The People of Gibraltar
1788 - Thomas 'Buck' Whaley -Promiscuous Runners

In 1788 Thomas 'Buck' Whaley, an Irish aristocrat, politician, gambler and traveller , visited Gibraltar on his way to Jerusalem. He had previously made a bet worth £15 000 with the Duke of Leinster that he would be able to travel to Jerusalem and back within two years. It was a bet worth nearly two million pounds in today's money.

Thomas 'Buck' Whaley,

His memoirs appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine and were then published in the early twentieth century when the original manuscripts were discovered by chance. The rather cumbersome title was Travels Through Different Parts of Europe and Asia - Particularly a Journey to Jerusalem in 1788.

The following deals with the chapter on his visit to Gibraltar

The Rock
On Wednesday, October 29th, we discovered the Rock of Gibraltar. . . . I had from earliest youth formed a wish to visit Gibraltar, and the eagerness with which I waited for the time of my getting on shore is not to be described. But I was never more disappointed in my life than at the first appearance which this so much celebrated place seemed to present at two miles distance from the sea; nothing to strike the eye but the height of the rock and a few straggling houses; not the appearance of a battery, or the smallest indication of a fortified place.

Nor was my opinion peculiar to myself in this respect, for I have heard since that a stranger on his first approach . . . must be disappointed. . . . But how soon is he undeceived, when he sets foot on shore, and with what pleasure and admiration does he gaze on everything he see around him.

'Nothing to strike the eye but the height of the rock and a few straggling houses' The Rock in 1784  (Unknown)

Whaley was entitled to be surprised at the lack of ordinance. The Great Siege was still fresh on British minds and the perception was that Gibraltar was a huge castle-like fortress guarding the Mediterranean. Nevertheless he was soon to realise that even though it was hard to make out from a distance, Gibraltar was - as always - armed to the teeth.

 The prevailing  image of Gibraltar during the late eighteenth century (1790 - Unknown )

The People of the Rock
I inquired my way to the Governor's, and as I proceeded through the streets was much struck with the variety of figures that I met running promiscuously backward and forward, and the odd and confused noise resulting from a dozen different languages spoken all at once.

Jews of all nations, Moors, Turks, and Christians were indiscriminately mixed together, each having a different dress, countenance, and religion. To me all was masquerade. I would not have been more amused in the centre of the Pantheon; nor hit upon a character to which I could have done more justice than the one I naturally filled at the time , viz, that of a country booby, gaping and staring at all I saw.

The Town
The next day I received visits from several of the officers of the Garrison among whom I had the pleasure of meeting with many old friends and school-fellows . . . Accompanying some of them I walked to see the town. We at first examined the storehouses and barracks that had been destroyed in the lower part of town, and which had not been rebuilt since the Siege.

Afterwards we visited the different batteries that are constructed at the foot of the Rock; among the most remarkable are Orange Bastion, Montague Bastion, Saluting Battery, King's Bastion, Prince George's Battery and South Bastion. They are situated on the Line Wall to the west of the town. There are many other batteries on the different heights above, to support these in time of action.

Contemporary map of GIbraltar and Bay (1786 - Alexandre de Laborde )

Invited to dinner by the Governor
It is the fashion in Gibraltar, as well as in London and Dublin, to complain in the midst of a most sumptuous repast, of the hardness of the times and the dearness and scarcity of provisions. I was assured, however, that they were then as much so as during the siege, owing to the disagreement which subsisted between the garrison and his Moorish majesty, who had taken it into his head to quarrel with them and refuse them provisions. It was even said that in one of his drunken fits he had sworn by his beard never to be on better terms with Gibraltar.

Although not mentioned by name, the Governor at the time of Whaley's visit was a rather doddering George Eliott but it is a picture of Sir Robert Boyd that appears as an illustration in the memoirs. Eliott may have been away at the time and Boyd was - as always - standing in for him.

Sir Robert Boyd ( 1789 - John Hall, after Antonio Poggi )

Generally the above is a rather ambiguous passage. Soon after the siege had ended the officers had quickly made sure that they at any rate were not going to suffer the deprivations of a derelict town The problem, of course was that for various reasons - and the lack of suitable bribes may have been one of them - relations with Morocco had deteriorated to such an extent that the Pasha had refused to supply the Rock with its usual provisions.

