The People of Gibraltar
1821 – Theodore Dwight – A Ridiculous Fisherman

Theodore Dwight was an American author born in 1796 in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1825 he produced the second tourist guidebook ever published in the United States. It was titled The Northern Traveller and would be updated with regular editions until 1841.

Theodore Dwight  (1828 - John Trumbull )  ( see LINK )

During the 1850s and 1860s he passionately advocated for the cause of Garibaldi and the unification of Italy. His admiration for all things Italian may have derived from his tour of the country in 1821 after which he wrote of his experiences in A Journal of a Tour in Italy in the year 1821 with a Description of Gibraltar .

His chapter on the Rock offers the most sustained and probably the most accurate and least prejudiced description of the civilian population of the Rock and of the Campo area, in the whole of the literature of the 19th century. The following are a series of quotes from his book.
The rock of Gibraltar, the key of the Mediterranean, and probably the strongest fortified position in the world, forms the eastern point of the bay; and is no less remarkable for its natural shape and situation, than for the artificial works by which it has been rendered impregnable . .

It was not a little amusing to observe the fishing-boats, frequently passing us while we were sailing up the bay. They were worked with triangular sails, which were raised on long yards, pointed high into the air; and the men on board them made a very singular appearance. One of them was manned by half a dozen men and boys, whose faces were of a dark brown colour, and a strange physiognomy; with large trousers and turbans.

The steersman, an old man in a large cloak, sat leaning with his arms almost akimbo, and an expression of disdain in his hard features, which might have become a bashaw, but was ridiculous in a fisherman .. .
It is quite possible that these were not fishermen but rather Spanish maritime smugglers. If so perhaps the steersman was quite entitled to his hard features and disdainful look. It was a dangerous job and these people were very good at it.
Ships are obliged to anchor at the distance of a mile or two from the shore, where the bottom is rocky, and the situation exposed to the whole force of a wind blowing into the harbour, as well as to a bad sea. From the place where we have anchored, which is devoted to vessels in quarantine, we have a full view of the north end of the rock . .

The Rock of Gibraltar
We had hardly come to anchor, when a boat came along side, and a dark-complexioned man, with a sort of uniform dress, demanded, in broken English, whence we came. He was the health officer; and his boatmen wore glazed hats marked G. R. The papers which were handed them, were taken with a pair of tongs, immersed in water, and then spread, by means of the boat's tiller and some sticks, for the officer to read ; for as we were in quarantine, we were treated exactly as if we had actually had the plague on board.

We found we were to remain in quarantine two or three days ; and our ensign being hauled down, we hoisted a white flag. The American consul Mr. Henry, who soon after came out to as, very politely remained alongside for some time, not being permitted to come on board . . . 
The need for quarantine was forced on Gibraltar by the outbreak of yellow fever in 1804 - which returned in 1813 1nd 1814. The quarantine precautions during Dwight's visit were, of course, a waste of time given the nature of the disease. It was back yet again in 1828. As regards that rocky bottom, the Bay was notoriously dangerous for the unwary skipper. It became progressively rockier the closer to shore. 
The People of Gibraltar
. . . We stepped on shore among boatmen and sailors of several nations, and merchants collected on the mole about packages of goods; and after showing our passports, entered the outer gate, called the Water Gate.

Here we found ourselves at once in the midst of the bustle and din of Gibraltar, the crowd of which, is as heterogeneous as can well be imagined: Spanish Moorish, English and Genoese sailors - Spanish market people driving loaded donkeys - Moorish Jews carrying monstrous burthens, with small scull-caps, and loose trousers cut off at the knee, leaving their muscular legs bare. These last are porters, and are all remarkably strong men . . .

. . . Here are peasants from the neighbouring parts of Andalusia, dressed in round jackets and small clothes of green velvet, broad brimmed hats, leathern gaiters, scarlet sashes, and ruffled shirts ; some also in pantaloons trimmed with rows of buttons and cord ; English ladies with Leghorn hats and merino shawls; Spanish women in black dresses, or muffled in scarlet cloaks with high hoods; besides Genoese sailors, Barbary Jews and English soldiers . . .

Gibraltar woman wearing traditional red coat with hood ( Unknown )
. . . The population of Gibraltar is a most heterogeneous mass, consisting principally of Genoese, English, and Spanish, or their descendants. The present number of officers, soldiers, and other men belonging to the army, is about five thousand . . . Many English, Irish, and Scotch should be added, who have accompanied their military relations and friends to this place of security rather than post of danger. Beside these, there are many individuals from the various nations on the Mediterranean, particularly from the neighbouring coast of Africa.
There are no census figures for 1821. However from 1816 to 1826 the population rose from around 11 000 to more than 15 000. Figures must have been available for the Garrison as he actually gives very precise figures - 'four thousand seven hundred and fifty-three.'
A great number of Jews are always seen in the streets, and one would think they must form large part of the population ; but they are said to amount to no more than seven hundred in all. They supply the place with shop-keepers and porters, and still retain the black scull-cap, the full trousers cut off at the knee, and the striking appearance of wretched poverty which they brought with them from Algiers.

