries,’ they were sold at such exorbitant prices that they were almost worth their weight in silver. ‘It really would be much better’, he wrote, ‘if we received none of them.’ These vessels from Minorca seem to have had greater success at breaking the blockade than any other. The reason was that the Spanish cruisers often took them to be one of theirs. Either that or they knew the right way to bribe their own.

The  San Martin, an 'Ingles Maones'  xebeck' captained by Antonio Camps was probably one of those 'four or five' ships trying to break the blockade by bringing its cargo of wheat into Gibraltar. If he made it Captain Camps and his sponsors would have been set up for life      (Unknown)

Mrs Upton also makes the point that Rodney’s much-vaunted relief in 1780 ( see LINK ) only provided the Garrison with salt provisions. There was no fresh food and whatever lemons his ships may have been carrying he kept for himself. She was understandably worried that her children would die of scurvy. In a curious reference to these complaints Ellis Cornelia Knight ( see LINK ) tells us that according to Lt George Koehler, Eliott’s idea of trying to persuade the locals to either bring in food or find a way to do so was to encouraging them to sell the stuff ‘as dear as they could’. 

As a consequence many people took whatever risks were necessary in order to supply the garrison with food. But the effects of this initiative were only felt by a few military men of higher rank and not at all by those who most needed it. It was said of Eliott that ‘it broke his heart to see the great dinners that were carried to the batteries for the officers while the children were dying of hunger in the streets’. It seems a shame that he never did anything about it. He so easily could have.
In 1782 the British lost Minorca. The Spanish commander responsible for the taking of Mahon and Minorca was actually a Frenchman - Louis Des Balbes de Berton de Crillon. Dismayed at not having been promoted fast enough through the French military ranks he left for the Spanish army. Later he would have the dubious honour of being appointed Supreme Commander of the combined French and Spanish troops besieging Gibraltar.
Duc de Crillon, Commander in Chief of the Spanish forces during the Great Siege

The blockade of Minorca, although it lasted for a shorter period of time, had many of the characteristics of the Great Siege the Gibraltar. Fort St. Philip dominated Minorca's great natural harbour with bastions and fortifications that were just as formidable as those of the Rock.  It was garrisoned by about 2000 troops facing numerically greater French and Spanish forces and the Governor, General James Murray was admired by his soldiers just as much as Eliott is supposed to have been by his. They called him ‘old Minorca’.
The one big difference was that the British lost and as with all defeats recriminations were the order of the day. Murray was court marshalled on the strength of a series of charges brought against him by his second in command Sir William Draper. Although he was acquitted of most of the charges two of them stuck and one was relevant to Gibraltar.
Apparently he was charged and found guilty of ‘interfering with auction dues’. In layman’s language he was receiving a percentage rake-off on all auctioned prizes despite the fact that he had agreed not to do so and had received an increase in salary to compensate for this. His defence was that the same pertained on the Rock and that if it was good enough for the Governor of Gibraltar it was good enough for him: Eliott and his much vaunted honesty took a bit of a knock.

Ship under sail in Port Mahon, Minorca
The loss of Minorca was also a serious blow as regards the amount of food entering Gibraltar from that source. Nevertheless, boats from other nearby Spanish ports such as Malaga seem to have had more luck than most. Apparently – as with the boats from Minorca - they found it relatively easy to bribe their way through the Spanish blockade. But there were never enough of them getting through. By the end of the siege the soldiers were being served rancid oil instead of cheese and those local inhabitants who normally would have been entitled to draw similar provisions were struck off the list altogether and had to make do without. Perhaps it was just as well.
Catherine Upton also blamed the Genoese fishermen for manipulating the fish market by choosing to ‘catch very few, that they might have a pretence for enhancing the price.’ She somehow failed to acknowledge the dangers faced by the fishermen. The waters surrounding Gibraltar were infested with hostile Spanish gunboats that were continuously being fired upon by British artillery. It must have made fishing an extremely risky business. There is no record of the number of fishermen who lost their lives during the Siege but there must have been quite a few.

