The People of Gibraltar
1802  - The Duke of Kent – Abominable Licentiousness

Prince Edward, Alphonsine and Pownoll - Buckley, Salisbury and Barnett.

O’Hara’s replacement was Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent. Tradition has it that a gypsy in Gibraltar foretold that his only child would be a great queen. Gibraltar gypsies rarely getting their predictions wrong, the Duke eventually married a German widow in Amorbach, did his duty there and then compelled her to make a grueling journey to England. There she gave birth to his only daughter Alexandrina Victoria who would eventually become Queen of England.

Edward, Duke of Kent (William Beechey)

Marie Louse Victoire von Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld - Prince Edward's wife and Queen Victoria's mum - She never set foot in Gibraltar (Franz Joseph Zoll)

The Prince was no stranger to the Rock. In 1789 he had been appointed colonel to a regiment in Germany and had for his own very personal reasons decided to return home without leave. In disgrace he had been sent off to Gibraltar as an ordinary officer. The punishment was short lived and a couple of years later he was promoted and posted to Canada.

His departure from the Rock while it lay mostly in ruins after the Great Siege, was marked by an elaborate and expensive party which was worthy of a long article in a contemporary edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine.  In it Kent was obsequiously described as ‘most correct, attentive and diligent in the discharge of his duties as well as most regular and temperate in his private hours.’ The going away party was organized in the local ‘Hotel de L’Europe’ but a nearby barracks was sumptuously refurbished to sit 240 people for a grand supper’. Among the guests were the Governor Sir Robert Boyle, and just about every officer of the British army and navy in full dress uniform. Personnel from visiting Dutch and Portuguese squadrons as well as ‘all the ladies in the place’ were also invited and a band of fifty musicians kept everybody well entertained. 

Temporary building created within one of the local barracks for the Duke of Kent’s going away party. 

Somebody even composed a special tune to celebrate the occasion;

War's rugged paths have also flowers
Gay mirth, and song, and festive hours;
And, from the steep ascent to Fame,
The prospect of a glorious name.
See, o'er yon Western mountain's shade,
The evening's blushing radiance fade!
So fades our joy round Calpe's brow;
For Royal Edward leaves us now!

Not altogether surprisingly the composer decided on anonymity. Nevertheless and as the magazine so nicely puts it ‘Ceres and Bacchus poured forth their stores in abundance, yet Prudence presided over the whole.’ Unbelievable and almost certainly not true but it definitely was a night that the Garrison would remember - if not the local residents. Not one of them was invited. It was a snub that must have frustrated quite a few of them. The Duke owed them £20 000 which he had no intention of repaying.

When he actually left the Rock for America he did so in a rather more discrete fashion. As a writer in the London review put it,
  . . his retinue was more domestic than princely; a French female, his own man and a Swiss valet, composed his whole suite.
The Duke’s father, George III was well known for his various odd illnesses and periods of madness. It was also said that the Prince had inherited some of these ailments and that the heat of the Gibraltarian summer affected him badly. Unfortunately it now seemed that it was the cold that afflicted him and as somebody memorably observed, ‘his heavy hand grew even heavier in the New World.’ During his short stay in Canada, the Prince imposed hundreds of lashings as the punishment for the slightest infringements to the regulations and was universally despised by the rank and file. In fact his life was threatened at least once by one of his soldiers.

He was also the intended victim of a plot that included his assassination and the delivery of the regiment to President George Washington but the conspiracy was discovered and the ring leader, John Draper, was sentenced to death. The Duke actually pardoned the offender – but not until after an hour-long funeral procession, and as he stood in front of the firing squad with his coffin by his side.

It was this same Prince who had been sent back to Gibraltar with very specific orders from the Government. He arrived on HMS Isis with twelve wagon loads of luggage. The ship’s captain had written back to his wife that he had ‘been lumbered a great deal’ in his time, but ‘never so much as at present.’

