Crime and Punishment in the Garrison


1. The hanging of the infamous Pirate Benito de Soto (1833)

The trial and execution of the pirate Benito de Soto has to rank as one of the most sensational in Gibraltar’s long juridical history. On 19 February 1828, de Soto and his band chanced upon the Morning Star, an English steamer en route from Ceylon to England. After boarding the ship, de Soto and his men murdered most of the male passengers and raped the female ones. They then locked all the remaining passengers in the cabins and set the ship alight. As the pirates sailed away, however, a few of the passengers broke out of their confinement and managed to escape. A few months later, de Soto’s ship sunk near the Straits of Gibraltar and the pirates were forced to land at Cadiz. Most of the fugitives were quickly apprehended, but de Soto managed to escape to Gibraltar with the aid of some false papers. While there he is said to have spent his time drinking at Basso’s tavern (situated on modern-day Crutchett’s ramp) and plotting his escape. Unfortunately for de Soto, one of the survivors of the Morning Star happened to be in Gibraltar at the time and spotted the pirate walking down Waterport Street. Later that same day de Soto was apprehended and arrested. After a short trial in front of Governor Don, he was found guilty and sentenced to hang from the gibbet’s arm. His sentence was carried out on 25 January, 1830, in front of a large and mainly hostile crowd. After de Soto’s corpse was cut down from the gibbet, his head was struck off and stuck on a pike.

Soto secured his admission to the garrison by a false pass, and took up his residence at an inferior tavern in a narrow lane, which runs off the main street of Gibraltar, and is kept by a man of the name of Basso. The appearance of this house suits well with the associations of the worthy Benito’s life. I have occasion to pass the door frequently at night, for our barracks (the Casemate) is but a few yards from it. I never look at the place without feeling a vivid and involuntary sensation of horror — the smoky and dirty nooks — the distant groups of dark Spaniards, Moors, and Jews, their sallow countenances made yellow by the light of dim oil-lamps — the unsealed rafters of the rooms above, seen through unshuttered windows, and the consciousness of their having covered the atrocious Soto, combine this effect upon me. In this den the villain remained for a few weeks, and during this time seemed to enjoy himself as if he had never committed a murder. The story he told Basso of his circumstances was, that he had come to Gibraltar on his way to Cadiz from Malaga, and was merely awaiting the arrival of a friend. He dressed expensively — generally wore a white hat of the best English quality, silk stockings, white trousers, and a blue frock coat. His whiskers were large and bushy, and his hair, which was very black, profuse, long and naturally curled, was much in the style of a London preacher of prophetic and anti-poetic notoriety. He was deeply browned with the sun, and had an air and gait expressive of his bold, enterprising, and desperate mind. Indeed, when I saw him in his cell and at his trial, although his frame was attenuated almost to a skeleton, his face pale yellow, his eyes sunken, and his hair closely shorn, he still exhibited strong traces of what he had been — still retained his erect and fearless carriage, his quick, fiery, and malevolent eye, his hurried and concise speech, and his close and pertinent style of remark. He appeared to me such a man as would have made a hero in the ranks of his country, had circumstances placed him in the proper road to fame; but ignorance and poverty turned into the most ferocious robber one who might have rendered service and been an honour to his sunken country. I should like to hear what the phrenologists say of his head; it appeared to me to be the most peculiar I had ever seen, and certainty, as far as the bump of destructiveness went, bore their theory fully out. It is rumoured here that the skull has been sent to the savants of Edinburgh; if this be the case, we shall no doubt be made acquainted with their sage opinions upon the subject, and great conquerors will receive a larger assurance of how much they resemble in their physical natures the greatest murderers.

When I visited the pirate in the Moorish castle where he was confined, he was sitting in his cold, narrow, and miserable cell, upon a pallet of straw, eating his coarse meal from a tin plate. I thought him more an object of pity than vengeance; he looked so worn with disease, so crushed with suffering, yet so affable, frank, and kind in his address; for he happened to be in a communicative mood, a thing that was by no means common with him. He spoke of his long confinement, till I thought the tears were about to start from his eyes, and alluded to his approaching trial with satisfaction; but his predominate characteristic, ferocity, appeared in his small piercing black eyes before I left him, as he alluded to his keeper, the Provost, in such a way that made me suspect his desire for blood was not yet extinguished. When he appeared in court on his trial, his demeanour was quite altered; he seemed to me to have suddenly risen out of the wretch he was in the cell to all the qualities I had heard of him; he stood erect and unembarrassed; spoke with a strong voice, attended closely to the proceedings, occasionally examined the witnesses, and at the conclusion protested against the justice of his trial. He sometimes spoke to the guards around him, and sometimes affected an air of carelessness of his awful situation, which, however, did not sit easy upon him. Even here the leading trait of his mind broke forth; for when the interpreter commenced his office, the language which he made use of being pedantic and affected, Soto interrupted him thus, while a scowl sat upon his brow that terrified the man of words, “I don’t understand you, man; speak Spanish like others, and I’ll listen to you.” When the dirk which belonged to Mr. Robertson, and the trunk and clothes taken from Mr. Gibson, and the pocketbook containing the ill-fated Captain’s handwriting were placed before him, and proved to have been found in his room, and when the maidservant of the tavern proved that she found the dirk under his pillow every morning on arranging his bed; and when he was confronted with his own black slave, between two wax lights, the countenance of the villain appeared in its true nature, — not depressed or sorrowful, but vivid and ferocious: and when the patient and dignified Governor, Sir George Don, passed the just sentence of the law upon him he looked daggers at his heart, and assumed a horrid silence, more eloquent than words.

The criminal persisted up to the day before his execution in asserting his innocence, and inveighing against the injustice of his trial; but the certainty of his fate, and the awful voice of religion, at length subdued him. He made an unreserved confession of his guilt, and became truly penitent; gave up to his keeper the blade of a razor which he had secreted between the soles of his shoes for the acknowledged purpose of adding suicide to his crimes, and seemed to wish for the moment that was to send him before his Creator.

I witnessed his execution, and I believe there never was a more contrite man than he appeared to be; yet there were no drivelling fears upon him — he walked firmly at the tail of the cart, gazing sometimes at his coffin, sometimes at the crucifix which he held in his hand. The symbol of Divinity he frequently pressed to his lips, repeated the prayers spoken in his ear by the attendant clergyman, and seemed regardless of everything but the world to come. The gallows was erected beside the water, and fronting the neutral ground. He mounted the cart as firmly as he walked behind it, and held up his face to Heaven and the beating rain, calm, resigned, but unshaken; and finding the halter too high for his neck, he boldly stepped upon his coffin and placed his head in the noose, then watching the first turn of the wheels, he murmured “adios todos,” and leaned forward to facilitate his fall....

Anonymous, Select Tales: Being a Compilation of Singular, Interesting, Remarkable and Authentic Narratives (1833).

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2. English officers and Spanish Smugglers fraternise in the Neutral Ground (1837)

‘Now,’ said S., ‘ ... let us draw out the programme of what is to be done in the way of sight-seeing whilst we are on ‘the Rock’ — at least to the extent to which I can lionize you, during your probably very brief residence here.’

‘I place myself entirely under your guidance,’ was my reply. ‘I have leave to be ashore as long as our old tub lies in the bay — the stores cannot possibly be landed till late this afternoon, and the skipper, who is a decent little fellow, told me, moreover, in confidence, that he should not positively sail unless the wind were fair.’

‘Which,’ observed S., ‘is very likely not to be for at least two or three days. It is seldom,’ continued he, ‘that a ‘Levanter,’ as we here call an easterly wind, is welcome — however, the longer this fellow stays with us the better, since it will give me the more of your good company. To make the most of our time, I vote that today we take a gallop out to the Cork wood, where you will have a good specimen of wild Spanish scenery.’

