The People of Gibraltar
1837 - Robert Montgomery Martin - Infamous for its Filth

Robert Montgomery Martin was born in Dublin probably at the very beginning of the 19th century. An Anglo-Irish Protestant, he was a founding father of the Statistical Society and, for a time, Colonial Treasurer of Hong Kong. He was also a prolific writer - according to his own estimates by the time he was 50 he had written 50 000 volumes on the Colonies - perhaps something of an exaggeration.

His opus magnum - in the sense of large rather than great - was The British Colonial Library  which ran to 10 volumes, one of which included a longish chapter on Gibraltar. Despite his bureaucratic background - and the fact that I cannot find any record of him ever having set foot on the Rock - it is a chapter well worth quoting from. Here are some extracts.

Gibraltar . . . is not the least remarkable possession of the British crown, whether it be regarded in reference to its important maritime position, or to its being the theatre of an heroism which no English patriot can contemplate without feelings of the warmest admiration, — while hoping that a fortress acquired and maintained by the valour of our ancestors for a security to the dominion of the seas may be transmitted to our posterity as an integral portion of this oceanic empire.

Map of Gibraltar as it appears in the British Colonial Library

Montgomery Martin follows this little homily with a long potted history of the Rock - from the time of the Greeks right up to his  own present day. It includes esoteric references to Simon Susarte's and his dangerous attempt to retake the Rock in 1704 ( See LINK ) and several pages on the Duke of Kent’s character and activities as Governor of Gibraltar which he vigorously defends ( See LINK )

The Town
Gibraltar town is built on the north west face of the promontory, extending from the Land Port to the Southport Gate, the main street leading directly between the two gates, being about three-fourths of a mile in length. An idea of the three principal streets may be formed from the following diagram . . . .

These streets and those which communicate with them, are as level as the generality of those in English towns, though the town would appear to be built on the precipitous slope of a hill. In the principal streets the houses are generally three to four stories high, built after the English model ; in some parts the Spanish, or probably Moorish, construction prevails, there being a central court-yard, into which the rooms of the dwelling open; the roofs however are not flat or terraced  . . .

The streets of Gibraltar, which were formerly in a most deplorable state, are now well paved, lighted, and cleansed, and extensive improvements are daily going on. Many of the narrow streets have been widened, several alleys entirely removed, and ventilation promoted by all possible means.

'Waterport' Street' - now the northern section of Main Street - in the late 19 Century                                                                           
The practice of erecting stalls and benches in the public streets, for the sale of goods, is entirely prohibited. Temporary benches are permitted to be placed in certain situations during the early part of the day, for general convenience. Taverns, wine-houses, and eating-houses are placed under strict regulations. The admission and lodging of strangers is directed to be attended to in the most rigid manner, and the whole are placed under the immediate surveillance of the police.

This last comment cannot be taken too seriously. Shortly before Montgomery Martin wrote this a well known pirate - Benito de Soto - lived openly in Gibraltar for weeks without any sort of permit or anybody doing anything  about it. ( See LINK )

Water Supply
The promontory is well supplied with water, and the aqueduct originally planned by the Moors is a very noble work. The present structure was commenced in 1571, after the plan of a Spanish Jesuit, and finished in 1 694 : the aqueduct begins in the south, and terminates in the centre of the town ; the water with which it is supplied filters through the red sand, running through " weep holes," made of brick, into a reservoir, from whence, after rising to a height of eighteen inches, it is conveyed in earthen pipes to various parts of the town. . .

. . The water flows into the tanks from the roofs of houses, &c. without any other purification being resorted to but throwing in a few live eels, which eat up the animalculae, and are themselves eaten in turn when they get fat. . .

The small barrels on the donkey contain water which was probably obtained from a fountain in Governor's Parade. In the early 18th century the barrels  would more likely have been filled from the terminal fountain in the middle of the town as suggested by Montgomery Martin.

There are numerous tanks and wells for the supply of the garrison ; those tanks, for the use of the navy, four in number, in the immediate neighbourhood of Rosia Bay, being the most extensive. The water flows into the tanks from the roofs of houses, &c. without any other purification being resorted to but throwing in a few live eels, which eat up the animalculae, and are themselves eaten in turn when they get fat.

The Climate
The climate of Gibraltar is decidedly healthy, except for hard drinkers and phlegmatic constitutions . . . In some seasons the torrents of rain down these three gullies have been so great as to cause vast damage and some loss of lives. On the last occasion (November 17th, 1834) ten lives were lost, and the quantity of earth and stones washed down into some of the upper streets reached to the height of from sixteen to eighteen feet, and in some of the lower streets to from three to ten feet . . . realising the Portuguese proverb;

'Quando com Levante chove
As Pedras move.'

Gibraltar from Campamento in Spain - Note the precarious position of the town below the steep sides of the western face of the Rock   ( 1850s - Unknown )

The Apes
. . . several families of which have located themselves on the rock ; they are probably an importation from Barbary, but they are so extremely wary that it is quite impossible to get near them, and a skeleton has scarcely ever been found.

