The son of a naval surgeon, John Drinkwater joined the Royal Manchester Volunteers as an ensign in 1777 at the age of fifteen. When he enlisted he thought he would be sent to America as General Burgoyne had just surrendered his army at Saratoga. As fate would have it Drinkwater’s regiment was almost immediately posted to Gibraltar.
There he survived the Great Siege with all its attendant life-threatening risks and inconveniences. When it was all over he was ordered home and disbanded. Not long afterwards in 1786 he published his famous account - A History of the Late Siege of Gibraltar with a Description and Account of that Garrison from the Earliest Periods.
John Drinkwater as he appears in the 1839 edition of his History of the Siege of Gibraltar.
Despite the fact that it was based on what must have been a teenager’s diary, it quickly established its reputation as a military classic. Written in the style of a much older man one gets the impression that he was not just a good soldier but also something of an intellectual. (see LINK)
Although Drinkwater's History focuses mainly on the military aspects of the Great Siege he does occasionally and perhaps unavoidably, offers the reader his own insights into what it was like to be a non-combatant living in Gibraltar for the duration of the hostilities.
The following quotes are taken from the 1839 edition of Drinkwater's book. They refer only to those in which the civilians make an appearance. Each paragraph or section is preceded by the page number in which the quote can be found. Dates are only shown where available.
Finally, and as a way of contrast, my various comments make use of John Spilsbury's Journal of the Siege of Gibraltar (see LINK) which offers a slightly different perspective to that of Drinkwater.
Page 36 - The other principal buildings are the Convent, or Governor's quarters; the Lieut. Governor-‘s house, which is a modern structure; the Admiralty-house, formerly a monastery of white friars; the Soldiers barracks, Victualling-office, and Store-house. Besides these, there are the Spanish church, the Atarasana, or galley-house, and some other buildings, formerly of note, but now in ruins from the fire of the Spaniards during the late siege.The 'Soldier's Barracks' is now called South Barracks. (see LINK) The Ararazana which once stood in the middle of what is now the Casemates was probably of very early 14th century Spanish origins (see LINK) and was one of the oldest buildings on the Rock. The suggestion is that it was still in use before the Great Siege. A curious footnote on this page reads:
Since the peace of 1783, the greatest part of the town has been rebuilt and ( which is rather to be regretted) on the old foundations.Confusingly, as the first edition does contain many of Drinkwater's own footnotes, this one actually belongs to the editor of the 1839 edition.
Page 43 - 1779 - Before the late bombardment, the troops were quartered in the barracks at the southward, and in quarters fitted up out of the old Spanish buildings in town. The officers were distributed in the same manner; but in ease of reinforcements, and that government quarters were not sufficient for their accommodation, billet-money was allowed in proportion to rank and the officers hired lodgings from the inhabitants. . . .
In times of profound peace, officers generally receive a compensation in money for their provisions, or dispose of them to the Jews, of whom there are great numbers in the garrison, who are always ready to purchase, or take them in barter.
Page 56 - Though the motions of the enemy did not indicate any immediate design of attacking the garrison, and the closing of the communication might be only in consequence of hostilities having commenced between Great Britain and Spain; yet our intelligence, and their late deceitful conduct, gave us great reason to suppose that they intended some attempt on Gibraltar. Depots of earth, &c. were therefore collected, in various places; empty hogsheads and casks were bought from the inhabitants, for the purpose of filling them with earth, to strengthen and repair the fortifications . . .
About 300 Jews and Genoese were also employed in levelling heaps of sand, near the gardens, on the neutral ground, in order that, if the enemy should approach, they might not receive any protection and cover from our lower batteries . . .
The Neutral ground showing the 'gardens' ( 1785 - Roberts ) (see LINK)
This engraving was included in the first edition of Drinkwater's History
Page 58 - Early on the morning of the 8th, a soldier of Reden’s deserted from the Devil's-tower guard, and some time afterwards was followed by a sergeant of the 39th, who was one of the overseers attending the inhabitants employed beyond the Gardens.
