Racism


1. Human Orangutans (1812)

John Galt was the son of a prosperous Scottish merchant. As a young man, he dabbled in business and law, but soon abandoned these pursuits in favour of writing and travelling. His comments about the Rock’s native men and women are among the most derogatory I have encountered anywhere.

The population of the rock, exclusive of the garrison, may be computed at ten thousand souls. In the principal street, however, the throng is certainly very great; and were the appearance there to be taken as the criterion, even twenty thousand could not be considered too high an estimate. The motley multitude of Jews, Moors, Spaniards, etc, at the Mole, where the trading vessels lie, presented a new scene to me; nor was it easy to avoid thinking of the odious race of the Orang Outang, on seeing several filthy, bearded, bear-legged groups huddled together in shady corners during the heat of the day. The languor occasioned by the heat appeared to have increased the silly expression of their faces; particularly of the Jews, who, notwithstanding the usual sinister cast of the Hebrew features, seemed here to be deplorably simple animals. Their females are entitled to any epithets but those which convey ideas of beauty or delicacy. A few may possibly be discovered, now and then, inclining towards comeliness, but so seldom, that it is no great injustice to call them, on the whole, superlatively ugly.

John Galt, Voyages and travels in the years 1809, 1810 and 1811 (1812).

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2. A Moor at the Governor’s Table (1833)

Thomas Hamilton was a Scottish novelist who served as an officer during the Peninsular War. In 1827 he published The Youth and Manhood of Cyril Thornton, a largely autobiographical novel about his experiences at home and on the battlefield. The following passage from the book relates what happened when Hamet Sherkin, a trader from Barbary, was invited to meet the Governor of Gibraltar.

The day came, and with it the expected congregation of official dignity, for whose suitable reception splendid preparation had been made. With it, too, came Hamet Sherkin, in clean turban, and splendidly embroidered jacket, according to the fashion of the best circles in Barbary, but with bare legs and yellow morocco slippers, which, being slipshod, displayed rather more of a broad horny heel than a nice and critical eye might have found pleasure in surveying. On the entrance of my Barbaric friend, I observed the eye of Colonel Grimshawe to lower in offended dignity; and when I proceeded to present Hamet as my guest on the occasion, he declined the proffered introduction by turning rapidly on his heel. However I might be affected by the awkwardness of such a reception, Hamet neither displayed nor felt the smallest portion of mauvaise haute, and joined in the good-humoured laugh that went round the assembly on his appearance, with the most enviable unconsciousness of its being excited by himself. What reason, indeed, was there why honest Hamet, rich in true nobility of spirit, should have felt humbled or abashed in such a party? He knew, or at least might have known, that in power and grasp of intellect, he was inferior to none of those around him, while he felt, and could not but feel, the consciousness, that by a single blow of his sinewy and powerful arm he could have levelled any one of the assembly, from the general to the lowest ensign, prostrate in the dust.

At length dinner was announced, and the guests passed forth into the hall, in due order and solemnity, and with the most precise regard to claims of precedence. The seat allotted to Hamet was, of course, next to that of his entertainer, and none but Theodore Hook can fully understand my discomfiture when I beheld him, instead of conforming to the sedentary habits of the Europeans, seat himself on his chair cross-legged, like a tailor. This unlooked for circumstance occasioned considerable derangement of the gravity and decorum of the entertainment. The younger part of the company laughed outright, while it was impossible even for their seniors to repress a smile.

Unluckily, the eccentricities of Hamet did not rest here. The European fashion of knives and forks had not yet spread into Barbary; and notwithstanding my anxious recommendation of these utensils to the notice of my guest, I could by no means prevail on him to avail himself of the facilities which these unwonted implements might have afforded. Nothing, indeed, could be more primitive than his mode of eating. His fingers made rapid and frequent voyages from his plate to his gullet, and whole platefuls of hash or harico disappeared with a velocity which it might have puzzled the most expert furcifer to excel. The leg of a chicken, drawn through a double row of grinders, which evidently stood in no need of the skill of the Chevalier Ruspini, became instantaneously denuded of all esculent matter, and was returned a mere skeleton to his plate. Sooth to say, however, the appetite of Hamet being more than usually miscellaneous, his hands, after half an hour’s continued dabbling among sweets and solids, became objects neither very gracious to the eye or the fancy; and it was not till the appearance of finger-glasses with the dessert, that he enjoyed an opportunity of even an imperfect ablution.

