Amasa Hewins born in 1795 was an American portrait and landscape painter who also dabbled as an art dealer. In 1830 he visited various countries in Europe, a trip that lasted nearly three years and included a lengthy stop at Gibraltar. The diary he kept was later published in 1931 under the title A Boston Portrait-painter visits Italy - The Journal of Amasa Hewins - 1830-1833. It was edited by Francis H. Allen 1931 whose preface included the following comment;
. . . It was written in a blank-book of small-quarto size, which was kept in the family till three years ago, when his only surviving child, Miss Louisa Hewins, of Jamaica Plain, presented it to the Boston Atheniaeum.
The diary begins with his departure from Boston.
Sunday, August 22nd, 1830. Sailed from Boston for Gibraltar in the brig 'Marion', Captain Cook.
Gibraltar, Sept. 21st, 1830. Arrived in Gibraltar about 12. In crossing the Atlantic in a small vessel, one is apt to be annoyed by bad air in the cabin, especially in stormy weather when it is necessary to keep the doors closed. I suffered much on this voyage . . .
Sept. 21st, 1830. On coming into the harbor the health boat sent us to quarantine for 5 days, a vexation which we did not expect. We are anchored a short distance from shore, but are prevented from leaving the vessel or receiving any person on board.
In 1828 perhaps more than 2000 people had died of yellow fever in Gibraltar. Very many more had died in previous epidemics. ( see LINK ) At the time the fever was thought to be contagious - hence the supposed need for quarantine.
Mr. Sprague's boat and Messrs. Hill & Blodget's, each with an officer or guard on board, have been alongside and received our letters, taking them with a long pair of tongs and carefully dipping them in the sea. Here we first received the news of the capture of Algiers and of the revolution in France. Mr. Sprague and Mr. Blodget have each been off to see us and in the most obliging manner offered their services and invited me when I come on shore to visit them.
'Mr Sprague' ( see LINK ) would become American Consol in Gibraltar a couple of years later. Blodget and O'Sullivan are mentioned by another early 19th century visitor - Mordechai Manuel Noah. ( See LINK ) But by the time yet another American visitor - Andrew Biglow ( see LINK ) arrived on the Rock Thomas Hill had died. He had been the senior partner of the Messrs Hill and Blodget, an important a merchant house with branches in both Cadiz and Gibraltar.
View of the Rock from the sea ( 1870s - Unknown )
Sept. 23rd, 1830. Our situation here presents us with no little novelty. On the one hand we see long lines of mules or asses each morning and evening going to, and returning from market, on the other, the town or garrison rising from the sea and extending itself up the side of the rock, which towers above it for several hundred feet, its top being occasionally enveloped in clouds; around we see the vessels and hear the languages of several different nations; as Spaniards with small round-top hats and long red sashes around their waists, with each a cigar in his mouth; the Italians, who are ever singing and apparently happy; the Austrians, who neither sing nor speak, as I have yet been able to hear; the French, English, Portuguese, with others that to judge from their looks it would be difficult to tell where they belong; and last yet not least either in number or size, our own countrymen.
The Commercial Wharf ( 1870s - Unknown )
The view of the town by night when the lamps are lighted up is exceedingly picturesque; the scenery of the African shore is bold and, as I should say, rather magnificent; the mountains of Spain to the north east, which extend along the shore of the Mediterranean and are visible for a great distance, those nearer being of a beautiful bronze which in sunshine assumes the colour of changeable silk and softening in the distance till they can hardly be distinguished from the clouds.
Such are a few of the objects which excite the attention of a stranger. I ought not to omit the music of the garrison, which helps to enliven the scene, especially when on the quarantine station. The grapes, too, and the other fruits will not be forgotten by those who have been long at sea.
Sept. 25th, 1830. Have at length got permission to go on shore. The streets present a novel appearance and a great variety of persons and costumes. The Highlanders (soldiers) with their bare knees, Jews with blue cloaks and long beards and small caps, Turks with their most singular and inconvenient dress of coarse striped woollen tunic, turban of white muslin, buff slippers, bare legs, and long beards also; in short the costumes of so many different nations, languages and manners all serve to render the first impressions highly agreeable and amusing. Some few Greeks.
Sept. 25th, 1830. Here are to be seen the natives of almost every nation in Europe and in their appropriate costumes. A stranger from our country will first remark the narrowness of the streets as well as their crowded state. Many of the ladies, especially the Spanish, walk the streets without bonnets or any headdress except a black lace veil thrown overthe back part and falling down upon the shoulders.
