The People of Gibraltar
1723 - The Francia Family of Gibraltar - Part 1

1950s - The Rock of Gibraltar from the air (See LINK)

In the mid 1950s when I was still a teenager, a number of  ex-WWII Royal Navy motor torpedo boats could often be seen berthed near the Commercial Mole in Gibraltar or some other suitable place in the harbour. I don’t know enough about war ships to insist that they were in fact torpedo boats but people who did know about such matters were adamant that whatever they were called they were certainly much faster than  the boats used by the Spanish Guardacostas. 

They had been bought - I was told - by “lo hermanos Francia” who were reputed to use them to smuggle stuff from Morocco into Spain - all of this information delivered with a knowing smirk and no little anti-Spanish and pro-Gibraltarian pride.

I am almost certain that this was simply idle gossip . . . I don’t think there were any Francia brothers living in Gibraltar at the time - but the fact that I distinctly remember the very memorable “Francia” name makes me suspect that quite a few people on the Rock actually believed the story to be true.

Very, many years later in 2018 and while I was researching for this article I read an interesting  footnote in a book by Charles Caruana - The Rock under a Cloud -  published in 1989 and covering several historical events concerning the history of Catholicism in Gibraltar. The author, Catholic Bishop of Gibraltar at the time - apparently came across a document belonging to Cecilia Mosley. She was the granddaughter of Pasqual Francia, a leading member of the local Francia family during the mid 19th century.

Cecilia Mosley

The footnote includes what is possibly the most interesting and readable passage in the entire book. It reveals that during the capture of Gibraltar by Anglo-Dutch Forces, (see LINK) several of the auxiliary ships which accompanied Admiral Rooke’s fleet belonged to a shipbuilder called Francis Francia. 

Rooke and the Dutch lining up to bombard Spanish Gibraltar in 1704 - was Francis Francia there somewhere? (Unknown)

Cecilia’s document also suggested that when Rooke’s ships required repairs, Francia would beach them in la Caletilla Vieja - the old name for a beach on the east side of the Rock now called Sandy Bay. (See LINK

Whether the information on the document is correct or not is hard to tell - I personally have never come across any information regarding Rooke’s auxiliary ships - much less about the people who manned and owned them.

As regards repairs carried out on his ships the only thing I can add is that in the early 18th century la Caletilla Vieja must have been one of the most out of the way places on the Rock - a rather narrow strand with a huge unstable sand dune just behind it topped by an equally imposing cliff to its west. Nor, as far as I can make out, was there any known method of bringing in supplies required for repairs other than by sea. 

La Caletilla Vieja was just to the right of the guardhouse in the middle of the picture  (Late 19th Century)

Both stories at either end of the family history - so to speak - seem equally dubious but what is not really open to argument is that somebody called Francisco Francia was a resident on the Rock during the early 18th century and that numerous members of the Francia family lived in Gibraltar right up to 1966. 

Gibraltar was in between two of her many sieges when an official document with the title - "Lists of Houses, Possessions, Lands and Tenements 1705-1728" was produced by the authorities. It mentions a property which a certain Francisco Francia purchased in 1723 for 125 dollars from for Abraham Acris.

Section of the “Lists of Houses, Possessions, Lands and Tenements 1705-1728” (As transcribed by local historian Tito Benady)

The records of the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned (see LINK) also show that Francisco married Theresa Sicardo and that their ten children were born between 1723 and 1743 -which suggests that Francisco was probably born in the 1690s too young to have been a shipbuilder or to have arrived in Gibraltar with Rooke. He could have been his son of course but it seems highly unlikely.  

It was a period in which civilian Gibraltar was in a state of flux. The British were keen to populate the place with Protestant families from Great Britain - as against non-British immigrants who they considered to be of little value to the Garrison town and of dubious loyalty to Britain.

A sign of the failure of such a policy were the notices that appeared all over Gibraltar in 1749 written in English, Spanish and Genoese in which the new  Governor General Humphrey Bland (see LINK) informed the civilian residents that he was setting up a Court of Enquiry to investigate the legality or otherwise of local land titles. 

A large number of people responded by pulling down the notices but others such as Pedro, Francisco, Bernardo, Maria and Juan Babtista Francia decided to comply. Their father Francisco had died and they wanted Bland to confirm their legal ownership of their father’s house “on the east side of the Main Street”.

Humphrey Bland

Claim by Francia orphans (1749 - Bland Court of Enquiry)

Presumably the five claimants were the only survivors out of the original ten children. The absence of Francisco’s wife as a joint or indeed sole claimant also suggests that she had either remarried - something that was quite a usual occurrence in those days - or that she had died. The Court upheld their claim.

A couple of decades later one can pick up the thread with Pedro Francia who may have been the eldest of Francisco’s Children. By now he was married to Maria Salinas and by the 1750s they had at the very least a son - Antonio Francia.

