The People of Gibraltar
1804 - The Sanitary Commission - Drains, Cesspools and Privies

Thomas Trigge, Allardyce and Rankin - Ross, Smith, Sweetland, Henry Fox  and Dr Gardiner
Dr Bolton, Dr Fellows and Dr Pym - Colin Campbell, George Don, Dr Hennen and Albert Porral
John Maria Boschetti, Giacomo Galliano and Judah Benoliel -Aaron Cardozo and Dr Romaine Amiel
Dr John Sutherland, Richard Abrines  and Benjamin Carver - Joseph Anthony Crooks and Francis Francia
Francis Imossi, Richand Parody and Michael Augustin Pitman - John Henry Recaño  and Joseph Shakery
Musgrave Watson and Emile Bonnet - Solomon Levy, William Henry Francia and William Henry Smith
John P. Onetti, Lord Napier, John Adye and Paul A. Larios - Peter Amigo and Francis Balestrino 
Arthur Carrara, James Galleano  and Major G. F. Stehelin - Arthur Hardinge and Major H. Tulloch
Leicester Smyth and Lothian Nicholson - Arthur Ruggeroni, William J. Sallust Smith and A. Du Moulin
Adolphe Van Andlau and M. A. Serfaty - F. Imossi, W. James Smith, Alexander Mosley and Capt Buckle 
Robert Biddulph - M. Bergel, I. Levy and J. Patron - Archibald Hunter and James Andrews-Speed

The Rock   ( 1830 Vilhelm Melbye )   (See LINK)

An anonymous early 19th century visitor described the Rock in the following less than complimentary terms:
The town is not extensive; the houses are necessarily built low, and are in general very small. There is one principal street, badly and disgracefully paved, and dirty; many less ones branch off on each side, gradually winding up on the side of the rock, where the wooden houses, or wooden sheds, overtop each other.  
The question is – whose fault was it that the place was in such a disreputable state. The British authorities – as they were in the habit of doing elsewhere - blamed the local civilian population. In 1804, however, and as a result of a lethal yellow fever epidemic (see LINK) the question of responsibility became irrelevant and the Lieutenant Governor Sir Thomas Trigge decided that something - anything - had to done about Gibraltar's “disgracefully” dirty town and what he considered to be its appalling health problems. 

With the epidemic in full swing and mortality figures going through the proverbial roof he set up a Committee of Public Health and divided the town into districts. Householders were now required to put out their rubbish for collection and to ensure that the streets outside their houses were cleaned twice a day. He also made the Committee responsible for making sure that they did.

Lieutenant Governor Thomas Trigge

The Public Heath committee was made up of five local but British born civilians. 


The members of the committee soon increased in number when in 1805 the next Governor - Lieutenant Governor Henry Fox - decided to make one or two amendments. He changed the name of the commission to that of the Board of Health, installed his chief medical officer as chairman and added three local civilian doctors,  all three of them also British born. To wit:

Dr Gardiner – Surgeon to the Naval Hospital
Dr Bolton
Dr Fellows
Dr Pym 

Henry Edward Fox

In 1810 with a new Governor at the helm - Lieutenant General Colin Campbell - a new Board of Health was set up consisting of 5 officials and 12 local members. Despite the increase in the number of the Commissioners  the authorities were still of the opinion that they were incapable of coping with the situation. 

But perhaps one should really start with General George Don. (See LINK) His appointment as lieutenant Governor in 1814 coincided with yet another serious yellow fever epidemic – bad enough to convince him that in peacetime, public health issues  would have to take precedence over just about everything else. 

It was a decision that he must made while he was marooned in his ship in the Bay presumably unable to land because of Gibraltar’s quarantine regulations - although in his case it was probably more of a question of protection against any personal vulnerability. Nor would he have changed his mind when he finally came ashore. As Dr Hennen (see LINK) described a few years later:
When Sir George Don landed at the New Mole, in November, 1814, the first objects that struck the eye, were certain enclosures marked "Depot," in which all the filth of the neighbourhood was stored up to be removed at leisure. The foetor from these collections was offensive in the extreme; the effluvia which arose from them were diffused all around, and they were placed so close to each other, as to keep up a chain of putrescent exhalations, which tainted the whole atmosphere. 
The above was a description which another historian Robert Montgomery Martin (see LINK) must have enjoyed – he copied it word for word in his own publication a few years later – without acknowledging his source.

