The People of Gibraltar
1887 - Henry Martyn Field - A Mongrel Race

De Sauty, Sprague and Zebehr - Lord Hardinge, Lord Gifford and Bassadone

The Reverend Henry Martyn Field was an American Presbyterian clergyman and author. He wrote several travelogues which achieved unusual popularity at the time. His two volumes on his trip around the world entitled From the Lakes of Killarney to the Golden Horn and From Egypt to Japan - for example - have become classics and have passed through more than twenty editions.

Ironically, the Rev. Field is best known not because of his books but because of his marriage to Mlle. Henrietta Deluzy-Desportes, governess to Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, Duc de Praslin, who went on to murder of his wife Fanny and then committed suicide. It was an affair that lead to the overthrow of King Louis Philippe of France. More importantly from our point of view is that he visited the Rock and wrote a book - appropriately called Gibraltar - about his experiences there. Most of the illustrations shown below come from this book although there is no acknowledgement as to the artist.

The Rev. Henry Martyn Field

Henry Field arrived in Gibraltar on the very last day of 1886. According to his opening chapter, 'The sea was smooth, the sky was clear and the atmosphere was so warm and clear that it seemed as if winter had changed places with summer.' It was a nice introduction to the place.

Area close to the wharf where Field would have first set foot on the Rock

In fact his admiration for Gibraltar as a geographical and historical entity was boundless; some men, he observed, achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them - but so it was with places and in particular Gibraltar which has had 'greatness thrust upon it both by nature and by history.'

Once on land he found lodgings in the Royal Hotel and armed with a letter of introduction from the General Manager of the Eastern Telegraph Company he contacted a certain Mr. De Sauty who was the head of the Gibraltar branch. From there it was an easy business getting in touch with the local American consul - a Mr. Horatio J. Sprague ( see LINK ) - a man who had been forty years at his post and whose his father had also been consul in Gibraltar.

Although Sprague was probably the only resident American on the Rock at the time his services were very much in demand - five hundred ships had sailed for America the previous year - yet not one of them carried the American flag. It meant that he was often required to make some very awkward decisions.

Field made the usual grand tour of the Rock - Signal Station, the Line Wall, 'armed with guns of the highest calibre', the very latest being two of one hundred tons each, the 'absolutely bomb-proof' Casemates, the various Barracks and of course Waterport Street, which he considers to be the only proper street in town.

100 Ton Gun Barrel prior to installation in Victoria Battery. Work began in 1878 and the gun was operational in 1883 just four years before Field visited the Rock

The Moorish Castle is given a cursory mention. Visits are made to Windmill Hill, Europa Point, and the Governor's Cottage, at the time a place of confinement for Zebehr Pasha, an Arab sheik and once the most famous slave-hunter in all Africa. The Gibraltar Chronicle is dismissed as 'a little sheet that appears every morning.' and that other 'famous' Gibraltarian institution - the Garrison Library - is only mentioned in passing.

The Moorish Castle

The locals he numbers at twenty thousand 'Spaniards' and it is the mingling of the Spanish and the English - or rather the two 'side by side without mingling' that he finds interesting. It was, he wrote, a very miscellaneous and picturesque population.' Unlike many other contemporary visitors he distinguishes between the real residents and visitors from elsewhere. The former he describes as a 'singular mixture of characters and countries, of races and religions.' He also mentions the Moors and - whoever they might have been, the Turks with their baggy trousers.

His racist opinions - Field claimed that segregation was part of human instinct which could not be overcome through legislation - were also allowed an outing in his descriptions of the 'mongrel race' from the East 'known as Levantines' as well as another 'like unto them' - the Maltese.

He also makes a confusing reference to 'Rock Scorpions' whom he makes out to be 'a choice variety', some of them blacker than the Moors and seem to have 'hailed from Timbuktu'. Among this lot he includes the 'Jews with their gabardines', but in this he was surely mistaken - they were almost certainly Gibraltar residents.

Any American artist, he suggests, would have had a field day depicting them - and yet the only pictures of people he included among his illustrations was a huge portrait of General Eliott and a few tiny matchstick men here and there.

Catalan Bay - which he never mentions although the story of the scaling ( see LINK ) he deals with in his chapter on the history of Gibraltar

It is the military element, however that he finds most absorbing as he was of the opinion that it dominated civilian life. Everything was done by military rule, the hours of the day defined by 'gun-fire' and the streets alive with 'redcoats' - and artillery 'bluecoats'. He gives a very full account of the South Staffordshire Regiment drilling on the Alameda parade ground interspersed with various anecdotes of recent and not so recent battles and campaigns carried out by both the British and the Americans.

An entire chapter is dedicated to 'Society in Gibraltar'. However his definition of 'society' excluded that of the ordinary citizen and focused on the social life of the British. It was, he wrote, the presence of 'fair women and brave men' which gave Gibraltar its peculiar charm.

