The People of Gibraltar
1723 - The Francia Family of Gibraltar - Part 4

The Rock from Spain (1870s - James Webb)

In 1873, about a decade earlier than the festering discontent which led to the creation of the Chamber of Commerce, Francis Pasqual somehow managed to come to terms with all these political conundrums and together with his brothers - William Henry and P. Francia - as well as another influential merchant Jerome Saccone - bought and subsequently developed a property at 15 Bomb House Lane. Saccone, already a wealthy wine merchant, would eventually join forces with his direct competitor - James Speed - to become even richer than he was already as a principle shareholder in one of the, if not the largest wine, spirits, and beer exporting companies in Gibraltar.

I have not been able to find out if this partnership with between Saccone and Speed occurred before or after Francis Pasqual’s forgetfulness in London during his meeting with Carnarvon.  Saccone was one of those who had insisted that the Exchange Committee instruct Francis Pasqual to demand that Scandella desist in his interventions.

Saccone, Speed and Saconne and Speed  (Late 19th century)

No 15 was not intended as a tiny Pied-à-terre - in fact it ended up as a three story building and might just have qualified as one of the largest pieces of real estate on the Rock. Large enough at any rate to allow the owners to rent out a substantial section of it to the next door Bristol Hotel - who eventually bought it out in 1963.

The Bristol Hotel in its heyday - “electrical lighting throughout” The added on chunk to the left of the main building was No. 15 Bomb House Lane (Late 19th century)

The bit of the house that was left over was still large enough to house quite a number of people - and not just those belonging to the Francia family. Francis Pasqual apparently never lived there himself. Generally the chronology of the people who actually decided to take up residence there is far too wide-ranging to go into here. To give one odd example - the front door of No 15 bears a marble coat of arms which has so far resisted being attributable to any particular family. It certainly didn’t belong to the Francias as there is precious little evidence that they were ever part of the Genoese nobility and whose coat of arms, in any case, was completely different to this one.

The Marble Coat of Arms

Another small problem concerning the purchase of No 15 is the identity of P. Francia as none of Francis Pasqual’s brothers had a first name starting with the letter P. It is of course possible to speculate that this person was in fact Anthony Philip. The problem with this idea is that Anthony Philip left Gibraltar for New York in 1849 when he was scarcely 19 years old. 

In 1863 he moved to Genoa where he may have met and married his Genoese wife Emilia Pescetto who was no less than 19 years his junior. Perhaps because of connections made during his lengthy stay in New York, Anthony Philip was appointed American Vice-Consul in Genoa. Interestingly Emilia father was Dr Giovanni Battista Pescetto, a Genoese doctor who published a book in 1862 called Guida Igienica ai Bagni di Mare which popularised sea-bathing.

Marble bust of Emilia Poscetto (Giovanni Battista Cevasco) - and cover of her father’s book

Francis Pasqual’s youngest brother and co-developer of No 15, William Henry, is perhaps the least well know of this generation of the family. In 1860 he is known to have married an American girl called Fanny Quartin at the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. It seems too much of a coincidence that he had met and married somebody with the same name as his his uncle’s wife.

One possible scenario might be that while on a visit to his Uncle in America, he fell in love with Fanny Francia - one of John Louis’s daughters - and decided to marry her. Registering herself in the Cathedral as Fanny Quartin instead of Fanny Francia may have been the result of a prudent decision to disguise the fact that they were indeed first cousins. 

I am not quite sure how frowned up or indeed illegal it was to marry your first cousin in Gibraltar those days. What I do know is that the Catholic Church strongly disapproved and it was often the case that special dispensations were required in order to do so.  One way or the other marry they did. They set up their home in No 16 Governors Street and managed to produce at least three surviving children, John Lewis, Alfred Charles and William Cosens - all of them interesting characters in their own right. 

William Henry died in Belgirate on the shores of Lago Maggiore in 1877 aged 45. I have no idea what he was doing there - perhaps a tragic end to a beautiful holiday. 