19th century print showing fishermen bringing in their boats. During the Siege this area between La Linea and Gibraltar would have been occupied by Spanish troops who in turn would have been continually bombarded from the Rock. Where exactly Genoese fishermen plied their trade during the Siege is hard to work out.
Mrs. Upton was probably also unaware of the level of corruption in high places in so far as the distribution of food was concerned. When Spilsbury describes the effects of the Spanish bombardment on what he called the ‘White Cloisters’ he notes the damage caused to several cases of beef and other produce belonging to the Navy. What he should have said was ‘belonging to the Admiral.’  ‘White Cloisters’ refers to the previously mentioned ex-Convent of Nuestra Senora de la Merced. During the Siege it saw its last days as the private fiefdom of several high-ranking individuals of the Royal Navy. The building was eventually completely destroyed by the Spanish bombardment.

What the Church looked like when it was being used as a storehouse and as appartments for officers of the Navy

Plan of  ex-Convent of Nuestra Senora de la Merced before it was destroyed

A few columns in M.H. Bland’s offices in Irish Town; all that is left of the once beautiful Convent of Nuestra Señora de la Merced.

Critical references to the hoarding of food by civilians are dealt with in great detail by all commentators both contemporary and modern. The story begins when several bombs landed in the middle of Irish Town but for some reason failed to blow-up immediately. Alert to the danger soldiers and locals alike ran off to take cover and after a short while the bombs went off without injuring anybody. When people returned to inspect the damage it became obvious that some of the ruins contained large stocks of food and wine.
The immediate reaction of the soldiers was to have a drink – and then another one. For several days the town was invaded by hundreds of marauding soldiers looking for further hidden caches of alcohol. When they found any they removed it and established drinking places in hidden but strategic locations on the Rock. These were then used as bases for further searches among the ruins of the now deserted town. Any livestock unfortunate enough to cross their paths were slaughtered immediately and barbequed on the spot.
All histories single out Jewish merchants as the main offenders but there is evidence to show that this was not strictly true. Ancell, for example, gives us a humorous anecdote about a French inhabitant who had suffered more than most from the looting. He turned up at the Convent and begged the Governor to help him have his property restored. 

He was accompanied by his wife who considered it shameful that her husband should show such lack of pride. It was, she thought, both demeaning and embarrassing to see her husband pleading with somebody that she actually held fully responsible for what had happened. Eliott listened to her tirade for a while and then told her in French that she should not upset herself. He would do everything possible to help her husband. ‘Unbelievable!’ exclaimed the good woman, ‘the barbarian knows how to speak in French!’
In a letter to his father which was continued after having been interrupted half way through it by a particularly heavy bombardment Ancell writes of surrealistic scenes of drunken soldiers ‘boiling, baking, roasting, frying, turkeys, ducks, geese, and fowls’ which had now become the diet of those who a few days before were eager for a mouldy piece of bread. ‘Every pig they met, receives a ball or a bayonet.’
Catherine Upton, who had spent the night with her young daughter in King’s Bastion during that very same heavy bombardment that had sent Ancell scuttling for cover wrote in her diary that the first object she ‘beheld in the morning was a man lying dead by the door.’ He had died, she was told, from intoxication.
Among the many instances of extravagant greed Drinkwater recalls seeing a group of soldiers roasting a pig over cinnamon sticks. He takes the rather benign view that that the only reason why the soldiers acted in this way was in ‘a spirit of revenge against the merchants.’ In any case it would have been a pity if they had not done so; if the troops had not drunk all those hoards of wine and food the Spanish bombardment would have destroyed them. As for the inhabitants, ‘they were too much alarmed for the safety of their own persons, to attend to the security of their effects.’

Yet another picture of the 'floating batteries'. They may have gone up in flames but both Samuel Ancell and Mrs. Upton were right - the bombardmet of the town was relentless.
He was being somewhat dishonest as he well knew that the looters had very quickly switched their attentions to the military stores once they had emptied those belonging to civilians. The Governor, however, having turned something of a blind eye on the looting of non-military property, suddenly found himself forced to do something about it.
Eliott began by ordering every barrel of wine or spirit found anywhere in the Garrison to be smashed and their contents ‘suffered to run into the sea.’ The troops were appalled at such waste. He followed this up with a series of stern reprimands and the odd flogging but soon found out none of this made any difference whatsoever. Eventually he was forced to take extreme measures. 