Don’s reasoning, incidentally, was not based on any particularly altruistic concern for the health of the local population – rather it was founded on the simple logic that whatever epidemics and contagions affected the civilians would eventually and inevitably affect the Garrison.  That his reasoning was wrong in so far as yellow fever was concerned is, of course beside the point.

General George Don

Whatever General Don’s motives, one of his first initiatives after taking office was to create a Paving and Scavenging Commission which included several civilians. Despite the fact that all of them were nominated by the local British Authorities - in other words, with the ultimate approval of the Governor himself – several non-British residents found themselves in the original list of commissioners. They included several very well kent names such as:

John Maria Boschetti – architect (see LINK) and friend of General Don, 
Giacomo Galliano – banker
Judah Benoliel (see LINK) a prominent businessmen
Aaron Nunez Cardozo (see LINK) another prominent businessmen 
They were in other words among the most affluent residents on the Rock.

The funds that were made available to the commissioners were levied by taxation and remained more or less the same for half a century and never exceeded 3% of the rental value of property owned by both private individuals and the government. It was nevertheless a levy that was probably quite hard to collect. By 1819 the Methodist Chapel, for example, was embroiled in a dispute with the Commission – they appealed against having to pay their share for paving and scavenging. 

There are also hints that General Don seems to have taken a hands on approach to his newly created commission. For example during a question and answer meeting between Dr Romaine Amiel (see LINK) and the Army Medical Board published in 1831 the former actually recommended;
. . . . Sir George Don to give directions that the openings of all drains, cess pools, and privies, be accurately covered up to prevent the emanation of all vapours from them.
In 1828 yet another serious yellow fever epidemic visited the Rock and killed about 1700 people – so much for General Don’s initiative and whatever the attempts the Commissioners had made to try to prevent it. Ironically whatever Don or his minions had attempted would have been doomed from the start as they were of course completely unaware as to what it was that was causing the disease.

One response was an order issued in 1830 which touched upon the question of how to deal with quarantine. Following the advice of the Board of Health the new Governor Sir William Houston came up with following rather limited and confusing protocol. It went like this.

1. Ships which had arrived from or had anchored in Malaga, Velez Malaga, Motril or Tarifa – or had been in contact with ships from these ports would be refused quarantine pratique and would be obliged to abandon the port.
2. The same was applicable to those ports and places between the Guadiaro River and Almeria. Ships from this last port however, would be allowed in port after serving 14 days quarantine.

In 1844 a publication written by an anonymous “Old Inhabitant“ (see LINK) makes mention of a Board of Health. It consisted of:

The Governor
The Colonial Secretary
The Principal Medical Officer of the Garrison
The Captain of the Port
The Police Magistrate
The First Clerk in the Colonial Secretary's office was the Secretary.

During the early and right up to the late mid 19th century Europe generally took quite a battering from various lethal epidemics such as those of yellow fever and cholera.  Sidney Herbert – the Secretary of State for War - and others were becoming quite concerned about the possible effect these might have on British garrisons overseas and whether anything could be done to improve matters.  

Sydney Herbert 1st Baron Herbert of lea

In 1861 Herbert set up a commission made up of Captain Douglas Galton of the Royal engineers and Dr John Sutherland. A report by the later - at least in so far as the slaughterhouse - and North Front in general - were concerned, was not encouraging:
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 net result was that in 1865 the Sanitary Commission was established replacing the Paving and Scavenging Commission. The commissioners were all local men appointed by the Governor

Richard Abrines
Benjamin Carver Jr
Joseph Anthony Crooks
Francis Francia Jr (First Chairman)
Francis Imossi
Richand Parody
Michael Augustin Pitman
John Henry Recaño
Joseph Shakery
Musgrave Watson
Emile Bonnet
Solomon Levy

In 1868 additional legislation was required in the form of new Orders in Council so that the Sanitary Commissioners could carry out new engineering projects. By this time the membership of the Commission had altered slightly – Emile Bennet,  Solomon Levy and 
Musgrave Watson had been replaced by:

William Henry Francia
William Henry Smith
John Onetti

1877 – A review of the commission was generally complimentary but not everybody agreed and in 1880 the Governor Lord Napier reduced the number of civilian commissioners from 12 to 8 to make room for 4 “representative commissioners” – two representing the War Office and one each for the Admiralty and the Colonial Government. He had the backing of many in the Colonial Office who by now convinced that :
. . . (the) original creation of the Commission was a grave mistake.

