The People of Gibraltar
1856 – How to Capture and Govern Gibraltar

In 1856, just after he had been recalled from his post as Governor of Gibraltar, General Sir Robert Gardiner wrote a private report to Lord Palmerston - the British Prime Minister of the day. It dealt entirely with his continuing misgivings about smuggling and about recent political developments which he felt were interfering with Gibraltar's role as a military fortress. ( See LINK )

Gardiner's report was leaked and an anonymous author wrote a lengthy and virulently reply. The name the author gave to his piece - How to Capture and Govern Gibraltar - is an ironic reference to the fact that Gardiner's report highlighted the Rocks defensive deficiencies and suggested one way in which the fortress could be taken. According to his critic he was giving away secrets to the enemy.

The reply begins as follows:

To the Presidents, Vice-presidents, and Members of the Chamber of Commerce, and Commercial Association of Manchester.

. . . .Sir Robert Gardiner, K.C.B., ex-Governor of Gibraltar, has recently issued from the press, . . . a violent unauthorised publication, in which he once more assails the Freedom of the Port of Gibraltar. The legitimate trade between that Port and Spain, and with the countries bordering the Mediterranean, is stigmatised as a nefarious traffic, stained with vice and crime; and the honourable merchants who carry on this commerce, many of them connected with Manchester, are loaded with opprobrious epithets, and described as being plunged in deep-rooted moral turpitude.

In one sentence I pronounce the publication of Sir Robert Gardiner, to be like an opprobrium upon the pen of a British officer, and upon the age in which we live. In the following pages I have endeavoured to supply an antidote to the poison thus perseveringly administered . . . . .

I have the honour to be,
With respect,
Your obedient, humble Servant,
The Author.

How to Capture Gibraltar etc etc

. . . In the month of January of the year 1849, Sir Robert Gardiner assumed the Government of Gibraltar. . .The first impressions Sir Robert Gardiner made upon the merchants and community, over whom he was sent to govern, were decidedly favourable.

He . . expressed a desire that the chief merchants should point out the manner, in which he could promote the interests and welfare of the inhabitants. The Exchange Committee, as a collective body, was invited to dinner at the Government House . . . and perfect harmony prevailed. This good understanding was of brief duration.

In March, 1850 . . . a British merchant vessel, the Lady Rowley, arrived from Liverpool with a cargo of general merchandize, consigned to one of the chief houses of the place. A gale of wind drove the ship on shore nearer to the Spanish lines than to the British sentries.

Lighters were sent to the vessel . . . to remove that portion of the cargo not yet discharged, but the Spanish Carabineers . . threatened to fire on the men in the lighters. . . The consignees of the cargo appealed to the Governor for assistance, who here, for the first time, revealed to the mercantile body, that no reliance could be placed on him. . .

Sir Robert Gardiner did nothing; he was lost in abstract speculations about international rights as regard the Neutral Ground. But the naval Commander on the station, wisely leaving questions of international law, or disputed territory to higher authorities, acted vigorously up to the Admiralty instructions.

The officer . . lost no time in bringing up his vessel close to the shore ; he armed a launch, approached the Lady Rowley, and warned the Carabineers that he would repel force by force.

The Spanish officers withdrew, and the British property was protected from plunder. The Governor was excessively exasperated at the interference of the naval Commander; but it is quite needless to say that the Admiralty, upon receiving a report of the case, approved of the steps which had been taken . . .

The members of the Exchange Committee asserted their rights, and vanquished our new Governor in all the ridiculous arguments he had employed about commerce and international law, of both which subjects he was totally ignorant. The Governor never forgot, nor forgave his defeat. The members of the Exchange Committee were to a man excluded from the usual birthday and other reunions at the Government House ; and every slight and annoyance, and, eventually, open insult, in the most unmeasured language, were heaped upon these gentlemen. . .

In 1850, Sir Robert Gardiner transmitted to England a most voluminous secret Report, which occupies nearly 150 pages of his recent publication. I shall briefly notice hereafter some points of this most absurd production, which Sir Robert Gardiner has now, unauthorisedly, in defiance of the Queen's Regulations to the contrary published to the world. . . .

