The People of Gibraltar
2015 - The Slaughterhouses of Gibraltar - Filthy in Themselves

William Hargrave and Prescott - Francisco del Pozo Aldana
Ralph Congreve and Humphrey Bland - George Bulteel Fisher and General Don
Dr Hennen and Romaine Amiel - John Thomas Jones and Dr Sutherland

As Jesus is reputed to have said - man does not live by bread alone. He was of course speaking metaphorically and was referring to our spiritual rather than to our materials needs. Nevertheless it is probably true to say that many of us prefer - if perhaps rather unwisely - to supplement our carbohydrate diets with a significant amount of protein - very often in the form of red meat.

It was no different during the sixteenth and seventeenth century and Gibraltar was no exception. So much so that if one takes Gibraltarian historian Alonso Hernández de Portillo at his word (see LINK) the people of the Rock seem to have appreciated their red meat more than most.
There was an abundance of all types of beef cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. So much so that this was in fact the principal source of income for the better off inhabitants . . . There were in fact quite a few neighbouring cities that were provided with beef from this town and one could say that it even supplied a large part of Andalucia and even as far as the Kingdom of Toledo. 
A rather surprising comment perhaps, when one considers that the Rock is not a place that comes easily to mind as a home to large herds of cattle. In fact other that on the flat, narrow sand strip of the isthmus there are precious few places one can think of as suitable on the steep slopes of the western side and even less on the impossible cliffs to the east. 

The impossible east side of the Rock - an unlikely place to graze cattle   ( 1880s - G.W. Wilson - detail ) 
(See LINK)

Perhaps one should recall that Portillo was writing in the early 1600s and in those earlier years Gibraltar as a municipal entity often included much of the surrounding countryside - hence the modern term that defines a large section of the Spanish hinterland surrounding Gibraltar as el Campo de Gibraltar.  

It is also probably true to say that most of the cities and towns of Spain - and I am now referring to Gibraltar as just another Spanish town -  thought it unnecessary to hide their slaughterhouses from public view as we would today with our unsightly abattoirs. Instead they were usually to be found in prominent buildings often close to the center of town - and such was the case in Gibraltar. 

During the 16th century and perhaps even before that, Gibraltar was divided into three main districts - Villa Vieja, la Barcina (see LINK) and la Turba. Of these the latter with its Calle Real and parallel running Calle Santa Ana was by far the most populated. It was here that the residents of the Rock could find their main "carniceria" - or slaughterhouse.

Jose Maria Lazaro Bruña - quoting the work of the Spanish historian Tomás de Portillo - suggests that the building was found in the extreme south of the main public plaza - presumably the open space that would later be known as John Mackintosh Square - and that it was close to the now no longer extant Puerta de Mudarra (see LINK) which was itself situated between the slaughterhouse and the corn exchange of the town and near a series of buildings that housed local councillors. 

Its style and vocabulary date this map back to the mid 16th century (see LINK) - it represents the Rock as it was just after the so called 'Turkish' raid in 1540 (see LINK). It is curious to speculate that the slaughterhouse is one of the buildings behind the Line Wall to the left of the Puerta de Mudarra   ( Unknown )

The carniceria - and a nearby brothel - is also mentioned if slightly ambiguously by Alonso Hernández de Portillo when he describes the limits of one of the local ward districts of the town, in this case that of the councillor Pedro de Morales:
. . . from the corner of the plaza up to the Line Wall and the Barcina Gate,  the Calle de Santa Ana (Irish Town) and the wall of the "carniceria" and the brothel. . . . 
Given that the Puerta de Mudarra was just north of the north-western edge of the plaza it would seem that Tomas de Portillo got his compass coordinates wrong. A plan of the area drafted in 1790 by Gibraltar's then Chief Military Engineer - James Gabriel Montresor (see LINK) - clearly shows an unlabeled building in approximately the right location. 