Lord Napier

In 1882 the colonial secretary Robert Baines wrote to the Secretary of the Commission - whoever that might have been at the time - admonishing him for the high prices that were being charged for drinking water. 
The evils  of  keeping  up the prices of water with  the object of keeping down the  sanitary  rates are . . . from a  sanitary point  of  view  that  the  high prices deters the inhabitants and mainly the poorer members of the community from taking  as much as is good for them. 
Not that Napier hadn’t noticed - that same year he asked the secretary of state for the colonies to allow the new waterworks to be placed under military control. London said no but that did not stop Napier from issuing an ordinance allowing him to force the Commission to undertake works whenever he saw fit.

All of which tempted Napier to try to get London to agree to reduce the local input even further to six. He was unable to convince his bosses and in 1883 an Order in Council shifted the balance of power. To rub it in, the Chief Engineer of the Army was appointed the Sanitary Commission’s engineer. A petition protesting all this was launched not by the commissioners but by members of the Exchange Committee, the Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Jury – although of course, every member of the Sanitary Commission was also a member of one or more of these three institutions.

The Exchange and Commercial Library (See LINK) - Home of the Exchange Committee (Late 19th century )

By the time Governor John Adye took over later in 1883 every one of the eight civilian members had resigned and nobody would volunteer to take their place. Adye sympathised with the locals, the Colonial Office caved in and the system reverted to what it had been previously.

John Adye  (See LINK

According to Lieutenant-Colonel George Gilbard in his Popular History of Gibraltar . . . which was published in  in 1888 the Sanitary Commission was at the time chaired by Paul A. Larios (see LINK) and the other non-British members were: 

Peter Amigo
Francis Balestrino
Arthur Carrara
James Galleano. 
The secretary was a Government appointee - Major G. F. Stehelin

Paul A. Larios – Master of the Royal Calpe Hunt (See LINK)

Governor Arthur Edward Hardinge who was governor from 1886 to 1890 was not impressed with what he had inherited and asked for yet another review and In 1890 Lord Knutsford – the Secretary of State for the Colonies – ordered a certain Major H. Tulloch of the Royal Engineers to make a report on the sanitation in Gibraltar. 

1st Viscount Knutsford

Tulloch it seems was supposed to have been a world expert on anything and everything to do with sanitation with – apparently - a special penchant for the design of expensive sewage and drainage systems. His report – often described as “colourful” – was a full blown criticism of the civilian members of the commission and their local engineer. Their preoccupation with keeping rates low was interfering with their sanitation measures all of which had so far – Tulloch insisted – proved completely inadequate. 

1890 – Sir Leicester Smyth took over as Governor and not only thoroughly approved of Tulloch’s indignant criticisms but sent in his own damaging review of the Commissions past malpractices. 

Leicester Smyth

The arguments of those who favoured the status quo were based on the grounds that the inclusion of tax-paying civilians in the Sanitary Commission made it easier for them to submit more quietly to heavier municipal rates, London decided that it had enough and a new Sanitary Amendment Order was passed in 1881.  

Governor Sir Lothian Nicholson took over and the first Meeting of New Commission took place. The four civilian Commissioners were:

Arthur Ruggeroni chosen from the list of Grand Jurors
William J. Sallust Smith also chosen from the list of Grand Jurors
Augustus Du Moulin from the list of Special Jurors
Mr. Adolphe Van Andlau from the list of Common Jurors - he was also the accountant at the local Anglo-Egyptian Bank

All four resigned immediately.

Lothian Nicholson

A protest meeting attended by about 700 people was held at the Exchange. It was chaired by M. A. Serfaty – a previous chairman of the Commission – and the discussion opened by Lewis F. Imossi the chairman of the Exchange Committee. They felt that the change in the make-up was an implied criticism of the work of previous commissioner. The end result was the formation of the Gibraltar Ratepayers Defence Association (GRDA)

The committee was made up of:
Francis Francia
F. Imossi
M.A. Serfaty
John P. Onetti
W. James Smith
Pablo Larios
Alexander Mosley

They spent a busy few days drafting a letter of protest to the Colonial Government and another to the Secretary of state, made a decision to send a delegation to London, and furiously lobbied known friendly faces among the British Members of Parliament.

