1809 – Sir John Carr - Vulgar Adventurers
Sir John Carr was a travel writer born in London in the late 18th century who spent much of his working life travelling throughout Europe. Carr visited Spain during the Peninsular War and his experiences during his stay gave him plenty of material for his best known work - Descriptive Travels in the Southern and Eastern Parts of Spain and the Balearic Isles in the Year 1809. It was published in London in 1811.
The book is written in a light and easy to read style which made it popular in its day. This in turn has led Spanish critics to suggest that despite 'la cantidad de chismes y anécdotas . . . su formación jurídica no parece la más adecuada para ver, conocer, captar y apreciar la variedad de usos y costumbres que se le ofrecían antes sus ojos.' The critic was referring to those chapters referring to Spain. Perhaps the reader will best judge for himself if the same can be said about his comments on Gibraltar.
The Bay of Gibraltar (1829 Edmund Patten)
Arrival - Before us the bay of Gibraltar expanded itself, formed on the one side by the mighty rock, from which it derives its name, ascending to the height of fourteen hundred feet, presenting at the nearest extremity a rich, rural, and most romantic appearance, and at the farthest, tremendous batteries raised amidst rocks and barrenness whilst numerous ships of various nations, floated securely in its shadow.
Carr arrived in Gibraltar in the middle of the Peninsular War. Gibraltar had a whole raft of acting Governors during 1809 - the unfortunate Duke of Kent was the real thing but was back in England in relative disgrace - but the man in charge while he was in town was probably Lieutenant General Colin Campbell. It was an unusual time to be in Gibraltar as for once the British and the Spaniards were not at war with each other - they were allied against the French.
The Rock - Charmed with this magnificent scene, we felt no impatience at the difficulty which we experienced in getting well into the bay, on account of the wind having changed and a strong levanter blowing, one of the effects of which is to cover the elevated summits of the rock to the northward with thick foggy clouds.
Great caution is used in granting practique, particularly since the last dreadful fever, which consigned so many of our countrymen in this place, to their untimely graves. However, as we had come only from a neighbouring port, we were soon pronounced to be plaque free and permitted to step on the ancient Mons Calpe, and one of the Pillars of Hercules, the grand and classical impressions of which somewhat suffered upon entering the town, which at first, in some of its objects, not a little resembled Portsmouth Point.
Portsmouth Point - could Gibraltar have looked like this?
There were five outbreaks of yellow fever in Gibraltar of varying severity from 1804 to 1828. The one in 1804 - 5 years before Carr's arrival - was part of a more widespread epidemic which had also affected the Campo area and had killed well over a thousand people on the Rock itself. Hence the need for 'granting practique' and his reference to the 'last dreadful fever'.
The Town - I stayed here on account of my companion, much longer than I wished without being able, owing to the uncertainty of his engagements, to visit the opposite coast of Africa, the passage to which is so short, that boats are continually going over, to supply the Garrison with bullocks.
As this celebrated Rock has been so often and so minutely described my remarks upon it will be few. Considering the heat of the summer and the reverberation of that heat from the rock, the town and most of the barracks appear to me to be badly constructed. Many of the streets are very narrow, and nearly all built after the English, instead of the Moorish, fashion; they are not sufficiently ventilated and of course are more likely to assist, than prevent contagion.
On account of the number of adventurers who, attracted by the prodigious trade in English manufactures which was till lately carried on here, reside in Gibraltar, and the small space allowed by the government for the erection of buildings, house-rent is almost incredibly high.
Three or four hundred pounds per annum for a small store and two or three miserable rooms, is a common rent; and my worthy friend Mr. John Sweetland, the Captain of the Port, informed me that, were he so disposed, he could let his residence, a small Moorish house, having a square court and stores and apartments on the basement and first floor on each side for nine hundred pounds per annum.
Sir John was not the first and would not be the last to criticize the appalling state of Gibraltar's housing and unrealistically high rental prices. Nevertheless it didn't seem to make much difference to the man in the street as the population continued to rise in subsequent years - even given the havoc caused by the yellow fever epidemics in the next few years.
