The People of Gibraltar
1859 - The 100th Royal Canadian Regiment - Gibraltar

U.K. conscription into the British army came to an end in 1960. It continued in Gibraltar until the last lot of conscripts left for Buena Vista Barracks in 1971.  It was the end of National Service on the Rock - long after I had done my own non-voluntary stint at playing soldiers and had left Gibraltar for good.

During 1960 I worked as a very junior clerk for the City Council and I remember hearing the news about this “injustice” from a colleague and friend - Luis Diaz - who had just strolled into our office, in time not to commit the unpardonable sin of being late for work. The subsequent discussion among the younger members of the staff consisted mostly of attributes such as “cabron” and “hijo puta” directed at Charles Keightley who was our Governor at the time and who we held totally responsible for the unfairness of it all.

The City Council - Originally built in the early 19th century by Aaron Cardozo - a rich and influential local merchant, it became the City Hall in 1924 - The ground floor on the left was where I worked   (1920s postcard)

This rather trivial event is personally important in that I suspect it was the first time that any kind of political opinion - other than that of the parish pump variety, had ever impinged on my consciousness. 

From the 1940’s right through at least to the 1960’s perhaps about three quarters of the Rock was either owned or occupied by the MOD or one of the many other colonial authorities.  More importantly all of it was basically out of bounds to the local population unless they either worked or had special permission to be there.

And yet I cannot remember either I or any of my friends being remotely upset or put out by any of this. With the casual ignorance of youth we just accepted that this was the way things were and dismissed “los ingleses” - in other words the British military men and their many administrators stationed on the Rock - as a bunch of idiots who didn’t know how to speak in Spanish.

From 1704 to 1945 there were close to 500 different regiments of the British Army stationed in Gibraltar at one time or the other. I found this rather impressive statistic in a series of articles written for the Gibraltar Heritage Magazine in which the historian Victor Powers painstakingly names every single one of them.

There must have been quite a few while I personally lived in Gibraltar but I would have to look up Victor Powers’ articles to tell you which ones were there at the time. I really didn’t care and I must admit that I still don’t. The capriciousness of the military boards responsible for changes of regimental names, their disappearance or amalgamations with other regiments, have guaranteed my inability to summon up any enthusiasm for this undoubtedly important aspect Gibraltar’s endless military history. 

Front cover from a modern digital edition a book published in 1924 but which certainly confirms my comment on the labyrinth of name changes undergone by certain British regiments over time 

But behind all of this there is something that does interest me - the counter argument if you will. What did the men of the various regiments stationed on the Rock - sometimes for very lengthy stints - think of “the natives”. How did they relate to the civilian population? 

During the 18th and 19th century I would suggest that this was almost universally with considerable contempt - particularly from the officer class. And even during the 20th with the caveat that there were many exceptions, there was still much room for improvement in the relationship between the two - all of which leads me to the rational behind this particular essay.  It is based on a single chapter of the book by Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Ernest Whitton - front page shown above - which follows, among other matters, the experiences of the 100th Prince of Wales’s Royal Canadian Regiment when it was stationed in Gibraltar from 1859 to 1863. 

The 100th . . . or Royal Canadian Regiment of Foot being presented with its colours in the UK by the Prince of Wales just before it was sent to Gibraltar  (1859)

The regiment arrived in Gibraltar in two separate instalments, but by the 4th of May 1859 the entire regiment under the command of Major Alexander Roberts Dunn was occupying Windmill and Buena Vista Barracks, both of them situated in the south and relatively distant from the town itself.

Looking north - Buena Vista Barracks on the left   (1860s - detail - J.M. Mann)

Looking north - Windmill Hill plateau with barracks at its northern end   (1850s - Francis Frith)

Major Dunn’s main claim to fame was that he had taken part in the charge of the light brigade during the Crimean War - a military fiasco often interpreted by many a British historian and at least one poet as a glorious example of British courage of the do or die variety.

Lieutenant Dunn VC

The brave six hundred and the then lieutenant Alexander Dunn may have done their bit for queen and country - Dunn was awarded a VC for his - while his field commander Lord Cardigan had simply managed to confirm his reputation as probably the stupidest man ever to have held a commission in the British Army. It had been, to quote the French General, Pierre François Bosquet, ' . . . magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre.’