Some of them, however, who are the worst clad, are among the richest men in Gibraltar, and, on the Jewish Sabbath, repair to the synagogue, arrayed in the splendid flowing robes which were worn in Jerusalem in the times of the prophets.

From their scrupulous observance of the Mosaic Law in this respect, they are transformed in appearance, once a week, from beggars to creditable representatives of the house of Israel, and many of them to priests and rabbis of a most reverend aspect. Business is almost entirely at a stand on Saturday, for there are few retailers in the garrison who are not Jews.

The natives of this place are all known by the same general appellation, which bears no reference at all to the country of their parents: every one born in Gibraltar is of course called a 'Rock Scorpion'. And truly their residences are often better calculated for the nature and habits of reptiles, than for those of men.

The inhabitants of Gibraltar, as I have before mentioned, preserve, with great tenacity, the costumes of their several countries; so that a walk through the place is like reading a chapter of manners and customs.

Many ladies appear in the street wrapped in dresses of jet black, after the Spanish fashion; while others of the inferior classes wear hooded scarlet cloak trimmed and edged with black. Their faces are all formed after one model, with round, sallow cheeks, tolerable features, and black eyes ; and they are rarely seen  without their fans, which they keep continually in motion, and which they are said to use in conversation like telegraphs.

Spanish Lady with a Fan  ( John Bagnold Burgess )
Long blue Spanish cloaks are frequently seen muffling tall men, who, whether they be wealthy merchants, or mere idlers, move with a striking air of conscious importance. The right corner of the cloak, is thrown over the left shoulder, and the loose drapery lies in the graceful folds of the Roman toga, and is drawn up till it hides the face, and shows nothing but a pair of mysterious black eyes, looking suspiciously out upon the world.

Neither do the inhabitants confine their national partiality to dress alone : they let it follow them home ; and give it a place at the table and the hearth. In one house, children are brought up on Neapolitan macaroni ; in the next, the cry is for 'bannocks of bear-meal, bannocks of barley!' Here, you may hear unleavened bread called for in Hebrew, during the Passover; and at the opposite door, the Irish name for potatoes every day in the year.
A detailed and relatively affectionate description of the people of Gibraltar -  and probably the only commentator ever to mention the kind of food eaten by the natives.
The Inn
Our inn is the only one in Gibraltar which makes any pretensions to the English style, and is still in some respects, half Spanish. From the dining-room, which is on the second floor, we look down upon the principal street, and the Custom House, where the passersby are continually presenting to our eyes the costumes of different nations, in new and striking contrasts . . .

. . The number of Genoese inhabitants is so great, that it may be proper to give a hasty sketch of an inn, kept by one of that nation, where I am at present lodged, particularly, as both reader and author are bound up the Mediterranean, or, as it is here familiarly expressed, 'up aloft'.

This hotel is considered the best in the whole garrison, except two or three, but is not the resort of Americans or Englishmen. The entrance from the street is through a gateway, leading to a court surrounded on all sides by the house, which is necessarily built in the form of a hollow square.

A piazza, which runs round the second story, affords a communication between the stairs and the dining rooms, sleeping chambers, &c. On the ground-floor, several doors open on all sides, into the tap-room, the kitchen, the host's private parlour, and the stables.

The dinner, in effecting its way from the fire to table, has therefore to make a passage of considerable length, beside the ascent of a stair-case. But a precursor never fails to anticipate its arrival by an hour or more in the fumes of strong small fish, fried in oil, and the penetrating odour of garlic. Above the outer gate is a sign, which tells the world in Spanish and English, that the host keeps a large number of horses, donkeys, and mules to let to such as are ambitious of a gallop to San Roque, or a ride through the " excavations'

Gibraltar from the 'excavations' at Carteia   ( Unknown ) 
These animals arc accommodated with racks and mangers in an apartment adjoining that in which the females of the house (who bear the round, foreign features of Maritornes,) amuse themselves all day with a discordant spinnet, and their incessant Genoese jargon.
The weather is so warm even at this season, that none of the indwellers sit with closed doors ; and the strangest composition is produced by squealing, stamping and braying from the stables, the steams of the kitchen, and the mirth and music from the adjacent parlour.
Impossible to pin-point the inn but it might have been 'Griffith's Hotel' which was in Main Street and overlooked the Exchange and Commercial Library which had only very recently been built. The 'spinnet' - or 'spinet' - must refer to an out of tune harpsichord type instrument popular at the time.

