The People of Gibraltar
1830 - Henry D. Inglis - Spain in 1830

According to the Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen, Henry David Inglis 'is one of a class of authors, unfortunately too numerous, who have failed in winning that literary reputation which their labours justly merited.'

Inglis was a Scottish travel writer and social commentator. I cannot really offer an opinion as regards the value of his published opinions on society at large but he was certainly an admirable traveller - France, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and Switzerland, the Pyrenees , the Alps, the Apennines, the Tyrol and the Ardennes - he visited them and wrote popular books on all of them.

Of all these, his two volume work on Spain in 1830 - which includes a longish commentary on the Rock - was the most successful. The following is a selection of what he thought about Gibraltar and its people.

View of Gibraltar from the Western Beach ( 1850s Francis Frith )

The road between Cadiz and Gibraltar has long been notorious for its difficulties and dangers; it is almost a mule track . . and totally impassable during rainy weather. . . . The accommodation too, are of the worst kind. . . between Chiclana and Algeciras there is only one town and the ventas are of the most miserable description . . .

But these are difficulties only; the dangers are still more formidable. From the middle of June, till the middle of August . . . no fewer than fifty-three travellers had been robbed on this road . .

From the next elevation, I obtained the first view of Gibraltar, — an object, that even if deprived of its localities, would possess an interest exclusively its own ; for it is impossible that an Englishman travelling across the Peninsula, and first descrying this tower of strength rising between Africa and Europe, should not feel that he is an Englishman. 

View of the Rock from Spain ( 1860s - George Washington Wilson )

In other words the best was to get to Gibraltar was by boat. The passage, however, highlights the enormous difference between Spain and well-off England. Little wonder people were generally impressed with Gibraltar which whatever its many faults tended to be a well organised and safe place to stay in.

Gibraltar formerly monopolized the contraband trade of the Spanish coast ; and the effects resulting from Cadiz having been made a free port, have proved most ruinous to the interests of Gibraltar; the merchants of the latter place have endeavoured to support themselves by establishing branch houses in Cadiz, and of these there are no fewer than twenty-five. . .

The duties upon British manufactured goods, amount almost to a prohibition; they often reach one hundred percent; and this trade, therefore is in the hands of the smuggler, who obtains the profit which otherwise might go to the treasury of the kingdom.

The fraudulent dealer is also greatly assisted by the custom of granting a royal licence . . . and under the licence to enter a hundred tons of merchandise - the merchant enters perhaps a thousand tons - a deception easily practiced in a country where, among public officers, a scale of bribery is perfectly understood and acted upon. . . .

In the course of four leagues I was stopped no less than five times by custom-house officers, and was obliged each time to have a peseta ready to avoid the inconvenience of search . . . : this is only a part of the system of bribery and robbery which pervades every public department in Spain.

Smugglers at Gaucin - Gibraltar in the distance ( 1830 - John Frederick Lewis )

It was an argument - or perhaps one should say, the argument - used universally by all the merchants of Gibraltar, British or otherwise, and by many a member of the British Government. It sounds so plausible that the reality is often forgotten - the Spaniards had no choice but to create heavy tariff barriers against goods produced by powerful industrialised nations such as Britain.

If they hadn't done so their own industries would have soon been overwhelmed and would have reduced Spain to the level of what today we would describe as a third world country. Historically, high tariff barriers invariable produce an unavoidable smuggling culture but there was no real alternative.

The problem facing Spain, of course, was that the most powerful nation in the world was blatantly encouraging its citizens to break Spain's laws, in many cases actually employing its military forces - in the shape of the British Navy - to defend them against legitimate retaliation. Fundamentally every British action was an act of war - but Spain was powerless to respond.

According to George Hill in his Rock of Contention 'this . . was the age when the free trade theory was held by Britain with the reverence of the Holy Writ; and Imperial Britons held firmly to the belief that the rest of the world that did not subscribe to Adam Smith's doctrine of laissez-faire was peopled by naves or fools.'

For nearly three hundred years Spain was damned if it did and damned if it didn't - it was a death by a thousand cuts, each one an almost personal humiliation.

The People
When I threw open the window of the hotel, and looked out upon the street, it seemed as if I had been suddenly transported to England. I saw English houses, English names upon the corners of the streets, English names over the shops, English faces, English dresses.

But a more narrow inspection of the population, destroys the illusion; for it is of so motley a character, that if we can suppose one to be carried to Gibraltar, without having been informed of his destination, he would be utterly at a loss to imagine in what corner of the world he had been set down. That gentleman sauntering down the street in a surtout and black neckcloth, is an Englishman . . .

