1897 – Mary Anderson – Tales of the Rock
I find it difficult to determine exactly who Mary Anderson was other than the author of several books such as Othello's Occupation and A Son of Noah. She nevertheless appears to be a rarity - a female Victorian novelist with a rather precise knowledge of Gibraltar and its surrounding Campo area. The eight stories included in her Tales of the Rock suggest her knowledge was not based on library research - nor even on a short visit as a tourist - but rather as that of a long term resident, perhaps as the wife of an officer or of one of Gibraltar's many nineteenth century British administrators.
The book was published in 1897 and is illustrated by B. S. Le Fanu and in my opinion some of Anderson's stories - however overly sentimental and far-fetched to modern ears - are of enough historic interest to warrant a read. The following is a review of the more appropriate ones.
It was beautiful summer night, and I was riding round the Guards with my husband. I used to be rather pleased when he happened to be 'Field Officer of the day,' and this nocturnal ride was consequently added to the list of his duties, for I have always owned the feeling the highest admiration for Gibraltar as seen by starlight . . .
As we started from Europa and rode along towards the pass, I was able to gladden my eyes with the sight of the 'silver sea' . . . The water lying between us and Africa was without a ripple; . . . Beyond, Apes Hill had crowned its summit with a wreath of white, fleecy clouds, which lay like drifts of snow upon the mountain top . . . . When we left Europa Gate behind us and ascended the rising ground further on, we looked down upon the harbour, where the lights on board the different vessels gleamed picturesquely at irregular distances . . .
That was the start of the first short story, the narrator being a Mrs Johnstone, the wife of a military officer stationed on the Rock. The plot deals with the discovery near South Barracks of the body of Manuel Lobo, a Jewish resident with an address in Irish town.
Lobo had kept a small shop in town with a young man named Ferruja as his assistant. It took the authorities very little time to deduce that Ferruja was responsible for the murder and were confident that he would soon be caught. They had good reason for their confidence as 'every person passing into Spain by way of Linea or Algeciras is subject to a rigorous examination . . . .
This rule however, was 'relaxed in favour of English officers and ladies riding through Linea on their way to the beach but was rigidly adhered to in all cases of Spanish workmen working in Gibraltar.' Nor could he have left by sea as 'even the fishing boats' were 'not allowed to go out from Catalan Bay without first submitting to a police inspection.'
Mrs Johnstone then accepted an invitation to accompany some friends to the Alameda gardens where music was played once a week and where the 'inhabitants both English and Spanish, who frequented them were 'invariably orderly in their behaviour . . and where it is pretty to watch . . . the gay groups of dark-eyed Spanish girls each with her fan in her hand and her hair coquettishly adorned with flowers . . . The band was playing that delightful and dreamy 'Sobre las Olas' which one hears on average about a dozen times a week in Gibraltar.
When Mrs Johnstone returned home she noted that 'in accordance with the peculiar and most inconvenient custom in Gibraltar, the kitchen and servants bedroom were built right away from the bungalow . . . with a road running between them' . . .
When she entered her house she was horrified to be accosted by a man who introduced himself as Juan Ferruja. He had managed to evade capture by hiding among the tombs of the Jewish cemetery at Windmill Flats and then climbing down the rocks behind Europa Cottage. Somewhat irrationally she fed the man and allowed him to stay. When Ferruja asked for her name she refused to give it. His response was 'As you please . . A Spaniard never forgets.'
By morning he had disappeared. A day or so later he was caught by 'the Spanish Guardacostas as he was attempting to land from a small boat between Campo and Algeciras.'
Juan Ferruja was tried and found guilty and sentenced to death. The evening after his execution a local priest who had been in attendance at the scaffold visited the narrator's house. He brought her a letter from Ferruja. It contained instruction on how to find something that was hidden in a cave with a fig tree growing at the entrance.
The next day Mrs Johnstone, her husband and a friend took a boat from Catalan Bay to Sandy Bay and soon identified the cave. They followed the instructions and found the hidden item without too much trouble. It was a silver crucifix blackened with age and broken in places. Mrs Johnstone, finding it hard to keep the truth away from her husband any longer told him how she had allowed Ferruja to find refuge in their house.
