The People of Gibraltar
1801 - John Woolford – Watercolours of Gibraltar

John Elliott Woolford was born in England in 1788. As a young man he studied drawing, probably as an apprentice at the Board of Ordnance in the Tower of London – which apparently gained him a commission – probably as a Major in either the Royal Artillery or the Royal Engineers.

He joined the real army and served as a draughtsman under George Ramsey, 9th earl of Dalhousie took part in an expedition in Egypt during the Napoleonic War. He can’t have lasted too long as a soldier as he is said to have retired from the army on half-pay in 1807 to work in Edinburgh as a landscape painter.

The 9th earl of Dalhousie

Ramsey, however, seems to have appreciated his artistic skills and asked him to return as his draughtsman when he was sent to Canada. Woolford accepted and continued to work for his boss when he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia in 1821. Two years later he was awarded a post as barrack-master in St John, New Brunswick and was soon promoted to a similar sinecure in Fredericton, a post which he held for 36 years. He died in Fredericton in 1866.

I have no idea when he painted his “Gibraltar” pictures and can only speculate that he may have done so – or that he had at any rate taken preliminary notes - while passing through on his way to Egypt.  The dates attributed to his watercolours – c1801-1803 – by their Canadian owners, are probably based on this premise.

 “Gibraltar Standing into Bay from the West”  (c1801/1803)

Perhaps a quote from a good friend from Gibraltar who served in the Royal Navy might be appropriate as regards the above watercolour.
Love this... it portrays a good westerly stormy day in the Strait very well... (Ernest Falquero)

Given the title of  “The Spanish Lines” by the artist (c1801-1803)

The Spanish Lines” is an odd painting, particularly if it is supposed to represent a realistic view. The Lines are depicted mostly as a row of pill-boxes and houses whereas in fact prior to 1810 the “Lines” consisted of an imposing wall of fortifications stretching across from the Bay to the Mediterranean with two major forts, Santa Barbara and San Felipe at each end. It was known as “La Línea de la Contravalación” and was dismantled by the British in 1810 during the Peninsular War.

However, if the painting is supposed to represent a view after 1810, then the tower shown on the left and known as “la Torre del Molino” would have long ceased to exist. It was destroyed during the Great Siege in 1781 during an event know as The Sortie”


Superficially this portrait of the Rock seems quite accurate – some of the details are worthy of note such as the red sands to the right of the town and the signalling station at the top of Middle Hill with its odd signalling cross possibly making use of the original building, a chapel from the Spanish era known as La Virgen de Guadalupe. A recently created O’Hara’s Folly which was finished in 1791 is also visible. The Line Wall is as impressive as it probably was in the early 19th century and the two main defensive walls, Charles V and the so-called "Moorish" ones are more of less acceptable as well as is Flat Bastion.

On the other hand, the view of the Moorish Castle is impressionistically painted and Gallery embrasures are included but in the wrong places. The South Mole is missing and the Old one difficult to make out. Also I doubt whether there were ever four similarly shaped towers in the south on of Wind Mill Hill or Europa flats and the tall slim tower on the north side is a figment of the artists imagination.

But perhaps the most curious anomaly is the completely empty Bay with not a ship in sight. These seem to have been relegated to the Mediterranean side of the Rock and appear as a faintly added mass of masts on the eastern side of the isthmus on the bottom left of the painting - a rare sight indeed not to say a very improbable one.