The History of Gibraltar -The next 100 years

The History of Gibraltar continues with the second century under the British flag.

In the first century Gibraltar existed in a state of war, but in the second century enjoyed unbroken peace.


During the Great Siege (the siege of Gibraltar) the town suffered widespread destruction. The civilians began rebuilding in the previous Moorish style, using the old foundations as a guide line and resulted in the existing narrow streets, arches, mazes of steps and alley-ways found mostly in the upper-town areas.

Uppertown area on the westide of the Rock

The military were able to undertake a bigger project of rebuilding and produced the bastions, gateways, defences and walls (many of which still exist today)and all contributing to the rich history of Gibraltar.

The Ordnance architects installed many colonial Regency style iron balconies from England and the locals followed suit with an added decoration of fitting glass panels into the iron tracery.

It was the Genoese population that added the wooden shutters with bottom openings, which are in wide use today and add to Gibraltar’s beautiful architecture.

Genoese shutters and Regency iron-work

An important building during the history of Gibraltar and one of today’s most impressive buildings is the Garrison Library (1804) which is fantastically preserved in all its original detail.

This library was built to give the troops something to do while stationed in Gibraltar as there were very few recreational or cultural activities for them, let alone a day trip.

Garrison Library

The seal of approval for the Library was given by the Grand Old Duke of York (from the nursery rhyme) and was built on land provided by the Governor.

Exchange and Commercial Library

As the civilians were not allowed to use the Garrison Library, the merchants of Gibraltar set up their own library in 1807, the Exchange and Commercial Library, which still exists today as the House of Assembly in John Mackintosh Square (the Piazza).

This civilian library was completed in 1917 and helped to create a social; political and commercial life around the Square and became of great significance in the history of Gibraltar.

Exchange Library, now the House of Assembly

City Hall

This magnificent building was originally built by a local wealthy descendant of a Jewish Portuguese family, Aaron Cardozo, who arrived in Gibraltar around 1704. This building was to be his private mansion and being a friend of Admiral Nelson (supplying his ships), Cardozo was granted land and permission to build his house; it was illegal at the time for a non-Protestant to own land or property in Gibraltar.

After Cardozo’s death, the house was let out and became the very grand Club House Hotel. In 1875 it was sold to Pablo Antonio Larios, Gibraltar’s leading businessman, for a lot less than Cardozo paid to have it built 60 years earlier.

The Duke of Connaught (3rd son of Queen Victoria) was posted to Gibraltar around this time and Larios let The Duke reside in his property, which became known as the Connaught House.

During the next century, the Government bought the house to be used as the present day City Hall.

City Hall on John Mackintosh Square (The Piazza)

The Battle of Trafalgar - 1805

A land-mark in the history of Gibraltar is The Battle of Trafalgar, 1805.

Gibraltar’s strategic significance at the entrance to the Mediterranean played an important role in Admiral Nelson’s preparations up to The Battle of Trafalgar.

Battle of Trafalgar by W Wylie 1905

Napoleon reigned supreme in Europe and was allied with Spain. He had plans to invade Britain, but needed to gain supremacy over the seas in order to ferry his troops safely across the Channel and invade Britain.


Admiral Horatio Nelson was commander of the British fleet and had been after the French-Spanish fleet (commanded by Admiral Villeneuve) for two years.

The Rock of Gibraltar was used as a base for the British fleet and Nelson frequently stopped at Gibraltar for supplies and intelligence updates. On October 21st 1805 Nelson set off again in search of Villeneuve and his fleet. Nelson caught up with them off Cadiz (Spain) and the battle commenced. By evening Britain had won the battle, but Nelson had died.

Admiral Lord Nelson by Lord Beechy 1802

After the battle, the British fleet returned to Gibraltar with Nelson’s body preserved in a cask of spirits (in preparation for the long journey back to England). HMS Victory was towed into Rosia Bay, Gibraltar, where injured sailors could be treated and taken to hospital.

It is also believed (locally) that Nelson's body was brought ashore to be changed from one barrel of spirits to another in order to help preserve the body longer for the journey back to England.

The dead sailors (apart from Nelson) were buried in Gibraltar at the memorial Trafalgar Cemetery along with any sailors that died later from their injuries or fever.

After Admiral Nelson’s victory, Napoleon gave up the idea of invading Britain although he continued to occupy most of Europe.

Our local newspaper, The Gibraltar Chronicle, was first to publish the victory of The Battle of Trafalgar on October 24th 1805 (just 3 days after the battle).

The Gibraltar Chronicle

The Gibraltar Chronicle is unique in the history of Gibraltar and the world of newspapers as the first issue appeared on 14th May 1801 and was owned by a trust of officers of the Gibraltar Garrison; since then, the newspaper has run continuously.

