The People of Gibraltar
1810 - The Bland Line - A Reputable Tavern Owner

Marcus Henry and Marcus Hill Bland - Charles Middleton and John Mackintosh
Marcus Horatio Bland and Joseph Gaggero Jnr - Joseph Gaggero snr and Andrew Gaggero,
Michaela and Horatio Gaggero - Avelino and Emmanuel Gaggero
Marcus Horatio and John Bland - Agnes and Lewis Bland
Santiago Ceruich and Rosa Paya - Maria Rodriquez and Martha Turner
Ghita Bland and George Gaggero - Charles Gaggero and Larios
Aaron Cardozo and Sir Horace Smith-Dorian - Captain H. Ritchie 

Anybody my age who lived in Gibraltar during the Palaeolithic era would have known who Bland was - they were the people that took you over the Straits to Tangier - be it via their trustworthy old workhorse - a DC3 known affectionately by the locals as Yogibear - or by their equally well known ferry - the Mons Calpe. 

The Mons Calpe Ferry


They were - in other words an institution. And yet the number of people who would have been able to tell you that a certain Marcus Henry Bland had founded the company in 1810 could have been counted on the proverbial fingers of one hand minus the thumb. Nor would many have been aware that the Gaggero family - of whom all that I can remember was that they were, to put it mildly, an extremely well off family - were the actual owners of the firm at the time. As regards the company's ownership of the Rock Hotel - yet another Gibraltar institution - we would not have known but neither would we have been at all surprised if we had.


The appropriately named, Marcus Henry Bland - a Liverpudlian - started the ball rolling by setting up a shipping agency with its headquarters in a room in his home in Irish Town. It was a street which at the time was more or less the business center of Gibraltar.  

Marcus Henry, however, was soon replaced by his son Marcus Hill, who took over his father's company when he died in 1839. It is perhaps unfortunate for amateur historians that the family continued with the tradition of giving their eldest sons the name of Marcus. Even the most cursory searches through the literature reveal numerous inconsistencies.

According to Stephen Constantine in his splendid Community and Identity:
Remarkably . . . because of the overriding importance of the re-export commerce, the Chairman of the Exchange Committee, Marcus Henry Bland, born in Liverpool but in Gibraltar heading a highly successful shipping agency, similarly asked the Governor quite candidly in 1845 to allow Spanish smugglers into Gibraltar . . . 
And indeed remarkable it was as it must have been a ghost that chaired that Committee and petitioned the Governor - Marcus Henry Bland was already dead in 1839. More interesting than the mistake - the petitioner was almost certainly Marcus Hill - was the reason for it. Smuggling (see LINK) had become big business on the Rock. 

The Governor at the time - Sir Robert Gardiner (see LINK) - was almost obsessively against it - although he must have been aware that imports into Gibraltar would have been practically non-existence in such a small place if the so-called "re-export commerce" had not existed. The question of course is why was Bland arguing for what in essence seems to have had little to do with his own business. Of course he could have simply been representing his pals on the Exchange Committee. On the other hand it would be tempting to believe that he dabbled personally in the trade. Goods imported into Gibraltar using his own ships - goods sold to intermediaries for smuggling into Spain

In 1840 and in one of Marcus Hill's first moves after his father's death, he went into partnership with Charles Middleton and John Mackintosh - the later also the source of some confusion as he was the father of one of Gibraltar's great benefactors - his son John Mackintosh of whom people as ignorant as I was - and perhaps still am - simply associated with the main square in Gibraltar which was named after him - a square incidentally that has been known by perhaps more names than any other place on the Rock - Plaza Major, Gran Plaza, La Plaza, La Alameda - or as the English found this word hard to pronounce - the Almeida - Plaza de la Parada, Grand Parade, the Parade Ground, the Parade, the Esplanade, Commercial Square, Plaza del Martillo, el Martillo, the Jews Market, John Mackintosh Square. . . . At the time of writing I think it is known irreverently as the Piazza.

Commercial Square ( late 19th century )

To return to the 19th century, the advent of the steam engine had meant that a lot of money could now be made selling coal to the newer and bigger ships calling at Gibraltar. Middleton, Mackintosh and Bland took the initiative and prospered. Ship ownership and the transport of people and goods to and from Morocco was also probably already a good business proposition - it certainly proved so for the firm in later years although I am not certain whether they actually owned all that many ships at the time. In fact the only one I can trace that belonged to the company was the 51 ton screw paddle steamer - The Arab which was built in 1857. 

According to a semi-official history of the company:
In 1861, John Macintosh becomes a ship-owner with the purchase of the 69 ton 'Adelia' in a bid to compete with other British companies'
The Adelia was indeed a 69 ton tug - but she was built in 1880. Not a ghost this time but a glimpse into the future.

