The People of Gibraltar
1731 - The Riera Family - The Shop near the Whirligigg

John Dominick Grana, Juan Baptista Viale and Philip Ouze

View of the Rock from Spain   ( Early 18th century - Unknown )

I am not at all sure when Miguel Riera first came to Gibraltar. What I do know is that he was a Spaniard and that William Hargrave who was Governor from 1740 to around 1749 gave him permission to build a shop in City Mill Lane near the town center.  In 1731 His son Patrick was born in Gibraltar which suggests that he may have arrived on the Rock just after the 13th Siege which took place in 1727. (See LINK

Riera’s shop was a greengrocery - or as he put it himself “a small . . . shop . . . for the selling of greens.” In 1749 General Humphrey Bland (see LINK) took over from Hargrave as Governor and almost immediately set up a Court of Enquiry to investigate the legality or otherwise of land titles on the Rock. Riera was one of the many who turned up to claim ownership of their property. He identified his shop as being “near the Whirligigg”.

Minutes of the Court of Enquiry   ( 1749 )

The Whirligigg - an oddly but appropriately named contraption - was used by the military authorities to punish civilians - usually prostitutes - for minor misdemeanours.  In essence it was a tube-like cage with swivels at the top and the bottom. The offender was placed inside the device which was then spun round at speed by a couple of soldiers making whoever was in it both giddy and sick. The one at the bottom of City Mill Lane was probably the best known one in the Rock - City Mill Lane was often referred to a Whirligigg Lane.

The whirligigg  ( George Palao )

During the Court’s deliberations the testimony of John Dominick Grana - another local resident - confirmed the legitimacy of Riera’s claim - a deposition that must have carried some weight as Riera’s claim was upheld. The fact that Grana had once been under-secretary to a couple of Gibraltar Governors - Joseph Sabine and William Hargrave - must have helped.

Part of the produce sold in the Grocery came from a plot of land which according to local historian Tito Benady once formed part of what are today the Garrison Library Gardens. In those days it was known by the family name of Huerta Riera. 

Plan of the town showing the area around French Parade today known as Governor’s Parade  ( 1753 - James Montressor - Chief Engineer - detail )

Despite Benady’s assertion about the location of La Huerta Riera, the large number of changes that have taken place during the transition of what was once French Parade to Governor’s Parade (see LINK) and the building of the Garrison Library (see LINK) in the early 19th century makes it hard for me to determine exactly which one of the many gardens shown on Montressor's 1753 plan (see LINK)  was in fact the one belonging to Riera. 

Miguel may also have had an alternative source of fruit and vegetables for his shop. He owned another plot of land on the isthmus outside Landport Gate (see LINK) - at least he thought he owned it. In 1749 he and two other residents - Juan Baptista Viale and Philip Ouze who also grew crops on adjacent gardens in the isthmus - made a joint claim for this property to the Court of Enquiry.

They introduced themselves as gardeners who “inclosed and manured” the gardens in question which they cleverly insinuated were used to cultivate vegetables for the use of the Garrison rather than for themselves. Presumably they were hoping for some sort of joint ownership of the land in question. They didn’t get it. Instead the Court judged that the ground belonged to the King. As a sop they were told that they no longer needed to pay any rent - for the time being at any rate - as long as they continued to manure the land and use them as gardens to supply the Garrison with “herbage at reasonable rates”.

Claim for gardens or vegetable plots on the isthmus by and Michael Riera   ( 1749 - Minutes of Governor Bland’s Court of Enquiry )

The isthmus gardens in 1727 during the 13th Siege ( 1750 - Unknown French plan - detail )

Nearly three decades later Patrick appears in the 1777 census as a Master Gardener. Another eight people with the Riera surname also appear on the census, some of whom may have been his brothers. Three of them, Pedro, Juan and Miguel, are also described as gardeners. 

From the 1777 Census

Patrick’s father Miguel Riera was probably dead by now as he does not appear on the census nor is there any shop mentioned in Whirligigg Lane - now referred to on the census as City Mall Lane. Patrick however, seems to have been doing quite well out of whatever gardening he was involved in - he appears on the census as the owner of two “dwelling houses” in “Governours Garden Street”, and another in Irish Town. It is hard to identify with any certainty where the former address would be today but it may have been the street lying just below the Governors Gardens.

The Great Siege of Gibraltar (see LINK) which began in 1789 and lasted four long years may have persuaded the Riera families to move elsewhere. Whatever the case as far as I can make out after 1777 none of them appear on any subsequent census.