Anybody found looting the King’s store was to be hanged. He also made sure that the bodies were left on the gallows for quite a while in the hope that the sight of these would discourage the others. Unfortunately the soldiers had discovered a taste for good food and better wine and were not to be stopped by the sight of the odd dead body dangling from a rope.  According to Drinkwater ‘the soldiers were now arrived at so high a pitch of licentiousness that no respect was paid to their Garrison orders.’
The rioters’ actions eventually led to the loss of even more food and provisions than those which they were recklessly eating or destroying. When Darby arrived with his famous relief the unloading of the convoy resulted in such an orgy of looting that ‘such a scene of drunkenness, debauchery and destruction was hardly seen before.’ In fact when Darby’s ‘one hundred merchantmen’ set sail for home, their holds were still full of ‘merchandise and articles much wanted by the Garrison.’ Their captains had decided to suspend the delivery of provisions. They had been afraid that their ships would be boarded and overrun – perhaps even sunk - by troops bent on looting whatever they could lay their hands on.
Meanwhile the soldiers were doing a little hoarding of their own. One particular individual was rummaging around the town looking for wine when he came across several watches and other valuables which ‘he immediately made prize of’. In other words he stole them. Not knowing where to hide his loot he hit on the idea of tying the lot up in a handkerchief and then stuffing them down one of the guns. When the Spanish gunboats did their rounds that night while he was fast asleep ‘the richly loaded gun was one of the first that was discharged at the enemy.’  As Bradford put it, his potential fortune ‘disappeared in a puff of smoke.’
As the bombardment and the riots continued in parallel, Eliott finally ordered his officers to execute on the spot any soldier caught marauding anywhere on the Rock.  All those too drunk to do their duty or caught asleep in their posts were to be shot without trial. The Governor then issued instructions that all remaining alcohol stocks should be removed and hidden in various places in the Garrison. It didn’t work. The soldiers just turned their attention to the new game of looking for buried treasure. They never managed to find all of the stocks and many forgotten caches were only rediscovered by chance long after the Siege had ended.
A few weeks after having put these measures into practice large groups of drunken soldiers were back in town making a dangerous nuisance of themselves.  At a loss to understand where the drink was coming from the authorities carried out an investigation and discovered that the men seemed unusually anxious to get their water from a certain well near the hospital gardens. When checked it was found that the water in the well contained a miraculously high proportion of rum. 

It seems that Eliott had sent the surgeon a quantity of the hard stuff for medicinal purposes and that this had been carefully buried close to the well to keep it well away from the troops. During one of the bombardments a shell had exploded nearby. It had burst the casks and had allowed the rum to seep into the well.
On another occasion God seems to have intervened on behalf of the Governor. A bomb fell on a store laden with rum and brandy and set it on fire. There were two soldiers inside looting at the time, ‘one died and the other lost his eyes’. Brandy incidentally was the source of some friction between the Governor and his officers. In the past whenever it had become available they normally bought ‘a cask or two’ for their own use. When a new assignment arrived for the troops the Governor decided rather illogically to sell all of it to the taverners for resale. It meant that the officers would now have to pay far more for their spirits than they were accustomed to.
Both hoarding and price fixing are dealt with in great detail in every history of the Great Siege. It is always described with a very noticeable tone of distaste and the reader is left in no doubt that the writer believes the local non-British population were exclusively responsible for both. In many accounts the Jews are singled out as the main if not the only culprits but Bradford widens this view by condemning just about everybody on the Rock who was not British. They were, he wrote with assurance, ‘townsfolk, who in the usual manner of Mediterranean traders in ports and garrisons, were not of the most scrupulous stock or standards.’  In his view these ‘Levantines’ whether Jews or Genoese were responsible for concealing their wine stocks in order to raise prices.
But there is very little evidence to support the allegation that the non-British locals were the only hoarders. The food could have belonged to just about anybody and the large stocks of liquor that were found – and which eventually were the cause of so much trouble - were far more likely to have been owned by British born inhabitants as they were the ones who imported most of the wine and other alcoholic drinks. The owners of the taverns and inns – who had been sold all their alcohol and rum directly by the Governor - were all British.
The reason why the Jews got most of the blame was that for all the acceptance of the richer Jewish businessmen as a necessary evil by the senior British officials, the ordinary Jew was held in contempt by most of the British soldiery, including their officers. Long before the discovery of any hoardings they were having their ‘bit of fun’. 