The locals understandably tried to make a killing out of their gardens as the cost of food remained as high five years after the end of the siege as it had been during it. As Whaley suggests in the following paragraph, it was probably a good time to be a Genoese gardener.

To appearance, indeed, Gibraltar must strike the eye as a barren rock, yet , it yields vegetables in great abundance wherever it is cultivated, which is done in some spots by collecting earth together, it yields vegetables in abundance. sometimes it does not rain here for four months and of course everything would be burnt up were it not for the heavy dews that fall every night. But after a few hours rain every cultivated spot assumes the most lively verdure.

A garden here of about half an acre, would not, I was assured, be cultivated at a less expense than £300 a year, and yet the tenant, none withstanding the enormous sum, was a considerable gainer by its produce.

A view south from Prince Edward Gate. This rather bare patch of earth would eventually be converted into the Alameda Grand Parade and later still into the lower part of the Alameda Gardens. ( 1790 - George Bulteel Fisher)

Though the Rock of Gibraltar is surrounded by the sea, well water is to be found all over it, pretty good and fit to drink, though heavy and often brackish; but the rain water from the mountain, which is filtered through the sands without the south port, is exceedingly good and wholesome, and remains incorrupt a long time. It is collected into a reservoir, and from thence conducted to town.

The aqueduct was first begun by the Moors, and carried by earthen pipes; in their time it reached the city supplying the 'Atarasana' and the Castle; that now existing was planned by a Spanish Jesuit, and only reaches to the Grand Parade.

Plans of the fountain at the Grand Parade as it would have looked like when Whaley was in Gibraltar ( 1771 - Thomas James )

The 'sand' are the red sands of the Alameda. Years later General George Don was rather less convinced about the wholesomeness of this water. It may well have been filtered through sand but it also moved unpleasantly through the corpses buried in the public cemetery found in this area. The reservoir was probably the Nun's Well.

Whaley also translates the word atarasana in a footnote as Spanish for 'arsenal', but one would imagine he was referring to the Galley House built in pre British conquest days in the old Barcina area - today's Casemates. The Grand Parade is today's John Mackintosh.

Wild Life
I was surprised, in one of my excursions, to spring a covey of partridges of about twelve brace. I saw nothing for them to feed on, but was told that they eat the seeds of the Palmetto, which grows in great abundance on every part of the Rock. . . .At the southern end of the Rock there are many wild boars, which are sometimes seen a dozen in number. I would willingly have paid these gentlemen a vist had shooting been permitted.

On Sugar Loaf there are monkeys in hundreds; and though the soldiers complain, when on guard, of being pelted by tem with stones, they are not permitted to defend themselves by shooting them.

The partridges must have been of the Barbary variety - Alectoris barbara which are found in Gibraltar and are perhaps the only place in Europe where they are residents. The wild boar on the other hand seem rather far-fetched. During the trauma of the Great Siege almost everybody was reduced to eating dandelions and the odd lizard. Whatever few wild boar that may have run wild on the rock - and this is the first time I have come across a mention of them - would surely have been killed off to extinction long before the end of hostilities.

Gibraltar Partridge ( Photo - Jonathan Perera )

There is very little society in Gibraltar, but a perfect harmony subsists between the garrison and the few inhabitants; and with apparent wishes to promote conviviality, they spend their time in a very pleasant manner. I felt so much comfort and satisfaction among them that it was with much regret I left this celebrated Rock; not less endeared to me by the hospitality I experienced there than it is known to the rest of the world for its memorable defence.

In 1787 there were only about 3 000 civilians living on the Rock - fewer than the numbers that made up the Garrison. Nevertheless, the 'perfect harmony' that existed between the military and the inhabitants almost certainly refers - in the later case - to British born residents.

Generally Whaley's rather rose-tinted description of Gibraltar and its people suggests that he spent much of his time there drinking and dining with his military friends - he was apparently on more than nodding terms with quite a few officers stationed in Gibraltar at the time. Whaley eventually continued on his way to Jerusalem and then returned to Dublin within the two year time limit. He claimed his bet.