The People of Gibraltar
1790s - Aaron Cardozo

Carvalho, Ester and Isaac - Abecasis, Sidi Mohammed and Benoliel,

Aaron was the youngest son of Jacob Cardozo Nuñez one of the original group of Jews who had returned to Gibraltar in 1719 two years after their expulsion from the Rock in accordance with the stipulations laid down by the Treaty of Utrecht. Jacob Cardozo ended up having three daughters and five sons, David, Isaac, Samuel, Abraham and Aaron. The youngest and most memorable of the lot was Aaron who was born in 1761.

The family business made most of its money by trading with Morocco but it is hard to make out exactly where Aaron spent his childhood. It was almost certainly somewhere in Barbary.

Map of Barbary at the start of the nineteenth century (Armand-Joseph Lallemand)

According to the research of local historian Tito Benady - from whom much of the information in this chapter is taken - Aaron probably moved to London with the rest of the family in 1781, hitching a ride on one of Admiral Darby's ships returning home after relieving the Garrison . (See LINK) He was 20 years old,

A decade later Aaron was back in Gibraltar. After the Great Siege David Diaz Carvalho - another influential merchant - had become leader of the Jewish community. As a refugee from Minorca he had found it useful to maintain a good relationship with the British authorities. Aaron Cardozo soon took over from Carvalho and continued the same good relationship policy as his predecessor. 

Various gentlemen are hanging around the Court House in Main Street about a hundred yards north of the Convent. The Jewish porter on the left and Barbary Moors on the right make a nice contrast with those elegantly dressed men most of whom were probably British born residents - although one of them could easily have been Aaron waiting for the start of some important litigation (Unknown)

Cardozo soon found himself held in great esteem by the top brass; he not only acted as advisor to the Governor but was much admired for his ability to maintain order in town. When O’Hara took over as Governor (see LINK) he very quickly came to the conclusion that Gibraltar was ‘inhabited by persons of various sects and of different nations,’ it required not just intelligence but a special tact to deal with them. Even then, O’Hara insisted, it would have been impossible to deal with this ‘motley population’ without Cardozo’s help. In other words his influence was not restricted just to matters concerning the Jewish population.

O'Hara wasn't the only one to have appreciated Cardozo's talents. His predecessor, Charles Rainsford referred to him as 'My friend, Cardozo the Jew'. On one occasion Aaron brought him back 'some curious red pocket books from Morocco finely embroidered and one in particular' with his name in Hebrew letters. 'These people' he wrote in his diary 'do this work to the greatest perfection.'

It was probably when he was in exile in London during the Great Siege or perhaps his first few years back on the Rock after his return that Aaron got married. He made a wise choice. His wife, Ester, was the daughter of Isaac Cohen Lara, a London Jew who had been living in Gibraltar since 1739. Not only did he act as British vice-consul in Tangier and later at Arcila on the Barbary coast but he was himself a well-off merchant. Ester was a very worth-while addition to the family. Whether their married life was a happy one or not is unknown. What is certain is that they had no children.

When Sir Robert Boyd, took over from O’Hara, he thought it convenient to reinterpret General Bland’s regulations (see LINK) on the control of the Jewish population and begged Aaron to take over ‘the arduous office of Representative of the Hebrew inhabitants.’ In other words he made him responsible for the Jew Sergeants (see LINK) who were still being used to control the movement of foreigners into and out of the Rock. 

It was something that Aaron must have thought of as a perk rather than as an onerous obligation. He accepted the post with enthusiasm and immediately employed a fellow Jew called Isaac Abecasis as his henchman. Aron's job description was 'to prevent Jews rioting in the street. His real commitment, however, was to control the entry of all Jews from Morocco and decide who should be thrown out of the Rock as an undesirable. It gave him the kind of power that any self-respecting merchant would have given their back teeth for.