In 1740 General William Hargrave became Governor of Gibraltar (see LINK). He was by no means the last of a series of administrators to mismanage the place - but he was certainly one of the most corrupt. It was during the trial of a certain Captain Prescott who was court marshalled in 1744 for having had the impertinence to buy a turbot directly from a fisherman that we learn that the butchery was at least one of his sources of illegitimate income. As Prescott pointed out during his defence:
Has he not in a most shameful manner bereaved the whole garrison of the swine they bred and fed, which have always been our main supply in winter, forcibly taking them away by his myrmidons of the zoca (slaughterhouse or butchery) for little more than half their value? . . . Does he suffer any creature . . . to graze on the hill, which from the very beginning has been in common, for the benefit of the garrison in order to distress us, and force us to buy his meat at the zoca or starve?

Lieutenant-General William Hargrave ( 1740 - Abraham Seaman )

Hargrave's blatant greed meant that in effect anybody could enter the place as long as they bribed the right person or were bringing in food and sold it to the Governor's minions - or should one say myrmidons. It was a state of affairs that made possible a curious series of events that could have cost the British the loss of Gibraltar  

The failure to retake the Rock after the 12th and 13th Sieges of 1704 and 1727 respectively had done nothing to lessen the desire of Spanish Crown to repossess her. It meant that anybody with a plan as to how to go about doing this - no matter how scatterbrained - was always more than welcome to propose it to the Spanish authorities. One man - Francisco del Pozo Aldana (see LINK) was certain he knew how it could be done.

Aldana entered Gibraltar illegally on several occasions over a period time. He did so by the simple expedient of arriving on a xebec loaded with sheep. The first time round he bribed Hargrave and during his stay on the Rock he and his assistant managed to survey the place thoroughly - to such an extent that after several lengthy incursions they were able to compile a detailed plan of the town and its fortifications. Aldana handed in his final plan in 1748, but for sundry political reasons it was never put to the test.

Plan of Gibraltar as viewed by the Spanish spy Francisco del Pozo Aldana

In 1749 an unknown pamphleteer took it upon himself to denounce past Governors of Gibraltar in a satirical essay which he called Reasons for Giving up Gibraltar. (See LINK) Among a barrage of criticisms against the rampant corruption exhibited by succeeding Governors he offered a list of what he delicately calls the Annual Perquisites for 1729 received by one of them - Colonel Ralph Congreve. This long list adds up to well over $50,000 and from it one can glean that Congreve's fourth highest source of income - after receipts for ground rents and the sale of wine and spirits - was that of his role as "Head Butcher"! 

Congreve originally sold the monopoly of the slaughter of cattle on the Rock to four British born butchers who were also required to hand over the best cuts for his own use. This cosy arrangement lasted only hours after the traditional handshake when he was offered an even more lucrative arrangement with a rich Spanish businessman. According to local historian Dorothy Ellicott, when the four former butchers tried to get the Governor to change his mind, they and their wives and children were thrown out of the Garrison.

Eventually, however, the slaughterhouse became an utter nuisance to the rest of the residents as the butcher's employees tended to chuck all unwanted offal over the Line Wall and into the sea. There it would slowly rot floating away for months under the Governor’s protection - and nothing could be done about it. In fact it took nearly a century before somebody did.

In 1749 Humphrey Bland (see LINK) was appointed Governor. He was and is still touted as an honest man - although that may have had something to do with the shenanigans that had preceded him rather than his own trustworthy character. Whatever he was there is little doubt that he was a very good administrator. Among some of the improvements to everyday life which he brought to the local inhabitants - who he disconcertingly considered as the "riff-raff of various nations and religions" - were his regulations concerning the sale of foodstuffs where unjustifiably high prices were being charged - and meat certainly came under that heading. 

In order to control this he appointed an official to oversee the sale of beef. This fellow was required to compile a record of all cattle, sheep, pigs and so forth that entered the fortress as well as to keep track of how many were slaughtered locally.  Unfortunately the system didn't work and Bland's further attempts to control prices by edict eventually failed for various complex if unconvincing reasons. One of these were complaints by those who transported the cattle from Barbary - which was where most of the beasts came from - who argued that they were losing money. In the end Bland was forced to accept that the best he could hope for was that:
. . . all persons whatever have full liberty to bring into town for the Public Market cattle, sheep and all kinds of eatables & to slaughter at the Common Slaughter House paying the usual dues appointed for that purpose and to sell them publickly.
Several years later the Spaniards together with their French allies did try one more time to take the Rock. This attempt is known in history as the Great Siege. (See LINK) It took place during the late 18th century during which time the slaughterhouse remained largely shut. A starving population reduced to eating dandelions would hardly have had any need for a slaughterhouse. A single short entry dated May 1783 in Captain John Spilsbury's diary of the Siege (see LINK) suggests that the slaughterhouse building had been partially damaged during the war but that things were gently returning to normal:
The meat is now killed again in the Zoca, which, one part of it, is covered over.
In 1790 Lieutenant George Bulteel Fisher of the Royal Artillery arrived in Gibraltar. (See LINK) Among his many drawing and painting of the Gibraltar is a watercolour of the slaughterhouse.