All in all it would appear that at least at this stage of the siege there were quite a few locals still residing on the Rock. The closest census to the start of the Siege was taken in 1777. There were 3201 residents of which 509 were British, 1819 mostly of Spanish and Genoese origin, and 863 Jewish. They also seem to have made themselves useful both as suppliers of finance, as landlords and as labourers. The latter at any rate, must also have been quite courageous - as shown on the map below the gardens in the Neutral ground were very much exposed to the guns of the Spanish lines.
The gardens of the Neutral ground already being encroached upon by the Spanish fortifications ( 1799 - Barbie du Bocage and Jean Denis - Detail )
Page 64 - A Venetian arrived on the 5th, though fired at by the enemy. She (with the Dutchmen) remained no longer than was necessary to take on board some of the inhabitants, who, apprehensive that the garrison would be besieged, thought it eligible to seek an asylum in time. Indeed about this time scarcely a boat or vessel left the port without being crowded with Jews or Genoese, who preferred a residence in Barbary, or Portugal, to remaining in Gibraltar, where the necessaries of life became every day more scarce.
It wasn't just the Jews and Genoese who were leaving as it is hard to believe that most of the British merchants didn't do so as well. They were the people who could most afford to do so and were more likely to have the necessary influence to obtain a passage back home.
Page 66 - 1779 - The situation of the garrison was becoming every day more interesting . . . . The inhabitants had been warned in time to provide against the calamities which now impended; the standing orders of the garrison specified, that every inhabitant, even in time of peace, should have in store six months provisions; yet by far the greater number had neglected this precaution.
Most people must have indeed neglected to comply with this absurd standing order. The bulk of the population could hardly have been expected to have been able to afford it. Ironically those who did comply would later pay a heavy price.
Page 66 - 1779 - These unfortunate people, as they could not expect to be supplied from the garrison stores, were in general, compelled to seek subsistence by quitting the place: some, however, were induced to weather out the storm, by the property they had in the garrison, which was probably their all, and which they could not remove with themselves. Those of this description, on application, obtained leave to erect wooden huts and sheds at the southward, above the Navy hospital, whither they began to remove their valuable effects etc that they might be secure from the annoyance of the enemy, in case the town should be bombarded.
Spilsbury confirms the building of huts - 'New Jerusalem, on a piece of ground above the South Barracks, laid out for the Jews to build on, goes on fast'. The positioning was actually east of and between the South Barracks and what would later become known as the 'Old' Naval Nospital. Various names were given to this temporary refuge - including 'New Jerusalem', 'the Black Town' and 'Hardy Town'. (See LINK)
Hardy Town ( 1799 - Barbie du Bocage and Jean Denis - Detail )
Page 70 . . . a row-boat, fitted out by the Jews, brought in a Dutch dogger laden with wheat: a very valuable supply in our situation.
Page 71 - The mortar-batteries that had been discovered in the enemy's lines, some few days previous to our firing, had caused no small alarm amongst the inhabitants: those therefore, who had huts in Hardy town at the south-ward, immediately removed their most valuable effects, fully convinced that the Spaniards at night would return the fire.
The inhabitants soon learned to anticipate trouble. According to Spilsbury 'The inhabitants, etc., all leave the Town when they know Captain' W is on the batteries' - 'W' being Captain Willis. Later in 1781, we have the rather ambiguous news that 'The Jews burial ground dug up by Captain W, Artillery, and made a garden of.' Presumably his battery had destroyed the Jewish cemetery in the North Front.
Page 76 - The 28nd, a prize settee, laden with rice, was sent in from the eastward: she was taken by a privateer, belonging to Mr. Anderson, of the garrison, the Captain of which thought the cargo would be useful to the inhabitants . . . this trifling addition of provisions was therefore well received by the miserable Jews and Genoese, though the rice sold for 21 dollars, 6 reals per cwt . . . The following night, the Dutch dogger, which had brought us the supply of wheat some weeks before, sailed for Malaga: she took 78 Genoese and Spanish passengers.
