Crosbie Garstin, author, artist and adventurer was born in Cornwall. Continuously on the move he visited Germany and the Baltic while still a teen-age and tried his hand at brinco-busting in the States and as a thresher in Canada and Cattle-ranch manager in Bechuanaland.
However, if there is any truth in the old aphorism that travels broadens the mind then Garstin is certainly the exception that proves the rule. He wrote quite a few travel books - China Seas is perhaps his best known novel - but it is in The Coasts of Romance - published in 1922 but referring to a visit he made in 1921 - that he turns his beady gaze upon Gibraltar.
Self portrait ( From the book )
In it he seems to confuse wit and good humour with what can only be described as ridicule of the people he meets and the places he visits. He confuses stereotypes with the real thing and pokes fun at anything and everything that he considers foreign or different.
"A Jew-boy called Isaac Levinski" - an unpleasant reference to a character in a story told to the author while outward bound ( From the book )
The quotes below are taken from the chapters that cover his visit to 'The Rock' and its nearby Spanish towns of La Línea and Algeciras.
The Rock - And all of a sudden we turned a comer and there it was, rearing its fourteen hundred feet sheer out of the sea, a lion couchant tawny and tremendous, its huge head brooding above the Straits, a world highway flowing beneath its great stone paws. The purple-sailed triremes of Tyre, deep with Cornish tin, came rolling home under that brooding head, also the weather-worn ships of Neco after their circuit of Africa.
It saw the galleys of Julius Caesar bound for Gades (Cadiz) with recruits for the legions, and the caravels of Christopher Columbus go wallowing before a brisk Levanter with royal banners flying and the Papal Cross emblazoned on their bellying main sails. It saw the lean Algerine rover thresh past to raid the Irish coast or pick up a prize off Finisterre, two hundred slaves straining under the whip, and the turbaned fighting men squatting cross-legged on the poop.
It heard the guns off Trafalgar and saw the Victory limp into its port, rigging shot to strips, her flag half-masted, and the Admiral of Admirals lying dead in her stem cabin. It saw the crowded troopers pass with men and guns for Tel-el-Kebir and Omdurman, and sinister shadows slide through the green deeps - U boats slinking east to torpedo hospital ships in the Adriatic. All history has passed this way.
It is nice to speculate and most of the above seem reasonable assumptions. Christopher Columbus did in fact catch a glimpse of the Rock when he sailed on a Genoese ship through the Strait of Gibraltar in 1476. Whether he ever did so on the Santa Maria is a unlikely. German U-Boats - both on purpose and through mistaken identity - did indeed torpedo hospital ships. The one the author had in mind was the sinking of HMS Dover Castle in 1917. However, the Germans were not alone in these atrocities which were played up for propaganda purposes by both sides.
A Pillar of Hercules, stormed and retaken for Cross or Crescent again and again, named and renamed by succeeding conquerors, sacked by the pirate Barbarossa, bombarded steadily for six months by the combined forces of two nations, blockaded for three long years, besieged thirteen times in all, the great stone man-eater looks across the Straits at his mate Gibel Musa and licks his bloody chops: "Good hunting, brother ! '
The Gibraltaian (sic) (Scorpio Rockensis) lives on the British garrison, calling ships and smuggling. His complexion ranges through all shades, from snuff to margarine. He is a fluent linguist, being able to utter at least five pidgin languages. The draw-back is that he splutters them all at once, tangled up in such a way that you couldn't drag them apart with a boat-hook.
He sits on his rock scanning the horizon for the smoke of a P. & O. with all the intensity of his piratical ancestor on the look-out for a fat Genoese carrack. No sooner has the doomed vessel dropped her hook off Commercial Pier than he is alongside in his little bum-boat, while his twin brother, Don Pedro Iscariot, patrols the wharf ready to harpoon any survivors who may escape the first line of blockade.
Bum-boat traders are a sea port phenomenon the world over. Curiously most of those plying their trade in the Bay were actually Spaniards not Gibraltarians.
Bum-Boats ( 1953 - Ralph Crane ) (See LINK)
When the battered passenger reaches the shore he is assailed by a mob of shrieking hotel touts and porters, who wrench his luggage from him and then worry it amongst themselves as hyenas worry carrion. One hyena, by sinking his teeth in a rival and kicking another in the stomach, eventually obtains possession of your bag and disappears with it, at a gallop, in the direction of the town.
