The People of Gibraltar

1845 – T. M. Hughes - The Ulcerous Eyesore

It is hard to find any information on T. M. Hughes other than he was the author of the two volume Revelations of Spain in 1845. From his own preface to the book one can glean that he was English, that he was a resident in Spain and that the state of his health made it impossible for him to live in his own country. The date of the title may not ring any bells for the modern reader but - as noted by the author - it was a significant one for Spain at the time.

Mid 19th Century Spain
The first six months of 1845 will be forever memorable in the legislative annals of Spain, as having been marked by the most important and extensive reforms in the Constitution of 1837 - changes so vast and so threatening to liberty, and at the same time so apparently definitive, as to merit still more than our own Reform Act, the name of Revolution . . . 

. . . The events of the years 1843 to 1845  . .  have been extraordinary  . .  the springs of society have been stirred  . .  order subverted and laws defied  . . the executive Chief of State has been exiled . .  a child has been raised to exercise sovereignty . . a minister after six days tenure of power  . .  expelled from office by a Palace plot . .  Parliament has been summarily closed . .  the heads of the popular party  . . thrown into dungeons . .  the lives of numerous citizens forfeited without trial . . 

Both volumes were written while General Ramón María Narváez, Duke of Valencia was in power. Leader of the right-wing Moderado party and a veritable caudillo, he was a man with a penchant for repressing opposition whenever and wherever he found it. 

The other main historical figure was Baldomero Espartero. He was a member of the more left-wing Progresista party. He had been President of the government from 1840 until he was usurped from this position by Narváez  in 1843. He would later return to power in 1854.

Narváez and Espartero

The work is essentially a sustained critique of Spain. Hughes may have willingly opted to live there but he certainly didn't think much of its politics, its institutions or its values. 

For reasons too numerous to go into here, the whole of Andalucía - including the Campo area - was in a state of constant upheaval at the time. Not surprisingly, those factions that happened to be out of favour at any given moment often took refuge in Gibraltar where they promoted their cause in relative security and plotted  harebrained schemes which rarely came to anything.

Algeciras town centre in the late 19th century ( William Lee Hankey )

Here are a few enlightening quotes from Hughes.

Political Shenanigans 
The smuggling which is constantly going on from Gibraltar to the neighbouring shores of Andalucía, causes much ill-will amongst all Spaniards who do not benefit by the practice ; and this has been increased by recent events, and by the commonly entertained belief that the Rock was a . . . focus of intrigues against the Provisional Government. 

This belief was for the most part groundless. But the phantom of vague terrors exaggerated into serious dangers, appalled and confounded to such a degree the neighbouring pueblos of Algeciras and Tarifa, that in a formal representation to the government, they declared their apprehensions of an immediate hostile incursion into the latter place by 2000 cigar-makers of Gibraltar ! 

This Esparterist invasion was to be headed, they said, by the Regent's military secretary. . . whom they averred to be then secreted in the house of the . . . Consul of Spain in Gibraltar. . . . The cigar-makers' invasion was characteristically all smoke . . 

On another occasion Nogueras - another supporter of the opposition to Navaez's rule and a Gibraltar refugee - decided on a bit of direct action;

At Tarifa and San Roque . . . measures were equally well taken, and with the same success. At the former place, a shoemaker was designed for 
prime minister ; and at the latter, Colonel Linares dispersed another auxiliary force of 200 mounted Contrabandists, whom Nogueras had enrolled at Gibraltar, and who were drawn up in a sort of battle array in the outskirts of the town.

Armed Smugglers playing with the authorities somewhere in Campamento near Gibraltar  ( Unknown )

Nogueras' squib fizzed prematurely in a ludicrous explosion, and his projects and plans were blown out of the water. Nogueras was made most uncomfortable during his subsequent stay at Gibraltar, by the contempt with which all parties cut him. From the first, the English acted as became them, and shunned him as a pestilence; while even his countrymen, for the most part, regarded him with cold indifference.

The People
The variety of character which one meets in the cafes at Cadiz and Gibraltar, is very striking. The representatives of all nations are there: the naval uniforms of most nations, the inelegant military uniforms of Spain, the infinity of landsmen jacketed and trousered in an infinity of different manners ; the Contrabandist, in his leggings and faja jostling the carabinero in his uniform ; the Jew in his greasy dark-blue gabardine and skull-cap, the Moor in his flowing white or striped burnous and spotless turban, (the two latter classes being more especially confined to Gibraltar), all combine to form a strange living pantomime. 

Besides ices, lemonade, orangeade, white sugared drinks, and coffee, are the favourite refreshments. Wine, though this be its country, is scarcely at all drunk. It is rarely touched, except at meals; and then, if white be relished, Manzanilla, a light country wine, is used; if red, it invariably comes from Catalonia, or Valencia, or from Val-de-Peñas in La Mancha. 