As for the silver crucifix, she decided to keep it as a reminder that ' a Spaniard does not forget.'
She was a Spanish peasant of the poorest class, and she lived in a rough shanty supported by bamboo uprights at its four corners. The sides of this dwelling were filled in with brushwood, and the roof was thatched with rushes ; probably
it was not unlike the wattled hovels which the ancient Britons inhabited in the days when Julius Caesar first landed in England.
Her name was Catalina Guerrero ; her husband had died of small-pox when her baby was three months old . . The yearly fairs at Linea and Algeciras were to her and her boy festivals of surpassing splendour, and when the bull fights were announced to take place at either of these neighbouring towns, Catalina, with her child running by her side, might have been seen wending her way towards the bull-ring from her home near San Roque . . .
Now that the boy was eight years old, and almost as well able to walk long distances as herself, Catalina and he often went down to Gibraltar together, carrying between them a basket of fruit or flowers, or anything else they could procure, which was likely to sell readily in the town. Sometimes they took nuts and mushrooms, and on these occasions they would generally return home in the evenings weary, but satisfied with their day's excursion, and with empty baskets, but pockets well filled with pence.
Now, it chanced that on a certain day Catalina had procured for sale some lengths of the lace which the Spanish prisoners make at Ceuta. It is coarse but durable, and according to its width is sold at varying prices, from two-pence to sixpence a yard. This popular price puts it within reach of a large class of purchasers, and generally, when Catalina had any to dispose of, she found little difficulty in selling it.
But of course this was the day when the locals simply wouldn't buy the damn lace - until Robin, an English boy of more or less the same age as Catalina's son - takes pity on them and persuades his mother to buy some. The result is that Robin and Francisquito become friends - much to the disgust of Catalina who envies the British family for being so much better off than hers.
When they leave Gibraltar she is elated. But the elation is short lived when she learns of their return. An angry visit reveals that Robin has died and Catalina is consumed with guilt.
A Prodigal Son
Fundamentally the story of a young man called Hugh who quarrels with his father, runs away from home and ends up in a prison in Ceuta accused - correctly as it so happens - of having killed a Chinaman. The escape from the Spanish prison includes the following passage;
'We had better make the most of the start we've got,' said Hugh, speaking with conviction as being familiar with the manners and customs
of Ceuta ; " there'll be a boat sent out after us in double quick time.'
In less than a quarter of an hour his words were verified, for as we came out beyond the lighthouse into the open Straits, our boat meanwhile labouring heavily in the swell, and with every stitch of canvas piled on to catch such breeze as was blowing, a white Government steam launch crept warily round the rocky promontory in pursuit, and was abreast of us almost before we had realized her approach.
As for Gibraltar, there is precious little of it in this particular tale - except for this:
Visitors to Gibraltar are no doubt familiar with the picturesque little fishing village which lies upon the eastern shore of the Rock, with the sea at its feet and the towering wall of sheer cliff behind. The people who inhabit the low grey cottages that are grouped around a little Catholic chapel form a race apart ; originally of Genoese extraction, they decline to mix either with the Spanish or the English population of Gibraltar. Their language is a patois of theirown ; their tastes and their habits of life are their own also. They obtain a precarious livelihood by fishing, and have a high and well-deserved reputation for their skill and courage at sea. In physique they are vastly superior to the enervated and degenerate Spaniards who have cast in their lot beneath the shadow of the British flag, and who are familiarly known as Rock Scorpions.
Macrooney's Sheep Dip
An inconsequential tale about a rich aunt visiting her niece in Gibraltar. Her insufferable dog is diagnosed as having fleas and ends up covered in the Macrooney's Sheep Dip of the title. Because of a mistake in making up the recipe the dog ends up looking as if he were encased in plaster of Paris. A short passage within the story, however, reveals what might have been the tendering arrangements at Ragged Staff in the late nineteenth century.
