The People of Gibraltar
1800s - The Abudarham family

Samuel, Solomon and Cohen - Davis, Campbell and Stokes

Cardozo was undoubtedly one of the most prominent of the residents of Gibraltar in the late eighteenth century but there were one or two other families of equal wealth and local fame. Some of these belonged to yet another Jewish family.

Joseph Abudarham was only sixteen when he decided to move from Tetuan to Gibraltar in 1761. He was somewhat surprisingly granted a residents permit by a man with a visceral dislike of Jews; Lord Home happened to be Governor of Gibraltar at the time.

Several other members of the family followed in his footsteps and in time honoured tradition they all became prosperous traders with commercial and maritime links with Tetuan. It took only a few decades later for one member of the family, Samuel Abudarham, to find himself owning seven large properties – with a part share to an eighth – and was ranked as the third largest property owner in Gibraltar. The only people who out-ranked him were Isaac Aboab, with fifteen houses and Abraham Cohen and William Davis with nine each respectively. The only non-Jew was Davis.

Mid eighteenth century map of Tetuan (Unknown)

Joseph’s younger brother Solomon, was rather less materialistically inclined and became a rabbi. Unfortunately he died of yellow fever soon after his appointment. Solomon’s surname, however, lives on as his ‘yeshiva’ was converted - probably just after his death in 1804 - into what is today known as the Abudarham Synagogue. The building itself in Parliament Lane is an interesting one.

Abudarham Synagogue today (Jewish Community of Gibraltar)

Prior to 1704 it was the seat of Gibraltar’s Spanish municipal council. Later it became a Masonic Hall something which must have stimulated the curiosity of the non-Masonic inhabitants at large: the lane is still sometimes known as El Callejon de los Masones.

The town from the ruins of San Felipe (T.M. Baynes)    LINK

North Front from the Neutral Ground (T.M. Baynes)    LINK

The town from Buena Vista Battery (T.M. Baynes)      LINK

View towards the Inundation (T.M. Baynes)   LINK

These four views were drawn roughly at the time when the wealth and influence of the Abudarham families were at their height. As usual these romantic representations carefully avoid the overcrowded squalor of the town itself. (All four engravings from picturesby H. A. West )

Joseph survived his younger brother by quite a few years and by the end of the first decade of the nineteenth century he had become one of the most prominent worthies in town; so much so that the Governor of the day, General Colin Campbell, invited him to take over from Cardozo as official representative of the Jews. 

It was shortly after this that the Governor’s Civil Secretary Francis Stokes sent Joseph Abudarham a letter with some rather interesting proposals: all applications and complaints made by Jewish residents were to be sent to Joseph for approval and he would also be required to attend regular meetings at the Covent. The Governor wanted to pick his brains on matters relating to the population at large.

It was an important change of tack by the British authorities as they seem to have taken the thing quite seriously. When Aaron Cardozo - who was now in semi-retirement but still as wealthy and as influential as ever - wrote to the Governor directly thinking that his past services would allow him to bypass the new bureaucratic process he was rudely rebuffed.

Stokes intercepted the letter and wrote back telling him that in future he should limit himself to submitting petitions ‘in the usual manner through Joseph Abudarham as representative of the Jews before any request could be considered.

Contemporary picture of the Straits of Gibraltar, a familiar sight to members of the Abudarham familywho made most of their money by trading with the Barbary Coast (Thomas Butterworth)

Among his many other duties Joseph was asked by the Governor – in this case General Don - to estimate the value of all the properties in several important parts of town ranging from Tuckey’s Lane to Crutchett’s Ramp, parts of Main Street and Irish Town as well as several areas of the Upper Rock.

He was also asked to assess the contributions that the owners of these properties ought to pay for maintenance and paving. It was simply another facet of that old Gibraltar problem; nobody in authority ever seemed to know who owned what, whether they were entitled to own it and if so how much and to whom were they paying for the privilege of living in Gibraltar.

As mentioned in the Chapter on Aaron Cardozo all this work was in vain as his predecessor eventually managed to convince the authorities in London to get General Don to abandon his initiative.

After his death, and under the terms of his will, Joseph issued instructions that a large expensive chandelier should be made out of solid silver so that it might be hung in the Abudarham synagogue in his memory. Today some two hundred years later the chandelier continues to occupy pride of place in the synagogue.

Joseph's silver chandelier in the Abudarham synagogue.