The People of Gibraltar
1771 - Thomas James - Herculean Straits - The Engravers

Perhaps I should have been facetious and changed the title of this essay to “The strange case of three men called Thomas” in which one of them, Lieutenant-colonel Thomas James wrote a book, another - Thomas Davis - gave him a hand with his illustrations, and the third - Thomas Kitchin - did the necessary engravings. But I won’t. I will take it as seriously as possible.

Thomas James
The book in question refers to the massive two-volumed History of the Herculean Straits about which I have already written several articles. All of them can be accessed via the links at the end of this one which has little to do with the history of Gibraltar but instead deals with a curious anomaly as regards the date of its publication and its illustrations. Let me start with the Lieutenant-Colonel - although the truth is that there is surprisingly little information on him available to the casual researcher.  

He was apparently a member of the Royal Artillery - a relatively new branch of the British army with strong Gibraltar connections. He was stationed in Gibraltar from 1749 to 1755 which suggests that what he wrote about the Rock must have been based on his experiences over these six years. The opening sentence of his dedication to Colonel Richard Maitland - another Royal Artillery man - reads as follows:
Dear colonel, when I had finished the following sheets, which I do myself the unspeakable happiness to lay before you, I was not at a moment’s loss for an honourable patron to whom to dedicate my labours . . . .   
James was in New York when wrote the dedication which is dated 1768 and from which I presume that it had probably taken him until 1768 to finish his opus - the mention of Earl of Home, General John Parslow and Richard Cornwallis - all of whom were Governors of Gibraltar well after he had left the place - suggests he was still adding the odd detail to his opus well after he had left the Rock in 1755.

Thomas Davies
The biography of the fellow responsible for most of the illustrations that James used in his book is curiously much easier to access. Thomas Davis was born in London c1737. In 1755 he became a cadet at the Royal Military Academy, where he studied topographical drawing - a style which he held on to during his lifetime and which was not just militarily useful but had become fashionable as art in the 18th century.

Fashionable art - "A view of Gibraltar with the situation of the Spanish Flotantes in the morning of September 1782 from the North Pavilion"        (Thomas Davis )

As far as I can make out his first contact with the fortress was when he was sent there in 1783 and seems to have ended up as Commander of the Royal Artillery. The Great Siege of Gibraltar had virtually come to an end by the beginning of 1783 so my guess is that Davis could hardly have experienced too much of the action. 

He certainly should have missed the “Floating Batteries” fiasco which - as Davis himself goes out of his way to mention in his picture of the event - took place in 1782. It suggests that while the general scenery was probably topographically accurate, the actual battle was either explained to him by somebody else - or he used his imagination. Instead he was forced to confront a town that had been almost entirely destroyed after three years of enemy bombardment.

Main Street post Great Siege - top looking south, bottom looking north   (1793 - Thomas Davis)

Thomas Kitchin
Kitchin was born in 1718 in England and became well known as both as an engraver and as a cartographer as well as for his book on the history of the West Indies. His output in so far as map making is concerned - was considerable and he is credited by some as having produced no less than 170 odd maps for the London Magazine.

He was also frequently accused of stealing the works of his fellow cartographers . . . . . which might account for his unusually high output. Nevertheless none of this stopped him from becoming head hydrographer for the King of England

The Illustrations
Herein lies the problem.
Two of the engraving - views of Gibraltar from the north and the South - were delineated by Davies in 1765 and engraved by Kitchin. That year Davies was in America probably in Long Island. I have no idea where James was at the time but wherever he was the two must have met at some time to discuss what was required. The question is - did Davis visit Gibraltar to see the views for himself or did James come up with rough sketches which Davies then developed further.

The two 1765 engravings

The truth is that neither of the sketches is actually all that accurate which leads me to suspect that the second theory is the best one. There is no record as far as I can see of Davies being in Gibraltar before 1782.

However, there are two other engraving - a very detailed plan of Gibraltar and a convincing view of the entire Rock from the west - “executed” and delineated respectively by Davies, both also engraved by Kitchin - the difference being that these two are dated 1768.

That year James was in New York while Davies was exhibiting his Canadian paintings in England. Both engravings, however, appear to me to be too accurate to have been produced other than by somebody surveying the place or viewing the actual scene. The best theory I can come up with is that Davies - a la Kitchin - filched somebody else’s work and was guided as to what to leave and what to add. The trouble is  . . . who did he copy these two pictures from?

The above compares an engraving of a picture attributed to John Mace (top) with that of Thomas Davis. They are very similar. Unfortunately Mace is yet another elusive figure whose work is hard to date. In other words  he could easily have copied Davies rather than the other way round. 

As for the map, I can’t find any created during the mid 18th century any where nears its quality. Its quality - but I don’t know how he managed it. As regards Kitchin’s aqueduct, walls and fountain engravings it would be hard to believe that these were not done from sketches produced in situ. Whether he got these from a copy produced by an inspired James or whether he visited Gibraltar himself I have no idea.

All of which is pure speculation and thoroughly unsatisfactory - but perhaps it might explain why a history that a history of Gibraltar that essentially takes us up to 1755 took 16 years to get published.

See also:

1771 - Thomas James - Herculean Straits - Gibraltar
1771 - Thomas James - Herculean Straits - The Engravings
1771 - Thomas James - Herculean Straits - A Map of Gibraltar
1771 - Thomas James - Herculean Straits - The Inquisition
1771 - Thomas James - Herculean Straits - Two Inscriptions