‘All right,’ said I, ‘I put myself under your charge, y estoy a, la disposición de usted as we used to say in the north of Spain.’

In nearly as brief a space of time as it has taken to relate the foregoing, S. had donned his becoming Andalusian costume. I had slipped into a pair of clean white ‘ducks’ (which with the regimental shell-jacket and forage cap, was all the fancy dress I could sport on the occasion), we had laid in a tolerable supply of provisions; and being at last duly mounted — my friend on his handsome grey barb — the reader’s humble servant on the aforesaid ‘Toro,’ a very sorry specimen, indeed, of the Equine tribe — off we sallied through the Landport gate, on our proposed expedition to the Cork wood. Spite of the before mentioned ‘Levanter,’ which is said invariably to throw both a moral and physical damper on ‘the Rock’ and its occupants, S. and myself (he glad to have escaped from the recent irksome duties of a guard — I from the irksome confinement on board of ship, and both glad to fall in once more with an old comrade and friend) felt in the highest possible feather — ready for anything — as the saying is — or was — from ‘pitch and toss’ to ‘cock-fighting.’

‘This is the only time,’ observed my friend, making his fiery little barb respond to the metallic pressure of his armed heel, — ‘this is the only time I can remember to have ever welcomed a ‘Levanter’ on ‘the Rock.’ You have no idea,’ continued he, ‘with what aversion the much -dreaded visitor is ever regarded in this place. El Levante, generally speaking, puts a stop here to business and pleasure, damps at once our garments and our spirits. Under the malignant influence of yon fleecy vapours, which you may now behold shrouding the bare, grey, and venerable summit of ‘the Rock’ (and which are always the attendants of this unwelcome messenger of Eolus), and whilst the leaden mantle of their capas’ shade is flung around, everything appears melancholy and depressed.’

When a regular Levanter has regularly set in, its deadening effects could scarce be credited by one who has not personally experienced their influence. The gay contrabandista then no longer carols forth his accustomed song — the graceful señorita closes her pantomimic and expressive fan — her large glancing eye then becomes, if possible, less bright — the sturdy African Jew Gallego, seized with unusual lassitude, lays down his heavy burden and stretches himself at length — the vigilant sentry struts less alertly on his post — wine is not bottled from the cask — nay, the merry peal of the very marriage bell has ere now been stopped, and the ceremony itself deferred, until the benign influence of the ‘Poniente’ should have dissipated the noxious vapours ever attendant on this — as the Scorpions call it: maldito — namely, accursed Levante.’

‘However, old fellow,’ added he, ‘it has been truly said, that it is an ill wind which blows no good — since, therefore, it will keep you here, let it e’en blow and crack its cheeks.’

‘¡Viva Levante y muera el Poniente!’ next shouted out my wild and exhilarated companion at the very top of his voice, as he charged amongst and nearly unseated one of a party of horsemen, who were jogging quietly away from Gibraltar across the sandy plain, extending between the northern face of ‘the Rock’ and the Spanish Lines, and which, I was informed, goes by the name of the ‘Neutral Ground.’

These caballeros were contrabandistas or smugglers, proceeding, probably on their usual vocation; most of them stalwart, fine-looking fellows, and, from their appearance, not likely to allow themselves to be ill-treated or otherwise molested with impunity. A volley of imprecations: of carajos, of punyetas, and demonios, were instantly showered forth, descending in continuous torrents upon our devoted heads. I even fancied, as we shot by, that I could see sundry hands fumbling amongst the folds of the faja for the ever ready cuchillo, and began to fear the consequences of the exuberant spirits of my friend. No mischief, however, ensued. On pulling up, he appeared to be instantly recognised, and addressed by the smugglers as el capitán loco, or the ‘mad captain.’ An exchange of civilities and cigars took place. I was in due form presented to his most brigand-looking acquaintances, and we jogged on amicably together; whilst a previous, though now nearly forgotten, knowledge of the Spanish language enabled me, though with some difficulty, to take part in the conversation, which was kept up with animation betwixt them and my loco friend.

‘Whither are you bound?’ asked he, addressing a fine athletic whiskerando looking fellow, rigged out in, as I subsequently learnt, the most approved majo (pronounced ‘makho’) costume of Andalusia, who appeared to act as chief of the party, and responded to the appellation of José Alvarez.

Pues! Caballero! that we cannot exactly say,’ replied he, significantly, as he withdrew the cigar from his mouth, and emitted at the same time a dense volume of smoke; ‘but somewhere into the hills yonder, towards Jimena.’

‘Then,’ replied el loco, ‘our road lies partly the same way. I wish to show my friend here, who has just arrived at the Plaza, San Roque, the Almoraima, and La Venta del Aqualcahijo.

‘Or, do you wish,’ asked Jose, with a knowing wink, ‘to present him either to Dolores or La Paquita?’

‘Don Guilielmo,’ continued he, addressing himself to me, and pointing at S., ‘es un demonio con las muchachas — a terrible fellow amongst the girls.’

 ‘Pero, however,’ continued he, in rather an admonitory, though most friendly tone, but pointing very significantly to the folds of his broad sash, where, no doubt, slumbered his formidable clasp-knife, ‘be careful how you proceed in that quarter. Dolores has many admirers, confesses to a sturdy young friar, and moreover, those carboneros are dangerous fellows — more so when set on by a priest; nor have they yet forgotten that unpleasant business which occurred last year at the Venta del Aqualcahijo, where we are now going.’

No tenga usted cuidado — never you mind,’ replied my friend, very good-humouredly, though evidently rather taken aback. ‘My companion here shall taste a little of Juanita’s gazpacho at the venta; and I’ll treat you all to either seco or dulce. We will return by the Almoraima, and beat up the quarters of the old padre, Don Juan.”

Y de Dolores tambien,’ whispered, sotto-voce, Jose Alvarez, as he took the proffered cigar, offered in token of friendship by the ‘loco.’

Anonymous, ‘My First Visit to the Rock’, Bentley’s Miscellany (1837).

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3. Smuggling under the Protection of Garrison Guns (1839)

For most of the nineteenth century the British authorities were extremely reluctant to clamp down on contraband between Gibraltar and Spain. The official British position was candidly defined by Lord Castleragh, the British Foreign secretary between 1812 and 1822 and an enthusiastic proponent of the doctrine of free trade: ‘The goods themselves are forced in[to Spain] by scores of large and small smuggling boats, who watch their time when the Spanish guarda costas are not on the alert, steal from under the Rock, run along the shore, and land their goods by previously planned stratagems. If chased, they retire under cover of Europa Point, and our guns do not hesitate to fire on any Spanish boat chasing within range of the fortress; our policy being to give encouragement and protection to the smugglers!’ Between the end of the Peninsular War and the beginning of the twentieth century, several Spanish boats were sunk in this way, giving both the Spanish ambassador in London and the regional governors in Andalusia much cause for remonstrance. In 1856 an anonymous English journalist related how ‘a Spanish war vessel, chasing one of these smuggling boats, ran rather too close under one of our batteries, which opened fire and sank her.’ ‘The other day,’ echoed the famous novelist W. M. Thackeray, ‘a Spanish revenue vessel was shot to death under the thundering great guns of the fort, for neglecting to bring to, but it so happened that it was in chase of a smuggler.’ All this, not surprisingly, ensured that Gibraltar earned a reputation as the world’s premier smuggling depot. One writer in 1850, for example, described Gibraltar as ‘exceedingly convenient for… contraband traffic.’ ‘Certain it is,’ wrote another contemporary commentator, ‘that smuggling [in] ... Gibraltar is carried on more extensively and openly than I have seen elsewhere.’