HMS Isis taking on an unknown ship. The captain of the Isis may have preferred this type of engagement than having to look after the Duke of Kent  (Unknown)

The Duke had been sent to restore discipline among the troops. According to another anonymous author writing in The Eclectic Magazine, the Duke had prepared himself to find the troops in a most irregular and licentious state, and the garrison thronged with abuses in every department. Unfortunately,
  . . . the representations made to him in England fell infinitely short of the actual immorality, insubordination, and open laxity of all military rules which he found prevailing.’
He was not the only one in his criticism. When Admiral Sir John Jervis (see LINK) was confronted with a mutiny in 1798 on one of his ships off the coast of Cadiz he blamed Gibraltar; “the abominable licentiousness and total dereliction’ of all his ‘maxims while the ship was at Gibraltar gave an opening for this mischief.’

Indiscipline in Gibraltar. In the top cartoon, a Spanish official is taking pot shots at several 'Middies' or midshipmen, who have gone off on an unauthorized fishing jaunt and have found themselves too close to the Spanish coast for comfort. In the second sailors on shore leave enjoy themselves at the expense of the locals  (1800s - F. Clifford)

In many ways the Duke was quite lucky - by the time he arrived in Gibraltar, the situation in Europe had changed completely. Napoleon had just taken over France and re-conquered Italy. It was time to consolidate. Britain and Spain just needed a rest from war. Kent was therefore able to concentrate his mind - rather unfortunately as it so happens - on discipline far more than he would otherwise have been able to.

The Prince had been selected for the job by his brother the Duke of York who was the Commander in Chief of the British army at the time. Not only was he the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ of the nursery rhyme but was also the target of a short but insulting poem:

'His name is York,
He draws a cork
Much better than he fights.’

The Duke of York - Commander in Chief of the British Army   (William Beechey)

The officers are discussing the price they had to pay to get their commissions.  The recipient of their bribes was the Duke of York's mistress Mrs. Clarke. She later wrote a scandalous memoir that was suppressed only with great difficulty  (Unknown)

Kent took it easy for the first few days and even found time to consider taking on a mistress. He sent his valet to Paris to find a suitable candidate. The valet must have known his master’s tastes as the woman he chose was Alphonsine Julie Therese Bernadine de Montegent, Baronne de Fortisson. It was a love affair that lasted thirty years and was recorded for posterity in a book called The Prince and His Lady.

Alphonsine – the Duke of Kent’s mistress

Even while in Gibraltar the Duke still felt the need to write about her to his friends in glowing terms. 
I have at present a young woman living with me who I wrote to come from France to me, who has every qualification which an excellent share of good temper, no small degree of cleverness, & above all, a pretty face & a handsome person can give to make my hours pass away pleasantly in her company.
The Duke tended to live in splendid isolation in a the so called Duke of Kent House just across the road from the Convent near the Line Wall – although he was invariably accompanied by the very obvious Alphonsine. They must have hardly ever been in the Convent which was still being repaired after the damage done to it during the Great Siege. He did use it every so often for entertainment purposes although he found the place 'uncommonly chilly' - which was not particulary surprising as the room had the same height as the King's Chapel. 

Relations with Spain being good at the time The Duke also bought his wife a farm near San Roque. It had been offered to him by the Spanish Governor, Teniente General Francisco Xavier de Castaños-Aragorri.

The Spanish Governor General Francisco Castaños

The Spanish Governor's generosity probably allowed him to organise his sex life rather more discretely than would otherwise have been the case, but nothing would have stopped the gossip of the scandalised locals, still recovering from O’Hara’s drastic expulsion orders.

On the very first day he arrived on the Rock the Duke had the opportunity to review his troops. What he saw has been portrayed by somebody who was there as a ‘total want of uniformity in their dress and appointments, the inaccuracy of their movements, and the unsteadiness of both officers and men. It was, he said ‘beyond the power of language’ to describe.

