The People of Gibraltar
1790 – Business, Bribes and Brutality

O’Hara, Harmwood and Jervis – Inglefield and Tucker

In 1790 Sir Robert Boyd, a loyal and hard working second in command who had already been Governor in 1776 eventually took over from Elliot. It may have made little difference to life in the Garrison but the end of the Siege – and the attendant Treaty of Versailles in 1783 that had finally ended the European involvement in the American War of Independence - had shifted Gibraltar’s main role in British affairs. The increase in trade with the east following the loss of the American colonies forced a change in Gibraltar’s role from fortress to naval station.

Late 19th century French map of Gibraltar. Among other things the Map highlights the following: The gardens and cemetery in North Front, Boyd's and Eliott's residences, a first mention of Irish Town, King's Bastion, Windmills in Windmill Hill, the remnants of Hardy Town and the Nun's Well  
( Barbie du Bocage and Jean Denis )   LINK

Numerous medals were struck several years after the Siege to commemorate various aspects of the event. The one shown on the left was given to the Hanoverian troops by Eliott.
The one on the right was issued to the artillery men who had handled the guns that fired the red hot cannonballs. The Pastora, Captained by Admiral Morino was the second floating battery to run into trouble after the Talla de Piedra.

One very obvious sign of this change of priorities was the appointment in 1793 of Captain Harry Harmwood as the first Commissioner of the Navy in Gibraltar. It was his job to oversee both the dockyard and the all important navy stores. He was given a fine house in the Southern part of the Rock overlooking Rosia Bay. It was called Mount Pleasant - soon shortened to the 'Mount' - and would eventually become the official residence of the Admiral of the Fleet in Gibraltar.

'The Mount' - official residence of the first Commissioner of the Navy and later that of the Admiral of the Fleet in Gibraltar.

According to a visitor, Cooper Willyams, it was 'by far the most picturesque place on the Rock. The Gardens were laid out in great taste . . . a delightful retreat from the extreme heat which prevails during the greater part of the year.' In actual fact the magnificent panoramas from the house must have been the cause of much irritation to the various Commissioners who lived there. It had - and still has - a perfect view of Cabrita Point, just to left of Algeciras where the Spaniards had a signal station that gave them intelligence on the movement of ships coming into Gibraltar.

As these ships approached the Bay they were frequently becalmed and were set upon and more often than not taken by Spanish gunboats that relied on oars rather than sails. They were even known to have taken on British battle ships of the line to great advantage.


Late nineteenth century map showing Cape Carnero (J.N. Bellin)   LINK

Even optimistic stalwarts such as the British Admiral Lord St Vincent - who was living in Gibraltar at the time - were getting worried.
Admiral John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent

In a letter dated 1799 to Lord Spenser, the first Lord of the Admiralty, St Vincent reminded his boss that things had been going downhill in Gibraltar for the last few years and that 'the Spanish Gunboats having been held up as most formidable machines, it is not an easy matter to persuade any person to face them'.

Late 18th century engraving showing the signal tower at Cabrita Point - Punta Carnero. It was known as La Torre de las Cuatro Esquinas and was eventually destroyed in 1939. The fortress to the left of the tower is Algeciras LINK

It was indicative of the significance of the appointment of a Commissioner on the Rock that there were only five of them in the whole of the Royal Navy. Apart from Harmwood in Gibraltar the others were stationed in Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth in England and Halifax in Nova Scotia. Gibraltar being Gibraltar none of this seems to have had much effect on the efficiency of the Rock as a supply depot for the Royal Navy.

Five years after Harmwood’s appointment, St Vincent - who for health reasons had taken up residence in Rosia House in Gibraltar, mentions his preference for using Sardinia as a base for resupplying his ships. It was, he wrote, ‘a seasonable relief’ as against Gibraltar which was only capable of supplying them with chickens. Gibraltar was, he also wrote, 'without a fathom of rope, yard of canvass, foot of oak or elm plank, board or log to saw them out of; we have not a bit of iron but what we draw out of condemned masts and yards, nor the smallest piece of fir plank, board or quarter stuff.' Not exactly a vote of confidence on Harmwood. Later St. Vincent would indirectly accuse him of corrupt practices of which Harmwood was almost certainly involved in.

