The People of Gibraltar
1866 – The Pompous Attorney General - Part 1

Frederick and the Alien Question
Not long after his arrival in Gibraltar in 1866, and encouraged by the new governor, Richard Airey, Frederick Solly-Flood produced a report on “The Alien Question” in which he went to town on the Gibraltar’s perennial inability to deal with we might today label as “illegal immigrants. 

Richard Airey – Governor from 1865 to 1870

Gibraltar had become, Frederick claimed:
 . . . a rendezvous for traitors . . . and a . . . hot bed for pestilence.
Pestilence? What had pestilence got to do with it? 

For those who might have missed it, in 1704 Gibraltar was captured by Anglo-Dutch forces and almost the entire Spanish civilian population moved out leaving the place with a huge foreign garrison and very few people to service it. 

The Treaty of Utrecht in 1714 made Gibraltar a British fortress. But it also made matters even worse in that it became harder for people from the hinterland – Spain - to come in and give a hand. The treaty also specifically insisted that Jews should be denied residence on the Rock although in this case despite sporadic attempts by the British to comply, most of the Jewish community stayed on. Basically, those responsible for the fortress at the time realised that whatever the contrary orders from London, they couldn’t really do without them.

Nevertheless, since then and for many years afterwards the British continued to be under the illusion that the Rock would eventually become populated by well-heeled, Protestant families – a mini-England in the Med. However, with a few exceptions among the richer merchant classes who over the years settled on the Rock - it simply didn’t happen.

By the time the last of the many Sieges of Gibraltar had come and gone, in the late 18th century Gibraltar was gradually filling up with up with people from Genoa, Portugal, Spain and other such places – hence the continuing fear that the Rock was becoming an unwanted papist paradise.

(1791 – Alphabetical list of inhabitants of Gibraltar)

The word “British” in the 1791 census shown above refers to people who had arrived from the UK and stayed put. If so, then from 1767 to 1791 their numbers were decreasing while those of the “R.Catholicks” had increased by 26%.

By the 1840s the population had quadrupled and the difference between the number of “Natives” - Christians and Jewish – had increased enormously to nearly 10 500, while that of the “British born subjects” were still at a paltry 800 odd. 

A lengthy official document with the off-putting title of Sanitary Order in Council, 1865 was published the following year. It included the following tables shown as an appendix. It was compiled by Frederick. 

Which brings me neatly back to Frederick’s 1866 “pestilence” reference. The Sanitary Order was a reaction to a series of cholera epidemics that had visited the Rock in the early 19th century as well a response to that which began in 1863 which would eventually take 568 lives. What the newly employed Police Magistrate was insinuating was that the Rock’s “alien floating population” was partially responsible for these epidemics.

As early as April 1866 Solly-Flood strongly advocating the reintroduction of draconian rules that would control who was entitled to residence - and for how long. One of his pet concerns was that Spanish prostitutes plying their trade in the red-light district around Serruya’s Lane – appropriately nicknamed by the locals as Calle Peligro - were marrying Garrison soldiers and claiming rights of residence as British subjects long after their husbands had been posted elsewhere. 

And it wasn’t just Flood who was upset by this – the problem was still being discussed in 1872 during William Williams term of office as Governor.

General Sir William Fenwick Williams – Governor from (1870 – 1876)

Serruya’s Lane, incidentally appeared on a census for the first time in the 1868. It continued to do so until 1922 when the Governor, Horace Smith-Dorrien – a man obsessed with sexual hygiene in the military ranks - decided to close the “red light” business and changed the name of the lane to New Passage in an effort to remove the lane’s association with prostitution. The ladies, who were left without a job, set up shop in another lane in the next-door Spanish town of La Línea appropriately named la Calle Gibraltar.

General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien – Governor from (1870 – 1876)

Despite the postcard’s caption that is Serruya’s Lane with the silhouette of a policeman looking on at the end of it – Serruya’s Ramp is to the right of the photograph and lies at right angle to the lane

The truth is that the phrase “The Alien Question” - appears so often on footnotes or in the main text of most social histories of Gibraltar of that I get the impression that just about 50% of all documents in the Gibraltar Government Archives are those that make some reference to it. 

Frederick and the Bishop
In September 1866, the administration invited the public via an advert in the Gibraltar Chronicle to suggest ways in which the method of issuing permits for residence might be improved. One of the first to respond was Dr John Baptist Scandella the local Vicar Apostolic of the Catholic Church.

