The People of Gibraltar

1815 - Sir James Fellowes - The Lower Orders

Monsieur Jay and Mr. Kenning - Mr Santo and Mr Coelhos
Mr Boyd and Mrs Spinola - Keusch and Mr Bresciano 
Don Francisco Hoyera and Belando - Bertholoso - Mr Scarnichi  

James Fellowes was born in Edinburgh  c 1771, became a doctor in 1803 and served in the medical department of the army.  In 1804 he was sent to investigate the yellow fever epidemics in various Spanish ports and, more pertinently, Gibraltar. In 1815 he published his findings in his Reports of the Pestilential Disorders of Andalusia. 

Fellowes' book is simply one of many churned out by worried doctors in the wake of what would prove to be Gibraltar greatest disaster - the yellow fever epidemic of 1804 which  was followed up by other lesser visitations right up to 1828. ( see LINK  )

Sir James was just as much at a loss as regards the causes of the fever as the rest of  his contemporaries with the result that his 'Report' is both excruciatingly long and wrong in its conclusions.  Nevertheless a rather crude diagram which appears in one of his many appendices does give unusually precise details as to when and where the authorities thought that the epidemic had started -as well as naming some of the unfortunate individuals involved.  It is worth a browse.

To make the sketch easier to understand I have taken the liberty to renumber it and to expand on Fellowes' original captions.

According to Sir James, most of the gory details which follow were provided by depositions taken from several individuals including a  French doctor, Monsieur Jay, Mr. Kenning, the Assistant Surgeon of the Royal Artillery, a local shopkeeper called Santo - sometimes referred to by others as Santos - and a certain Mr Coelhos, a Clerk in the Secretary's office at Gibraltar.

1. Gunner's Parade - known today as Governor's Parade - was at the time an open space of about seventy yards by fifty. The yellow fever epidemic of 1804 is said to have begun inside the various houses and sheds surrounding the Parade yet - ironically - it had long been considered one of the a driest and healthiest areas of the town.

2. Boyd's Building - This was fundamentally a 'patio de vecino' owned and rented out to various families by the owner, a Mr. Boyd,  who  lived in the building with his family. It was reputed to be one of the filthiest buildings in Gibraltar. Both Mr. Boyd and his wife died in it of the fever in late September. 

A small dwellings within Boyd's Building and near the one occupied by the Boyd's was inhabited by the wife of bombardier Fenton of the Royal Artillery. She was soon taken ill as was Fenton himself. They both died in September. He is thought to be the first military man to die of the fever.

Mrs. Spinola, her son and daughter, who also inhabited one of the small adjoining dwellings,
were attacked much about the same time, and fell victims to the disease, together with Keusch, the master tailor of De Roll's regiment who lived in a room near them.  Fourteen other people belonging to families residing in Boyd's Building were carried off by the fever before the end of September.

3. A local resident by the name of Santo lived  in a house quite near Boyd's Building which he shared with his mother, his two sisters, a brother and two aunts. He was the eldest son of a wine-house keeper and kept a grocery shop close to Boyd's in Governor's street. 

According to his passport, he left for Cadiz on the 26th of July 1804. It was here that he came into contact with somebody who was ill with the fever. He left the place in some haste aboard the Portuguese vessel the Concepcion . He had heard that the fever had arrived in Malaga and was worried that the authorities would quarantine ships coming from Spain into Gibraltar. 

He was quite right to be worried - they closed the place up the very next day. He arrived on the 25th of August was seized by the fever on the 27th and called for the French practitioner Monsieur Jay. Santo was the first civilian and the first person to die of the yellow fever epidemic of 1804. Later, the entire Santos family  were all 'attacked' by the fever and his mother and both aunts died soon after.

4. This was a  canteen in what is today Prince Edward's Road. It was used by the soldiers of De Roll's regiment who were housed just up the hill in the Blue Barracks. A daughter of Belando, the landlord, was taken ill here and died in September.

