The People of Gibraltar
1881 - William Bellanuy - Tranvía con Motor de Sangre

William and Adelaide Bellamy - Carlos Larios

A mule drawn coach at the Spanish frontier with Gibraltar   ( With acknowledgements  to Domi Ramos )

Not all that long ago, Luis Javier Traverso - a friend from la Línea de la Concepción  , Gibraltar's sister town across the border - showed me a copy of the above photograph. A relatively innocuous looking snapshot some would say, but its contents give rise to several interesting historical questions.

On the 15th of April 1881 and according to the official Spanish Government bulletin, then known as the Gaceta de Madrid, a certain William Bellanuy - a British subject and a resident of Gibraltar - requested permission to build "un tranvía con motor de sangre" between Gibraltar and La Línea de la Concepción - in other words a tram line with coaches drawn by mules or horses. 

Bellanuy paid the required 500 pesetas, estimated at 1% of the total budget, and the appropriate government agency - the Dirección General de Obras Públicas - duly published his proposal and asked for others to submit - within one month - petitions for a similar project.

The notice as it appeared on the Gaceta

In point of fact there is no record of anybody by the name of Bellanuy as resident in Gibraltar at the time.  The most likely candidate is probably William Bellamy who was 34 years old in 1881. He was a Catholic, married with one son and lived in No 2 Prince Edward's Road.  Ten years later he no longer appears on that year's census and by 1901 his wife Adelaide described herself as a widow.

Bellamy, however, seems to have relinquished or sold his rights to a couple of Spanish individuals - Luis Serrano Cabrera and Manuel Monroy Merino who in 1885 requested a further year to deliver presumably new proposals. It seems that the tramline had not yet been built  as the Authorities in Madrid agreed to give them a further year to produce the necessary plans for the project.

Cabrera and Monroy's application as it appears in the Gaceta

Twenty eight years later, it was the turn of Carlos Larios y Sanchez, a member of the well known Larios family (see LINK) to investigate the possibilities of making money by constructing a tramline along the Neutral Ground and right through to San Roque. The intention was to replace the original "motor de sangre" with an electric one.The application for the first section from Gibraltar to La Línea was refused on the grounds that the War Ministry had objected to it being built, presumably for security reasons.

The Gaceta's refusal to allow Larios to build the tramline

The Algeciras (Gibraltar) Railway Company Ltd - heavily financed by the Gibraltar based British businessman Alexander Henderson (see LINK) had come up with the same problem.  In the late 19th century an application to extend the Bobadilla to Algeciras line so that it would terminate in Gibraltar was refused for the same reason.

Picture used for the original train time-table booklet - the aqueduct was not Moorish - it was built by the Spanish during the late 18th century

And that, as they say, was the end of that.  In other word there is plenty of evidence that various individuals applied to build this tramline, but there is no evidence at all that it was ever actually constructed. Worse still although there are quite a few photographs which show what the Neutral Ground looked like during these years I can only find one showing anything that could remotely be described as a tramline - or the leftovers of one. 

The bottom photograph - dated 1928 - shows women queuing to cross the frontier after a day's work in Gibraltar. The two faint parallel lines might qualify as something that might once have been a tramline.

To make matters worse Luis Javier's photo is the only one I have ever come across showing this rather awkward contraption. In fact the vehicle of choice during the late 19th century appears to have been the gharry.

Other than just walking, gharries seem to have been the preferred mode of transport along the Neutral Ground.

One explanation might be that the venture was very short lived - perhaps the advent of the motor driven omnibus eventually put paid to the scheme. Another is that it proved too expensive to run. Or perhaps the tramline was never built and the carriage was simply used as an ordinary stagecoach.  Whatever the case, Javier's photograph is indeed an unusually rare one.