General Barnett’s diagram of how he hoped the Garrison would be able to line up for the Duke of Kent’s reception parade. 

Wary at first and undecided as to how to tackle the problem – he had already faced a mutiny while in command in Canada – he simply sat back and read reports of the gradually worsening situation until things came to a head when he was told that two Spanish ladies visiting the Rock had been raped by drunken soldiers. It was time for a full-scale programme of reform. To quote the anonymous writer in the Eclectic Magazine, he had 
 . . . pondered a variety of plans for the cleansing of this Augean Stables, and thinks at last, with Hercules, that he can do it best by turning a little water through it.
All told he produced 169 new regulations some of which involved the closing down of more than half the taverns and forcing the soldiers to use only three of them. To make matter worse from the soldiers’ point of view, these drinking houses were also instructed to stop serving spirits such as gin and rum and restrict themselves to the sale of the local Bristol Beer, a dreadful concoction brewed somewhere in an area in the south known as Nuns' Well. (See LINK

Modern photo of the Nun’s Well near Europa Point. In 1802 the Duke of Kent set up the Brewery Yard inside this building. What they produced was euphemistically called Bristol Beer. (Bwana Brown)

Still not content that this was having the desired effect he put all the taverns out of bounds except for three. As luck will have it Garrison Orders lists them by name; The Three Light Infantrymen in Cooperage Lane, The Halfway House – also known as The Three Grenadiers - between Southport and South Barracks, and the Three Guns in Cannon lane.

The Tarveners were hardly amused. Paulo Moro, a former Corsican-French Royalist soldier who had fought for the British in Corsica had been granted a liquor license in Gibraltar by O’Hara, petitioned Edward in 1802 for a pension. He argued that this was the least they could do for him since the Governor had denied him his only means of earning a living.

It was in the Three Guns that a number of exasperated soldiers made their plans to kill the Duke of Kent. According to Allan Andrews (see LINK)  
. . . there are strong indications that in the officer’s messes such action was awaited with enthusiasm.
The Prince continued to issue his orders oblivious of the effect they were having on the moral of the Garrison. He ordered that the morning gun was to be fired at the unearthly hour of 3.30 a.m. in summer and instigated the practice of two full dress parades every day – one at dawn and the other in the evening so that the time available for the soldiers to go to the pubs was practically reduced to zero.

To make doubly sure he ordered that non- commissioned officers be inspected periodically to make sure that they were not drunk – either on or off duty. Nor would he tolerate beards or sideburns and he even greeted ships arriving in port by sending in tailors and barbers on board to measure the officers’ cuffs and haircuts before allowing them to disembark.

Roll-calls, barrack restrictions and regular periods of drill and exercise became the order of the day. Like most officers who had seen little war service, he obviously attached - as Thomas Hamilton wrote in his book, Cyril Thornton (see LINK) - ‘an overweening importance to matters of costume’. With an incredible acuteness of observation ‘he could detect at a glance the smallest deviation from the established cut in a coat, or the unwarranted excess of a button in the gaiters.’ All of which ‘he never failed to visit with his severest displeasure.’

The Duke in military pose despite the fact that he had never fired a gun  in anger, much less a cannon (George Dawe)

An artillery sergeant put it rather less elegantly: he found ‘the Duke to be very sharp on duty and very hard’ on this Garrison.’ He also mentioned that he often saw ‘five men tied up and flogged all together by the tap of the drum, for very small crimes,’ and claimed that a good number of soldiers preferred to commit suicide ‘in various manners’ rather than endure the misery of duty in Gibraltar.

Flogging in the British army

Edward was also quite prepared to use capital punishment. Almost as soon as he assumed his post, the new governor hanged ‘three Spaniards’ for theft. These were almost certainly local residents. As always, there was a blurred distinction between those non-British civilians who were simply visitors and those who actually lived on the Rock.

