The People of Gibraltar
1858 - The Ansaldo Family - A Virtual Monopoly

Lazaro, Ana Maria and John Baptist - Peter, Lorenzo and Joseph

There is evidence that Genoese traders had established themselves in Gibraltar even as far back as the early 15th century. The medieval Cronicas de Juan II de Castilla mentions the establishment of a trading establishment in the south of Gibraltar close to the Shrine of our lady of Europa and refers to it as the Castil de Genoveses. In 1465 the Spanish historian Pedro Tafur also mentions a Casal di Ginovese but suggests that it was 'at the very summit of the mountain'.

At the beginning of the 17th century Gibraltar must still have had substantial dealings with the Genoese as the records show that they still thought it worthwhile to maintain a consul in town. A map by Cristobal Rojas dated 1608 shows a structure close to or on Windmill Hill which he labels Torre Ginobeses.

Nevertheless by the time the Gibraltarian historian, Alonzo Hernández del Portillo came on the scene in the early 1600s with his Historia de la Muy Noble y Más Leal Ciudad de Gibraltar, all references to these Genoese towers had disappeared and had been replaced by unidentified ruins.

Planta de la Bahia de Gibraltar showing the Torre Ginobeses ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas )

The first record of somebody with the Ansaldo surname living on the Rock is that of John Baptist who was born around the 1680s in San Lazaro in Genoa. His parents, Lazaro and Ana Maria and were both also Genoese.

The takeover of Gibraltar by Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704 had led to a virtually total exodus of the local population and the Ansaldo surname does not appear on the original list of inhabitants that decided to stay on. This may have been because the family were considered by the authorities as Genoese rather than as part of the original population. But there is little doubt that a number of people of Genoese origin were living in Gibraltar at that time and that many of them chose to remain there after it had ceased being part of Spain.

In 1708 John Baptist married Maria Margarita Sturla, the daughter of another Genoese local merchant who was also the consul for his country in Gibraltar at the time. ( see LINK ) Ansaldo must have been doing well economically because two years after his marriage he was able to afford a house in Main Street which despite the fact that it was situated opposite a Barracks called Bedlam, was still considered an excellent property.

From then on he never looked back. Over the years he added to his real estate so that by 1716 he was a major player in property ownership in Gibraltar. As an indicator of his relationship with the British authorities one particular property was purchased from Colonel Godbey ( see LINK ) who was the Commanding Officer of the Garrison at the time. He paid 20 pistoles for it and spent 180 dollars in repairs and improvements. As has been mentioned elsewhere in another chapter, Godbey had no business selling it to Ansaldo as the property was not really his to sell.

John Baptist died in 1733 but his family continued to prosper. One reason may have been that they had become business associates of Abraham Benedir, a Jewish merchant who had managed to ingratiate himself with Governor Hargrave to such an extent that by 1740 he found himself in the lucrative position of being the sole importer of livestock into Gibraltar. In fact one of Ansaldo's many properties was conveniently placed 'in the corner of the lane close to the Garrison Victualling Office'.

Bullocks being shipped from to Gibraltar from Tangier for the Commissariat Department of the Garrison. This rather cruel method was a throwback from the days of Abraham Benedir when all cattle was transported live into Gibraltar and then slaughtered there - yet another lucrative activity carried out by Benedir. ( 1912 - George Rose )

In 1749 Joseph Ansaldo - who may have been John Baptist's son or grandson - continued the family tradition of accumulating property. He paid out no less than 3260 dollars - a fortune in those days - to General Humphrey Bland for the purchase of various houses. When he died in 1795 he left everything to his sister except for a house in 'Scud Hill' which he bequeathed to his nephew. The next year another three properties were sold to another member of the family, Lorenzo Ansaldo.

Scud Hill perhaps in the late 19th Century

Several years later the family's continued good fortune was reflected in the naming of one of the streets in the old town with the family surname. Ansaldo's Passage is still there.