The total disregard of established routine which Hamet had displayed throughout the entertainment set gravity and form at defiance. Never was there, to all external appearance, a merrier party assembled round a table, and Hamet was the cynosure of every eye. His name, too, was heard simultaneously reverberated by many voices. ‘Mr. Sherkin, a glass of wine?’ – ‘Thornton, the pleasure of wine with you and your friend Sherkin?’ — ‘Hamet Sherkin, do me the honour?’ — ‘Thornton, wine with your oriental friend?’ — ‘Happy to take a glass of champaign with the worthy African on your right’ — rung loudly and confusedly through the apartment, and all other sounds were drowned in the hilarious uproar. The prevailing epidemic spread even to the servants, who, though they were too prudent to incur the certainty of a broken head by indulging in a laugh, yet might be seen discharging their ministerial duties with countenances relaxed into a grin which neither the awful presence of the governor nor even the more awful terrors of Colonel Grimshawe’s eye were adequate to repress. With the removal of the dinner the encroachments on the programme of the entertainment did not cease, and the regular succession of loyal toasts was interrupted by one of the younger officers, who, after an appropriate prefatory speech, proposed the health of Hamet in a bumper, with all the honours. Never was any toast more loudly applauded; in short, Hamet Sherkin was the lion of the night; and governors, and admirals, dockyard commissioners, and other puissant official dignatories were, in the eye and thoughts of all, but secondary personages.

The governor was far from feeling offended at this infringement of decorum, of which I had been the unthinking, if not the innocent cause. He enjoyed the party not the less than everyone around him appeared happy and at their ease. But it was not so with Colonel Grimshawe. On the following day he assembled the officers, and in a speech which dealt not leniently with my offence, in having caused the unwelcome intrusion of an improper person on so great on occasion, he proposed that henceforward, on all great regimental entertainments, no individual should be invited whose name and pretensions had not previously been approved of by a committee. This proposal, however, the younger part of the corps considered as conveying an insulting reflection not only on me but on themselves, and when put to the vote, it was negatived by a considerable majority. For myself, I regretted to think that I had been the cause of spreading even temporary dissension in a regiment always distinguished for the harmony and good fellowship of its members. This however, did not last, but there remained a coolness between Colonel Grimshawe and myself, which long prevented any friendly intercourse between us.

Thomas Hamilton, The youth and manhood of Cyril Thornton (1829).

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3. On the similarity between Gibraltarians and Monkeys (1850)

Even before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species in 1859, it was not uncommon for British and American commentators to compare other races to apes and monkeys in order to reaffirm their own sense of cultural superiority. In the following extract Charles W. March, an American journalist travelling through southern Europe, compares the locals to apes in a manner which, though outwardly comic, reveals his own deep-set prejudices.

Two of the lions of the Rock are the ‘guides’ and the monkeys. The first are a species of man; the second an animal that would not be flattered by comparison with them. The men are indigenous — no other soil, indeed, could produce them — and are nomadic in their habits. They call themselves ‘guides,’ and are scoundrels. I met them all over Andalusia, and gave them wide berth everywhere. Catholic, heretic, or Moslem, by turns, they carry in their countenances the indelible mark of the curse. They descend lineally from the Jew who mocked Christ; and, like him, are continually on the move. They infest the hotels and public places everywhere; but Gibraltar seems their headquarters. They put on a variety of costume, as they assume a variety of character. They speak Spanish as well as they do English, and English as well as they do Spanish; that is, an Englishman can’t comprehend their English, nor a Spaniard their Spanish. They will lie, cheat and steal; and as Gibraltar is a great rendezvous, and there are many fools among those who enter within its gates, they make quite a respectable livelihood from the three professions. The chattering of the monkeys is no better understood, it is true; but their depredations are less formidable — for they only rob gardens, never pockets. They come out of a sunny day upon the summit of the rock, warm themselves in the heat, and look down upon the pismire — man — who crawls beneath their feet. They are wiser denizens than that interloper; for while the latter builds his habitation of brick and plaster on a few feet square, and invites the vermin to take up their residence in his curtains and carpets, they arrange nice, cool, comfortable quarters upon the wind-visiting cliff, where no fevers abide, nor man or other noxious being can penetrate. They pay no rent, nor are they assessed for taxes. They have no notes to take up, nor offices to lay down. They refuse speech, because they have no thoughts to conceal. Their whole history justifies the belief that without specious declaration, certain rights they hold inalienable; and, among these, ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Some contend that the monkeys have tunneled the strait so as to pass from one side to the other; and as they are multitudinous on the African coast, and found nowhere on the Spanish save at Gibraltar, they cite this as plausible confirmation of the theory. I doubt much, however, if they understand engineering well enough for the purpose, or their ancestors before them; nor, that I have ever learned, has Brunei, who superintended the submarine passage of the Thames, been at any time employed by them. The fact that they are sometimes seen in numbers, and sometimes sparsely, or not at all on the rock, may have given rise to such a conjecture. It is, perhaps, as reasonable to suppose that they cross, if they cross at all, by means of a pont vivant — a bridge of their own kind — monkey projected upon monkey, in one continuous series of links, from shore to shore, over which the voyager could pass in safety. But however they get on the rock, there they are; privileged characters — never shot at, and seldom caught.