In September 1781 ‘the officers riot a little and break down the Jew’s doors and windows.’ On Yom Kippur in the same year they desecrated the Jewish cemetery and a short time later Captain Witham of mass gunfire fame is reputed to have ‘dug up the Jewish burial ground and made a garden out of it.’ Not long after ‘three officers of the 12th regiment, paid smart money, about 30 guineas for beating and abusing a Jew. It is the first time they have found protection here.’  An ensign was also ‘court marshalled for defrauding a Jew.’ These were both references to Eliott’s rather ineffectual attempts to put a stop to what had become a popular pastime; Jew-baiting.
And yet the Jews for all the many accounts of inhabitants fleeing in fear from the Spanish bombardments seem to have taken Siege conditions in their stride and continued with their normal life as best they could. During Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement the Jewish women insisted on going to ‘their burying grounds and make great cries and noise for, or to, some of their dead.’ As both synagogues were in the middle of town they found it more expedient to carry out the ceremony in the cemetery outside South Port Gates; all this despite the fact that they also had to put up with the constant insults and ill-treatment by the soldiers of the garrison. 

1910 photo of the Great Synagogue of Gibraltar, also known as Kahal Kadosh Sha'ar HaShamayim founded in 1724 by Isaac Nieto and damaged more than once.  The present building largely dates from 1812.
That much of the hoarding was done by the British rather than the Jews and Genoese is also supported by the Governor’s own pre-Siege instructions. As already mentioned, he had ordered all the inhabitants to stock up for six months. The richer British locals were far more likely to have taken on board these instructions that anybody else.
A rather less well known aspect of this unsavoury episode in the annals of the Great Siege is that the Hanoverian troops took no part in the rioting that occurred after the discovery of the hidden stores. Nor did they indulge in any form of Jew baiting. All the evidence suggests that it was the British troops that were entirely to blame for both. 

The trouble was, of course, that it wasn’t just people like Mrs Upton who were upset. Just about every British soldier or civilian on the Rock was convinced that the non-British population was responsible for taking advantage of the lack of foodstuffs. Rightly or wrongly they felt that they were being shamelessly overcharged. Long lists appear on many contemporary histories showing the prices at which certain products were sold in Gibraltar. Meaningless today but they must have sent contemporary readers back in London into a fury of self-righteous indignation.
The story of these local ‘swindlers’ and ‘hucksters’ has been perpetuated hundreds of times, and it has gathered momentum as time has passed. Echoes are found in many fictional stories of the Siege such as in G.A Henty’s Hold Fast For England in which the poor British soldier is depicted as having borne their hardships throughout the Siege without a murmur. Their outbreak of violence is excused because it ‘was due as much to a spirit of revenge against the inhabitants, for hiding away great stores of provisions and liquor, with a view to making exorbitant profits, as from a desire to indulge in a luxury of which they had been so long deprived.’

Note title of book. No wonder the Scots get upset.
The final irony is that the soldiers had far less to complain about than the civilians. The military had their own supply of food. There wasn’t much of it and it wasn’t very good but there was always something for the table. The civilians on the other hand, had to buy theirs from wherever they could find it. The rising prices due to the normal shortages during the Siege was no doubt aggravated by people holding on to supplies in order to obtain a better price. But it affected the civilians far more than it did the soldiers. The Jews, who took the brunt of the criticism as regards hoarding, were in fact the first people to show signs of starvation during the Siege.  On religious grounds they always refused to eat whatever salt beef and pork the military made available to civilians on rare occasions
One anonymous British journalist actually suggested that the Jews should stop this nonsense of considering pork and salt beef ‘unclean as they call it’. If only they could be persuaded to dress the stuff up ‘with dried beans or rice, etc’, they would find that it ‘would keep them in spirits’, rather than ‘dejected and meagre as chameleons.’ As for the rest of the population, he ‘saw no distress among the people in general.’ It was an odd observation as almost everybody else was of the opinion that just about everybody on the Rock was starving.
Cornwell is one of the few authors to acknowledge that the inhabitants were the ones who suffered the most. They had, he notes, ‘no provisions from the King’s stores,’ and were in a worse situation than the private soldiers of the King’s army.’ The military, he concurs, were not the only ones who had to pay ‘a most enormous price’ for food.
Cornwell also reminds us yet again that the people who were providing the food were taking enormous risks. Those small boats that brought over a few goats or chickens from Barbary had to run the gauntlet of the Spanish cruisers. Many of these small traders didn’t make it and paid a heavy price, sometimes with their lives. And there was more. ‘The proprietors of the gardens at Landport, when attempting to bring in vegetables’, were ‘fired at by the Spaniards from their newly erected Mill battery.’
Generally Genoese gardeners took their lives into their own hands every single day working the dangerous but productive area of North Front well within sight of the enemy’s guns. On one occasion the British overseer in charge of the gardens situation became so concerned with his exposed position that he deserted to the enemy. The Genoese, showing rather more courage and loyalty than their boss, refused to follow suit and managed to return safely to town.
There are indications in the literature that make one suspect that some people were not starving quite as much as others. Mrs Green, for example made a rather interesting observation in her diary. One day - she wrote - there was a rather dramatic naval engagement going on in the Bay.' While everybody was busy watching the outcome, 'a soldier took advantage of the general interest' and made off with several cabbages from their garden . The fact that the soldier had stolen a vegetable which was worth an astronomical amount of money at the time is beside the point. The real grievance was that hardly anybody else of lesser rank than the Colonel could ever count on such luxuries at their table.

