The People of Gibraltar
1782 - Sergeant-Major Ince - A Thousand Dollars

George Augustus Eliott, William Green  and the Duke of Kent

On a beautiful sunny day in May 1782, the Governor of Gibraltar, George Augustus Eliott, ( see LINK ) attended by his chief engineer Lieutenant-General Green was inspecting the northern defences of Gibraltar. The hardships of the Great Siege were still making themselves felt and the battery had temporarily been abandoned by his artillery men to allow a company of artificers to work on much needed repairs.

Pondering on the disastrous effects that the enemy fire was having on his North Front batteries Eliott decided it was time for some serious lateral thinking - if not from him perhaps from one of his men. 'I will give a thousand dollars' he said in a voice loud enough to be heard above the noise of hard working men, 'to anybody who can suggest how we can get flanking fire on the enemy works.

An unusual engraving of Eliott in that he does not look at all like he does in other contemporary paintings  ( 1782 - Thomas Macklin and R. Pollock )

There were a few minutes of silence as the soldiers took in the significance of the Governor's extraordinarily rash offer. It was then that a certain Henry Ince - Sergeant-major of the Company of Artificers - stepped forward and suggested the idea of digging a series of galleries out of the rock.

According to Thomas William John Connolly in his 1855 History of the Corps of the Royal Sappers and Miners, Eliott immediately:
. . . saw the propriety of the scheme, and directed it to be carried into execution. Upon orders being issued by the Chief Engineer, twelve good men of the company were selected for this novel and difficult service, and Sergeant-major Ince was nominated to take the executive direction of the work.
It was perhaps the moment in which Henry Ince deservedly entered the already heavily laden annals of Gibraltar's military history

A rather unconvincing portrait of the North Front showing embrasures blasted out of the rock leading up to the 'Notch' which was a ledge on the sheer north face of the Rock. Certain commentators have suggested that Eliott's actual words were; ‘a thousand dollars to anyone who can get guns to the Notch.’ (1782 John Mace )

About a decade before the events recorded above took place, military engineering works at Gibraltar were mainly executed by civilians from the continent and from England who were hired like ordinary employees and could leave the Rock whenever they felt like doing so.

As they were not subject to military discipline they did not take kindly to authority and could afford to be as lazy and as insolent as they felt like. Not even the more experienced English ‘quinea men' - known as such because of their high wages - could not be relied upon to work consistently and without disruption..

Basically the only real means of punishing them was by dismissing them - something which was always an inconvenience as well as being very expensive. It meant that any major engineering work progressed very slowly which in turn tended to be very stressful for the officers in charge.

It was hardly surprising then, that Gibraltar's chief engineer at the time - Lieutenant-Colonel William Green - decided that enough was enough and came up with a surprisingly simple solution - the formation of a company made up of mechanics from different regiments.

Colonel William Green  ( Unknown )

Green convinced the Governor who in turn wrote to the Secretary of State who also thought it a good idea. A Royal consent in 1772 led to the formation of the company of artificers and a Warrant followed shortly. Green was left with the pleasurable experience of getting rid of most of the civilian mechanics as well as all the 20 English ''guinea men' who were unceremoniously sent back home.

The warrant used the name ‘The Military Company of Artificers' but the corp. became known as was known as the Soldier Artificer Company. How or why the change took place is not known.

Of course, ever since 1704, appropriately knowledgeable soldiers stationed on the Rock had also often been employed in this kind of work. According to local historian Tito Vallejo the regiment into which Ince first enlisted as an eighteen year old - The Queens Royal Regiment - West Surrey - had already put the idea into practice a hundred years earlier in the late seventeenth century.

The only difference was that in the past the work was entirely supervised by members of the Royal Engineers - who were all commissioned officers - and the majority of the chalk face workers civilians such as those that Green objected to. The Soldier Artificer Company eventually established in Gibraltar was the first instance of a corp. made up exclusively of non-commissioned military engineers.

Ince joined the Artificers a couple of months after its creation and was immediately promoted to sergeant. By 1781 having generally distinguished himself during the Great Siege he was promoted to sergeant-major, the top ranking non-commissioned officer in the corps. Born in Penzance in 1736 he was by all accounts a small but strong and wiry man with a resilient constitution. In both physique and in personality he we in fact the ideal person to tackle the kind of work that would eventually make him famous. He was also apparently well thought of by his superior officers who were consistent in their admiration for the work he invariable carried out with such meticulous attention.

So much so that six years after his promotion to sergeant-major he actually came to the attention of the Duke of Richmond - Master General of the Ordinance at the time - who was trying desperately to reduce the cost of Gibraltar's gargantuan appetite for spending money on its military defences. It was no small feat for a lowly non-commissioned officer in the British Army.

