The People of Gibraltar
1869 - Eugene Poitou - “The Bay of Algesiras”


The travelogue Spain and its People by the French author Eugene Poitou was originally published in French in 1869 and then three years later in English as translated by the English writer and journalist William Henry Davenport Adams. Both editions were illustrated with engravings  by Valentin Foulquier


A felucca in the Bay of Gibraltar   ( From the book - Valentin Foulquier )

Biographical details about Poitou are hard to come and other than that he was French, that he was born in 1815, died in 1880 and was known both as a magistrate and a literary critic and - more appropriately perhaps - that he was also the author of several other critical essays and books. 

Spain and its People is the result of a rather lengthy visit to the country accompanied by his family. The book is nearly 500 pages long and includes a 14 page section on Gibraltar - which includes several engravings and an opening paragraph which makes the cardinal sin - at least to any self-respecting Gibraltarian - of attributing the Bay of Gibraltar to Algeciras. 
After about an hour's passage, the Strait suddenly enlarges, and on rounding a little headland we see rising before us, sombre and threatening, the Rock of Gibraltar . . . The Bay of Algesiras opens on the left, like a tranquil lake, with clear translucent waters. 
The following are a series of quotes taken from the book together with Foulquier’s engravings and my comments where appropriate. 
For England, Gibraltar possesses not only a great political and military importance, but it also effectively subserves her commercial interests. It has always been the busiest centre of the contraband trade, and the public entrepĂ´t of those goods which she has afterwards introduced at every point of the coast, and with which she has inundated the Peninsula.
He was right - but unlike many others who visited the Rock during the 19th century - he apportions the blame correctly. Gibraltar was a smugglers paradise because the local authorities hardly ever lifted a figure to stamp it out. Why rock the boat when British merchants back home in Britain were making veritable fortunes exporting huge quantities of all sorts of goods to Gibraltar which they knew would be illegally smuggled into Spain. (See LINK
The port is free, but you cannot enter it without a police license. After crossing the double enceinte, ditches, and drawbridge, you enter, through the posterns, upon an area surrounded with barracks; barracks on the right, barracks on the left, and four, five, and six stories high.  
Only soldiers are to be seen - at least, one half of the population is military: England has always some five or six thousand men here in garrison, without counting permanent officials. The town is quite characterless: it is not an English, and it is not a Spanish town; it is simply a camp and a market. All languages are spoken; and you see both the costumes of Europe and Africa. 
Poitou entered Gibraltar from the north via Landport Gate (see LINK) - which does indeed lead to an “area surrounded with Barracks” - the Casemates. However, in 1860 according to Frederic Sayer, the town’s civil magistrate at the time (see LINK) the gross population of Gibraltar was made up of around 25 000 of which 7500 made up the garrison - a figure that could hardly be described as half the population. When Poitou visited the Rock there were 17500 civilians in town most of which he obviously seems to have missed. 
The Spanish basis of the population is strangely mixed. The Jews, attracted by English tolerance, are numerous; and they have a synagogue. You will meet with some aged men who wear, as in the East, the black robe and pointed bonnet. You see also Algerians, and merchants of Morocco, with half-naked legs, their feet in slippers, their shoulders enveloped in their large white burnous, and their head crowned with the turban or tarbouche.

“The Spanish basis of the population is strangely mixed”    ( From the book - Valentin Foulquier )

By 1860, the bulk of the population was no longer Spanish. About 11 000 were native born Gibraltarians, 1000 were British and of the rest, only about 1 900 were Spaniards. As regards the Jews the majority of them were native Gibraltarians.  As for their synagogue - there were actually three major ones in Gibraltar.
We installed ourselves at the Club House, in the principal square, and immediately satisfied ourselves that we were no longer in Spain. The picturesque is absent; there is no patio with elegant columns, no marble fountain embowered in blossoms and orange-trees. But, by way of compensation, you enjoy English cleanliness and comfort, commodious chambers, good beds, an exact and attentive service, and a capital table.
The principle plaza was known as the Commercial Square at the time (see LINK) and the Club House Hotel (see LINK) occupied most of its eastern side. There was at the time and during most of the 19th century another much mentioned hotel on the south-western corner of the square - The King’s Arms. I am not quite sure which of the two could have been classified as the best in town.