The two ladies who follow, are Spanish ; the light step, and graceful gait, would be sufficient to determine this; but the mantilla and the fan, put it beyond doubt : those two on horseback, are a British officer and an English lady ; the horse and the scarlet uniform fix the character of the one, — and as for the other, the bright sunny face, and auburn ringlets, are sufficient, without the evidence of the riding habit.

Down-town Gibraltar ( Unknown )

The three women crossing the street, are neither English nor Spanish ; their scarlet cloaks, trimmed with black velvet, distinguish them as Gibraltar women ; or they might be Genoese. These men with turbans, ample trowsers, and crimson girdles, standing in a group under the piazzas, are Moors; . . . and these with bare legs, and sandals, and black caps and beards, sitting in the streets, are Barbary Jews, the common porters of Gibraltar : and that, is an English trading captain, easily known any where : and who can mistake the British tar, with his jacket and trowsers, and rolling walk, and the Andalusian, with his dark eye, and bizarre dress — or the kilted soldier, his sinewy limbs, and rough face, bearing the complexion of Scotch winds, and Highland hills ? All this is seen in less than two minutes from the window of Griffiths' hotel. 

'Their scarlet cloaks, trimmed with black velvet, distinguish them as Gibraltar women ; or they might be Genoese.'

The Town
Nothing can be worse judged than the manner in which the town of Gibraltar is built ; the houses are constructed for the latitude of England in place of the latitude of Africa.

It is not to be wondered at, that when epidemics find their way to Gibraltar, their progress should be irresistible ; for not one demand of a hot climate has been complied with : here are no patios, and fountains, and open galleries, admitting a free circulation of air, as in Seville ; all is closely boxed up, as if for the climate of England ; closed doors, narrow passages, and narrow stairs, keep out the fresh, and keep in the foul air.

In place of the floors being of brick, or Valencia tiles, they are of wood ; the rooms are small ; the windows, not folding, lightly closed, and opening upon airy balconies, but constructed upon the most approved air-excluding plan ; and the bed- rooms carpeted, and the beds curtained.

The effects of all this may easily be imagined, - the spread of disease is powerfully assisted by filthiness, and by impure and stagnant air; and, accordingly, nowhere in Europe have the ravages of the plague been so fearful as in Gibraltar. The streets and houses are incapable of alteration ; and therefore the only remedy would be, gradually to pull down the houses, and to replace them with others better fitted to the climate. . . 

Southern part of Main Street not far from South Port Gate ( Unknown )

After leaving the town, the road led me towards the south-west, gradually mounting the rock, and disclosing novel and entrancing views below, while it conducted me through most charming scenes. I was everywhere struck with the results of industry, and of art - not supplanting nature, but adding its embellishments where her hand had already traced the outline. Wherever a nook in the rocks was covered with a little soil, it bore evidence of the labour that had been bestowed upon it; upon every little eminence, beautiful cottages, the quarters of the officers, or the country houses of the merchants, were seen surrounded by pretty gardens . . .

A drastic solution to an old problem. Inglis must have been much influenced by the horrendous stories associated with the various - and relatively recent - yellow fever epidemics that had decimated the population of the Rock. As with most contemporary writers he chose to ignore the fact that the fever had been no respecter of either place or nationality - the English in their spotless homes and 'pretty gardens' proved just as likely to succumb as the hovel dweller somewhere off Irish Town.

Nevertheless he was quite correct in criticising the general layout of the town and the poor quality of its house. Gibraltar was paying the price of General Eliott's insistence that the town that had been destroyed during the Great Siege should be rebuilt following the exact same schema as the original medieval one.

Plans of the town of Gibraltar before and after the Great Siege (1765 - Universal Magazine - 1831 - W.H. Smyth )

That something better might have been achieved is shown by Inglis description of the place once he had left the town through South Port Gates. The impression he gives is that all that 'industry' and 'evidence of labour' could somehow be attributable to the British - which of course it wasn't. Most of the hard work was done by locals, in particular by Genoese gardeners.

Gibraltar is not the banishment some people suppose ; and as military quarters, it possesses many more agremem than any English provincial town can boast. There is no want of society in Gibraltar, for the military are always sufficiently numerous to form society among themselves ; and that fine old gentle-man, Sir George Don, is just such a man as ought to be governor of Gibraltar, because he understands hospitality, and brings the inhabitants together.

Everybody in Gibraltar is bent upon amusement : there are balls and concerts, and private parties, and an excellent library and a reading room, where I saw the English magazines fifteen days after they were published in London. Add to all these agremens, charming rides on the fine sands within the Spanish lines ; walks in the Alameda, where there are parades and military music every day ; boating in the bay ; and excursions to Algeciras, Ceuta, and Tangiers; and news from England by the steam-packet every month, - and it will be admitted that Gibraltar is not a place of military banishment.

