The People of Gibraltar
1892 - Questions in the House of Lords - Littered with Refuse

Sir John Adye and Major Tulloch – Captain Buckle and Sir Lothian Nicholson
Colonel Cox and Mr. Melrose - Captain Jelf and Captain Macpherson

On the 16th of June 1892  the 3rd Baron Carrington – or Lord Carrington as he perhaps preferred to be known – brought up a question in the House of Lords about certain proposed changes to the composition the of the Sanitary Commission in Gibraltar.

Lord Carrington

He was answered by Lord Knutson – the Secretary of State for the Colonies - who refuted just about every one of Carrington’s points in no uncertain terms. Despite the esoteric nature of the subject matter under discussion and the fact that questions and the answers are inordinately lengthy I think that this exchange allows for an insight into both the relationship between the authorities and the local population as well as a glimpse into what living conditions were like for the less affluent residents of the Rock.

Here is a necessarily edited version of the debate as recorded by Hansard.

Lord Carrington: . . . I call the attention of the House to the change that has taken place in the Sanitary Board. The House is aware that Gibraltar is a fortress and a Crown Colony under the Colonial Office with 20,000 inhabitants and 6,000 soldiers. From 1815 to 1880 the sanitary arrangements were looked after by a civilian Commission which practically represented the ratepayers.

The Rock ( Late 10th century )
In 1880 the military being one-third of the ratepayers, as they paid rates as well, naturally claimed to have some share in the representation, and it was just and right that they should and they came in on the Board, four of the twelve Commissioners being nominated from among the officials on the Rock. 
That went on happily for three years when special powers were given to the Governor to alter the existing arrangements, and this went on for a few months, when Sir John Adye, (see LINK) the then Governor, found it unworkable.  . . . he got instructions to revert to the old state of things.

Sir John Adye
That brings us on to 1890. . . the statistics . . . show that there was no bad health in the Colony. In 1890 Lord Knutsford told Major Tulloch of the Royal Engineers to make a Report about the sanitation of Gibraltar . . . in which he remarks that the Sanitary Commissioners are quite incapable of dealing with the question. 
He says that they do not represent at all the wealth, the intelligence, the influence, or the business capacity of the civilians. He goes into detail about their maladministration, and he goes on to say that they laugh at the War Office and make them pay more than their fair share of the rates. To remedy this state of things Major Tulloch proposes to bore a great tunnel through the Rock from west to east through which the sewage is to be carried out to sea, which he says will have the double advantage that very likely he will be able, with good fortune, to strike upon water. If he does, this will produce a good water supply for the town, and if he does not he proposes to carry the sewage through the Rock into the sea from west to east.

