The Military Establishment



1. Diary of a Frustrated Soldier (1727)

It may sound strange nowadays, but most eighteenth-century British soldiers really hated being posted on the Rock. ‘A place of intolerable confinement’ was how one commentator described the garrison. ‘The very essence of tedium’ another no less bitterly protested. Although some of these complaints were no doubt prompted by simple homesickness, the fact is that the eighteenth-century garrison was a harsh and unforgiving place — what with mosquito-infested summers, draconian punishments, frequent bouts of contagion and hardly if any recreational facilities. A glimpse of all this existential ennui can be found in the diary of S. H., an anonymous soldier posted on the Rock during the thirteenth siege of Gibraltar (1727-1729).

March 9, 1727: Came a deserter who reports that while our guns were firing at them an officer pulled off his hat, huzzaed and called God to damn us all, when one of our balls with unerring justice took off the miserable man’s head and left him a wretched example of the Divine justice.

April 12, 1727: A recruit who refused to work, carry arms, eat or drink was whipped for the fifth time, after which being asked by the officer he said he was now ready to do his duty.

May 7, 1727: This morning Ensign Stubbs of Colonel Egerton’s regiment retired a little out of the camp and shot himself.

June 17, 1727: Today two corporals of the Guards boxed over a rail until both expired, but nobody can tell for what reason.

October 11, 1727: One of Pearce’s regiment went into the belfry of a very high steeple, threw himself into the street, and broke his skull to pieces.

October 16, 1727: Will Garen, who broke his back, was hanged.

December 9, 1727: Last night a deserter clambered up within a little of Willis’s battery and was assisted by a ladder of ropes by our men. When the officers came to examine his face, they found him to have deserted out of the Royal Irish two months ago. Asking the reason of his return, he said he chose rather to be hanged than continue in the Spanish service, so is to have his choice.

January 2, 1728: Here is nothing to do nor any news, all things being dormant and in suspense, with the harmless diversions of drinking, dancing, revelling, whoring, gaming and other innocent debaucheries to pass the time — and really, to speak my own opinion, I think and believe that Sodom and Gomorrah were not half so wicked and profane as this worthy city and garrison of Gibraltar

From the diary of ‘S.H.,’ an unknown soldier resident in the garrison of Gibraltar, 1727.

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2. General Orders to Sentries (1825)

The military nature of the garrison ensured that security was always one of the establishment’s highest priorities. ‘From the character of the place as an important military fortress,’ wrote Thomas Hamilton in The Youth and Manhood of Cyril Thornton, ‘it was necessary that [civilians] should be in a great degree subject to military regulation, and submit to certain restrictions on their freedom.’ This obsession with control and surveillance expressed itself in a much hated system of permits. If you wanted, for instance, to walk past the Landport Barriers (the gates through which Gibraltar was accessed by land), you needed a permit. If you wanted to pasture your goats on the Rock’s grassy slopes, you needed a permit. If you wanted to go out at night, you needed a permit and a ‘lighted lanthorn’ (unless, of course, you were a British officer, in which case you were more or less exempt from any kind of regulation). To enforce these decrees, sentries were posted at all major locations, including the beaches, cliffs and other inaccessible areas. These sentries had the power to challenge passers-by and, should their answers prove unsatisfactory, have them immediately arrested. Tourists and outsiders scarcely fared better. Foreigners wishing to reside on the Rock needed to go through a protracted and off-putting process involving endless sureties and certificates of good content. Tourists, likewise, needed to obtain 1, 15 or 20 day permits from the town magistrate and even then could be challenged at any time by the ubiquitous military sentinels. Even those ‘who wish[ed] to draw or ramble unmolested over the rock’ needed to obtain a special dispensatory document from the Governor, as William Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, was to discover for herself in 1846. When the Gibraltar police force was formed in 1830, two out of its first three arrests were for permit violations — the second of these happening at 8 am on 29 July, 1830, when Inspector Richard Whitelock, my great‑great-great grandfather, stopped a Portuguese lighterman ‘for refusing to show his permit and using abusive language.’ The following extract, published in 1825, details how sentinels were expected to behave.