The thoroughly disagreeable aspect of the north face of the Rock that the Spanish and French troops were obliged to face throughout the siege. It must have been blindingly obvious to all of them that the place would never be taken by storm from this direction. The Genoese gardeners must have taken their lives into their own hand trying to grow crops somewhere on the level ground on the bottom right of the picture  

This crude sketch of the Rock was probably drawn by Drinkwater just after the end of the war. A quick comparison with the more realistic drawing just above shows that the continuation of the rock behind the north face has been  exaggerated to such an extent that it appears as a massive cube of stone. In reality it should represent the end of a tall narrow ridge. The psychology is simple. This is the epitome of an impregnable fortress.

Eventually the Spanish artillery forced the Genoese to abandon the gardens altogether and the British soldiers retaliated by systematically destroying the cultivated area. They did so with relish. Most of them were still mistakenly of the opinion that the locals who had worked the gardens crossed over to the enemy lines to sell information about the Rock’s defences.

Contemporary map of the North area by Alhby. Note precarious position of the gardens directly below the Spanish lines   

Meanwhile hardly a mention is made in any history about an equally reprehensible series of events which occurred shortly before the Siege officially ended. Perhaps the fact that British ship masters and officers were involved had something to do with the omission. When the preliminaries to a peace settlement were agreed upon in 1783, food continued to be very scarce on the Rock. Several British traders immediately took advantage of the shortages and organized a series of shipments to make up the deficit.
As there was no longer any excuse of hazardous transit conditions or high insurance premiums, selling prices should have been relatively affordable. The traders, however, created artificially high prices for their products by selling through auctions and by controlling the amounts available for sale. Drinkwater at least had the good grace to use heavy sarcasm when referring to his mercenary countrymen. They were, he wrote, ‘truly humane and generous patriots.’ He had an axe to grind of course as he was himself one of the buyers.
The officers of the Garrison, including Drinkwater himself, tried to circumvent these high prices by forming a committee that would meet periodically to decide a certain top price for every article sold by auction ‘allowing such profit as might be thought adequate’. Whenever they bid for anything, ‘every officer pledged their honour not to exceed the terms there specified.’
The result was not that which everybody expected. After about a fortnight during which the officers strictly adhered to the arrangement they had agreed upon the traders took the price fixers on by removing their wares from Gibraltar and selling them in Lisbon and elsewhere. Realizing that the arrangement was not working several officers ‘who preferred self-gratification to the public good’, began to break ranks and the British traders were able to continue to make as much profit as they pleased.

Part of  a long list drawn up by Drinkwater and Co to circumvent price fixing by British merchants.
Also the pilfering which had become such common practice during the Siege was not restricted to the common soldier or to the non-British inhabitant. As usual it was not easy to accuse somebody in authority of doing so and making it stick. When one of the two Surgeon’s Mates accused one of the doctors of stealing the hospital soap and selling it, he was simply dismissed from the hospital.
There were others who were also responsible for the food shortages suffered by the Garrison but are hardly given a mention anywhere. Convoys carrying food were organised from Britain as part of a speculative venture on behalf of individual British merchants in Gibraltar. When these ships made it through the blockade the local British traders often refused to accept delivery on the grounds that once they had paid for the goods they would have to stand the loss if they were destroyed during a bombardment.
The Great Siege of Gibraltar has always been presented as a triumph; a tragedy of pain and suffering for the many individuals mitigated – at least from a British point of view - by a glorious outcome. And yet from a more dispassionate point of view this was a surrealistic conflict, an awkward confrontation wrapped in black humour. It was a war with multiple truces mostly engendered for ridiculous reasons. 

