The People of Gibraltar
1803 - Thomas Walsh - Bad Wine called Blackstrap.

Cardoso, the Duke of Kent and Trigge

Thomas Walsh was a young captain of the British Army. In 1800 he was on his way to join General Sir Eyre Coote’s troops in Egypt when his ship stopped at Gibraltar to pick up supplies and troops. Tired of being aboard, Walsh decided to go ashore, hoping ‘to partake in some of the sights.’

Later he wrote an account of his experiences in A Journal of the late Campaign in Egypt. It was published in 1803 and was fundamentally 'a narrative of events from the 24th of October 1800 . . . to the final conquest.' Luckily he included a good few paragraphs describing those 'sights' which he 'partook' in Gibraltar. The following are a few relevant quotes from his Journal.

The Spanish Lines and the Governor's Meadow
The Rock of Gibraltar . . is joined to Spain by an isthmus of low land, which widens . . as it approaches the Spanish lines. These extend across it, and are flanked by two forts, the principle of which is called St Philip. The lines are defended likewise by a number of guns . .

The space below the foot of the rock and these lines is known as the Neutral Ground. Here the Governor has a small field which supplies him with a sufficient quantity of hay.

On the summit of the rock is the signal house, commanding a very extensive prospect; and a new signal house was building by governor O'Hara, at the southern extremity of the rock, which affords a better view of the straits.

Contemporary map showing the Spanish Lines, the Neutral Ground and the Governor's meadow ( 1799 - Barbie du Bocage - Jean Denis Hardy )

The Useless Galleries
The different galleries and lines called King's, Queen's and Prince's Lines, St. George's Hall Etc are works of uncommon ingenuity and extreme labour . . . I have however been told, that in case of siege they cannot be of much service; as from the very thick smoke, and the loud report of the guns in these cavities, it would, in a short time, become impossible for the artillery men to remain at their posts. These objections to their use seem very plausible . . .

Every regiment here, besides the daily working parties, has a fixed number of constant workmen, who are never seen by their corps . .

St George's Hall ( 1800s - H.E.Allen )

The uselessness of the Galleries was probably a touchy subject - perhaps it still is. Also, those 'daily working parties' were most probably made up of local civilians.

The Town
The town was paving, and contains some very excellent houses; among the best of which are the governors', known by the name of the Convent, the lieutenant governor's, the chief engineers, commissioners, general Wemy's, Mr. Cardosa's (sic) and several others. There is one principal street leading from South Port to Water Port; all others are extremely small and narrow.

Avery good road, skirted with trees, and parallel to which runs the aqueduct, reaches from South Port to that part of Gibraltar called the South where there are barracks and an extensive Naval Hospital. . .  The garrison and inhabitants were very much distressed for water owing to the want of rain . . . and perhaps to the great quantity consumed by the ships of the expedition.

The road to the south (1840 - J. M. Carter )

Water and Wine
Gibraltar is fully furnished with water from cisterns, which are filled . . by rain. Three of four wells however were sinking in the rock, to procure a supply . . and in the mean time the inhabitants were obliged to go to the neutral ground where it is very bad and brackish . . . Indeed it is so bad . . .that they sometimes pay five reals for a small keg of better water, which they buy from the soldiers.

If water be scarce, wine, on the other hand, is in such abundance, and so cheap, that no part of the world exists such repeated scenes of intoxication. It is indeed distressing to see whole bands of soldiers literally lying in the streets in the most degrading state of inebriety.

Drunkenness is no crime in the garrison, except in those on duty; and every man coming off a working party is ordered to be paid eight pence on the spot, which he immediately proceeds to spend in a kind of bad wine called black-strap. Houses for sale of this pernicious liquor are found at every step and furnish no small part of the revenue. . . The situation of the officers here . . is very melancholy; cooped up in a prison . . with no other amusement or resourse, but what they can find among themselves.

Scenes of 'drunkenness' on the Rock would continue to be a common complaint by many other future commentators ( see LINK ) and, although he does not mention it specifically, drunkenness among the officers was probably just as bad. Even as late as the middle of the 20th century such scenes persisted, although in this case the Royal Navy had taken over from the Army as the main offenders.

The Royal Navy refuelling at the Royal Hotel Bar in Irish Town, Gibraltar, in the mid 20th century ( Unknown )

The reason why there were no rules and regulations against drunkenness was that 'proceeds' from the sale of alcohol were part of the Governor's personal revenue - in this specific case, General Charles O'Hara.

General Charles O'Hara

Curiously there is a small rocky area in Gibraltar between Catalan and Sandy Bay called Blackstrap Cove. Whether there is a connection between its name and the liquor is open to question.

Blackstrap Cove in the mid-20th century ( Unknown )

War, destroying all friendly communication, cuts off these supplies, the coast of Barbary becomes the only resource; and it is a very precarious one for when the plague rages there, which is so often the case, the most rigorous and strict measures are necessarily taken . . . .

To guard against this dreadful malady, a lazaretto is established on the neutral ground where quarantine is performed . . as was the case when I was there that the garrison is compelled to live entirely on salt provision . .

The Garrison Library
A committee of officers were appointed so that they might choose which books to buy. The tendency is to buy only the very best publications. All the best English newspapers are also available. Every officer on his arrival is required to pay one week’s wages to the library’s funds which means that the library is always well supplied.

Lieutenant- general O'Hara, who is since dead, and has been succeeded by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent ( see LINK ), was governor and lieutenant- general Sir Thomas Trigge. K.B. lieutenant-governor.

The town of Algeciras, situate nearly opposite Gibraltar, is a nest of privateers and gun-boats, which are extremely annoying, and often very dangerous. Lying close along shore, under the protection of numerous batteries, they watch the favourable opportunity, dash out, and seize their hapless prey. Each of the gunboats carries a long twenty-four pounder; and keeping at a prudent distance from our batteries, they oblige the merchant vessels to strike to their cowardly superiority. We witness three or four instances of this during our stay in the bay.

Algeciras in the mid-19th century

A classically chauvinistic approach one might say; when the British win it's because they are both braver and better than the enemy. If the other side wins then it is because they have greatly superior forces or have somehow taken advantage in an underhand way. It was a persistent theme in all engagements between the British and the Spanish from the 18th right up to the 21st century.

Nevertheless, Captain Thomas Walsh's account has a welcome non-committal tone and is appropriately quite critical if necessary. The omission of any serious mention of the local inhabitants - there were probably around 5000 civilian residents at the time - is not all that unusual; he was only in Gibraltar for a very short stay.

Map of Gibraltar and Bay as it appears on Walsh's Journal 

Curiously another British officer - John Elliot Woolford - was on his way to join the campaign against Napoleon’s army in Egypt when he also stopped over at Gibraltar. It is doubtful whether he ever wrote anything about his experiences there but he did paint a several attractive pictures, three of which are shown below. 

The Spanish Lines from Gibraltar ( 1801 - Bay John Elliot Woolford ) 

Entering the Bay ( 1801 - John Elliot Woolford ) 

Gibraltar  ( 1801 - John Elliot Woolford )