The People of Gibraltar
1782 – Ignacio López de Ayala – James Bell

Mrs de Webber, Mr Green and Mr Sherad - Romero, Hinojosa and Aboab

Ignacio Lopez de Ayala, born in the mid 1740s, was a Spanish writer, astronomer and lecturer at the Real Estudios de San Isidro in Madrid. He was also a staunch supporter of the Enlightenment and as such an admirer of things both French and British.

His is reputed to have enjoyed meeting with like-minded individuals at the Fonda de San Sebastian where the only topics of conversation were love, poetry and - rather ironically - bull-fighting. Perhaps his best known work is the play La Numancia Destruida - which is a less than oblique criticism of the loss of Gibraltar to the British. More apropos from my own point of view is his Historia de Gibraltar which was published in 1782.

Ayala's history begins with the first Moorish occupation and ends at the start of the Great Siege. It deals mostly with political and military matters and includes a detailed account of the taking of Gibraltar in 1704 as well as various pre Great Siege events - all of which are covered elsewhere in other chapters.

There is also an indication that Ayala also actually visited the Rock as he offers the reader some useful insights into what Gibraltar and its population were like during the mid eighteenth century.

The History was translated in 1845 by James Bell - a Gibraltarian of whom I know very little about. The result, however, is disappointing - as well as historically inadequate - as Bell's translation is full of mistakes and omissions. My own personal opinion is that his identify as a Gibraltarian is suspect and that his Spanish was simply not good enough to make an adequate job of translating Ayala's rather flowery style.

The selection of quotes shown below are therefore my own loose translations of appropriate passages taken directly from the original.

Pre 1704 - El Pueblo antes del Asalto
The town was made up of two main districts. One was called 'laTurba 'and the other 'la Barcina'. Both had indications of being of great antiquity. The houses in 'la Turba were generally humble dwellings populated by the poor. . . 'La Barcina' was were the Moors lived. People believe that the name came from the 'barcina' in which Henrique de Guzman's corpse was placed by the Moors when he died after attacking Gibraltar. They hung the barcina with his corpse on a tower over the gates of this area. . . . The part known as 'Villa Vieja' occupied the area below the castle and extended itself towards 'la Barcina.' . . .

These clearly defined divisions are still recognisable today although the destruction of much of the northern areas during Gibraltar's many sieges and blockades - and subsequent rebuilding over the years - have made them much less so. As regards Henrique de Guzman - the second Conde de Niebla - he drowned during the 7th Siege of Gibraltar in 1436. The barcina in which his body was placed in was a large wicker basket. This story is dealt with at length elsewhere ( see LINK

Old map of Gibraltar showing the Old Mole, la Barcina, Villa Vieja and la Turba ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas )

1624 Anecdote about Landport Gate
On the last day of February . . . he ( Philip IV of Spain ) proceeded to Gibraltar . . . On arriving at the Rock, the Governor came to meet the king but when they attempted to enter the town they found that the entrance had too many bends in it to allow the King's carriage through. The count (of Medina Sidonia) who had accompanied the King was so annoyed by this contretemps that he berated the Governor telling him he should have foreseen the problem. 

The Governor paused a minute and then replied; 
Sir, this gate was not made to allow carriages through it but to stop the enemy from entering.  

1704 Familias que salieron
It is worth noting that only one woman and a very few men stayed on. The rest fearfully took their leave. Their eyes were full of tears; they would never see their homes again,. Some died of hunger and exhaustion, others travelled to Tarifa, Medina Sidonia, the mountains of Ronda, Malaga, Marbella and Estepona. Most of the councillors went to the hermitage found near San Roque . . .

As if it were a nightmare people went from the comfort of their homes to exile, from abundance to poverty . . . the most painful spectacle was the necessary exodus of the nuns of the convent of Santa Clara. Tired and weary they arrived at a villa in Ximena which was four leagues distant from Gibraltar and were taken in by the Convent of the Recoletos . . .

1704 Don Juan Romero de Figueroa ( see LINK )
Among those who stayed behind was Don Juan Romero de Figueroa a native of the place and priest of the parish of Santa Maria. He was a man of great intelligence and holiness. . . .

It is from him that we learned that the English plundered the chapel of the Virgin of Europa and that inside the town they destroyed the properties and houses of the people who had just abandoned it. Nevertheless he also confirms quite impartially that throughout the hostilities the English handed out rations even though they were quite meagre at times and he often felt great hunger.

1704 - Simon Susarte
Dealt separately elsewhere ( see LINK )

1708 Daños de las Salidas de Plaza
As the population was scattered all over the Campo they tended to congregate at the hermitage of San Roque in order to hear mass. Persuaded by Diego Ponce . . they began to build houses and huts close to the sanctuary. In such a manner the population began to grow as many people taking refuge there trying to escape from those English, Genoese and iniquitous Spaniards marauders - these last not content with having stayed on in the Rock or taken refuge there were given to plundering, stealing and generally laying waste the land around Gibraltar.