5. The house just up from the canteen belonged to the Coelhos', another local family consisting of eleven people. They were all attacked with the disorder but - incredibly - all of them recovered.

6. Next up from the Coelhos' were the Bertholoso's who were also local residents. One member took ill and died followed shortly by his uncle. 

7. This house giving out into northern section of Gunner's Parade was owned by the Scarnichis. They were Portuguese. The upper room of the house was used by several tailors belonging to De Roll's regiment. Scarnichi's daughter and son were killed by the disease as were four of the tailors who worked in the upper room.

8. The Royal Artillery Barracks that gave the Parade its name. Two R.A. companies were quartered there at the time. About a third of one of the companies took ill during September at a time when no other corps except De Roll's were affected by the disease.

9. The Blue Barracks where De Roll's regiment was quartered. The deaths of several soldiers of this regiment were attributed to their having frequented Belando's Tavern. 

10. Town Range Barracks. It housed 700 men and even though it was less than a 100 yards away from Boyd's Building was free from 'all disorder' until some time later.

11.  Sheds. These were used - according to Fellowes - by married people of 'the lower orders of foreigners and inhabitants'. Perhaps it would be best to quote the good doctor in full:

The present town was raised upon the ruins of the old, after the last memorable siege in 1780; but although General Elliot had planned a regular form for the construction of the edifices, and the disposition of the streets, it does not appear that the design had been followed from that period to the present time.

Of late years, in proportion as the population increased, new buildings were erected, and the different governors issued grants to certain individuals, of particular parts of the rock to build upon ; as soon as a spot of ground was cleared wooden sheds were immediately run up, and these were immediately let out to the lower orders of Spaniards, Genoese, &c. &c.  

Each tenement was of small dimensions, consisting generally of one or of two apartments on the ground floor, but without drains, or any other outlet than a door with one, or at most, two small wooden slides for windows, and a canvas roof coated with pitch, made up the habitation for a family, seldom amounting to less than eighteen or twenty persons. 

The erection of sheds in this manner became so easy and lucrative, that any needy stranger who found his way into the garrison, had no difficulty in obtaining a lodging in one of them, and thus the population was gradually increased to an incredible amount; for the most part, men of this description were employed during the day, as labourers or porters; and as no mischief seemed to arise from their crowded state during the night, in those miserable, ill aired sheds ; the practice continued until the period of the great calamity in 1804.

All these sheds were later cleared away and destroyed.

12. The brand new Garrison Library and gardens.  A rather odd deposition by a certain Mr. Bresciano who is described as 'a respectable inhabitant of Gibraltar' - an identity that almost certainly had more to do with his wealth than his morals - is probably worth describing as it casts doubt as to whether Santo was in fact the person who brought the epidemic into Gibraltar. 

At least a fortnight before Santo arrived from Cadiz, Bresciano was having his customary dinner with Don Francisco Hoyera the  vicar of the local 'Spanish' Church' - Santa MarĂ­a la Coronada - when they were interrupted by a Spaniard who begged them to authorise the admittance of a friend into the public hospital. The two worthies refused but asked to see his sick companion.

The Spaniard led them to the library garden where they found the man apparently very close to death. He was, he confessed, a smuggler and he thought that his illness was similar to the one that was causing havoc in his home town of Malaga - which is where he had recently come from.

For reasons which are hard to understand, neither Bresciano nor Hoyero thought it worth the trouble to notify the authorities about this at the time - nor the fact that the man had ended up buried - illegally - in the middle of the library gardens.  The most likely explanation is that the two Malaga smugglers were business associates of Bresciano - something that any 'respectable inhabitant' would have been loath to admit.

Finally it is perhaps pertinent to remind oneself that nobody at that time was aware of the role of the mosquito as a transmitter of the virus that caused the disease. In fact most medical experts limited themselves to two main lines or argument - the contagion theory - and the anti-contagion theory. Even a casual reading of the above will confirm that Sir James was very firmly on the side of the former.