The People of Gibraltar
1845 - The Loreto  Nuns - 14. Gavino’s Passage, Cornwall’s Lane

Mother Pius Ward and Mother Stanislaus Cousse Murphy - Polly Peralta

Lally Rumbo and Rose Galliano - Mercedes Cruz and Anita Haynes
Lucy Onettis and Luisa Fava - Mother Ignatius Byrne
Victoria Porral and Julia Moreno

(1888 - A. Simon )

At last in May 1888 a new house was rented in Gavino’s Passage, just off Cornwall’s Lane. Fortunately the building was not yet finished so alterations could be made to render it suitable for the requirements of a school and a convent. Here is a description of the house written a few years later:
At the entrance there is a very fine patio or courtyard tastefully planted with flowers and shrubs. At the end of this patio there is a large statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in a pretty grotto covered with creeping plants. To the left another little grotto is seen which is dedicated to St Joseph. Opposite the hall door there is a sort of vestibule which has been converted into an oratory of the Sacred Heart. It is hung with crimson curtains and tastefully adorned with plants.  

 The entrance to Gavino's 
The schools and Convent are remarkable for their brightness and gaiety. On all sides religious objects meet the eye. The walls are hung with illuminated sentences which suggest holy thoughts. The Chapel, Oratory of the Blessed Virgin and Sacristy occupy one portion of the building; the nuns’ cells, Community Room, etc., another. The first floor is entirely devoted to school rooms.            
English is the language of the school, but there is some difficulty in having it spoken conscientiously as Spanish is the language most familiar to all. Christian Doctrine is taught and the religious instruction given in Spanish as otherwise the younger and less advanced pupils could not grasp the full meaning of the knowledge most essential for them. A good library has been opened for the pupils, which has been the means of developing a taste for literature amongst them, also a depôt in connection with the Catholic Truth Society. From this latter many beneficial results are hoped for amongst the English speaking portion of the population.        

 Pupils at Gavino's

Getting the girls to speak in English during school hours was an uphill task in all the schools since Spanish was the everyday language of most homes and therefore the language the girls found easiest to slip into during informal conversations amongst themselves. At the Boarding School at Europa there was the additional difficulty of teaching the Spanish pupils in English, a language with which in most cases they had had no contact at all. Past pupils from the Government schools who are now in their eighties and nineties also remember cards on the walls – rather like the ‘illuminated sentences’ mentioned above – stating: “English is the language of the school.”

Europa Pass - The gateway to the south   ( Early 20th and mid 18th century )

The excerpt quoted earlier continues by saying that a very fine building had just been completed for the Government for use as a school placed under the charge of the St Francis Xavier Community. This was St Mary’s Elementary School on Hospital Hill, near the Infants’ School in Johnston’s Passage. About seven hundred children were in daily attendance there. St Mary’s Elementary School opened in 1890. . . .

Efforts to encourage children to practise their English continued down the years. Children in the playgrounds of the Infant Schools could be heard singing their ring games, mostly in Spanish, no doubt picked up from the many Spanish women who were now becoming the mothers of Gibraltarian families. But, with the moves to promote the speaking of English, attempts had obviously been made to teach the children English ring games, sometimes with idiosyncratic results. A favourite is still known locally as “Sany sany wosha …” It takes some decoding to discern the original English:

“Sonny, are you washed?”
“Mother, washed are we.
And wee sonny baby –
He cries for thee…”

Clearly a typical example of Victorian methods of teaching basic hygiene through song! Alas, it was lost on most Gibraltar children.
In Loreto Europa Mother Pius Ward succeeded Mother Stanislaus Cousse Murphy as Superior. . .  

Loreto Europa ( 1893 )
Back row: Lally Rumbo, Rose Galliano, Mercedes Cruz and Anita Haynes
Front Row: Lucy Onettis, Luisa Fava, Mother Ignatius Byrne, Victoria Porral and Julia Moreno

(1894 )

The town Community at Gavino’s Passage was now responsible for running St Mary’s Elementary and St Mary’s Infants schools in Hospital Ramp and in nearby Johnston’s Passage as well as its own day school in the convent itself, St Francis Xavier’s. Soon the entire education of the girls of Gibraltar at both Elementary and Secondary level, both free and fee-paying, and of all the Infant boys up to the age of seven was in the hands of the Loreto nuns. They surely played a leading role in contributing to the development of Gibraltarian character.

School Certificate - Gavino's pupil - Polly Peralta

(1900 - Augustus Morton Hely Smith )