The People of Gibraltar
1749 - Humphrey Bland - The King’s Instructions

Humphrey Bland and Charles Forward - Lieut-Colonel Christopher Legard
Major Lambard and Major Arthur Loftus - James Montresor and Thomas Tierney
James Read and John Lewes - Martin Wilson and Richard Dacre

In 1749 notices appeared all over Gibraltar written in English, Spanish and Genoese. The new Governor General Humphrey Bland (see LINK) was advising the locals that he was setting up a Court of Enquiry to investigate the legality or otherwise of land titles on the Rock. Bland was ordering them to lodge their claims . . .  or else. A large number of the residents responded by pulling down the notices.

Plan of Gibraltar   ( 1750s - Claude Dubosc )

Perhaps unaware that his instructions had failed to attract the universal respect he might have expected Bland nevertheless set up his Court with all the pomp and ceremony available in Gibraltar at the time - without, of course, inconveniencing himself by holding the meetings anywhere close to his local residence in the Convent - or even taking part in it himself - he first arrived on the Rock the following year.

On second thought perhaps there wasn’t all that much “pomp” as the meetings were held in a large yard in Castle Street which unusually for early 18th century Gibraltar had a clock which was used to time the start and finish of the daily proceedings. It belonged to Charles Nicholas Forward - a local merchant and major property owner himself. His claim as the legal owner of the yard was acknowledged by the Court itself with little or no fuss and bother.

Looking up Castle Street from Bell Lane  in the early 19th century - Forward’s yard may have been on the top left hand side  -  ( 1833 - Frederick Leeds Edridge - Crop )  (See LINK

The reasons behind the Enquiry are best understood by reading the instructions that Bland received from his King dated May 12th 1749.
As many disputes have arose in Gibraltar about the Property of the houses and complaints being frequently made that the Governor by his sole authority have taken them from their proprietors and let them out to others for his own advantage, it is the King’s pleasures that you have full authority to make a strict Enquiry into the truth of such complaints and to oblige the complainants to produce the right they have to the said house and when their title is found just, the houses should be restored to them and a writing signed and sealed under the Governor’s hand should be given to ascertain their property upon paying a ground rent annually to the King, as all the ground is his Majesty's.

George III - the fellow who owned “all the ground” in Gibraltar   ( Benjamin West )
All the other house which have no particular proprietor but are let to the inhabitants by the Governor at a monthly or yearly rent, you may let at an easy rent to encourage their Protestant Subjects to settle there, which is to be a strengthening to the place whereas at present those houses are chiefly made by Jews, Moors, and Papists of different nations which may prove dangerous   . . .  consequence to the town all these Ground rents and rents of houses are to be collected for the King and not for the Governor as heretofore and an exact account  . . . . in book and transmitted yearly to the treasury for his Majesty’s use.
(To) settle the above claims you may appoint a Court of Enquiry composed of field officers and such of the substantial inhabitants as shall think proper to call in order to examine into the right and title of the Complainants and to give their opinion as it may appear to them and then lay it before you that you may ascertain the houses to those whose right appear plain and send to England for his Majesty’s Decision an account of such cases as shall appear dubious.
To comply with these instructions Bland appointed five “field officers”: Col. Francis Leighton - as President, and as members Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Legard, Major Lambard (or Major Lambart, Lambert), Major Arthur Loftus and Mr James Montresor (see LINK) - Chief Engineer at the time.

The four “Substantial Inhabitants” were: Thomas Tierney, James Read, John Lewes (or Lews) and Martin Wilson - In short the Court of Inquiry was going to be made up of British military officers and British Protestant civilians. The Secretary - Richard Dacre - is only mentioned on the minutes of the first meeting but I suspect there were several scribes as the handwriting is not consistent throughout.

Contemporary engraving of the Rock   (Unknown )

The Court opened shop on Tuesday 1st of August 1749 and had its last meeting on Tuesday the 17th of October 1749. It investigated the legality or otherwise of 290 properties - 173 of them supposedly belonging to 111 residents with British sounding surnames and 117 belonging to 94 with non-British ones.

At first sight it would seem that the Court’s main remit was to rectify ownership problems caused by previous Governors renting out and pocketing the money on property which was not theirs to rent. In actual fact the real worry was that despite all attempts to the contrary it was becoming apparent that Gibraltar was being populated by “Jews, Moors, and Papists” rather than British Protestant civilians. And in this sense - and despite the surprisingly fair judgements on most of the claims Protestant or otherwise - it failed miserably. 

The King’s instructions as they appear on the minutes of the opening session of the Court of Enquiry     (1749 - Gibraltar Archives )