Today the Gibraltar Chronicle is an English newspaper printed locally and overseen by an independent Trust to keep the news unbiased.


The economic blockades created by Napoleon against Britain brought an economic boom to Gibraltar. In 1807 Napoleon turned on his Spanish allies and invaded Spain, greatly improving Gibraltar’s relationship with its neighbours.

Good relations was further enhanced when the Duke of Wellington won the battle at Salamanca in 1812 (on behalf of Spain) driving the French out of Andalucia.

The Calpe Hunt

Another land-mark in the history of Gibraltar was the creation of the famous Calpe Hunt.

With renewed friendships across the border to Spain, the Rev. Mackereth (former Chaplain to the Duke of Kent) imported a couple of English fox hounds to Gibraltar and started off the Calpe Hunt, which continued for the next 126 years!

Gibraltar’s Population

During the 19th Century, Gibraltar demonstrated military strength, commercial power and pride of the British Empire.

By 1814 there were 10,333 registered civilians, 2,000 of them being native born (Gibraltarians). The Spanish, who ran away in 1704, were now keen to return as employment opportunities were better than in neighbouring Spain. Spanish became the more frequently spoken language on the street and it was only those who had regular contact with the Garrison that spoke English.

Several professions now began to appear, including notary public, counsel, attorney, hotelier, lawyer and midwife. The Genoese community, who made up for most of the civilians in the 18th Century, were becoming a rising middle-class. As many of the Spaniards were willing to do the labour and dirtier work, many of the locals were becoming white-collar workers.

The origins of the local people could be distinguished by their customs, dress, accents and even the food they ate.

Sir George Don

By 1814 the civilian population was now 2.5 times bigger than the military in the Garrison so the British authorities in London decided to send out Lt General Sir George Don as administrator and Lt Governor.

Sir George Don arrived in April 1814 after a month’s quarantine on the ship that brought him (due to a fever epidemic in Gibraltar). This epidemic was the first thing to occupy his concern and he ordered an improvement in sanitation and water supplies.

Sir George was one of the 'heroic' governors during the history of Gibraltar and started a new building programme of houses, a hospital and the Alameda Gardens for the people to enjoy as a recreational area. These gardens are still in use today and are called The Botanical (Alameda) Gardens.

Band Stand at the Botanical gardens

Law and Order

In 1830 the history of Gibraltar saw law and order established and responsibility for Gibraltarian affairs was transferred from the War Office to the new Colonial Office.

In 1829 London had established a Metropolitan Police Force and Gibraltar was the first overseas territory to do the same. The local Police Force had to deal with the street cleanliness, traffic jams, in the narrow streets and inspecting of the brothels at all hours, amongst regular duties!

1830 also saw the establishment of the Supreme Court. Today the laws of Gibraltar are based on English Common Law and Ordinances, follow English legislation and are enacted by the House of Assembly, Gibraltar.


Over the next ten years in the history of Gibraltar more building commenced, mostly by the architect designer Boschetti. These buildings included the Rosia Bay Victualling yards and the St Bernard’s Hospital in the upper-town area (not the present day hospital at Europort).

As steam replaced sail, new commercial opportunities arose and Gibraltar became an important coaling station. The workers at the coaling stations were mostly Spanish or Maltese.

In 1842 England sent several convicts to Gibraltar to work on the fortifications and South Mole extension (as hard labour sentences). This idea was short lived as it proved too expensive (compared to local labour) and inconvenient as whenever a convict escaped, a bell from the hospital ship (Owen Glendower) would toll continuously until his recapture.


Sanitation had always been a problem through the history of Gibraltar and, until recently, fresh water had always been scarce and combined with the overcrowded accommodation (especially in the upper-town area) and the lack of running water in some communal tenements, epidemics were a deadly threat

Rain was plentiful during the winter months, but it trickled away through too many limestone channels and became difficult to contain, but was collected in underground cisterns and water tanks on roofs. Water was also brought in from Spain and sold door to door. Gibraltar did have a well at Eastern beach, but this too had to be bought.

A devestating moment in the history of Gibraltar was the outbreak of Cholera. In 1865 an outbreak killed almost six hundred people, resulting in far more deaths in peace-time than by cannon-fire in war-time.

Charitable Community

These difficult times always brought out the best in the Gibraltarians; the medical profession worked around the clock, the clergy of all denominations comforted the sick, the heroes who organised the soup kitchens would brave visits to the sick to deliver food.

The charitable generosity of the wealthier traders meant that over 3,000 people had been helped and prevented malnutrition, aiding recovery. In Gibraltar the rich and poor, living in such close proximity, had to cope with disease and disasters face to face and therefore the rich could not avoid the distresses of the poor nor avoid witnessing their suffering.

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