The usual description of the people of the Rock - but with not a hint of criticism - in fact one gets the impression he was quite taken by it all.
Some of the streets are paved with square stones and some are macadamized. The first merchants in the place, as Messrs. Hill & Blodget, Mr. Sprague, &c., &c., have their counting houses and dwellings under the same roof. They have no painted signs as in our country but only brass door plates.
The first Macadamised road in the United States was constructed in 1823, the second in 1830. Hewins must have been impressed.
The shopkeepers have small signs painted on tin and each house has on it the owner's name, the occupant's also, with the number of males and females, the house's number and the number of the district. The barber's sign is two brass basons, probably meaning Mambrino's helmet.
Notwithstanding the ground is so very uneven there is a tolerably pleasant public walk and square for the exercise of the troops, called the Alameda. Here is a rude colossal statue in wood of Gen. Elliot, holding in his hand an immense key, as Gibraltar is the key of the Mediterranean.Likewise a colossal statue of Neptune in the act of spearing a dolphin (rather a low employment for the god of the deep) which was once the figure head of the San Juan, man of war, taken by Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar.
Hewins may have made a mistake here. It was the wooden statue of General Eliott that was carved out of wood from the ship San Juan Nepomuceno. This eyesore was eventually removed and when last I heard of it had been placed in the cloister of the Convent - the Governor's house in Gibraltar. It was replaced by a bronze bust. As regards the statue of Neptune I can find no reference of it anywhere else in the literature.
Wooden statue of General Eliott in the Alameda Gardens (1846 - J.M.Carter ) ( see LINK )
Immense numbers of the American aloe, or century plant, are growing wherever there is earth enough for them to take root; prickly pears of gigantic size, say 6 or 8 feet high, and geraniums of several kinds are growing wild, though I believe they were originally planted here not long since.
A curious reference in that it eulogises the civilian Exchange and Commercial Library but makes no mention of the mush more well-known Garrison Library ( see LINK ). Although admittedly a no go area for the locals, Sprague and Blodget would have carried enough economic clout to have got him in if he or they had so wished.Oct. 2nd, 1830.The merchants' exchange, which was built by voluntary subscription, contains a library and news room, a pair of splendid globes andmany charts. A bust in marble by an Italian artist of Sir George Don, Lt. Gov. of the place, is placed in a niche over the front entrance. There is a column near the Alameda surmounted by a bust of Wellington, and a brass plate appended contains a long inscription in Latin of his exploits.
The Esplanade and the Exchange and Commercial Library ( 1846 - J.M.Carter )
A scarcity of water prevails at this season, no rain having fallen for the last 6 or 7 months, and many men are employed in bringing it in from the neutral ground. One donkey is laden with three kegs of about 8 gallons each on his back; some is brought in carts.
The height of the rock is said to be 1470 feet. There are several caves, one of which, called St. Michael's, is very extensive and, being rather difficult and dangerous to explore, its termination has not yet been discovered. The excavations in the N. E. part of the rock are a great curiosity and no stranger goes away without seeing them. The labor must have been immense, ( see LINK ) a passage wide enough for a carriage many hundred feet in length and nearly ten feet in height having been cut in the solid rock, which, being of limestone, is very hard.
Port-holes are cut at convenient distances and cannon planted, some of which are 68-pounders. It will readily be seen that a fortification of this kind is the strongest which can possibly be imagined, as no mode of attack which is yet known could have any effect. Indeed every part of the garrison is fortified in the most perfect manner, nearly 800 cannon being mounted in the most advantageous positions.
The remains of an old castle and fragments of a wall are still standing which is supposed to have been built by the Saracens or Moors ( see LINK ) and must have been a place of great strength. The part still standing is used as a jail; the walls are 5 or 6 feet thick, and though many centuries old the cement is as firm and solid as the rock itself almost.The most prevalent habit of the place seems to be that of smoking; the smell of tobacco is in every street, as also many manufactories and shops for segars, and boys are seen on the mole with them for sale. It is said the ladies partake in this habit, but of this I cannot say, having never seen it in any families that I visited. The Spanish part of the population are probably the most devoted to it.
The fact that tobacco smuggling into Spain from Gibraltar was so prevalent at the time may have something to do with its popularity. It must also have been a particularly cheap commodity.
