Captain Frederick Sayer must have been a man of many talents - an army office, a civil magistrate at Gibraltar, a member of the Royal Geographical Society, and of course, the writer of The History of Gibraltar and of its Political Relation to Events in Europe .
This large work covers events from the Moorish conquest right up to the Battle of Trafalgar and is fundamentally a rehash of several other similar works by authors such as Thomas James, (see LINK) John Drinkwater, (see LINK) James Bell - translator of Lopez de Ayala - (see LINK) and others, despite the fact that he categorically states in his preface that 'we possess no historical account' of the Rock.
However the book does include specific chapters on Gibraltar's fortification and on its commerce. There are statistics concerning mortality and climate and references are made both as to the Rock's geology - Sayer was an admirer of Charles Lyle - and its botany and natural history. It is also unusual for its time in that it includes an appendix with original letters from the Prince of Hesse, the Duc de Crillon, Sir George Elliot, Admiral Collingwood and Lord Nelson.
Crillon, Eliott, Collingwood and Nelson
Sayer was not a believer in an even-handed approach to politics. This is quite evident in his treatment of the history of Gibraltar after 1704. In his preface to the second edition, for example, he goes out of his way to dismantle three propositions set up by himself.
The first was that the occupation of Gibraltar was offensive to Spain - his reply being that Britain held it by right of conquest. Tough on Spain but they would simply have to lump it.
The second was that the fortress no longer held the key to the Mediterranean and that Malta afforded all the protection his country needed. Sayer argued that the age of steam meant a new need for secure coaling stations across the globe. Gibraltar fitted the bill perfectly in the case of ships entering the Med.
Steamers at Gibraltar - the Channel Fleet ( 1868 - Illustrated London News )
Finally the third proposition was that by holding on to the Rock, Britain was denying herself commercial concessions which would immediately be forthcoming from Spain. This argument is countered by suggesting that not even the most liberal of commercial treaties would compensate for Britain's surrender of influence and her loss of face.
He was also convinced that in so far as the events of 1704 were concerned, the object of all Spanish historians was to 'detract as much as possible from the glory of this conquest by representing the garrison and defences of Gibraltar . . . to have been in a state of feebleness and decay . . 'He then proceeds to demolish this argument with several specious ones of his own. French historians, he adds, were just as bad as the Spanish.
Taking Gibraltar in 1704 ( Unknown )
Below are a series of quotes taken from the last chapters of Sayer's 500 odd page history. Perhaps readers can decide for themselves as to his objectivity in dealing with matters referring to the local population.
The 1860 census
Frontier Controls - For the safety of the fortress, to obviate an indiscriminate influx of people, and for the maintenance of order in the garrison, strict regulations are in force respecting the admission of foreigners into the city. Each entrance by which strangers can arrive is superintended by two police inspectors, who, when a foreigner asks admission, enter his name, nation, and occupation in a book, and give him a ticket of entrance valid for one day only.
With this ticket he may remain without molestation for twenty-four hours, but if he intends to prolong his visit he must go to the police office, where he obtains what is termed a bond. This bond, which answers, under a penalty of £10, for his good behaviour, must be signed by some respectable native householder, after which it is taken by the applicant himself to the police magistrate, who decides whether a permit of temporary residence shall be granted or not. These permits seldom exceed a period of 80 days or two months, but they can be renewed if necessary. If the applicant fails to comply with the terms on which the permit was granted, he is turned out of the garrison.
To the uninitiated the above description suggests a secure frontier controlled by a smooth running bureaucracy. After all the man describing all this was himself the very same police magistrate who decided on whether permits would be issued or not.
Unfortunately even the most casual glance at the 1860 census figures reveal that they were anything but. One hundred and fifty years after 1704 - and much against the policies of just about every British administration since then , the non-British born population of Gibraltar had risen from a hundred or so to nearly 18,000 souls - this despite the horrendous mortality caused by the various yellow fever epidemics and the increasingly desperate attempts of each and every Government administration to stop people settling on the Rock. The reason for this massive failure of policy was quite simple - The Garrison could not function without them.
The Galleries (ss LINK) - one of two pictures included in the book
The People - The average number of strangers who enter the garrison during a month on daily ticket for the purpose of trading and bringing supplies is 29,700; the majority of these are Spaniards. The fixed population of Gibraltar is of such a peculiar character that it is absolutely necessary to admit into this confined and crowded town a considerable number of foreigners.
The natives are for the most part idle, dissolute, and phlegmatic ; there are but few skilled artisans among them, and their demands for wages are exorbitant. Domestic service is almost entirely supplied by foreigners, the natives being quite unfitted for such duties. It would be difficult to instance a single possession under the British Crown where the material for general and domestic labour is worse than in Gibraltar.
Among the foreigners, the Portuguese, the Genoese, and natives of Gallicia, are intelligent and hardworking people, and even the Andalusian, when working in competition with the 'native,' is a useful individual.