Charles W. March, Sketches and Adventures in Madeira, Portugal and the Andalusias of Spain (1850)

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4. Jews at Gibraltar (1863)

Although Gibraltar never suffered from the kind of anti-Semitic prejudice raging in mainland Spain, the Rock’s Jews were nonetheless constantly blamed for all sorts of natural and manmade maladies — from yellow fever to cholera to unseasonal patterns of weather. Richard Ford, writing in the 1840s, notoriously believed that the recent yellow fever epidemics had been nurtured in ‘Hebrew dirt,’ adding rather pruriently several lines later that Jewish women ‘as far as bodies and beauty go, are often angels ready made.’ The following article, published in 1863 in a book purportedly aimed at English Protestant children(!), gives us an idea of the kind of prejudice that Gibraltarian Jews frequently endured.

A missionary, passing through Gibraltar, gives the following account of the Jews he fell in with in that place :— ‘When I landed at Gibraltar, I little thought I should meet with Jews, or that they even formed part of the residents there. I was, therefore, surprised when, before I entered my hotel, I met many of them, and that the first person I spoke to turned out to be a Jew. I had expected to find them, as they were adopted sons of England, speaking English fluently, and with a more favourable impression of Christianity than those of their brethren who are scattered among savage and lawless races. I was, therefore, much disappointed to find fewer Jews speaking English at Gibraltar, than of Maltese at Malta. There they speak Italian; at Gibraltar Spanish; and the only advantage the Gibraltar Jew seems to possess over his brethren on the other side of the Straits is, that he can confess his unbelief in the Divine relation, or his indifference to religion, with much freedom and impudence.

‘There were many of those who knew no English, who were very different, it is true, and who seemed thankful to speak on religious subjects, and to possess the Bible and other Christian books. But in general the Gibraltar Jews of all classes are rude, ignorant, superstitious, and familiar with every form of vice and wickedness. Their hatred of the Christian religion, however, or their infidelity and superstition, must not be traced to the Jewish nation alone. A little acquaintance with the strange mixture which composes the population of Gibraltar, mostly of Spanish origin, will in a great measure account for it.

‘Would that our own countrymen in that land would so conduct themselves, and show forth their good works before men, that Gibraltar might become in truth what its name in Arabic implies, a ‘Tower of Light’ to all the countries around.’

On board the steamer leaving Gibraltar, he was witness of a curious scene between two Jews. While viewing the rocks and mountains which receded from his view, he says:— ‘My attention was distracted by a loud guttural noise on board! Two rabbinical sages, both very angry, were quarrelling and abusing one another in the most frightful manner. H____ , however, being in the wrong, screamed the loudest, and threatened to throw himself overboard. The Spanish captain, true to his hereditary hatred of the Jews, looked on at the fight with the same interest as he would have done at a bull-fight, and would have enjoyed the fun, if they had both jumped into the Strait. There were several Jews and Jewesses on board, who were displeased to see the dispute, but not being rabbis, they could not interfere. I took Rabbi S_____ almost by force aside, and inquired the cause of the quarrel. Imagine my interest when I learned that it was all about the Christian book called ‘Old Paths,’ which had been given to H____ the day before yesterday, and he had lent it to S____ .’

While he was reading it, H_____ overtook him with another rabbi, and then declared that he knew nothing whatever about the book. I succeeded in calming the storm, and had a very interesting conversation with S_____ , which was only interrupted by the arrival of the steamer at Tangiers.’

Anonymous, ‘Jews at Gibraltar,’ The Jewish advocate for the young (1863).