. . .We abandoned our luncheon immediately in the most heroic manner, and rushed down to the Ragged Staff to get a boat in which to go out and meet her. It was blowing a regular gale, and the blue and white flag had been hoisted at the Water Port, which means that on account of the weather the boatmen are entitled to charge double prices.. . .
. . . Jeannie assured her that there were worse experiences than soldiering at a pleasant station like Gib, and then politely asked her if she would like to come ashore. Aunt Susannah looked over the ship's side, and saw the little cockleshell of a thing that had brought us out.
'You don't mean to say Tm expected to land in that' she exclaimed. 'Why isn't there a proper tender or something to take passengers ashore ? "
'It's a very bad arrangement, I must confess, 'said Captain Joliffe ; 'but everyone is compelled to land in open boats.'
Christmas Eve party somewhere in Gibraltar
Dwellers of Linea
On a certain afternoon in early spring . . an English officer and his daughter were fishing from a boat near Sandy Bay. . . From signal station perched upon the narrow razor-like edge of the highest ridge, her glance dropped downwards along the perpendicular wall of the cliff to the cluster of brilliant green palmetto which is called the Monkey's Alameda . . .
'Look papa!' she exclaims suddenly; 'there is a dog in that cave . . . 'Her father looked up from his fishing but the boatman laughed. He was an inhabitant of Catalan Bay, and as such, was Italian and not Spanish by descent.
'Ah, señorita, do not trouble yourself', he said. 'The dog is put there on purpose; . . . see, I will make a little splashing with my oar, and now you will watch what happens.' . . . As the boat drew nearer, and the fisherman began splashing the water, the animal sprang up barking excitedly while three other dogs hitherto hidden from view rushed forward . . barking also.
'Those creatures belong to a Spanish smuggler' he said. ' I could even tell you the man who owns them. He buys tobacco in Gibraltar and hides it in the mornings in that cave. Then he leaves the dogs to keep watch over it . . . At night he will bring a boat round here, take the tobacco and these animals on board, and fasten on to each one's back the share of tobacco he is expected to carry. He will row down th coast until he is well past the neutral ground, and opposite the Spanish shore. Then he will throw the dogs overboard; they've been trained to swim ashore and go straight home. . . .'
'The Guardacostas are always on the lookout for them and a good many get shot.' 'But', objected the girl, if it is so well known that this cave contains smugglers' tobacco, why don't the English police interfere . . .?
'Because, señorita' the English never interfere with Spanish smugglers.'
Why don't they, pap, she persisted. 'Surely the Spaniards would be much more friendly to us, if we helped them to put down smuggling?'
. . . 'dear Eva', said her father, 'I am told that it is . . altogether a very complicated question. It has been considered over and over again, and I understand that there any number of reasons to be urged both for and against our interference. Some of the latter, I believe, date as far back as the Peace of Utrecht but there are plenty of modern ones.'
From the above one would say that Mary Anderson was well aware of the moral and political arguments against smuggling but prefers to adopt the official line - albeit under the guise of an even-handed argument.
The story then moves on to La Linea - presumably known then simply as Linea - and the introduction of Dolores - a stereotypically dark , hot-blooded, temperamentally unstable Spanish girl, daughter of the smuggler who was the owner of the dogs in question. Her persist ardent suitor is Tomas Mendoza whom Dolores detests as she accuses him of having betrayed her brother to the Guardacostas. The rest of the story deals with Dolores revenge on Mendoza and has little more to offer as regards the social mores either of Gibraltar or its hinterland.
The author continues the long British tradition of identifying Gibraltarians as Spaniards who just happen to live on the Rock and despite her sympathetic treatment of people living in the Campo area, she only properly identifies one single local - Manuel Lobo - who despite his Spanish sounding name was in fact a Jew.
It was a curious blind-spot. By the late nineteenth century and after a large influx of Genoese, Maltese and people from other parts of the Mediterranean there were more than 20 000 individuals living on the Rock. People who were purely of Spanish descent were no longer a majority. In any case almost all of them now considered themselves to be - more than anything else - Gibraltarians.