The People of Gibraltar
1772 - The Benoliel Family -  Yahuda b'Ulil

Shemtov Sequerra and General O'Hara - Aaron Cardozo and John Crusoe 
Bajja and Joseph Abudarham  - General Don, Solomon Benzimra and Juan Arengo

The Great Siege had just ended (see LINK), Gibraltar was in ruins and General O'Hara had just taken over as Governor. Whether the Benoliel family left Gibraltar during the Siege or not is impossible to verify. But the records do show that at least some of them were living on the Rock just after it had ended. 

Main Street Gibraltar just after the Great Siege    (1793 - Captain Thomas Davis )

According to the 1784 census there were three Benoliels living in Gibraltar at the time - Solomon - identified simply as a merchant, Judah - a shop keeper, and Joseph - rather insulting classified on the records as a 'huckster'.

Solomon Benoliel had arrived in Gibraltar from Tetuan in 1756 as a thirteen year old. By 1791 Solomon found himself  married to a local girl called Judith who was ten years younger than himself. Children had followed fast and furious in more or less two yearly intervals - Judah, now 18 years old, Abram 14, Rachel 12, Isaac 10, Meshod 8, Moses 6, Haim 4 and Ester 1. 

Gate of the Jews, Tetuan ( Unknown )

Over the years Solomon had become a prominent merchant, although he preferred to think of himself as a broker. In one of the older lists of proprietors of the Exchange and Commercial Library (see LINK), he was one of only 16 people who did not have a British surname. 

The Rock in the early 19th century ( Unknown )

Curiously  he employed a 'servant' with his own family name - Joseph Benoliel, the ex-huckster of the 1784 census.

But it was his son, Judah Benolie,l who really left his mark - especially during the early 19th century. These were the golden years of the Jewish Merchant class in Gibraltar. Aaron Cardozo was ingratiating himself with Governor O'Hara by making him aware of a simmering conspiracy among the locals - and incidentally assuring himself of every opportunity to make even more money than he had already. (See LINK)

The Nefutsot Yehuda - or Flemish Synagogue was built using $26 000 of donations from various merchant including Benoliel. The site was a garden bought from an Englishman called John Crusoe by Shemtov Sequerra, another rich, local Jew. 

Flemish Synagogue   ( 1830 - Frederick Leeds Edridge  )

Yet another Jewish merchant family, the Abudarhams - were accumulating property in Gibraltar (see LINK) while  Solomon Benzimra, a Gibraltar millionaire with houses in both the Rock and Malta was making his money by importing a variety of goods from all over the world. (see LINK

But it was Benoliel's appointment as Moroccan Consul General in Gibraltar that made the difference . The place was a key entrepôt for commerce in the western Mediterranean and strategically a crucial trading centre for Barbary. The appointment was also rather unique as Moroccan sultans maintained only a few consulates in foreign countries before the twentieth century. 

The man Judah took over from as consul was Sidi Hamet Benamor Beggia - also confusingly referred to as Muhannad Umar Bajja or just plain Bajja . Originally from Larrache, Bajja was also a merchant of some standing both in Gibraltar and in his home town. Judah's appointment as consul coincided with Bajja's death and his first task was to help the sultan Mawlāy Sulaymān sort out Bajja's estate as well as any unfinished business in Gibraltar.

Bajja had died intestate but Benoliel convinced both the Court of Civil Pleas in Gibraltar and the Ecclesiastical Court of Canterbury in Britain to allow the sultan to take over whatever goods or hard cash were available from Bajja's estate. 

Judah's standing in Barbary was impressive. When Sardinia sent a fleet against Morocco, Benoliel was able - in his consular capacity - to settle the differences amicably.  When Mawlāy Sulaymān died his successor, Muley Abd al-Rahman continued using Benoliel as Consul. In his letter confirming Benoliel's appointment he referred to him as 'Our Agent on the same terms that he held that office in the lifetime of our master and sanctified uncle'. 

This time, however, the appointment was carried out on a formal basis and according to the norms expected by the British authorities.  Judah Benoliel was now legit, so to speak. In fact according to James Brown  in his book on the history of the Maghrib ' Crossing the Strait' -he was now not just consul at Gibraltar but 'General agent in all Christian Dominions, in London, its territories and elsewhere by land and sea.'

He also earned himself some kudos for his services to the Jewish community in Tangier. Because of a nasty quarrel that had taken place between two Jews in a synagogue in Tangier, the governor, with the sultan's consent, had all the synagogues of the city demolished. Several years later Benoliel managed to convince Muley Abd al-Rahman to allow them to be rebuilt, while later refusing to take any credit for what had proved to be a rather tricky piece of diplomacy. Apparently - although I cannot confirm this personally -  a special memorial prayer is offered on every Day of Atonement in the synagogues of Tangier. 

Interior of a Tangier synagogue ( Unknown )

At the height of his influence and power, Judah also became the Austrian consul, the president of the Jewish community and that of the chamber of commerce in Gibraltar. In 1796 he managed the almost impertinent act of lending the Governor of Gibraltar $10000 to pay for much needed Garrison supplies. 

During the Napoleonic Wars he owned at least two privateers operating out of Gibraltar. By the end of the hostilities his ships were carrying goods from Tetuan - not to mention Britain, France, Italy, Brazil and the United States - to and from the Rock. It would be true to say that for several decades he was the most important trader in town.