Page 78 - 1780 - Towards the conclusion of the month, the small-pox was discovered in the garrison, amongst the Jews. The Governor, apprehensive that it might spread amongst the troops, and be attended with dangerous consequences, ordered those who had never been affected with that disorder, to be quartered at the southward, till the infection should disappear . . .
Not the first time in the literature of Gibraltar - nor would it be the last - that the Jews would be blamed for the pox. The fact is that the Governor, General Eliott was far more deserving of criticism during this unpleasant episode which deserved far more space than Drinkwater gave it. Mortality was worse among the children and failed to differentiate between nationalities.
According to Mrs Green, wife of Gibraltar's chief engineer and yet another diary keeper, ' The small-pox raging greatly and has got among all the regiments'. She then tried to get Eliott to allow inoculation but he refused. Then a month later she wrote, 'We hear that a great person in the garrison says he thinks it is fortunate circumstance to those soldiers who have large families to lose three or four children.' That great person could easily have been Eliott himself and Drinkwater was not in the business of criticising his own - especially if it was in any way possible to blame the locals.
Mrs Green's husband - Colonel William Green (See LINK)
Page 88 - The bakers had long been limited to the quantity of bread daily to be issued to the inhabitants, and sentries were placed at the wickets where it was delivered, to prevent confusion and riot. The strongest nevertheless had the advantage; so that numbers of women, children, and infirm persons, returned to their miserable habitations, frequently without tasting, for some days, that chief, and perhaps necessary support of life.
Page 90 . . they surprised us again with ten shot from Fort St. Philip: several came into town, and did some trifling damage amongst the buildings. The inhabitants, whose alarms had not totally subsided since the middle of September, when the Governor opened upon the enemy, were now perfectly convinced they meant to return our fire; and accordingly began, on the first report of their guns, to remove themselves to the south-ward.
Some in the greatest confusion endeavoured to secure their valuables in town; but the firing ceasing, the fugitives, before night, summoned up sufficient courage to return. A woman, passing near one of the houses, was slightly hurt. It was singular that a female should be the first person wounded at this remarkable siege.
Page 91- 1781 . . almost the whole garrison were assembled at the southward to welcome her in; but words are insufficient to describe their transports on being informed that she was one of a large convoy which had sailed the latter end of the preceding month for our relief. The distressed Jews, and other inhabitants were frantic with joy . . . .
Admiral Richard Howe's first Relief of Gibraltar ( 1782 - Dominic Serres )
Page 95 - The night of the 21st, the enemy unmasked the other batteries in the lines, which again caused a general disturbance amongst the inhabitants.
Page 107 - On the night of the 2nd, two Genoese sailors who had formerly belonged to a privateer of the Garrison, came over to us in a small boat from Algeziras.
Page 115 - The hulls of the fire-ships were soon after broke up and sold to the inhabitants for fuel, and proved a most seasonable relief.
Page 120 - The inhabitants immediately took the alarm, upon being told that the enemy had thrown up an advanced work, and that their batteries were manned; and at night very few remained at the north end of the town.
Page 146 - The want of bread in the beginning of March, began again to be severely felt: many families had not tasted any for several days. The poor soldiers, and still more the inhabitants, whose finances would not allow them to purchase articles from the Minorquin vessels the cargoes of which, by the way, were chiefly luxuries), were in intolerable distress.
Was Drinkwater being naive? Luxuries were only affordable to the very top brass of the Garrison. The surprising thing is that anybody was able to afford such items when even the most basic of essentials were already horrendously expensive. But some officers must have the money to buy them as more than one privateer was willing to run the gauntlet of Admiral Barcelo's gunboats in order to bring these expensive items into Gib. After all they occupied very little space and the profit margins were huge.