Fisher's, painting is dated 1780 but this most certainly a mistake as he would have only been 16 years old at the time. A far more likely date would be 1790 which is when he first arrived in Gibraltar. The watercolour of the slaughterhouse carries the caption -"Front of the Socky or Butchery".

The sketch - held by the National Archives but not readily available to be viewed by the hoi polloi - suggests that the slaughterhouse building's facade had either actually survived the Great Siege relatively unscathed or had been very well repaired since. One can only believe that the height of the Line Wall must have been just high enough to protect it from being otherwise horribly exposed to enemy fire from the sea. 

The word "Socky" is an interesting one. It probably derives from the colloquial and meaningless "Zoca" - a word which is still in use in Gibraltar at the time writing. It is possible that "Zoca" itself may derive from "souk", the Moorish for a market place. The equivalent Spanish is "Zoco" but whether "Zoca" derives from one language or the other is hard to decide as Gibraltar has been both Moorish and Spanish at one time or the other in the past. 

Local historian Joe Caruana has suggested that during the Spanish era meat sellers set up their shops in what was at the time a relatively open space just to the north of the slaughterhouse. This area possibly extended further east and included an entire section right up to Calle Santa Ana. Part of a nearby street connecting this Calle to the Line Wall is still known today as Market Lane - despite the fact that after the mid 19th century the usual place for the local market was much further north. It is therefore possible that it is from this older market perhaps known to the locals as el Zoco that it inherited the corrupt English version of "Zoca".

If the above analysis is correct then it is easy to understand why during the early years of the 18th century the general area of the old Spanish Line Wall slightly north of the slaughterhouse was known to the new English speaking occupiers as the "Zoca Flank" and that the bastion found on it should be known as "Zoca Flank Battery". Whatever the case it was referred to as such during the Great Siege nearly a century later.

The town of Gibraltar showing possible relationship between the old market place - or Zoco- near the slaughterhouse in the Spanish era and nearby old Line Wall and battery  ( 1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña - Detail )  (See LINK

About a decade or so after Fisher completed his watercolour, the "Butchery" is mentioned again this time by General O'Hara in his Standing Orders. (see LINK) Published by the Garrison Library (see LINK) in 1802, it reveals - among many other things - a continued stranglehold over the sale of cattle and other types of red meat by the military authorities - not to say the Governor himself.
The Butchery is under the protection of the Officer of the Main Guard. No meat is to be sold anywhere but at the Butchery, and the weight according to the Standard Weight of the Garrison.
It would have been easy to control as the Main Guard was right beside the slaughterhouse.
Another plan drawn in the 1750s by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas James (see LINK) author of the History of the Herculean Straits suggests that the Butchery was close to a nearby Barracks. 

Plan of the Parade Ground - the building confusingly labelled "Barrack" on the left must have been near the slaughterhouse as identified by the name given above it.    ( 1750s - Thomas James )

In 1804 Gibraltar was devastated by an epidemic of yellow fever. (See LINK) It wiped out around 5,000 civilians and 1,000 Garrison personnel. It returned several times over the years and in 1813 it claimed another 1,400 lives. General George Don (see LINK) arrived as Governor the following year and was unlucky enough to experience during his tenure yet another visitation. This one claimed a further 2,000 lives.