“We installed ourselves at the Club House, in the principal square”    ( From the book - Valentin Foulquier )
Dare I confess it? I am not indifferent to these prosaic pleasures. After a month's travelling in Spain they become surprising novelties, with which you are not averse again to make acquaintance. I began to weary of saffron soup, of fried dishes with the oil more or less rancid, and of pastries all strongly flavoured with cinnamon.  
I was by no means displeased, after having satiated myself for some weeks with originality and local colour, to encounter once more in this little knuckle-end of the earth that old civilization which people call corrupt, but which, decidedly, has something very agreeable in it. I confess, too, that I was delighted to find myself seated at table with Englishmen instead of Spaniards.  
The English, perhaps, are not always "amiable," are often stiff and reserved; and yet truth compels me to say that all whom I met with in my travels were superior men, with whom my relations were invariably most pleasant. Moreover, they are courteous and polished towards ladies, a quality much too rare among the Spaniards. At the Club House it was quite a surprise for us to see men at table with their hats off, and not lighting their cigars at dessert. 
That Poitou was an anglophile is pretty evident throughout. His surprisingly contemptuous comments as regards Spaniards will have found a willing audience during those postprandial musings with those men with their hats off. In general, the opinions of the British military upper class in Gibraltar would have been identical to his as regards Spain and it inhabitants. 
One of the principal military posts of the town was in front of our hotel. It was occupied by a detachment of Highlanders - superb men, with a singularly martial bearing, and a picturesque costume - their legs bare from the knee, their tartan plaid, their pouch of goat's skin hanging in front, and their large hairy bonnet. Finer troops I have never seen, and I was never weary of admiring them when they came to change sentries, morning and evening, with their piper at their head. 
The “principal military post” was the Main Guard House building which occupied the middle section of the south side of Commercial Square and would have been clearly visible from his hotel.


The “principal military post” was the Main Guard House building    ( 1840s - J.M. Carter ) (See LINK) 
Very original, but also very comical is the "retreat," which is beaten daily by the drums of the garrison, and at this central post. I have never heard such a Babel of sounds: above the monotonous roll of the drum rises the shrill fury of the fife - the whole marked by a rhythm which I can only compare to that of our mountebanks when accompanying the performances of their dancing bears or learned dogs. Add to this, at intervals, the discordant blasts of trumpets which threaten to rend one's ears. It is truly a Negro music!
I am not quite sure what he was going on about here. A military band playing fife and drums was and is a commonplace - especially perhaps with Scottish and Irish regiments - and by no stretch of the imagination could one describe them as being especially shrill and furious - the very opposite in fact.  As regards discordant trumpets and “Negro music” . . . . perhaps the military musicians were not quite as good as they might have been.

However, Eugene’s use of the word “retreat” is curious. Gibraltar’s curious patois - Llanito - (see LINK) makes use of the word “retreta” when referring to soldiers carrying out ceremonial manoeuvres - usually in respect to the Ceremony of the Keys - the closing of the Casemates gates at night. 
But if the English are not musicians, they thoroughly understand the planting and cultivation of trees. At the extremity of the town, on the side of Europa Point, in a spot where the gentler slope of the mountain offers a pleasing variety of ground, they have created, on the very border of the sea, a garden which is really a miracle. . . 
The area the author is referring to is on the southern side of the Rock. It starts a short distance after Charles V Wall and stretches towards the south. It does not end anywhere near Europa point. This “pleasing variety of ground was and is still known as the Alameda Gardens. They were created in 1816 on the initiative of the Governor of the day - George Don (see LINK) - but the actual work was carried out by Genoese gardeners who were locally renowned for their horticultural skills. (See LINK)
Through the thick masses of verdure you catch sweet glimpses of the harbour, and the golden waters of the bay, and a distant range of azure hills. The situation is enchanting. Generally the supreme defect in landscapes on the border of the sea, even in those of the Mediterranean, is the want of verdure and of noble trees. Here all is combined; and the freshness of a beautiful vegetation blends with the purity of the heaven, and the sapphire light of a sea like that of Naples, to form a picture of incomparable charm. 
In the garden, every evening, gathers the fashionable world of Gibraltar, while the regimental bands perform a selection of operatic airs. We cannot bestow much admiration on the two monuments raised in its centre, - one to General Lord Heathfield, (see LINK) the hero of the famous siege; the other to the Duke of Wellington, whom a long Latin inscription classes among the greatest heroes of history and benefactors of the human race. 