Page 147 . . what then must be the sufferings of those who had a family of small children to support out of this pittance! or what must be the distress of the inhabitants, who had no assistance from the stores.
Page 149 - 1781 - At day-break the much expected fleet, under the command of Admiral Darby, was in sight from our signal-house . . . The ecstasies of the inhabitants at this grand and exhilarating sight are not to be described. Their expressions of joy far exceeded their former exultations. But, alas! they little dreamed of the tremendous blow that impended, which was to annihilate their property, and reduce many of them to indigence and beggary. . . . . The enemy's cannonade was instantly returned from the Garrison; but our artillery had orders to disregard their lines, and notice only the St. Carlos's battery, which consequently soon slackened its fire.
The miserable and terrified inhabitants, who just before were congratulating each other on the arrival of the fleet, now changed their exultation to sorrow, and flocked, both old and young, men, women, and children, in the greatest confusion, to the southward, leaving their property, unsecured, to the mercy of the soldiers.
Page 152 - Between one and two o'clock their firing abated, and in a short time ceased. Of this favourable cessation the inhabitants availed themselves to secure such valuable property as could be expeditiously removed ; but the heavier articles, which the avaricious and hard-hearted hucksters had kept concealed in their stores, to bring forth in small quantities when the prices suited, were all destroyed in the course of the bombardments.
Darby's relief of Gibraltar with no sign of any particularly harsh Spanish bombardment of the town ( 1781 - John Lodge )
Page 153 - Officers, however, whose quarters were damaged, received marquees from the public stores, to encamp at the southward; and the distressed inhabitants were accommodated with tents.
Page 155 - 1781 - The extreme distress to which the soldiers had been reduced by the mercenary conduct of the hucksters and liquor-dealers, in hoarding, or rather concealing their stocks, to enhance the price of what was exposed for sale, raised amongst the troops, (when they discovered the great quantities of various articles in the private stores) a spirit of revenge. The first and second days, they conducted themselves with great propriety ; but on the eve of the third day, their discipline was overpowered by their inebriation ; and from that instant, regardless of punishment, or the entreaties of their officers, they were guilty of many, and great excesses.
The enemy's shells soon forced open the secret recesses of the merchants; and the soldiers instantly availed themselves of the opportunity to seize upon the liquors, which they conveyed to haunts of their own.. . . It did not appear, through all their intemperance, that these irregularities arose from any cause so much as a spirit of revenge against the merchants.
Drinkwater's discomfort with this episode - which rarely fails to be mentioned by just about every subsequent historian of Gibraltar - is quite curious although Spilsbury for example, glosses over it with a couple of short and uninformative sentences: ' Weather the same. Such a scene of drunkenness, debauchery and destruction was hardly ever seen before.'
I suspect that Drinkwater realised that part of the problem lay with that rather ambiguous standing order which promoted the hoarding in the first place. There is also his careful avoidance of pointing out the nationality of the merchants in question. There is little doubt that at the time the principle ones were British. Drinkwater carefully avoids naming names thereby giving the rather unfair impression that the stores belonged to non-British locals. That others in the Garrison had not been as careful in naming and shaming is obvious from his indignant defence of the British soldiers.
Page 156 - I have thought proper to digress a little upon this subject, not in justification of the soldiers, but to acquaint the world with the truth; as some, who have related the occurrences of this period to their friends, have omitted doing the Garrison the justice to annex the account of their former hardships. Besides, had the troops been in the highest degree abstemious, the enemy's fire would soon have destroyed what was only the sooner consumed by their extravagance; for the inhabitants were too much alarmed for the safety of their own persons, to attend to the security of their effects.
Page 160 - Many merchantmen, freighted with merchandise, and articles much wanted in the Garrison, returned with their cargoes ; the merchants refusing to take them, on account of the bombardment. Great numbers of the inhabitants, and officers ladies, likewise embraced this opportunity of leaving the Garrison.