A hugely concerned General Don almost immediately launched a series of measures that he hoped might prevent any further outbreaks. The actual cause of the disease was unknown at the time which meant that overcrowding and the generally unhygienic life-styles of many of the inhabitants - made even worse by the careless removal of waste by local tradesmen - inevitably received the brunt of the blame.   According to Steven Constantine in Community and Identity:
Water supply and sanitation were initially primitive, even where existent. "Effluvia" in the early part of the century, slurped down to the sea, where they encrusted the walls; the gases they gave off discoloured silverware and neither curfew nor quarantine could keep disease at bay.
One of General Don's initiatives was to set up a Paving and Scavenging Committee on to which he appointed several leading citizens. They were supposed to investigate report and later advise on all matters concerning hygiene. The installation of a proper sewage system became one of Governor Don's priorities. It was almost certainly during this period that a decision was taken to move the slaughterhouse from the middle of town and put it well out of harm's way on the eastern part of the Neutral Ground.  

Dr John Hennen, the Medical Superintendent to the Garrison (see LINK) writing a while later on the effects and possible causes of yellow fever on the Rock, made the following observation:
Between the southern extremity of this breakwater and the King's Bastion, a small wharf, now no longer used, extends a few yards from the old zoca into the bay. It is composed of loose stones, and offers little impediment to the flow of water. . . .

Plan showing wharf mentioned by Dr Hennen   (1831 - W.H. Smyth - detail )

. . . which begs the question as to what it was used for - when it was in use. Hennen's description of it and the fact that the sea close to the fortifications was both shallow and infested with dangerous reefs makes it unlikely that it could have been for the shipment or landing of cattle from Barbary or elsewhere. My guess is that it was used as a platform for getting rid of the considerable waste generated by the slaughtering process thereby adding considerably to the general "effluvia" mentioned previously. 

That this was almost certainly the case is confirmed by Romaine Amiel, (see LINK) Surgeon of the 12th Regiment and a resident for many years in Gibraltar. Answering questions submitted to all the medical men in the Garrison about - among other things - matters concerning the hygiene of the town at the time of the yellow fever epidemics up to 1818, he includes the butchery as at least one source of disquiet:
Those sewers not being carried on to a sufficient distance into the sea, discharge all the noxious matters on the beach, where they remain, with other putrid substances thrown from the Line Wall, until high spring tides wash them away. The offal of the slaughter house having been repeatedly allowed to putrefy on the beach, has been an object the more offensive to the public, as the least breeze from the sea blows its effluvia to the very centre of the town.
The slaughterhouse had to go and a new one was built on the eastern side of the Neutral Ground not far from the Devil's Tower (see LINK) - incidentally transferring its contaminants from the Bay of Gibraltar to the Mediterranean Sea on the east.

All of which explains the fact that Amiel's answers to questions put to him a few years later by the Army Medical Board no longer include any mention of the slaughterhouse:
. . . the sewers at the north and south, probably from a want of sufficient declivity, frequently allow the corrupt substances to accumulate at their entrances, and emit during the summer months exhalations highly offensive, which, in several instances, have been complained of by the men, and reported to the authorities. 
But it must have taken a while for this to happen in reality. The 1825 Standing Orders bulletin issued by General Don's successor, Governor the Earl of Chatham  (see LINK) made what is possibly the first public mention of the new slaughterhouse under the heading of "Obligations relative to the Commissariat Issues" 
Fresh meat is issued at the New Zoca, as soon as possible after morning gun-fire, on the days specified . . . Fresh meat may be drawn by the staff and Departments, every day, before 10 o'clock at the Contractor's Stall in the meat Market, within the period for which the check is issued. 
By 1830 John Hennen finally confirmed that the days of the old slaughterhouse were over. The new one was given a glowing testimonial:
The butcheries and markets have been placed under excellent regulations. Formerly a piece of ground, below the Line Wall to the northward of the King's bastion, was occupied as a butchery, or zoca, and as a landing-place for the cattle; this place had often been a source of complaint, and was indeed a very great nuisance. Nothing of this kind now exists near the town, and the butchery has been removed to the eastern part of the neutral ground. . . . No cattle are permitted to be slaughtered in any other place than the zoca on the neutral ground, (with the exception of calves under particular restrictions).
Additional comments from the good doctor make it is easy to deduce that regardless of the movement of slaughterhouses from one place to another or the havoc they caused as regards the hygiene of the place - eating meat continued to be big business on the Rock. 
In the neighbourhood of the zoca, sheds for the cattle are erected; between four and five hundred head can be accommodated, and sheds for two or three hundred more are in progress.