The Census
The census of the civilian population since 1754 is;

1791 - 2885
1801 - 5339
1807 - 7501
1811 - 11,173
1813 - 12,423
1814 - 10,136*
1816 - 11,401
1817 - 10,737

* Diminished in November, 1813, to 7370 individuals, owing to the voluntary removal or forcible expulsion of many individuals and by the ravages of the epidemic.

The Moors and the Jews
There is much poverty among the poorer classes at Gibraltar, especially among the aliens ; the lower order of Moors and Jews have a filthy appearance : they wear a sort of frock composed of flimsy blanketing, with a hood and sleeves for wet weather ; loose cotton drawers, open at the knees, the legs bare, the feet in clumsy slippers, and skull-cap of greasy wool; this garb is frequently worn night and day until it drops to pieces.

People of Gibraltar  ( 1840 - Francis Egerton )

Food - Gaspacho
Provisions, such as beef, mutton, lamb, &c. procured from Spain or Barbary, are good, but rather high priced ; fish is plentiful, but the chief dish of the lower orders is called gespacho, and is composed of water, vinegar, oil, capsicums, garlic and salt, into which bread is broken : all the family sit round the bowl, each person helping himself with a wooden spoon. The usual beverage is Spanish wine, from Malaga and Catalonia.

The Law
The chief administration lies in the Governor, who is . . the commander-in-chief of the troops ; and the settlement is treated as a garrison town. The laws of England are generally applied at Gibraltar, and the Charter of Justice of 1830 provides that the courts shall administer the law as nearly as may be according to the practice of Westminster Hall.

The Civil Hospital
An establishment for the reception alike of the sick poor of different persuasions ; from its general funds, hospital accommodation and equipment, medical attendance, and medicines are supplied ; but as the general funds are not sufficient for the support of the patients, each particular religious persuasion is at the expense of dieting its own sick whilst in hospital, by subscriptions raised among themselves.

The building, formerly called "The Blue Barracks"  - previously in a state of ruin - having been appropriated and fitted up at the expense of Government was given over for occupation as a civil hospital in 1815.

Since that period, however, such considerable sums of money from local, public ( i. e. contributions and port charges), and also from private sources, have been expended in large additions of building improvements, and in completing the establishment to its present extended state of usefulness and perfection, as to render it at this moment an inseparable amalgam of original government and civil property.

In its present state it is capable of containing eighty patients. The dieting and washing of the patients, servants, funerals, &c. are paid for by annual subscriptions and donations raised by the three predominant persuasions among themselves, each defraying that of its own class and number of sick . . .

The Colonial Hospital - or the Civil Hospital as it was known when this photograph was taken

This is a classic example of double standards in history writing. Before General Don came on the scene, no Governor of Gibraltar had ever even considered the possibility of creating a hospital for the exclusive use of the non-military population. It took several lethal epidemics to make Britons in authority reconsider the possible advantages to themselves and the garrison at large in creating one.

Worse still they managed to 'persuade' the local merchants to foot the entire bill for the upkeep of the place in the future. Admittedly the British tax payer paid for the repairs that were needed to convert the old Blue Barracks into a hospital but even this was advantageous to the British administration. As Don himself realised, they would end up with a refurbished building which the Government would continue to own.

There is a regular scavenging department, which not only attends the town, but every part of the garrison and neutral ground, whence the animal matter is conveyed, divided from the other rubbish, and buried on the eastern extremity of the beach. . . 

Previous to the year 1814, the garrison was infamous for its filth ; without sufficient common sewers, without an efficient scavenging department, without pavements on proper principles ; in short, it had obtained the bad pre-eminence of being the dirtiest garrison under the British Crown.

On landing at the New Mole, the first objects that struck the eye, were certain enclosures marked 'Depot', in which all the filth of the neighbourhood was stored up to be removed at leisure. The foetor from these collections was offensive in the extreme; the effluvia which arose from them were diffused all around, and they were placed so close to each other, as to keep up a chain of putrescent exhalations, which tainted the whole atmosphere.

The New Mole on the right. It is hard to say exactly where these 'enclosures' were kept but they were probably somewhere along the quayside   ( 1860s - George Washington Wilson )

The work of reformation soon commenced, — the depots were emptied into the sea, and the necessary measures were taken for constructing common sewers through the principal streets. From the rocky nature of the ground, in most situations, this was a work of considerable labour and expense, but by judicious plans and patient perseverance, it was accomplished in a most effectual manner ; many thousand running feet of new drains have been constructed.

Something of an overstatement on the efficiency and thoughtfulness of the British administration. The sewers proved ineffective and the drains were not good enough to cope with the kind of problems - as mentioned previously - brought about by a place given to sudden deluges and a town built at the bottom of a steep hill.

Beef for the Troops
The butcheries and markets are under excellent regulations. No cattle are permitted to be slaughtered in any other place than the zoca . . the neutral ground . . The hours of slaughtering are limited to between three o'clock p.m. and sunset ; and the meat is not allowed to be brought into the garrison before the next morning ; so that abundant time is given it to cool . .