From Gibraltar to Cadiz there are three roads; the shortest, a wild track across the mountains, is likewise the most dangerous on account of the mala gente who infest it; the second is by Los Barrios; and the third by Algeciras and Tarifa.

This last, though by far the longest route, is the most agreeable, as the road from the Fortress to Tarifa winds for the most part along the side of the mountains overhanging the sea, and commands delightful views of the country inland, and of the lake-like Straits with the wild mountain coast of Africa.

I had determined on taking this road, but one morning, while in the act of bargaining with an alquilador for a pair of horses, I heard that a vessel was on the point of sailing for Cadiz with a favourable wind. This induced me to alter my plans; and I hurried on board with my luggage. Alongside the Mistico, as she lay in the tier off the Mole, was another of larger size, deeply laden, and with a numerous crew of as savage-looking armed ruffians as Spain, the land of bandits, could supply. They were smugglers, and were preparing to work out of the Bay under cover of the night.

Punctuality being unknown in Andalucia, the sun was low in the west ‘ere we weighed anchor. The breeze was very light, and as it was from the east, we were to leeward of the Rock, and made at first scarcely any progress. The evening was calm and bright; the mountains behind Algeciras had put on their richest mantle of purple, and the western sky was of the most brilliant orange, which was reflected in broken lights on the gently-rippled bosom of the Bay. As I was gazing in this direction, a bright light sprung up on the dark mass of the mountains, — another, and another succeeded it, — till in a short time the whole Sierra was studded with blazing fires rapidly extending, and producing, as they were mirrored in the Bay, it was difficult to say whether a more beautiful or singularly wild effect. These were the fires of the carboneros, or charcoal burners.

By the aid of sweeps and sails we crept along beneath the Rock, passing the town, batteries, and Alameda in succession, and when off the little village of Rosia, our attention was attracted by two black spots on the bright surface of the Bay at some distance to the west. These we soon discovered to be a small smuggling-boat pursued by one from the Spanish guardacosta off Algeciras. There was just light enough for us to discern that the chase contained but two men, while in her pursuer there were six. This gave the latter great advantage; the little smuggler nevertheless boldly held her way across the Bay, as fast as her pair of oars could urge her towards the town of Gibraltar. We watched them as they skimmed the blushing waters, not without an anxious concern in the fate of the little chase, which seemed resolved to die game. The revenue-boat was gaining on her rapidly, — every stroke lessened the intervening distance, and I fully expected to see her fall a prey to her pursuer, more especially when she all at once seemed to relax in speed, as though well nigh exhausted. Great was my astonishment when the other boat, now not fifty yards astern, instead of pushing forward to seize her, suddenly stopped short and put about.

It was soon explained to me that smugglers cannot be seized at sea within a league of Gibraltar; and that, as the little boat had entered the British waters, further pursuit on the part of the guardacostas cutter would have been dangerous. “Es todo verdad — eso, Senor Ingles — It’s all truth — that, Mr. Englishman,” said one of the passengers, “a cosario cannot go in pursuit of a contrabandistas boat when it is under the protection of the British flag. Ave Maria! I remember some years since that a falucho was fishing in the Bay, when up comes a cosario (a revenue cutter); the boat flies towards the Plaza and gets within the line, but my good cosario does not mind that two figs, and what does he? he comes up with the falucho, and finding contraband on board, he seizes it me, and without saying ‘Perdon, Señores!’ he takes it me off to Malaga. Well, sirs, they were just thinking of selling said falucho, when down comes an express from the Governor of the Fortress yonder, saying, that if they did not immediately set free the vessel with all her crew and cargo, he’d send a fleet, and in less than a creed turn Malaga to dust.”

“And what was the result?”

 “They let the vessel go, por supuesto, what else should they do? No, no, my sirs!” added he, with a knowing and solemn air, “those are sacred things, those! — son cosas sagradas, esas!’

George Dennis, A summer in Andalucia (1839).

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4. The Gibraltar ‘Trader’ (1845)

Weighing around fifty tons and with crews of about thirty to forty men, the Spanish ‘guarda costas’ were usually armed with one or two twenty-pound cannons as well as a quantity of muskets. By contrast, the smugglers relied on double-masted brigantines or luggers — small, fast, easily manoeuvrable craft, weighing anything between four to twelve tons and capable of outstripping the ponderous and slow-moving Spanish customs patrol boats. Charles William Vane, an English traveller passing through Gibraltar on his way to Constantinople, related in his journal that many of these vessels were specifically built for contraband purposes, giving the example of the schooner Terrible which he saw first-hand. Although some of these boats did carry small cannons, they were essentially small cargo craft — ‘very much after the fashion of the numberless fishing boats seen at Dover and Hastings,’ as another author described them.

The shipping — principally misticos and other small craft — is a source of considerable interest. Of these, the Gibraltar trader is perhaps the most striking — and a most suspicious-looking craft she is. She lies rather low in the water, sharp in the bows, and carries enormous lateen sails. Her cargo looks peaceable enough, but not so her crew, who are far too numerous to be required for the management of such a vessel if she were honest, and have a desperado look about them which seems to intimate some other employment besides peaceable navigation — a suspicion which is more than confirmed by the no way equivocal appearance of two large swivel-guns poking out their wide black muzzles from under a tarpawling amidships. In short, she is a smuggler — a lawless freetrader — and her numerous and daring crew require the guarda-costa to be well armed and well manned before she presumes to ask any questions. These vessels are fair traders in the bay of Gibraltar, but contrabandistas on the Spanish coast, whose honesty must not be questioned on the open sea, but are recognised smugglers near the shore. Hence the fruitful ground of squabbles betwixt our cruisers and the Spanish coast-guard. When detected landing contraband goods, they are of course liable to seizure; but we consider ourselves bound to protect them in all other circumstances, however suspicious. It appears not very dignified for a great power like England to protect the smuggling trade on the coasts of helpless Spain, who has no strength to retaliate or resist. But besides that the trade is profitable — that excuse betwixt nations for everything that is lawless — and opens a considerable mart for British produce, it is obviously the duty of Great Britain to protect her own subjects on the high seas, and to prevent their being kidnapped by the cruisers of any other nation, in circumstances where the charge of contravening the laws of that nation within its own jurisdiction cannot be fully substantiated. Hence the watchful jealousy with which our ships of war regard the motions of the guarda-costas near the entrance to the Mediterranean; and perhaps the most exciting signal now made from the signal-tower on the Rock, is that which telegraphs “a Gibraltar vessel pursued by a Spaniard.” A short time ago, a collision with the Spanish authorities in this respect occurred, which occasioned violent excitement and indignation against the English. It appears that a Gibraltar vessel had been boarded at sea by one of the coast-guard, and being found laden with contraband goods, was made prize of and carried into Barcelona. There could be little doubt that the goods were destined for the Spanish market; but still the vessel was captured at a distance from the coast, where she had a perfect right to be with any goods she might think fit to carry. So at least argued the captain of a British gun-brig, who, on being informed of the circumstance, sailed directly into the harbour of Barcelona, took possession of the vessel, and carried her back to Gibraltar. It is reported that the governor of Barcelona was deprived of his post for having suffered this insult; but whether he had the power to prevent it I do not know. There is no country in Europe which gives employment to so many smugglers as Spain. In fact, it would appear as if the greater part of the trade of the country were in their hands. Such is the effect of prohibitory duties and impolitic fiscal regulations.

William Robertson, Journal of a clergyman during a visit to the Peninsula (1845).