Cattle and sheep grazing in the Neutral ground

But the unholy stink of rotting organic matter persisted. During the mid 19th century, convict labour (see LINK) was used to construct a breakwater which ran from the Old Mole to the New (see LINK) and along the length of the Line Wall - including Zoca Flank. As a result the sewage from the newly installed drains tended to collect close to the Wall rather than be carried away by the tide. As the Gibraltar Chronicle (see LINK) put it:
. . . the new work, designed to keep enemies out of the fortress, threatened to poison friends within it.

The breakwater - from Ragged Staff (see LINK) looking south  (1879 - Captain S. Buckle - ( See LINK) The National Archives )

Although the old slaughterhouse could now no longer be blamed as part of the problem the market place along Zoca Flank almost certainly did as shop owners continued to dump their unwanted organic material by chucking it over the Wall and into the space between it and breakwater. The new market place created in 1876 further north and close to the commercial wharf may have done much to solve this particular problem.

In 1841 John Thomas Jones - a general of the Royal Engineers - was sent to Gibraltar with a major remit to improve Gibraltar's defences. One of his many projects was the straightening of the Line Wall at the old Spanish line at Zoca Flank. The creation of a bastion on the newly built Line Wall inherited the name of "Zoca Flank Battery". 

Engraving of Jones's memorial in St. Paul's Cathedral    ( William Behnes )

Annotated photograph of the Line Wall just north of the Grand Parade - then known as Commercial Square  ( 1880s - G.W. Wilson - detail )

In 1865 - as if the yellow fever epidemics had not already caused enough misery - Gibraltar was visited by yet another serious epidemic. This time it was cholera. It was not the first - in fact it was the fourth time the disease had caused problems on the Rock - but it was the most serious one. It killed nearly 600 people most of them civilians.

This cartoon refers to the fifth cholera epidemic in Gibraltar - it killed 26 civilians and a couple of soldier - obviously not enough to curb that well-known British sense of humour   ( Late 19th century - The Graphic Magazine )

A well-known physician - Dr John Sutherland who was often employed by the army to investigate such matters was commissioned to make yet another report on the state of Gibraltar's sanitary infrastructure. A quick browse through his recommendations is enough to make one realise that nothing much had changed - at least in so far as the slaughterhouse - and North Front in general - were concerned:
 The naturally open healthy area of North Front is exposed to dangerous nuisances from slaughter-houses, cattle depots, boiling houses, foul beaches, an unregulated burial ground, accumulation of bones, offal, and superficially buried dead cattle, want of drainage, bad house accommodation, bad water . . . the nuisances ought to be dealt with at once. 
The truth is that enthusiasm for the new slaughterhouse lasted for a very short time indeed.  L. A. Sawchuck in his Deadly Visitations in Dark Times summarises a couple of reports on the work of the Gibraltar Sanitary Commission. They more or less confirm Dr Sutherland's findings - with one or two choice extras:
The slaughterhouse located in North Front also contributed to the appearance of a pedestal heap with scraps of fresh hides, bones, offal, and pools of blood. Immediately adjacent to the slaughterhouse were pits for storing the bones of slaughtered cattle . . . The butcher's house with mule stables and a large enclosed mass of shed for four or five hundred cattle was located in the North Front. The surrounding grounds were converted into a farmyard of the worst possible description. On the west side extensive vegetable gardens had grown into a state of abuse . . . large deposits of bones . . .  were buried in the gardens . . . when they were later exhumed.
In the 1876 a new market place created further north from the old Zoca leaving it usefully close to the Waterport and the Commercial Wharf. The foundation stone was laid by Edward, Prince of Wales (see LINK) in a ceremony organised by with the assistance of the local Masonic Lodge. In other words this was not something that the authorities were taking lightly.

( 1879 - Captain S. Buckle - The National Archives )  (See Link)

Meanwhile the "New Zoca" slaughterhouse was knocked down and replaced by bigger and - hopefully - more hygienic buildings as part of the reorganisation of the market place. I am not sure whether the Prince was also involved in this part of the proceedings - but somehow I doubt it as it was probably built a while after the market place itself and long after he had left. 