The Rock from the east – “Major Tulloch proposes to bore a great tunnel through the Rock from west to east through which the sewage is to be carried out to sea”  
 ( Early 20th century )
. . . He considers this a very good plan, and he suggests that the works shall be entrusted to Captain Buckle . . . but according to the Gibraltar Ratepayers' Defence Association . . .this officer was removed from his office as engineer to the Sanitary Commission, because he did not give satisfaction, and he is reported to have been twice reprimanded by two Secretaries of State. . . . 
. . . .  the Secretary of State for the Colonies asserts that there has been neglect of ordinary sanitary requirements, and a lack of intelligence. Against this . . . the opinion of Sir John Adye, who on the 25th February, 1892, wrote - 
In my opinion the inhabitants should be fully represented. I have received great assistance and support from the members of the Commission; and as regards health— I think this is very important— the death rate of the civil population is very little more than that of London, much less than that of Liverpool and Manchester; and as regards soldiers, the garrison and medical reports prove that Gibraltar is one of the healthiest stations at home or abroad. 
Lord Knutsford suggested that the boring recommended by Major Tulloch should be begun at once under Captain Buckle, (see LINK) the Civilian and the Colonial Government each paying half . . . So far as I see in the Papers there is no cost mentioned. . . . I believe it is the fact that not even a contract is allowed to be entered into, but the whole of this enormous work is to be undertaken by Major Tulloch, R.E., and his friend Captain Buckle. 
Those of your Lordships who have been soldiers know very well what it is to be handed over to the tender mercies of the Royal Engineers. Those who have been quartered in the Albany Barracks, and in those death traps in Dublin, know pretty well what it is  . . . your Lordships will quite understand from old experience how very apprehensive these civilians might be of having the whole of this great sewage operation handed over entirely, without their having a word to say about it, to the Royal Engineers.
In order to carry out this boring which is recommended by Major Tulloch and is to be begun under Captain Buckle, the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies at once dissolves the old Board and creates a new one; and this new Board is composed of nine members. The Board is composed of the Commanding Royal Engineer and the principal medical officer of the garrison, two Government representatives, one Admiralty representative, two Grand Jury representatives, one Special Jury and one Common Jury representative, who are selected and appointed by the Governor himself.  The Chairman of this nominee body is the Colonial Secretary, who has the casting vote. . . 
This Board is to come into power at once, and in fact it is a great deal more unworkable than the old Board which was pronounced unworkable in 1883 by Sir John Adye. . . .this brings us to 1892 . . . . The Colony of Gibraltar protested most strenuously against this, and they asked the Governor what he had to say to it. The Governor said he was precluded from discussing the question at all. 
Then they formed themselves into a Ratepayers' Defence Association, and they wrote to Lord Knutsford, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but they got very little redress out of that. 
Then three of them were appointed as a deputation who came over and stayed in London; they saw the Secretary of State several times, but they went away without any redress either, and the whole thing was finished by a despatch of Sir Lothian Nicholson, who is Governor of Gibraltar, on the 11th of April, 1892, in which he approves of the action of the Colonial Office, and he calls this retrograde movement "a most carefully considered measure of reform"; and he goes on to say in the despatch that he considers two-thirds of the civilians of Gibraltar are foreigners by origin, by connection, and also in language, and that they are only British subjects in name.

The Convent (see LINK) - The residence of the Governor of Gibraltar  (Late 19th century )
Their very existence there, he says, is not an Imperial necessity, and they should not be granted the position which is held by colonial municipal leaders in other parts of the great British Confederation. 
Now those who happened to see the reception that those residents, "whose existence is not an Imperial necessity," gave to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in 1876 are not likely to forget it. My Lords, they are just as loyal and just as devoted to the Crown of England as any other Colonist in any other part of Her Majesty's Dominions. . .

The Prince of Wales laying the Foundation stone of the Alexander battery     (1876 )

Lord Knutsford - the secretary of state for the colonies - replied as follows:
 . . . It is not necessary for me now to bring again before your Lordships the character of this place, Gibraltar. . . . .  it is a fortress primarily, and that on one side of this fortress no doubt a town has sprung up with a population of about 19,000 people, of whom 3,000 are aliens. 
It is also an important coaling station, both for Her Majesty's ships and for trading vessels. When the noble Lord says that this place is not defended by a system of sewage . . . I think it may be said that it is a very important thing for the War Office that Gibraltar should be kept in a sound sanitary condition. 
. . . up to the year 1883 the Commissioners consisted of twelve civilians; but in 1882 as the work was badly done . . . a change made . . .That change was highly approved by Lord Napier of Magdala, who was then Governor of Gibraltar; it was approved also by Lord Derby, who succeeded the noble Earl opposite as Secretary of State for the Colonies.

