The People of Gibraltar
1861 - James Bell Forsyth - The Reverse of Pleasant

Sir William and Lady Codrington

Canadian born James Bell Forsyth belonged to one of Canada's leading commercial families. He was educated in England and eventually became the epitome of the Victorian entrepreneur dabbling in anything that would produce a profit - landowner, the fur, tea and timber trading, the railways; there were hardly any Canadian pies that he had not poked his finger well and truly into.

James Bell Forsyth   ( 1865 - W.Notman )

In 1860 he took a long trip to the East and subsequently wrote about his experiences in A Few Months in the East; or a Glimpse of the Red, the Dead and the Black Seas which was published the following year. On his way he visited Gibraltar. The quotes below are taken from this book.
Arrival - At Gibraltar, the coast of Spain, with the towns of San Roque and Algeziras, is close at hand ; while in the distance, the shores of Africa, with the Atlantic on the one side, and the blue waters of the Mediterranean on the other, make up the picture, and a lovely one it is; for in the Bay, at your feet, are the fleets of England and Spain—the war between the latter and Morocco being then actively carried on. 
There were also several men-of- war belonging to France, Austria, and the United States. The Levanter . . . had been blowing for weeks; and had detained in the Bay, under the guns of Algeziras, upwards of a hundred vessels, principally transports, temporarily in the service of Spain, and all about to proceed, on the first change of wind, in the operations against Tangier - Tetuan having been taken a short time previous to our arrival. 
Boats without number were alongside of the “Delta" at break of day, and, the sea being very rough, we had to tack about for three-quarters of an hour before we landed at the market-place; and when we did land, what a Babel met our ears. 
The People - Soldiers and sailors, muleteers and water-carriers; Arabs, with their unmistakeable physiognomy; Moors, with their well-developed forms, snow-white turbans, jabadores of scarlet cloth, white undergarments, and bedeyas rich with gold—wrapped in their national plaid, the haik, held in much esteem by them from the earliest period of their history ; a few of their (the Moors’) ancient opponents, Spanish soldiers, in uniform. . .  Everything seemed so novel, that you at once felt you had, in reality, entered the portals of the East.  
Jewish Refugees . . . and Jews innumerable, who had fled from Morocco on account of the barbarous treatment several of their number, had received from the Mohammedans. Nearly all the Jews I met here had fled - terror-stricken - from their homes. They embarked at the different Moorish ports in hundreds, abandoning everything they possessed, and arrived at Gibraltar in a state of utter destitution. Many young women and children, among the fugitives, had no other shelter than the canopy of heaven, and numbers had not even food to eat. 

The Rock showing tents set up in the Neutral Ground to cope with the influx of Jewish refugees    
( from the book )
The Governor - His Excellency Sir William Codrington (see LINK) headed the Christian community in their charitable efforts, actively aided by a Committee of the Jewish residents, formed for the purpose of affording relief to their unfortunate brethren. His Excellency caused tents to be erected on the parade-ground, for their accommodation, and bread and meat to be distributed among the necessitous, who numbered nearly two thousand. Sir William and Lady Codrington’s sympathy with these destitute sufferers was beyond all praise, and will ever endear them to this scattered race.

Sir William Codrington   ( National Archives )
I have no wish or intention to give particular descriptions of the places I have visited, which are accurately detailed in Murray and Bradshaw’s handbooks . . . 
For what it is worth he hardly seems to have bothered overly with the usual tourist round - a glance at the fortifications, a quick look at the Galleries, (see LINK) and a lengthy visit to the Garrison Library (see LINK) where he read Drinkwater's History of the Great Siege (see LINK) on one particularly rainy day was about it.
In Gibraltar I found things . . . much worse than anywhere else. The Club House was full; and (with great difficulty) I succeeded in obtaining a miserable bed-room in the next best hotel, where everything looked so uncomfortable, that I anticipated my week at the “ Rock” would be the reverse of pleasant. 
The Garrison - The garrison was very numerous, consisting of six or seven thousand men, with a large portion of Artillery. I soon found my way to the quarters of the 100th, and dined at mess with the officers - Canada being of course the chief subject of conversation . . . 
Forsyth happened to visit Gibraltar when the 100th Prince of Wales Royal Canadian Regiment of Foot was stationed there. All their officers were either Canadians or had Canadian connections, hence Canada being the main topic of conversation.   The rank and file also Canadian, seem to have been very bored with garrison duty on the Rock and many of them either purchased their release and returned to Canada or deserted either to Spain or to the Americas to take part in the American Civil war.

Presentation of Colours in Canada by the Prince of Wales in 1858   
( Illustrated London News )
On my return to the hotel (tavern would be a more appropriate name), I found a most kind and pressing invitation from His Excellency Sir William Codrington, to take up my quarters forthwith “at the Convent.”  
. . . the removal from such a place to the residence of the Governor was as delightful as alighting on an oasis in the desert must be to the wearied traveller. In the rear of the Government House there is a handsome quadrangular court, full of orange and citron trees with flowering shrubs; there were, also, some very beautiful pepper trees, which I had never before seen . . . 
“Gib,” as military men usually call it, seems, on the whole, a favourite station; though I heard a good deal of ennui being a prevalent complaint. There is very little general society, apart from the military; and rides in the country are confined to the cork-woods, and a few Spanish towns in the immediate neighbourhood. There is, however, a pack of hounds kept up; (see LINK)  
The Theatre . . . and, while I was there, the theatre was open, the company consisting of a party of Zouaves, who had been in the Crimea.
The 'Theatre' was probably the Theater Royal which had opened in 1847. The Zouoves were members of a light Infantry regiment attached to the French army and usually serving in French North Africa. What on earth they were up to in the theatre is hard to tell. 
One favourite piece was “A Surprise by the Russians on the Corps Dramatique.” This was the representation of an occurrence, which actually took place in the midst of some fine acting, and had been attended, with the loss of life. Some of the Zouaves were attired as ladies, with a profusion of crinoline; and were compelled, in the midst of a most touching scene, to throw aside their flaming red-petticoats, and seize their muskets, the effect of which was very laughable, though no joke at the time. 
The house was poorly attended; the taste for theatricals being as dull at Gibraltar as in any other part of the English world. A great change has taken place certainly, in this respect, since the days of good Queen Bess; late dinner-hours have had much to do, I suspect, in effecting this state of things . . . . 
The Place - The streets in Gibraltar, - or I should rather say the street - is very narrow; but, at all hours of the day, it is full of people. The gardens, walks and drives, between the Almeida, (Alameda) Europa Point, are very beautiful . . .
After a week’s most pleasant residence, I bade adieu to Gibraltar . . . 
Forsyth may have been a prominent Canadian, but his observations offer very little difference from those of other English speaking visitors - a brown-nosed approach to the British authorities in the form of the Governor, an obsession with the military population of the Rock and a indifferent attitude towards the local population who he reduces to clothes pegs wearing national costumes. 

Even the worthy mention of the Jewish refugees from Barbary - he could hardly avoid them there were so many - is ruined by his over-the-top praise for Codrington. He fails to mention the large donations made by the local population - not all of whom were 'christians' and the Governor's subsequent stopping of all rations to these poor individuals in order to persuade them to leave.