The People of Gibraltar
1817 - The Sacarello Family - Coffee from Gibraltar

In 1817, my great, great grandparents, Giovanni Batista Sacarello and Maria Dominica Bignone got married in Gibraltar. He was twenty-seven years old, and Maria Dominica was twenty.

During General Don's time as Governor of Gibraltar, non-British born inhabitants were discouraged from bringing in their relatives or marrying anybody who was not already a resident on the Rock. The result was a steady flow of illegal immigrants, a tendency for marriages, births and baptisms to remain unrecorded and the creation of tensions and anxieties in many families living in Gibraltar at the time.

It is therefore not particularly surprising that the name of Sacarello does not appear on the 1814 census or in fact on any previous one - although there is concrete evidence that the marriage did in fact take place as it was registered in Book 6 of Marriages in the archives of the Church of Santa Maria la Coronada.

Giovanni Babtista was the captain of a brigantine trading in leather and wool along various ports of the Mediterranean. His home base was in Livorno but he was a frequent visitor to Gibraltar, where he met and wooed Maria. Whether for her family's sake, economic reasons, or simply because Maria's father insisted that he who pays the piper calls the tune, he married her in her own home town.

Late 19th century Livorno ( Unknown )

Giovanni Baptista's parents - Francesco Sacarello and Maria Russo were originally from Spotorno, a town not all that distant from Monte Saccarelo in north-west Italy from which their ancestors presumably took and corrupted their name. Maria's parents - Giuseppe and Paula Saleri were also from Spotorno - although in this case the family took their name from the nearby Mount Bignoni. Inevitably the union became known as 'the marriage of the two mountains.'

Early 20th Century Spotorno

The newlyweds did not settle on the Rock immediately. They left Gibraltar, presumably to reside either in Livorno or elsewhere in Genoa. It would be many years later, in 1845, before Giovanni returned to the Rock for good. There is some evidence that Maria returned sooner. Perhaps she wanted some of her many children to be born in the place which she considered her home. Or perhaps she was simply homesick. Whatever the case, Giovanni and Maria were the founder members of the Sacarello family name in Gibraltar.

In November 1850 Giovani Batista died at the age of sixty in Mazagan in Morocco. His remains were brought to Gibraltar where he was buried. It seems unlikely that he was living in Mazagan as the rest of the Sacarellos were by now in Gibraltar. He probably just died on board his ship while making a trip to Morocco.

His youngest son Felipe - now permanently settled on the Rock - married Maria Magdalena Fava in 1833. Their son Bartholomew - known to all and sundry as Bartolo - eventually became probably the best known member of the family as he was the founder of an important local family business.

Bartolo, Josefa and their children. Federico Sacarello, eventual heir to the family business, sits on his mother's knee   (Sacarello family photograph )

As has always been the case, during the late nineteenth century Gibraltar had to import just about everything it consumed and Bartolo made every effort to supply the local population with the lot - from safety matches to flour, from buckets of lard to spaghetti - you wanted it, he had it. In a very short time he had extended his little empire into Spain and Morocco.

It was perhaps his dealing with the former country that led him to realise that coffee was the future. Whether selling the stuff to Spanish smugglers had anything to do with this is open to question but the fact is that coffee had become increasingly profitable over the years. Bartolo dumped his other imports and began to buy up serious quantities of the finest Arabica and Robusta beans from Africa and South America.

Once landed in Gibraltar the beans were roasted and blended and packaged into a whole variety of brands and although coffee smuggling eventually ceased to be profitable, the Sacarello business survived comfortably with purely local trade. Drinking coffee was extremely popular at the time and both Gibraltar and the Campo area were jam-packed with Caf├ęs. So much so that just after the Spanish Civil War the Negrita Brand became so well known that it was famously mentioned in one of the satirical chiringota performances in Cadiz.

Tradition has it that the Sacarello's were also the first family in Gibraltar to own a car. That this was not correct is more than made up for by the fact that car in question was a Rolls Royce. - and that it was indeed the first one of that make in Gibraltar.

Gibraltar's first Rolls Royce (Sacarello family photograph )

In 1895 Bartolo's sister Mary Sacarello, married Angel Chipulina. They were both unusually old for marriage given the norms of the era. He was 28 years old and she was 36. The day they married Mary - who was always known as Memo - was three months pregnant thereby carrying on a tradition begun by Angel's grandfather albeit in a rather more discreet manner.

Angel Chipulina

In 1923 a branch of the family opened stationers in 96 Main Street - at the time of writing it was still there although the business has expanded somewhat since then.

Main Street in the 1930s

(Sacarello family photograph )

When my family returned to Gibraltar after having been evacuated to Madeira I remember visiting this shop to get my weekly fix of Beano, Dandy, Hotspur and Eagle comics - often for free - from this shop.

Inside 96 Main Street  (Sacarello family photograph )

Both the Chipulina and Sacarello families have continued their presence in Gibraltar to the present day - the former family, of course, not quite as well known as the later.