It was reported that in their last foray from the town they arrived at the farm in Portichuelos, broke down doors, stole jewellery and took off with cattle belonging to Don Antonio de Noquera . . also breaking his legs. They kidnapped eighteen servants . . . tied up the wife and family and took all of them back to the town with the same humanity that the Barbary pirates show toward captives that they kidnap along the coasts. . .

Driven by these circumstances . . . the people congregated together at the hermitage for mutual protection and in the process of constructing their houses increased the population of the new Gibraltar or the town of san Roque. Royal authority had given them permission to create a town wherever necessary as long as it was out of range of enemy canon . . . .

View toward Spain from Gibraltar. The small town in the distance in the far left is San Roque ( 1860s George Washington Wilson )

1766 Tempestad
In the year 1766 occurred one of those deluges, caused by a tremendous fall of rain on the last day of January, to which places in the Southern latitudes similar to Gibraltar are often exposed. The torrent from the mountain was so impetuous and large, that the ordinary water courses were not large enough to deal with it.

Large stones, as well as sand and earth were washed down by the rain, filling the lower parts of the houses, blocking up the streets, and preventing the opening up of the Sally Ports, which were the only place through which the water could escape. The lower part of the town was completely inundated and much damage was done to the merchandize in the stores. Many houses were completely submerged, others had their first floors flooded leaving inhabitants trapped in the top floors vainly crying out for help.

It took a great deal of time and effort by both the military and the civilians to clear the mess and according to the authorities more than fifty people are said to have lost their lives, although neither the residents nor those who gave out these figures believed it. There is proof that the casualties were much higher and that among them were a large number of British troops.

The Red Sands which lie from the New Gate to the New Mole were a complete mess - the moat in front of the Gate was filled with debris and the canons found in that part of the Rock were buried in sand. In the north a section of wall of about 20 varas collapsed near the Old Mole somewhere between the barracks and the hospital. . . .

Map of Gibraltar showing the Red Sands area - helpfully shaded red - to the south of Charles the V wall and the 'New Gate' - today's South Port Gate  ( 1740s - Unknown )
1766 La Plaza
Many of the old public buildings, erected for more sacred purposes, were converted into barracks or storehouses. The Moorish castle, which has suffered much during two protracted sieges, has been allowed to fall into neglect . . .

The Parish church of Saint Mary has remained for the use of the Catholics. It is the only one they have. In 1768 a Friar called Francisco Hinojosa was employed - mostly by the Genoese - to look after it. When Romero was alive the church had a well which was used to water the church's orange grove but there is only the memory of it nowadays.

The Cathedral in the 1700s showing the 'patio de naranjos' (Unknown )

The convent of San Francisco serves as a palace for the governors and its church is the only one available for the English. They are called to service by beat of the drum as the governor will not allow bells to be rung as he complains that it bothers him. All of this is situated in a place that is both beautiful and comfortable with wonderful vistas over the sea. It has a delicious garden which contributes to the governor's table. . .

All other churches and chapels have been converted into uses which are profane such as the nun's convent which serves as a barracks and San Juan de Dios which is a store. The convent of the Mercenaries is used as a house by the admiralty. Apart from these there are many others which have been built by the English. . .

Near Charles V wall is the arsenal, a new store suitable for use in case of war. In front of these are the houses of Mrs de Webber, that of Mr Green, chief engineer in 1777. He has created a beautiful farm with lots of plants and fruit trees which are both exotic and exquisite. There is also Mr Sherad, an English doctor, who admiring the virtues of mountain plants has used them efficiently to cure the pestilential effects of incontinence.. .

Apart from his garden in the Convent the Governor has another curious one such as an artificial field in the 'esplanada de tierra.' which supplies enough fodder for his horses and cattle destined for public use. The patios of the private houses, according to the customs of Andalucía , are small gardens decorated with flower pots . . . .

Without counting the Garrison, during times of peace there are about three thousand people of both sexes and of all ages; five hundred are English, about a thousand Jewish and up to one thousand four hundred Portuguese, Italian, some Spanish but mostly Genoese Catholics. It would have been normal to expect that given this diversity of religions, customs and interests there would have been the same kind of problems and atrocities experienced in other towns.

But the severity of the military government in Gibraltar has made sure that this has not taken place. People are well aware that one can bribe neither ministers nor Judges and that their security is assured if they keep the peace. These well established and observed laws have ensured that assassinations and violent deaths that are so common in smaller towns - which are more uniform in their religions and customs - have not occurred in Gibraltar for many years.

Nearly all the maritime powers have consulates as trade is the main occupation on the Rock. The best houses belong to the English and apart from the military and other government employees there are English landlords and Englishmen with other trades.

The Jews are mostly porters and are as ready to cheat and steal as they are everywhere else. They have a synagogue, practice their religion and publically observe their ritual - this despite the Treaty of Utrecht. They are governed by a Jew known as 'Rei' with whom the governor deals with directly. He collects his dues through him. The Rei is more arbitrary and powerful in Gibraltar than the King of England.

1766 El Comercio
The Genoese are merchants but most of them are fishermen sailors and gardeners. Both they and the Jews speak well or badly both Castilian and English as well as a dialect or patois common to all nations including the Africans.