Nevertheless he must have carried out his expulsions and made his decisions with reasonable fairness - at least as viewed by his wealthy peers in the community. On one occasion when he offered his resignation to Governor Trigge on the grounds of ill health, leaders of the local community begged him to reconsider. Cardozo did eventually do just that after having been talked out of it by the Governor himself. Trigge later confirmed their conversation with a letter that clearly shows the esteem in which he was held by the British authorities.
I shall be glad to find you have complied with their wishes', he wrote, 'as I am convinced that it will be of advantage to the town in general and more especially to the Hebrew nation. I shall always be disposed to assist you whenever my support may be necessary.'
Aaron’s main business was a continuation of his father's - the import of goods from the Barbary States which he then sold to the Garrison. The amount of money he made out of this can only be guessed at but if his flamboyant generosity was anything to go by it must have been a fortune.

In 1793, for example, there was a shortage of fresh beef on the Rock. In desperation, Boyd sent Aaron over to Tangier with various 'presents'. He knew that Cardozo was on intimate terms with the Sultan’s brother and thought he might be able to clinch some sort of a deal. He was right. In effect Cardozo exchanged a few pieces of out-of-date ordinance for no less than one thousand head of oxen all of which he brought back to the Rock free of charge.

La Plaza de Verdura. The meat market was close by. Some of Aaron’s many employees would have spent quite a bit of their time there (Unknown)

Aaron’s good relationship with the Royal Navy was also based on generosity – or at any rate on the provision of free services in the hope of raking in the benefits sometime in the future. Throughout the last years of the 18th century - during which the British Mediterranean Squadron used Gibraltar as its main base - he supplied the commanding officer, Admiral John Jervis (see LINK) with ships to carry his dispatches. These ships were often in danger of being attacked and sunk but Aaron was often willing to risk his own life in order to make sure some of Jervis' more important messages were delivered on time.

Not only did he provide all these services free of charge but as he himself commented, ‘in great risk and immediate expense' It is also quite apparent that during some of these dangerous jaunts he was often required to ‘pay for the maintenance of those who assisted’ him. In other words he had to pay for his own bodyguards.

Shortly after, in 1798 Aaron 'detected a formidable conspiracy within the Garrison' and immediate made the authorities aware of it. This attempt by the civilian population to return Gibraltar to the Spaniards has been dealt with elsewhere but the outcome was very advantageous to Aaron.

As a direct result of his intervention, he was granted permission to buy and build on a prime site in the Grand Parade - then known as the Alameda or Esplanade. This was the place where the old Spanish hospital and Chapel of Nuestra Señora de las Misericordias as well as the debtor’s prison had once stood but was at that time derelict. The grant included a stipulation that whatever he decided to do with the site it would have to be 'an ornament to the square'.

Technically speaking he should never have obtained permission to do so. As the law stood, only British Protestants were entitled to own property on the Rock and Cardozo was of course Jewish. The official reason given for this anomaly was that it had been granted to him in exchange for some property of his in Market Lane which he had generously conceded to the Government. It was an explanation that raised far more questions than it answered - as well as not a few eyebrows. 

Early nineteenth century view of the town from King’s Bastion. Cardozo’s elegant new house dominates the scene (Unknown)

The unofficial reason sounds much more likely. Aaron, presumably via his extensive network of friends, traders and employees – not to mention the odd personal spy – may have detected the conspiracy and advised O’Hara accordingly. The Governor had taken immediate action and had expelled over one thousand civilians most of them completely innocent of having taken any part in the plot.

Cardozo, on the other hand went on to build himself a large three-story family house in the Grand Parade which was at the time considered one of the most elegant in Gibraltar. It cost him £40 000 - an extravagant amount of money for any house not just in Gibraltar but anywhere. It was completed in 1815.

Cardozo's house in the early twentieth century. It was no longer his.

Aaron Cardozo's exposure of the plot raises interesting questions as regards the philosophy of Convivencia that many authorities suggest lay behind the success of the Jewish community in Gibraltar. Convivencia or coexistence is a term that describes a situation in Spanish medieval history when Jews, Muslims and Catholics in Spain lived together in relative peace.

From a modern perspective the word itself suggests a way of life encompassing religious tolerance and liberal values. Most of Gibraltar’s Jews, however, were Sephardic and for obvious historical imperatives the model had moved on to one of service to the rulers through commercial enterprise. It worked well in Barbary where the rulers were Moorish and everybody else was either Moorish or Jewish. In Gibraltar there was the added inconvenience of a large Catholic population.

