The People of Gibraltar
1779 - Samuel Ancell  - A Dainty Dish When Fried.

Antonio Smilie, George Picardo and Consul Logie

Samuel Ancell entered the army at an early age, and served as a clerk to the 58th regiment when it was stationed on the Rock during the Great Siege of Gibraltar. In 1784, after returning to Britain,  he published  A Circumstantial Journal of the long and tedious Blockade and Siege of Gibraltar from the 12 September 1779 (the Day the Garrison opened their Batteries against the Spaniards ) to the 23rd day of February 1783.

A few years later a third edition was re-titled - A Journal of the Late and Important Blockade and Siege of Gibraltar, etc. and by the fourth the title had changed again to - A Journal of the Blockade and Siege of Gibraltar  etc. This last was published in 1793. The last day of coverage was also changed from the 23rd of February to the 3rd. Whatever the reason for these changes the popularity of the Journal ensured that by the beginning of the new century it would run to a fifth edition.

After retirement from active service Ancell opened a military commission agency at Dublin and in 1801 produced the first part of a magazine, called the Monthly Military Companion. The periodical was continued until Ancell's death in 1802. Throughout he contributed articles on fortifications, military history and tactics, as well as songs set to music of his own composition.

The following quotes are selected from Ansell's Journal  which is in the form of letters to his brother. The engravings are taken from the third edition.

Gibraltar 1779

Dear Brother
Sept 12 - I could not but remark the timidity and fearful apprehension pictured on the countenance of the inhabitants, as they minutely expected a furious return from the enemy. The Jews and Jewesses exhibited the most descriptive amazement; terror had taken such possession of their minds that they sought shelter at the southward, leaving their houses and effects, (except such as were of convenient carriage) exposed to the dangers that must have ensued, had the enemy opened upon the town.

Sept 13 - The fearful inhabitants who sheltered at the southward cannot be persuaded to return, but seem happy in their minds, that they are out of the reach of the foe.

Set 14 - No return from the enemy. The uneasiness of the people seems less predominant and they now venture to return to their habitations in town.

Oct 31 - General Eliott continues to increase the fortifications and working parties are employed in erecting traverses in different parts of the streets to shelter the troops and inhabitants from the enemy's shot.

Eliott - (From the third edition )

Nov 1 - Fish and flour are the chief support of the inhabitants.. .  this day the bakers shut their doors, and delivered bread through a wicker, protected by a guard as the crowds were so pressing that they were under the apprehension of their houses being pulled down . . . the flour they have in hand will not last, according to computation, more than two months.

Antonio Smilie (a noted Genoese baker) assured me, he had only eighteen barrels of flour to serve himself, family, and the public. The Governor has ordered them to bake but a stipulated quantity daily, which is not half the supply required by the garrison.

It is really grievous to see the fighting of the people for a morsel of bread, at a price not to be credited by those who never knew the hardship of a siege. Men wrestling, women entreating, and children crying, a jargon of all languages piteously pouring forth their complaints.

You would think sensibility would shed a tear; but yet when we are in equal distress ourselves, our feelings for others rather subside. Compassion is very extensive but self-preservation shuts out all condolement. 

Many of the women and children returned from the Miller's this morning, without being able to procure the smallest relief  . . The bread is made from wheat ground without lifting, oatmeal, and ground pease ; and when baked resembles a brick bat. For one of these small loaves (bad and gritty as they are, and in size not bigger than a halfpenny roll) we must payan English shilling.

Nov 3 - The merchants are getting money apace, as for every article they sell they charge their own price  . .

Nov 4 - Yesterday a baker was obliged to shut up, not having flour sufficient for his family for one month. Appearances are rather dreadful . . . .  Captain Fagg, in 19 days from England. On dropping anchor at the New Mole, the numerous spectators, gave him three cheers. . .  ( See LINK )

Captain Fagg and the Buck

Dec 27 - This day the enemy began a fire upon our outward works; they obliged the garrison gardeners, who work on the isthmus  . . ( termed the neutral ground )  to retire. Several Genoese Fishermen who were dragging nets at the sea side, were also under necessity of retreating, leaving their nets, lines and tackle, on the beach.

Dec 28 - The enemy last night destroyed great part of our garden and, unbecoming the character of warriors, they meanly stole the nets etc of our fishermen left when they made their retreat.

The North Face    
 17 = Green's Lodge, with Terrace Batteries below, 18 = Royal Battery, 19 = Rock Mortar and Levant Battery,  20 = Devil's Tower ( From the third edition )

Multiple references to local inhabitants by Ancell suggest that quite a few of them decided to stay on - and risk the consequences. Although neither Ancell - nor anybody else for that matter - acknowledges it, the Garrison was often dependent on them for supplies of fruit, vegetables and fish to supplement military rations.