It is difficult to understand how so much trade can go on in a place as small as Gibraltar without any direct communication with Spain. There are no factories, no field labour no vineyards or cattle. The place is a sterile mountain and the garrison are, at most, consumer of all necessary items - unless they bring it all with them from England for the duration of their stay in what is essentially their prison.

In this sense they mostly take the view that a stay here is a necessity as they are forced to keep their leisure within the short distances that exist between its walls and the uncomfortable area along its bothersome sands.

How is it possible that the illicit trade with Spain is able to support so many merchant families? Their treaties with the Africans is neither current nor has it proved secure. As such Gibraltar is a useless possession for the English as has effectively been recognised by some of their politicians. They have come to realise that their conquest of Gibraltar is not as advantageous as they once thought.

Nevertheless and despite these solid arguments Gibraltar is a great place to trade. It is a free port for all nations. They come, they disembark, they buy and sell , hardly ever paying any duty. Its excellent geographical position makes it the nearest emporium to Africa, halfway between the Mediterranean and the ocean, with easy access to both the New and the Old world . . .

Even better, Britain's American colonies, Holland and Denmark all trade directly with Gibraltar as they load those good which are for their own consumption and land those for sale or for deposit until they can be sold - goods such as, tobacco, red logwood from Campeche, salt cod, tar, 'tablazon', posts, rum, rice, maize, flour, sugar, peppers from Tabasco, juniper berries, 'duelas', wool, indigo, and those thousand spice soffered by the commerce of America, Africa or Asia.

They leave these in Gibraltar and return with wine, spirits, raisins, almonds, oranges, silks, lemons, salt, etc as well as taking on board manufactured goods from the factories of Europe bought there by the English, the Dutch and the French. . .

Wax and fresh meat from Africa is also an important trading item as the English are very carnivorous. They supply their troops and crews with meat three times a week to prevent scurvy - all of which they obtain either through barter or for money from the Moors. The coasts of Seville, Granada and Barcelona supply them with wine, most of which is then sent to America. . . Rum . . . is the only spirit which is allowed to be landed in Gibraltar.

Ayala's comments on the Jews demonstrate that a philosophy of Enlightenment - in so far as he was concerned - could go so far and no further. The word 'Rei' presumably refers to the Chief Rabbi. Serfaty in his book The Jews of Gibraltar suggests that Ayala may have picked – and misinterpreted - the term Resh Gelutha, which refers to somebody who was a chief of any group of Jews who happened to be in exile. Whatever the case he was referring to Isaac Aboab, the elsewhere mentioned merchant who was probably better known for his bigamy than for the fact that he was one of the richest men on the Rock.

The esplanada de tierra could be either the area occupied today by the Garrison library and Governor's Parade or somewhere in North Front. The dialect or patois may be an early reference to a prototype Llanito. As regards the properties of beef in the prevention of scurvy, the real cause - a deficiency of vitamin C - had not yet been discovered.

Governor's Parade still shown as a large garden as late as the 1830s    (1830s - Piaget et Lailavoix )

The above rather comprehensive report on Gibraltar's trade continues for a while longer with a whole series of facts and figures - and then moves on to a detailed description of the Garrison.

1777 La Guarnicion
The governor is usually a general of some renown . . and is aided by a Lieutenant Governor, a commissioner who looks after victualling, a chaplain, . . . and a sergeant major. . . Naval forces are small during peace time . . . and although there is an Admiral stationed on the Rock . . his fleet is usually limited to one or two frigates. . .

If Ayala did visit Gibraltar in 1777 then the Governor could very well have been General Augustus Eliott. ( 1782 - Thomas Macklin and R. Pollock )

Officers . . enjoy themselves in their own way, mostly by playing games or eating. The former involves either dice or card games or gambling. Meals are not particularly splendid and do not last long. Officers of a particular class tend to keep together and the young and unmarried of each regiment are quartered together in the separate hostels.. .

They also make use of a small theatre which holds' about 150 people. As an apology for its size there is an inscription outside that states 'All the World's a Stage.' People of both sexes mix together promiscuously and during Easter Italian companies put on light opera. At other times the officers put on their own comedies and tragedies.

In winter there are hotel dances paid for by the officers themselves and to which not only their wives attend but also those of the Christian and Jewish merchants. Dances given by the governor are more respectable affairs where the only women invited are the wives of officers, principle government employees and consuls.

An exception is the queen of the Jews who has become famous these last few years for her beauty, her bigamous husband and the wig she wears to disguise the fact that she is bald. The dances last until twelve to allow the officers time to return to their early morning duties.

I am not entirely sure if Ayala was aware of the Shakespearian connection of the sign in the theatre - which must have been Henry Cowper's affair in Calle Comedia'. His unpleasant comments on the queen of the Jews are correct only in so far as that she was a renown beauty and was the wife of Isaac Aboab whose influence among the British as well as his enormous wealth probably well qualified him to be called king of the Jews.

Jewish Woman of Gibraltar ( 1835 - J.F. Lewis )