Many of the people that Aaron Cardozo grassed on were his own Jewish compatriots but the majority of those expelled were Genoese and Spanish. One assumes that they never found out who had been responsible for giving them away otherwise Gibraltar’s much vaunted tolerance for other people’s cultures might have been stretched to breaking point.

There were times, however, when a heavy price had to be paid for the privilege of being on friendly terms with everybody. Aaron’s brother, Isaac was another well known figure in both commercial and diplomatic circles in Gibraltar and Barbary. 

He had acted as interpreter and go-between when the warships of the Emperor of Morocco were refitted in the dockyard in Gibraltar and had managed to get himself an influential post as an ‘Interpreter & Translator of the Arabic Language’ with the British Government. He lasted a couple of years after which he was sacked. The reasons for his dismissal are not known but Eliott did receive a letter from London in which he was told that Isaac had been ‘obliged to abscond, on account of some improper transactions’ some of them of a ‘capital nature’.

In an article on the Cardozo family Tito Benady argues that as capital punishment at that time could be inflicted for trivial misdemeanours such as ‘stealing of a loaf of bread’, Isaac’s dismissal could have been based on just about anything. A valid statement, but knowing Isaac’s propensity for making large amounts of money while attracting trouble, makes one suspect that more than a loaf of bread was involved.

Commercial Square. Some sort of an auction is going on close to the recently built Exchange and Commercial Library. Aaron’s buyers would have been heavily involved in the bidding of the more valuable lots (Unknown)

In any case Isaacs contretemps with the British Government turned out to be the least of his problems. In 1786 he was involved as an intermediary during the signing of a treaty between the Emperor of Morocco and the United States. He was acting in his capacity as Spanish Consul in Larache. 

Contemporary map showing Larache on the west coast of Africa just South of Tangier. Aaron's elder brothers, Isaac, David and Abraham seem to have lived in Larache as they took care of the Moroccan side of the business from here        (P. Santini)  LINK

During the negotiations one of the Emperor's acolytes handed him a letter written by Isaac that made several uncomplimentary allusions to the Sultan. What followed was an execution that was worse than that inflicted on Namias a few decades previously.(See LINK) The report of this little affair written by the British Consul in Tangier must have raised a few eyebrows in Gibraltar - and of course the United States.
The Emperor immediately ‘ordered a cord to be put around his neck and it was pulled ‘till he fell to the ground and there, after he had been given two hundred blows with a stick, the Emperor ordered them to fire ten bullets into his body, which was afterwards cut in two with an axe.
Not content with all this, the Emperor ordered his remains to be burned on the spot.

Aaron's most well-known friendship, however, was with Nelson with whom he seems to have had a great rapport. It is a friendship that is mentioned in many a history of Gibraltar albeit always with a slight tone of surprise. What on earth was the great man doing hobnobbing with a common Jewish merchant? The truth is that they probably recognised each other as kindred spirits – one as ruthless in battle as the other in the market place.

In 1805 General Edward Fox - acting Governor while the Duke of Kent (see LINK) was gnashing his teeth in England - appointed Cardozo as his delegate in Oran where he concluded a treaty with the sultan, Sidi Mohammed. It involved provisioning the garrison of Gibraltar and the entire British squadron in the Mediterranean, a wonderful opportunity for making a lot of money.

The boat he went on was the frigate "Termagant," which was placed at his disposal by Nelson and it took him a very short time to get Sidi Mohammed to sign on the dotted line. Not content with this, he also managed to negotiate the release of three English sailors held in Oran who had been captured and sentenced to death.

Finally, to finish off a job well done he managed to persuade the Sultan that it would be a nice idea to give General Fox a small present. The result was 'a horse, a mule and two led Jaques' as well as two hundred oxen. It meant that Aaron was forced to buy a ship in Oran for 9000 dollars in order to ship the lot back to Gibraltar.