Antonio is an interesting character. As a young man he joined the Soldier Artificer Company of the British Army - a military innovation created in Gibraltar that later became known as the Royal Engineers. He was at the time, one of the only - if not the only - foreigner attached to the company. 

Thomas William John Connolly in his History of the . . . Royal Engineers which was published in the mid 19th century mentions somebody called AntoniA - subsequently corrected to AntoniO in a subsequent edition of the book. In a lengthy footnote Connolly explains that one needed to be a Protestant to join the Artificer Company and that Antonio had been born a Catholic. Antonio must have carried out the necessary changes as he did eventually join - and went on to become a corporal - but not before he had also been refused permission to marry a girl who was also a Catholic. He also later anglicised his name to Anthony Francis.

Uniform of the newly formed Soldier Artificers - possibly one that Antonio would have been familiar with     (1867 - Frontispiece illustration - Connolly’s History of the  . . . Royal Engineers)

By 1777 the British were still concerned about the number of foreign nationals who were taking up residence in the Rock. Despite the fact that the population at the time was still quite small when compared with what it is today, the Colonial Secretary of Gibraltar ordered a census to be carried out. This exercise was in essence a head count that would make life easier for a parallel investigation - the “Commissioners for Settling the Titles to Land in Gibraltar”. 

The results of the census were sent to the commissioners on condition that the documents would be returned after use. They were and the book can now be found in the Gibraltar National Archives. The list describes a Gibraltar with a total population of 3201 of which slightly more than half were described as “natives”. Of the rest the largest group were 672 Genoese and Savoyards.

Antony Francis’s parents do not appear on it - they had probably died, but Antony does, as both a “Hair Dresser” and a “Soldier Artificer”. He was still hanging on to his old un-anglicised name. 

The idea of a “Soldier Artificer” giving his main occupation as a “Hair Dresser” is odd to say the least   (1777 - List of Inhabitants)

Antonio’s uncle, Francisco Francia, also appears on the 1777 list as a Bargeman, together with his wife Feliza whose maiden name was Gustavino and who is registered as coming from Genoa. Their six children also appear on the list. They all appear to have lived in a house in Irish Town.

Francisco Francia and family   (1777 - List of Inhabitants)

Two years later the Great Siege of Gibraltar began - a lengthy affair that lasted until 1783. (See LINK) Antonio took part in this siege and was wounded by a shell at Willis’s Battery. He  warranted a rather belittling mention by a contributor to an 1860 edition of the Notes and Queries Magazine - belittling in the sense that it would undoubtedly not have been offered in those terms had the subject not been a ”foreigner”.

(1860 - Extract from Notes and Queries Magazine)

A similar medal to this one may have been the one in Anthony Francis’s possession 

Antonio no longer appears on the next “List of Inhabitants” which was compiled in 1791 by which time he would have been 35. Did he die a young man? Perhaps the wound he sustained at Willis’s Battery killed him. Curiously Mary Francia, a young widow of 33 does appear on the list together with her two children which makes me want to speculate that she might have been his wife.

Mary Francia and her children    (1791 List of Inhabitants)

Francisco died at the relatively young age of 54. His life as a bargeman and husband seems to have been pretty straight forward. He may have died just before yet another “List of Inhabitants” was compiled in 1791 as he does not appear on it. Pasqual Francia - who was born in 1766 - was 25 when his father died. He was either already married to a local girl called Clara Farco or would marry her shortly. 

Francisco Francia and family    (1791 - List of Inhabitants)

The Napoleonic wars of 1803 to 1815 - and overlapping Peninsular War of 1807 to 1814 as well as a lengthy aftermath that lasted for at least another decade - was a period in which making money in Gibraltar was almost too easy. And it wasn’t just British merchants who were able to take advantage of the situation - the war against France meant that local privateers were more than welcome to attack enemy shipping and bring captured vessels back to Gibraltar for sale.  The result was that these - together with a steady stream of Royal Navy prizes and their cargoes - were being offered at auction by the Admiralty Court on an almost daily basis. Prices paid for purchases at these auctions were no doubt of the “fell off the back of a lorry” variety.

Gibraltar’s Main Square was at the time officially known as “Commercial Square” - in this etching the artist chose to call it Auction Square for obvious reasons     (1825 - F - Benucci) (See LINK)

That these auctions were more than just a passing curiosity in the commercial history of the Rock is revealed by the fact that right up to the beginning of the 21st century the colloquial name for Gibraltar’s main plaza, which is now known as John Mackintosh Square (see LINK), became “el Martillo” - a reference to the auctioneers hammer used during these sales.

Although Pasqual was described as a “Taylor” on the 1791 census, by 1834 his tailoring days were certainly over as by then he had become a “Landholder” with properties in Hargrave’s Parade and Waterport Street and was also acting as a letting agent. 