The officers were also beginning to feel the strain. It ‘was not agreeable to their sensations’, someone said, ‘nor adapted to their notions of convenience. They were interrupted in their billiards, and could not sit so long or so delightfully over their wine.’ They had ended up with a boss who was ‘rather rigorous in his discipline’ and a tendency to pay ‘too much consequence on trifles.’

He also interfered with British civilians. Edward Pownoll was the civil officer in charge of the Gibraltar stores at the time. The fact that he was not a uniformed member of the service, seems to have irritated the Prince who ‘exempted him from the indulgence and comforts experienced by all other officers of the Navy and Army,’ only allowing him to enter the dockyard at night or in an emergency. Pownoll appealed to the Navy as this prevented him from performing his duty properly, but he was unable to solve the problem until Prince Edward’s departure from Gibraltar.

A contemporary picture of a peaceful scene near the New Mole where Edward Pownoll was finding himself harassed by the Duke of York (Unknown)

On the evening of Christmas Eve 1802 as the Prince was dining with his staff at his Line Wall residence a detachment of the Royal Scots marched fully armed out of their barracks and headed towards them looking for trouble. Arriving at Prince Edward’s quarters, they demanded he appear and entertain their grievances. They had, they shouted, ‘been used worse than slaves and would no longer bear it.’ The appearance of another regiment which resulted in a scuffle with one soldier shot dead persuaded the men to return to their barracks.

On Boxing Day another Scottish contingent tried a different tactic. This time they rampaged around the town, gin bottle in one hand and a musket in the other, They called on the other Royal Scots to join them but they refused on the grounds that they had been let down on Christmas Eve. Gathered in the Pickett Yard – today known as Casemates Square - they were persuaded to return to their barracks but not before being fired upon by the artillery and another two mutineers killed.

Mid nineteenth sketch of the old Casemates which known as the 'Pikett Yard' when the Duke of Kent was Governor  (Unknown)

During the subsequent court-marshals twelve ringleaders were condemned to death and two others to a thousand lashes. The Duke commuted all but three of the death sentences to transportation for life to Australia.  The names of the three soldiers executed were Pastoret , Teighman and Reilly. The first two were Dutch, the third was - inevitably - an Irishman.The executions were carried out by firing squad in front of the whole garrison.

One story that has been perpetuated over the years is that one of the men who had been transported to Australia, a certain William Buckley, managed to escape from his prison camp in Port Philip. Thirty odd years later he reappeared after having spent all this time living among the aborigines who thought of him as a God. He was pardoned by the Governor of Tasmania and later served as an army interpreter. Unfortunately Buckley had actually been a soldier with the Duke of Kent while stationed in Holland. He had never been near Gibraltar.

As is usual in such matters the real culprits were never brought to justice. According to Henry Salisbury, one of the transported mutineers, the real ringleaders of the mutiny were the officers, some of them of the first rank. The names on Salisbury’s deposition were ordered to be  blanked out and these were subsequently referred to by local wits as the ‘Blanks’. To quote one of them, ‘some of these Blanks’ were probably ‘still living in respectable society. Justice in this world is often imperfect; it is so extremely difficult to try a supreme scoundrel, particularly when, as often happens, he is clothed in the regimentals of respectability.’

The net outcome of this fiasco was that the Duke was recalled to London. The Governor’s second in command, General Barnett probably expressed the sentiments of all his fellow officers when he suggested that it was ‘the best thing that could have happened. Now we shall get rid of him.’

The locals were absolutely appalled. Kent had gone back to the old policy of refusing to grant leaseholds of land to Catholics and Jews but the inhabitants considered even such a retrograde step as preferable to having to put up with the daily baiting and abuse by drunken soldiers. One hundred leading citizens, not just British but also Genoese, Spanish, Jewish and Moroccan, presented the Duke with a petition asking him to return as soon as possible. They felt that the Duke had ‘answered’ their ‘complaints’, ‘redressed’ their ‘grievances’ and ‘consulted’ their’ interests’. To help him come to the right decision they also collected 1000 guineas and presented him with a Garter encrusted with diamonds. He would have preferred the money as he, like O’Hara, had always found himself deeply in debt.