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5. A petty smuggler in action (1853)

Side by side with the organised gangs there were many individuals who tried their hand at smuggling. This type of contraband appears to have been a spontaneous, largely unregulated affair, attracting mainly women and children who were prepared to sequester the dutiable goods on their person. Rafael Sanchez Mantero, paraphrasing the work of the English historian George Hills before him, describes this type of contraband as ‘el trafico de hormigas’ (‘the smuggling of ants’) – principally due to the fact that it involved a steady and almost never-ending stream of individuals carrying small quantities of goods hidden within their person. In the next extract we follow the progress of a lone Spanish smuggler as he boards the old Gibraltar–Algeciras ferry and then tries to bluff his way past the customs post on the Spanish side.

Gibraltar is a free port, and is a depot for the commerce of various nations. It is the headquarters of the Spanish smuggler, who, notwithstanding the difficulties and dangers he has to encounter in the pursuit of his calling, carries on a thriving business. There are smugglers here of all grades. I was much amused by one of the inferior class of these worthies, in crossing over in a small steam-boat to Algeciras, a Spanish town on the opposite side of the bay. As soon as the boat shoved off from the mole, the gentleman untied a small bundle, containing a variety of articles, and with great composure began to stow them away upon his person. He first placed about half a dozen silk handkerchiefs under his shirt, then put away a dozen or more gloves in the sleeves of his coat, pulled up his trousers, and filled his boots with stockings, and, finally, stowed away about one hundred cigars in the red sash which he wore around his waist. On our arrival on the other side, I had the curiosity to watch our smuggler, to see how he would behave on landing. He did not manifest any hurry to get on shore among the first, and when he landed on the mole, lingered about among the officers, speaking familiarly to his acquaintances, and finally sauntered off deliberately, to disgorge his contraband articles in the back-room of one of the best shops of the city.

Anonymous, ‘Journeyings in Spain,’ The Knickerbocker: Or, New York Monthly Magazine (1853).

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6. Loitering Rateros (1856)

The principal business ... done in Gibraltar is smuggling. It being a free port, all sorts of articles are introduced to be smuggled along the coast as far as Cadiz. The English thus find an excellent market for their cottons; thereby making the Rock, in a commercial as well as a military point of view, a source of great injury to Spain. It detracts nothing from the immorality of the practice that the English engaged in it have confederates on the Spanish side, and even among the officers of the Customs themselves. On the contrary, it doubles it; for besides the violation of the law, it seduces the integrity of its guardians. Cigars are the chief article smuggled; and as their manufacture is the most active one in Spain, the honest industry of the nation is disastrously affected by this illicit practice. But Gibraltar is the rendezvous of larger rascals than Jewish guides or smugglers: many a gipsy thief and Spanish ratero congregate here, if not to ply their trade, to gather intelligence that will aid them elsewhere. There is very good shooting on the Spanish main, particularly the woodcocks in the corkwood — and parties are often made for an excursion. It has happened that these parties, especially when small, have been dogged from the Rock, and come upon unawares, when their guns had been just discharged or their ammunition had given out, and cleaned out by these roving bandits. Such cases, however, are rare, and every year less likely to be repeated. These rateros are perhaps so deeply imbued with Españolism as to think it no wrong to plunder the English, who have dispossessed their country of, and still withhold Gibraltar, more than the Gael, in times gone by, thought it sinful to make a creagh upon the Saxon.

Charles Wainwright March, Sketches and Adventures in Madeira, Portugal, and the Andalusias of Spain (1856).

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7. Turning a blind eye to Contraband (1877)

The topic of Gibraltarian smuggling, rather unsurprisingly, was often covered by the late nineteenth-century British press. One of the most interesting articles on the subject appeared in The Times of 3 September, 1877 under the title of ‘The Smugglers’ Rock.’

I found at Gibraltar, somewhat to my surprise, the Spanish and English authorities living on terms of perfect understanding and mutual amity, the Spaniards acknowledging that the English meet their wishes in everything that lies in their power to oppose the contraband trade, and the English quite charmed with the politeness and even indulgence with which the Spaniard allow them a free intercourse across the ‘lines’, and the still freer use of the territory about St. Roque as the field for those hunting, shooting, and horse-racing sports, without which the pent-up garrison and the best part of the population would find the Rock a much less endurable prison than military rule unavoidably makes it. Smuggling goes on from Gibraltar by land and sea, and the chief articles in which it is carried on are tobacco which in Spain is a Government monopoly, tea, coffee, sugar, and other colonial goods, upon which heavy duties are demanded at the Spanish Custom-houses. The smuggling of cotton tissues and other English manufactured goods has of late greatly decreased, and almost ceased the Spanish authorities told me, because ‘protection has given so great a development to Catalan industry that home competition has driven foreign produce from the Spanish market’. Tobacco is the chief offender; and these same Spanish authorities contend that the tobacco with which their Government supply the consumer is infinitely better than the stuff which is smuggled in, and that contraband only affects their monopoly by the lowness of the prices at which the smuggled goods are sold. With respect to this latter statement I must observe that public opinion in Spain somewhat disputes its correctness, for there is no end to the complaints of the ‘infamous cigars’ and cigarettes of the Regia on the part of the amateurs who have nothing else to smoke. Suffice it, however, to assert that there must be something in the unlawful importation of tobacco to make it a profitable business, and that it constitutes the chief grievance of the Spanish revenue officers against their neighbours. The so-called ‘lines’ which separate the British from the Spanish territory across the narrow neck or isthmus which makes the Rock a peninsula are only a few hundred yards distant from the gates of Gibraltar. The Spaniards have on their own side so barred the way across the sandy flat, and allowed so narrow a way through, that persons walking, riding, or driving past their lines, must as they go past brush past their Custom-house officials and Carabineros, or Custom-house guards. Here, nevertheless, an endless number of petty smugglers go through with the forbidden merchandise secreted about their person. Large cartloads of tobacco used till lately to be driven up to the last limits of British territory, where, in the open air and in full day-light, those creatures, hundreds and hundreds at a time, divested themselves of their clothes and padded themselves all over with the contents of the carts, put their rags on again, and, thus laden, went their way into Spanish ground. This practice is now discontinued. The Spanish Consul, Don Francisco Yehra de Sanjuan, with the zeal of a newly appointed functionary, remonstrated with the English authorities about these open-air toilets which he described as offensive to common decency, and the police from the Rock have now orders to bid the women and children to ‘move on’ and the carts to ‘move off’. In spite of this restrictive measure, however, there is little doubt that this same contraband trade by land is still carried on very nearly to the same extent, and one might ask why the Spanish Carabineros do not submit suspected persona, laden mules, and vehicles to so strict a search as to put a stop to the lawless traffic; but the movement of people across the line, only allowed from sunrise to sunset, is very brisk, and cannot be easily interfered with; and it is extremely probable that the speculators, of whom all that rabble of women and children are the mere agents, have the means of inducing the Carabineros to wink at the tricks those monstrously-stout boys and girls and those big women in an ‘interesting state’ play upon them. Independently of their alleged venality it is also possible that these wretchedly-paid officials, being themselves Spaniards, are not without some sneaking sympathy with the instincts of their offending countrymen, and are loath to look too closely under the clothes of pedestrians, or into the packs of laden mules, or boxes and boots of the spring vans used here as hackney carriages. For these officials are aware, and everybody is aware, of the sore distress prevailing at this moment all over Spain, and especially in these Southern Provinces, and they, perhaps, consider that any efficient check put on that contraband trade which is the only resource of vast numbers of the population would at once bring them to the verge of actual starvation. For such is the result of unwise laws, especially with regard to oppressive taxation, that the very officials who are charged with their execution, listening rather to humane feelings than to a proper sense of their duty, are too often disposed to connive at, and thus indiscreetly to encourage, their infraction. And, after all, even the higher Spanish authorities seem to think that such smuggling as is here still going on by land and across the lines is almost beneath their notice; and that as far as any extensive trade is concerned, Gibraltar, unapproachable as it is by carriage road from any part of Spain, may be looked upon as an island and its main intercourse must be by sea.