The original plan had been to tear down the old building and to remove and burn all rubbish. The bottom photo suggests that such plans were not carried out entirely as planned
( 1879 - Captain S. Buckle - The National Archives )  

The new system consisted of at least three buildings - two were used for slaughtering the beasts and one for housing both staff and the military personnel to guard it. It would also be quite possible that the word "zoca" in so far as it referred to the butcheries had now been quietly dropped - at least among Gibraltar's British administrators.

The new slaughterhouses continued to do their hopefully less dirty work in the same place on the eastern side of the North Front right up to the end of the 19th century and beyond into the 20th. Whether such things as new abattoirs were ever built to replace them I do not know and must leave that interesting bit of research to others.

"Shipping bullocks at Tangier for the Commissariat Department of the Garrison of Gibraltar" 
(1912 - George Rose )

But perhaps this is the moment to forget about slaughterhouses and become personal. As a Gibraltarian it is embarrassing to realise that my ancestors lived in a place that was defined by Dr Hennen in one of those endless reports on Gibraltar's unhygienic living environment as : 
 . . a population, filthy in themselves, and overcrowded, perhaps, beyond any community in the world
There are many factors that contributed to this state of affairs in so far as the 19th century is concerned and it is a gross distortion of the facts to blame - and insult - the civilian population for all of them. The first one was the enormous increase in population - from about 5,000 at the start of the 19th century to nearly 20,000 by the end of it.  

Housing in Gibraltar was entirely inadequate for the simple reason that the authorities always gave precedence to military matters and rarely admitted that they had any real responsible for the welfare of a politically powerless civilian population. Lots of surveys and commission looking into this and that - especially after they suddenly realised that disasters such as yellow fever and cholera were immune to race, class and nationality and were just as likely to kill the poorest Genoese fisherman as the richest British merchant in town.

This lack of suitable housing produced its own vicious circle. A social environment where activities such as smuggling were condoned if not actively encouraged (see LINK) was hardly conducive to regulating the rents charged by landlords or forcing them to comply with their responsibilities.

Worse still was a lack of any meaningful official infra-structure. Schools and hospitals were of little concern to the authorities and those that existed - a mere drop in the ocean of poverty - were run either by the churches or by a few well-off civilian benefactors. The much admired General Don - almost certainly for ulterior motives - finally got somebody to build a hospital for the use of the residents. In 1860 this hospital could - at a pinch - hold 80 patients. This figure needs only to be to be compared with the 1000 that could be treated at the Naval Hospital built by the British engineer James Gabriel Montresor (see LINK) in the mid 18th century to realise the lop-sided nature of health care on the Rock. 

The Naval Hospital in 1868 after it had been completely reconstructed - and its original facade as drawn by James Gabriel Montresor

Water was another serious problem - a perennial one on a riverless and lakeless Rock. At the start of the 19th century, Admiral John Jervis, the Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet with his headquarters in Gibraltar (see LINK) went about solving the problem for his precious Royal Navy by constructing his famous water tanks at Rosia. They certainly helped the navy - the civilians were forced to lump it.  

During the summer months the shortage became so acute for the civilian population that they were forced to import the stuff all the way from Spain. It was sold and delivered in small wooden barrels. Anybody who happened to live on the upper reaches of the town was charged accordingly for the inconvenience carrying the barrels up the steep approaches. As luck would have this was precisely the area where large numbers of the poorer residents had their patios and homes. 

Water was still being sold by the barrel as late as the post-war decade. The gentlemen who delivered the water were known as aguadores   (Mansell Collection) (See LINK)

For these people it was economically impossible for them to waste this precious liquid on non-essentials such as washing and cleaning. The result was the inevitably dirty people crammed into filthy houses in a generally smelly and unpleasant environment. In other words living in squalor was not an innate condition that could be attributed to foreigners - rather it was a question of cause and effect brought about by an absent-minded  
colonial administration engrossed in its own superiority complexes.  

Thankfully things have moved on since then. Today Gibraltarians in general - and as long as they can possibly afford it and the vast majority can - will never opt to live by bread alone either literally and metaphorically.

A romantic view of the Rock from that much criticised isthmus and a filthy main town and harbour behind it gleaming in the sun  ( 1857 - Vilhelm Melbye )  (See LINK