The People of Gibraltar
1906 - A.M. Murray - Imperial Outposts

General Clive Liddell and Lord Napier - S.L. Bensusan


Original painting from High Road of Empire by A.H. Hallam Murray 1905 - Bottom copy from Imperial Outposts by A.M. Murray

In 1907 The July 18th edition of the Brisbane Courier carried an article part of which read as follows:
Last year Colonel A. M. Murray made a journey to Japan by way of the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, Aden Colombo, Singapore Hong Kong and Shanghai . . . The primary Purpose of his tour was to examine the conditions under which communication along the main highway round the Empire can be maintained with Japan in the event of a maritime war with one or more of the Great Powers . . . .  
A few years ago there was a lively discussion as to whether it might not be advisable to evacuate the Mediterranean. Naval opinion has, however, says Col. Murray, ceased to “wobble” on this question. The results of what he saw and heard are given in a very interesting and valuable book entitled “Imperial Outposts from a strategical and commercial aspect: with special reference to the Japanese alliance”.
The book referred to by the Brisbane Courier was published in 1906 and whatever it was that Murray heard and saw may have been valuable then - but not today. Nevertheless it contains sections on Gibraltar which are, I think, worth quoting - especially when one realises that if that “wobble” had never happened the history of the Rock would have been quite different.

Gibraltar
The town of Gibraltar, with its civil population of 20,000 and military garrison of 6,500 men, has a dirty, slatternly, uncared-for appearance, out of keeping with the grandeur of its natural surroundings. There is abundant proof of naval and military activity, but not of civil administrative effort. 
There is no apparent deficiency of executive staff for half the revenues of Gibraltar are paid out in personal emoluments to members of the civil administration. What seems to be wanted is the creation of a nominated executive council after the pattern of the council of Government of Malta, to assist the local Colonial Secretary in the duties of civil administration. It might be possible for this purpose to strengthen the powers of the existing sanitary Board, (see LINK) which is the only public administration body at present constituted in Gibraltar. 

Lord Napier Governor of Gibraltar in the 1880s - By his reckoning “ . . . the creation of the (Sanitary)  Commission was a grave mistake”
Squalor which we expect to find in a Levantine seaport of the eastern coast of the Mediterranean is inexcusable within the precincts of a great historic fortress which has become a big port of call for merchant shipping of all nations, and which is one of the main portals on the highway round the British Empire . . .  
After 200 years of British occupation the Spaniards are now showing a friendly disposition to accept the inevitable. If better local frontier relations could be established between the two countries, much might be done to improve the existing primitive conditions of life on the Rock. As matters now stand, both the military garrison and civil inhabitants are condemned to live in a state of semi-siege existence. 
An urgent need is the supply of fresh water, which, if brought from the mainland, would remove the present necessity of collecting the rain-water in reservoirs for the daily consumption of the inhabitants. Hitherto the Spanish Government have refused to consider any proposal either for this purpose or for making a branch line from San Roque to Gibraltar to connect the fortress with the Algeciras-Bobadilla Railway. (See LINK

The Algeciras-Bobadilla Railway terminal – Ferry boats were used to transfer passengers to Gibraltar    ( Early 20th century postcard )

The dreadful conditions in which most of the civilian population of Gibraltar were forced to live in, has been commented on ad nauseum by others who have visited the place for one reason or the other as well as by its very own British administrators. From the early 19th until well into the 20th century the underlying assumption were that this state of affairs had little to do with the policies of Rock’s colonial masters and everything to do with the lack of care and hygiene of the bulk of the local population.  

This view was indirectly if not entirely convincingly challenged during the disastrous 19th century yellow fever (see LINK) and cholera epidemics. Whatever suggestion offered to improve matters obviously fell on deaf ears as can be confirmed by Murray’s analysis.

As regards Gibraltar’s water supply this has been a perennial problem ever since the frontier was created in 1704 and right up to the modern era - shortages during the late 20th century forced the local administration into the costly business of importing the stuff from far-away places such as the UK and Holland. 


Water catchment area on the east face of the rock just before the start of WW I  (Unknown )

As regards the railway problem, the original Algeciras (Gibraltar) Railway Company had actually anticipated the usefulness of having a branch from San Roque to La Línea giving the British their desired Gibraltar link. Unfortunately – at least for Gibraltar - the Spanish War Ministry intervened. They were having none of it. Spain would never consent to any line being built that would connect the enemy territory of Gibraltar with the Spanish railway network. And that was the end of that.
Exchanging Gibraltar for Ceuta
The proposal periodically revived to exchange Gibraltar for the Spanish fortress of Ceuta on the opposite coast of Africa may be dismissed as out-side the limits of practical politics. English rights of conquest cannot be sacrificed to Spanish susceptibilities. Magnanimity in such a case would be weakness. Any tactical superiority which Ceuta may be supposed to have over Gibraltar as the key to the Mediterranean Sea is outweighed by the prestige attaching to military possession of the great Rock fortress. 