Another member of the family, Peter Ansaldo, was very active during the middle of the 18th century. He was recorded as being resident of both London and Gibraltar which suggests that contacts with his British partners or suppliers must have occupied quite a bit of his time. When he died in 1776 he was buried in the Vault of Europa underneath the Lady Chapel in the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned. It was a sign of his high standing among his peers in Gibraltar as it was the kind of thing that was only available to the very privileged - or to put it more bluntly, the very wealthy. Today the vault is known as the Crypt of the Bishops. The added fact that his funeral was recorded as a 'major ceremony' removes any doubt that Peter Ansaldo was indeed a very rich man.

By the next century the Ansaldos were well established in Gibraltar as merchants of considerable influence. In 1851 a certain J. Ansaldo - either Joseph or perhaps John Baptist - was deemed worthy of a mention in the Gibraltar Directory. He was attacked by robbers in the Almoraima Cork woods near San Roque. Revealingly he was in the company of Messrs Francis Francia, Pablo Larios ( See LINK ) and Richard Sprague, all local worthies of some note and all of whom were also assaulted. Francia and Larios were important property owners both in Gibraltar and Spain. Sprague was the U.S Consul in Gibraltar.

In 1868 Isaac Cardozo and his wife Judith Abudarham leased their house in Grand Parade to John Baptist Ansaldo for seven years. John Baptist was a direct descendent of the original Gibraltar Ansaldos.

The building - which had been previously let to a Mrs Crosbie - was called The Club House Hotel. It had long been considered the best hotel in town but had fallen into disrepair. Thackery, who stayed in it described it as 'mouldy and decrepit.' Ansaldo upgraded the place and returned it to some of its former glory. As Ansaldo was already the owner of the ‘King’s Arms’ hotel - formerly the ‘Griffith’s Hotel’ - which stood, at the junction of Grand Parade with Main Street - it meant that the family now held a virtual monopoly of all the higher class lodgings on the Rock.

Ansaldo advertised the place by making a point of publishing the arrivals of anybody of any note who happened to be staying in the Hotel. A 'table d'hote' which included ice-cream - a delicacy in the days when ice had to be imported - also made its appearance for the first time. Commercial travellers also offered all sorts of expensive imports and well known Pall Mall tailors would stay at the hotel adding to its generally upmarket credentials. In 1868, the Gibraltar Jockey Club was founded on the premises. The first Clerk of the Course was Marcus Hill Bland.

Day at the races in Gibraltar - North Front ( Unknown )

In 1872 six inches of rain fell in a short period of time and large parts of the town were flooded. According to the Gibraltar Directory, troops in Orange Bastion were up to their knees in water. The water also rushed into the cellars of the Club House Hotel causing enormous damage to its wine and spirit stocks. Ansaldo sued the Sanitary Commission for negligence. He thought they were responsible for the poor drainage system on the Rock at the time. Although the case eventually came up before the then Chief Justice, Sir James Cochrane, it was withdrawn by Ansaldo and each side ended up paying their costs.

Two years later perhaps demoralised by the losses incurred by the storm Ansaldo seems to have had enough of Gibraltar. He gave up his lease on the Club House and sold off the Hotel’s furniture, glass, plate and linen. He also got rid of his race horses by public auction and gave up his house at 'Rock Cottage' in South Barracks.

South Barracks area ( 1880's - George Washington Wilson )

He then left the Rock for good and retired to Tangier where he set up a new hotel - the Continental. It was advertised in a Gibraltar Guide published in 1888 - which is rather odd as John Ansaldo is known to have died a year earlier in 1887.

 Many other members of the family stayed on in Gibraltar and by the end of the Victorian era the Ansaldos had also become tobacco merchants producing and selling the stuff under their own labels. Yet another Peter Ansaldo, perhaps a descendent of the fellow who had been buried with such ceremony, is recorded in 1878 as a 'landowner' with 'several pieces of ground and premises on the west side of Governor's Street.

The 1878 census shows no less than thirty one Ansaldos still living on the Rock.