As an isolated spot, Gibraltar is not much more favourable to the Spanish smuggling trade than Tangiers, Tetuan, and the Spanish dependencies, Ceuta, Melilla, or any other port across the straits would be, and indeed there is already a loud complaint against the French authorities at Oran — a place where large cargoes of tobacco from Gibraltar are landed, and whence they are afterwards stealthily conveyed to various points on the coast of Spain; for so lucrative, as it seems, is this clandestine and criminal tobacco trade that it can easily bear the expenses of two or more voyages. Gibraltar, however, in the Spaniard’s opinion, offers to the smuggler the especial advantage of immediate proximity. Algeciras, at only five miles’ distance across the Bay, is visited almost hourly by small ferry steamers and boats, with shoals of smugglers as their only passengers. And small craft of every description carry on the same intercourse with Estepona, Marbella, and all the coast as far as Cadiz on the other. Steamers of larger size, of Spanish and other lines, take passengers on board with little attention to what they take with them as luggage, and as they proceed along the coast, they are in the dark, or even by daylight, approached by fishing boats, into which bales of tobacco and other forbidden merchandise are dropped, probably without the knowledge, possibly with the connivance, of the captains. For so universal, so all-pervading, is this smuggling business, if you believe the Spanish authorities, that many of the richest merchants, shipowners, and shipmasters, as well as all the well-to-do mountain population of these districts, are more or less actively engaged in it; and enrich themselves by it.

Anonymous, ‘The Smugglers’ Rock,’ The Times (1877).

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8. Eighteenth-century punishments remembered (1889)

The list of punishments devised to control the eighteenth-century soldiery was as inventive as it was sadistic. ‘Running the gauntlet’ saw a victim run between two rows of soldiers, each row furnished with heavy canes and under orders to hit the offender as hard and as often as possible. This form of punishment, we are told, proved very popular at the beginning of the eighteenth century, but had to be stopped when it was discovered that the demand for new canes was causing massive upper rock deforestation! By contrast, ‘Riding the horse,’ another early eighteenth-century punishment, relied more on the relentlessness of gravity than on the brutality of one’s fellow soldiers. In this instance, the victim was forced to sit astride the top of a wooden triangle composed by two planks nailed at an angle of forty-five degrees to each other. Cannonballs, weighing anything between forty to sixty pounds, were subsequently tied to his ankles. The victim was then forced to remain in this uncomfortable position for anything between half an hour to four hours. Perhaps the most infamous of all eighteenth-century punishments, however, was the notorious whirligig — a semi-inquisitorial device originally intended to punish prostitutes and other transgressing women, but which increasingly came to be used against the drunken soldiery. This, in the words of a contemporary commentator, was ‘a circular wooden cage, about six feet high, and of sufficient diameter to receive the body of a human being, … placed on a pivot [so] that it revolved with the greatest velocity when set in motion.’ The whirligig’s advantage as a form of punishment was twofold: it could be easily transported around the Rock and also had the benefit of greatly intimidating those who witnessed the poor wretch being spun towards insentience in its interior. In fact, many whirligigs are known to have occupied more or less permanent places throughout the garrison, with the area in and around modern-day Giro’s passage, according to an early nineteenth-century writer, being dubbed as Whirligig Lane by the military troops. Alongside these newfangled methods of punishment, of course, there were also traditional old favourites such as long-term incarceration and repeated flogging. The latter usually took place in the Grand Parade and was administered for the most trivial of reasons — from stealing a loaf of bread to looking disrespectfully at your commanding officer. Sir Samuel Romilly, the great juridical reformer, relates in his Memoirs the case of a Gibraltar-based soldier who, ‘for no greater offence than looking dirty on parade, was flogged so brutally and so viciously that he died a few days later.’ Another soldier, a drummer in Colonel Egerton’s regiment, entered the eighteenth-century equivalent of the Guinness Book of Records by becoming the most flogged soldier in the British Army. Between 1713 and 1728 this unfortunate soul is said to have received 30,000 lashes, 4000 of these during the space of a single year. When the man was finally discharged from active service at the end of 1728, his commanding officer, obviously a man with a penchant for understatement, commented that the victim appeared ‘hearty and well.’ In the following extract a bemused nineteenth-century journalist casts a retrospective eye on some of the punishments used within the garrison a century earlier.

The celebration of the tercentenary of the Armada raised a transitory interest in Spanish history and, consequently, in anything connected with our occupation of the mighty Rock-fortress of Gibraltar.... A perusal of the archives of the garrison since it came into our possession in 1704 gives a little insight into the curious customs and mode of carrying on the government of the place; and the following extracts, collected from the General Orders published between 1700 and 1800, will no doubt prove interesting.

Desertion seems to have been a source of much trouble to successive governors of Gibraltar. In September 1757 the following general order was issued: ‘Four men will be shot for desertion on Windmill Hill in presence of the whole garrison – By order of the court-martial.’ These poor fellows fared badly; and no doubt a similar fate would have befallen the four men referred to in the next extract, but for the kind recommendation of the Spanish general: ‘In accordance with the convention, the Spaniards have returned to the garrison four deserters. The Spanish general having been pleased to beg the governor not to inflict the full penalty, it is hereby ordered that three of them have a yellow paper put in their hats, written ‘Traitor to the King, Country and Religion,’ and the other, who has added robbery to his crime, has a green paper with ‘Traitor to the King, Country, and Religion, and a Thief’, and be marched through the town.’

In some cases it would appear that ‘one more chance’ was given, according to the humanity or temper for the time being of the governor; for instance: ‘James Jewett, of Brigadier Clayton’s regiment, has been shot; he, with five other men, having been condemned for desertion. At the place of execution, two were deprived, and the remainder drew lots for their lives, Jewitt being the loser.’ And not only were the soldiers themselves sufferers, but the officer came in for a share of the penalty when the deserter escaped altogether: ‘Be it known for the future that if any officer’s servant deserts when absent from the regiment, the said officer shall replace him with a good recruit, or pay twenty-five dollars for the non-effective.’

Summary vengeance was also placed in the power of the sentries, as would appear from the following: ‘Yesterday, during bathing, one of the soldiers had the audacity to swim off and desert. Sentries are now commanded to fire on any man who swims beyond fifty yards and refuses to return when ordered.’

Punishments were heavy and swift; and no doubt the discipline of the garrison required a strong hand. For example: ‘Private Thomas ____ to receive ten hundred lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails, so much of the punishment as he can bear to be received at one time in the Grand Parade, and the rest afterwards; the last fifty lashes will be administered by the common hangman between the Southport and Waterport gates, where he will be drummed out of the garrison with a halter round his neck.’

Occasionally, when special works were being executed and labour was costly, it was found to be an advantage to give prisoners a chance of avoiding some part of their sentence. In 1749, General Bland issued the subjoined order: ‘Men sentenced by court-martial to corporal punishment may commute the same by working on the new road to the signal station, as follows: fifty to one hundred lashes, one day’s work; one hundred to two hundred lashes, two days’ work; and so on — By order, General Bland.’

The post of executioner at the period must have been anything but a sinecure. He required special protection. ‘Samuel Lewis having been duly appointed executioner for this garrison, the governor orders that no person shall offer any abuse to the said Lewis, either by throwing stones or striking or upbraiding him on account of his unpleasant duties — on pain of the severest punishment.’ And the above Order being ineffectual, we find shortly afterwards that ‘Notwithstanding the Order lately issued, the governor finds that Lewis the executioner has been abused by soldiers and others throwing stones at him, breaking his head, and maltreating him grossly. Whoever shall be found, hereafter, acting in a similar manner in face of these Orders shall be whipped severely by the said executioner until he is satisfied.’