These descriptions are the usual stereotypical brushstrokes. Whether the drinking habits are those of Cadiz or Gibraltar - or both - is hard to tell. Whatever the case this is just about all he had to say about the Rock and its people, although he did include two very lengthy and repetitive chapters on 'The Contrabandists' in which Gibraltar is given a prominent role. Here are a few quotes.

Spanish contrabandist - the romantic view ( 1856 Richard Andsell )

The Contrabandists
Spain is, of all European countries, the most helplessly exposed to contrabandist operations. With an ill-paid and, sometimes, ragged army, and with revenue officers directly exposed to temptation by inadequate salaries, she has 500 miles of Portuguese frontier and; near 300 of Pyrenean; and with a fleet crumbled into ruins, and no longer of the slightest efficacy, she has 400 'miles of Cantabrian and 700 of Mediterranean coast. Four hundred thousand smugglers are constantly engaged in demolishing her absurd fiscal laws . . 

Smuggling in Andalucía seems to have attained systematic perfection. It embraces all society.. . The very name of 'custom-house' is here synonymous to all that is most contemptuous in the language. 'Aduana', in common parlance, is the designation for a resort of robbers . . the aduanero, or custom-house officer, is likened to a ferret or allegorically adorned with a porcine snout, and figures in some dozen unsavoury proverbs. 

The soreness of feeling in Spaniards on the subject of Gibraltar and Portugal as centres of contrabandism, will in all probability lead to very valuable consequences for the country. It may force them to improve their revenue by adopting sound principles through necessity, and open their ports through the characteristic motive of revenge. Already has this plan to a limited extent been tried. 

The trade of Gibraltar was so provokingly flourishing, and the contrabandists were so active . . . that human patience could no longer endure it, and though they doubtless thought it like committing suicide, Algeciras, lying in the neighbourhood of Gibraltar, was declared a free port. 

Algeciras in 1859 (  Unknown )

But an isolated point like this was of little value to them, and to give anything like effect to the system, they must open all their ports at once. . Meanwhile they are not to be discouraged, but rather to be cheered on in the first faint steps of a practice which, though evidently levelled in spite at Gibraltar, was of liberal and nationally beneficial tendency. 

So long as the prevailing system is continued, the smuggler of Spain will make mirth of the laws of Spain ; the merchant of Gibraltar will sell to whoever brings him dollars, and sell, too, with unblemished honour ; for he is as much bound to inquire whether his customer is a contrabandist, as whether the ropes which make fast his bales may be converted to purposes of suicide. 

Contrabandists risking their lives for a living  ( Unknown )

So long, too, will the colony of Gibraltar, which by the census of 1835 had 15,008 inhabitants, have its 3000 cigar manufacturers, or 1 for every 5 of the population, male and female. What a frightful deal they must smoke in Gibraltar ! 

The tobacconists of this wonderful Rock in 1835 were but 880, and in eight years they have nearly quadrupled their number. If Spain persists in the exclusive policy by which everything is admitted, in eight years more, pursuing the same ratio, the existing tobacconist population will be again quadrupled . . .

Photograph of the poorly guarded Spanish frontier with Gibraltar   ( 1860s - Unknown )

British vessels trading to Gibraltar Bay, are naturally upon the friendliest terms with the small native vessels, which visit the Rock very light, upon speculation, and leave it laden to their gunwales. It often happens when winds are not favourable — and it is of importance to run a cargo quickly, and dispose, without delay, of goods either perishable in their nature or liable to the mutabilities of taste and fashion — that the services of a large English vessel, returning, perhaps, in ballast from Gibraltar, are put into requisition, and that she takes in tow a couple of small smuggling ketches, so crammed to the water's edge with goods, that they would make very slight progress unaided, and rigged as clumsily as are all the small native craft . . .

The contrabandists and their freight are thus whisked along merrily enough, and when they reach within a dozen miles of Cadiz . . .the turn is taken off the towing-rope, and they are left to shift for themselves. In troublesome times such is the familiar practice, and British merchant steamers are sometimes condescending enough to perform this service. 

The contrabandists, and the houses they are connected with, are so rich that they can well afford to pay handsomely for so superb a 'lift' as to be carried from the Rock to the Bay of Cadiz in the wake of a steamer in nine hours. 

The irregular business thus transacted — which at Gibraltar assumes a perfectly regular shape, since it is no man's business to inquire whether those to whom he sells are connected with smugglers — is always so large, and so immense at certain periods, that many residents there hold that no open trade with Spain would be so profitable to English commerce. 

When business is dull a pronunciamiento of some kind is pretty sure to be got up, and in the consequent series of disturbances an enormous quantity of goods is got in . . . The ulcerous eyesore of Gibraltar — for thus do Spaniards regard it - will reduce them at last to a rational commercial] policy, if anything can effect that result.

'The ulcerous eyesore of Gibraltar ' from Gaucin - the people in the foreground are probably smugglers ( 1849 - Genaro Villaamil Duguet Perez )