Would it be believed then, that this officer . . who, in his most responsible office of Governor, must have had peculiar and exclusive opportunities of knowing all the foibles of the Fortress, has actually published his own secret Report . . disclosed to the public, and to foreign powers, all his boasted well-considered plans for leading the enemy by two columns to a simultaneous attack, and showing to the world the short AND EASY WAY HOW TO CAPTURE GIBRALTAR ! ! ! 

British Power  ( 1851 - John Tallis )

The article goes on at length in this vein criticising Gardiner for just about every action taken by him as Governor - censorship of the press, the writing of a 'posthumous official report', his wrong-headed notions on Government and authoritarian traits. Then follows an analysis of the Report in question, detailing the various headings and chapters which he describes as follows;

The sections are made up of ungrammatical but studied paragraphs, replete with dogmatical unsupported assertions . . He furnishes us with a mutilated one-sided history of the capture, and general military and civil history of Gibraltar, for the last 150 years.

The whole drift of his exaggerated and often unfounded misrepresentations, being simply to make it appear, that it is dangerous to have any established laws in Gibraltar, and that the retention of this important Dependency of Great Britain. . . can, indeed, only be secured by conferring absolute civil as well as military authority upon the Governor for the time being. . . Few Englishmen will be found to listen to such a monstrous proposition. . .

A lengthy rebuttal of Gardiner's historical review includes the following which is taken directly from the 1749 article Reasons for giving up Gibraltar written by yet another anonymous pamphleteer (See LINK )

. . . no sooner was the place in the possession of the British, than Englishmen, foreigners, rich Jews, and Moors flocked thither from all quarters. Spaniards got into the town in great numbers — men, women, and children. The Governor, writing home, said " that he did not know how they got in." But this was obviously untrue; he connived at their entering. Successive Governors in fact, found a great demand for house- room; they let the vacant houses at large rents, and pocketed the money. . .

Complaints reached England, and instructions were sent to encourage the Protestants, by allowing them house-room at an easy rent, but to discourage Papists, Moors, and Jews of different nations, who might " prove of dangerous consequences to the town." The rents thus imposed were to be reserved "for the King's benefit, and not for the Governor's."

As regards the cause of Gibraltar being made a Free Port, the simple truth is, that Queen Anne's ministers could not help themselves . . so, in 1705, the want of timber, lime, and bricks required for the fortifications, was the real cause why Queen Anne issued orders to declare Gibraltar a Free Port.

Colonel Joseph Bennett an engineer employed at the first siege of Gibraltar, was sent to the Emperor of Morocco, with the Queen's letter, to procure those materials. The Emperor's letter in reply refused consent, until Gibraltar was made a Free Port, "as well for Moors as for Jews' (See LINK )

The author then deals with various tedious issue concerning budgets and in particular for the causes of the decrease in revenue - the reasons for which he which he lays squarely at the doors of the Convent.

Her also refutes Gardiner's contention that aliens had 'flocked to the Rock in large numbers to pursue the trade of smuggling' since it had been made a colony - it was clearly . . . 'at variance with both facts and figures. . . The alien population are as well conducted, as sea-faring people of a mixed character, residing in an open, frequented port, usually are.'

In an echo of the World War II argument about 'useless mouths - which identified the problem of what to do with a civilian population in the event of war - the author writes;

Sir Robert asks for the thousandth time, " in the event of a war," that is a siege, I suppose, " What would you do with them ? How feed them? How dispose of them? Where send them?" One question may be answered by another. What would Sir Robert Gardiner do with them? . . .Would he propose some Malthusian remedy? Does Sir Robert Gardiner propose infanticide, or to banish all the female population? . . .

The author then turns his attention to the Exchange Committee which Gardiner considered 'self constituted and self elected.'