In 1861 the Law Reporter recorded the convoluted details of a case involving Middleton, Bland and Co. in eight closely-written almost unreadable pages - which nevertheless immediately make the reader notice that the name of the Gibraltar company did not include Mackintosh - although he was mentioned as a partner. The actual litigation was between two Liverpool firms who used the Gibraltar company as agents and the details are of little interest.  However the conclusions read out by the Chancellor after the case had been heard do reveal why agents based in Gibraltar were so successful

Shipping companies for which they were agents would advise them in advance when one of their ships was due in port. The Gibraltar agents would then supply them with whatever they needed and charge the shipping company accordingly. Coal - which was also the property of the shipping companies - was delivered from ships anchored in the bay - or on specific wharfs. The agents who were in effect ship-chandlers simply delivered the goods and then charged for their service.  There were, in fact relatively few overheads and very high profit margins. 

Elsewhere another local institution was born - the Gibraltar Jockey Club was founded in the Club House Hotel in 1868 and Marcus Hill was elected as first Clerk of the Course. Another time, another ghost - Marcus Hill Bland died in 1856 - and not in Gibraltar but back in his father's home town of Liverpool. I can only presume that the Bland in question was Marcus Horatio who, together with his brother John took over the reins after their father's death.

Marcus Horatio Bland

The takeover coincided with the deaths of both Charles Middleton and Mackintosh with their inevitable effect on the partnership. Horatio bought everybody out and changed the name back to MH Bland and Co.  A year later the paddle steamer Hercules joined the fleet. She could do everything from salvage operations to the carrying of passengers and cargo, to the odd tow when necessary. She was immediately assigned a schedule service to Tangier that put her competitors to shame. 

The Hercules

Also in 1866 a local man Joseph Gaggero joined the company as a young junior clerk. The first probable sighting of anybody from this particular branch of the Gaggero family is that of his grandfather - also called Joseph - who is said to have arrived from Sestri Ponente in Genoa in the late 18th century, one of the many people of the area who came to Gibraltar fleeing the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars. 

Perhaps wrongly identified as the original Joseph Gaggero in an official history

George Gaggero, a direct descendent of the family in question, wrote an article which appeared in the local Gibraltar Heritage Journal which celebrated the 200th anniversary of MH Bland & Co Ltd which, among other things stated:
Joseph’s grandfather had arrived from Genoa early in the 19th century and had been born in the same building where Middleton Mackintosh & Bland had offices. It was a coincidence that had set his future career in motion.
A coincidence indeed as it casts shadows on the ghosts of Marcus el al. Joseph senior could not possibly have been born here as the company was not even in existence at the time. According to another biographer - the person who was born in Bland's office was Andrew Gaggero, Joseph's father, although she offers no reason why this should have been so.  There is no record on any census of the existence in Gibraltar of Joseph senior - he may either have always been considered an alien or - much more likely - just refused to register. 

However, his son Andrew was definitely a Gibraltarian. He was probably born in 1821. As an adult he became the owner of a tavern. It was, according to Karen Lawson who wrote a short history of the firm - presumably with family's full approval - a 'reputable' tavern. In the 1871 census he is described as a "Wine House Keeper".  By then Andrew was living in 26 or perhaps 27 Engineer Lane together with his wife Michaela Gaggero and their four sons, Horatio aged 7, Avelino aged 14, Emmanuel aged 16 and Joseph aged 26.

Meanwhile by 1856 Marcus Hill had long since died in Liverpool.  He was succeeded by his two sons Marcus Horatio and John. The former had married Agnes Bland in the 1870s. She was some 12 years younger than him. The family now lived in 18 Irish Town together with Lewis Bland - a Gibraltarian merchant and very possibly another of Horatio's brother. In 1880 Agnes gave birth to a daughter. 

As an example of the kind of support that a well off Gibraltarian family might expect in those days the household at 18 Irish Town was serviced by a Gibraltarian born cook - Santiago Ceruich - and two live in maids - Rosa Paya from Gibraltar and Maria Rodriquez from Spain. They also employed an English nurse - Martha Turner - to look after their one year old daughter.

Marcus Horatio and John used their ships in all weathers sometimes requiring the assistance of powerful tugs to haul them across the straits. They carried passengers, cotton from Britain, tea from the east, cattle and other supplies from Morocco for the Garrison - if there was money to be made - they would do it.

But it would seem that the man who not only did the dirty work but was also actually the brains behind much of the company's success was young Joseph Gaggero. The Tavern Keeper's son had joined the firm as a junior clerk when he was only 21 years old. His younger brother Emmanuel probably followed in his footsteps shortly afterwards.

Joseph Gaggero junior

MH Bland & Co Ltd continued to expand its business until Marcus Horatio died. His brother John took over but his health was not particularly good and he began to rely more and more on his young clerks. His confidence was not misplaced.  In 1884 Bland bought a twin screw passenger steamer - the Gibel Tarik I - which the company used to great effect to service the principal towns of the Moroccan coast as well as Ceuta and Melilla. By now John had married an Australian woman called Ghita and had set up house in 18 Irish town.