The 'excavations' refer to the nearby ruins at Carteia, and the Maritornes features of the poor females of the house were those of the 'vulgar, ugly, stunted servant-wench' which Don Quixote mistook for the beautiful daughter of a Lord. The 'Genoese jargon' may be a reference to the unique patois used in Gibraltar known as Llanito.
The Town
The streets were so narrow and crooked, and the crowd so great, that it was difficult to move. The houses are filled with inhabitants, for the limited ground within the walls has long since been occupied, and the population has increased till everything is as full as a rabbit-warren.

The shops presented a singular collection of various wares from all parts of the world, and the market was stocked with many strange roots, fruits, and fish, such as we had never before seen, except in books of natural history. . .

A shop in Gibraltar ( 1830 - William Mein Smith ) ( see LINK )
This afternoon we went to look at a house where we had been recommended to take private lodgings, by a friend who had little to say in their praise, but spoke of them as very commodious for Gibraltar. The house is owned by an Englishman ; and the only entrance, (such the universal scarcity of room), is through his little shop into a court-yard, scarce twenty feet square.

In the Spanish fashion, the house is built round this little open square, in one comer of which were two women at their wash-tubs, in another, the stable of a she-goat, the family cow,] and in a third, a flight of stairs leading to the upper apartments.

These we mounted at the peril of our necks, and were introduced into two chambers, eight or ten feet square, one of which was lighted through the door, and the other through a square hole without glass, and capable of being covered only with a swinging shutter made of a palm-leaf netting.

North Front and Neutral Ground
San Roque is a small Spanish town, situated about five miles from this place, where the governor and several English merchants have country houses. A fine road has lately been opened thither, by the permission of the king; and to make a short excursion into the country from the garrison never means anything more than going to San Roque.

San Roque from Gibraltar  ( 1860s - J. H . Mann )
We took a walk there to-day, and in leaving Gibraltar passed through the northern gates at the base of the rock, but little raised above the water level. The various artificial works which command indisputably this passage are truly admirable. The path crosses several draw-bridges, and coasts along broad ditches, whose opposite sides present only batteries of heavy cannon, planned and erected in times of peace and leisure, and kept in as perfect order as if an attack were expected to-morrow.. .

When these were all passed, we came upon the Neutral Ground, which is sandy and quite barren, except a tract of a few acres, where the present governor has made a garden for the supply of the garrison. This spot has been manured by the sweepings of the streets, reduced to ashes, and produces a variety of herbs for the market.

Here are the houses of the gardeners, which, with the large wheels for raising water turned by mules, the unknown vegetables cultivated in some of the fields, and the inclosures made of woven canes, or of a shrub with immense leaves shaped like those of a tulip, offered many picturesque little scenes.
Those wheels for raising water were known locally - and in Spain - as Norias. They were mentioned by previous commentators and seem to have been a common feature on the Rock and not just in the Neutral Ground.

A water-wheel or Noria, being turned by a bullock rather than a mule.
The Spanish Lines
. . . are marked by ditches, batteries, and low, white barracks; where we found ourselves suddenly among officers and soldiers wearing the uniform, and bearing the arms of his most Catholic Majesty. It was very gratifying to us, who are likely to have very little time for seeing the neighbouring country, that the face of things, even at this short distance from Gibraltar, should assume an expression so decidedly Spanish.

A few houses clustered together in this spot were built of stone, and inhabited by people who could not understand a single word of English. We stopped at a passport-office, whose master we found had public duties to perform of more than one description; for his walls were ornamented with razors, cows' tails, teeth fastened in strings, and hanging in festoons.

In one corner an ancient basket-hilted sword was capped with a barber's basin, as if to convince us that we were actually in the land of Don Quixote and the peerless' Dulcinea. Two miles beyond, the road lay on the beach round the head of Gibraltar Bay, from which the governor's road led us back across the uncultivated hills and valleys we had often overlooked before.

There are indeed, a few clusters of houses and patches of tilled ground ; but the inhabitants wear all the marks of extreme poverty, and the soil is almost entirely neglected, spreading in unenclosed pastures, and cultivated in small fields here and there.

The road to Spain. The Inundation is on the right, the Neutral Ground straight ahead and those are Spanish house in the distance just behind the Spanish lines  ( Unknown )
Several gardens were fenced with rock-pears, which, though of so diminutive a size in our own country, grow here to the height of six or eight feet, and produce well-flavoured fruit. This vegetable is even cultivated in fields devoted expressly to the purpose ; where it is planted in hills like Indian com.

Three small wooden crosses, standing by the road side, denoted the places where as many murders had been committed; and a small tomb bore an inscription, purporting that a Spanish officer had fallen on that spot, while' defending himself against seven Frenchmen.