Soon after he also negotiated yet another international treaty, this time between the Portuguese government and the Bey of Tunis. 

An audience by British representatives with the Sultan Sidi Mohamed, probably the grandson of the fellow Aaron had to deal with. The scene shows just how hard it must have been for him to have obtained any kind of meaningful concessions. (Unknown)

Just before their last meeting in Gibraltar Nelson told Cardozo that should he survive the forthcoming confrontation with the Spanish he would make sure that Cardozo would ‘no longer remain in this dark corner of the world.’ He didn't survive but one somehow doubts whether Cardozo would have taken him up on his offer. Gibraltar may have been a dark corner' to many of its inhabitants but it was anything but for him.

Nelson dying on the Victory after the Battle of Trafalgar. He would never be able to get Cardozo to leave that 'dark corner of the world' known as Gibraltar   ( Arthur William Davis ) 

Nevertheless during the 1804 outbreak of yellow fever (see LINK) Aaron wisely retired to Morocco. He stayed away for a year. Just before he left he ingratiated himself to the powers that be by making arrangements for boats to carry much needed cattle from Barbary to Gibraltar. As yellow fever was thought to be contagious at the time, he issued instructions for the cattle to swim to the beach so that there would be no direct contact between the ships and the shore. He continued to supply the Rock with cattle when he was in voluntary exile using exactly the same method.

Shipping bullocks in Tangier for the Commissariat Department of the Garison at Gibraltar in 1912. The transport of live cattle from Barbary to Gibraltar was probably just as crude in  the 18th and 19th century as it was in the 20th  ( Photographer - George Rose )

During the Napoleonic wars he continued in the same vein; a thousand or more muskets for the guerrillas in the mountains of Ronda, thousands of pounds worth of supplies for General Ballesteros (see LINK) and even more than that in food for the Spanish army. He was never repaid.

Later in 1817 when his wife became ill he thought of taking her to recover in San Roque. However, the restitution of Ferdinand VII to the throne of Spain had also ensured that the Holy Inquisition was back in business. Jews - and in particular Jews from Gibraltar - were no longer welcome in Spain.

Aaron petitioned the King for special dispensation and was supported wholeheartedly by General de Alós, the Spanish Commander of the Campo de Gibraltar. Unfortunately the Grand Inquisitor intervened and Aaron had to abandon his plans.

In 1817, a row broke out among property holders in Gibraltar. It was a problem that found its origins in General Bland's regulations of 1751 which forbad the sale of property to foreigners. This old chestnut was part of the now discredited and long forgotten plan to encourage British Protestants to live in Gibraltar - at the expense of Catholics and Jews.

As commented elsewhere in this history not even Bland had taken his own recommendations seriously and other Governor's such as Sir Thomas Trigge had circumvented it by obtaining authorisation from London to allow just about anybody 'who shall have resided for a period of not less than five years' to buy property or land without any hindrance from the Government.

This residential qualification was now being raised to fifteen years. Once again there was the threat of yet another survey of all the properties on the Rock. The inevitable memorial to the Duke of Kent - still nominally the Governor of the place - never got past the man at the chalk face - General Don. (See LINK) He found it insulting, presumably on the grounds that it belittled his own authority.

The end result was that three petitioners, James Oxberry, Charles Glyn and Cardozo - who acted as spokesman - took their case to the Privy Council in London and won. There would be no formal investigations into who owned what or where. General Don must have been appalled.

Unusually for a man of such extraordinary wealth Cardozo was reputed to be a very generous man, although it must be said that much of this seems to have been directed at the already wealthy rather than the needy. It seems to have been led by ulterior motives - he probably expected something in return.

Hospitable to a fault his house was always made available not just to Nelson who was a close friend and to British VIPs such as Sir Robert Wilson who would later also become Governor of Gibraltar - but to any North African notable who might happen to be passing through. Over the years as his influence spread, he became by turn, the consul for Tunis and then for Algiers in Gibraltar.

It was during General Don's term of office that he finally resigned his position as leader of the Jewish community. Apparently he seems to have overreached himself when he quarrelled with Judah Benoliel, another extremely wealthy local merchant who was even richer than Cardozo himself.