Alameda Gardens - “General Lord Heathfield, the hero of the famous siege”   ( Late 19thc - Edward Angelo Goodall )

His ironic tone is evident in his comments on Wellington - he was after all a Frenchman.  But I tend to agree with the hidden criticism - that the gardens should celebrate George Eliott - Lord Heathfield - is understandable. That they should also do the same as regards someone who however famous had very little to do with the military history of Gibraltar, is quite another.
. . . The day after our arrival we visited the fortress. Twenty years ago no one would have been admitted without a special permit, which could be obtained only with great difficulty. To-day everybody freely enters; it is a matter of a few reals bestowed on the non-commissioned officer who acts as guide. 
The mountain on the eastern side faces the Mediterranean and is precipitous and almost inaccessible. To the west, on the side which dominates over the town and bay, its slope, on the contrary, though rapid, is accessible. A winding but well-kept road leads to the summit; you ascend it mounted on a horse or an ass.  
On this side, naturally, important works of fortification have been executed. The means of defence here accumulated are prodigious. On the level of the sea are planted various rasant batteries, whose cross-fire sweeps the entire area. Then as you advance, you come to stage upon stage of new bastions and redoubts. On every rocky point, in each undulation of the soil, cannons and howitzers confront you. Everywhere you meet with piles of shot, pyramids of shells, and chests of cartridges. The mountain is literally paved with them. 

South of Southport Gates  (See LINK) - “Everywhere you meet with piles of shot, pyramids of shells, and chests of cartridges”     ( 1970s - J.H. Mann )  (See LINK
Where it has been found impossible to raise external defences, where the rock is steep as a wall - namely, towards the curve of the bay, and on the side of the Spanish frontier subterranean galleries have been excavated in the solid rock. These galleries, several thousand yards in length, are pierced at intervals of ten paces with large embrasures, through which the black muzzles of huge cannons are projected. (See LINK 
They form a gigantic work, executed in 1786 to 1789, after the fruitless attempt of the combined fleets of France and Spain to retake Gibraltar from the English. Of late years they have been enlarged and strengthened, in accordance with the most approved principles of modern military engineering, and the batteries have been armed with the most powerful guns invented.

“These galleries . . . are pierced at intervals . . . with large embrasures, through which the black muzzles of huge cannons are projected”     ( From the book - Valentin Foulquier )
Gibraltar is a very formidable position, and an invaluable point d'appui for the English fleet, though, perhaps, it does not possess the same importance as formerly. The conditions of maritime warfare have greatly changed: it is impossible any longer to bar the passage, narrow as is the Gibraltar Strait, to powerful steam-vessels, and, especially, to iron-clad ships. Moreover, the Suez Canal seems to open to all the European nations which have ports upon the Mediterranean the direct highway to India, and so to diminish the value of the position which commands the Strait.
The opening of the Suez Canal actually increased the traffic - ships that would have otherwise travelled to the east via the Cape of Good Hope now did so through the Straits and tended to call at Gibraltar for their coaling needs. (See LINK
The rock is from 1600 to 1700 feet above the sea-level. From its summit an unique panorama may be surveyed: in clear weather the prospect extends, it is said, fully forty leagues, and you may see the ships entering and leaving the port of Cadiz. 
Being able to “see the ships entering and leaving the port of Cadiz” is what induced James O’Hara - the Governor of Gibraltar in the early 19th century - to order the construction of a tower on top of the Sugar Loaf - the highest peak of the Rock. Unfortunately he failed to take into account that many of the intervening Spanish mountains were tall enough to block the view. The tower became known as O’Hara’s folly. (See LINK



