The People of Gibraltar
1728 - Report of the Commissioners

Lord Gallway, Sherman and Vere - Hollingsworth, Morrice and Norris

Just after the 13th Siege of Gibraltar the newly elected Tories decided to appoint a ‘Commission of Inspection to the Army in the Peninsular.’ Their remit was to ‘enquire into what their predecessors and opponents had done wrong’. The inspectorate was made up of three officers headed by a certain Sir Harry Belasyse.

Sir Harry had been second in command during the assault on Cadiz in 1702 and ended up being court marshalled for his generally appalling behaviour and more specifically for his unrestrained looting in Puerto de Santa Maria. It was impossible for the court not to find him guilty and he was stripped of his position in the army. His rehabilitation had more to do with party politics in Britain than to any change of heart on his part.

As regards his two colleagues, one of them was Andrew Archer. When this gentleman eventually returned to England he managed to get himself elected to the Commons but was only allowed into the House ‘on the promise of future good behaviour.’ It is not known whether this had anything to do with his involvement with the inspectorate.

The inspectors’ first port of call was actually Italy. They were supposed to find out whether the amount of money being sent to their allies was being spent appropriately. They found it impossible to establish if this was the case or not. After a short and ineffectual visit to Minorca they finally arrived in Gibraltar.

The following is their report which runs to about 30 closely written pages of which luckily only a few refer to Gibraltar. The following is a summary of the salient points.

The preamble to the Preface - shown above - starts like this :

The common topik of Discourse at present being about Gibraltar and those proposals which are maliciously insinuated by some People as likely to be made at the ensuing Congress at Cambray, for delivering it up to the Spaniards. . .

It will be evident by that report and some vouchers relating to it, that the keeping of Gibraltar . . . has been much more expensive to the nation than they might have been. .

That Provisions and Victuals have been given to 341 Spaniards and Jews at Gibraltar, in the same manner as to the Garrison ( which has been a great Charge to the British Nation ). That many abuses have been practiced in these places. . .which will be proved from the vouchers in the Appendix . . . and many others referred to in the report.

The commissioners were rather put out by the fact that whereas originally there had only been about 70 Spaniards who decided to stay on after the takeover, this number had now risen to 341.

This statistic they obtained from Books of Mr. Vere - the Agent Victualler - and the insinuation was that he was inflating the figure for his own obvious profit. Vere - who began his stint as Victualler in October 1709, also told the commissioners that none of his predecessors had left any accounts ' nor the least paper behind them.' Mr. Vere was also on to another nice little earner 'by drawing bills at 5s per dollar' when he should have done so at 4s and 4d - a profit of well over 15%.

The permitting of so great a number of Spaniards and Jews there is not only a great expense to us but a prejudice to our trade which should be put in the hands of Englishmen.

It creates great dissatisfaction in the Spaniards by giving frequent opportunities of running goods into Spain, particularly Tobacco Snuff etc, by which a great profit is made by some persons but a vast loss occasioned to the King of Spain. . .

In other words, Queen Anne's famous edict making Gibraltar a free port had back-fired and the long history of smuggling from Gibraltar into Spain had begun. The irony of course is that what the commissioners were in fact proposing - the loss to the King of Spain non-withstanding - was not to put a stop to it but to ensure that British Merchants made some money out of it as well.

To be fair to the commissioners they did suggest - horror of horrors - that 'some small duties might be paid for' such as for example, anchorage in the Bay, and imports of 'flesh, corn, wine, wood, etc. Obviously thier recommendations fell on deaf ears.

The Preface continues:
But the reader is desired to observe that what is mentioned in the report . . relating to governors of Port Mahon and Gibraltar, does not relate to the present Governors but to those who were governors or Deputy Governors at, and before the time the commissioners were there . .

But of course it has always been so. Blame your predecessor - in this case. Shrimpton, Elliott but not Stanwix - who was in charge while the commissioners were on the Rock - or the Earl of Portmore . .  or Richard Kane

Essentially the commissioners on their arrival asked Stanwix - the Governor of Gibraltar - to show them any instructions he had received from England and a set of fortress accounts. His reply was that he had no knowledge of any instructions and that he had never kept any accounts.

Further investigation revealed a general lack of accountability not just by the Governor but by everybody else remotely in command. The commissioners knew from their stay in Lisbon that a contract existed for the supply of bread to the Garrison between Lord Gallway and a Mr. Sherman - a Lisbon merchant - but nobody knew anything about it in Gibraltar. The contract had been based on supplies of rations of 20 oz coarse or 15 oz of fine flour per soldier but that for years it had only been made up of 15 oz of meal. Sherman, they also discovered, offered a 5% commission sweetener to anybody who ordered anything from the Garrison.

As regards the delivery of the bread it was impossible to tell what on earth was going on as the Governor keep no records of the people who were paid for the bread. And it was much the same with coal of which despite large imports there never seemed to be enough - half the Houses in Gibraltar had been destroyed during the 13th Siege, but many more had been pulled down by the soldiers, 'for want of other Fewel'

As a result those houses that were left standing were rented out for 'considerable' amounts of money to the detriment of the soldiers who who were 'sometimes buried under the ruins of the houses they were forced to lodge in' It was they told Queen Ann - or her successor - 'injurious to your service and oppressive to the Garrison'. More or less as an aside they finish the paragraph with the following;

'We have had information that 15 Brass guns that were sold from the Battery and sent to Lisbon, by order of a former Governor, whilst the Town was under Blockade.'

The 'former Governor was Major-General John Shrimpton, who was deputy under Hesse. Stealing brass cannons was something of a sport in Gibraltar - of the thirty two original Spanish ones taken by the Anglo-Dutch forces, every single one was stolen.

They were also appalled by the fact that the Governor's Secretary. the Town Major, and lots of other worthies were all raking it in by 'monopolizing the wine, laying duties and impositions upon persons that come with their vessels to sell provisions to the garrison, and upon others for licences.'

A certain Mr. Hollingsworth was the Surgeon Major and Director of the Hospital and as such in charge of a large budget. By his own testimony the Governor just signed whatever he put in front of him without the need to justify the expenses with any type of receipt. When held to account about this he insisted that he always took an oath in front of the Judge Advocate that his accounts were just. His predecessor Dr. Norris - he alleged - had always done the same.

The Paymaster, a Mr. Morrice - was rather less subtle. His accounts included a huge sum for a quarantine boat which they took note of because nobody had ever heard of such a boat in Gibraltar. Multiple charges at between 30 to 42 dollars for travelling on ships going to and from Faro also seemed extravagant as they knew that the normal rate was 10 dollars a trip.

The report makes for humorous reading today but it was less than a joke to the people of Gibraltar who had to put up with such arbitrary behaviour. In the end the report had little effect. The accounting may have improved slightly but corruption continued unabated. Smuggling increased and the idea of abandoning Gibraltar's free port status and applying official duty on certain goods and services was quietly shelved.