You gallop in pursuit. If you are in good trim and can overhaul the chase before he reaches Casemates Square you may ransom your belongings for 10 per cent, of their value (plus tip). If he should gain the Catholic Cathedral it will cost you at least 30 per cent, and so on in ratio. If he gets as far as Buena Vista you will find it cheaper to let him go, for by this time you will not only owe him all your baggage, but be heavily in his debt as well.
I am not quoting any "Official tariff," I speak merely from personal experience. I intended to leave my kit on the quay handy for the Algeciras steamer, instead of which it was wrested from me by a gang of comic-opera brigands, and when I saw it next it was on a hand-cart at the far end of Waterport Street, going goodness knows whither. I had to shell out handfuls of coin for having it brought where I didn't want it, and as much again to have it taken back where I did.
As is so often the case throughout the book what might have been a gentle joke becomes a series of repetitive kicks in the groin. Gibraltar's porters were no doubt persistent and expensive - but is there a port in the world where this was not once the case. Portsmouth? Plymouth, Southampton?
The Commercial Wharf where the author will have landed (1903 - Unknown )
It is our proud boast that while bestowing on the many peoples of our manifold dependencies the benefits of British law and order; we have in no way interfered with their national customs and characteristics. This is no better exemplified than at Gibraltar, where, under the protection of British cannon and the eyes of British policemen, the local pirate plies his trade as diligently as in the golden age of Tarik ibn Zijad. (See LINK)
In 1921 there were 18 000 people living on the Rock. It seems rather harsh - not to say downright impertinent - to judge an entire population by a single day's experiences with a couple of its porters.
The Rock of Gibraltar runs north and south and forms the eastern arm of Algeciras Bay. To the south it terminates in Europa Point, to the north in the low sandy neck which connects it with Spain. On the west side it pitches down, almost sheer, into the Mediterranean; on the east lies the town, the naval dockyard and the harbour.Actually this is the other way round - the sheer bit on the east side, the town on the west.
The eastern cliffs of the Rock on the left as seen from Signal Station
Waterport Street is the chief thoroughfare and shopping centre; as the dazed stranger passes up it the shopkeepers dart buzzing out of their emporiums and swarm all over him like wasps on a ripe pear. Spaniards, Moors, Hindoos, Alexandrians and Levant Jews, babbling every unknown language and offering to sell him every variety of pup.
The Main thoroughfares through the town of Gibraltar were Waterport Street which ran from Casemates Square to the Cathedral, Church Street which followed on for a small stretch, and fin ally Southport Street which continued onwards until Southport Gate. These names were all discontinued in 1913 and the complete stretch from Casemates to South Port became known as Main Street. The use of the name Waterport Street leads me to suspect that old customs died hard and that this part of Mainstreet continued to be referred to by its old name for quite a while.
Waterport Street (Main Street) ( Early 20th century postcard )
Picture postcards, cigars, fans, castanets, mantillas, slippers, stamped leather work, embroidery, rugs, silver-mounted guns and daggers, brass hanging-lamps and beaten trays, all the fantastic and colourful products of the dark bazaars of Beni-Birmingham and Wad-el-Manchester. The dazed stranger, bent under his load of faked curios, staggers on, past the imperturbable Tommy on guard outside the Residency, through Southport Gate (under whose shadow lie Trafalgar's dead) to the Alameda Gardens, (see LINK) and sinks to rest beneath a flowering heliotrope with his back to a concrete bastion and his feet in a blaze of scarlet geraniums.
South Port Gates - Trafalgar cemetery is on the immediate left ( Early 20th century postcard )
Infant Gibraltaians romp up and down the flowery alleys, playing hide and seek, while their nurses lounge on the benches, relating how Enriquito the coal-heaver, or Jaime the bum-boatman behaved last Sunday evening. " Called me cruel sorceress, my dear, and threatened to assassinate himself. - Such sighs ! Such passion ! . . . Ah, alma mia ! "
Dark-eyed flappers hide in shady nooks, consuming the latest naughty love-novelette from Madrid. A British sergeant-major goes past trundling a perambulator, while his little Cockney wife toddles behind, sweetening the breeze with a faint fragrance of peppermint-drops. The dazed stranger rises refreshed, stealthily dumps his burden of fantastic junk down a gun-pit, and strolls back to the town to see the evening exodus for La Linea.