The cleansed offal — as head, heart, suet and tallow, is permitted to be brought into the garrison in the evening that the animal is killed, for the purpose of immediate sale, but no garbage of any description is admitted at any time. In the neighbourhood of the zoca, sheds for several hundred head of cattle are erected. . . The cattle for the troops are chiefly procured from Barbary, under a treaty by which 2000 head are annually permitted to be exported from that country, for the use of the garrison.

The slaughter house at Zoca near Eastern Beach

The burial-places of Gibraltar were suspected of being very efficient agents in the production of the epidemic of 1813. The smell issuing from the principal one is described by Dr. Robertson as having been extremely offensive, and he expresses his astonishment that with such a source of fever existing within it, the garrison was ever free from that disease.

The old burial-ground in South Port Ditch was suspected of similar ill effects. Whether these suspicions were well or ill founded, the main causes of complaint have been removed, and the principal burying-ground is now on the neutral ground. 

Catholic Cemetery at North Front  ( 1860s George Washington Wilson )

The depositing of bodies within the Spanish church, which was so common a practice fifty years ago that . . .all the Roman Catholics were buried there . . . is now discontinued. Nothing but the quantity of lime thrown over the bodies could have prevented the most dangerous consequences resulting from this practice. It is now so rare to deposit a body in the church, that a thousand dollars were lately paid by the family of a Spanish gentleman for permission to do so.

The gentleman in question was almost certainly Giovanni Maria Boschetti who was Genoese rather than Spanish. He was buried in the Cathedral in 1834. He could certainly afford the expense. ( See LINK )

Commerce and Smuggling
The trade of Gibraltar has been of the utmost value to England during her wars, and it is still of considerable importance. Shortly after its capture in 1704, the settlement was wisely made a free port by Queen Ann, and it soon became a most valuable entrepĂ´t for the distribution of British manufactures . .

Progressively increasing, Gibraltar became at length the centre of commerce, which, considering the number of inhabitants, was perhaps without its equal in the world. An idea of the extent to which it was carried may be judged from the fact, that in one year the value of British manufactured goods imported into Gibraltar, direct from England . . . was nearly 3,000,000 sterling !

. . . during the last war . . . Gibraltar was the most abundant and never failing source for the supply of the British army with cash. Various circumstances have occurred to diminish the trade . . among the most prominent are the creation of a free port at Cadiz, the establishment of manufactories in the eastern parts of Spain, and the various royal orders of the Spanish Government, which place Gibraltar almost in a state of commercial non-intercourse with Spain, under the plea of preventing smuggling into the provinces adjacent to the fortress.  The following table will convey some idea of the trade of the port for the last fifteen years :

It is the duty of our Government to remonstrate with that of Spain with regard to the disabilities under which the commerce of Gibraltar has been placed. Our cotton goods are totally prohibited. Ships touching at Gibraltar are treated almost as if they were infectious, and the . . . scale of duties levied at Barcelona on articles coming from Gibraltar and Genoa . . . shew the unfair position in which our merchants are placed.

It was all music to a smuggler's ears  . .  and a curious reversal of fortunes in Gibraltar's relationship with Spain. The final paragraph shows clearly where Montgomery Martin stood as regards Gibraltar - not altogether surprising as he was a firm believer in the usefulness of the British Empire and in the desirability of holding on to her colonies.

As regards the table - at least in the case of cotton and woollen goods - the Spanish measures had proved nothing less than disastrous for Gibraltar. The suggestion that Spain was somehow acting unreasonably also sounds a bit rich - British authorities in Gibraltar were continuing not just to turn a blind eye on smuggling but to use naval and military force to actively support ships  carrying contraband.

In fact the idea that Queen Anne had acted wisely in granting free port status to Gibraltar is open to question - it undoubtedly made quite a few people very rich indeed - both on the Rock and in Britain - but in the final analysis it proved counterproductive in that it made it impossible for the British to create the kind of 'home away from home' colony that they would have wished.

The romantic view - a couple of Spanish smugglers and their partners comparing notes somewhere in Spain after a successful foray into - and out of - Gibraltar  ( 1830s - John Frederick Lewis )

General View
The foregoing details sufficiently illustrate the importance of Gibraltar to Great Britain, whether it be viewed politically or commercially. By British valour it has been acquired, and by British statesmanship preserved.

May the day be far distant when treachery or dissension at home shall cause this noble fortress, the protector of our flag, honour, and trade in the Mediterranean, to be neglected or contemned. Our possession of the' Rock" is not only of the highest importance to a maritime nation like England, but it is also of the most essential use to the states of Western Europe in the event of Russia attempting to barbarize the more civilized portion of the continent.

A rare mention of Russia with reference to Gibraltar. Montgomery Martin is referring to the rivalry between the British and Russian Empires in their competition for power and influence in Asia. It was known to British diplomats as 'The Great Game'.

View of the anchorage at the old Mole - Montgomery Martin used this engraving as the frontispiece to his chapter on Gibraltar   ( 1830 - Batty and Smith )