The People of Gibraltar
1728 - Daniel Defoe - Ghastly Spectacles.

Daniel Defoe is of course best known as the man who wrote Robinson Crusoe. He was born in London probably in the early 1660s and his father, James Foe, was a tallow chandler - the change of name may have been an attempt to dissociate himself from his family's humble origins. Variously described as a businessman, traveller, debtor, soldier, secret agent, wine merchant and political pamphleteer, his main claim to fame is through his writings and a legitimate claim to be the father of the English novel.

Daniel Defoe

Among over 500 works of literature is his Impartial Account of the Late Famous Siege of Gibraltar which was published 1728. A selection of paragraphs taken from this essay are shown below.

The Rock in 1727 - The grid lines probably denote the method used by the artist to gain an accurate two-dimensional likeness    ( Unknown Spanish artist )
How we Buried our Dead -Part 1The dead men were expeditiously and regularly buried to prevent their being offensive and infectious - which otherwise they might soon have been in our warm situation. Those that died in the morning were buried in the evening, those that died in the evening were buried in the morning; and the same proportion of time was generally observed for the rest.

But we had like to have been a little too hasty with a private man of Colonel Clayton's regiment - who, going off duty, fell down in the way to his quarters and seemed to all appearances dead; in a few hours after which we wrapped him up in a cloth or blanket or what first came to hand, as the custom was, and had him away to the sands, that warm repository of all his fellows.

We had dug the hole and was just tumbling him in, when, not liking his usage, he fell a grumbling; upon which we immediately opened the wrapper and, giving him air, he revived; upon this, he was lugged back to the hospital and he lived four and twenty hours after, when being sure of him we re-conveyed him to the former apartment and heard no more of him.
Defoe's Late Famous Siege is the 13th of which rather less is known about that its elder brother the Great Siege of Gibraltar. Richard Kane was Governor of Gibraltar from October 1720 to February 1727. The cease- fire was in June 1727 so one can safely say that although he prepared the Rock well for the conflict he actually more or less missed all the action. After which the Colonel mentioned in the passage - Jasper Clayton - took over. The burial 'sands' were in the area of what would become the Alameda Parade.

Brigadier General Richard Kane    (Unknown )
How we Buried our Dead - Part 2One of our private men had been so frugal as to muster twenty shillings- and he was the only one of the deceased, of that degree, who had the favour of a coffin allowed him.

He begged hard for it with his dying breath and, the will of the defunct being fulfilled for seventeen and six pence, his brother executor generously spent the remaining half crown among his comrades in honour of the testator. He had prayers said over him, and by a parson too, being a man of substance. Had he being a poor rogue, he might have been flipped in without, or, at most, been obliged to an amen-man for it, as was often the case.
An ironic comment, very typical of Defoe. The poor, unfortunately, would continue throughout the centuries to be always with us - even till today and not just in Gibraltar

A plethora of pictures and engravings depicting the 13th Siege of Gibraltar were published during the early years of the eighteenth century. Many were simply the products of fertile imaginations       ( Christian Freidrich von der Heiden )
Renault, the Volunteer
Many of our cannon proved bad, and some burst. By the last several of our people were wounded, and one killed on the spot. But none of these accidents, nor sickness, nor the fire of the enemy, would prove so kind to one gentleman among us as to give him that release he owed afterwards to his own hand. This was one Renault, a volunteer.

He had, to his great misfortune, escaped death from his country's enemies only to meet it himself. His money being all gone, and every application for relief proving ineffectual to answer his expense, he went from the company he had spent the last shilling in, though in so merry a disposition that 'twas impossible they could suspect anything of his design, and retiring to his chamber shot himself. He had done his work too well to admit of relief, and was dead before anybody could enter his room.
The bursting of cannon was a feature of the 13th siege where more people were killed by their own weaponry - and on either side - than by that of the enemy. A rather anachronistic example of today's 'collateral damage' and 'friendly fire'. Nevertheless - and for what in effect were rather suspect reasons - the 13th siege soon came to be known as the Gunner's War.

The 13th Siege of Gibraltar     ( Unknown - German Print )
What to do with SpiesBut to return to the siege - what the Spaniards found they could not do by force they endeavoured to have affected by fraud; and, feeling their batteries ineffectual, they had recourse to engines of a more silent nature - to artifice, treachery and the Moors.

They managed this affair by way of Tetouan; and having got several into their interest within the fort to carry the matter so far, ' this said, that not only the measures taken by the garrison for their defence were discovered to the enemy, but that a project was formed of giving them possession of the gate and betraying the town into their hands.

Several were thought to be guilty, both among the Moors and the Jews; but ' this not for the interest in the garrison to make either of these for their enemies in general; so 'twas looked upon sufficient, since they had prevented its taking effect, only to make such public examples as might deter others from the like detestable design for the future.

Map of the Rock      ( 1727 - Sutton Nicholls )
Two Moors were to have been principal in executing this piece of treachery - and were proved to have been chief agents for the Spanish in promoting it. They alone therefore received the deserved reward of their villainy, and were put to death; after which they were displayed; and to let the people within what was expected by those that should venture to engage in the like undertaking their skins were nailed to the gates of the town. where they appeared in the same proportion as when alive; and being large gigantic fellows, as the Moors in general are, they were horrid ghastly spectacles.

Nature had sent them into the world with their hides tanned so that the heat of the sun, which is very intense at Gibraltar, could add but little to their original dusk, but it had so hardened them, that they soon seemed equally solid with the gates themselves.

After the siege they were much lessened by the curiosity of the people, who cut a great many pieces of them to bring to England, one of which, to gratify our readers, may be seen at Mr Warner's, the publisher of this treatise.
This gruesome passage has proved irresistible to most people writing about the Rock and has often been given more prominence than it deserves in many a history of Gibraltar. Perhaps it ought to be pointed out that there is scarcely any evidence that Defoe ever actually visited Gibraltar - in which case the above may be based on hearsay rather that autobiographical fact. Several historians have gone further and have suggested it was not even written by him.

I would say that this is rather unlikely as the publisher - mentioned in the last paragraph - was T. Warner of London who published numerous other essays and pamphlets written by Defoe before and after this one. Whatever the case, the essay does seem to carry an air of detailed if inconsequential authenticity - however it was written and whoever wrote it.