No.1. A Sentry is to be constantly alert and attentive to everything that passes within his sight or hearing, by day and night; he is never to sleep on his post, nor to leave it unless relieved by an Officer or Non-commissioned Officer of his guard; he is not to quit his Arms, nor lean on the Muzzle of his Firelock, nor to sit down, read, sing or whistle, smoke or converse with any person but in the execution of his orders, nor is he to go into his sentry-box, either by day or night, except when it rains.

No.2. A Sentry is at all times to give immediate notice to the Guard of the approach, on the Sea Line, of any Strange Ships or Boats, or, by Land, of any Body of Troops, or of anything which he is not accustomed to see, or when he hears the fire of Musquetry or Cannon, or perceives signals by Rockets, &c. He is also to acquaint the Guard of any riot, disturbance, or fire within the Garrison.

No.3. He is to suffer no person, except the Officers and Non-commissioned Officers of his Guard, or Officers of the Navy and Army in Uniform, to stand nearer than five yards of his Post.

No.4. He is not to suffer any person to dirty, or lay any filth or rubbish, or commit any nuisance, within the District of his Post.

No.5. He is to suffer no person to remove, or do any damage to any Artillery, Ammunition or Stores, or any thing under his charge, or to open the Magazines, except such as are properly authorized by the Officer Commanding his Guard; and, when relieved, he is to mention to the Corporal the deficiencies of the Post.

No.6. He is to allow no person to go into the Embrasures or on the Parapet Walls, except the Governor, General Officers and their Staff, the Chief Engineer, Engineers on Duty, or Royal Sappers and Miners when employed, the Officer Commanding the Royal Artillery, Officers, and Soldiers acting under their Command, Field Officers on duty, and the Officers of his Guard, the Town Major and Town Adjutant.

No.7. During the day he is to present his Arms to the Governor, General Officers, Admirals, Captains of the Navy and Field Officers, and to all armed Parties passing his Post, and to carry Arms to all other Officers; on these occasions, he is to stand fronting a mark made at each post, from which, at no time, he is to be distant more than five yards.

No.8. When it rains and the Sentries are ordered to cloak, and unfix Bayonets, the Sentry in his Box is to pay all Officers the compliment of standing up straight, and handling his Arms.

No.9. The Sentries on the Line Wall and Covert Way, are to face outwards, and those within the Lines, towards the object of their Post.

No.10. At night, after second gun-fire, the Sentries on the Line Wall within the Town are to challenge all persons approaching their Posts, and are only to permit Officers, Rounds, Patroles and Reliefs, to pass: any Inhabitant, appearing on the Line Wall after that hour, is to be sent to the Main Guard. Sentries, posted in the Streets and Thoroughfares of the Garrison generally (and the Saluting Battery and the direct Road to Rosia are to be considered as such), are not to challenge till after 12 o’clock. The Sentries on the Sea Line from Parson’s Lodge to Monkey Cave, and on all other parts of the Rock, except the Streets and Thoroughfares, are to begin to challenge, after second gunfire, in the same manner as in Town, and to apprehend all Inhabitants they may find there after that hour. The Sentry, on a person approaching his Post, is to port his arms, and call out, ‘who comes there?’ and, on the person replying, ‘Officer, Relief or Inhabitant,’ to say, ‘pass Officer, Reliefer Inhabitant,’ unless required, as above, to detain the latter; and to pass the word ‘all’s well,’ every quarter of an hour, in a distinct tone of voice, from right to left.

No.11. In the approach of Rounds or Detachments, the Sentry nearest the Guard is to challenge, and, on the reply ‘Rounds or Detachment,’ he is to say ‘Halt Rounds or Detachment,’ and call to the Guard, ‘Guard turn out.’

No.12. When the Sentry nearest the Guard sees an armed Detachment, or any Person to whom the Guard is to turn out, coming towards him, he is to give notice to the Guard, and, when within thirty paces, he is to call, ‘Guard turn out;’ and ‘Guard turn in,’ if directed, by word or sign, for the Guard not to be turned out.

