The People of Gibraltar
1847 - Don Pacifico - Blood on the Streets

Don Pacifico was a Jewish merchant born 1784. He first began to do business at Lagos in Portugal in 1812 which may explain why he is usually referred to in the literature as a Portuguese Jew. During the Liberal War that succeeded Brazil's independence of Portugal Pacifico chose the wrong side and the Portuguese king, Dom Miguel, confiscated his property and generally made him unwelcome.


Miguel Maria do Patrocínio João Carlos Francisco de Assis Xavier de Paula Pedro de Alcântara António Rafael Gabriel Joaquim José Gonzaga Evaristo . .  hopefully known to his friends as Dom Miquel.

Despite this, he retained a certain amount of influence within Portuguese circles - probably because of his wealth, and was appointed Portuguese consul at Morocco in 1835. Two years later he found himself in Greece as consul-general. He was dismissed from this post in 1842 but he continued to live and work in Athens where he became President of its Jewish community.
It is hard to tell exactly what his business was - some authorities suggest that he was a money lender - but whatever he was his most valuable attribute was that he had been born in Gibraltar and as such was a British subject.

In 1847 the financier Amschel Mayer de Rothschild visited Athens during the Greek Orthodox Easter holidays to discuss a possible loan to the Greek Government. Traditionally effigies of Judas Iscariot were burned in Greece during Easter. Perhaps understandably, Rothschild asked the Government to put a stop to these demonstrations during his stay but the locals took umbrage. A generalised riot ensued and, among other acts of vandalism,  the mob burned down Pacifico's house.

Amschel Mayer de Rothschild - famous for the saying 'Buy when there is blood on the streets'   ( Unknown  ) 
Don Pacifico promptly claimed the rather preposterous sum of £26,618 as compensation. It was not taken seriously. In fact they had avoided taking it seriously even before the event as the police had watched the looting without making any effort to put a stop to it. The reason behind this inactivity was that the sons of several Government ministers had been involved in the affair. 

Pacifico, however, insisted that he had been left destitute by the event which was undoubtedly an exaggeration. As a writer in the London Quarterly Magazine of 1850 pointed out,  the theft of 'the diamonds that belonged to Madam Pacifico and the pearls set aside for Mademoiselle Ester Pacifico could hardly have supported the splendour of his household. Beside the sum deposited by his countrymen for religious purposes he only lost £84.12s.4d.' In 1848, after several unsuccessful appeals, Pacifico brought the matter to the attention of the British government. 

Perhaps he was encouraged by the fact that somebody else had already complained to the British about Greek high-handedness - the confiscation, without compensation, of a portion of the garden of George Finlay, a Greek resident and scholar who would later write a history of the Greek Revolution. Two years later the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston took decisive action. 

He sent a Royal Navy squadron into the Aegean to blockade Piraeus and to seize Greek ships and property equal to the value of Pacifico's claims. It was an uneven contest: the British armada consisted of 14 ships, 731 guns and 8,000 sailors. Facing them was a  Greek fleet, which in the words of one historian, 'could hardly have defended itself against a British row-boat'.

Lord Palmerston - The father of gun-boat diplomacy

At the time, Greece was under the joint protection of Britain, France and Russia, and the imposition of the blockade caused a diplomatic rift. Both the French and the Russians objected to it to such an extent that the French ambassador temporarily left London. It also caused considerable damage to the reputation of the Greek King Otto in Athens. 

The blockade lasted two months and finally ended when the Greek government agreed to compensate Pacifico. Back home, Palmerston’s hard-line position outraged both the British public and Queen Victoria. They couldn't understand why Britain was going to war because of somebody's garden and an unknown foreigner's house.

At Westminster, both houses of parliament took up the issue and after a heated debate in the House of Lords a vote to condemn Palmerston's actions was reversed. It was during this debate that Palmerston delivered a famous five-hour speech in which he vindicated  not only his claims on the Greek government for Don Pacifico, but his entire foreign policy. The following is a quote from his speech.

 . . . Then we come to the claim of M. Pacifico - a claim which has been the subject of much unworthy comment. Stories have been told, involving imputations on the character of M. Pacifico; I know nothing of the truth or falsehood of these stories. All I know is, that M. Pacifico, after the time to which those stories relate, was appointed Portuguese consul, first to Morocco and afterwards at Athens. It is not likely that the Portuguese Government would select for appointments of that kind, a person whose character they did not believe to be above reproach.

But I say, with those who have before had occasion to advert to the subject, that I don't care what M. Pacifico's character is. I do not, and cannot, admit that because a man may have acted amiss on some other occasion, and in some other matter, he is to be wronged with impunity by others.. .
The Greek Government neglected its duty, and did not pursue judicial inquiries, or institute legal prosecutions as it might have done for the purpose of finding out and punishing some of the culprits. The sons of the Minister of War were pointed out to the Government as actors in the outrage. The Greek Government were told to "search a particular house; and that some part of M. Pacifico's jewels would be found there." They declined to prosecute the Minister's sons, or to search the house. . .
. . . As the Roman in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say, 'Civis Romanus sum', so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong.

French cartoon of the affair.  Presumably the man on the right represents Don Pacifico, the one beside him the Greek Government and the fellow pulling the rope is Palmerston

The story of this affair is both curious and unique. It embodies a 19th century Britain at its most powerful, confident and self-righteous. The method used by Palmerston to impose his country's will has entered the language as 'gun-boat diplomacy' and the rationale behind the action - Don Pacifico's British citizenship - would have far reaching consequences for the people of Gibraltar - if not in an immediate political sense then very much so for its psychological impact. 

Pacifico cannot have lived in Gibraltar more than a very few years as neither he nor his family appear on the 1791 census. But the point had been made - if you were born in Gibraltar and even if you were - as one thoroughly unpleasant commentator described him - 'a dirty, greasy, Jewish money lender' - you were a British subject. 

Don Pacifico was awarded 120,000 drachmas and £500 in the settlement - but he never got it. In the end, Palmerston was forced to backtrack and referred the matter to international arbitration out of which Pacifico received a mere 3,750 drachmas.

He died in London in 1854 the only Gibraltarian to date over which a war has ever been fought.

The Rock - It is doubtful whether Don Pacifico ever gave it a seconds thought  ( 1850s - British school )