Miniature of Captain Harry Harmwood, first Commissioner of the Navy in Gibraltar.

Saumarez was yet another British sailor associated – perhaps rather indirectly – with the history of the Rock. His greatest triumph was during the Battle of Algeciras in 1801 which was witnessed by Sarah Fyer, the seventeen year old daughter of Gibraltar’s chief engineer and as described elsewhere in this history.

Vice-Admiral James de Saumarez - Could that be the Rock of Gibraltar behind him?  (Edwin Williams)

The first installment of The Battle of the Bay of Algeciras – A view from the Spanish side. The civilian population of Gibraltar – the non-British ones that is – presented Saumarez with a sword in honour of his eventual triumph. (William Clarkson Stanfield) 

One of Saumarez' subordinates was Jahleel Brenton. His particular own claim to fame included the fact that it was he who had presented Sarah Fryer with Saumarez' 'handsome fish slice.' He was also captain aboard the HMS Caesar with Saumarez during the disastrous first encounter of the Battle of Algeciras. Shortly after the engagement he was given command of HMS Speedy a 14-gun brig of the Royal Navy and seems to have spent most of his time in Gibraltar during the Peninsular War chasing small French and Spanish privateers in and out of the Straits of Gibraltar.

Jahleel Brenton, Master and Commander (Smith of Barbados)

The Speedy eventually become a sort of mascot to the British residents who seem to have followed her activities with obsessive interest. On one occasion the Speedy was attacked by Spanish gunboats while she lay becalmed waiting for convoy off the Rock. Although the boat was badly damaged and the crew suffered several casualties, the boat managed to drive them off – with absolutely no help from the guns of the fortress.

HMS Speedy attacked by gunboats just off Gibraltar (Engraving by Wells)

Once ashore the Brenton stormed off to the Convent with a furious complaint about the lack of support he had received. He might have saved his breath; the Governor had come to an agreement with his opposite number in Algeciras that if the gunboats refrained from firing on the town neither would he order his batteries to fire on them.

On another occasion the Speedy chased three small Spanish boats through the Gut and drove them ashore near Trafalgar. When Brenton sent in a party to destroy their cargo he was amazed to find that one of them was laden with hardware of British manufacture, this despite the fact that the two countries were at war. The goods had almost certainly entered Spain via Gibraltar.

The Battle of the Bay of Algeciras
Jahleel Brenton was quite a good artis. He made a series of 5 drawings of the Battle which were later reproduced as engravings. The proceeds were given to the dependents of those who lost their lives in the battle. The first picture probably represents the refitting of Royal Navy ships in Gibraltar before the second engagement. The second one probably depicts what Sarah Fyer meant by those 'illuminations'  (See LINK

One of the main reasons for the lack of success of those newly appointed commissioners was because of those chain of command problems which are inherent in military bureaucracy. Several years into the system, the new commissioner, Captain John Nicholson Inglefield ran into trouble with his nominal inferior Lord William Stewart, captain of a ship that had been taken during the Battle of the Nile. The ship caused Inglefield endless trouble because she had been mistakenly listed as a British ship-of-the-line whereas in fact her real destination was to be converted into a hulk. To make matters worse the ship’s anchors were stolen and Inglefield held Stewart responsible. The whole thing came to a head when the good captain insisted that he was neither responsible for the lost anchors nor was he answerable to Inglefield.

Captain John Nicholson Inglefield ( Samuel Shelley )

Part of the fault, of course lay with Inglefield. According to Admiral St. Vincent he was ‘an honest man, and sufficiently intelligent, but pompous, flowery, indolent, and wrapped up in official forms, stay-tape, and buckram’. In fact honest enough to warrant a further comment; it seems that he had managed to correct many of the ‘gross and abominable abuses and peculations practiced under his predecessors.’ In other words, corruption in high places continued to be the norm in Gibraltar just as it had in the past.

