The People of Gibraltar
1856 - Charles W. March – Malignant Turks

Charles W March was an American author and writer for the New York Tribune and the New YorkTimes. He was also a member of the State Legislature and was for some time American vice consul at Cairo. He visited Gibraltar in the 1850s as part of a grand tour and published his experiences in Sketches and Adventures in Madeira, Portugal and the Andalucias of Spain in 1856.

His single chapter on Gibraltar is often breath-taking - and for all the wrong reasons. The following is how he introduces the place.

The People of the Rock
Gibraltar is the Babel of nations; not only that all languages are spoken, but that they are so much patois and jargon as to be mostly unintelligible. Moors, Arabs, Ethiopians, Egyptians, English, French, Dutch, and Scotch - Spanish Irish and Portuguese - Turks, Jews, Mesopotamians, and 'dwellers beyond Jordan' are all here, with every variety of tongue.

Jewish Porter from Gibraltar ( 1835 - P Blanchard )

Such a mixture, such a confusion of languages, necessarily produces a certain kind of gibberish, called 'Rock Spanish' or 'Rock English' or 'Rock Moorish' as either tongue most predominates. A man here in a short time would lose his own language, and perhaps individuality. . . .

Here I saw move past me; 'the malignant and turbaned Turk'; the crouching, livid-faced greasy Jew of Fez, hatless and sandaled; the Ronda smuggler in his picturesque costume; the Spanish bandit with scrupulously clean linen, jacketless, but in a waistcoat of green silk profuse in silver buttons never used - and the kilted Highlander proud of his exposed calves and ear-splitting pibroch - all of these and many others passed continuously before my seat in front, and almost persuaded me I was assisting at a masquerade.

An almost contemporary photograph of a group of Gibraltar residents  ( 1850s - Francis Frith )

A cosmopolitan Rock indeed and a clear indication of the possible origins of Llanito. As regards the etymology of the word 'gibberish', Garrett Wesley Gibbons and others have argued in favour of it having founds its origins in Gibraltar. His insulting descriptions of  - 'malignant' Turks and 'greasy' Jews - simply confirm that American commentators were just as prejudiced against non-Anglo-Saxons as were Englishmen.

The Club House Hotel
I put up at the Club-house, a quiet, comfortable hotel, and not less agreeable for its situation than accommodations, being situate directly opposite the Exchange, on one side of Commercial Square. I would not indeed have chosen such a coigne of vantage elsewhere to view the life of Gibraltar . . .

The cuisine at the Club House I found good; the beef I particularly affected, having found none estimable in Spain - for 'beef is rare within those oxless towns' - nor was fish or game wanting.

The Club House Hotel, originally Aaron Cardozo's family home. He later leased it to a certain Mrs Crosbie who converted it into the best hotel in town. The photograph shows the hotel after it had been leased to another local resident - John Baptist Ansaldo - who upgraded it and returned it to its former glory.

Two of the lions of the Rock are the 'guides' and the monkeys. The first are a species of man; the second an animal that would not be flattered by comparison with them. The men are indigenous - no other soil indeed, could produce them - and are nomadic in their habits. They call themselves 'guides' and are scoundrels. . . . Catholic, heretic, or Moslem by turn, they carry in their countenances the indelible mark of the curse. They descend lineally from the Jew who mocked Christ; and like him are continually on the move.

They infest the hotels and public places everywhere; but Gibraltar seems their head-quarters. They put on a variety of costume, as they assume a variety of character. They speak Spanish as well as they do English and English as well as they do Spanish; that is an Englishman can't comprehend their English nor a Spaniard their Spanish.

They will lie, cheat and steal; and as Gibraltar is a great rendezvous, and there are many fools among those who enter its gates, they make quite a respectable living from the three professions.

Nineteenth century Gibraltar tourist guide- a cheat and a liar

The day after my arrival I visited the Rock. I rode a sure-footed and strong horse, and was accompanied by a valet de place from the hotel to point out the way. Going in an easterly direction we ascended a precipitous street and reached the Moorish Castle. We passed en route a number of very pleasant houses with nice green gardens, - the residences, I was told, of the officers of the Garrison . . . . . We looked down a number of picturesque glens, where nestled, as seeking refuge from the rude storm, the prettiest of suburban villas . . . .

Moorish Castle ( 1830s - David Roberts )

This passage confirms that tourism was beginning to be quite commonplace in Gibraltar. The fact that Gibraltar was 'infested' with people whom he practically accused of going around the place in fancy dress must have added to the universally held image of the day; the cosmopolitan Gibraltar. The reference to the 'Jew who mocked Christ' removes all doubt as to the author's rabid already obvious dislike of the Jews.

The Artillery Sergeant
Here we reached a guard-house . . . where we procured the companionship of an artillery sergeant . . . He accompanied us to a huge rock where, unlocking a heavy iron gate, he introduced us, horse and rider, into a dark, high valted passage. This led us into the 'galleries', as the excavations are called.

The Garrison's PR personnel came up with an inspired choice when they picked this particular sergeant as a tourist guide for the galleries. No 'scoundrel' he! Charles March is not the only visitor who remembered him and recorded the fact for posterity. In fact generally the whole of March's chapter on Gibraltar is so similar to that written by George Henry Borrow fifteen or so years earlier that on wonders how much of it was plagiarised.

The rest of this section gives a full description of the Halls of Cornwallis and St George. March's suggestion that the guns had never been fired because in doing so they would have filedl the galleries with smoke was indignantly denied by the sergeant.