Governors Street    (Late 19th early 20th century)

William Henry must have been very well-off. He was able to afford sending his eldest son John Lewis - perhaps the most adventurous of the three - to be educated by the Jesuits at Beaumont College in the UK. Soon after he returned to Gibraltar and possibly just a few years after his father’s death he travelled to Malta perhaps as a representative of his father’s business there with Giuseppe Buttigieg and Sons who advertised themselves somewhat open-endedly as “Negozianti”. They had originally made their money from a flour mill although banking had probably been their principle money-making business since the very early 19th century. 

Beaumont College - Berkshire

John Lewis found it well worth the trouble to have visited Malta. He began a prosperous career in Giuseppe’s business and ended up marrying his daughter Maria Teresa. 

Maria Teresa Francia 1919, 1928 and 1938    (David Arrigo - From Twin Rocks)

He then followed a Maltese tradition which was popular at the time among the sons of the well-to-to-do. He became an officer in the fashionable Malta Militia which later would become the King’s Own Malta Regiment and rose to the dizzy rank of Colonel and of Commanding Office. He also ended up as Vice President of the Bank of Malta and the Chamber of Commerce. Visits from contemporary members of the family in Gibraltar were apparently quite common as were visits by John Lewis and his wife to Gibraltar. 

Col. J.L. Francia M.V.O

Both the Francias and the Buttigieg family owned several villas in Malta all of which had their names confusingly changed several times.  One of them, Villa Teresa, was specially built by Giuseppe Buttigieg for the newly married John Lewis and Maria Teresa.  

Villa Teresa

John Louis died in 1934 but his youngest son John Francia ended up owning another semi-palace - Villa Preziozi in Lija. It was renamed Villa Francia - echos of the house in Benalife near Campamento also known as Villa Francia built by his great uncle Francis. John’s Villa Francia, was eventually bequeathed to the Maltese Government.

Back in Gibraltar the Governor John Miller Adye set up a review on the best way to run the civil hospital taking great pains to include representatives of each of the three main religious groups. In the midst of what must have been a hectic daily routine of checking plans and blueprints of the new house and making sure that work was being carried out properly - not to say looking after the business that was paying for it all - in 1883 Francis Pasqual was lumbered with yet another chore - he was chosen to represent the Catholics on the Civil hospital panel.

John Miller Adye

In 1888 the island that John Lewis had made his home lost 1000 of its poorer inhabitants. The Maltese were immigrating to Gibraltar hoping to enjoy a better life. What they mostly got was a chance to become members of the most back-breaking and badly paid profession on the Rock - the coalheaver. (See LINK)


In 1890 they were forced to go on strike and several of them were unfairly sentenced to imprisonment infuriated local working-class people who took to the streets in protest. Francis Pasqual was a Justice of the Peace at the time and it would be nice to believe that he would have been lenient in his dealings with the strikers - but I doubt whether he would have been inclined to act against the wishes of his many coal-merchant friends.

A year later, the authorities decided arbitrarily to reform the Sanitary Commission reducing the number of the civilians on the committee and removed their previous majority. Adding insult to injury the already over-powerful Colonial Secretary was made Chairman of the Board and the Colonial Engineer Captain Buckle was appointed Sanitary Engineer displacing a Mr. Tudbury a local architect. They couldn’t really complain too much about this one as Tudbury had no engineering qualifications whatsoever - but they did.

The Commander of the Royal Engineers was also appointed as an ex-officio member - an appointment that must have also been received with dismay by the civilians as he knew much more of about sanitary matters than any of them. A review of conditions in Gibraltar by Major Tulloch - apparently “the highest sanitary authority” in Britain, didn’t help either. His report was a lengthy list of criticisms written in a style described by the authorities as “colourful” and by the locals as “insulting”. The Governor Lothian Nicholson didn’t help much either by including the phrase “quasi-alien” to describe the local population in one of his despatched to London.

The response was the creation of the Gibraltar Rate Payers Defence Association - the GRDA - at a protest meeting at the Exchange. The title of the association revealed the real concern the loss of control over the Sanitary Commission - a justifiable fear that rates would be increased. According to Lord Carrington during a speech in the House of Lords he stated that:
Major Tulloch proposes to bore a great tunnel through the Rock from west to east through which the sewage is to be carried out to sea
The costs would have been astronomical, the increase in rates proportionally so. Francis Pasqual and Anthony Mosley - husband of his daughter Mercedes - were both chosen as members of the GRDA’s new Committee.