The impatience of the British Admiral to disembark the supplies, that he might not lose the opportunity of the easterly wind to return from the Mediterranean, had prevented the Garrison from unloading the colliers that had arrived with the fleet . . .
Page 167 - The 14th, a shell fell into the small armoury, near Southport, but fortunately did little injury. The 17th, the Jews synagogue and other buildings were burnt down.
Page 170 - 1781 - Two shells fell within the hospital-wall, and a shot passed through the roof of one of the pavilions. A shell fell in a house in Hardy-town, and killed Mr. Israel, a very respectable Jew, with Mrs. Tourale, a female relation, and his clerk. Another, from the St. Carlos’s battery, fell into a house near South shed, in which were fifteen or sixteen persons: the shell burst; but all escaped, except a child, whose mother had experienced a similar fate some time before.
A soldier of the 72d regiment was killed in his bed by a shot; and a Jew butcher was equally unfortunate. In all, seven were killed, and twelve or thirteen wounded. A splinter of the shell which was so fatal amongst Mr. Israel's family, is now exhibited, as a curiosity worthy of notice, in Sir Ashton Lever’s valuable museum, where this affecting story is also related.
Spilsbury was more succinct - 'Three Jews, one that had lost all he had in town, near £10 000, his clerk, and a relation, a woman, were killed by a shell in their house in Black Town: 2 butchers, inhabitants, were killed and one wounded'.
Page 174 . . . several half-gallies and armed Vessels, with fifteen or sixteen gun and mortar boats. These latter were become so active, that we could never promise ourselves a night's repose without being disturbed by a cannonade . . . Such was the terror of the miserable inhabitants, that many of them fled nearly naked to the remote parts of the rock ; and even here they could scarcely deem themselves secure: in short, no scene could be more deplorable than their distress on these occasions.
Page 176 - A flag of truce . . . informed us that two ships had been captured leaving the Garrison, and that the prisoners were ready to be sent in. The Fortune sloop, in consequence, the next day, brought over 141 English and Jews, men, women, and children.
Page 185 - It is first to be remembered, that, according to the articles of capitulation by which the Garrison was surrendered to Admiral Sir George Rooke, it was stipulated that the Inhabitants should be tolerated in their religion: the old Spanish church was therefore continued as a place of worship for those of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and, as is usual in Roman Catholic churches, was decorated, amongst others, with figures, as large as life, of our Saviour and the Virgin Mary.
At the commencement of the ﬁring, when the soldiers were engaged in a succession of irregularities, a party of them assembled in the Spanish church, to carouse and be merry. In the midst of their jollity, the image of the Virgin Mary was observed in the ruins by one of the party, who instantly proposed, as a piece of fun, to place her Ladyship in the whirligig. The scheme seemed to meet with general approbation, till one, wiser than the rest, stopped them with a remark, that it would ill become them, as military men, and particularly Englishmen, to punish any person without a trial.
A court martial consequently sat, with mock ceremony ; and her Ladyship was found guilty of drunkenness, debauchery, and other high crimes, and condemned to the Whirligig, whither she was immediately carried in procession. The Governor . . . at guard-mounting discovered the poor Virgin in confinement; but expressed his disapprobation of the action, and ordered her instantly to be removed to the White Convent, where, by the bye, she was by no means exempt from further insult and disgrace.
If a bigoted Spaniard could have beheld this transaction, he probably would have thought the English worse than heretics; and would have concluded, that their impiety could not fail to attract the special vengeance of Heaven.
A Whirligig ( 1970s - George Palao )
A curious use of the word 'bigotted'. Throughout his history Drinkwater demonstrates considerable contempt for the Spaniards, often inferring that they were cowards or worse. His casually humorous approach to the above episode shows a lack of simpathy for anything and anybody who was not a good a protestant. To be fair he was not alone in this respect.