No.13. A Sentry, in the execution of his duty, though he is strictly to comply with his Orders, is not to use personal violence where his own safety is not in question, or where he has not positive Orders to do so; but, when persons, either through inattention or design, act in contradiction to the directions he is ordered to give, he is to call to the Guard, and acquaint the Officer with the circumstance.

No.14. Sentries are to walk on their Posts in a soldier-like manner with supported Arms, or may occasionally stand ordered.

No.15. The Orders, given to Sentries on their Posts, are communicated from the Chief in Command, through the proper Channels, to the Officers and Non-commissioned Officers commanding Guards; but, as the Chief may think proper himself at any time, either personally, or by means of some of his Staff, to interrogate the Sentries, and to demand what Orders they have received from the Corporals; and, as similar enquiries may be made by General Officers, Field Officers of the day, the Town Major, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers, belonging to the Guard, the Sentries are, upon no pretence, to hesitate to give an account of the Orders they have received, when so required by the persons above enumerated.

No.16. Whenever any sentry along the Line wall observes a soldier swimming more than a hundred yards from the Shore, he is to give immediate notice to the Officer, or Non-commissioned Officer, commanding the Guard to which he belongs, who will order him to fire upon the Soldier swimming beyond that distance, unless the latter return when called to.

No.17. As Boats may endeavour to approach the Garrison during the Night, the Sentries are to be particularly alert along the whole of the Sea Line, and to challenge every Boat within reach of their Posts; and, in case of not receiving a satisfactory answer, they are to give notice to the Commanding Officer, or Non-commissioned Officer, of the Guard, who will give orders for firing upon the Boat, if it persist in disobeying the above Orders.

General regulations and standing orders for the garrison of Gibraltar (1825).

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3. The ‘Old Cock of the Rock’: Portrait of a fast-living Governor (1833)

Charles O’Hara was Governor of Gibraltar between 1795 and 1802. He kept two mistresses and is said to have siphoned off over 9000 pounds a year in revenue from the over ninety taverns which flourished in Gibraltar at the time. ‘General O’Hara,’ wrote an indignant contemporary of his, ‘was an old man, the laxity of whose discipline had been so great, that the civil inhabitants of the garrison could not show themselves without being more or less exposed to the outrages of an intoxicated and insolent soldiery, who were allowed to get drunk at pleasure, in the blackstrap houses (wine houses) which abounded in every quarter.’ He was, nonetheless, very popular among the troops.

It is impossible for me to recur to the period of my sojourn in Gibraltar, and yet to say nothing of the governor, General O’Hara. His appearance, indeed, was of that sinking cast which, when once seen, is not easily forgotten. General O’Hara was the most perfect specimen I ever saw of the soldier and courtier of the last age, and in his youth had fought with Granby and Ligonier. One could have sworn to it by his air and look — nay, by the very cut of his coat — the double row of sausage curls that projected on either flank of his toupee — or the fashion of the huge military boots, which rivalled in size, but far outshone in lustre, those of a Dutch fisherman or French postillion. Never had he changed for a more modern covering the Kevenhuller hat, which had been the fashion of his youth. There it was, in shape precisely that of an equilateral triangle, placed with mathematical precision on the head, somewhat elevated behind, and eloping in an unvarying angle downwards to the eyes, surmounted by a long stiff feather rising from a large rosette of black ribbon on the dexter side. This was the last of the Kevenhullers: it died, and was buried with the governor, for no specimen has since been discovered, and the Kevenhuller hat, like the mammoth and the mastodon, has become extinct for ever.

Notwithstanding the strictness of the discipline which he scrupulously enforced in the garrison which he commanded, no officer could be more universally popular than General O’Hara. In person he had been — and, though somewhat bent by years, even then was — remarkably handsome. His life had been divided between the camp and the court, and he had been distinguished in both. He was a bachelor, and had always been noted as a gay man; too gay a man, perhaps, to have ever thought of narrowing his liberty by the imposition of the trammels of wedlock. General O’Hara had always moved in the very highest circles of society at home; and notwithstanding an office of considerable emolument, which, I believe, he held in the household, had dissipated his private fortune, and become deeply involved in his circumstances. It was this cause alone which had induced him, late in life, to submit to the banishment peculiarly disagreeable to a man of his habits, attached to the acceptance of the chief command at Gibraltar.