(From the book)

Curiously this idea of exchanging Gibraltar for some other piece of Spanish territory was still being bandied around as late as 1940.  In a letter to his bosses  the Spanish General Francisco Martín Moreno wrote that General Liddell - the Governor of Gibraltar at the time – had suggested that he would write to London urging them to exchange Gibraltar for “un pequeño territorio en Marruecos que comprenda Casablanca y Rabat”  (See LINK


General Moreno giving what appears to be a fascist salute outside the Convent after a meeting with the Governor – whatever the discussion it seems to have had an effect on the weather  (1938 )
The Harbour
The new harbour at Gibraltar, which is the home of the Atlantic Fleet, was begun in 1893, when Lord Spencer was First Lord of the Admiralty, and is now practically completed. The total cost of construction has been about 4,500,000, the funds having been provided, as required from time to time, by means of loans . . . .
It was originally intended that a portion of the harbour should be assigned
for the use of merchant ships when coaling, but since the completion of the works the Admiralty have found it necessary to take over the whole harbour for naval use, and merchant steamers must coal from hulks as heretofore. (See LINK

Coal hulks anchored in the Bay a decade before work started on the new harbour  ( Late 19th century ) 
The value of the now completed harbour at Gibraltar, and of the harbour under construction at Dover, lies in the protection which such harbours give to battleships from torpedo attack. . . . The harbour, which has been built under contract with Messrs. Topham Jones and Railton, is admirably designed for purposes of refitting and rapid coaling, and as a naval base leaves nothing to be desired. Its military security in time of war is another matter.

The above plan shows the position of the three moles forming the enclosed harbour and the distances to the area near the three newly constructed dry docks from several points in neighbouring Spain   ( 1907 - From the book )

Murray deals at length about the vulnerability of the ne harbour and its docks to a possibly hostile Spain . . . gives the impression that things are not all that bad and makes the usual excuse – we didn’t know any better at the time.
The public, however, should understand that the existing site for the harbour was decided upon before artillery science had developed to the extent indicated by the experience of the Boer and Russo-Japanese Wars.
Enter stage right – or should that be left? – Thomas Gibson Bowles MP. In his book Gibraltar – A National Danger he pointed out the problem in no uncertain terms and proposed that the harbour be built on the eastern side of the Rock.


Thomas Gibson Bowles – He died while on holiday in Algeciras and is buried in Gibraltar    ( George Spenser Watson )

The problem and Bowles' solution was also mentioned in 1901 by a Gibraltarian journalist - S.L. Bensusan - in both The Sphere - The Jeopardising of Gibraltar – and the Daily Mail  - Has Gibraltar Declined in Value?


Bensusan’s article in The Sphere   (1901 )

Murray on the other hand, exonerates everybody in a lengthy footnote:
The Committee appointed by Lord Selborne in 1901 to consider the question between the two sites estimated that the construction of harbour, docks, and store-sheds on the eastern side would cost £5,320,000, and that the works could not be completed under ten years. 
The delay which the change of site would have necessitated is what chiefly influenced the Committee to report in favour of completing the works on the western side of the Rock. “It is better,” wrote Sir Harry Rawson, “to have a dock with risks than no dock at all.' The following were the words of Lord Goschen, by whom the whole question was reviewed in 1896, when he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty 
“I can assure your lordships that the whole policy was considered minutely, strategically, administratively, technically in every possible aspect. It was not only considered by the Admiralty, but the highest authorities at the War Office were once more consulted.  The Defence Committee had several meetings with regard to it, and the ranges of the land batteries were carefully calculated and put before us the land batteries which would command the docks, and on the other hand the range of the guns on the Rock which might reply to these batteries.  
Every point was considered; therefore, if we made a mistake, we did so with our eyes open with reference to the exposure to fire of the docks under certain circumstances”  Debate in the House of Lords, June 27, 1901.
The eastern harbour was never really an option and was never built. But I cannot help but wonder what Gibraltar would have been like if it had.


The Eastern harbour proposal - till being pondered upon in 1903