That something as important as bread should have been in the hands of a Genoese baker is hard to understand - unless of course, the military dealt with their own bread supplies separately - which was probably the case. Throughout the diary Ancell quotes Garrison orders giving precise quantities of food that were to be supplied to military personnel - monthly rations for the officers, weekly for the rank and file. Throughout the siege both were always guaranteed either bread or flour - which is more than can be said for the civilian population.

From the third edition

To be a local gardener or a fisherman meant that the risks of getting killed were probably higher than if you were a soldier working within the relative safety of a well fortified battery.  Gardeners working in the south were often victims of the Spanish gunboats who continuously harassed this part of the rock - as well as long distance mortars from the northern Spanish batteries. Anybody working elsewhere would have been exposed to the worst that the main Spanish lines  had to offer.

As regards fishermen, it is hard to see how they managed to catch anything at all. The bay of Gibraltar and the eastern side was constantly under pressure from enemy warships  and the risks of being hit by British ordinance would probably  have been as great as from that from the enemy.

The merchants were certainly making money - but who were they? The underlying implication is that they were non-British locals, and probably Jewish. No doubt some of them were. But the majority were  British born. In fact one can be almost certain that the people who made the most money out of the Siege were a handful of British blockade running privateers - and their suppliers in London.

Jan 17 - This morning came the Apollo frigate. She brings the intelligence that several men of war got under sail from Cadiz to engage our fleet but that the British were victorious  . . Glorious news ! . . .

The 'glorious news' - British victory at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent ( British school )

The First Relief - Admiral Rodney
Jan 21 Came in  . . . great part of our fleet; they are so thick I cannot number them  . . . About eleven this forenoon came in the Prince George, Admiral Digby, with Prince William Henry on board. Admirals Rodney and Ross are standing for the Rock. ( see LINK )

Admiral Rodney entering the Bay of Gibraltar  ( D. Serres )

Jan 24 - this day the troops received their beef and pork

Mar 29 - Our provision is chiefly salt beef and pork, and that we use sparingly. . . . . many have began to endeavour to convert the solid parts of the rock into kitchen gardens, which some have effected by raising walls one height above the other and filled the inclosed with earth.

May 3 - The inhabitants are beginning to erect sheds at the southward, near Mount Pleasant, as a retreat, whenever the enemy open upon us . . . .

June 7 - Three fire ships  . . burned with surprising fierceness  . .  the largest was a 40 gun ship  . . . the garrison drums beat to arms and the soldiery immediately repaired to station. The terrified inhabitants, together with the women and children, were wringing their hands and weeping the most bitter and inexpressible anguish, expecting every minute a bombardment  . .

Dec 5th - The Governor has ordered the pavement of the streets to be dug up as far as Southport : one hundred and ten inhabitants, ( besides the soldiery ) are employed in this work, viz. sixty Roman Catholics, thirty Jews, and twenty British ; the stones are thrown over the line wall. The intention of this is, to prevent the havoc that would ensue from the explosion of the enemy's shells, whenever they open from their batteries, as the weight with which they fall buries them under the surface of the ground, and when they burst, they scatter whatever is near them for seventy or eighty yards around.

Other than Rodney's arrival, 1782 was just more of the same. The 'sheds at southward' were a reference to New Jerusalem - which was also know as Black Town or Hardy Town. There may have been plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth every time the Spanish lines opened fire but - as Ansell makes clear - quite a lot of those 'terrified inhabitants' also managed to put in some useful work in some of the most dangerous areas of the town.

From the third edition

Jan 10 - This day, under flag of truce, the two Moorish gallies, that arrived the 29th of last month, were conducted from Algeciras to this place ; they have brought Consul Logie, and the British families and Jews fromTangier. We
learn that hostilities are commenced by the Barbarians against us,

Mar 29 -  Most of their salt meat is quite rotten, the very smell of it is sufficient for a meal.

April 1 - Several houses are on fire  . . A shell which entered a house in South Port Street, in the explosion blew a Genoese woman out of the window, but fortunately she did not receive any other damage than a bruise by the fall. The inhabitants exhibit the most impetuous grief and apprehension, precipitately retreating to the southward of the rock for shelter, crowding each other like flocks of sheep  . .  with dread and ghastly amazement pictured on their countenance.