Punch Bowl donated by the Duke of Kent to the men of the 54th Regiment of Foot who stood by him during the Mutiny. It must have cost him far more money than he could afford. On the other hand he probably never got round to paying for it.

Despite this obvious vote of thanks, it is difficult to make out what were the real feelings of the ordinary local residents. Like the majority of the richer shop-owners and merchants they must have been pleased that they were less likely to be confronted by drunken troops. Nevertheless it is unlikely that the Duke will have ever been an easy master to a civilian population which he would most certainly have had little time for and would have been just as harsh and unyielding in his administration of the town. The hanging of the Spaniards was probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Kent may or may not have felt justified after such a show of support by the locals but he was definitely caught by surprise when he encountered considerable criticism for his actions on his return to London. He was refused a formal enquiry and was forbidden to return to Gibraltar.

The Duke of Kent’s character and activities as Governor of Gibraltar were vigorously defended by Montgomery Martin in his book on the history of British possession in the Mediterranean. According to the author he could not find ‘one dark spot’ on his character that ‘the eye of malevolence might dwell.’

His enormous debts, he wrote were entirely due to him ‘being obliged to keep establishments suited to his birth and rank.’ Nothing could ‘more strongly illustrate His Royal Highness’s strictly moral and honourable character that the fact that his suppression of the wine houses and taverns of the Rock meant that his personal revenue from them decreased from the £7000 per annum O’Hara had been pocketing to less than £3000. As a throwback from those good old days of Hargrave’s et al, Gibraltar’s Governors were now legally entitlement to revenue from wine licenses. What Martin failed to mention was Kent’s carefree attitude towards owing people money. As somebody put it ‘instead of paying off his debts he found it impossible to avoid contracting new ones.

The Duke of Kent has gone down in history as a pedant obsessed with military etiquette. He was nevertheless a good example of the often incomprehensible complexity of human nature. During his stay in Gibraltar he decreased soldier mortality by 80% and the soldiers hated him for it. He refused to take action against the first group of mutineers because he felt that he hadn’t sufficient evidence to do so yet his officers considered him to be a dispenser of arbitrary justice. Ignoring the fact that he was the first commander of the British Army to abandon flogging, he was renown throughout the Rock as a merciless flogger.

On the other hand, he was never over-blessed with tact. After presenting the regiment that had refused to join the revolt with the engraved silver bowl in appreciation of their loyalty, he is known to have commented within hearing of their commanding officer that they were not really to be trusted as most of them were Irish.

 The story of the two major upheavals in Gibraltar at the turn of the century – O’Hara’s civilian problems and Kent’s military riots - is a lesson on the writing of history and on the impartiality or otherwise of the historian. 

The regimental histories of the two companies involved in the mutiny hardly mention the incident. That of the regiment that quelled it has a detailed account that runs into several pages. Generally the details of the mutiny are copiously referred to in just about every history of note ever written about Gibraltar. O’Hara’s little contretemps with the locals, on the other hand is barely mentioned and very few details are available as to the whys and wherefores of the affair.

The discrepancies in regimental memories of past glories are more than understandable as is the interest in the actions and personality of somebody who ended up being the father of Queen Victoria. But the lack of information - and interest – in the revolt by such a large number of civilians in 1797 is surprising. 

If the soldiers’ mutiny had been more sucessful the history of Gibraltar would probably not have been affected all that much. If the civilian revolt had been successful most of the histories of Gibraltar would probably never have been written. Or at least not by British authors.

Satirical cartoon that refers to Britain's declaration of war against France in May 1803. It would prove to be a war that would have a huge effect on the economy of the Rock. But the Duke could not have cared less. He was already on a ship back to England determined to defend himself against his accusers. He would never return  (W Holland)

1802 - From the Royal Collection.