The People of Gibraltar
1884 - Jules Verne - The Second Visit

Even as the luxury yacht Saint Michel II was hardly in sight of the Rock, the Gibraltar Chronicle was already preparing an announcement for the following day's paper ;

French steam yacht St Michel (J. Verne Esq. owner, on board), Mr. Oliver ( Captain ) 12 days from Nantes and 2 ½ from Lisbon - cleared to Sea.

Jules Verne, French author and father of science fiction novel was visiting Gibraltar for the second time. It would be the last time he would do so as well as his last voyage on board the Saint Michelle. He could no longer afford it as his income from royalties was declining.

Jules Verne ( Boyer/H. Roger-Viollet )

Soon after the yacht dropped anchor in the Bay Verne heard a cannon firing a single shot. It was precisely 7.45 pm , a traditional and important warning that the Land Port Gate was being closed for the night. It would now be impossible to enter Gibraltar from Spain by land until the following morning.

Contemporary photograph of Land Port ditch and the northern defences of the Rock. Land Port Gate itself can be seen in the middle distance, more or less in the centre of the picture and facing left towards Spain ( Unknown )

Always the early riser, he woke shortly after dawn the following day and set off for a second exploratory visit into town. This time he gave the Line Wall a miss, crossed the gates at Waterport and soon found himself in the large square of Casemates. From there he headed off down Main Street and as had hundreds of visitors before him, marvelled at the cosmopolitan aspect of the local population, from the British mostly in their military uniforms, to the veiled women with handkerchiefs on their heads. Everywhere he looked he could see Arabs, Moors and many other nationalities from elsewhere in Africa.

Contemporary photograph of the Casemates ( Unknown )

As he walked towards the south he must have passed the Convent once again but chose to give the Governor a miss. Lord Napier of Magdala whom he had met on his last visit had been replaced by Sir John Miller Adye. Continuing on through South Port Gate he returned to the Alameda Parade and Gardens and had a good look at the batteries.

General Sir John Miller Adye.

Returning by the same way he had come he stopped at the Café Universal - near Speed Wine Merchant in Main Street - for afternoon tea. Unlike the Royal Hotel where he dined during his last visit the Café no longer exists. The nearby wine merchant would later become Saccone and Speed. Soon after he returned to his ship for the night.

There is a different version of this more or less banal account of Jules Verne's second visit to the Rock. It was written by his biographer, Marguerite Allotte de la Fuÿe and was based on notes taken by Verne's nephew Maurice who was a passenger on the Michel and had accompanied Verne ashore.

According to Maurice, Verne had been enthusiastically welcomed by the officers of the Garrison who had immediately invited him to their mess in Governor's Parade opposite the Garrison Library. There the officers demonstrated their hospitality by inviting him to a never ending procession of cocktails until later, unsteady both in legs and mind, he was accompanied back to Waterport and on to his yacht.

Several modern historians have argued against the veracity of this second version mainly on the grounds that Verne himself never mentioned it as well as the fact that the rigid discipline on the Rock would never allow officers - or their guests - the possibility of getting drunk.

My personal preference would be that Fuÿe was actually correct. Verne never mentioned it because he probably wanted to draw a discrete veil over what happened during his second visit. The very idea that officers stationed in Gibraltar found it difficult to get drunk is too absurd to discuss seriously.

Whatever the case, the next morning - the 26th of May - after having taken on coal for the rest of his Mediterranean cruise, the Saint Michel set sail and soon rounded Europa Point. It was on its way to several ports in North Africa, Malta and Rome.

Looking back at the retreating outline of Gibraltar Verne was duly impressed by the sheer cliffs of the eastern side of the Rock and recorded his admiration in his notes - there was, he wrote, no finer sight in the world!

A rare sketch of the eastern side of the Rock ( 1834 Louis- August de Sainson )

Although there is no evidence that Jules Verne ever climbed to the top of the Rock or indeed ever saw one of Gibraltar's celebrated apes he did make the following entry in his notes - 'Gibraltar captured by apes. A short story to write.'
He did just that about three years later when he wrote Gil Braltar - a synopsis of which can be found elsewhere in another chapter.