Gibraltar from Campamento ( 1810 - Noel, Daudet, Baugean (detail)
The People - I had not been long in Gibraltar, before I beheld a picture of the sad mutability to which nations are liable. The Moors, to whom Spain was once subject, and under whose brilliant dominion it attained a high degree of renown for those arts and sciences, and systems of political economy, which enrich and embellish nations, who on their landing, gave to this very rock the name Ghib-laltah, or Mountain of the Entrance, which with little alteration, it now bears, are now, of all their mighty conquest, permitted, by a condescending act of sufferance, to shew themselves only on this narrow spot of ground.
The descendents of the mighty conquerors of Spain may be seen on the streets of this tiny peninsular extremity, plying for hire as porters, and frequently cursed, struck, spit upon, and treated with every indignity by their employers!
An unusual and eccentric definition of where the name Gibraltar comes from. A more modern version is that it comes from the Arabic Jabel Tariq - or the Mountain of Tarik , a reference to Tarik ben Zayed a Berber general who conquered the Rock in 711 AD.
Politics - Writers of eminence are divided in opinion respecting the political value of this wonderful rock. Some have regarded the tenacity, with which the British government has always retained it, from the time it was ceded to them by the Treaty of Utrecht and Seville, as originating in homage to the feelings, rather than a wise attention to the interests of the British nation; however well founded such opinions might have been when entertained, it would scarcely, I think, be persisted in at the present period, when in consequence of the wonderful changes which have narrowed our commercial enterprise and communication, in other seas, the Mediterranean has presented to us mercantile advantages before but little known.
Although the Spaniards regard Ceuta, in some degree, as an indemnity for the loss of the mighty fortress opposite, yet protected by its batteries, and an inconsiderable British naval force, every ship bearing the British flag, was during the late war, enabled to sail through that extraordinary strait that separates Europe from Africa, and pass safely into the Mediterranean, without experiencing any check, but an occasional and petty annoyance from the gun-boats of Algeciras.
During the war, the clandestine trade carried on from this rock with the Spaniards was very great; and since the peace with the patriots, the commercial intercourse has been very valuable, until the communication was, after my first visit to Gibraltar, cut off by the unexpected irruption of the French into Seville, Malaga, Granada and other southern and eastern part of Spain. So great was this intercourse, that the quay was made much too small for the immense number of vessels which came to the rock.
It has been the wish of England to obtain Ceuta, and it is said that she has obtained it; but it is by a small British force being most suspiciously admitted into the garrison, where nearly five time the number of Spanish soldiers are kept.
If the Spaniards in war with England held Gibraltar and Ceuta, few vessels could pass through the narrow entrance I have described, without being shattered to pieces. Should England ever evacuate this rock, her dominion in the Mediterranean would be but slender and precarious.
Frontispiece of a book by an anonymous author criticising the British Government on its responses to the Treaty of Seville
Carr's is a relatively mild endorsement of the British point of view, considering the enormous advantages of being in possession of the Rock during the Napoleonic Wars. That 'clandestine trade' is just another euphemism for smuggling.
The Tourist - The excavated batteries, which open towards the Spanish lines, and the great cavern called the hall of St. George, are wonderful efforts of human ingenuity and labour. From the stupendous summits above these batteries, upwards of one thousand three hundred feet high, there is a vast and magnificent view of the African coast, including Barbary, Fez and Morocco, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the town below, the bay with its numerous shipping, Algeciras, the country behind, the hill from whence the Queen of Spain contemplated as a spectacle the memorable siege of Gibraltar, and on which are traceable the ruins of the ancient city of Cartea, the town of San Roque, and the lofty mountains of Granada.
The view south looking towards Mount Abyla, the other Pillar of Hercules (Unknown)
The Monkeys - Quitting this spot, I visited one of the signal houses and as the Levanter was just beginning to blow, I had an opportunity, which an officer which had been nearly three years on the rock had not before met with, of seeing groups of very large monkeys, to whom this wind is particularly disagreeable, quit their caverns, which almost impend over the inaccessible crags on the eastern side, and having ascended the heights, descend, many bearing their young on their backs, a shot way, and range themselves in rather formidable bodies on the western side.
I counted no less than fourteen in a short space of time. We passed near them but they did not appear to be annoyed by our presence. As shooting at them is prohibited, perhaps more from the fear of loosening the stones of theses summits by the shot, which by rolling from such a height towards the town might do mischief below, than from tenderness to the antic race, they may probably derive confidence from being but seldom molested.