The jailer, even, was not allowed to possess a feeling heart, as the following Order implies: ‘It is reported that the provost-sergeant of the Moorish castle does not inflict the whole of the punishment awarded to prisoners under his care. Now it is ordered that, in future, when this occurs, he shall receive the remainder himself.’

The common executioner was not the only person to become obnoxious to the inhabitants. On the occasion of the visit to the garrison of the Alcalde of Tetuan it became necessary to appoint a man specially to protect him and his suite: ‘During the visit of the Alcalde of Tetuan an orderly sergeant shall be attached to the Moor who is his secretary, to prevent the sailors or soldiers abusing him and his countrymen.’

Gambling and billiard-playing were rife then, as now: ‘Billiards shall not be played after second gun-fire in the evening, on peril of having the table broken to pieces and burned on the public parade.’ — ‘Gaming, especially, the game of Devil-and-the-Taylors and Skittles will not be allowed in any winehouse.’ — ‘Between June 1st and September 13th no soldier will be allowed to play at fives.’

Robbery had to be dealt with in the absence of police and detectives. Among the troops, petty pilfering of the food and clothing having been discovered, an Order was issued to meet the case: ‘It having been divulged that soldiers have a method of surreptitiously disposing of their necessaries, which they call “fighting a cock,” the governor now positively orders that this practice be discontinued, otherwise the men belonging to the barrack-room where this custom takes place will pay the value of the said necessaries.’ And as this was not successful, possibly from favouritism, the governor determined to make some one responsible: ‘It being evident that no robberies can be committed but what may be discovered by the sergeants and corporals, it is ordered that they pay for all if the offender is not brought to light.’ When a robber was caught he was made an example of: ‘John ____, who committed the robbery at the storehouse, will be executed at guard-mounting tomorrow morning at the said storehouse. The body, with a label on the breast, on which is written the word “Plunderer,” to remain hanging till sunset.’

Not only were the rations of the soldiers stolen, but the charges actually abstracted from the guns, for what purpose other than mischief is mysterious: ‘Some evil person having been so unsoldierlike and scandalous as to have drawn the charges and stolen the gunpowder from eighteen guns, a reward of one hundred dollars is offered for the detection of the infamous thief. The punishment is death.’

At last, a General Order was promulgated, calling upon the civil inhabitants to turn themselves into special constables for the putting down of crime: ‘Every night, certain inhabitants armed with a permit from the town-major must patrol the streets to prevent robberies. The military patrols are not to interfere with them, but must render assistance if required. And during the day, officers and non-commissioned officers commanding guards are to send out patrols frequently with their arms unloaded to kill every dog they see going about the streets. They are not to fire at any dog, but to kill by stabbing or some other way.’

The extermination of dogs here referred to must have been a wholesome practice worthy of imitation at the present time, when the street of the garrison are overrun by mongrels of all shapes and sizes. Many of these are, however, only day-visitors from Spain, trained to smuggle tobacco which is fixed upon their backs and sides like pack-saddles; in which state they are sent off to their homes in the Spanish lines, running the chance of a stray shot from some carabinero.

Horses and donkeys appear to have been a source of annoyance to the governor at some period, for he gives notice that, ‘Any donkeys loose in the town are to become the property of the person taking them away; and any straying on the ramparts are to be shot by the sentries.’ ‘If any horses are found on the hill tomorrow, the governor will order out a firing party and shoot them.’ And, again, he aims a blow at disorders which happened yesterday: ‘the governor expressly forbids any more horse-racing.’ But this has since been rescinded, as racing is now one of the chief amusements of the garrison.

The sentries at the English lines required continual watching and strict discipline to keep them up to their duties. The Orders dealing with them are very numerous, and a few of the most quaint are selected. Here is a funny one: ‘The court-martial assembled to decide whether a sentry quitting his post before relieved, or found sleeping on duty, should be punished by ‘running the gantlet,’ or whipped at his post, according to the custom of the garrison ever since it came into the hands of the English, resolved, that in consequence of the scarcity of twigs, ‘running the gantlet’ cannot be continued, and the duty of the garrison being very heavy, no time can be spared to collect them.’

The following may have acted as a suggestion to Lord Wolseley: ‘It is intended shortly to issue a little treatise or pocketbook for the instruction of officers and soldiers of this garrison, wherein they may learn what is in future to be considered a breach of duty deserving punishment. From it they will discover that a sentry-box and a shower of rain can justify a sentry in acting in a manner that has hitherto been looked upon as a most notorious breach of discipline.’

When the gates were locked at evening gunfire, a special salute was required for the keys: ‘All guards to rest and beat a march to the keys, town-guard excepted.’ And a good attempt at keeping sentries awake was devised by this Order: ‘All sentries who do not cry out ‘All’s well’ every two minutes shall be punished with two hundred lashes.’

The art of saluting gracefully was duly impressed upon the troops, even at this early date: ‘When a soldier passes an officer, he shall look him respectfully in the face and carry his hand gracefully to his head in salute.’

From the next excerpt it would appear that some special distaste for the duty was felt by the sergeant-major referred to, or surely a verbal command to attend the court martial would have met the case: ‘Captain_____ being appointed president of the court-martial to be holden tomorrow, the sergeant-major of his regiment will attend the said court and write down the proceedings.’

At the commencement of the present century, an epidemic of smallpox visited the Rock. This caused the issue of an Order stating that ‘Cowpox being not so contagious as smallpox, a general inoculation for the former disease is hereby ordered.’ And afterwards, the sight of victims being obnoxious to the inhabitants, an Order was put out defining that ‘People marked with the smallpox are not to be permitted to stand at their doors or go into the streets. No mackerel to be suffered to come into town. By Order.’ Where the ‘mackerel joke’ — if it is a joke — comes in, is not sufficiently explicit. And when scurvy attacked the troops, thirty thousand lemons and two thousand pounds of onions were issued in accordance with the Order quoted below: ‘Lemons and onions will be issued to the troops without stint, on account of the prevailing scurvy.’

The following summary Order speaks for itself: ‘ships coming into the bay without showing their colours are to be fired upon, and the cost of the shot recovered when the port-dues are collected.’

The creditors of the civil and military inhabitants had evidently been ‘walking round’ the governor previous to the publication of the following: ‘When the bounty-money is paid, all good soldiers are expected to pay their debts, and it is recommended to all volunteers, also to apply at least half of the amount in a similar liquidation.’

Fishermen supplying fish to the garrison seem to have been somewhat arbitrarily dealt with. An Order was early promulgated that no fish whatever was to be offered for sale until the governor’s table was supplied; but in 1759 this edict was modified by Lord Home, as follows: ‘It having been represented to the governor that the practice of bringing fish to the convent for election by His Excellency’s servant, before being allowed to dispose of the same to the general public, was a hurt to them, Lord Home hereby cancels that Order; but commands that they do not sell or dispose of any of their fish before the governor’s servant has bought what may be required for his table; and the servant employed for that purpose will have orders to be early at the market every morning, and to acquaint the officer of the guard as soon as he has bought sufficient.’

It is apparent that considerable jealousy and bickering were engendered by the fish question. The governor having been supplied, various favoured individuals got the next pick, to the annoyance of the general public; and upon representing the matter to the authorities, the following General Order came out: ‘Whereas several fishermen have offended by bringing their best fish into the town for particular persons, instead of displaying it in the public market — it is ordered that all fish must be sold there in future, and none hawked or sold about the town on pain of the man being seized and the fish forfeited.’