A further section on St. Michael's cave is - again suspiciously identical to a similar one by Borrow - 'perilous to walk carelessly over it' and 'many lives sacrificed' trying to explore its nooks and crannies.

More on the people of the Rock
After the repose of Seville, all seemed bustle, and noise, and activity at Gibraltar. The 'cursed thirst for gold' pervades all classes; Jew, Moor, and Christian seem equally possessed. The Moors keep shops where they retail articles from fez and Morocco, and seek to avenge upon Spaniards and English by exorbitant prices , the shame of their expulsion from their once stronghold.

The Jews, as in every age and in every nation, are the money lenders, and lenders at a proper 'rate of usance.'

Barbary Hawker from Gibraltar

The principle business, however, done in Gibraltar is smuggling. It being a free port, all sorts of articles are introduced to be smuggled along the coast as far as Cadiz. The English thus find an excellent market for their cottons; thereby making the Rock, in a commercial and in a military point of view, a source of great injury to Spain.

It does nothing from the immorality of the practice that the English engaged in it have confederates on the Spanish side, and even among the officers of the Customs themselves. On the contrary, it doubles it; for besides the violation of the law, it seduces the integrity of its guardians.

Cigars are the chief article smuggled; and as their manufacture is the most active one in Spain, the honest industry of the nation is disastrously affected by this illicit practice.

Contrabandists on their way to Ronda from Gaucin - which can just be seen on the left. The goods will have been smuggled from Gibraltar which is also visible in the distance (1880 - J.F. Lewis )
But Gibraltar is the rendezvous of larger rascals than Jewish guides or smugglers; many a gypsy thief and Spanish ratero (footpad) congregate here, if not to ply their trade, to gather intelligence that will aid them elsewhere.

There is very good shooting in the Spanish main, particularly the woodcocks in the cork wood - and parties are often made for an excursion. It had happened that these parties, especially when small, have been dogged from the Rock, and come upon unawares . . .

The argument against smuggling is one that had been made before and will continue to be made in the future. From a Spanish point of view the sheer volume of contraband coming in from Gibraltar was not just despicable but destabilising. One would not have to read too many chapters on March's sections on Andalusia to realise that although he may not have been entirely enamoured of Gibraltar - and certainly not with the Gibraltarians - he did have a soft spot for Spain and the Spaniards.

The one new and interesting point made by March - and which is rarely made by British authors - is that the British merchants were not just suppliers of contraband goods but were directly involved in the illicit trade.

Society of Gibraltar
The best society in Gibraltar is the officers and their families and the foreign consuls. Nowhere have I met a fine-looking, more gentlemanly set of men than the officers of the British army. Without pretentious manners, they are intelligent, civil, and agreeable. The higher their birth the less they assume. My personal observation . . . has led me to conclude that the higher you ascend in the English social scale, the greater simplicity of manner you encounter.

As a general rule, the English army is much better officered than the navy . . . There is nothing of the barracks about them - no odour of the mess room . . . . while the officers of the navy . . . . too often reveal the quarter deck . . . I doubt it there is an officer of the English army addicted to habitual intoxication; at Gibraltar I know there was none.

March' infatuation with the British officer class is understandable - Many WASP American travellers seemed to delight in the mores of the British upper classes effortlessly misinterpreting self-satisfied arrogance for well-bred self-assurance.

To state that 'habitual intoxication' was unknown among these individuals is almost to come to the conclusion that March had never actually visited the Rock - excessive drinking among all classes on the Rock - except ironically among the non-British residents - had always been a serious problem in Gibraltar and would continue to be one long after March had left Gibraltar. And leave he soon did:

Leaving the Rock
One however, soon tires of Gibraltar. It is all seen in a day, and no variety of incident breaks in upon its monotony. Your ears are bored with the jargon and gibberish everywhere around you - your eyes soon becomes satiated with sights which - ceasing to be novel cease to be interesting - you reluct to enter the gates every night at sunset, and you long for more freedom of action and a less confined routine.

It is only intended as a stopping place, a relay house for people of Europe Asia and Africa, whom affairs excite to travel, or ennui kills at home. . . . . . However, any place is dull to him who wants occupation; unless one belongs to the garrison or is engaged in commercial pursuits, Gibraltar is not recommended for a long sojourn.

The notoriously claustrophobic atmosphere of Gibraltar had obviously got to March. It is hard to say from the writing exactly how long he stayed in Gibraltar but it would be safe to say that it was not for long: at any rate he never mentions classical tourist attractions such as Europa Point, the Alameda, the views from the top of the Rock - or even Main Street.

His derogatory views of the 'natives' and his blind spot as regards teetotal English army officers are difficult to take seriously especially as he was just as effusive about the common English soldier:

We sprang ashore and lost no time in passing the drawbridge and entering the long archway which going under ramparts, leads into the town. Near the archway paced with silent, measured, uninterrupted tread, the representatives of the majesty of the British empire, the red-coated sentinel. The gravity of their aspect, their stalwart figures, and irrepressible though subdued consciousness, well became the part they represented - the subordinate yet indispensible guardians of the integrity of Britain . . . .

An officer and a private of the British army of the mid nineteenth century. These were the kind of people much admired by Charles W Marsh (Unknown )

All of which immediately confirms the March may have been a citizen of the United States of America but his heart belonged to England. Either that or he wanted to make sure that his book would sell well in London.

All in all it is hard not to come to the conclusion that just about all of March's comments were the result of superficial observations - interspersed with very personal prejudices - jotted down of an evening in the Club House by a man who was longing to get back to a nearby country he did have a real affinity for - Spain