Officers and soldiers squabbled over food and were frequently so drunk that they fell off those celebrated bastions with frightening regularity. There were daily meaningless desertions going on in both directions. The Spaniards refused to fight when it was siesta time para hacer la digestion, and often fell into the habit of signalling whatever their next move might be by rehearsing it well before hand in full sight of the enemy.
A misplaced sense of honour by the protagonists often led to absurd displays of chivalry. When a Spanish general was found to be within range of the British guns, the soldiers, by some curious courtesy were forbidden to fire at him. When General Green’s mule strayed into the enemy’s line the response was immediate.  The Spaniards sounded their drums for a truce and the mule was ceremoniously returned to its owner. On another occasion and for no particular reason a ship from Malaga laden with fruit was allowed through and was escorted by a Spanish frigate right up to the mole in Gibraltar.
Lángara, the Spanish Admiral captured by Rodney was exchanged for British prisoners and allowed back into Spain with his officers on parole. On another occasion the body of a Spanish officer was washed on to the Line Wall. After being given a proper military burial, a truce was requested and his possessions - a gold watch and some money - were returned to the Spanish authorities.
Another story which has also often been commented upon at great length was the affair of Baron Von Helmstadt a Walloon officer taken prisoner by the British who was badly wounded in the knee. The surgeons offered to amputate but he refused on the grounds that he was engaged to be married and would rather risk his life than present himself to her with only one leg. The Governor learning of this contretemps intervened and used every argument he could think of to get Helmstadt to change his mind. He did and the amputation was a complete success. Days later he died from a completely different ailment.
The subsequent funeral was a gigantic affair which included a company of grenadiers with reversed arms, a band playing a dirge and a large group of local ecclesiastical and military officials. The corpse dressed in full uniform and placed on a black cloth with white furniture was carried through the streets of the town and then placed on a barge and handed over to the Spanish. 
Prior to his death and while he was still considering whether to agree to his leg being amputated or not the Spanish authorities sent a flag of truce in order to donate ‘a few fowls and some fruit for his refreshment.’ When the corpse was being transferred from the barge to the Spanish boat the uneaten chickens were also returned.

A rather  undramatic representation of the Sortie. The top part of the picture shows the area below the Rock where the event took place. The bottom section shows soldiers either in acts of destruction or carrying the wounded back to the Garrison - including Baron Von Helmstadt   ( see LINK

On yet another occasion  the French Commander d'Arçon - the man responsible for the plan to batter the Rock into submission using his infamous floating batteries - courteously sent his compliments to the Governor together with a present of some fruits for his table.  He knew, he wrote in the accompanying letter, that Eliott lived ‘entirely on vegetables.’ 

The Governor returned the compliment by sending him casks of beef, pork and some cheese, a barrel of rum, a sheep, a goat and some poultry – none of which he could really afford - together with a letter telling him not to send any more presents as the British were good gardeners and were well able to grow their own fruit.
Then out of the blue all the dogs on the fortress were suddenly ordered to be ‘stabbed to death’ because one of them had bitten somebody who was obviously in a position to do something about it. Later sometime during the night three soldiers fell to their death while attempting to desert from the eastern heights of the Rock. The rope that they had used was just not long enough.
Wasteful Feu de joie – or gunfire salutes - were carried out by both sides on the slightest provocation. Royal birthdays, minor or major military victories or – in the case of the Spanish, saint days and other religious events, were all good enough excuses. When news arrived of ‘the victory obtained by his majesty’s fleet under the command of Admiral Rodney over the French fleet in the West Indies’, the Governor ordered a salvo from just about every piece of ordinance in Gibraltar, starting with the Rock gun and finishing at the Princess batteries.  The locals who were usually kept in the dark as they were not normally made aware of Garrison orders, probably thought that some major assault was under way and took cover accordingly.

19th century print of a shepherd and a Spanish soldier admiring yet another  Feu de joie from the Rock. It was the King’s birthday.
Another eccentricity involved certain soldiers who suddenly discovered that they had developed the ability to foresee the future. Proclaiming themselves prophets they periodically predicted the exact date in which the Rock would be lost to the Spaniards. Eliott retaliated by locking them up in a provost ship, a hulk moored in the harbour that was used as a prison, holding them there until after the date of their prediction. 