The Royal Calpe Hunt (see LINK) – Also “highly approved of by Lord Napier of Magdala, who was then Governor of Gibraltar” – That’s him in the middle of this engraving
The Board was changed . . . instead of twelve Commissioners all unofficial, four official members were appointed, and certain powers were taken away from the Board, and vested in the Governor, so that he might have a more direct control . . . over . . . the sanitation, drainage and water supply . . . afterwards a local opposition sprung up, and Sir John Adye did think it best that the powers which were vested in the Sanitary Board should be restored to them. 
. . . the decision was a most unfortunate one. The Board did not improve in the work that they did. There were constant complaints by the Admiralty of the serious nuisance from the outfall of the sewer on the west side. 
There was no attempt made by the Board to deal with the sanitary state of Gibraltar, with the overcrowding, and the deficiency of water, or the general insanitary condition of the dwellings. It was difficult to get people . . . to act upon the Board - indeed, in 1890, to fill up two vacancies twelve persons were pressed to act and declined to do so. 
It was difficult to get a quorum . . . and there was . . . a very indifferent attendance. I am not saying that the unofficial Civil Commissioners are alone to blame; I think considerable blame attaches to the official members of the Board . . . in view of that state of things . . . it was decided . . . to send out a thoroughly competent and efficient engineer . . . Major Tulloch, who, as Engineer Officer for the Local Government Board, has had very large experience in sanitary questions. 
After an exhaustive inquiry, Major Tulloch made two Reports. . . . The original Report is of great length  . . . and has a number of maps attached to it . . . and it is necessary for me to refer to Major Tulloch's Report as showing the state of things in Gibraltar which had been brought about by the inefficiency and inaction of the Board.  Major Tulloch in describing the condition of the patios or courtyards says -  
Considering that these patios are used for all kinds of purposes, that mules and donkeys are often tethered in them, and that poultry are kept there, the state of things can be better imagined than described. The whole atmosphere is reeking with the constantly rising exhalations from filth. … In parts of the town some of the rooms also in the houses which are used as dormitories have only doors—no windows. When therefore the inhabitants retire for the night and close the doors, there are all the conditions for typhus.

The patio of the Convent – the Governor’s residence – What was good for the goose was definitely not good for the gander – There were no “rising exhalations from filth” here  ( 1839 – William Lacey ) (See LINK)
. . .  even such an elementary duty for a Sanitary Authority to perform as the removal of dry refuse, they were unable to carry out. . . Major Tulloch says - 
The carts in which the dust is collected are often so over-filled that the lids cannot be shut down, and the refuse is then apt to be blown about in all directions. It is finally disposed of by being thrown into the sea, but without any reference to the state of the tide and current prevailing at the time. The shore on both sides of the shoot is littered with refuse, and a very objectionable state of things is produced.
. . .  let us turn to the terrible evil of overcrowding — what does Major Tulloch report upon that? He points out that the density of the population in the town is as great as in some of the worst districts of London, while the accommodation, owing to the lowness of the houses, is very much less. 
. . . There are 1,036 single room tenements inhabited by 3,214 persons, or over one-sixth of the total population. Some of these single rooms are inhabited by as many as ten and eleven persons. One hundred and twenty-three of them are inhabited by 844 persons, or an average of about seven persons in each room, and 1,875 persons lived in 360 rooms, an average of more than five per room. Health, not to mention decency, in a climate like Gibraltar, is impossible under such conditions. 
If I turn again to the important question of water supply, Major Tulloch observes that drinking water is charged for at the rate of 8s. 4d. per 1,000 gallons, and the total public supply of good water available for the civil population amounts to not two quarts per head per diem, while brackish water unfit for dietetic purposes is charged for at the rate of 2s. 6d. per 1,000 gallons. 
That subject had been brought to the notice of the Commissioners by Colonel Cox in 1877, and he showed how the civil population was being relieved of rates at the expense of the War Office; but still those Commissioners did nothing. . . they made no practicable attempt to deal with the question of the water supply.
Then I turn to the system of sewerage. . . Major Tulloch says -
The sewage from the northern and middle outfall cannot flow right away to the sea, but keeps zigzagging up and down the coast line, and gradually deposits most of its solid matter on the foreshore, which when exposed in summer to a hot sun makes the western side of the Rock so offensive.
And your Lordships will bear in mind that the most densely inhabited portion of the town is on the west side, and that therefore the alteration on that side is manifestly especially necessary. The main or southern outfall is only a few yards from the dockyard, and has almost since its construction been the subject of complaint from the Admiralty. Speaking of his inspection of it Major Tulloch says -
Although it was in December, the stink from the sewage which we smelt standing on the new mole, where Her Majesty's ships lie when coaling, was sickening. A nuisance of this kind cannot be continued with impunity. The people employed near the locality must suffer in health sooner or later.