In 1813, Judah Benoliel wrote to the Lisbon based Minister of the Marine Finance in Portugal, Henrique Teixeira Sampayo, which suggests that in addition to his lucrative position as Merchant Banker for the British Government in Gibraltar, his business affairs included financial transactions concerning the Governor of Malta at the time - General Sir Hildebrand Oakes. He also appears to have participated in the affairs of other important colonial officials such as a certain Mr. Sweetland, British Agent in Alexandria.

The letter is a typically humdrum affair involving bills of lading sent, of goods and moneys not received and of balances yet unpaid, although the sums involved were considerable - £1080 in one case possibly corresponding to well over a million pounds at the time of writing. Yet there is one detail that makes it of particular interest here. It is signed by Judah Benoliel Arengo and Co. It suggests two possibilities - that Judah's company was now a partnership between him and somebody from the Arengo family who were at the time probably as rich as he was - or that he had married somebody from Juan Arengo's family.

Header and sender's signature - Judah Benoliel Arengo & Co - of a letter to the Minister of the Marine Finance in Portugal, Henrique Teixeira Sampayo. 
( Courtesy of Allan Maki, President of Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd - Napoleonic War Archive )

There is, however, yet another letter - this time written by another influential local, Emanuel Viale (see LINK). It is addressed to Sir Charles Stuart, Britain's Envoy Extraordinary in Lisbon, and refers to an attempt to broker a large loan for the redemption of Portuguese slaves in Algiers. Not surprisingly, Judah Benoliel is fully involved.

The letter mentions a meeting with;
Mr Judah Benoliel, the principal and directing partner of the House of Trades of Benoliel, Arengo and Co . . .
. . . which suggests that the connection between the two families was that of a financial partnership rather than a marriage.

Header and sender's signature - Emanuel Viale - of a letter to Sir Charles Stuart, Britain's Envoy Extraordinary in Lisbon 
( Courtesy of Allan Maki, President of Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd - Napoleonic War Archive )

According to the 1814 census, Judah Benoliel lived in Water Port Street - the name of the northern end of Main Street at the time - together with four other members of his family. The house itself had no less than 18 rooms, an absolute luxury in a place as crowed as Gibraltar. There is no mention of any possible connection with the Arengo family.

That same year on the recommendation of Joseph Abudarham (see LINK) - the so-called 'Superintendent of the Hebrew People' - Judah was asked by the Governor, General Don, (see LINK) to give his co-religionist a helping hand.
The present situation in this Garrison requires the greatest vigilance and attention on the part of those placed at the head of the different nations and as the Hebrew people are very numerous it becomes impossible under the present existing circumstances that one person manage and transact all the business which may come before him  . . . 

General George Don

Don could have added that not only were they very numerous but also that quite a few of them were very rich indeed. Benoliel accepted and over the years became a business associate of Abudarham. Many of their properties in Gibraltar were owned jointly. They also developed a personal friendship which eventually resulted in several intermarriages between various members of their family.

According to George Beauclerk in his Journey to Morocco, when the Sultan wrote to General Don in 1826, asking him for medical assistance, he did so 'through Mr. Benoliel, a man of great wealth and respectability in Gibraltar'.

Nor were Benoliel's dealings restricted to those involving his Jewish and Moorish contacts. In the mid 1820s, Pope Pius VII sent Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti to Chile and Peru to assist in mapping out the role of the Catholic Church in the newly independent South American republics. When Mastai-Ferretti returned to Italy from Chile he entrusted Benoliel with very large sums of money. Where the money came from and to what use it was put to is not known but from Benoliel's point of view it proved a worthwhile contact  - the Cardinal was on his way to becoming Pope Pious IX.

Pope Pious IX ( Unknown )

Judah Benoliel - known to his Arab employers as Yahuda b'Ulil - died in 1839. He would have known and would have been proud of the fact that he had been one of the longest serving consuls in Gibraltar  - Moroccan or otherwise. His family business however, continued to prosper. When Richard Ford (see LINK) published his celebrated Handbook for Traveller in Spain he recommended 'the Gibraltar merchant S. Benoliel' - who was almost certainly Solomon Benoliel and a descendent of Judah - if one wanted to obtain letters of credit on the principal Spanish towns. 

But he was more than that. He also ran a very successful antique shop which he unofficially styles as a “Gibraltar Museum”.

On the left in the above double photo is Church Lane in the early 20th C? with a gharry cutting across Gunner’s Lane - On the corner is Benoliel’s Antiques and Curios aka S.E. Benoliel & Co. Moorish and Oriental Bazaar - by far the best in town – and it really must have been.

The fancy, ebony, ivory and tortoiseshell cabinet on the right came from this shop but you would have come across it later in Marlborough House when the Prince of Wales - later Edward VII - lived there. When he became King he took it with him and had it installed in the “Buhl” room - one of the finest guest rooms in Buckingham Palace. George V inherited the thing but  . . . God knows what happened to it. 

I know that the Prince of Wales visited Gib in 1876 but I can’t see the future King slumming around in the back streets of the town. Some brown-nosed individual must have given it to him as a present - I wonder who it was.

The Ketubah of a member of the Benoliel family - David Benoliel ( 1857 )

Judah may have passed away, but the family continued to enjoy considerable wealth and influence - when the Queen mother - Queen Alexandra together with her daughter Princess Victoria came to Gibraltar in the Spring of 1905 (see LINK) they visited the Campo Area and were royally entertained by the Benoliel family who now also owned impressive properties in Guadacorte.