They were then flogged in front of the troops. According to Spilsbury most of the soldiers’ predictions were based on dreams. It was also his opinion that their allowance of grog was so small that it ‘was drunk before night and they were therefore ‘obliged to go to bed sober.’ ‘No wonder’, he wrote, ‘they have such disagreeable dreams.’
Even some of the punishments dished out to the soldiers for some of their misdemeanours sound unconventional. When a soldier was overheard to say that if the Spaniards came he ‘would be damned if he would not join them’ he was personally ordered by the Governor to have his head shaved and blistered and sent to the provost in order to be fitted with a tight waistcoat. He was then placed on bread and water and his fellow soldiers were ordered ‘to pray for his poor soul.’
Another ridiculous story commonly held to be true although without much evidence was that at some time during the Siege the Queen of Spain had sat in a tower on the summit of Sierra Carbonera and had refused to leave until the British flag had been lowered on the Rock. Out of compassion Eliott was said to have lowered the flag so that she would be able to depart with honour.

Tower at the top of Sierra Carbonera, known in Gibraltar as 'The Queen of Spain's Chair'

According to the editor of a collection of Mark Twain’s notebooks the American author had ‘made the yarn, if possible, even more tiresome by repeating it in Chapter 7 of his Innocents Abroad.’ ( see LINK

Mark Twain being told the story of the Queen’s Chair by a Gibraltar Tourist Guide

On one dark night during a time when an attack was expected daily, a sentry on duty close to the Devil’s Tower was quietly minding his own business. Sitting there with ‘his head filled with nothing but fire and sword, miners, breaches, storming and bloodshed’ he failed to notice a large ape stealing food he had brought with him which he had placed inside a narrow-necked earthen-ware jar. 

Predictably the poor ape thrust his head so far into the jar that it jammed making it scamper away with the pot sticking out of his head. When the sentry turned round and saw this, his imagination turned the ape into a Spanish grenadier. He fired his rifle, and gave the alarm – the Spaniards, he shouted, had scaled the walls. Signal guns were fired, drums were beaten and in less than ten minutes the Governor and the whole garrison were under arms with every cannon on the rock blazing away at nothing at all.
This is a fantasy German representation of the floating batteries fiasco but it encapsulates what it must have been like when all the guns of besiegers and the besieged where at it hammer and tongs as probably happened after the 'ape' episode mentioned above.   (J.M. Wills)    

Back in Britain an element of absurdity was also introduced into Parliament during a lengthy debate on the Siege. At one point Edmond Burke stood up and made a humorous speech about the quality of the gunpowder used by the British. He called it ‘home-made ‘and pointed out that although the ‘Spanish powder could reach us, ours could not reach them.’  The discussion then descended into accusations and counter accusations and the argument moved from questions of quality to those of quantity.
Eliott, somebody said, had ordered 15 000 barrels but had received only 1 500.  Admiral Darby had been forced to strip his fleet of powder to make up part of the deficit.  After some further discussion it was agreed that there must have been some mistake. The maximum number of barrels of gunpowder that the magazine in Gibraltar could hold was only 9000. It was not believable that the Governor would have ordered 6000 barrels more that he could manage. Burke, well known for his wonderful oratory is reputed to have answered one of his antagonists with the following unanswerable riposte; ‘Sir, I believe you have ransacked history and taken a very long journey which I do not wish to follow - but I will always be glad to meet you on the way home.’
By modern standards the Great Siege may have been lengthy but it had not been a particularly lethal affair. In fact it was never really a Siege at all. The land blockade was effective, but the French and Spanish fleets had always been chronically unable to stop the arrival of food and provisions. Nevertheless it has always been held as the most famous siege of the eighteenth century. 

The Siege of Pensacola which also took place during the last years of the Great Siege was fought by the same protagonists with roughly equal numbers of soldiers on each side as took part in the Gibraltar affair. And yet how many people - at least in Britain - have even heard of it. The reason might possibly be that the Spaniards won.  It was after all, a bad defeat for the British as Spain managed to gain control of West Florida.