On a less parochial note, and as a result of the improvement in the relationship between Britain and Spain, the Governor of Gibraltar, Hew Dalrymple, officially became an ally of the Spanish commander of the Campo area, General Francisco Castaños.

Castaños and Dalrymple

When in 1808 the Spanish commander told Dalrymple of his plans to assemble an army in order to confront the French, the Governor encouraged the local merchants to finance at least part of the campaign and unhesitatingly ordered every Spanish male resident of Gibraltar of fighting age to cross the frontier and join the General.

Castaños duly marched north to Bailen and to the astonishment of everybody defeated three French divisions under General l'Étang. It was the worst disaster for the French in the Peninsular War and the first major defeat of Napoleon's Grande Armée. 

The Spanish Regiment charging during the Battle of Bailén - perhaps there were one or two Gibraltar ’volunteers’ among them  (Agusto Ferrer-Dalmau)

Castaños was not the only Spanish general to take advantage of the fact that for once Gibraltar was on the same side as Spain. Three years later in October 1811 General Ballesteros - the man in charge of the Spanish troops in the Campo area, was in Gibraltar visiting the Governor - Lieutenant-General Colin Campbell. He left message for the people of Gibraltar which was translated and published in the Gibraltar Chronicle.

Ballesteros as a general - Campbell as an ensign

Ballesteros message was essentially a begging letter which starts off with the following appeal:
Noble Inhabitants of Gibraltar! You are too much enlightened not to be sensible, that I must be provided with adequate means to be able to act with advantage against the Enemy. . . . 
Pasqual was quick to understand which way the winds were blowing and generously subscribed $50 towards his campaign as well as a couple of bridles. He must have been aware that Ballesteros was particularly keen on improving his cavalry

Gibraltar Chronicle (1811)

It was by no means the highest donation - several of his merchant friends donated double that amount. J. Giro who may have been the father of the girl his son Anthony would one day marry - and certainly a member of the family which would form a partnership with the Francia family  - was one of them.

Shortly afterwards a subscription was opened for the relief of the widows and orphans of the British troops who had fallen during the inconclusive Battle of Barrosa which had taken place a few months previously. $4482 was the total collected - which compares very favourably with the total of $4619 given to Ballesteros. 

By the end of December those subscriptions seem to have proved inadequate as Ballesteros was unable to prevent Napoleon’s soldiers from entering San Roque. The inhabitants were allowed to find refuge in Gibraltar. With cruel bad luck, eighteen of them who were sent to Catalan Bay were killed when a very large rock fell from the cliffs that overhang the village.

The beginning of 1812 saw the successful defence of the nearby town of Tarifa. An obsequious letter of thanks signed by the self-described “Principal Commercial Inhabitants of Gibraltar” was sent to the Governor Colin Campbell. The signatories included such well-known local names such as Abudarham (see LINK), Turnbull, Benoliel (see LINK), Arengo (see LINK) and Cardozo (see LINK). Pasqual, however, was not one of them. 

According to the Chronicle, Aaron Cardozo made additional donations to Ballesteros army of “617 Yards of Cloth and 725 Yards of Coating” - which does not reflect Cardozo’s far greater contributions to the Spanish cause. Other sources reveal that during the Napoleonic wars he donated a thousand or more muskets for the guerrillas in the mountains of Ronda, thousands of pounds worth of supplies for Ballesteros and even more than that in food for the Spanish army. He is perhaps best remembered in Gibraltar as the man who built and owned one of the Rock’s more imposing civilian buildings.

A view behind trees of Aaron Cardozo’s house in Gibraltar’s Main Square   (c1817 - Thomas Ender)   (See LINK)

Later that month Campbell - perhaps as a result of a visit from Ballesteros a week earlier called for: 
. . . . a rigorous of all unmarried men capable of bearing arms, from 16 to 40 years of age, in which are included the Spaniards who have hitherto resided in  the Garrison.
Pasqual himself was 46, too old to be considered and as far as I know none of his sons were old enough to take part. But there is little doubt that the social standing of the Francias - not to say their wealth - was on the increase. About a couple of decades later two of his sons - Francis and Peter were listed as “merchants” - a reflection on an era when the number of locals describing themselves as such was becoming more and more common as local families were making fortunes that would last them a lifetime and beyond. 

Pasqual and family    (1834 - Census)

With very special thanks to Alex Panayoti. Most of what I have written is based on his meticulous research. Without his help it would have been impossible to do so. Thank you Alex.

To continue please click on the following LINKS

1723 - The Francia Family of Gibraltar - Part 1
1723 - The Francia Family of Gibraltar - Part 2
1723 - The Francia Family of Gibraltar - Part 3
1723 - The Francia Family of Gibraltar - Part 4
1723 - The Francia Family Tree