The People of Gibraltar
1832 - William Harris Rule - The Dregs

Hughes, Ben Saya and Cohen - Porral, Shea and Francia,
Machado, de Estrada and Bonell - Quartin, Parody and Guibara

William Harris Rule was a Cornish preacher and a historian. A prolific writer, he left the Church of England to become a Wesleyan when he was twenty years old. He was ordained a preacher in 1826 and later spent some time abroad in Lebanon, Malta and the island of St. Vincent. In 1832 he was appointed Wesleyan pastor at Gibraltar.

William Harris Rule

Among his many publications are his cumbersomely titled pamphlet Memoirs of a Mission to Gibraltar and Spain with collateral Notices of Events Favouring Religious Liberty and of the Decline of Romish Power in That Country from the Beginning of the Century to the Year 1842. It is a pamphlet that runs to nearly 400 pages and mostly deals with Spain and the sentiments expressed in the later part of its title.

Nevertheless Gibraltar does make an appearance as do the ordinary people of the Rock. Unusually for a British visitor at that time, William Harris Rule was perhaps more interested converting civilians from Catholicism to the Methodist Church than trying to persuade Protestant members of the Garrison to make the switch from one form of Protestantism to another.

As such his observations are well worth a closer look as - despite his anti Catholic prejudices he seems to have had a better grasp of the cultural inclinations of the local population than just about any other visitor before him.

For example when one of his Wesleyan predecessors, a certain Rev. Richard Watson, observed that the great majority of the civil population in Gibraltar were Spanish, Rule was able to interpret his mistake correctly; what he meant was that they spoke Spanish without actually being so but that by implication they were all Roman Catholics and added the perhaps more interesting observation that there was little or no intercourse in English which in turn probably meant little or no intercourse between the local hoi polloi and the British Garrison.

The population at the time of Rule's visit stood at about 15 000 of which only about 1300 were Protestants of one sort or the other the rest mostly Catholics. Like most observers before him he cannot resist a generalised insult - They were, he wrote 'the dregs of all the neighbouring countries.' Worse still they obtained their living not 'so much by honest labour and honest commerce, as by supplying the army with provisions and smuggling British goods into Spain. It is his one and only insulting reference to what he presumably hoped would turn out to be his future converts.

And Rule's intentions were charitable. His main aim was to set up a 'Public School' with the Governor's approval in what he described as an attempt to educate the poorest members of the local population. He managed to this but it is quite evident that he was more than upset by the fact that the managing committee eventually set up to run it was made up not just of Protestants but also of 'Papists and Jews' and to the general exclusion of Protestants in its general management.

The school - or schools as he eventually set up more than one - were a resounding success. During his stay he also carried out a survey in order to find out who if any of the 'humbler classes' among the local population actually owned copies of the scriptures. He does not give us the results of his survey but he did supply testaments in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese to those families who would have them. Rule, incidentally is credited to have mastered no less than ten languages including Spanish, Italian and Hebrew, all three of which would have stood him in good stead in Gibraltar

It was probably his linguistic skills that allowed him to come to the valid conclusion that all oral instruction both at school and from the pulpit ought to be in Spanish. It was, he wrote, the vernacular language by which the majority of the locals communicated with their relatives, friends and of course Spain.

He also offered an unusual insight; there is an ‘unchristian prejudice’ among the British against all things Spanish, a prejudice which the locals themselves seem to hold. To teach in English, he suggested, would just reinforce this ‘prejudice of caste’.

This is one of the two illustrations included in William Harris Rule's pamphlet. The engraving is by Capt. J.M. Carter whose many pictures of Gibraltar appear elsewhere in this history   LINK

Writing about his door to door experiences he was of the opinion that on the whole older people tended to be more hostile towards him than the younger ones 'who had been taught how to read by the bounty of Protestants' and were perfectly familiar with the bible.

He also has something to say about the Jews; They formed 'a considerable portion of the varied population' and they were attracted to Gibraltar 'by the facilities to be enjoyed by petty trading at that notorious resort of smugglers.'It is, however, the only time he uses derogatory language when mentioning the Jews.

Indeed, his visits to one of the synagogues and his meeting with the chief Rabbi, Israel Ben Saya, seem to have left him with a good impression of them generally, a welcome change from the normally anti-Semitic observations of most of his contemporaries.

In 1833 he met Jacob Cohen who became a good friend and with whom he seems to have spent quite some time reading the Hebrew bible and comparing it with the New Testament. Cohen, a polyglot like Rule, spoke, English, Spanish, Moorish, Arabic and Hebrew with equal fluency. He rejected the Talmud and the Rabbanists whom he despised for their ' superstition and bigotry' as he did the practices of Barbary Jews.

