1810 - General George Cockburn - A Drunken Place
George Cockburn was born in Dublin in 1763. He entered the British army as an ensign and by 1810 he had achieved the rank of Lieutenant-General - this despite that fact that although he was always in the army he was not always in service.
In 1821 he was made a Knight Commander by George IV, and then in 1837 a Knight of the Grand Cross perhaps more in recognition of his activity as a magistrate than for his military services. Nevertheless that same year he was also promoted to general. When he died in 1847 he was the fourth general in seniority in the British Army.
Both a writer and a traveller by inclination he wrote A Voyage to Cadiz and Gibraltar up the Mediterranean to Sicily and Malta in 1810 and 1811 in two well illustrated volumes. Based on his travelling experiences they were published in 1815.
Although he hardly mentions the people of Gibraltar he does offer one or two bits of information that are probably worth quoting. There is an added incentive. In 1782, at the start of his military career, he was stationed on the Rock during the Great Siege. He was General Augustus Eliott's aide-de-camp.
Gibraltar's Defences and The ConventWent on shore early this day . . visited all the town and lower batteries, from South Port to Land Port. They have been all repaired since the famous Siege and are in the most complete order. The Convent : where the governor lives, is also in good order and well calculated to resist the heat . . The gardens have been much improved.
I walked out towards the old Spanish lines, which, (with Ports Philip and Barbara) have been entirely demolished. The Rock looks grand from hence. I proceeded to the Devil's Tower (like our Irish round towers) it is built on a rock, just large enough for its foundation. All the rest from Gibraltar to St. Roque is a heavy sand.
If suggestions are not treason against the engineer department, I think all that was ( and is ) required at Gibraltar , is a strong martello tower at the Old Mole head. I remember the Old Mole and grand battery suffered most during the siege.
The Peninsular War had reached the south of Spain. The Spanish lines were destroyed in 1810 - or very shortly before Cockburn's return to Gibraltar - on the instructions of General Colin Campbell, Governor of Gibraltar and the reluctant acquiescence of General Castaños, his counterpart in Spain.
Map of the Neutral Ground and the ruins of the Spanish Lines ( 1831 - W.H. Smyth )
The Town and its PeopleThe town of Gibraltar is very poor and miserable in appearance: I never saw worse shops, and yet there is a great trade here. The Moles and Bay are now full of ships, and the view taking in the Spanish mountains, Apes- hill, and Ceuta in Africa, is as beautiful as can be conceived.
All nations and all sorts of dresses are to be met here. Colonel D. observed that when he first landed he thought himself at a masquerade. The barracks appear very indifferent and while millions have been expended for the last twenty years on the fortifications the barracks have been much neglected.
The inns are the worst and the innkeepers the most imposing in the world. Such imposition is very intolerable for the necessaries of life are at present cheap. This place was always remarkable for drunkenness and from what I see it keeps up its character.
. . . Gibraltar was always a drunken place; and I am sorry to observe it is so still - almost every man I saw ( not on guard ) was reeling drunk. . . .
Col D is possibly Colonel John Drinkwater of Great Siege fame. Despite the fact that the town now had a civilian population of about 11 000 people, the drunken behaviour was confined to the members of the British Garrison. As a number of other writers confirm, the problem was not restricted to the other ranks.
Garrison LibraryA large handsome building has been erected by subscription in the town ; the lower room contains a library, and the upper is used for the garrison assemblies
It was brand new. ( see LINK )
Garrison Library in Governor's Parade ( 1830 - Frederick Leeds Edridge )
The People of San Roque were forced to flee from the French on more than one occasion. The first time round they were allowed into the town - the next, they were forced to live rough along the North Front, although some were allowed into Catalan Bay. The excuse given by their British allies was that there were cases of yellow fever among them.Before and After the Great SiegeI could not help contrasting the appearance now with that when I was here during the siege. Then a dismantled town a large garrison and scarcely any other inhabitants - no shops. Shot and shells flying about and lying in all directions - traverses of barrels ; and many of the works in particular the old Mole, almost in ruins from the fire ; no merchant vessels in the bay - no appearance of trade. . .
. . At present . . The Moles and the Bay full of ships, the town full of busy inhabitants. The Spanish forts and lines all destroyed. No camp on that isthmus. Now all is silence . . the neutral space about the Devil's Tower, is at present covered with miserable men, women, and children, who are half naked, and half starved, but who are encamped like gypsies all round the tower, and under the rock. On enquiry, I found these people had come from St. Roque and the neighbouring towns and valleys for fear of the French
GraveyardsTwenty five years ago the I was much surprised at the number of burying grounds and tomb-stones now in Gibraltar. Twenty-five years ago, the only burying-place of consequence was on the neutral ground : now the Red Sands appear like an immense church-yard, and there are several others up the hill. Half of South Port Ditch is also covered with graves and tombstones, and the neutral ground burying-place is much enlarged.
Twenty years later, a new Governor, General George Don, would have a good look at these graveyards in the Red Sands and come to the conclusion that it was not a good idea to bury the dead right over the town's main water supply.
Poca RocaI saw the spot where I had my quarters with . . Major-Gen Whetham; we proceeded up the mountain almost to the mouth of the cave . . .
. . . After breakfasting with General Campbell at the Convent I proceeded to the place where General Eliott used to breakfast and dine, and spend his day for he always slept at the Convent.
Poca Roca cave was meant to be used by General Eliott as a safe haven during the Great Siege. He obviously preferred the comforts of his own rooms in the Convent - however close to the sea and the danger of bombardment by the Spaniards. I suspect that Poca Roca was nevertheless used by other officers, including Cockburn and Whetham.
Poca Roca ( 1800s - Rev Cooper Willyams )
Charter of Justice
Difficulties in recovering debts and expensive and dilatory law-suits, are unfortunately to be found in every country . . it is much to be lamented that the government do not revise the laws of Gibraltar . . where I know of many difficulties have arisen between the Governor and the inhabitants.
He was anticipating much needed changes which would result in the introduction of Gibraltar's first civil judge in 1817 and a supreme court in 1830.
Engraving from the book Voyage to Cadiz and Gibraltar