One year before Dunn’s arrival, four Russian 24-pounder cannon captured during the war were, for reasons that I have never quite understood, presented to the people of Gibraltar, absolutely none of which, it can safely be said, had ever taken part or had anything at all to do with the Crimean campaign . The four cannon, however, were placed on display in the Alameda Grand Parade and would have been familiar objects to the soldiers of the 100th Royal Canadians during their frequent military drills which were particularly impressive - or at any rate so considered by the Confederate naval officer Captain Raphael Semmes who was visiting Gibraltar at the time aboard his ship the CSS Sumter. He left us this somewhat over the top account.

CSS Sumter entering Gibraltar Harbour (1862)
The review of the troops which takes place, I believe, monthly is, par excellence, the grand spectacle of Gibraltar. . . . Drill of the soldiers, singly and in squads is the chief labour of the garrison. Skilful drill sergeants, for the most part young, active and intelligent men, having the port and bearing of gentlemen, are constantly at work, morning and afternoon . . . Company officers move their companies to and fro unceasingly lest the men should forget what the drill-sergeant has taught them. Now comes . . . the monthly drill when the Governor turns out and inspects the troops. 

The Alameda Grand Parade (1867)
All is agog on the Rock of Gibraltar on review days. There is no end to the pipe-claying and polishing and burnishing in the different barracks on the morning of this day. The officers get out their new uniforms and the horses are groomed with more than military care. The citizens turn out as well as the military, and all the beauty and fashion of the town are grouped on the Alameda.  
On the occasion of the review which I witnessed, the troops-nearly all young, fine looking men–presented indeed a splendid appearance . . . with an ease, grace and skill which called forth my constant admiration."

Three of the four Russian guns on display at the Alameda Grand Parade Ground   (Early 20th century)

Not mentioned by the author is that Captain Semmes, whose ship was being pursued by US Government warships had very soon after his arrival, discharged his crew, left his ship and disappeared from Gibraltar for good. Later a certain Mr. Andrews, whom he had left aboard as master, was shot dead by his second officer, Hester, who was in turn arrested and handed over to the American Government. The Sumter was auctioned, became a blockade runner and was renamed “Gibraltar”.

Meanwhile Major Dun basked in the approval and admiration of his troops. The men - we are told - were intensely proud of their youthful commanding officer - he was now 28 years old and their devotion was testified in many ways. Often on his return from a short spell of leave a hundred or more men would assemble near his quarters to give him a rousing cheer on his return.

Nevertheless, he might not have been quite as popular with his junior officers, a good many of which were:
Canadians, both French and English, and there was in consequence a little unpleasantness because the French Canadians would speak French at mess.
Not mentioned by the author is the arrival of the French warship Prince Jerome with a damaging fire on board and about 1000 men bound for Mexico. The soldiers disembarked and camped at North Front and their officers were entertained by those of the 100th regiment. Sergeants were looked after by those of the 7th Royal Fusiliers. 

The Prince Jerome on fire entering Gibraltar

Being able to understand French must have been an important consideration when looking after French officers - obviously not so for sergeants as one can safely say that few if any of those of the 7th would have been fluent in French. The troops were guests in Gibraltar for slightly over couple of weeks.

There is an uneasy touchiness to the above that makes one wonder about how the 100th non-French speaking contingent dealt with the civilian population. The locals had a nasty habit of switching to Spanish whenever they thought it advisable to keep their opinions from others not like themselves. According to the author, the Spaniards had also given the 100th the nickname of “Cientopieses” - a made up word for “ciempĂ­eses”, the Spanish for a centipede. My guess is that it was not the Spaniards but the locals who had come up with this nickname - it has all the hallmarks of the kind of distorted word play that one associates with the local patois known as Llanito.