A romantic view of the New Mole - “The stink from the sewage . . . was sickening”   ( Late 19th century – G. W. Wilson )  (See LINK)
Then he goes on . . . to show that the sewers themselves are badly constructed, that some have too slight gradients, some are broken and leak, and so on. And, my Lords, the Commissioners cannot plead ignorance of these facts, because their attention was specially drawn to them in 1884 by the present Colonial Engineer, Captain Buckle, who was then the engineering adviser of the Board; but nothing was done. 
The Health Officer's Reports constantly pressed these questions upon the attention of the Commissioners; but for some reason or other no effective steps were taken to remedy any one of these evils. And perhaps one of the most striking proofs of their inefficiency was this: that during something like 25 years since the Sanitary Board was started only one bye-law, I believe, was passed with the object of preventing infectious diseases in lodgings. 
. . .it must be manifest to anyone that a town cannot be kept in a proper sanitary condition unless the inspecting officers have some power of enforcing the remedies which are necessary. They can report; but they can do no more,—they can effect no amendment. . . In 1890 Major Tulloch reported as to the useless consumption of coal. He says -
There is a large useless consumption of coal taking place on the north front, and the Commissioners have been perfectly aware of this for years, inasmuch as two experts, Mr. Melrose and Captain Jelf, R.E., investigated the subject in 1882, and having pronounced the pumping engine to be 'antique' reported 'that they were confident that the substitution of modern engines of the compound condensing type would result in a very considerable measure of economy.'
Designs and tenders were sent out for those engines, but nothing was done. Now it has been stated in a Paper which appears in the Parliamentary Papers and is headed "Facts about Gibraltar" that after Major Tulloch's Report was published in the Colony the Board set to work to carry out his suggestions. I regret to say that that is a complete fallacy, which is put an end to altogether by a statement of the Governor in his Despatch of 11th April as to what this Board had done after Major Tulloch's Report. He says -
It is scarcely borne out that 'the Board at once endeavoured to carry out Major Tulloch's recommendations as far as was possible.' The provision of new engines for the North Front was certainly taken in hand; some deodorisation of the main drain at Europa was attempted—and the preparation of the bye-laws was commenced, but these drafts were left incomplete, and in so crude a state that the present Board have practically to reconstruct them, a work which is still occupying their earnest and constant attention.
Catalan Bay improvements were negatived by the late Board; the dust destructor was declared to be unnecessary; the engines both at Southport Ditch, and at the North Front, were run in a ruinous manner—ruinous alike to the machinery, and in the cost of coal, and little or nothing was apparently done to secure the many sanitary improvements in dwellings and amongst the community generally, which Major Tulloch had so exhaustively pointed out.

Catalan Bay   (Late 19th century )
And it also appears from the Governor's Despatch of 2nd May, 1892 . . . how entirely they neglected the state of the engines and the machinery at the North Front—a neglect which the Governor very properly characterises as "discreditable." I have referred to the fact of the careless consumption of coal, and I may here observe that since the new Board came into operation they have in about four months saved no less than 248 tons of coal. I would further remark that the great number of nuisances that have been dealt with by the new Board . . . show how great was the neglect of the former Board up to the time of its dissolution. 
The noble Lord . . . says that Sir John Adye has said that it was not at all a high rate . . . Now Major Tulloch. . . in his first Report, showed that the mortality was 24.5 per 1,000 among the whole population, that is to say the fixed and alien population, and that it was 25.0 among the fixed population. 
Those figures were disputed by the delegates . . . and different figures were brought forward showing a smaller death-rate. But those . . . were based upon the Report of the Medical Officer, and it would seem that the Medical Officer made a curious mistake in his calculation of the death-rate . . .
Lord Knutson follows this up by explaining a series of gross miscalculations by the Medical Report Officer which highlight the curious fact that inefficiency was not the prerogative of local Gibraltarians. Lord Knurson then continues:
. . . all the figures have now been carefully gone into by Surgeon Captain Macpherson . . there can be no doubt . . . that while he shows a good death-rate for 1891 . .  the figures . . . show a death-rate in 1890 of 22.17 for the total civil population . . . which includes the aliens whose death-rate is smaller than that of the fixed population, and of 24.71 for the fixed civil population.

And that was the end of that.
And yet 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.

An amending ordinance was passed in 1893 in which the Commission was allowed to choose its own chairman, 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 and the authority of the Governor to intervene on major projects was removed. By the standards of late 1 19th century colonial politics it was nothing short of a triumph.

A view of the town in the very late 19th century – In theory now less smelly and less dirty – In fact not much different from before