Cohen's constant dialogues with Rule seems to have reached the ears of the Rabbi of the synagogue to which he belonged. With obvious disapproval he sent Jacob Cohen to Lisbon to work in a Jewish commercial establishment where he remained until his death.

Rule's excuse for dedicating quite a number of pages to his encounters with Cohen is that the young man was a good example of the possibility of converting a Jew to Christianity. But it is quite clear from the text that there was more to it than that. Rule admired Cohen as a person of integrity. It was personal. It is also interesting in that it is such an unusual occurrence. Visiting Englishman rarely felt anything but either contempt or disgust for the Jews of Gibraltar.

Soon after the Cohen episode Rule attempted to set up a mission in San Roque, a small town of about three thousand people only a few miles from Gibraltar. After a long drawn out contretemps with the authorities he seems to have succeeded in setting it up although it is not clear whether it was as successful - or as long-lived - as he would have wanted.

Convent near San Roque

In 1839 Rule organised an event to commemorate the Centenary of Methodism. Four hundred children accompanied by leading members of society - he doesn't mention whether British or otherwise - paid their respects to the Governor and then went in procession through the town carrying a banner which stated ' Hasta aquí nos ha socorrido el Señor'. They then assembled in a large shed in neutral ground after which they were presumably subjected to a lengthy lecture by Rule himself on the glories of Methodist Church.

This seemingly innocuous event was viewed with great dismay by the majority of the population and especially by the Catholic 'Elders of the Church' who took exception to seeing the children of mostly Catholic parents marching through the streets of Gibraltar carrying Methodist banners. A memorial to the authorities was the inevitable response.

The actual text is interesting as it reveals a real worry about the effectiveness of Rule's Methodist schools for children and about a lack of similar facilities from the Catholic Church - ' For females' they protested 'we have yet no establishment whatsoever; and here it is that our adversaries triumph most.' It was signed by the Vicar Apostolic, John B. Zino and by the following local worthies:

Anthony Porral
Alexander Shea
Joseph Francia
Francisco Xavier Machado
Emmanuel Gonzalez de Estrada
John Bonell
Geronimo Quartin
Peter Quartin
John Parody
Joseph Guibara
Angel Bonfante

 Bishop John Baptist Nosardy Zino

That same year and not long after this the Catholic Church appointed an Irish Franciscan Friar - Dr. Henry Hughes - as Bishop of Gibraltar. Rule's assessment was that his appointment was not 'generally desired by the native population' - fundamentally because they 'did not want to be burdened with so costly a dignitary.' Pretty soon an incident occurred that proved him right and justified the unmistakeably gleeful tone of the Reverend Rule's passage describing the event.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, Free-masonry had made steady gains among the local inhabitants. It seems that a recently deceased member of the brotherhood was being taken into the Catholic Cathedral to be buried when it was discovered that his coffin contained Masonic symbols. Hughes ordered the symbols to be removed and refused to allow the funeral procession to continue. The church then became the 'the scene of a riot while people of all classes demanded the burial of the corpse.' It was according to Rule, 'not the first time by many, nor the last' that the Cathedral had experience a fracas of this sort.

The immediate upshot was that the unfortunate- or possibly fortunate - Free-mason was buried in the Protestant section of the burial-ground by the Grand Master of the Lodges. The more far reaching outcome was that the Elders of the Church took the Bishop to court and demanded that he give chapter and verse of all the money he had received in the last six months and that he be required to repay his debts.

The court found that the Board of Elders was a legally constituted entity - something which is hard to understand as they were a self appointed bunch of individuals with more than one axe to grind. More importantly they also found against the Bishop and ordered him to pay up. He did nothing of the kind and was sent to prison for default. According to Rule he enjoyed every minute of his incarceration, receiving visitors with the 'air of a Confessor . . in proud anticipation of a purple hat'.

Dr Henry Hughes, Bishop of Gibraltar - who is given a mention elsewhere in this History  LINK

In 1842 the Governor of Gibraltar during Rule's stay on the Rock - Sir Alexander George Woodford - left Gibraltar for the last time. According to Rule his departure was one of 'general regret to the inhabitants' and that 'even the officers who attended him to the waterside wept.'

Rule left the Rock soon afterwards. It is unlikely than anybody wept at the wharf but perhaps more than one local inhabitant may have been sad to see him leave.

William Harris Rule pamphlet concerns itself with religious matters which are of little interest to the author of this history. In any case his overall premise - the demise of the Catholic Church in Spain and its replacement by Wesleyan values seems to have been premature to say the least.

But he is unusual in that in so far as Gibraltar is concerned he was far more interested in the local population than in the Garrison. In fact they hardly get a mention. Fawning reference to those in authority hardly appear in his writing and his comments about the local population, although critical at times, never approach those contemptuous levels achieved by so many of his contemporary compatriots.
Perhaps for that alone one has to admire the man.