Using the tried and tested responses they used so successfully in several decades previously during the tax on smuggling imbroglio the locals protested to the Governor, complained to the Secretary of State - it was Lord Knutsford this time round - lobbied MPs and sent two delegations to London. Francis Pasqual and Mosley will have been well please with the result of their contributions toward the outcome, a fudge in which the locals more or less got what they wanted. Francis Pasqual was one of the four GRDA members appointed by the Governor Lothian Nicholson. 

Lothian Nicholson and Knutsford

At the end of 1884 the cudgels were taken up again as the GRDA members of the Sanitary Commission continued to argue for a civilian majority. When this was not forthcoming, Francis Pasqual and his fellow members resigned from the Commission.

In 1899, William Cosens Francia - William Henry’s fourth son - was advertised as a Gibraltar lawyer in the Guía de Gibraltar y su Campo compiled by Lutgardo López Zaragoza. William Cosens attended Radcliffe College in Leicester. He was 20 years old when he was called to the bar and spent some time at 1 Verulum Buildings, Grays Inn. 

Grays Inn

Unfortunately William Cosen’s career was short-lived. He died in 1903 at the early age of 32. The ‘Cosens’ part of his name is curious in that as with Antonia Thorn’s it is a very unusual one. One theory is that in the same way as her name was meant to honour William H. Thorn, the New York trader and friend of her father John Louis, William Cosens was given his in honour of another Gibraltar trader, William Cosens who may also have been a friend of his father William Henry. 

The same Guía de Gibraltar also makes a mention of Alfred Charles Francia who is described as being a member of the local Grand Jury - an institution which first made its appearance in Gibraltar when the Third Charter of Justice made its appearance on the Rock in 1752. To be a member of it was not something to be sneezed at. These were the men who were responsible for presenting lists of suitable candidates to the Governor for appointment to the Sanitary Commission. 

Not too much of a surprise then to find out that in 1901 and 1911, Alfred Charles is described as a coal merchant. His obituary in 1925 mentions he had been Chairman of the Coal Merchants Association as well as President of the Gibraltar Employers Federation and a Director of the Chamber of Commerce. Alfred Charles never married which might explain why we know perhaps less of his private life than we do of other members of his family.

During the first decades of the 20th century veritable fortunes had already been made by more than a few local Gibraltar families with sufficient entrepreneurial savvy to take advantage of Gibraltar’s position as a free port since the very early 18th century.

By the mid 19th to early 20th century the Rock’s almost unique position as a coaling port after the advent of the steamer and the creation of the Suez Canal in 1869 - meant that some of these already privileged families acting on their own or as expensive commission agents for British companies were just about printing their own money.

Some of the most active commission agents outwith the coaling trade were A. Mateos & Sons, John Carrara & Sons, Rugeroni & Sons, J. Lucas Imossi & Sons and John Onetti & Sons. Among this last lot were Messrs Francia and Co. and Giro, Francia & Co. The principle business of the latter was freight between American and the Mediterranean. 

But none of these were nearly as prominent as those involved in coal bunkering. Among these were the London Coal Company run by the Lambert Brothers, Smith Imossi and Sons and John Mackintosh - touted by both local and British authorities as Gibraltar’s greatest benefactor. He could easily afford it as he ran some of the largest coaling companies on the Rock - the Gibraltar Coaling Company, the British Coal Company, the Imperial Coal Company, John Peacock and Co and I may have missed a few.  

Thos Mosley and Co was yet another coal bunkering giant. Alexander Mosley, one of Thomas Mosley’s sons was the man who married Francis Pasqual’s daughter Mercedes. In 1921 Mercedes would be able to call herself a lady when Alexander become Sir Alex.

Alexander Mosley

In the 1920s Cecilia Mosley (1892-1976), the daughter of Alexander Mosley and Mercedes Francia married Arthur B. Hankey a stalwart of the Calpe Hunt.