The general was a bon vivant, an unrivalled boon companion — one to whom society was as necessary as the air he breathed. He never dined alone, and his hospitality was extended to every rank of the officers in the garrison. In his own house, and, above all, at his own table, he delighted to cast off all distinction of rank, and to associate on terms of perfect equality with even the humblest of his guests. The honours of the table were done by his staff, and the general was in nothing distinguished from those around him, except by being undoubtedly the gayest and most agreeable person in the company.

It was impossible that one who had spent a long life in the highest and most distinguished circles of society in England should be unfurnished with an abundant store of interesting and amusing anecdotes; and, in truth, anecdote telling was at once his forte and his foible. His forte, because he did it well — his foible, for, sooth to say, he was sometimes given to carry into something of excess. He would entertain his guests by the hour with the scandalous tittle-tattle which had been circulated at court or the club-houses some thirty years before; and did more than hint at his own bonnes fortunes among the celebrated beauties of the British court, and the Bonarobas of France, Italy, and Spain. He sang, too — and beautifully. I have seldom heard a finer voice, or one more skilfully managed.

Such was General O’Hara, or, as he was more generally called, the ‘Old Cock of the Rock;’ and no man certainly could be more respected for his rigid yet lenient (for these epithets are far from incompatible) discharge of his military duties, or more beloved for his engaging qualities as a social companion. For myself, during my sojourn in Gibraltar, I was much indebted to his kindness. The general had been intimately acquainted with my grandfather, who had passed his life in the unprofitable pursuit of court favour. My father he had likewise known in the blossom of his early prosperity, which, alas! was never destined to ripen into fruit. He spoke of both kindly, gave mе a general invitation to his table, and was lavish of those petty attentions which cost little to the giver, but which, coming from a person of his station and dignity, are always felt to be flattering by one so far his inferior in age and rank.

Having said thus much of General O’Hara, I would yet say something more, and tell the reader that before we quitted Gibraltar he died. There was no hypocrisy in the heavy looks of the soldiers, as they followed his remains to their last earthly tenement. He was, of course, buried with all the military honours due to his high rank. I had never before seen the funeral of a general officer. There was his horse — the well-known charger on which we had all so often seen him mounted — bearing the boots and spurs of his departed master; on the coffin, likewise, lay other mournful insignia — the sword, the lash, and — not the least prominent memorial in the group — the Kevenhuller hat and its tall unbending feather. There I gazed on it for the last time.

The ceremony was altogether very impressive. The troops marched slowly with arms reversed; the report of minute-guns was heard from the bastion, and the colours were displayed half-mast high by all the ships in the bay. When the body had been consigned to the vault, and the service was concluded, loud and successive peals of artillery were heard to reverberate from rock to ocean, the anthem best fitted to grace the obsequies of a gallant soldier.

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

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4. Sketch at your Peril (1847)

Dorothy Wordsworth, William Wordsworth’s sister, visited the Rock in 1846 and, although she found the town very grand and its inhabitants extremely friendly, was quite surprised by the military nature of the place. In this passage she writes about what happened when she tried her hand at some impromptu sketching inside the garrison.

While we were waiting in the carriage, I took up my sketch-book, and for something to do began copying an outline of a bit of the rock near to us, when to my amusement up came a red-coat, with his ‘pray, ma’am, have you a permit from the governor to sketch?’ This question, in English, sounded most strange. In Spanish I had thought it tyrannical enough; in my mother-tongue it seemed to me ludicrous, and I fairly laughed in the poor man’s face as I answered “No,” shutting my book most meekly, and declaring that I would on no account have taken out my pencil, had I known it was contrary to order. The sentinel was courteous as possible, and thought it necessary to apologise for doing his duty.

Dorothy Wordsworth, Journal of a Few Months Residence in Portugal and Glimpses of the South of Spain (1847).