Page 186 . . .two of the 73rd, with a boy, an inhabitant were wounded.
Page 235 - On her arrival at the New mole, to our surprise we found her to be the Mercury ordnance ship, which had left the Bay in January, and, as we imagined, was hound to England. Several inhabitants, supposing the same, had taken their passage on board her for England; and never discovered their mistake, till, to their great mortification, they found, on their entrance into the Straits, the unpleasant shores of Spain and Barbary, instead of the exhilarating coast of Britain.
The morning . . . two Genoese, formerly inhabitants of the Garrison, who had been taken by the enemy in a settee bound for Gibraltar, made their escape in a boat from a prison-ship at Algeziras. They informed us that the grand attack was fixed to be in September; but that all, both sailors and soldiers, were much averse to the enterprise.
Page 278 - 1782 . . . the inhabitants in Hardy-town began early to remove their bedding, etc. towards Europa: they were confident, from the information of the last deserters, that the enemy would again open their batteries, the succeeding day, being the anniversary of St. Louis; and no persuasions could banish their apprehensions.
Page 282 - Affairs seemed now drawing to a crisis: and, as every appearance indicated that the attack would not long be deferred, the inhabitants, apprehensive of the consequences, were wonderfully active in securing themselves and their property.
It was around this period that Spilsbury decided that the Governor himself was also worthy of a bit of stick - 'It appears the Governor takes all the inhabitants money at 38d per dollar, so that we cannot get it for less than 39d. or 38 ½ d ; What management for us. . . . . Officers now pay for permits, etc., as inhabitants.'
Page 344 - The Tisiphone, Captain Sandys, with five or six ordnance-ships having a hundred and sixty Jews on board, sailed for England early in the morning of the 31st.
Page 350 - The evening of the 9th, the enemy paraded with only twenty-three boats, seemingly with an intention of renewing their attack upon the shipping . . . in the Garrison, we had one killed, and fifteen or sixteen wounded, besides a Jew, an inhabitant.
By 1783 things were getting better and the price of food was falling and the locals - many of them returning from England - wanted thing to get back to normal as soon as possible. As Spilsbury tell us - 'The inhabitants that have ground in Town are desired to remove there, as an order will soon be given for levelling all buildings, erected since the siege, &e., south of South Port Ditch. (see LINK)
The following quote also by Spilsbury suggests that Drinkwater may have glossed over some of the worst excess by the garrison towards the locals - 'No more wood to be burnt by the soldiers, coals being in plenty, and the inhabitants' houses not to be inhabited but by their permission.' But it wasn't all easy sailing - 'The inhabitants to give in a return of their names at time of residence, and none to leave the Garrison, without reporting where they are going, and how long they mean to be absent, on pain of being expelled.'
They also had large numbers of bored and drunken troops to contend with - 'Wine being in plenty, the soldiers now live a very disorderly life, and are constantly quarrelling with the Jews, or among themselves.' On the other hand - siege or no siege - the local merchants seem to have once again fallen on their feet - 'It seems 8 inhabitants only have license to sell tobacco here. In May 'arrived a Venetian from England with some Jews'.
Somewhat unsurprisingly Drinkwater drew a veil over all of this.
Frontispiece of the 1839 edition. Its lengthy caption is described below
. . . . the principal Officers of the Garrison of Gibraltar assembled on the ramparts, to view the dreadful scene which ensued from the Spanish battering-ships being set on fire. General Elliot on horseback in conversation with Generals Boyd, De La Motte, and Green, points to Sir Roger Curtis, and a detachment of British seamen, who, at the hazard of their own lives, are rescuing their vanquished enemies from destruction. At a distance, on the left, is a view of the camp of the Allied Army, and the head quarters of the Duke de Crillon; on the right in seen the Rock of Gibraltar.
The painting that probably inspired the above engraving ( 1791 - John Singleton Copley ) (see LINK)