The People of Gibraltar
1860 - Joseph Porral - Gibraltar Photographer - Introduction

I have been trying to write articles on the social history of Gibraltar for years and it was while I was searching for an appropriate 19th century photograph to illustrate one of these that I first came across the name of José Porral on a now long-lost website claiming that six very familiar views of the Rock were taken by him in the late 1880s.

José Porral (1880s)

Further research uncovered numerous Carte de visite and postcard examples published by him - the man existed, his work seemed just as good as those of other more well known local photography pioneers but direct references were more or less non-existent. It was only when I rather belatedly discovered that many of Porral’s photographs are signed with his very own distinctive logo that I decided to write this particular essay. 

José (Joseph) Porral’s logo

Let me start in 1834 - and with his grandmother Maria Porral - as good a place to start as any.

(1834 - Gibraltar Census)

Maria Porral was born in Spain, very likely in Algeciras, in 1767. According to the 1834 Gibraltar census, her son - Michael Porral - was born in 1800 almost certainly in Algeciras. Maria, it seems must have married a Gibraltarian as Michael is identified on the census as a British subject as his parents were British Subjects. As Maria was Spanish it must have been her husband who was British - but I don’t know who he was.

A view of Algeciras - One of the oldest known photographs of the town    (1860 - Charles Clifford)

C1838 Michael married a Gibraltarian, Ana Porral. Their eldest son, Michael Porral was also born in Spain in 1839 as was their youngest José Porral who was born in 1830/31. In a much later census - that of 1901 - José is identified as having been born in Algeciras making it very likely that the entire family - other than Ana, were all born there. José, of course was our photographer to be - Joseph Porral.

(1868 - Gibraltar Census)

By 1868 the family had been in Gibraltar for at least 30 years and the census suggests that during that period Joseph’s father had given him another couple of sons - Albert and Adolphus. The difference in age between these two - 20 and 22 respectively, and Joseph who was 37 at the time seems to imply that Michael had remarried. Whatever the case he was now a widower living on his own at No 8 Waterport Street.

Albert and Adolphus appear on this census as Michael’s sons. I am not at all certain where these two came from. Did he marry a second time after the death of his wife?

His son Joseph had meanwhile married a local girl, Claudina Terry.  Their daughter Anne was born in 1866 which suggests that the marriage may have been quite a recent one. The three of them lived in No 1 Engineers Lane, an address which also had an entrance in Waterport Street close to a junction with Parliament and Turnbull’s lane and not a million miles from their father’s place at No 8.

Junction between Engineers Lane, Turnbull’s Lane and Waterport Street - by now called Main Street - No 1 Engineers Lane must have been the first house opposite the Tobacconist shop     (c1900)

Whether Joseph had already begun his photography business before 1868 I don’t know, but the 1871 census confirms that by that date it was up and running.

(1871 - Gibraltar Census)

In 1871 Joseph’s father Michael was 70 years old and had moved to No. 20 Waterport Street together with Albert and Adolphus. Albert - described as a clerk actually did all right for himself later in life. For a start he married one of Jerome Saccone’s daughters - in other words into serious money. 

Jerome was a seriously rich wine merchant who eventually merged his company with that of James Speed creating the hugely successful local company - Saccone and Speed. As well as being a wine merchant Saccone was also a banker. This little side-line allowed him to borrow long term loans at very competitive rates. After his death in 1877, this side of the business was run by two of his son-in laws - one of which was Albert who had married his eldest daughter Mary. These two in-laws developed a relationship with the Anglo Egyptian Bank which would one day become Barclays Bank (Dominion Colonial and Overseas)

Given Albert’s banking connections, the fact that Michael has now become a landowner and that his son Joseph was now earning his keep as a photographer it would safe to guess that the Porrals were certainly going up in the world.  Meanwhile Claudia had given birth to more children - a son John Porral in 1869) and a daughter Mary Porral in 1871). Both children were born in Gibraltar. The fact that their first daughter Ann is no longer mentioned on the census makes me suppose that she may have died young.

Confirming that Joseph’s photography business must have been doing well, in 1873 he found  time to take part in what must have been a reasonably expensive and time consuming hobby - rowing. On the 3rd of March 1873 the members of the local “Boat Club” - held a meeting in order to reorganise and promote the club. 

Three years later the 20 strong membership list included well-off businessmen such as James Speed as well as the American consul Horatio Jones Sprague held another meeting where it was decided that the club should have its own distinctive uniform - a blue jersey, with "Montis Insignia Calpe" on the left breast and the use of a straw hat. It would be renamed The Calpe Rowing Club and Joseph Porral was voted its first Vice-President. 

Building the new Calpe Rowing Club boat house - Joseph Porral is probably there somewhere

George Letts - my grandfather - wearing the Calpe Rowing Club Straw hat      (Late 19th century)

1878 - Gibraltar Census

In 1878 Joseph Porral now 47 years old was still plying he trade as a photographer while still finding time to add to his family. His wife Claudina had given birth to Catherine in 1871. The family home was still at No 1 Engineers Lane. His father Michael who would have been 78 years old on the 1878 census does not appear on it. He had presumably died at some date during the previous 7 years.