Shortly after the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies – Baron H. De Worms – was grilled in the House of Commons by a Mr. Causton the MP fro Southwark West. The “grilling” went something like this:

Causton – Is it not a fact that the nominations made by the Governor of Gibraltar of representatives of the ratepayers on the Sanitary Commission . . . have been most unsatisfactory to the whole population?
De Worms - No, Sir; I am not aware.

The inscrutable Baron de Worms

The GRDA seem to have been particularly incensed with Captain Buckle – the Commanding Officer of the RE in Gibraltar at the time - and had therefore become an automatic member of the committee. Their complaint against him reached such a fever pitch that the Governor was more or less forced to conduct an official enquiry into his behaviour. He was exonerated. 

Nor was Major Tulloch of the Royal Engineer much admired by the locals either – although presumably they had never read his final report which was anything but complimentary towards the locals. 

Nor did Sir Lothian Nicholson restrain himself when he wrote back to the Colonial Office thoroughly approving of their decision to keep the 5 to 4 ratio going. It was his considered opinion that two thirds of the people of Gibraltar were “foreigners by origin, by connection, and also in language . . .  they were only British subjects in name”  

By 1892 the problem still persisted and questions were asked in the House of Lords. As the questions and the answers were inordinately lengthy I have included an edited version elsewhere. (See LINK) They summarise the lack of any consensus between the two points of view and give us an insight on what living conditions were like in Gibraltar during the late 19th century

Despite Lord Knutson’s rather overwhelming rebuttal of every one of the points raised by Lord Carrington in defence of the Sanitary Commission, by the following year both the Secretary of State and the Governor were driven to the opinion that some concessions were called for - and some were given.

An amending ordinance was passed in 1893 in which:

1. The Commission was allowed to choose its own chairman
2. The Grand Jury was back in business by being allowed to present the names of those civilians that the Governor would have to choose from
3. The authority of the Governor to intervene on major projects was removed.

Four gentlemen from the newly formed GRDA: 
Francis Francia
Pablo Larios
Alexander Mosley
William J. Sallust Smith

 became the first and rather reluctant set of commissioners – they were understandably upset that the reduction of 5 local officials to 4 put them at a disadvantage and by 1894 they were pressing the new Governor  – Sir Robert Biddulph for an increase in civilian representation. He refused and they resigned en masse.

William J. Sallust Smith on the right – Together with the gentleman on the left, Albert Porral they are off to London to complain about something else that had nothing to do with the Sanitary Commission – They were trying to get rid of Governor Archibald Hunter – they succeeded

In 1895 Biddulph somehow managed to replace them with another four civilians.

Arthur Ruggeroni
Moses Bergel
Isaac Levy
Joseph Patron

Robert Biddulph

And so it went on – if not always all that successfully.

In 1901 an extensive scheme for an improved water supply was inaugurated by the Sanitary Commissioners the main idea being the construction of collecting areas and reservoirs. It was hoped that the system would replace that of the distribution of water via butts, casks and buckets and of storage in numerous private underground cisterns. It did nothing of the sort.

Then in 1912 a new governor - Sir Archibald Hunter - came on the scene. He was astonished to find that there was no proper provision for the poor in Gibraltar and that the poor were dependent on the generosity – or otherwise – of their more wealthy neighbours. It was, he wrote while corresponding with the chairman of the Sanitary Commission, unacceptable that:
. . . in a British Colony, such a state of affairs be longer tolerated
This from a man who would later lay into not just the Sanitary commissioners but the Gibraltarian population in general when stressing that Gibraltar was in fact a Fortress and not a colony – and that he was going to make sure that it would in future be run as such. Hardly surprising then that Hunter’s little initiative never materialised. 

Archibald Hunter

In 1921 the Sanitary Commission metamorphosed into a City Council and James Andrews-Speed became its first chairman. According to the modern historian Stephen Constantine: 
Unlikely though it may seem, the order in council of 1865 introduced essentially to deal with bad drains  . . . was eventually mythologized into Gibraltar’s magna carta. 
I am not quite sure that Constantine hits the right note. True, the evolution from Sanitary Commission to City Council may not have given Gibraltar its magna carta but it is certainly no myth that without the first the second would have taken far longer to arrive.