Gibraltar smugglers - but only one smoker ( 1860s - Tableau vivant by Robert Peters Napper )
The Catholic, or Spanish church, as it is called, is the most splendid in the place. An Episcopal church in the Moorish style of architecture remains for some time unfinished for want of funds. There is a synagogue or two for the Jews, who are pretty numerous, and one Methodist. There is also a convent. Sunday is devoted to amusement rather more thanin our country.
The Catholic Church - originally a mosque - is the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Crowned. The Episcopal Church is the Protestant Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. The reason that it remained unfinished - the first stone was laid in 1825 during General Don's tenure of office as Governor ( see LINK ) is that - among other things - it had been requisitioned in 1828 for use as a yellow fever hospital.
Billiards and other games are played on that day, but it is not my intention to say that the people generally or at least the respectable part of English and American families are included in these remarks.
Hewins' dismay at the thought of 'respectable' people taking part in games during the sabbath is curious. Most of the officers of the garrison - all of them hopefully of impeccable respectability' - would almost certainly have been out and about galloping all over the Campo area every Sunday - without fail - with the Calpe Hunt ( see LINK )
At the south western part of the place, near Europa Point, is an ancient burying place for the Jews. There are no monuments raised but slabs of a peculiar shape are laid horizontally, and the inscriptions are all in the Hebrew character. At present no interments are allowed within the walls except of those who belong to the government, either civil or military.
The gates leading to the mole and to Spain are closed at sundown and none can enter or leave the garrison until morning.Strangers are not permitted to enter at all until some responsible person gives a bond to government for their good behaviour, and that they shall not become a charge, and these bonds must be renewed at the expiration of 20 days. If such regulations should look preposterous to some, it must at least be acknowledged that the officers in all the departments are the most polite and gentlemanly men, and no fees are demanded or bribes expected as is said to be the case in Spain and Italy.
Almost at the same time as Amasa Hewins' arrived on the Rock, Gibraltar received a new Charter of Justice. It was supposed to make it harder for people to come and go from Gibraltar whenever they pleased. It is doubtful whether it did.
To see the excavations a permit must be obtained from the tower major signed also by the colonel of artillery, and you must be accompanied by a corporal. Although soldiers are placed in every street and walk, on the mole and in short on every part of the rock, you are never annoyed by their insolence (which is more than can be said of the police officers of some cities) but on the contrary they are polite and will readily give any information or guide a stranger to any place he may wish to see.
The new Charter of Justice mentioned above also gave Gibraltar its own civilian police force only nine months after Sir Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan Police in London.
The theatre in question was that of that owned by Henry Cowper in Castle Street near the Moorish CastleThey are remarkably fine looking troops, generally young men, their equipments and dress in clean and perfect order. Their bands of music too are excellent, and many ladies and gentlemen assemble in the evening to hear them play. They have an amateur theatre, each regiment in turn furnishing a corps dramatique, and playing about twice a week, some of them personating ladies and some gentlemen, but this I had not the pleasure to see.
Coat of arms that was once part of the decor of Cowper's Theatre
I have only to add that in no place perhaps is the person or property of a stranger more secure or less liable to impositions of any kind, and in general very few irregularities are committed, so that a military government may have its advantages, although it may not sound well to republicans who look at only one side of the question.
Gibraltar was first taken from the Spaniards in the early part of the eighth century by the Saracen General Tarif, who was despatched by the emperor of Morocco with a small force. He first landed where Algeciras now stands and, meeting with but little opposition, he ravaged the country around and returned laden with spoil into Barbary. His success induced the emperor to send him again with a larger force. In this second descent he took possession of the peninsula called hitherto Mons Calpe, where he built the castle, the ruins of which still remain . . .
Then follows a few pages with a potted history of Gibraltar - of which given the above is hardly worth quoting. Tarif ibn Malik Nakli was indeed sent over in 710 AD from Barbary by the Omayyid emir of Ifriqiya Musa bin Nusayr - but he landed in Mellaria - known today as the small island of Tarifa - and not Algeciras. The following year Musa send Tariq ibn Ziyad over and it was he who landed somewhere in the vicinity of Calpe - or Gibraltar. To be fair it was a very common mistake at the time to confuse Tarif with Tarik. It is also likely that the 'Castle' mentioned in the passage was built at a much later date. ( see LINK )
. . . The present governor is John, Earl of Chatham, ( see LINK ) who however resides in England, his office being merely a sinecure. Gen. Sir George Don is the lieutenant governor and by his paternal care has acquired a popularity which is the richest reward, as it is the surest sign, of a just and benevolent system of government. The fortifications are at present in such a state of perfection that in case of war the place is not likely soon to pass into other hands.