During the late 19th century the Spanish Arabist Antonio Almagro Cárdenas was ordered by Royal decree to study the Arabic dialects of the people of northern Morocco. While he was in Tangier during the months of September and October 1881 he also produced a hand-written book Recuerdos de Tánger within which he included numerous photos of the town taken by various photographers at least one of which was taken by José Porral. I am not quite sure when Joseph decided to visit Morocco or his reason for doing so. Whenever it was it must have been before 1881.

The Zoco Chico and Calle Siagins, Tangier  (Pre 1881 -John Porral)

The real lack of available examples of his work in Morocco suggests that this was a one off and that he never returned.

The 1891 Gibraltar census shows numerous Porrals but no sign of  Joseph, Claudina, or any of their children. My guess is that they have returned to Algeciras. Joseph was certainly there for a while as there are numerous examples of photos taken by him of his home town.

Perhaps the competition as regards “Carte de visite” and was becoming intolerably tight - quite a few others such as Freyone, Cavilla, Nuñez and Dautez - and nthere were more  - were all well established photographers during the 23 year period from 1878 and 1891  

“Carte de Visite” taken by several Gibraltar based photographers - from left to right - Cavilla y Bruzon, A.Freyone, A Bruzon, Dautez, Porral

It was probably more of the same as regards postcards and larger panoramic photos - including those of the well established publishers such as James H. Mann who had been around since 1866. Mass publishers such as Beanland Malin and Cumbo were just about to start. In fact if the number of extant vintage cards is anything to go by, postcard publishing was not Porral’s strong point. Joseph may have decided that he might have a better chance of success if he moved his family and his business to the town he was born in. Algeciras.

Gibraltar Postcards - from top - V.B. Cumbo, Beanland Malin, Porral

(1901 - Gibraltar Census)

In 1901, Joseph, Claudine and their son John were back in Gibraltar although I dont know the date that they returned. Joseph had never relinquished ownership of his 1 Engineers Lane property as Claudine and John appear as residents there in the 1901 census. Joseph’s address, however, is given as No 6 Engineers Lane.

Joseph, who was now well past retirement age, had presumably not yet given up on his photography despite now describing himself as a “freeholder and an artist”. In 1903 he went out of his way to copyright one of his photographs - “view of part of Casemates barracks married quarters and Moorish Castle”

(National Archives, Kew)

The subject matter corresponds but I cannot really tell whether this was in fact the photo that Joseph decided to copyright   (1902 - Published by Gale and Polden)

Economically the family seem to have been well as Joseph was able to afford the cost of sending his eldest son, John to study at St Edmund’s College in Ware - England’s oldest Catholic school. John subsequently studied at London University and was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in 1892.

The Chapel, St Edmund’s College

Gibraltar at the turn of the century being the kind of place where everybody seemed to have had some sort of contact with everybody else, John Porral, for example, appears fleetingly in the annals of my own family history. Jerome Saccone quite apart from all his other money making activities was the owner of Shomberg house in the southern part of Gibraltar. 

When he died, the executers of his will sold the house to the Crown who in turn allowed the original lessees to continue living there. To cut a long story short, my mother’s cousin Mercedes married into the lessees family and I spent many a happy day visiting them at Shomberg Cottage. The “fleeting” connection is that John Porral was one of the executers of the Will. 

(1911 - Gibraltar census)

Ten years later tragedy struck when both Joseph and Claudina passed away and John managed to lose his right arm after he had been bitten by a horse. It was not all bad news though. John was now married to Elisa, ten years younger than him. She had borne him a son who they named Joseph after his photographer father.

In 1913 Albert Porral - together with William Sallust-Smith - was elected during a meeting in the local Exchange and Commercial Library to form part of a two man delegation to London to complain about the Governor Sir Archibald Hunter whose various diktats were interfering with trade. They succeeded in persuading their British Colonial masters to have Hunter removed. 

Albert Porral on the left with William Sallust-Smith being sent off by a large approving crowd on their way to London   (1913)

In 1926, John Porral now 52 years old was still plying his trade as a Barrister. He was at the time one of only seven practicing lawyers in Gibraltar. All of which makes me wonder whether Albert at any rate ever ended up owning a complete collection of copies of his step-brother’s elusive photographs.

With acknowledgements to Rafael Fernandez who supplied me with many of the photos and pointed me in the right direction. Thank you Rafael.

1860 - Joseph Porral - Gibraltar Photographer - Carte de Visite
1860 - Joseph Porral - Gibraltar Photographer - Postcards
1860 - Joseph Porral - Gibraltar Photographer - Photos
1860 - Joseph Porral - Gibraltar Photographer - Tangier
1860 - Joseph Porral - Gibraltar Photographer - Algeciras