The admission of foreign labour into the town is watched with a jealous eye by the inhabitants. Nor is this repugnance to competition confined to the lower classes; an idea appears to prevail that a native birthright, however precarious, carries with it the privilege of protection, and that free trade, in any other sense than that of monopolizing the market, is quite inadmissible. . .
In Gibraltar every article of consumption is exorbitantly dear and generally of inferior quality. The scale of prices is nearly double that of Malta and Corfu, house rent is ruinous, the rate of wages is excessive, and the character of the servants lazy and independent, to a degree that an experience of them alone can realize.
How on earth he could tell the difference between the Genoese and the large number of residents of recent Genoese descent is hard to fathom but much of Sayer's rather unkind description of the locals is probably true. Yet the underlying tone is one of exasperation. He knew full well that the solution was exacerbating the problem - the 'worse' the residents became, the more aliens were let in. The more aliens let in, the more would eventually manage to become residents themselves.
The Governor's Cottage - the second picture included in the book. Sayer calls this area O'Hara's Town.
The Jews - The Jews form a large item in the population. It is an old adage that trade will always flourish where Israelites dwell ; so, here they give life to commerce and carry on extensive transactions with foreign ports. Their industry and pertinacity are remarkable, and the Gibraltar Jew is by no means behind his fellows in other qualities peculiar to his race.
The Moors - The Moors, so lawless among their native wilds, are here, strange to say, the most orderly and obedient of the whole population. They invariably conform to the laws and regulations, are always decent and respectful, and, in fact, set an example to their neighbours.
A rare early 20th century photograph showing two Gibraltar Moors watching a couple of sailors walking up man street. ( Unknown )
Hygiene - The climate of the Rock is popularly considered to be pleasant and salubrious, but the high rate of mordant among the population suggests either local causes of disease or unhealthy atmospheric influences, the situation of the town and the almost total absence of sanitary precautions undoubtedly tend to raise the death rate.
The city is composed of small and crowded dwellings, ill ventilated, badly drained, and crammed with human beings. Upwards of 15,000 persons are confined within a space covering a square mile. Although great facilities exist for the construction of a complete system of drainage, no comprehensive plan has yet been adopted.
Main sewers have been established, which empty themselves by means of iron pipes at some distance into the sea in various places along the line-wall, but the want of water renders them comparatively useless during the summer months.
In many houses cesspools or accumulations of night soil exist, which, through the apathy of the inhabitants and the disregard for stench and filth, remain untouched for years, slow, smouldering hot-beds of disease. When they are emptied, a course usually resorted to in summer, when the fetid effluvium overcomes the callous tenant, their contents are carried in open barrels along the streets, spreading their deadly exhalations through the crowded dwellings.
Water - Another local cause of sickness is the want of water, a want which, considering the position of the town, might long ago have been supplied. From the peculiar nature of the Rock there are no springs of pure fresh water. To many houses tanks are attached, in which during the rainy season the water is collected, but rarely in sufficient quantities to last during the summer drought . .
The following return recently compiled by the police department shows the state of the water supply. All wells give brackish water.
Number of houses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .959
Number of cisterns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 532
Number of houses without water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
Number of persons having neither well nor cistern . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3124
Number of persons having to buy fresh water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5799
In many dwellings, especially among the poorer classes no such convenience exists, and the poor creatures are dependent for the water they require upon the hawkers who distribute it through the city in small barrels carried on donkeys or mules.
Gibraltar 'water hawkers' - known locally as aquadores - filling up their barrels
During some seasons, such, for example, as the summer of 1860, the sufferings of the poor are very great for want of this necessary of life. During that summer, when small-pox, the companion of uncleanliness, was dangerously prevalent, and cholera was striking down its helpless victims, water became so scarce, and rose so considerably in price, that the poorer classes were in numerous instances reduced for days to a quantity barely sufficient to quench their thirst, much less to wash away their uncleanness.
From a calculation lately made, it seems that nearly £8,000 is annually expended by the public of Gibraltar on water alone, while for half that sum an efficient establishment might be maintained, which would supply the remotest districts of the city.
This supply would be applicable to domestic wants only, the resources of fresh water being in no way sufficient to permit of its being used as an agent for flushing the drains and sewers. For this purpose we have vast means at hand, and readily available ; as salt water, which at a small expense could be conveyed above the town, is as well adapted for that object as fresh.
Housing - peculiar formation of the smaller dwellings is another enemy to health; these houses consist of square or oblong buildings enclosing a confined and ill-ventilated court-yard or patio, into which the windows open. Each floor is cumbered with a balcony, and is often occupied by many families. In these yards clothes are constantly hung out to dry, thus further impeding ventilation. All kinds of filth accumulate, while the drain, if such a luxury exist, is rarely trapped or kept in order.
