The People of Gibraltar
1820 - The Haunted House - Black-strap Hill

General Don

Memories of Gibraltar written by Francis Elizabeth Davies (see LINK) is a veritable hodgepodge of thoroughly unbelievable romantic nonsense - most of which has little to do with Gibraltar. Her many individual stories are also hard to date – the Memories were published in 1841 but some refer to the Gibraltar yellow fever epidemic of 1804 (see LINK). She also mentions General George Don, (see LINK) Governor of Gibraltar during the opening decades of the 19th century. 

Her ghost story, however, is supposed to have taken place not long after she had married a British army officer. All of which leads me to suppose that it refers to something that happened during the 1820s. The following is a heavily edited version of this story. The real thing is more than twice as long. 

General George Don – according to Ms Davis “Sir George and his lady had substituted gaiety and unanimity throughout the Garrison for the leaden apathy that had weighed down the preceding regime” – by which she may have been referring to that of Colin Campbell
At the north end of the South Parade immediately above Black-Strap Hill, from which it is, or was, divided by a long strip of garden-ground, there stretches a terrace, skirted by a low range of officers' out-quarters, and, at the end, there is a house of two stories. 
The lower, used as servants' offices, is entered by a court, and has no visible interior communication with the upper story, the porched entrance of which is level with the terrace, and opens upon it. The apartments consist of a dining, drawing, and sleeping chamber en suite, and one smaller, commonly used as a store-room, branching to the right of the first, with which it communicates.  
The windows command on one side an uninterrupted view of the bay. At the one end a window looks on to the terrace, and at the other bedchamber end, on the garden ground and line wall down to Jumper's Battery. The centre chamber's second window opens above the servants' court, as does that of the smaller apartment. I am thus particular, because it is requisite to the right understanding of my tale. 

Jumper’s Bastion more than half a century later looking towards the south. Hardly any of the buildings shown would have existed in the early 19th century   ( 1880s – George W. Wilson )  (See LINK)

There are actually two “Jumper’s Batteries” or Bastions - one on the north, the other on the south both connected by the Line Wall stretching along the western side of the Rock. They are unfortunately too far apart to be of any use identifying the position of the Elizabeth’s house. 

Nor is Blackstrap-Hill any better.The word “Blackstrap” - originally and perhaps even nowadays the name of a purgative - was once used as local slang for cheap alcoholic plonk. A small cove between Catalan Bay (see LINK) and Sandy Bay (see LINK) is still known as Blackstrap Cove. I should know as I used to swim there. Blackstrap-Hill, however, no longer exists today.  As regards South Parade this is also an unknown quantity. The name seems to have fallen into misuse several decades after the Great Siege. (See LINK

Area to the south of Charles V Wall – the haunted house may have been one of those shown well above Scud Hill     ( 1830s - Piaget et Lailavoix )
Like all Spanish houses, it was most elaborately furnished with bolts and bars against exterior assaults. Like those in its neighbourhood, it had been appropriated by government to the use of the military, but for several months it had stood unoccupied, for to it were attached tales of jealousy and murder - ghostly visitants were said to wander there, making night hideous with wailings for peace or vengeance.  
Two or three families, more courageous than the rest, and tempted by the beauty of its position, had, at different periods, become its tenants; but all had been haunted out, and it had remained during some months closely locked up; when, by one of those inexplicable military evolutions by which soldiers are occasionally so provokingly put upon the alert without any cognizable motive, our regiment was removed from the north to the south barracks. 
I was at that time a young, a very young wife, and had been since my marriage a little spoiled by being allowed accommodations superior to those which my husband's rank commanded; and when I learned that such indulgence could no longer be accorded, rather than descend from my stilts, I was piqued into accepting the general of the brigade's laughing challenge to take the haunted house.

South Barracks and its two Officers’ Pavilions from Rosia  (See LINK)  (1846 – J. M. Carter )  (See LINK)
I had no great faith either in ghost stories in general, or in those related of this particular locale, even though confirmed by each of its late tenants. I did not doubt that they had been alarmed, but I doubted the alleged cause of their terrors but I had no question that our courage and coolness would enable us to unmask what I was persuaded would prove a gross imposition. 
Greatly to our comfort night followed night, and weeks succeeded yet no ghostly marauder robbed our pillow of rest; the nine days' wonder died a natural death, and the horrid freaks of the spiritual visitor became a tale of the past. 
But our triumph was destined to be short-lived! Late one night, the captain, a friend whom I shall call Duncombe, and myself, sat dawdling over old anecdotes after supper, when suddenly the captain's attention became visibly absorbed by an object invisible to us, but which his eyes earnestly followed along the side of the apartment opposite to where we sat. Upon pressing to know the subject of his investigation, he declared that he had seen the figure of a woman, veiled, glide along the room, and enter the bedchamber. We, meanwhile, endeavoured to laugh him out of his opinions, fully believing that his imagination had alone conjured the image he had described. 
Three nights after this occurrence, we were again together upon the terrace. It was the hour when the short twilight was departing, and the rising moon rendered objects dimly visible; a smart breeze swept from the sea, and as we turned, Duncombe proposed to fetch my shawl, which I had left in the drawing-room. While he did so, the captain and I continued our promenade.