The Romans count their beads and worship their idols, and with a fervency of devotion, supplicate their molten deaf images for protection and safety. . . an incessant fire all night  . .  and a boy of a wine-house, not two minutes ago  . . killed by the bursting of a shell near South Port. The inhabitants are terrified to the outmost and destitute of every place of shelter. I cannot authentically learn the number already fallen, but in a town situate like this, it cannot be inconsiderable.

The town is deserted by all but the soldiery . . . here a shell blows off the roof of a wine house, the troops haste to partake of the consuming spoil  . . . here parties boiling, baking, roasting, frying etc. Turkeys, ducks, geese, and fowls become the diet of those some days ago were eagerly soliciting a hard crust of bread - every pig they meet, receives a ball or bayonet.

On every hand slaughtered objects lay before you . . . one loses an arm or leg, another cut through the body, a third has his head smashed, and a fourth is blown to pieces . . .

From Waterport to Southport houses are blazing . . . parents lamenting the loss of sons, and women and children for husbands and fathers.

Mrs. M , a merchant's lady, came to the encampment with a child in her arms, accident threw me in her way, when with a voice that must have melted the most unfeeling heart, she supplicated for a little broth for her infant : I ran instantly and procured what she requested, and seated her in my small tent. She assured me she had tailed nothing for the two days past, and that the preservation of her dear infant, induced her alone to visit the encampment. I left her with the small repast I had procured, and retired behind the tent.

The Second Relief - Admiral Darby.
Apr 12th - The British Fleet are safe arrived, with England's banners triumphantly flying. Admirals Derby (sic), Digby and Ross, are in the Bay . . . ( see LINK  )

The second relief by Admiral Darby  ( John Lodge )

Apr 15 - It is distressing to humanity to view the situation of the inhabitants, who have fled from the town to seek shelter upon the heights of the rock, with only a thin piece of canvas or sail-cloth to screen them from the scorching heat of day, and excessive dews at night; not any conveniency of dressing their diet, and in the inexpressible anguish of seeing their houses and property in flames. Many of them, in endeavouring to have some part of their effects, have lost their lives, and others maimed.

A Genoese Youth endowed with every grace and amiable qualification, on the point of nuptial celebration, was unfortunately killed, to the irremovable grief of his enamoratto.

Apr 19th - The inhabitants are constructing temporary shades, some in the gullies between Buena Vista and Europa, others on Windmill-Hill; nor is there scarce any part of the rock out of reach of the enemy's fire by land, but that is covered over either with marquees, tents or huts.

Apl 24 - a soldier's wife was killed, as she was hastily dressing herself in the tent, in order to seek some place of refuge.

May 1 -  The streets of the town are like a desert, and almost every house burnt, or torn with shot and shells. In some parts the shot and broken pieces of shells are so thick, that in walking your feet does not touch the ground.

May 26 - A gunboat came over last night and gave the camp a very brisk salute. Several people were killed and wounded. . . a shell from the Mill-Tower Battery fell into a house at the back of South-shed guard, by which a child was killed, and a man and two women injured - the man is in so dangerous a way that his life is despaired of.

. . .  the mother of the above child was killed . .  by the fire of the gun-boats, and that the husband is almost disconsolate for their loss.

Nov 3 The Garrison are very much afflicted  with the scurvy . . .  Our Governor has humanely ordered the director of hospital, to serve out daily . . . one pound of onions for every ten men, and two lemons or oranges for every man in the scurvy.

Nov 14 - This day a shell fired from St Carlos, fell near George Picardo's vineyard, ( see LINK )  where it burst, but did no damage. . . .  The enemy continue to throw their long rangers  . . . a phrase made use of by the soldiery, for the incredible length the enemy throw their shells. 

The Sortie
Nov 27 - This morning at two o'clock . .  officers and men under the command of Brigadier Ross . .  marched from Red Sands . . . through Bay-side and lower Forbe's, to storm the enemies advanced works. (see LINK )

The Sortie      ( Benjamin Thomas Pouncy based on A.C. Poggi )

On the whole one can be sure that the locals never had to put up with the smell of rotten pork as they never had any. Nor should they have been criticised for praying to their idols - there was not much else they could do. They could certainly not depend on any help from the military. The soldiers took good advantage of their exodus to the south by stealing from their temporarily abandoned town houses.

Nor is it clear whether the Governor included the local hoi polloi in his  generous decision to dish out oranges and lemons in order to counter scurvy and Ancell's comment about people getting killed trying to save at least some of their property does not sit well with constant references to terrified locals fleeing the town at the first hint of danger.

The shell that fell on George Picardo's vineyard must have been an extraordinarily long shot - in every sense of the phrase - as the property was well to the south of the Red Sands area.