As they were seated on this side of the rock, some time since, an officer happened to pass with a fine terrier, which ran at them. The monkey's who were sitting in a circle, were not in the least dismayed; but, upon some of them moving a little, the dog ran into the centre, when a big powerful monkey seized him by one of his hinder legs, ran with him to the top, hurled him over the eastern side of the rock, a stupendous and near perpendicular height, and dashed the rash assailant to pieces.
Of these monkeys stranger stories are related. A most absurd and ridiculous one has obtained credit with some of the most credulous of the inhabitants, that before the English got possession of the rock, one of them contrived to seize a pretty girl whilst she was enjoying the view from an elevated part of the rock, and to gratify his amorous propensities towards her , that he was put under arrest according to military law, tried by a court-martial of grave Spanish officers and shot for rape. It is worthy of remark, that this is the only spot in Europe where monkey's are found wild. Many are brought over from Barbary and sold in the market for a mere trifle; and hence a monkey is almost as common as a cat in the houses of Gibraltar.
Europa Point (1900 Frederick Stephens)
It seem highly unlikely that the 'monkeys' were ever treated as pets by any of the inhabitants of the Rock, military or civilian, British or otherwise. Rather the opposite; the relationship between the locals and the apes have usually been - and continues to be - one of mutual distrust. This is also the only reference I have ever come across of the animals being traded in the market place.
The Mount and the Convent - The stern and hostile aspect of the Northern side of the rock softens into scenes of rural beauty to the south, heading to Europa Point. Here well cut roads wind through avenues of poplars, along the sides of gardens, and through groves of oranges and citron-trees. The official house of the commissioner, elevated high on the rock, half-emblazoned in a garden abounding with productions of the south, offers, at least in point of picturesque situation, a comparison unfavourable to the residence of the governor. which stands in town, at the base of the rock, in the principle street, and was formally a Franciscan convent. It is called the Convent to this day.
Here, however, there is an excellent garden, kept in high order, containing orange, citrus-trees, vines, flowers and vegetables. Towards Europa Point, there are also several other beautiful spots. Mr Commissary Sweetland and his amiable wife have a delightful cottage here as well known for the elegant hospitality which reigns within, as for the beauty of the scenery without.
Mr Sweetland's delightful cottage is probably the house which came as a perk for his job as Captain of the Port and which eventually became known as 'Mount Pleasant'. It was owned by the Government. The prior reference to Sweetland's 'Moorish'style house may have been his own personal property.
St Michael's Cave - On this side of the rock is the celebrated cave of St Michael. This is a magnificent hall of nature apparently supported by columns of crystallization, rude, brilliant, and beautiful, from which there are narrow and difficult passages leading to other apartments.
During the war with Spain, and before the French arms became sullied by a spirit of ruthless ferocity, an intercourse, distinguished by its urbanity, existed between our garrison and the Spaniards, such as did honour to the exalted sensibilities of two great nations.
Our officers were permitted to enjoy the sports of the turf within the Spanish territory , and, in return, gave balls and other entertainments to the Spaniards. Upon some of these festive and generous occasions, the cave of St. Michael's was accustomed to be brilliantly lighted up. Under these illuminations the effect on its roof - fretted and richly adorned with prismatic spars and dropping crystals, widely resembling the minute and delicate richness of saracenic decoration, - of its glittering sides, of its milk-white and semi-transparent columns, presenting all sorts of fantastic orders of architecture, its numerous and mysterious recesses, the whole enlivened by groups of visitors gaily dressed, must have been most singular and enchanting.
Rugged, barren and bladeless, as this rock appears at the height of this cave, still flocks of goats and even some cows contrive to find pasture upon its western side. The roads are excellent and enlivened with persons riding backwards and forwards, and even by barouches and other carriages.
St Michael's Cave (1830 - Arnaut)
The Garrison Library - In the town there is an excellent garrison library in a handsome detached building. To the balls given by the military, the families of the merchants are rarely, if even admitted; this unpleasant line of separation has been drawn, in consequence of the great number of low and vulgar mercantile adventurers, who have settled in Gibraltar.
The Garrison Library gets is usual high praise but a very rare mention of its exclusivity. As usual it is hard to make out if those unwelcome merchants were British born or otherwise as it is hard to see how Carr would have lumped together the former under the heading of 'vulgar mercantile adventurers'.