General Don may have appeared to be a popular figure to Hewins - He probably was with the more well off section of the population. Ironically himself had a very low opinion of anybody who was not British - rich or poor. In other words just about 90% of the local population. ( see LINK )
Oct. 12th, 1830. Took an excursion into Spain in company with Lieut. Downs and Mr. Todd of the Ontario sloop of war, now lying here and like myself detained by contrary winds. We first stopped at San Roque, a village about 4 miles from Gibraltar, and from thence continued our ride some 6 or 10 miles to a grove of cork trees. These trees somewhat resemble the pasture oaks of our country, having a tolerably thick trunk and branches extended in the manner of apple trees; of course they do not grow to a great height.
The cork trees are a species of oak known to botanists as Quercus Suber. The entire area has always proved a sort of playground for Gibraltar - a release from what was then a rather claustrophobic town. It was known locally as la Almoraima.They have small leaves and bear acorns very much like oaks. The roads in this part and indeed in all parts of Spain, as we are told, are very indifferent. The hedges are made of the aloe, or, as they are sometimes called, the century plant. The country appeared very dry and barren, but where there was water to turn upon the valleys or fields, they were very fertile.
In some places water is drawn from wells by mules turning a wheel and emptying the buckets into a large reservoir built of masonry, whence it is drawn off and conducted to all parts of the garden or field in gutters, and no doubt well repays for the labor and expense. Lemons, pomegranates, figs, olives, and abundance of grapes are the common produce of this delightful climate. Myrtles were seen growing by the road side.
A type of waterwheel called a 'noria' was once quite common in Gibraltar. The one Hewins saw in Spain may have been similar to this one ( Unknown )
Although their wants must be far less in such a mild climate than in New England, and their soil probably much more productive, yet we were frequently in this short visit made sensible of their poverty and beset by beggars. A number of women and girls were washing linen in a small stream that we crossed, who joked with us and laughed in high glee though but imperfectly understood on either side.
If the roads and taverns in this country were better and robberies less frequent, it would be extremely interesting to travellers, as most of the manners and customs of the people are truly primitive. But unless a traveller's business is urgent, he will not venture far into the interior unless he is desirous of an adventure which might end unpleasantly.
We occasionally saw by the road side a small wooden cross erected over a mound of earth and stones, tomark the place where a murder or robbery had been committed, perhaps a half dozen in the course of our ride, which did not exceed 15 miles. Some parts of the country, especially the mountainous districts, are seldom passed without being robbed, though some other roads are comparatively safe.
Their manner of building, and furniture of their houses, is very simple. The taverns generally occupy three sides of a square. One common entrance conducts the traveller and his cattle into the interior court. One wing is appropriated for the asses or mules, the other is the kitchen. The family and guests occupy the main part, but floors, glass windows, or partitions of any kind are generally dispensed with. Their kitchen utensils consist of a few earthen pans and dishes with wooden spoons; a small table and stools or chairs without backs complete the establishment; beds we saw none.
An interesting aside on San Roque, a town more or less created after 1704 when almost the entire Spanish population of Gibraltar refused to stay on the Rock after it had been taken by British and Dutch forces. ( see LINK )
The town of San Roque (1879 - Jean Laurent ) ( see LINK )
Oct. 27th 1830. Sailed from Gibraltar in the brig Providence bound to Almeria in Spain, where we are to receive a cargo of lead, and thence proceed to Genoa. My stay in Gibraltar has been prolonged by continued easterly winds, which have prevented vessels coming in from the westward or going to the eastward.
My residence there has been rendered pleasant by the politeness and attention of Mr. Sprague & Messrs. Hill & Blodget and others, and what in other circumstances would have made me extremely restless & unhappy at the loss of somuch time and consequently increased expense I have endeavored to turn to advantage by increasing my knowledge of the world and of men and by devoting all my leisure to reading; the mercantile library, to which I was introduced by Mr. Blodget, affording excellent opportunities.
Amansa Hewins comes over as a thoroughly pleasant and generous man. Unusually for travellers either from the States or from Britain, he is never critical, never insults, and never dismisses the strangeness of it all. It is particularly impressive when one remembers that this was not written for later publication or for others to read. It was a private diary kept as a record for his personal use and amusement.