O'Hara's Folly   ( 1844 - George Lothian Hall )  (See LINK
Unfortunately, on the occasion of our visit, the day was not a favourable one; the weather, foggy in the morning, grew worse and worse as we ascended and when we arrived at the Signal House, a dense mist covered the sea. We were soon enveloped in heavy clouds, brought up by a south-west wind; they rolled and broke against the rock, like waves upon a reef. The very land disappeared from our eyes. 
It seems unlikely that a south-west wind would produce the conditions which the author describes. Perhaps more likely is that what he experienced was a strong eastern wind known locally as “el levante”.  Wind from this direction brings moist air from the Mediterranean which condenses into a heavy cloud when it hits the steep eastern slopes of the Rock.
The mist dissolved into rain, and after an hour's fruitless attempt we were compelled, not without regret, to resume the road to Gibraltar. This was the commencement of our misadventures; they were continued all the following day. It was our intention to go by land to Malaga. . . . 
Poitou’s attempts to get to Malaga were thwarted by bad weather and he was forced to return to Gibraltar.
We entered Gibraltar with drooping heads, cursing our ill-fortune . . . All the day was rainy; but on the morrow, the sky having cleared, we felt desirous, before our departure, of re-ascending the rock to enjoy the view of which the fog had so cruelly deprived us. 
This time we made a circuit by Europa Point, and then, returning towards the north, followed up the ridge of the mountain. Its western slopes are covered with a dense dwarf vegetation; with mints, and dwarf palms, lavender, and Spanish broom; while roses, periwinkles, and asphodels conceal the ruggedness of the rock. 
On reaching the summit, we had the satisfaction of enjoying the beautiful prospect under a cloudless sky. You stand here on the boundary of the old world, on the watershed of two seas, on the confines of two continents. 

The Rock from Spain ( From the book - Valentin Foulquier )
At your feet projects Europa Point, a narrow and low tongue of land advancing far into the sea, and covered with bastions and casemates intermingled with villas and gardens; westward extends the undulating line of the Strait, with its waters of an intense blue, and beyond, the rocky coast of Tarifa and the Atlantic Ocean, whose mighty sweep is lost in the vapours of the east; on the right, beating against the very foot of the rock, the Mediterranean, of a pale blue, with its surface diversified by bands of silver; opposite, the African coast, with its rugged cliffs; the white houses and ruined fortifications of Ceuta, visible at the bottom of a vast bay; and the Mount Abyla of the ancients, the second of the "Pillars of Hercules," (see LINK) from which it seems, in truth, as if the Rock of Gibraltar had been violently dislocated, to be planted by a demigod, as a gigantic landmark, at the extremity of the universe.  
Bring back your survey to nearer points, and on the right you see the rounded graceful outline of the bay. Gibraltar on the one side, its harbour thronged with masts; on the other, the small town of Algesiras, seated on the slope of its hills, and bathing its feet in the bright waters; in the curve the village of San Roque, the first we meet with on entering Spain; nearer still, and in the rear, the thin ridge of sand, some few hundred yards in breadth, which links Gibraltar to the mainland.  
A row of towers marks the frontier between English and Spanish territory, and we can distinguish upon it the tents of a small camp always occupied by a few regiments. Finally, as the background of the picture, beyond San Roque, rise the green mountains of Ronda, and, towering above and behind these, the rose-hued peaks of the Sierra Bermeja, and the snowy summits of the Alpuxarras. It is difficult to conceive a grander spectacle. In the evening we traversed the bay in a boat . . . . . .
I doubt whether there were any rows of towers on either the Spanish or the British side. The Spaniards did build a series of small pill boxes to house their guards but they could hardly have been classified as towers. 



The view from Sierra Bermeja - The Rock on the right, Apes Hill on the African side of the Straits with  Ceuta on its left   ( 2013 - J Javier Garcia - who took this wonderful photo which I have adapted for this article - Thank you Javier )

And that as they say is the end of that. Eugene Poitou’s lack of interest in Gibraltar’s civilian population is not at all surprising - on the whole most 19th century visitors of whatever nationality were as indifferent as he was. Some of his descriptive prose seems reasonably accurate but my overall feeling is that his general research was rather skimpy to say the least.