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5. On Tyrannical Governors (1855)

Gibraltar’s first governor was Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt, the leader of the Anglo-Dutch force that captured the Rock from the Spaniards in 1704. Since that time Gibraltar has been ruled by approximately 100 military governors, almost all them chosen from either the English aristocracy or the highest echelons of the military establishment. Some were good (Sir George Don); some were bad (Robert Gardiner, Sir Archibald Hunter); some were notorious libertines (Sir Charles O’Hara); some were hard-boiled disciplinarians (Edward, Duke of Kent). A few of them spent more time holidaying in Spain than governing Gibraltar. Others, like the Earl of Chatham, governed in absentia from their fashionable estates in the English countryside. In times of cholera or yellow fever, it was not unusual for their Excellencies to pack up and flee the colony — either by seeking refuge in Spain, or by transferring themselves and their stores of fine wine to pleasure yachts anchored in the bay. The following extract, written at a time when anti-gubernatorial feeling run high thanks to the abuses of Sir Robert Gardiner, chronicles some of the sins committed by Gibraltar’s most unpopular governors.

We have a picture of these old Governors of a century or two ago, drawn by a master-hand. I fancy I see them in their iron-bound cocked hats, gold lace epaulettes, and pig tails, powder and bag wigs — not forgetting the top-boots and spurs — the personification of English pride and insolence, when exchanging diplomatic courtesies with a Spanish Governor. We have it in a book, which pretends to historical accuracy, and no one can doubt the fidelity of the description. In a memorable case when his Spanish Excellency disputed the “supreme will” of an English Governor, and threatened retaliation, our bland ancestor, cocked his hat on his head, placed his arms akimbo, and, in the true English vernacular, exclaimed, “Why, sir! If you dare to give me any of your d_____d nonsense, I will kick you from Hell to Hackney!” Now as this may be impeached as an apocryphal tale, or coarse caricature, I will furnish a case from the historiuncula of a Governor of Gibraltar. In 1712, Colonel Bennett, the engineer, whose Remarks on Gibraltar I have already quoted, wrote home to the authorities, complaining of the Governor’s mal-appropriation of the government money and materials, which were used in repairing the houses, of which the Governor received the rents, and put them into his own pocket. ‘Of which I often complained’ says Colonel Bennett, ‘and thereby have drawn upon me the Governor’s displeasure, inasmuch as that he has threatened to hang me, to break my bones, and has given me the lye….’ The following details, from one of the numerous pamphlets published in London, during the last century, respecting Gibraltar, will furnish a tolerable notion of the state of society, and of the model military Governors.... The author, writing in 1749, contemporaneous with Governor Bland’s reign, says:— ‘For forty years a good Governor has not been found in Gibraltar, and most likely never will.’ Col. Congreve is specially mentioned. The author says:— ‘This gentleman set most of the bad examples which his successors have too well imitated. He forced some people out of their houses, others, on various pretences, out of the garrison, and then disposed of their possessions. Seventeen officers exhibited their complaints to the Secretary of War, and were all suspended; but the Governor was displaced, and was succeeded by Col. Cotton, a deputy of Lord Portmore.’ Cotton was an expensive man. He improved upon Congreve’s plans in every act of oppression, and had, like the tyrants of old, his dungeons and other apparatus to drain the purses of the poor foreign inhabitants; but began too early with the English, he having taken it for granted that every person in the garrison was his slave, and every house his estate; but raising his demands too high, a spirit of rebellion broke out at last which had nearly dethroned him.... Godby followed [Cotton], but retired. His successor, Bowes, plundered merrily for some time, as Cotton’s deputy, and shared the plunder with persons at home. The market was annihilated. Contractors were appointed.... Abuses multiplied. The officers suffered as much as the civilians. Memorials were presented by both, upon which the Governor declared it to be mutiny and disaffection.... Matters, however, went on from bad to worse.... Our author says:— ‘the whole art of plundering [was] so magically conducted, that it never [came] to the ear of His Majesty, nor [was it] laid before the Legislature. If an officer complains, he is broke; if a merchant, he is kicked out of the town; if a housekeeper, he is dispossessed; if a foreigner, he is dungeoned and stript; and if a Barbary Jew, he is transmitted to a brother Bashaw at Tetuan, where, perhaps, he is hanged outright. So that these poor creatures, that are endeavouring to encourage commerce, are crucified between two Thieves....” The author winds up thus: — ‘What horrid outrages have been there acted! The least crime hurries a Wretch out of the gates, where he has often been exposed to the inclemency of the elements for months, till he can find a proper sum of money to expiate his crime. This is so frequent with the foreigners who reside there, that we see them hurried away with hardly any emotions of pity. What scenes of misery have poor people been drove to by the inhuman barbarity of a merciless and unrelenting tyrant!’ These are extracts from a work published in 1749, and may be presumed to apply to Governor Bland, and, indeed, to all his predecessors!