The town from the south - clothes hanging out to dry ( James Kay )
House rent is excessively high, and the poorer labouring classes are compelled to occupy dwellings which are more fitted for animals than human beings. Most of the patios are crowded with lumber, water-butts, casks, and even animals ; whole kennels of dogs and even mules and asses are sometimes kept in these yards.
Such are some of the local causes of sickness, and it remains a question for inquiry, how far those causes may be considered to account for a high and increasing rate of mortality, apart from any atmospheric influences ?
Sayer follows this up with further examples of overcrowding, lack of hygiene on the part of the locals and a review of the conclusions drawn by various people after the yellow fever epidemics of the early 19th century. (See LINK) The general impression is that the lack of drainage and other facilities was entirely the fault of the inhabitants and that the British administration had nothing to do with any of this.
The South - The South Town . . . is formed by a small and rambling collection of houses which stand on the slope of the hill below O'Hara's Tower. (see LINK) This suburb, which is disconnected from the city by the Alameda and public gardens, contains about 1600 inhabitants.
The Alameda Gardens
Above the South Town, and looking towards the African coast, is Windmill Hill, a nearly oval plateau surrounded on almost every point of its circumference by precipitous heights . . . At Windmill Hill is a large barrack, casemated and enclosed within a crenellated wall.
The barracks at Windmill Hill ( 1862 - Frederick Richard Lee ) (See LINK)
Descending to the flats through a staircase tower, commonly called Jacob's Ladder, you pass through the Europa gate, and proceeding southward, reach the extreme southern point of the Rock on which is placed the light-house.
Following the road which here turns sharply to the north and leads along the eastern face of the Rock, a straggling and dilapidated building appears on the left, overhung with steep dark cliffs, which shield this summer residence of the governor from the burning rays of the midday sun.
From hence the road leads on to various batteries, which to the stranger are forbidden ground, and terminates at a spot called Europa Advance, near the mouth of Monkeys' cave, where some guns are mounted. Further than this it is impossible to pass. The rock beyond forms a series of projecting and tremendous precipices, undermined with vast caverns, into which the sea rolls with thundering peals.
Commerce - As a commercial station Gibraltar is rapidly sinking into insignificance. Before the introduction of steam, and when there was but little direct trade between Barbary and Great Britain, the place acquired some importance as an intermediate port of commerce; and gained an unenviable notoriety as an extensive smuggling depot.
Since it became a free port in the reign of Queen Anne, until the introduction of steam, its trade progressed in such a remarkable degree, that in 1822 and 1824 the value of the imports of cotton and woollen manufactures alone amounted to a million and a quarter of money. Subsequently to 1824 this extensive commerce gradually declined.
. . the amount of shipping which enters the port has enormously increased. But this augmentation is due to the extension of mercantile transactions all through the Mediterranean, and has no bearing upon the direct trade with the Rock.
Formerly, in the days of sailing vessels, Gibraltar formed the great entrepôt for goods which were intended for distribution not only along the neighbouring coasts, but to the remotest comers of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Now steam and ships of larger tonnage carry cargoes direct to the port of destination without transhipment.
Smuggling - fiscal policy of Spain, which taught that Gibraltar was a plague-spot upon the commercial prosperity of the country, and the excessive and indeed prohibitive duties levied upon all classes of English manufactures exported from the Rock, soon paralyzed fair and open trading, and originated the demoralizing smuggling system. . . .
The smuggling trade, which was for so long a source of constant irritation between Spain and Great Britain, has now almost entirely ceased. It is true, that on some occasions small cargoes of Manchester goods or tobacco are taken as a venture, but as a trade, smuggling has expired. Spain, however, still maintains a rigid vigilance over the sea-board in the neighbourhood of the Rock, and revenue boats are constantly on the alert.
Territorial Waters -The captures made by these revenue cruisers are not, however, confined to smuggling craft alone. By an unjust and untenable assumption, which England has not yet ventured to dispute, Spain claims the right of jurisdiction over the water of the Straits within six miles of her shores, and she asserts her right to board any vessel under 200 tons that sails within that distance of her coasts.
Sawyer's argument about smuggling was - and probably still is - the official British line. The fault lay not with the smugglers, or more pertinently with their suppliers, but with Spanish insistence on levying protective tariffs. The Coloniac statisticion, Robert Montgomery Martin, dealt more fully with this argument in his book - The British Colonial Library. ( See LINK )
As regards the problem of who exactly has jurisdiction over the Straits and the waters surrounding Gibraltar, this has persisted to the present day. Sawyer gives two examples - the Julian, taken in 1859 was forced to within two miles of Spanish waters because of unfavourable winds. She was seized, taken into Algeciras as a prize and sold for the benefit of her captors. That same year another small British vessel the Louisa, bound for Tetuan was boarded by Spanish revenue cutters within sight of the Rock. It was, Sawyer suggests, an absolute disgrace.