Interior of the Garrison Library ( Thomas Colman Dibdin)
Religion - Universal toleration exists, without, as might be expected, any inconvenience to the garrison, always accepting, however, the horrid nuisance produced by a fellow beating the bell of the Spanish church with a great hammer, many times in the course of the day to the no little annoyance of everyone in the neighbourhood. This noisy functionary is a great coxcomb in his way and says that the English have good bells but do not know how to ring them, and that possesses taste in this way!
I was informed that an officer once provoked by the noise, after repeatedly, but unavailingly requesting him not to strike so hard, could not resist caning him when he descended, upon which the bell-ringer brought his action, and obtained damages; he now therefore, frequently shows his triumph, by the additional vehemence with which he strikes his bell.
Underlying the sentiments expressed in this passage is an indication of the strange relationship that existed at the time between the military and the civilians. On the one hand there was a monumental class divide with absolutely no question as to who were the masters. On the other hand the British for all thier bluster, couldn't afford to treat the 'servants' arbitrarily however much they would have liked to.
Catalan Bay - The traveller will do well to pay a visit to Catalan Bay, situated at the base of the eastern side of the rock, which is there perfectly inaccessible; this spot is truly romantic and beautiful. Here under the shade of vines and fig trees, in company with some intelligent engineer officers, with a fine beach and rolling sea in our front, and in our rear the cliffs of this mighty rock, on the sides of which several monkeys were playing their 'fantastic tricks', we dined in refreshing coolness, although it was sultry hot on the other side of the rock.
The marble of Gibraltar is very beautiful, and admits of a fine polish; shells and petrified fish are frequently found in it.
View of Catalan Bay from the South (1851 - Capt William H. Bartlett)
Catalan Bay's inaccessibility may have been either due to a landslide or because there actually was no road or pathway to it from the isthmus.
Hotels - The inns in the town, without being very clean or comfortable are excessively dear; but there is one to which I recommend the traveller of pleasure to go, equal in neatness and comfort to any in England standing in an enchanting situation a little above the dockyard and Europa Bay.
The mosquitoes commit sad havoc upon strangers for which reason, and the usual effects attendant on a change of climate, an officer is seldom put on duty for a fortnight after his arrival.
The mention of a hotel above the dockyard is unique as far as I can make out. By the late 19th century the two main Gibraltar Hotels were situated in the Commercial Square in the middle of town. In 1809 they had not yet been build and one only surmise that if any other existed there at the time of Carr's visit they were not up to his standards. The mosquitoes sound ominous given the recent yellow fever epidemic - but of course, Carr was unaware of the connection.
Lifestyle - The society is here altogether gloomy for want of more females. The theatre is execrable. One of the few amusements is spearing fish by torchlight. The market is well supplied with vegetables, now from Spain, as well as Barbary. At night a passenger is sadly annoyed by the challenges of the numerous sentinels who are stationed in and near the town. Everyone not in uniform must carry a lantern.
To the eye of a stranger, the town presents a natural masquerade of people from various countries in their different costumes, of whom the chief are Moors. Spanish character forms a striking feature. Spaniard from all parts are to be found here.
The theatre was Henry Cowper’s place near the Moorish Castle. Most of its best productions were amateur affairs acted out by people from the Garrison who were probably more enthusastic than gifted. By now the local non-British residents had already begun to take an interest in theatrical shows and some of the productions imported from Spain and elsewhere must have reflected the inevitably low-brow tastes of most of the non-British population.
Conclusion - Gibraltar is indeed well worthy of a voyage to be seen; and when its numerous and astonishing fortifications, its town, barracks, docks, arsenal, country-houses, and population, sometimes amounting to sixteen thousand souls, distributed on the one side of the rock whose circumference does not exceed seven miles, are all brought within the eye's and mind's view, it may be ranked amongst the greatest of natural and artificial wonders.
As usual, sixteen thousand souls and hardly a mention about any of them - par for the course perhaps but a generally mild and friendly review of British Gibraltar. Only a few comments on the Rock's imposing fortifications, which means that Gibraltar comes across as some sort of romantic Mediterranean resort - which it certainly wasn't at that time. Perhaps we can count ourselves lucky that he was uninfluenced by his friend Lord Byron's opinion of the Rock as ‘the dirtiest and most detestable place in existence’.