Inevitably the Governorship is given centre stage. It was he wrote, a distinction greatly coveted by military men and was always bestowed on 'some old soldier ' who had distinguished himself in the field. The man in charge at the time of Field's visit was Lord Hardinge - who in his better days had been involved in the Battle of Sebastopol - a moral boosting draw for the Russians, the Battle of Balaclava, infamous for the well known charge of the light brigade, and at Ferozeshah where he had his horse shot from under him.

General Sir Arthur E. Hardinge

Usefully, the American consul not only arranged for him to be invited to the Convent on more than one occasion but also managed to have him there as representative of the United States. It gave him 'the best possible opportunity to see the society of Gibraltar' - a brilliant array of generals, colonels and majors with a large swathe of young captains and lieutenants. As for the civilians, these were restricted to a few magistrates, lawyers and judges all of them British with probably not one of them permanent residents.

What he found most enjoyable however, were the English women, who were according to him 'the ornament of every British colony. Surprisingly it was a Spanish lady - possibly the wife of a visiting functionary - that the Governor asked him to take into the dining hall for supper.

Apart from a rambling account of a conversation with an old soldier - Major General Walker, and an even longer with Lord Gifford the Colonial Secretary of Gibraltar and possessor of the Victoria Cross - that was the end of his account of Gibraltar society in so far as diner parties were concerned.

Edric Gifford, 3rd Baron Gifford (Cartoon Vanity Fair)

Perhaps it was inevitable that the chapter should end with a mention of riding or hunting parties in Spain - of which the Governor and his staff were frequent members - but gives it slight importance. A short passage on the delights of evening promenades along the Alameda and - where the English 'talk of their dear native land' - and that is the end of that.

Perhaps understandably an entire chapter is given over to history; the taking of the Rock by Rooke - no mention of the Dutch - the siege of 1727, and then finally the marvels of the Great Siege, including a rather lengthy potted biography of General Eliott. The famous sortie, the reliefs, the floating batteries and all the assorted discomforts - mainly to the British - associated with the Siege make their appearance on his well researched chapter which is based mostly on Captain John Drinkwater's well known account. All told nearly a third of the book is given over to this topic.

Field reserves his criticisms to the very end. Polite to a fault and obviously enamoured of the English - he rarely uses the word British although Eliott is of course given Scottish nationality - he is nevertheless well aware that all is not exactly as it appears on the surface. Gibraltar is not part of England; it is part of Spain. The very circumstance that makes it such an attractive place is the source of some discomfort to him. England, he writes holds Gibraltar perhaps not in an enemy's country but certainly in a foreign one. It was something that was 'not pleasant to contemplate.'

A visitor would rarely feel this awkward relationship between Gibraltar and its neighbour while he was staying on Rock - but he would invariably do so when he left 'the town and went out into the country.'

The town of Gibraltar from Devil's Tongue

It was something which Field actually experienced for himself with a short-lived visit to La LĂ­nea just across the frontier. It was a place which he described as of twelve thousand inhabitants and with the 'three requisites of a Spanish town - a church, a market and a bull-ring.

A half mile walk along the sandy plain of the Neutral Ground and two lines of soldiers facing each other. There was no hostility; but neither was there any sign of friendship. Strolling through the Spanish town he thought he could perceive a sullen look on the faces of people who certainly did not regard Englishmen - or those who spoke in English like himself - with any sort of affection.

It was not an attractive place and he soon returned to Gibraltar with its imposing North Face and its Union Jacks flying proudly at the top. It was indeed a source of pride to the English but what, he asked himself would they feel if the saw the flag of a foreign country flying over theirs.

It was a pride that had to be paid for by a good many 'entanglements of one kind or the other'. Smuggling. for example, was a constant source of complaint by the Spanish authorities. No duty or very little was paid and Gibraltar had become the 'paradise of free-traders', with no 'such accursed thing as a custom house'. There was also the added inconvenience of the huge number people claiming refuge on the Rock. A worthy cause from an English point of view if it were not that so many of them were simply 'scoundrels evading Spanish law'.

Field quotes Burke on Gibraltar; 'a post of power, a post of superiority, of connection, of commerce - one which makes us invaluable to our friends and dreadful to our enemies' - but asks the inevitable question. Was it really worth the cost?

Field's undoubtedly even-handed insights do not extend to a wish that Britain transfer Gibraltar back to Spain. He would miss the charm of its 'society' and in any case, it would soon 'sink into the condition of an old, decayed Spanish town' - The Spaniards, he thought, were not good managers. He would miss the 'English' faces, manly yet so kindly and the dear old mother tongue.'

But nowhere, of course, a proper reference to the twenty thousand souls who made up the bulk of the people of Gibraltar, not a word about their society, their traditions, their mother tongue or their aspirations.

When he finally left Gibraltar, the Colonial Secretary Lord Gifford, issued a letter to the Captain of the Port asking that every attention should be shown to him. At the back of the order written in red ink and in very large letters were the words - 'Boarding Officer: Comply with His Excellency's wishes.'

It was signed by G.B. Bassadone, the one and only permanent non-British resident mentioned by name in the whole of the book.