A schooner “facing a smart breeze”  . . . from the sea” as it tries to sail towards Gibraltar  ( Mid 19th century – J. E. Buttersworth )
When he rejoined us, he looked constrained. “Hear me, and then laugh,” said he. “Scarcely had I set my foot within the outer door, when I became conscious that I was not alone. At first the light was too imperfect for me to distinguish objects, but as I passed on I felt that sensation of proximity so clear and definite, even when the eyes are closed. I stood still- so did my companion - I went forward, so did she When having accomplished my mission, I retraced my steps there a sudden moonbeam revealed the figure of the veiled lady. 
I endeavoured to grasp her, but I clasped air standing motionless beside me. I felt that her breath swept across my face; but when hoping that she would descend with me she suddenly turned, and seemed rapidly to retrace her steps. Then I felt a supernatural fear creep through my veins!" 
Still, as I had been unmolested, I felt reluctant to abandon my original position, that the whole was a well managed imposture. For that and the succeeding evening no further event contributed to our doubts.  On the third, the captain was absent on duty, and a young friend, who resided with her grandmother, an officer's widow, in a pretty vine-covered cottage near the Moorish cattle, and who, I had reason to know, was entirely ignorant of the secrets of my mansion, was invited to spend a few days with me. 

The Moorish Castle      ( 1830s - William Mein Smith ) (See LINK)
A new servant-maid was added to my establishment, and as it was my purpose that she should, occupy the sofa in the drawing-room, to serve as a sort of protection to my companion and myself, I was careful that she should hold no previous intercourse with my domestics of the lower story. Having, therefore, seen all the securities of our suite efficiently applied, we retired to rest; my friend and myself occupying one bed, and the maid having drawn hers within call, exterior to our chamber-door.  
It was near one o’clock when I was wakened by my companion, who implored me to admit the maid into our apartment, both having been greatly terrified by fearful noises. Perceiving that the night-candle which I left burning was extinguished, alarmed me, and hand in hand my friend and I groped our way to the door, and, suffering the maid to pass in, we again carefully closed and secured it. 
Hardly had we regained our bed, and the shivering creature crouched down on the floor beside us, before we heard a heavy rumbling noise in the adjoining room; then the furniture was violently flung from side to side, as by the movement of a huge quadruped: then came a crash at the chamber-door, so terrible, that every pane of glass of which it was composed seemed shattered into a thousand fragments; then came a rushing into our chamber, and as the terrible intruder coursed rapidly round the room, the air was borne into our faces and then all was again. Suddenly, close to our ears, arose a wild, unearthly shriek, and then all was again still. 
The cold dews of horror poured down our ghastly faces, as we clung trembling together, and the stranger woman crept closer and closer, her teeth chattering, and her low gasping breathings rising at intervals into audible moans. 
The keys of the instrument were swept with a wild and rapid hand - the bolts were beard to fly back – the doors flew open at a bound; again the glass was rent and shattered, and the coursing as of the wild hunter of the Hartz Mountain whirled madly from room to room. So passed that night of terror.  
About three o'clock this terrible festival ceased, and we heard no more; but not an eye was closed by any of us and at the first gleam of day, the stranger woman, waiting neither reward nor explanation, hurried on her clothes, and departed, nor ever, from that hour, could commands or entreaties induce her to return again to the haunted house. And my young friend, whose courage, like my own, revived at the sight of the blessed sun, was, when evening came, no less determined to return to her home, declaring that the world's wealth should not induce her to pass another night under my troubled roof. 
I did not follow her example and when the captain, proposed our instant removal, I resisted his entreaties, and, animated either by the romantic ardour of youth, or partaking a small portion of my poor father's heroism, the more I became convinced of the reality of the terror, the more firmly I determined to abide the result, for still I clung to the belief that the ghost was mortal, and not spiritual; yet if it were so, the management was most skillful and occult; for, notwithstanding its bursting of doors, and all its insane gambols, when morning came, not an article was displaced, not a square of glass broken. 