Gardens in the south of Gibraltar looking perhaps too neat to be true - the one beside the house on the extreme right was probably part of Picardo's property ( View of the Grand Attack - Roberts - detail )

For all Ancell's lengthy descriptions of the Sortie, in practical terms it hardly achieved anything at all. And whatever psychological boost it may have provided the Garrison, that soon disappeared when news arrived a few months later of the loss of Minorca.

Jan 1 - . . . I shall endeavour  . .   to give you a description of this envied and battered Rock  . . when you approach the town from the inundation you see no further than the Moorish Castle, and even in town your sight is bounded by the old Moorish wall ( called by some Charles the fifths ) ( see LINK )

The batteries facing the isthmus are very strong and snug, which are carried from the summit of the rock, to the water's edge at the old mole, the extremity of which the Spaniards term it 'una boca de fuego'. . . Under the castle is two batteries near Crouchetts house and garden.

The Spanish church for the performance of the Roman Catholic religion, was near the Grand Parade in the Green Market, the walls of which are yet standing. The inhabitants and soldiers repair to church by the beat of the drum.

Jan 17 - Antonio Juanico,  a Minorquen, convicted of being a spy, is ordered for execution . . .

Feb 18 - Last night a Brig from westwood entered the Bay  and observing the lights in the Spanish camp, steered for that place. . .  The Hibernian captain  . . endeavoured to apologise for his misconduct by saying - By J -us  . . . having heard while at Corke, that we had burned all the Spanish batteries . .  he might anchor in any art of the Bay . . . ( See LINK ) . . This was by way of reminding us that we had not done as much as was boasted in the papers. Her name was 'Governor Elliot' (sic ), Samuel Seldon master.

Mar 1 - The fate of Minorca was announced here this morning . . . the fortress having surrendered to His Catholic Majesty's forces  . .

Apr 25 - This forenoon an experimental trial was made of one of the gunboats  . .  The Naval Commander promises great success from them when twelve are finished.

June 4 - The floating batteries ( or cork-ships ) at Algeciras are forwarding with all possible diligence.

June 17 - You may judge the scarcity when a bullock before he is killed almost every pound of him is purchased, and the liver sold for 1s 3d per pound at the slaughter-house door where a crowd of women and children mostly are fighting for the liver, it being termed a dainty dish when fried.

The Floating Batteries
Sept 13 - To Arms! To Arms! Is all the cry -  the enemy's floating batteries have weighed anchor and are now under sail . . . Half past 11 at night  . .  Tired and fatigued I sit down to let you know that the battle is our own and that we have set the enemy's ships on fire. . .  ( See LINK )

The Floating Batteries ( from 1st edition )

The Third Relief - Admiral Howe
Oct 12 - The British fleet under the command of Lord Howe have sailed to the eastward where they are laying low. . .

Oct 16 - This forenoon a frigate came round the rock . . .  upon which the combined fleet got under weigh and went out, consisting of 46 sail of the Blue. The garrison greatly delighted  . .

Oct 18 - The British fleet are in sight  . . we hope now to receive supplies and relief . . ( see LINK )

Ancell makes hardly any mention of the inhabitants during the whole of 1782. Yet there was still well over a year to go before the Siege ended. If anything the situation was worse during 1782 than at any other time.

The account of Howe's relief is surprisingly low key - especially for somebody who never lost an opportunity of praising the slightest British triumph . Nor does he dwell on whether the supplies he was looking forward to ever made it on to dry land - nor indeed any inkling as to whether Howe's relief made the slightest difference.

Howe's Relief of Gibraltar ( 1782 Richard Paton )

The inclusion of the entry of the Minorcan spy serves as a reminder that during the entire course of the Siege not a single non-British resident on the Rock was ever convicted of spying. British and Dutch soldiers deserted in droves - but the locals seem to have remained loyal throughout.

Jan 1 - The new year has began much the same as the last finished, volleys of shot hourly discharged from the Spanish works.

Feb 2 - This day has brought us joyful news, which at first we could scarce believe. A flag of truce  . . . with the Duke de Crillon's compliments, mentioning he had the greatest reason to believe that a cessation of hostilities had taken place.

As anticipated in the title of the third edition-  and onwards - of the Journal, the very next day brought an end to the siege. Technically the protagonists were still at war. Treaties had yet to be signed and officially nothing had changed - but the blockade had come to an end.

The rest of the Journal is mostly given over to a series of statistics of which the 'Return of the Killed and Wounded' is the most revealing. Killed, wounded, died of wounds and recovered, each by regiment, all are identified. Of the civilian casualties - no mention, and there were, as Ansell himself acknowledges, quite a few. How many we will never know.