The Exchange and Commercial Library - meeting place of the 'Gentlemen of the Chamber of Commerce of Gibraltar, many of them of great wealth ' ( 1840s Thomas Colman Dibdin)

The gentlemen of the Chamber of Commerce at Gibraltar, many of them of great wealth, some representing eminent firms at Manchester, and all persons of respectability and commercial standing, finding that Sir Robert Gardiner had formed, and avowed a deliberate design to destroy the trade of the place, and abolish the Freedom of the Port — they, as the only collective body in Gibraltar, stood forward to defend their interests, and assert the rights of their fellow-inhabitants, to have a voice in the making of laws, and to be heard when the Draft of any obnoxious Ordinance threatened them with ruin. . . Sir Robert may mock them as much as he pleases ; but some of them are better educated, and far more reflecting than he is. .

General Bland is extolled to the skies as one of them. He was appointed Governor of Gibraltar, in the year 1748. I have no doubt he was a very brave and meritorious officer in his day. He knew probably how to serve a gun, as well as most artillery officers . . . but as regards civil affairs, I fear that he was no great gun himself. He seemed to have a profound contempt for everything commercial. . .

. . . The Charter of 1817 was, in like manner, simply a confirmation, with increased powers, of the previous Instruments of 1752 and 1720. In short, this " Colonial Charter," . . of 1830, simply re-constructed a Court of Law adapted to the exigencies of the place.

The Judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Justice in Gibraltar sat there, not to confirm the edicts of arbitrary power, but to preserve the reign of justice ; and they relieved the Governor from the duty of presiding at the Session, to assist in administering a Civil Law, of which he knew nothing ; and they spared the inhabitants of Gibraltar the humiliating spectacle, of a Governor proceeding to the Court House between lines of armed soldiers, to perform the anomalous functions . . . at the point of the bayonet.

Arguments about the medical and political advantages of the quarantine system offered by the author are too lengthy and obscure to go into here as are his paragraphs on the Treaty of Utrecht - which he deals with in both English and Spanish - and the history of the taking of Gibraltar in 1704. Not so, of course his arguments against Gardiner's accusation that Gibraltar was a safe haven for smugglers - which was short, sweet and inconsequential.

Now, Sir Robert knows as well as any man living, that high . . duties in every country are the sole cause of smuggling. If Spain relaxed her tariff, smuggling would cease instantly... Lord Palmerston is a Free Trade minister, and understands the whole subject a fond. Lord Howden is our ambassador at Madrid, and is a thousand fold better qualified than Sir Robert Gardiner to negotiate with the government of the Escorial, concerning smuggling . .

HMS Trafalgar - and a Spanish smuggling boat ( 1851 - G.P.Mends )

Sir Robert Gardiner talks sneeringly " of insignificant persons " being engaged in trade at Gibraltar . . .and says, " that there are only seven British, three Spanish, and four other foreign merchants, in all only fourteen merchants in Gibraltar." I have before me a list . . .containing the individual names of all the firms, and resident members established at Gibraltar, and instead of only seven British firms, there are no fewer than thirty two firms, having houses also in Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow.

The British firms established in Gibraltar consist of forty-three resident members, besides six opulent British dealers, together with more than a dozen Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Danish, and American mercantile firms

There is more much more, but perhaps the above will allow one to get a feel of what the whole document was all about - which was to discredit Sir Robert William Gardiner both as a governor and as a person.

The importance of the original report and the anonymous reply is that the arguments traded in both continued to be more or less valid - at least from a British perspective - for at least another century. There is also the usual ambiguity as to who exactly is being attacked and who is being defended. Whoever they were they were not the ordinary people of Gibraltar.

The Governor, thought of smuggling as one of the a major problems on the Rock, that the boats and crews that carried out the contraband were entirely Spanish and that the people who supplied them were British. He never mentions the ordinary resident yet it is he and his wife and children that turn out to be a liability should Gibraltar be dragged into a war.

On the other hand, the merchants mentioned by 'Anonymous' turn out to be any other nationality one might think of other than Gibraltarian. Whoever this gentleman was trying to defend it certainly wasn't the ordinary local resident.

The first was preoccupied with his fortress the second with his rich cotton buyers. The civilian population simply didn't come into it.

The Rock ( 1866 - Samuel Coleman )