Shortly before his appointment as Commissioner Captain John Nicholson Inglefield captained a ship called the Centaur which sank during a hurricane in the West Indies. Six hundred men were lost but eleven, including Inglefield, managed to escape aboard the pinnace. Inglefield is in there somewhere in this print by James Northcote. Ingelfield, incidentally was also one of the officers involved in the Bounty Mutiny Court Martial.

St Vincent, of course, seems to have forgotten his own less than above board dealings on the Rock. The agent victualler for the Royal Navy in Gibraltar – an appointment that was tantamount to being given permission to print one’s own money – was Jedediah Stephens Tucker, a friend of St. Vincent and later his private secretary. The excuse was that the Navy was forced to use civilians to do this kind of work because the fleet was always too busy doing its own thing. Moreover, the Garrison rank and file ‘were too old or too young for the fatigues of constant duty.’ The ordnance store keeper in Gibraltar was a Mr. Parish who was also a civilian who was almost certainly also lining his pockets.

St Vincent was also involved in another curious incident involving money - in this case an absolute fortune. Shortly after Napoleon's coup d'état in 1799 the Admiral was approached by a certain Señor Ygea, a Gibraltar tobacconist who was not the kind of person St Vincent would normally have given the time of day. In this case, however, he was forced to listen.

Ygea was the local confidential agent of the Spanish Prime Minister, Don Manuel de Godoy. Apparently Napoleon was blackmailing Spain into paying out an enormous amount of money or suffer the consequences. Spain simply didn´t have sufficient funds and would only be able to meet these demands by transporting bullion from her colonies. However she was loath to do so as the ships would almost certainly be taken by British cruisers.

In a nutshell, would Britain be prepared to rent out a British frigate to do the job. It would be, said Ygea, the only way to maintain Spain´s neutrality. History is silent as to what happened next but one would imagine that nothing ever came of it as the Napoleonic wars took on a different course

1835 Map showing the Victualling Yards, Water Reservoirs and Mole newly built in Rosia Bay at the instigation of Lord St. Vincent who managed to persuade Governor O’Hara to sell naval property to get the money to do so. A lot of people made a lot of money in the process but the new yard remained unrivalled throughout the British Empire until late into the 1830s. LINK

Governor Boyd was by now a doddering old man of 80 and was hardly aware of what was going on. In 1797 the soldiers’ pay was raised from eight pence a day to one shilling but it did nothing to lessen discontent. The soldiers simply spent the extra on even more drink. The officers were just as bad. As long as they were sober enough to stand up during parade their superiors simply turned a blind eye. They were mostly too drunk themselves to be able to notice the difference.

This contemporary map of the Spanish batteries was drawn after the end of the siege. The enlargement also showns that although Boyd was now Governor, Eliott had retained possession of the Convent and had kept his title as Governor. (Alhby)    LINK

Civilian life continued to be ruled by Fortress orders of varying degrees of arbitrariness. One of them was as follows; ‘It is again directed that every inhabitant cause the street before their door to be watered and swept every morning.’ There is something satisfying about that word ‘again’; not all the inhabitants were complying with these orders. Another to do with the hygiene of the town instructed everybody to collect their rubbish and put it into tubs or baskets so that they could be collected by a ‘scavenger’ every third day, a throwback of modern-day city council wheelie bin collection instructions.

Having fun also seems to have been frowned upon. Shops were now required to close on Sundays and no sporting activities were allowed on that day. Those fairs and masquerades so beloved of the Genoese and Spanish residents were expressly forbidden and when the locals decided to celebrate one of the many British military triumphs of the day the Governor issued instructions forbidding those as well. Although he acknowledged ‘their public demonstrations of joy on the late glorious victory’, the Governor forbad the use of ‘Illuminations, Bonfires, and Fire Works of any kind’ in future.

Large swathes of the Rock were placed out of bounds to civilians and many house owners were forced to repaint their houses because the Governor objected to the use of whitewash. ‘The strong refection and glare of light from the houses’ - stated yet another intrusive Fortress Order - had been ‘found prejudicial to the eyesight of the troops and inhabitants.’