Anonymous, How to Capture and Govern Gibraltar: A Vindication of Civil Government (1855).

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6. On Gibraltar’s military character (1860)

Few of Gibraltar’s Victorian visitors failed to be impressed by the Rock’s military fortifications. In this extract Walter Thornbury, an English author and journalist, expresses his admiration for the martial nature of the place.

Everywhere in Gib the perpetual sense of vigilance and defiance fills your mind: you pass down Big Gun Alley, where a huge bombshell of the old siege is let into the corner of the street hall, and, lo! but a turn from Main Street, with its cigar-shops, stores, chandlers, clock-makers, and Moorish curiosities, you are on the outer road, which is walled in with batteries. The King’s Bastion — this is where you stand — faces the Spaniards of Algeciras, grinning at them with its fang teeth: how neat, clean, and firm the stone-work is that the convicts still chip and hammer at, with its bomb-proof barracks, its terraces, and slanting roofs for yawning guns! Yonder, a little reef in the sea, is a low line of wall for fresh batteries; and this long jetty with guns is the famous Devil’s Tongue that Drinkwater mentions. Line after line, all along the rock, first the harbor, then the Ragged Staff, then the bleak headland, Europa Point, where the great attack was once made, are everywhere mechanical-looking sentries, red or blue, threatening and defiant to angry, scowling-looking Spaniards, who talk of Gib as a place only lent to us, and one day to be given back with thanks. Every where pyramids of black cannon balls, like so many negroes’ heads collected as tribute, and near the Parade, where the rock walls us in on one side, are stacks of gun-carriages, rows on rows of rusty dismounted guns, mischievous and cumbrous; and with these, piles of carriage-wheels in heaps like black cheeses. Everywhere Death’s playthings laid up in ordinary. The civilian in Gib seems a mere tolerated accident, and the young military “blood” delights to tell you that, in case of revolt or war, the government, to whom nearly all the houses and shops belong, would sweep them away at one swoop, and plant fresh batteries upon their sites…. This rock has been more scorched with gunpowder and fire than any other citadeled height in the world. The Moors, all through the Roman times, claimed it as the legacy of their Carthaginian ancestors. Finally, under Tarik, they won it; and the Crescent, that never widened to the full moon of universal conquest (glory be to God), blew from the hill of the Apes, the Phoenician toll-bar, beyond which the Tyrians were unwilling, in their proud commercial greed, to let strangers pass. The Moors lost it in 1400, and regained it thirty years afterward, when the Spanish governor had spent all its armament money in buying sherry estates. A hundred years after a Guzman won it back, and it remained Spanish. Charles the Fifth fortified it against the dreadful Barbarossa. The sagacious Rooke swooped down on it during the war of Succession, finding it garrisoned by only eighty men, who all ran away except the curate of Santa Maria, who remained to steal the sacrament plate. George the First would have given up the rock at Utrecht, but he did not. The great subsequent siege need not be mentioned; suffice it to say that, in 1783, after four years’ perpetual fire, Eliott, standing on the King’s Bastion, saw the French and Spanish fleets below, burnt, wounded, scorched, splintered, and riddled, skulk off to Cadiz and Marseilles, while from the rock, black with their gunpowder, splintered and notched, broke a thunder clap of English cheers. “Naught can make us rue if England to herself prove bold and true.”

Walter Thornbury, Life in Spain: Past and Present (1860).


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