Arthur B. Hankey doing what he liked doing best

Cecila Hankey on the left selling poppies in front of the Exchange Building

One would also have thought that Cecilia’s mother Mercedes would have been perhaps even prouder when her eldest name-sake daughter Mercedes - known to her family and friends as Dollie - decided to choose Captain James Robert “Jack” White, the son of the former Governor of Gibraltar Sir George White as her husband. Jack was awarded the DSO during the Boer War and became his father’s aide de camp at the age of 23. He even had the honour of shaking Edward VII’s hand when he came to Gibraltar.

The Governor Sir George White and his son Captain Jack

Or at any rate Mercedes senior may have been chuffed until she learned that in 1930 “Jack” White had converted to socialist anarchism and had become a co-founder of the revolutionary Irish Citizen Army. Her millionaire husband who had died three years earlier must have been - as they say - well and truly turning in his grave. In fact he had probably started squirming when he was still alive and well when he had first heard of his daughter’s intentions.

Leo Keohane in his book Captain Jack White quoted the telegram he sent to  George White in London when he heard of the impending marriage.
Regret [your] sons proposed action which must inevitably end in grave scandal positively refuse allow him enter my house have done my duty in warning you and am not responsible consequences.
Possibly around this time George Gaggero - a member of the local shipping firm HM. Bland and another who would one day become a Sir - married Mabel Andrews-Speed, the only child of the Hon. James Andrews-Speed. In later life she would be acknowledged as one of the most powerful woman in the Mediterranean - but don’t ask me why. 

The Andrews-Speed family - the “Andrews” bit was a later addition to the original ”Speed”-  had made their fortune through their joint venture with the Saccone family.

George Gaggero

In one of those inconsequential occurrences that for some strange reason have become an inconsequential part of Gibraltar’s social history, we have been told - more than once - that a certain lady from the Francia family had made Mabel a gift of: 
. . . . a nosegay of  white  roses, white  carnations and asparagus fern, tied with silverribbons for the bride to carry.   
In 1938 and according to the newspaper The Daily Herald, during the Spanish Civil war Mabel’s father - James Andrews-Speed - and his wife - attended a rally in Spain addressed by General Quiepo de Llano perhaps the most brutal Nationalist General under Franco at the time, flanked by German officers in Reichswehr uniform. According to the report:  
 . . . . a number of Gibraltar fascists cheered frantically  during  the speech.
It was the kind of biographical detail that that Richard Garcia failed to mention in his generally hagiographic account of the Andrews-Speed family - far better to write about Mrs Francia’s “nosegays” than this kind of thing. The fact is that most wealthy families in Gibraltar during the Civil War were mostly pro-Franco - and my guess is that the same may unfortunately have been true of many members of the Francia family at the time.

So who were the Francias? What were they really like? In Gibraltar, making your fortune and becoming a well known institution was mostly one and the same thing as it probably is elsewhere. By the middle of the 20th century surnames such as Gaggero, Imossi, Bland, Patron, Russo, and Stagnetto, to name just a few, were not just well known surnames among members of Gibraltar’s high society - they were instantly recognisable to most of the ordinary middle and working-class people of the Rock for what they were. 

With ignorant arrogance we tended to mock them. These were the people whose children received their education in Britain and returned with a ridiculously posh English accent and - even worse - unable to speak our colloquial Spanish properly. (See LINK) But I cannot remember the Francia surname belonging to this particular genus - and as far as I can tell from my own article they did. 

My image of the Francias, presumably influenced by their supposed ownership of fast ex-navy boats was that of a family of semi-illiterate toughs, experts at smuggling and evading Spanish revenue men and nothing much else.

Perhaps the reason for my ignorance was that they were simply not quite as rich as the others, that they never created memorable businesses such as Beanland Malin and Co, J.Lucas Imossi and Sons, MH Bland, Saccone & Speed and the rest - or simply the fact that by 1966 shortly after I left the Rock for good, there was nobody left in Gibraltar with the Francia surname - the last member of the family living on the Rock - Victoria Francia - died in 1966. 

A pity as they were certainly an interesting lot and very much a part of our social history. They deserve to be remembered. 

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