"Flappers" was the name given to newly emancipated women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, smoked cigarettes, drove cars and generally showed a disdain for what had previously been thought of as acceptable behaviour for young women. I find it hard to believe that in such a provincial and conservative place as was Gibraltar at the time there would have been too many flappers exhibiting themselves in the Alameda Gardens. There might have been a very few English garrison women that could have been described as such - but they certainly would not have been reading novelettes published in Madrid.
Practically all the work about the harbour and fortifications of Gibraltar is done by Spaniards, who come daily from the mainland. Those living in La Linea have to be out of town before the Land Port is closed at the firing of the sunset gun. They delay until the last moment and then pile, clucking and shouting, into the crazy diligences in Casemates Square, labourers and market-women, one on top of the other and all in full song.
"Go on, Senor Cochero, there are fifteen of us already, what are you waiting for? Miguel? Miguel departed twenty minutes ago in Don Juanito's equipment, I swear it by the beard of my mother! "Caspita I get off my foot, she-buffalo! Diablo! Now you're on the other one!"..." Ah, here is Miguel coming now with Brigidita and Alberto; they can sit on the drunken caballero in the corner. Climb up, my honeys." . . ." Whip your horses, cochero. Madre de Dios! The gun will explode in a moment and we shall all be fined ! " . . . "No, stop in the name of God!
The term "she-buffalo" - however translated - does not exist in Spain. As regards guns and however illiterate the author might want to describe these people, they were all regular visitors to what was essentially a massive fortress and would have been well aware that guns do nor "explode" they are fired. The reference to diligences is interesting as one would have imagined that by then buses would have taken over from them.
( From the book )
There is my aunt, the Señora Teresa Juana Catalina Sebáceo. Run, Tia, run ! Pardiez ! She has lost a boot, she stumbles, she is down, she is dead! - Ah, miseria! And without absolution! No, she is up again! Jump, my sainted one, there is plenty of room on top of Miguel, Alberto, Brigidita and the drunken caballero. Hola, cochero I is the fool paralyzed? Beat your horses, pig-head, or we shall be caught." . . . "Stop! Stop! I entreat, I demand.
"Pardiez" while being legitimate Spanish is not a local colloquialism either in Andalucia or Gibraltar. Perhaps the author meant "Por Dios". Also although Spanish families do tend to have lengthy names these are rarely used when referring to somebody one knows. Señora Teresa Juana Catalina Sebáceo would have been invariably have been called Tita Teresa.
There is my father, the Senor Don Carlos Bartolome Quintanon ! Run, Padre - no, don't stop to roll a cigarette! Teh! Now he has dropped his hat. Never mind, Alberto shall lend you his. Sit on top of the Senora Sebáceo and the others. Now we're all right. Adelante, cochero! What the mischief are you waiting for? Do you want us all to die in jail? Flog your horses, Evil One; knock them on the sore spots with the butt-end! Pronto! Al galope! Avante!"
"Avante" is yet another word never used colloquially in Andalucía.
With more shouts, cracking of whips and creaking of springs the diligences get under weigh and rumble through the Land Port (see LINK) just as the sunset gun crashes from the bastions and the great fortress locks up for the night.
There is no duty on tobacco in Gibraltar, and they tell me that the amount purchased there, works out at an allowance of three and a half pounds per head of population per day — which is more than is good for children in arms and growing girls, and may account for their sallow complexions.
Of course ninety per cent, of it is actually smuggled into Spain, where the duty is high. (See LINK) Of this a large proportion enters through La Linea concealed about the persons of the market-people, and also in neat little packs strapped on the backs of dogs. These noble animals cross no-man's-land after dark, running the gauntlet of the Spanish sentries, whose futile shots may oft times be heard disturbing the serenity of the night.