Bishop Scandella

In 1865, long before Flood’s arrival, Scandella had managed to obtain the necessary permits to allow a number of Spanish boys to join St Bernard’s College, a Catholic school that also catered for local children. The problem was that Flood’s understanding of the permit system - as it was at the time – was that it specifically denied education as a valid reason for the issue of resident permits – an interpretation that set him on a collision course with the Bishop almost from the day of his arrival.

It was an argument, however, was never really resolved. The good bishop for all his faults – and there were quite a few – actually did more than most to promote education for local children in Gibraltar. During the late 1850s he had opened a new boys’ school in an unused barracks building in New Mole Parade.

New Mole Parade – The school building possibly no longer existed when this photo was taken (Late-19th Century)

Scandella closed it in 1865 and moved the school - now called St Bernard’s College - to a new building he had acquired in Europa Main Road. It didn’t last too long and in 1872 the school returned to its original site. By 1878 it was permanently closed. Flood of course had long since left Gibraltar.  

Interestingly, the police magistrate that succeeded Flood thought that Scandella was using loopholes in the permit system as part of a strategy to increase the influence of the Catholic community at the expense of the Protestants. 

By December, the whole permit conundrum coalesced into the creation of an official “Commission on Aliens”. Not surprisingly, the members were all very well-kent faces among the merchant classes of the Rock. Benjamin Carver and Francis Pasqual Francia - who would both soon become presidents of the Chamber of Commerce - Thomas Mosley a rich banker and William Henry Smith who together with Francis Imossi would become Lloyd's shipping agent in Gibraltar. This little lot sat for a while around tables with Colonel Maberley RA acting as chairman. Their conclusion was not exactly music to Flood’s ears – restricting entry into the fortress was detrimental to local commerce specially to labour employers like themselves.

Frederick and the Maltese Immigrants
In the 1871 census Flood included Maltese immigrants under the cover-all title of "Strangers" whereas in fact they were all technically British. Flood, had come to his own arbitrary conclusion that they were not quite “British” enough. They lacked what he thought of as “English” characteristics.

Maltese Fruit seller – No British fruit-seller would ever have looked like this – if one is to believe the Police Magistrate.

In this he was strangely backed by his old foe Bishop Scandella who throughout the 1870 condemned them as:
. . . worthless . . . scum . . .  habituated to vice . . . the dregs of society . . . and a public disgrace . . .
According to the Bishop, the reason that they had immigrated to Gibraltar was that they had been thrown out of Malta because they were incapable of earning a decent living there. These ideas were backed by the allegation that they were more likely to take to crime than anybody else - despite the fact that two different police magistrates – none of whom was Flood - had produced statistics on local crime rejected the accusation.

By the end of 1872 William Williams was sending forest-destroying quantities of documents to his superiors in London about the difficulties of putting into practice a permit system which according to him was incomprehensible to some and ignored by most. Among the many folders was an 84-page analysis of the problem written by Food in his capacity as attorney general.

Frederick and the Aliens Order in Council
A year later in 1873 the Governor introduced his “Aliens Order in Council” which was published in the Gibraltar Chronicle. Not surprisingly it was met with much dismay and further protests by the local merchants - and of course by Bishop Scandella. The authorities rejected their arguments – particularly Flood who insisted that the regulations had to be thoroughly enforced. Otherwise he claimed, English ideas and feelings would be “stamped out” in Gibraltar. 

In 1875 William Williams decided that it would be prudent to set up a committee to review the Alien’s Order in Council.  It consisted of Solly-Flood – with his Police Magistrate cap on – and two others. Among many specious arguments arrived at by the committee one of them was that most of the objections to the Order in Council came from people who were of “alien character and descent”. Given Flood’s previous thoughts on the matter, this one sounds suspiciously like the kind of thing he would have come up with. As Stephen Constantine suggests in his Community and Identity:
 . . . this observation said more about the observer than the observed.
Nevertheless, the topic rumbled on and a letter dated as late as January 1876 from Bishop Scandella to Lord Carnarvon outlining his objections was discussed in Parliament – apparently more than once – and referred back to the new Governor Lord Napier of Magdala who did nothing about it.

It was a saga that would rumble on for decade long after Frederick Solly-Flood had left the Rock.

Lord Napier – Governor from 1876 to 1883