Generally, however, the civilians seem to have admired the 100th if only because of their “splendid” and “magnificent” physique”. Their average height was 5 feet 11 inches and not even the celebrated Guards regiments of the day would have been able to match such a statistic. Not surprisingly they were also accomplished sportsmen. Esoteric games such as that essentially Canadian institution known as Lacrosse were probably played for the first and perhaps the last time on the Rock for all I know, but whatever games the Royal Canadians played, the locals enjoyed watching them. Their prowess at rowing, for example, is dealt with at length by the author:
The 2nd Battalion of the 6th Regiment ordered a new Clasper boat especially from England with which to lower the colours of the victorious sergeants of the 100th but were defeated after a terrific struggle. This led to a challenge from a crew of four Gibraltarian boatmen. Scores of natives had come out to see the Cientos beaten, but had to return disappointed after a contest Homeric . . . in intensity. The Royal Canadians, who had at one time been well behind, overtook the leaders and were first past the post. After this the victors rested on their laurels for no crew was found to challenge them.
I find it difficult to decide on the identity of the four Gibraltarian boatmen. Being practically an island, rowing boats would have been very much part of the coastal scene. The fishermen of Catalan Bay on the east side of the Rock would probably have been as comfortable on any kind of boat as they would have been anywhere else. But neither they nor any working fishermen on the Rock would have had either the time to take part or been able to afford the kind of racing boats required to race in regattas. 

The fishing village of Catalan Bay

Gibraltar has, nevertheless a long tradition in this respect. In my days there were two main Rowing Clubs - The Calpe and the Mediterranean, the first created in 1873 the second in 1899 in both cases too late for the four Gibraltar boatmen to be identifies as members of either club. My guess is that they might have belonged to a less well known institution called “The Boat Club” which was probably run for the amusement of a group of well off British ex-pats and local merchants who enjoyed messing around in boats.

The Royal Canadians also set up a cricket club for both officers and men - or “gentlemen” and “players” as they were probably referred to in those days. “But the 100th did not shine to any extent as cricketers”. Athletics in the form of flat or hurdle racing was much more to their liking but it was rowing which was their real forte.

While the Hispano-Moroccan War was still going strong in 1859
. . . a grand regatta was organised including the fleets of Spain, France and Britain that had been anchored in Gibraltar bay while the war was in progress - the British on the Gibraltar side and the Spanish and French on the Algeciras side. The military garrison also took part . . . The course was from a point on the bay opposite our camp, to the judges stand on the guardship Samarang.

The Guardship HMS Samarang in 1902 now somewhat worse for wear and parked in Rosia Bay Harbour - The start of the race was probably from either Camp or Little Bay - It goes without saying that the 100th won the final

Apart from the many sporting stories there were of course the usual humorous incidents which the author thought worthy of mention:
A bucket let down into the well of memory draws up some odd splashings of those Mediterranean days. . . In the ranks were many well educated men, amongst them a young college graduate of poetic temperament. Once when on sentry-go he was visited by the officer of the day and asked, as usual, to repeat his orders. The reply was somewhat unconventional: 
“Sir, my orders were to guard the shot and shell
Likewise the water in the well, 
And all the shrubs and trees about
And challenge all when lights are out." 
Startled by this rigmarole the officer blurted out: "Where the ___ did you get those orders from?" To which the young poet answered at once: 
“Sir, these were the orders I received 
from the sentry I relieved." 

It is not stated what happened next. . . . 

Whitton also makes a curious reference to smuggling - an activity strongly associated with Gibraltar since the very early 18th century when Queen Ann decided to make the newly acquired British possession a free port.
Smuggling sometimes gave rise to alarms and excursions. There were smugglers who brought contraband from Spain to Gibraltar, and were called Spanish smugglers. Per contra there were smugglers who ran goods from the Rock to the mainland and these were called English smugglers. 
The two guilds had conflicting interests and when the rival organizations met accidentally in the middle of the night on the neutral ground there would be a certain liveliness in which shouts, screams, knives and fire-arms played a part. The real smuggling excitement, however, was when our sentries would waylay one of the dogs carrying gin into Spain and great would be the celebration over a capture.