Detail of a Model of the Rock held in the Gibraltar Museum – It was started in 1851 and the Davis’s two story house may well be found somewhere there behind South Barracks which h occupies the center of the picture  . . . but which one    ( 1861 to 1868 - Lieutenant Charles Warren )
From this time forward, every third night was marked by a recurrence of a similar disturbance. Sometimes, when sitting late, with a crowded table placed in a position purposely selected to command a view of the apartments on either hand, these antics would be performing, now in one room, now in the other; yet, when a rush was made to detect the performer, not a vestige of an intruder could be found.  
The character of the noises, too, presented an endless variety; sometimes it resembled the cracking of coach-whips, sometimes of a person beating the furniture and chests with a huge cudgel. My pianoforte formed a favourite diversion, and often its keys were swept with a full and glowing touch. 
It is not to be supposed that a series of evidences like these could pass without comment or inquiry; on the contrary, the question now assumed a serious aspect and long and careful were the investigations to which the premises were subjected in order to ascertain the existence of hidden traps, sliding panels, or any secret means of access.  
The apartments below were occupied by our own domestics, two men and a fearless old woman - a true old campaigner. They all vehemently attested the noises and the footsteps that so frequently passed over their heads. The woman was a faithfully attached creature and she volunteered to sleep in the upper suite upon one of her master's guard nights, confident that no ghost would 'molest a decent Irishwoman.  
And as I had suffered too much to dare another night's adventures without my husband's protection, and had latterly made it a custom to visit at those times my friend of the Moorish castle, she ascended alone to the drawing-room, and there placing her mattress on the floor, she lay down to await the event.  
And, punctual to his time, click went the bolts, open flew, or seemed to fly, the doors, and straight onward came the sprite with its rude gambol, jolting, tumbling, and upsetting everything in its course till the old woman declared at last she beheld a huge gaunt figure, of gigantic proportions, rearing itself up close beside her. She tried to rise and as the form strode slowly into the bedchamber, she sprang frantically to her feet, and rushed en chemise into the street.  
Whether she found the outer door open, or whether she herself drew back the bolts, she never knew, but the men-servants whom she called up gave testimony to her terror, and to the noises she described - suffice it, that from that period no bribe could induce her to enter those rooms, except in daylight.  
After this occurrence, various officers volunteered to watch with the captain ; but all their researches served only to add to the general wonder, without decreasing the cause of the alarm - either, after several hours undisturbed vigil, they fell asleep or dispersed, or else the noises were heard, traced, and lost, as I have before mentioned.
At last, wearied out both in patience and in health, I privately determined to keep watch myself; - not alone. My courage had been too severely tested to permit me to vaunt any such gratuitous heroism. It was the portentous third night; the grim visitor might, therefore, be expected; and as the captain was fully as anxious as myself to be rid of the inquisitions, he readily consented to join in my design to confront, to adjure, and to quiet the ghost. 
The only chimney in the house was situate in the centre chamber that, too, was rigidly scrutinized; and not till thoroughly assured, as far as human means could assure us, that we were alone in the place, did we betake ourselves to our watching-couch. Having done so, half an hour did not elapse before the accustomed din commenced, but upon this occasion the noises were entirely confined to our chamber - yet vainly did we strain our eyes, now here, now there, to follow those riotous indications.  
The candles still burned undimmed upon the table, but their light afforded us no assistance. At last, a sound of astounding violence drew my attention to the window at the end of the house. I grasped my husband's arm with a maniac's strength, I called upon him with a choking voice, and while my glaring eyes fixed fascinatingly up on the object of my terror, thrice I called him.  
He answered not, moved not. He slept, or was in a stupor! And there white from head to foot stood opposite to me a man, silent his face toward the window. At the sound of my voice he turned and though my eyes fastened themselves upon him, I could not peruse his features. I rose gradually, tottering, breathless, each several hairs erect, and a deathly dew oozing from every pore! 
As the ghostly hand was extended towards me, my brain grew like fire, my senses reeled, and I fell headlong, and lost to memory, on the floor! What followed I know not; nor could my husband explain either his torpor or the manner of his arousing to my assistance. He found me senseless and day was breaking before the united cares of the household and the medical officer (hastily summoned) could restore me to recollection.  
But never shall I forget that fearful awakening. It was immediately followed by a succession of deep fainting-fits, to which I am to this day subject, and it was not until both mind and body were restored to health and vigour, that I could be prevailed upon to relate the occasion of my sufferings. 

Rock from the ruins of the fort of San Felipe in Spain (See LINK) ( 1826 - F. Benucci )  (See LINK
I was still inclined, in the face of all conviction to the contrary, to believe it an imposture. Our purpose, however, was fully answered. Yes, the ghost was laid! Whether the spirit was propitiated by my attempted heroism in its favour, or whether the clever trickster grew alarmed or remorseful on witnessing the result of his ingenuity, was never known to me; certain it is that the ghost wandered no more, a fact which I had ample opportunity to become aware of during a lengthened convalescence.  
And even after my recovery we did not remove—firstly, because the necessity no longer existed, and, secondly, because I had grown attached to the place through the medium of its penalties. We, therefore, continued long enough its occupants to redeem its character; and although, after these incidents, I have many and many a night sat solitarily, counting hours in the absence of one whose habits were far from domestic, I can, with the same honesty record, that neither I nor any succeeding tenant, have ever since been annoyed by the intrusion of the veiled lady or the white gentleman in my poor old Haunted House. 
Well there you are. As somebody once said  . . .  if you believe that . . .