What gave rise to the next extracted Order is not disclosed: ‘The governor hopes that for the future no person living in the garrison will send out any letter, parchment, or anything else into Spain through the Landport gate, without first acquainting him and obtaining his sanction.’ Nor why there should have been any necessity to give Orders like the following: ‘Any man who has the misfortune to be killed is to be buried by the guard where it happens, and his clothes sent to his regiment.’

The ‘powdered-hair-and-queue’ period was one of considerable anxiety to the government, as would appear from the following precise General Order: ‘In consequence of some officers not having hair long enough, and finding it difficult to form a queue to their head, it is ordered that such officers may, for a period restricted to two months, during which time the hair will grow, be permitted to affix a queue otherwise. But on no account will the two months be extended.’

Again: ‘On account of the scarcity of flour, no soldier will be allowed to powder his hair till further orders: and to economise cartridges, each man will have a charge of powder issued to him in a cane, and a loose ball, which he will carry in the cock of his hat.’ The last mandate was, however, due to the scarcity of provisions and ammunition at a moment of peril. Butter, too, ran short: ‘In consequence of the scarcity of butter, an additional supply of bread will be issued as an equivalent.’

Then, on the unexpected arrival of more troops, the following Order became necessary: ‘In consequence of the want of barrack accommodation, it is ordered that the four regiments of Kerr, Pearce, Egerton, and Bisset sleep their men three in a bed, and as many beds in a room as possible. These arrangements to be made in the morning.’

Various governors have been much exercised how to prevent suicides, and their detestation of the crime may be assumed from a perusal of the following Orders: ‘It is the General’s Order that Edmund _____ of the _th regiment be placed upon the gibbet at the top of the hill, as a mark of ignominy for his abominable stupidity and wickedness in disobeying the laws of God by committing suicide.’ ‘A man of the _ regiment has been so wicked and cowardly as to hang himself. The commanding officer is ordered therefore to put all possible disgrace on such a heinous crime, and treat the corpse with the greatest ignominy. No funeral service shall be held over it; but the body shall be hung, heels upwards, for two hours, and then flung over the line wall like a cat or dog.’ ‘Yesterday was discovered the skeleton of a soldier at the foot of the rock, broken to pieces and otherwise unrecognisable. The only marks to distinguish which regiment he belonged to were the letters ‘J. Y.’ on his stockings. Any regiment having lost such a man will apply to the town-major forthwith and claim his bones.’

There were the good old days, when the Commander-in-chief was permitted to carry an umbrella without giving offence to the nation: ‘No soldier or officer (except the Commander-in-chief) shall carry an umbrella when on duty.’ Still, there was an evident wish on the part of the government to retain as far as possible the military appearance of the troops: ‘The General desires to express his astonishment at meeting an officer coming from Spain dressed in a large straw hat and an umbrella; and, as if to add to the burlesque, another officer riding behind him. The General forbids any such indecency in future, and will not grant permits to any officer dressed in such an unmilitary manner.’

Funerals must have been performed in rather a perfunctory way to necessitate this Order: ‘Chaplains attending funerals will please see that the grave is fully six feet deep before allowing the corpse to be lowered, and more particularly in the case of sailors buried without coffins. And also to see that the grave is properly filled up.’

Here is an encouraging notice, such as we may never expect to see issued in these red-tapey days: ‘Several valuable suggestions having been made to the governor lately by officers of the garrison, which have been or may be adopted and prove advantageous to the king’s service, he wishes to invite further useful observations and hints from officers of all ranks, assuring them that such beneficial discoveries will be publicly acknowledged at the proper time by the proper authorities.’

The following Orders refer to the salutes to be fired on the king’s birthday: ‘All the guns in the garrison to be fired on the king’s birthday.’ ‘This year (1788) fifty guns will be fired for the king, and twenty-one for the queen.’

We have saved the most important notice till the conclusion, because we believe the offer contained therein has not yet been accepted, and it may meet the eye of the delinquent or his descendants: ‘Some gentleman visiting the governor has taken a hat belong to Mr ____, and left his own in its place. The governor gives notice that the owner of the remaining one may exchange hats at the convent, if he pleases.’

Anonymous, ‘Gibraltar a hundred years ago,’ Chambers Journal (1889).

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9. The Castle Street Riot (1897)

On 23 April, 1897, a group of soldiers from the Northern Fusiliers attacked an elderly local man in Castle Street. On seeing what had happened, some civilian passers-by stopped and started arguing with the soldiers. One of the soldiers thereupon struck a local on the head, at which point more locals appeared and began fighting with the soldiers. The Fusiliers, finding themselves greatly outnumbered, ran to the top of Castle Street, where many of their compatriots were drinking in the taverns known as the Jack up the Ramps and the RivalsHearing of the Fusiliers’ predicament, the men in the taverns quickly abandoned their drinks and rushed out into the street, where about 200 angry locals were now waiting for them. Below is how the chief of Police described the event.

It appears that at 6pm on the 23rd April, 1897, 5 or 6 soldiers of the Northern Fusiliers, all more or less drunk, were passing up Castle Street when they met an old man (whom we have not been able to find) and pushed up against him nearly knocking him down. Some civilians who happened to be passing [by] remonstrated with [the soldiers and then] one of the soldiers struck one of the civilians with a stick and immediately a fight commenced. Some more civilians came up and joined in the fight, and, as this street is usually crowded with labourers returning to their homes in the upper parts of the town at this hour, they collected so quickly that the soldiers were soon outnumbered and had to escape into the Rivals tavern and the Jack up the Ramps public house, where there were a lot of soldiers of the Northern Fusiliers and some sailors drinking and enjoying themselves. On seeing these soldiers run into the tavern and a number of civilians remaining outside, the men in the tavern commenced to break up the stools for the purpose of arming themselves, and others rushed into a milk shop nearby and seized anything they could lay their hands on ... for the purpose of getting something to attack the crowd, which was beginning to collect [outside]. Some soldiers had legs of stools in their hands, some took off their belts, and [some] their shoes and struck at anyone who happened to be near. Some of the crowd then commenced to throw stones, which were returned by the soldiers and sailors. P.C. Santos, who was the first constable to arrive, was seized by a bluejacket, thrown to the ground and held there. Soon after the commencement of the ... fight, word was brought to the Police Station, and Senior Inspector Bradford with 2 sergeants and 11 constables ... hurried to the scene. On arrival Mr. Bradford found a crowd which he estimated to be 200 civilians and 100 soldiers and sailors. At the time stones were being thrown by both parties, [and] sticks, legs of stools and soldiers’ belts were being freely used. As the soldiers, sailors and civilians were being rapidly augmented and no Picket or Military Police were present, orders were given to the Police to draw out their truncheons and disperse the crowd. The disturbers of the peace were then driven in different directions. Thirty-three men of the Northern Fusiliers, one of the Scottish borderers, one of the Royal Artillery and 5 sailors ... were subsequently arrested in various parts of the town. The crowd of civilians, which [by this stage had increased to] between 400 and 500 persons, were all dispersed by about 8pm, and the streets became quiet — but nearly the whole of the Force continued to patrol the town till 10 pm.