The Gibel Tarik

When John Bland died there were no male heirs and the Gibraltar line of the Bland family came to an abrupt end. Joseph, astute as ever, took the plunge and together with his brother Emmanuel obtained a local loan and bought the entire business. They registered the company in London, Joseph becoming its managing director and Emmanuel its first member of the board. In 1896 the paddle steamer Gibel Musa I took over from the now-out dated and underpowered Gibel Tarik. 

The Gibel Musa ( Mandy Gaggero)

The Crew of the Gibel Tarik  ( From Bland Gibraltar 1981 - Graeme Sumner )

The following year Joseph's son George was born in the old Irish town house now known as Cloister Building. Before 1704 it had been a convent - el Convento de la Merced. Later it would become the company's headquarters.

Cloister Building, Irish Town

As with many other local merchants who were not of British origin the Gaggero family had close connections with the Catholic Church. Large donations were a matter of course and there are two altars dedicated to the two brothers in the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned.

By the early 20th century the company's trade with Morocco was expanding rapidly with a correspondingly larger fleet among which were the Gibel Kedir, Gibel Kerjon and the Rescue. Another, the Gibel Dersa carried out three sailings to Tangier every week.

The Gibel Dersa and the Gibel Zerjon

The Gibel Serjon at Puerto Villa Sanjujoon the Moroccan coast -  today known as Alhucemas

Curiously it was the salvage business which generated the greatest profit. The Straits of Gibraltar was a busy and dangerous place - it still is - and salvage contracts in those day depended on who arrived first on the scene. The shrewd purchase of a very fast motor torpedo boat - the Rocket - meant that MHBland were often the ones who were there first. 

In 1911 the management of the business was passed on to Joseph's younger brother - Avelino Gaggero who up to then had been making his own money in London as a wine merchant. Just as clever as the others he managed to create a monopoly for the company. They became the one and only shipping line trading between Gibraltar and Morocco - mostly coal to the south and lots of fruit to the north.

Avelino died at a most inconvenient time - It was in 1914 and a few days before the First World War began. George Gaggero, Joseph's son took over the management of a company that now ran nine steamers, an ocean salvage vessel, five harbour tugs and any number of lighters and coal ships. George was 17 years old.

George Gaggero

He was joined some time later by his even younger brother Charles and the company concentrated on the transport of fruit from Spain to Britain and in leasing their ships to the Port department for war work. The Rescue was requisitioned and sent to the Dardanelles and used as a balloon spotter during the Gallipoli campaign.

The Rescue

The Rescue in Dry Dock No. 4 - Captain H. Ritchie was the master of the Rescue - he later became Gibraltar's Harbour master

It was a tough period. German U-Boats accounted for Gibel Yedid and Gibel Haman, but despite these loses the company took advantage of the new Bobadilla to Algeciras railway line (see LINK) The fact that the line was an extension of the Paris to Madrid French Sud Express with its terminal in Algeciras and ferry boat service to Gibraltar encouraged the company to begin passenger sailings from Gibraltar to Tangier and Casablanca.

But there was more. The newly built Gibel Haman II and Gibel Yedid II carried coal to Britain and elsewhere. In fact the later became the first locally owned ship to sail to the United States. 

The Gibel Haman II

When the war finally came to an end the P & O liner Isis was bought and renamed the Gibel Sarsar

The Gibel Sarsar

A cabin and the dining room in the Gibel Sarsar  

Scenes of first voyage of the Gibel Sarsar  - Gibraltar to Malaga in 1922 - and inaugural ceremony - George Gaggero is on the right on the last photograph    ( From Johnnie Gaggero with thanks )

Poem composed in honour of the inaugural voyage    (Unknown )

As a very visible sign of the George Gaggero's increasing wealth he agreed to buy Connaught House from the Larios family. (See LINK) The building was originally built by Aaron Cardozo, (see LINK) a wealthy 18th century Jewish merchant. It was probably the most desirable house in town. Unfortunately the Governor of the day - Sir Horace Smith-Dorian - insisted that the City Authorities be allowed to buy it instead. At the time of writing it was still Gibraltar's City Hall.

Connaught House  ( Late 19th century )

George's influence in the affairs of the Rock continued unabated - City Councillor in 1921, a member of the Executive Council in 1924 and a Justice of the Peace and Director of the Chamber of Commerce on the same year.

1934 Poster

And that really is the end of the story in so far as I am concerned. The Company - retaining a name that had little to do with those who owned and ran it - multiplied, diversified and continued to make a lot of people even richer than they were already - in particular the Gaggero family. They increased their shipping fleet, bought the Rock Hotel and started Gibraltar Airways  . .  but that as they say, is another story. (See LINK)  

1923 - Spanish Poster