There is, I am informed, an Academy for dogs in La Linea where they take courses in sentry-dodging and general discretion. The sentry-dodging course consists in tying the dog up and having him severely hammered by one of the professors, disguised as a soldier. After a little of this the intelligent pupil learns that anything in a Spanish uniform is to be avoided like a poor relation, and acts accordingly.
Dead smuggler's dog ( From an early 20th century postcard)
This type of small scale smuggling carried out simultaneously by a large number of people was known a 'Contrabado de Hormigas'. Those who carried out this type of smuggling were mostly very poorly paid women - known as Matuteras (see LINK) for whom it was just about the only way that would allow them and their families to keep body and soul together. A penchant for caring more about animals - and in particular dogs - than people is by no means uncommon in the British literature of the day. The heavy irony, however, seem inappropriate.
As the Anglo-Indian, laden with pensions and liver, instinctively retires on Cheltenham or Bedford, it is to La Linea de la Concepcion that the Spanish convict - the hospitality of his Government finally exhausted — wends his way, there to spend the twilight of his life in well-merited repose. One likes to picture the dear old boys sipping their gore-and- soda in the local Cloak and Dagger Club, displaying their stiletto wounds, garrotting their victims o'er again, and deploring the fact that oakum is not what it was in their young days.
A passage which is hard to understand - who were these convicts? Convict labour had once been an import from Britain into Gibraltar (see LINK) - but it had long been a thing of the past by the time Garstin visited Gibraltar. If they were indeed Spanish then La Línea would not have been much use as it is a Spanish town. Gibraltarian convicts would have served their sentence and then returned to their homes - in Gibraltar. The irony - again well over-cooked- is madeeven more unpalatable by obscure references such as that of oakum - tarred fibre used in shipbuilding for caulking and so forth and which was often painstakingly recycled by convicts.
We left Gibraltar by the evening boat for Algeciras. The mighty rock stood up black against the glow of moonrise, its base spangled with myriad lights. As we watched, the moon swung clear and turned our steamer's wake into a ribbon of sparkling silver. Hamish, who knew his way about, led me forward to where the third-class passengers were preparing for the Customs.
Men, half undressed, were busy strapping packets of tobacco under their waistcoats and trousers, while ladies, their skirts hauled knee-high, were packing their stockings with cigarettes. "'S matter of fact the aduaneros seldom trouble to search 'em," Hamish explained. "They know they're all guilty, so they just take note and charge 'em a lump sum at the end of the month. There are no complaints."
A few minutes later a little Spaniard, in a fancy uniform and white cotton gloves, told me that he thought five pesetas would about meet my case. I did not complain.
Algeciras - Algeciras is a small town set with its face towards Gibraltar and its back to the Sierra de los Gazules, and is celebrated for its corks and its conferences. It offers few attractions, except a really excellent hotel in which the British tripper may enjoy English dishes, English papers, English games, hear almost nothing but English spoken, and in short forget that he has ever left home - which, to many Anglo-Saxons, is the end and all of foreign travel.
The Hotel in question was the Reina Christina appropriately built and owned by an Englishman - Alexander Henderson who was also responsible for the Algeciras Bobadilla railway line. (See LINK) The alliterative 'cork' and 'conferences' refer to the nearby Almoraima cork woods and to the very recent Peace Conference which partially took place in the Hotel itself in 1919.
I once knew a man who lived in a match-board shack near the town of Prairie Dog, Saskatchewan. At the age of forty-three he made a bit of money, palming off salted oil-claims on the mentally deficient, and, thinking his mind might stand enlarging, bought a ticket for London. He took a room at the Ritz, but left it next day because the chef couldn't dish up flap- jacks just the same as they did in Prairie Dog.
He searched London, high and low, for a week, at the end of which, failing to find a cook up to Prairie Dog standards in jack-flapping, he returned to Saskatchewan and has never since left it. In addition to the hotel, Algeciras boasts a further attraction in the Casino, built, with great consideration, on piles above the sad sea waves, so that the busted gambler may hear other things breaking besides his heart.
The Chapter ends with a rather pointless story about his friend Hamish and a visit to the Casino which unjustifiably occupy a couple of pages. After that it was away from Algeciras and off to other perhaps more Romantic Coasts.
"A most worthy person" (From the book )