The only persons more or less seriously injured are, so far as we have been able to ascertain up to the present: Privates J. Grimes and Geoffrey Wells, Northern Fusiliers — badly hit in the head and face. Hugh Mackenzie, H.M.S. Prince George — blow on right arm. Benjamin Holland, native — severe wound on head. Ricardo Beltran, native — blows on face and head and mouth cut. Juan Alsina, native — bruised legs and blows on body. Juan Gonzalez, native — kicked on legs and body. William Estella, native — bruise on left arm. P.C. Barker — kicked on left knee and several bruises on body. P.C. Yeats — two kicks on left shin. P. C. Brew — cut and bruise on right wrist. P. C. Santos — bruises on body. Sergeant Morgan — kicked on left thigh. Damage to property as far as known to Police is as follows: a milk shop occupied by Jose Baron — 18 gallons of milk split and spoiled by glass and dirt falling into it, window panes and jalousies broken (160 pesetas). Quarters occupied by Inspector Fernandez — 2 panes of glass broken (3 pesetas). Quarters occupied by Salvadora Ganello — lock of the door and window broken (5.50 pesetas). Quarters occupied by Juan Saliba — window and jalousies broken (8 pesetas). Rivals Tavern occupied by Francisco Gomez — 2 windows and three stools broken (12 pesetas). Quarters occupied by Juan Soiza — jalousies and windows broken (25 pesetas). Jack up the Ramps, Public House occupied by Arthur Olivero — about 20 round stools destroyed (50 pesetas).

Some complaints have [also] been made to me of Police having used unnecessary violence: —

J. Nicholson Davis, Petty Officer of H.M.S. Prince George said he saw P.C. no. 12 strike Private Wells, Northern Fusiliers, several blows on the head with his truncheon whilst in custody in Cornwall’s Parade.

Mr. Westall, clerk to the Gas Company, came up to me whilst ... in Cornwall’s Parade and complained of P.C.s Huart and Howes. Mr. Westall want[ed] me to open an investigation on the spot [and while] surrounded by several hundred persons. He became so persistent that I had to order him away and asked him to come to my office in the morning, but he failed to appear and when I sent for him he said he had been so grossly insulted that he would not come or give me any information.

William Estella came to my office and said that the injury to his arm was caused by Sergeant Morgan. Morgan does not deny this, but says that it was done in the execution of his duty in carrying out his instructions.

Major Rankin came to my office and said he saw P.C. Aldana with a soldier in his custody and at least seven civilians hanging on to the soldier’s collar behind. It seems to me difficult for seven persons to hung on to one man’s collar....

Colonel Cherry says he has received several letters from persons saying that the Police used the soldiers very badly, but he has not given me the name of the writers. I fear letters of this kind are calculated to prejudice the Colonel and the Regiment against the Police without the Police being able to defend themselves.

I believe that some of the constables were so excited after being knocked down, kicked and beaten in the manner they were that they hardly knew what they were doing. If, however, it is proved that a Constable committed such a cowardly action as to beat a prisoner with his truncheon whilst he was in custody and going along quietly, I think that constable should be tried by the Magistrate and, if convicted, should be severely punished.

In conclusion I think I may say that the prompt action of Senior Inspector Bradford and the Police with him, in dispersing the crowd in the manner they did, before the riot assumed greater proportions, probably prevented a serious affray. Up to the present I have not heard of anyone having been stabbed which is very fortunate and causes me some surprise.

I might add that the men of the Northern Fusiliers seemed to be displeased at their canteen being closed in the early part of the day and appear to have left their barracks intent on mischief, for some of them were observed by P.C. Barker to be carrying stout sticks and [he] drew the Garrison Sergeant Major’s attention to this at 2.30 p.m.

Letter from the Chief of Police to the Colonial Secretary, 29 April 1897.

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10. Notes on the spread of Prostitution (1902)

Prostitution flourished in Victorian Gibraltar like at no other point in the colony’s history. The epicentre of the red-light district was Serruya’s Lane, a narrow, ill-paved alleyway which nowadays goes under the innocuous name of New Passage. Censuses carried out between 1868 and 1921 reveal that there was an average of 115 registered prostitutes at any one given moment, their numbers fluctuating between the all-time high of 138 recorded in 1913 and the corresponding low of 83 just after the war in 1921. From these censuses, too, we learn that between 1871 and 1921 there were around fourteen to sixteen brothels in operation throughout Gibraltar, each of them containing between four and fifteen prostitutes. Officially their ages ranged between twenty and forty, although an article by the Methodist writer James B. Wookey in 1887 suggests that some of the prostitutes could have been as young as eleven or twelve. Most of the ‘public visitors’ were Spanish (in 1921, for example, only 2 out of the 83 registered prostitutes were ‘native’) and came from La Línea to ply their trade. The author of the following piece was John Bennet, Gibraltar’s chief of police. Although he was severely criticised in the independent police report of 1889 for questionable practices, his surviving letters and memoranda show that he was an articulate and insightful man, who, if rather dogmatic and inflexible at times, also had the capacity to be scrupulously open-minded and fair. In this respect Bennet appears to have been no different to most British colonial administrators of the time: steeped in imperialist prejudices though many of them were, they still tried to conduct themselves as fairly and as even-handedly as they thought a Protestant English gentleman should.

I have read Colonel Bedford’s report and it seems to me that the fluctuation of venereal disease amongst the troops in Gibraltar may be generally explained without much difficulty.

It will be seen that there is usually much more disease in the winter months than in the summer. This is, in my opinion, to be accounted for by the fact that soldiers frequent Serruya’s Lane and Castle Ramps far more in the winter than in the summer. For many years I have been in the habit of visiting the parts of the town where women of immoral character reside, at all hours of the day and night. In the Winter when the evenings are long, I have observed that a large number of soldiers are constantly in Serruya’s Lane between Evening Gunfire and midnight, but in the summer I have frequently passed through the same parts of the Town in the evening and have sometimes not seen a single soldier in the place. The difference is most marked. I believe it is because the men are better engaged in the summer at cricket, bathing and other games and get so tired out by the heat and exercise that they do not care to leave their quarters so much. But be this as it may, the fact cannot be disputed that they do visit these women much more in the winter than in the summer. Some Regiments too frequent the Lane much more than others. So far I have been able to observe that the Cameron Highlanders frequent the Lane less than other soldiers, and it would be interesting to know in what proportion to the other men they suffer from [venereal] disease.

After the Mediterranean or Channel Squadrons have visited this Station, it will generally be found that there is an increase of disease, and I attribute the increase shown in March and August 1901 to their presence here about that time. The reason of various kinds of venereal disease being more prevalent at one time than at another is not so easily answered by me because I am not aware of the conditions which would be likely to cause this. But the women do, as suggested by Colonel Bedford, go into Spain more in the summer than in the winter. I think if the civilian male persons admitted to the Colonial Hospital suffering from venereal disease were asked where they had contracted the disease, 80 per cent of them would say in Spain. And I believe a good deal of the disease here is due to these civilians who first contract the disease in Spain and infect the women here or pass it on to the soldiers without affecting the women at all.

The enormous prevalence of the disease in 1893, 1894 and 1895 is accounted for by the fact that, before 1893, alien women were made to live in houses under the control of a mistress who looked carefully after the health of the girls living in her house. This system was objected to in 1892 and the Chief of Police was instructed not to put any pressure on these women but to allow them to live where they liked. Since then, they have lived where they please and many of them now live in single rooms by themselves and are under no control whatever. Since my appointment in 1895, I have discouraged their living in single rooms by themselves as much as I can without using actual pressure and the result has been good.

Previous to 1889 there was, I believe, very little venereal disease in Gibraltar as compared with other Garrison Towns — and this was due to an excellent system carried out by the then Chief of Police of insisting on all women of known immoral character producing a Doctor’s certificate once a week certifying that she was free from disease, and in default of her producing such certificate she was ordered to quit the Garrison. Some persons, headed by the Archdeacon Govett, got to know of this and an enquiry was made which resulted in the then Chief of Police being severely reprimanded and ordered to discontinue the practice.

Memorandum from John Bennet, Chief of Police, to the Colonial Secretary, 29 January 1902.


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