What had caught the Duke's eagle eye was the fact that Ince received an allowance as an 'overseer of mines' - a reference to his immense tunnelling projects - over and above his normal salary as a sergeant-major. This, wrote Richmond, he was willing to accept as he 'understood from all accounts' that Ince was a meritorious man and that he distinguished himself during the Siege; but' - under no circumstances could such a thing be considered a precedence and any future Sergeant-majors of the corps would get the same pay as everybody else.

Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond (Joshua Reynolds )

That Ince deserved every penny of his allowance is quickly confirmed by anybody who visits the tunnels and galleries he created with his artificers. There must be few military excavations in the world to rival them - two long lines of galleries punctuated at intervals with embrasures blasted out of the rock, the upper one containing two large open spaces hewn out of solid rock known as St George's and Cornwallis' Halls.

St. George’s Hall   (1800s - H.E.Allen)

Another view. The engineers are still digging ( 1800 - Cooper Willyams )   ( see LINK

With the added help of convict labour and under the general supervision of Lieutenant Eveleigh of the Royal Engineers, by 1783 Ince was in a position to claim his one thousand pounds - although history is unclear as to whether the ingenious Sergeant ever got his hands on it. The existence of Ince's Farm to the south of the town, suggests that he may have been paid at least part of his reward. He definitely received the odd extra bonus here and there and his continuing excellent relationship with the Army high command and various Governors of the Rock must have produced its own perks.

Ruins of Ince's Farm in the 21st century ( Tito Vallejo )

Even as late as the beginning of the 19th century - by which time Ince had just been promoted to lieutenant but was now well over retirement age - he was still feeling the benefits of this relationship. On one occasion when he was out riding at an easy pace up the Rock, possibly on his way to his ‘farm’ he was overtaken by the Duke of Kent, ( see LINK ) who was the Governor at the time.

‘That horse’, said Kent ‘is too old for you. I will give you another more in keeping with your worth.’ The Sergeant was duly presented with a ‘very valuable steed’ which unfortunately he found difficult to handle forcing him to revert to his old nag.

Soon after when he was once again met by the Governor he was asked him the obvious question; why was he not riding his new horse? A rather embarrassed Ince explained that he simply could not manage the beast and offered to return it to the Duke.

‘No, no,’ came back the Duke. ‘For heaven's sake man, If you can’t ride him put him in your pocket.’ Ince took the comment literally by selling the horse ‘for his worth in doubloons’ and pocketing the profit.

On the other hand, the direct involvement - not to say interference - of the higher-ups in the day-to day-digging and mining must have often proved something of a headache for Ince. Eliott for one seems to have taken a very personal interest in the proceedings.

Captain John Spilsbury in his Journal of the Siege ( see LINK )  records that the Governor issuing a direct order: that the men working on the excavations should do so both by day and by night. His reasoning was that there should always be somebody on the alert at night in case they were attacked. It was a poor excuse. As Spilsbury argued, if that was so, how come they never took their weapons with them.

Eliott seemed to have realised that his orders were somewhat illogical and offered another rational: the work, he suggested, was very tiring so it was best for half the men to work while the other half slept. What he failed to take into account was the fact that his own standing orders insisted that anybody caught sleeping during the day - no matter what the excuse - had to be put on a charge.

The history of Gibraltar is quite rightly full of admiration for both Ince and his formidable subterranean passages. Even the enemy was impressed. When the commander of the Franco-Spanish forces - the Duc de Crillon - was invited to Gibraltar after the Great Siege had ended, Eliott gave him a tour of Gibraltar's main defences. during the Siege was invited to Gibraltar the galleries under Farringdon's battery - which were at that time about 600 feet long - were the ones that impressed him the most. 'These works', he is reputed to have exclaimed, 'are worthy of the Romans.'

The admiring Duke was probably never informed by his British guides that most of the main chambers of the galleries were never actually used during the Siege and that serious doubts had always existed as to their actual usefulness. Even at the time they were being built it was felt that the report from the guns inside these artificial caves would be deafening. There were also fears that the smoke from the gunpowder would be blown back into the galleries by the wind and suffocate the gunners.

The galleries have always been displayed as a work of military genius right up to the present day where they form part of Gibraltar’s many military tourist attractions. But they have never been put to the test. In 1804 a single salvo was fired in a futile attempt to dispel the yellow fever that was afflicting Gibraltar at the time but no report was ever made about its success or otherwise - at any rate none that was ever made public.

But that was not Henry Ince's fault. Master miner, tunneler and obviously a leader of men, he was probably a more complex individual than many of his superiors. He was also a man of the faith. The Methodist Society has existed in Gibraltar from at least as far back as 1769. Ince was one of its founder members and leaders together with Privates Morton and Henry Hall. It must have required a certain amount of courage to belong to the Society as membership was usually frowned upon by the military establishment. Ince's old house in Prince Edward's Road was their first regular meeting place.

In 1802 Ince's regiment was disbanded and he finally retired from the service. He returned home not to Penzance but to Gittisham in Devon. He died there in 1808, aged 72. He had more than left his mark on the Rock of Gibraltar.