The People of Gibraltar
1758 - A Plan to Invade Gibraltar - Introduction

Not all of us are interested in obscure and seemingly inaccurate maps - but if you happen to be as keen on them as I am - here is one that looks the part. It is dated 1758. 

As a sort of bonus it comes with a sketch with explanatory text in English and Spanish.

In essence these two documents were part of a French plan to invade Gibraltar which involved the use of merchant ships to cart a large number of people to the Isla de Perejil on the other side of the Straits and close to the coast of Morocco. Why this island was chosen for such a purpose is hard to understand. It is basically a very small, uninhabited, uncomfortable and completely barren piece of rock without any water supply whatsoever.

Isla de Perejil

From Perejil the invaders planned to cross the Straits, sail into the Bay and from there enter Gibraltar's Landport Ditch without being seen from the Rock. Why anybody could have thought it a good idea to choose Landport as a good place to invade Gibraltar is anybody's guess. It was then, had been in the past, and would remain so for many years to come one of the most heavily defended places on the Rock.

West place of Arms and the Grand Battery overlooking the Landport Ditch

The Spanish text - suitably translated into English with each version shown on either side of the cross-section of Landport Ditch - suggests that preliminary work had been carried out by the prospective invaders. Somebody had been sent over in secret to measure the depth and width of the ditch so that suitable gear - as suggested in the sketch - could be constructed to scale it. 

English and Spanish text on sketch

Whoever it was that volunteered he must have wished he hadn’t as he was given away by an informer called Juan de Mora.

In November 1758 all these documents were sent - presumably from Gibraltar - to the British Consul in Cadiz - Burrington Goldsworthy.  I can only presume that he then forwarded them to his boss in London - the Secretary of State for the Southern Department - William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham. Goldworthy’ dispatch revealed that the map - and possibly the sketch as well - was drawn by a certain Don Francisco Perez de Tapia - who I have never heard of before. It was meant to “to illustrate a document outlining a French scheme to take Gibraltar.“

It is a comment that leaves plenty of room to speculate - was it that Don Francisco created the plan simply to make life easier for Goldsworthy - or was he a fellow conspirator and had produced the map to help those involved in the invasion plans?

Label on the back of a document included in “Consul Goldsworthy’s” dispatch “of Nov 15th 1758"- which dates the dispatch but not necessarily either the map or the plot

William Pitt the Elder

There are several good reasons why this particular dispatch was probably filed away as soon as it arrived on Pitt’s well cluttered desk - if he ever got it. His secretary probably never bothered to pass it on. For a start it wasn’t by any means the first plan of its kind that anyone in his department had ever seen.

The problem was that Spain’s lack of success in retaking the Rock post 1704 brought about a curios phenomenon - the production of all sorts of plans thought up by every military crank in Europe on how to go about recovering it. Over nearly three-quarters of a century, numerous thoroughly detailed and mostly unrealistic “solutions” were offered to the Spanish Court - many of which eventually came to the attention of the British authorities.

I will resist the temptation to illustrate just how absurd and unworkable just about all of these plans were - from bombarding the place using kites, the building of mountains the height of the Rock, to the infamous floating batteries, a scheme that was rejected the first time round and was then actually put into practice when suggested by somebody else. I will limit myself to just one example. This was proposed by an otherwise unknown Juan de Aguas,

How to easily recapture Gibraltar    (1780 - Juan de Aguas)  (See LINK)

But perhaps even worse was the fact that during the mid 18th and well before Pitt the Elder really got going - his control over Britain’s foreign policy was frighteningly weak. He wrote the following less than a year before the French invasion plans in question were sent to him.
. . . the Empire is no more, the ports of the Netherlands betrayed, the Dutch Barrier an empty sound, Minorca, and with it the Mediterranean lost, and America itself precarious.
If he actually ever saw the map I doubt whether he ever gave it a second thought however colourful it might have been.

The Governor of Gibraltar at the time was the Earl of Home. Why on earth they didn’t give the plans to him I have no idea.  Perhaps he was back home on holiday as he often was - or perhaps he simply wasn’t trusted. 

Earl of Home

Home had a very cosy relationship with Spain. He was quite willing to allow Spanish tobacco guards to search the town as well as the many harbour hulks (see LINK) for possible contraband. (See LINK) If they managed to find any they had his permission to confiscate the stuff.

He also allowed Spanish customs officers to work in Gibraltar so that they could keep a watch out for smugglers. It meant that his relationship with most of the more powerful local merchants – British or otherwise and all of them making a mint out of smuggling – deteriorated as fast as his rapport with the Spaniards improved.

Nor was Gibraltar at the time as prone to the “British we are, British we stay” syndrome as it is perhaps today. In 1759 for example a couple of regiments that had been stationed far too long in the Gibraltar - at least that is the excuse offered by one of the few historians who bothered to mention the event - hatched a plot to hand over the Rock to Spain.

The plan was to murder their officers, plunder the treasury and surrender the fortress. Well over 700 soldiers were involved. They would have needed plenty of civilian help to carry out their plans and I am certain they got it. By pure luck a quarrel in a one of Gibraltar’s innumerable wine houses gave the plan away. One private was executed and several of the other ring-leaders imprisoned.

All of which suggests that a closer look at Don Francisco Perez de Tapia’s map might be worth the trouble. However, the format of the website that I use to post my articles on the history of the Rock does not do justice to maps that are as large as this one. I have therefore been more or less forced to chop the thing into three sections - the Northern, the Middle and the Southern as given in the links below.

1758 - A Plan to Invade Gibraltar - Northern Section
1758 - A Plan to Invade Gibraltar - Middle Section
1758 - A Plan to Invade Gibraltar - Southern Section   

With thanks to genealogist Georgina Marks who supplied me with all the information I needed to write the above. All the mistakes are mine. Thank you Georgina.