Mount Pleasant, the garden of one of several attractive houses with a view on the southern part of the Rock

No indeed. It was a great place to be posted - as long as you were an officer, preferably backed by private means as Gibraltar was an extraordinarily expensive place at the time. The ordinary soldier was mostly bored and spent a great deal of his spare time drinking. The rest of the non-British population kept their heads low and tried to make ends meet.

Inglis admiration for General Don was understandable. However, and as mentioned elsewhere, he had a very low opinion of the anybody who didn't look either like what he considered to be a gentleman or an Englishman - and the locals invariably failed on at least one of these criteria.

General Don was actually the acting Governor at the time - the real thing was the absentee Earl of Chatham of whom I know very little. I suspect he never actually ever set foot on the Rock. He was recalled while Inglis was visiting but returned to his post soon after.

Portrait of the Earl of Chatham - as a young man ( Martin Archer Shee )

One of the days I spent at Gibraltar was a Sunday. This day is there observed with great strictness : prayers are read to the troops on parade, and also in the government house. But it is a most unaccountable fact, that there should be no place of public worship for the large Protestant English population of this British possession : this is bitterly complained of.

Hundreds among the troops would gladly attend church, if there was a church to attend ; and many, rather than go to no temple at all, frequent the Catholic chapel. A Protestant church was begun some time ago, but want of funds has prevented its completion. All this reflects little credit upon those who have the management of such matters.

Rather surprisingly Inglis does not mention that the Protestant Church of the Holy Trinity was in the process of being built during his visit. The idea had been instigated in 1820 by the previously mentioned Earl of Chatham. Perhaps he felt that the use of the King's Chapel in the Convent by anybody other than himself - and perhaps his family - was an imposition. Whatever the case work began in 1825 and was completed in 1832.

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in 1883 - It was raised to cathedral status in 1842

Economic Decline
Gibraltar is a fallen and falling place, as a place of commerce ; and there is no prospect of any revival. In speaking of Cadiz . . . the whole, or almost the whole licit and illicit trade of Gibraltar, has been transferred to that city. The loss of the Cadiz market alone, which took up extensively the articles which were received into the free port of Gibraltar, might easily account for its decline.

But there is still another cause for the decline of Gibraltar; a cause that might probably have been of itself sufficient to determine the ruin of this settlement, and which has, at all events, materially hastened it:

I allude to the epidemic. Since the last terrible visitation of this kind, there has been a general feeling of insecurity : many, soon afterwards, removed their establishments elsewhere ; and others are ready, upon the first rumour of disease, to quit a spot where life is held by so precarious a tenure.

Gibraltar's economy did decline in the 1830s and continued to do so throughout the 1840s but Inglis analysis is rather simplistic. As William Jackson suggested in his Rock of the Gibraltarians, there was no single cause that could be pinpointed for the decline.

European traders had recovered from the Napoleonic Wars and rival ports were gaining strength at Gibraltar's expense. The Spanish Colonies in America were now independent and were resuming their trade with Spain rather than elsewhere through Gibraltar. Which in turn led to some sort of economic recovery in Spain which allowed it to impose even heavier duties on certain goods. and to improve their custom and guardacosta systems. Smugglers could still bribe and harass the Spanish authorities but not as much money it as in the past.

The steam ship revolution also meant that traders could now bypass the Rock altogether and deliver directly to their intended destinations. Steamships did continue to call but it was mostly for fuelling reasons rather than trade. Coaling and victualling these did make a few enterprising locals very rich indeed but the ordinary Gibraltarian made little out of it. Coal-heaving was viewed as far too much like hard-work - which it was - and it was left to the Spanish workers from La Linea to take up the slack.

The Tagus - a steam ship off Gibraltar ( 1840 - Samuel )

Finally, the increasing importance of Malta as a naval base was crucifying Gibraltar's traditional role as a maintenance base and depot for the Royal Navy.

Generally Henry Inglis seems to have enjoyed his stay in Gibraltar - at any rate he obviously found it a curious and interesting place. As with most British commentators he seems to have hardly noticed the 17 000 people wandering around Main Street and elsewhere. But he was right about Gibraltar's economic decline - if not about the reasons for it. By 1834 the population had decreased to 15 000 people.

Yet one could say the people og Gibraltar were quite lucky. If General Don had arrived on the Rock in the 1830s rather than the 1820s he would not have been able to carry out many of those important reforms which had made Gibraltar the kind of place that Inglis found so admirable.

General Sir George Don