The not very well known Siege of Pensacola
It can also be argued that the privations suffered by the soldiers and the civilians on the Rock could have been avoided. There had been a lack of adequate support from the Government who were feeling the pinch as British sea power was being challenged in other wars elsewhere. In fact it is probably true to say that the fame acquired by the Great Siege over the years had more to do with the need for a boost to moral than to anything else. Britain had lost her American colonies and her politicians needed something to cheer about.
One other perhaps less obvious problem with all contemporary accounts of the Siege – including this one - is that they tend to make for rather tedious reading. The daily recording of bombardments, the movements of the Spanish gunboats and the arrival of this or that British admiral or privateer becomes repetitive and fails to exercise the imagination of the reader. The actual fear and deprivation which must have been experienced – not just by the civilians but by the military as well – just never really comes across. Most of the diarists may have been very good soldiers but they were certainly not professional writers and many of the daily tragedies of the Siege are dealt with in relatively unimaginative single sentence snap-shots.
After the fiasco of the ‘Floating Batteries’ the Spaniards lost heart and withdrew. The end was a simple affair. A boat from the Orange Grove, carrying a ‘flag of truce’ brought news from the Duc de Crillon - the overall commander of the Spanish forces - that hostilities had officially come to an end. Wild celebrations were soon followed up by glowing congratulations from Eliott to the entire Garrison. 

The King, the Secretary of State, both Houses of Parliament all expressed their thanks and admiration for what the Garrison of Gibraltar had achieved. ‘No army’ Eliott said, ‘had ever been rewarded by higher national honours,’ and he warmly congratulated them on their ‘matchless spirit’ and ‘heroic contempt for every danger.’ The amount of prize money awarded for the destruction of the ‘battering ships’ and other income was divided up among the men of the Garrison according to rank. The Governor got £1875, the soldiers £1 9s each.

Processional parade that took place on the Rock after which General Boyd – in the name of the King - conferred the Order of the Bath on Eliott

Andrews puts it all rather more attractively. The field officers celebrated with dinner in a Convent. ‘There was plenty of wine in the cellars again, and the soldiers could quarrel as freely as if they had never been engaged in a war. Peace descended. The officers played cricket on Windmill Hill, and the Highlanders were reviewed in full dress.’  But it was not at all like that for everybody - and as usual non-British locals never merit a mention.

Early 19th century painting of Wind Mill Hill. At the end of Europa Point is the light house. The lone building close to the cliffs on the right is Bleak House and the small cluster of houses on the right just below Windmill Hill form the Governor's Cottage
By 1783, the Treaty of Paris put a final full stop on all proceedings although it would seem that the Spaniards - despite their general inability to make any military headway against the British in their defence of the Rock - were not just yet prepared to give up.

During the Siege Floridablanca - Charles III's chief minister - had ordered that a tunnel be dug ' in Catalan Bay, just over a rock or cliff . . .' The plan was put into practice but was postponed for unknown reasons. The cave and tunnel were then carefully filled in so as to hide it from the British in case it might come in useful at some other time. That time came in 1787 when Floridablanca returned to his idea. He suggested that tunnelling through the Rock was 'so easy that it could be continued . . . to come out into the center of the fortress . . ' It was, he thought, an easy way to recapture the Rock.

But once again, nothing came of it and as far as I know nobody has as yet located either the curious 'cueba' or the tunnel.

Plan to dig a tunnel from Catalan Bay to the Governor's House. ( Angel Maria Monti )  

The British knew nothing about the Catalan Bay tunnel but they suspected that the Spaniards were up to something. Floridablanca's ploy was to make sure that they were made aware of similar tunnelings which had been carried out during the Siege at the foot of the Rock . The above is a copy of the original 1782 plan for this tunnel   ( Unknown )  

View of the 1782 tunnelling project from the Bay    ( Unknown )   

Photograph showing remnants of pathway to the Spanish tunelling project at the North Face ( Tito Vallejo)

Whatever the viewpoint the Great Siege was yet another determining moment for the people of Gibraltar – both for those who lived through it and survived to tell the tale and for those who returned soon after. The British were obviously here to stay and the Spaniards would hardly be back any time in the near future. The British commitment would entail the need for a huge permanent garrison which in turn would require a continuation of the old supply industry that the locals had proved themselves to be so adept. In the next decade or so the non-British population would increase dramatically.

A remarkably serene picture showing the floating batteries taking up their position before the storm (Cevely, Tomkins and Jukes)