(1893 - The Graphic)

Smuggling goods from Gibraltar into Spain was not just a commonplace when Whitton wrote his piece. It was a major contribution to the economy of the Rock. It was also almost entirely carried out by Spaniards with the connivance of both British merchants in Gibraltar and back home in the UK - and perhaps the odd local who prospered accordingly. 

As regards the dogs, this was a minor sideline used mainly by the few to smuggle smallish quantities of tobacco across the neutral ground between Gibraltar and Spain. “English smugglers” carrying goods in the other direction is hard to understand. None of the usual commodities associated with smuggling were cheaper in Spain than on the Rock.

But they did suffer their fair share of sadder moments.
In 1860 Captain Coulson was drowned while sailing with Major Dunn in the latter's yacht. Captain Coulson had served with the 49th in the Crimea and had joined the 100th in 1858 as senior subaltern. . . . 
Shortly afterwards a terrible thing happened. A private in a drunken fury shot at and killed another private, mistaking him for a sergeant against whom the assailant had a grievance. The murderer was one of the best men in the Regiment a fine, handsome soldier, clean and smart and of exceptional skill in his trade, that of a boiler maker. He had been detailed in garrison orders to repair the boiler of a disabled steamer in the bay and so well had he carried out his task that he was substantially rewarded by the captain. This proved his undoing. The few pounds went on drink and probably vile native liquor at that. Next came the murder and then the gallows on Windmill Hill parade ground.
That “vile native liquor” was probably a local concoction known as Blackstrap - but the comment is of a type which was rather common during an epoch in where there was a strong tendency by the colonial authorities to try to lessen native criticism for events that showed British civilians or military men in a bad light by shifting the blame on them. 

It is therefore not much of a coincidence that neither the murder nor the hanging of the nameless private can be found anywhere in any of the usual official records - such as the archives of the Garrison Library, the Gibraltar Chronicle or any of the almost yearly official Directories where even the most trivial news is religiously recorded. 

Very important news on the 1937 Gibraltar Directory

But it did appear on the UK newspapers such as the Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser - of all places.

But perhaps the most celebrated omission in so far as details concerning hangings in Gibraltar are concerned is that of Private George Shaw.

The hanging of Private George Shaw of the 7th fusiliers       (8th November 1862)

We know his, name, his regiment and the exact date of his hanging - but so far it has proved impossible to trace the reason why. The large number of soldiers shown on the photograph suggests that the entire Garrison was forced to watch the proceedings - including perhaps the Royal Canadians. It would be the last time anybody was hanged in the Casemates. 

On the 13th October the regiment would never have to worry about Gibraltar hangings ever again as the regiment . .  
. . . embarked at Gibraltar on board H.M. Troopship Orontes for conveyance to Malta, the strength being 20 officers, 801 other ranks, 68 women and 104 children  . . . 
. . . surprisingly less than they started off with.

HM Troopship Orontes  (1862)

As for their relationship with the local population, if Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Ernest Whitton’s reminiscences are anything to go by it was practically non-existent. 
For the officers there was very little society apart from the military, and rides in the country were confined to the celebrated Cork Woods and a few Spanish towns in the immediate neighbourhood. There was, however, a pack of hounds and a theatre.

The Theatre Royal - opened in May 1847   (From a Postcard)

Royal Calpe Hunt members made up almost entirely of the Garrison’s officer class - and their British women - at a meet in Long Stables in the nearby Cork Woods

Throughout the eight odd pages of his chapter on the Rock Colonel Whitton mentions the words “Gibraltarian” once, “natives” and “Spaniards” twice. “Citizens” appears once when quoting somebody else. I suspect he found it hard to distinguish between all four categories and hardly worth the effort to try.

But then I suspect this lack of interest in the affairs of the local population was true of the majority of those 500 odd regiments that were stationed in Gibraltar from 1704 to 1945 - although there were of course exceptions. There are plenty of Gibraltar families who can trace their ancestry - at least partly to British military men - and why not perhaps even to those "tall", "splendid, and "magnificent" men of the 100th Royal Canadian Regiment.

With thanks and acknowledgements to Alex Panayotti who not only gave me the link to the article but rightly suggested that it might be a good idea to write an essay on it - Thank you Alex