The upshot of all this was that the Jewish community asked the Governor to revert to the arrangements originally instigated by Bland which allowed the Jews to be governed by elected members of the synagogues. Aaron resigned in a huff but kept himself busy with other civic duties. He was, for example, chosen as one of the eleven Commissioners in charge of 'Scavenging and Paving the Town of Gibraltar' and was also one of the instigators of a lottery to raise money for creation of the Alameda Gardens, a hobby horse of General Don - and his wife.

In the 1820s he opened his doors to numerous Spanish liberals – including General Quirogas - who were fleeing the oppressive regime of Fernando VII.

People strolling about in Gunner’s Parade, then still known as Plaza de los Cañoneros. The building with a garden on the extreme right is the Garrison Library. (See LINK) Despite his many connections in high places Aaron would not have been welcome there.

People gather to gossip and trade in Main Street in front of the Exchange and Commercial Library. The man in the middle is probably selling portions of that popular Gibraltarian chick-pea concoction known as calentita.

Whichever way one looks at it, Aaron Cardozo must have been an exceptionally astute individual. Just after his successful trip to London concerning the proposed survey on properties, Cardozo began collecting testimonials from all those friends in high places that he had helped in one way or the other over the years.

Many possible contributors were now unfortunately dead. Among the Governors, Boyd, Rainsford, O'Hara, Barnett, Trigge and Fox had all passed away but Dalrymple, Drummond and Craddock all complied. Among a lengthy list of army officers were the Generals Sir John Doyle, Sir Edward Paget, Wemyss, Lord Hutchinson, Airey and Widdrington. General

William Fyers mentioned previously in another essay (see LINK) was also there. As regards the Navy, Nelson and Collingwood were gone but the Admirals Elphinstone-Fleeming, (see LINK) Penrose and Sidney Smith were very much alive. St Vincent who must have been close to retirement, considered himself to be a close friend. 

General Sir Edward Paget (Martin Archer Shee)

Admiral Collingwood (Henry Howard)

Sir John Doyle (William Say)

Admiral William Sidney Smith (John Eckstein)

When Cardozo died in London in 1834 at the age of 72, the Gentleman's Magazine carried an obituary that stated - among other things - that he had been 'a benevolent, active and zealous individual'.

He was also a knight of the Legion of Honour leaving us to wonder how on earth he managed to obtain the highest decoration in France established about thirty years previously by Britain’s arch-enemy Napoleon. The Private Diary of Richard, Duke of Buckingham and Chandos does in fact give us a clue as to why Cardozo received this honour. According to the diarist, during a visit to Gibraltar in the late 1820s, General Don had told him that during the Peninsular wars, Napoleon had employed spies within the Garrison in order to:
 . . . give him information to calculate the chances of a successful siege; and his principle spy was the Jew Cadoza (sic), the great friend of the English, amd then the richest man in the Garrison. He also gave information touching Lord Exmouth's fleet and the Dutch squadron employed in the Algerine expedition. Sir George intercepted his letters. Cadoza found himself detected and set off for Lisbon . . . . '
Even more astonishing is the fact that he managed to get himself awarded the Spanish Order of Isabela la Catolica, almost certainly the first and certainly one of the very few Jews ever to have done so.

But perhaps the most interesting obituary came from the Duke of Kent: 'he was', wrote the Prince, 
always distinguished as the most active and zealous individual on the Rock . . . .' and that he had 'been most confidentially employed on many trying and important occasions . . . and had never sought for or obtained remunerations for such services.
Aaron Cardozo was not the richest merchant ever to grace Gibraltar - but he was certainly the most famous. He is mentioned variously in many histories of Gibraltar but usually only in connection with the house he built in the old Alameda.

His intimate involvement with so many people whom one might consider to form part of the Gibraltar establishment at the time, leads one to suspect that there must have been quite a number of other local individuals of equal if not greater entrepreneurial influence and chutzpah. Like Cardozo, there must have been others directly involved in the history of the Rock that have never even been mentioned in those innumerable British commentaries on the warlike affairs of Gibraltar.