We met a few Englishmen riding towards the garrison on imported horses, and ladies mounted on mules and donkeys, that were covered with gay trappings, and followed by men on foot with long sticks. The peasants who passed us never failed to take off their hats, and to cry in a drawling tone, and with no little formality : 'Salud ! Salud !"
Visits to the hinterland - and especially to either the Corkwood at the Almoraima  near San Roque and to the Orange Grove somewhat closer to home - had been popular since before the middle of the previous century. Several years later those same peasants would be far less welcoming to visitors as the riders of the recently created Calpe Hunt rode roughshod over their fields and crops.

People from Gibraltar on their way to a picnic in La Almoraima  ( From an early 20th century postcard )
Among the clusters of hovels on the road, were a number of inns, which fully justified the discouraging representations we had heard, of the wretched accommodations prepared for travellers in Spain. With the solitary exception of the short road we were travelling, there is not. a single path for many miles around passable in carriages, and the inns are correspondent with the expectations of the travellers, who are almost exclusively muleteers.
The barest necessaries of life: a little wretched food and wine, the shelter of a roof, and a sack of straw, or perhaps the ground-floor for a couch, can possess few attractions in the worst circumstances, and would never be preferred to the open air on such a fine day as this. At the inns which we passed, therefore, travellers were seen lying on. the ground, under the southern walls, wrapped in their blue cloaks, with their horses tied to posts near at hand : for there appeared to be no stables for their reception.

San Roque
The town of San Roque stands on a steep round hill; and, on entering it, is found to consist of narrow streets, and old fashioned houses with low stories. Here are the high, small, latticed widows, the balconies of gingerbread-work, and the general air of antiquity, which correspond with the backgrounds of many Spanish prints we were familiar with at home.

A view from San Roque  ( 1860s - George Washington Wilson )
An old woman and two or three beggar children conducted us with great reverence into the church, which occupies the summit of the hill, and were surprised that we did not kneel before the statues and pictures in the various chapels. There was 'Holy Mary in tears', and 'Christ on the cross', represented in the most incorrect manner, and with most miserable taste.

On our way home we stopped a moment at a hut to quench our thirst Like several others we had observed, it was built entirely of reeds, so twisted and woven as to form walls quite impervious to the weather. A sign offered to all passers-by, and to ourselves among the rest, such things as a house of this kind might be expected to afford — 'bread and cheese, and two or three sorts of wine of inferior quality.'

Huts near San Roque    (1830s - William Mein Smith )
A low partition cut off the sleeping room, while that which we entered, and the remainder of the whole house, had a ground floor, and a recess devoted to casks and cups. The inhabitants, an honest but wrinkled pair, were then occupied at dinner which it seems is fashionable here about one o'clock. The meal consisted of bread and a few small fishes, cooked over a pan of coals for want of a fire-place.
As soon, however as we could make them comprehend, with our scanty store of Spanish, that we wanted a draught of wine, they set out a light wooden table and a bench, between the two doors, in such a manner that the wind blew on us fresh from the bay ; and placed before us a bottle of Malaga wine.

When the old woman had dined, she took a seat near us with some coarse needle-work in her hands, and with an intention half hospitable, half curious, began to remark on the pleasantness of the weather. Several fowls, and a large black pig without a single hair upon his skin, were called in appropriate chuckles, and a dish of Indian corn was furnished them : and we looked around us with pleasure, on the few and simple objects which supplied these honest old folks with comfort and content.

The larder and the wardrobe occupied but little space and the few rough tools and utensils they possessed, found ready lodging between the reeds of which the walls were made ; and there we observed a few bits of harmless finery, and the rosary and crucifix with which the good woman decorates herself, for a walk to the church of San Roque on Sabbath and holy-day.

The scenery under our eyes excited our admiration ; for the door, humble as it was, commanded an uninterrupted view of the rock and bay of Gibraltar, the Straits, and the opposite African coast; and every vessel in the harbour and every foreign ship sailing from one ocean to the other, afforded its portion of pleasure to the tranquil minds of this aged Andalusian pair, who had looked out upon them, with little knowledge of their cargoes or their destination, for half a century.

Gibraltar  ( 1870s - General Evan Maberly )
'Yet', said the good woman with a melancholy look, 'the place will never again be as pleasant as I have seen it; I have had seven little children who have played around me on this floor: but the last of them died many years ago, leaving our home desolate, and everything gloomy on which we used to look."
Once again a rather sensitive description of the local population, this time in Spain. The usual comparisons between British affluence and Spanish poverty are either tone down or omitted. There is no criticism of the Spanish military - a species much derided by all other British and American commentators.

Theodore Dwight deserves to be acknowledged as an honest man. It was an era in which Gibraltarians  could do with all the help they could get as regards a decent press.

The town of Gibraltar  (  1830 - Piaget et Lailavoix ) ( see  LINK )