The People of Gibraltar
1829 - The Gibraltar Yacht Club - Blackballing was the norm

Mckenzie, Clarke and Bailey - Gillice , Bell and Talbot

If institutions such as a library that was in effect an exclusive gentleman’s club, (seeLINK)  a newspaper written in a language which hardly anybody could understand (see LINK) or the unattainable social behaviour of a hunting elite (see LINK) were meant to instruct the local population on British notions of national superiority and class-consciousness, then the same can be said of a fourth - the Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club.

In much the same way as most of the major cathedrals in Europe are either the third largest or the fourth highest in Christendom, Gibraltar’s Yacht Club is the eighth oldest in the world, the first established outside Britain and the oldest in all the Colonies and Dominions. Correspondence concerning a meeting held in 1860 and written in the handwriting of the Governor of the day includes a passage which states that an old inhabitant of Gibraltar was certain that the Club was the 2nd oldest in the world. He was wrong but not by much.

A topsail schooner of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club in the Bay of Gibraltar. It was founded 15 years after the Gibraltar version (Charles Gregory)

One fine summer day in June 1829, a couple of yachts called into Gibraltar harbour from Cadiz via Tangier. The captain of the ‘Arrow’ was Commander Mckenzie and his passengers were Lieutenants and Assistant Surgeon Gillice. The captain of the second yacht ‘Rover’ was Commander Tyron and his passengers were Lieutenants Bell and Talbot and Assistant Surgeon Brown.

For reasons which are not entirely clear these officers formed themselves into a yacht club and a notice of the first meeting appeared in the Gibraltar Chronicle in 1829. It was to be held in Griffiths Hotel in Commercial Square and ‘officers of the Garrison wishing to join the Club’ were requested to attend. It was signed by Mckenzie and Gillice. The as yet not quite Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club can therefore said to have been established on that year.

View of Main Street showing the Griffith’s Hotel, where the first meeting of the Gibraltar Yacht Club was held.
Subsequent meetings were held – where else - at the Gibraltar Garrison Library and the Gibraltar Yacht Club came into existence. It took quite a while before the club managed to acquire its own permanent premises on the waterfront close to King’s Bastion.

The early records of the Club have been lost but in 1837 the Admiralty issued a Warrant through the Governor authorising all boats belonging to the Club to wear a ‘St. George’s or White Ensign and a cornet or burgee’, There seems to have been a change of heart in 1842 when permission to wear the White Ensign was recalled and a Warrant allowing use of the Blue Ensign was granted. 

St. George’s or White Ensign and the Blue Ensign with the Royal crown

The ‘Royal’ title which its members no doubt thought it richly deserved took a while in coming. It was granted in 1933 by George V whose association with the club dated back to when he was Prince of Wales.

The Duke and Duchess of York and Cornwall being rowed ashore to Gibraltar during his colonial tour of 1901. (See LINK) Perhaps this was the start of his association with the Club. 
( Illustrated London News )

As with all other Gibraltar institutions its values were thoroughly English, utterly conservative and extremely exclusive. From the start it was distinctly upper-class. Members were required to own their own boats but this was by no means the limiting factor; to be able to join one had to be a gentleman and this of course immediately precluded almost the entire non-British civilian population. Nevertheless, the hospitality often shown to visitors was legendary. Here is a quote from an article dated 1862:
The pleasant trips I have had and the many pretty and delightful places I have visited with members of the G.Y.C, must ever cause me to wish it every success, and may the lot again soon be mine, to witness such another regatta as I saw sailed under their auspices in Gibraltar Bay some few years ago.” In fact sailing with the Gibraltar Yacht Club in the early years of the 18th century was not simply a matter of messing about in boats. Expeditions were often treated in a similar manner to those indulged in by the Calpe Hunt members’ visits to the Almoraima.

Gibraltar in 1881 as viewed by the crew of  the Ceylon - a visiting yacht

Shortly after the firing of the morning gun from Signal Station small parties of nautical looking individuals would be seen wending their way to the pier head. All would undoubtedly be puffing away at cigars and they would be carrying large bundles of rugs, waterproofs and greatcoats. Each individual would be accompanied by several sailors wearing caps with ribbons spelling out the name of the yacht belonging to his master. These were of course the people who were going to all the work – including the actual sailing of the yacht.

From the luggage being carried by these lackeys it would have been immediately obvious that there was little likelihood of anybody dying of starvation no matter how long the cruise might be. Hampers would have been filled to overflowing with potted salmon, ham, tongue, a variety of fowl, all sorts of pastries and pasties as well as bottles of different types of ales, wines and spirits. The captain and owner might even indulge in bringing with him some musical instrument or other in order th while away the time playing ‘Rule Britannia’ or some such other patriotic strain.

Most of the information given above is taken from an an article in Hunt’s Yachting Magazine dated 1852, Despite the author’s humorous approval of the goings on of the club he is somewhat dismissive when he mentions that the Yacht Club couldn’t ‘boast of anything larger than a 12 tonner.’

Its sheer exclusiveness also meant that most of its boats were quite small. It also ensured that members restricted their sailing to regattas held in the Bay finding it hard to take their boats through the Gut. Sailing across the Straits to Tangier, for example, was a major project which was rarely attempted. Even as late as 1896 the club had fewer than 70 members of which those with remotely foreign sounding names could be counted on the fingers of one hand - excluding the thumb. Blackballing was the norm rather than the exception.

The Gibraltar Yacht Club

Nevertheless the Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club has remained a source of pride to most of the local population right up to the present day. One can always be assured of a good discussion by proposing that it is older or less old that this or that yacht club elsewhere in the world. Many locals who might still find it hard to become a member will nevertheless consider it as much a part of their heritage as they would the Garrison library. It may have lost some of its ‘snob’ value nowadays but its Patron is Queen Elizabeth II, the Admiral of the Club is her husband and one of its Vice-Patrons is the Eton educated present Governor of Gibraltar, Sir Robert Fulton. 

Small 'Sharpies' racing in Gibraltar harbour just before WWII 
The yachtsman in the middle is Joseph Chipulina - my father  (See LINK

Postcard showing Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club Regatta