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Henry Field

Henry M. Field


To My Friend and Neighbor











The common tour in Spain does not include Gibraltar. Indeed it is not a part of Spain, for, though connected with the Spanish Peninsula, it belongs to England; and to one who likes to preserve a unity in his memories of a country and people, this modern fortress, with its English garrison, is not "in color" with the old picturesque kingdom of the Goths and Moors. Nor is it on the great lines of travel. It is not touched by any railroad, and by steamers only at intervals of days, so that it has come to be known as a place which it is at once difficult to get to and to get away from. Hence easy-going travellers, who are content to take circular tickets and follow fixed routes, give Gibraltar the go-by, though by so doing they miss a place that is unique in the world – unique in position, in picturesqueness, and in history. That mighty Rock, "standing out of the water and in the water," (as on the day when the old world perished;) is one of the Pillars of Hercules, that once marked the very end of the world; and around its base ancient and modern history flow together, as the waters of the Atlantic mingle with those of the Mediterranean. Like Constantinople, it is throned on two seas and two continents. As Europe at its southeastern corner stands face to face with Asia; at its southwestern it is face to face with Africa: and these were the two points of the Moslem invasion. But here the natural course of history was reversed, as that invasion began in the West. Hundreds of years before the Turk crossed the Bosphorus, the Moor crossed the Straits of Gibraltar. His coming was the signal of an endless war of races and religions, whose lurid flames lighted up the dark background of the stormy coast. The Rock, which was the "storm-centre" of all those clouds of war, is surely worth the attention of the passing traveller. That it has been so long neglected, is the sufficient reason for an attempt to make it better known.



I heard the last gun of the Old Year fired from the top of the Rock, and the first gun of the New. It was the very last day of 1886 that we entered the Straits of Gibraltar. The sea was smooth, the sky was clear, and the atmosphere so warm and bright that it seemed as if winter had changed places with summer, and that in December we were breathing the air of June.

On a day like this, when the sea is calm and still, groups of travellers sit about on the deck, watching the shores on either hand. How near they come to each other, only nine miles dividing the most southern point of Europe from the most northern point of Africa! Perhaps they once came together, forming a mountain chain which separated the sea from the ocean. But since the barrier was burst, the waters have rushed through with resistless power. Looking over the side of the ship, we observe that the current is setting eastward, which would not excite surprise were it not that it never turns back. The Mediterranean is a tideless sea: it does not ebb and flow, but pours its mighty volume ceaselessly in the same direction. This, the geographers tell us, is a provision of nature to supply the waste caused by the greater evaporation at the eastern end of the Great Sea. But this satisfies us only in part, since while this current flows on the surface, there is another, though perhaps a feebler, current flowing in the opposite direction. Down hundreds or fathoms deep, a hidden Gulf Stream is pouring back into the bosom of the ocean. This system of the ocean currents is one of the mysteries which we do not fully understand. It seems as if there were a spirit moving not only upon the waters, but in the waters; as if the great deep were a living organism, of which the ebb and flow were like the circulation of the blood in the human frame. Or shall we say that this upper current represents the Stream of Life, which might seem to be over-full were it not that far down in the depths the excess of Life is relieved by the black waters of Death that are flowing darkly beneath?

Turning from the sea to the shore, on our left is Tarifa, the most southern point of Spain and of Europe – a point far more picturesque than the low, wooded spit of land that forms the most southern point of Asia, which the "globe-trotter" rounds as he comes into the harbor of Singapore, for here the headland that juts into the sea is crowned by a Moorish castle, on the ramparts of which, in the good old times of the Barbary pirates, sentinels kept watch of ships that should attempt to pass the Straits from either direction: for incomers and outgoers alike had to lower their flags, and pay tribute to those who counted themselves the rightful lords of this whole watery realm. I wonder that the Free-Traders do not ring the changes on the fact that the very word tariff is derived from this ancient stronghold, at which the mariners of the Middle Ages paid "duties" to the robbers of the sea. If both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar were to-day, as they once were, under the control of the same Moslem power, we might have two castles – one in Europe and one in Africa – like the "Castles of Europe and Asia," that still guard the Dardanelles, at which all ships of commerce are required to stop and report before they can pass; while ships-of-war carrying too many guns, cannot pass at all without special permission from Constantinople.

But the days of the sea-robbers are ended, and the Mediterranean is free to all the commerce of the world. The Castle of Tarifa is still kept up, and makes a picturesque object on the Spanish coast, but no corsair watches the approach of the distant sail, and no gun checks her speed; every ship – English, French, or Spanish – passes unmolested on her way between these peaceful shores. Instead of the mutual hatred which once existed between the two sides of the Straits, they are in friendly intercourse, and to-day, under these smiling skies, Spain looks love to Barbary, and Barbary to Spain.

While thus turning our eyes landward and seaward, we have been rounding into a bay, and coming in sight of a mighty rock that looms up grandly before us. Although it was but the middle of the afternoon, the winter sun hung low, and striking across the bay outlined against the sky the figure of a lion couchant – a true British lion, not unlike those in Trafalgar Square in London, only that the bronze is changed to stone, and the figure carved out of a mountain! But the lion is there, with his kingly head turned toward Spain, as if in defiance of his former master, every feature bearing the character of leonine majesty and power. That is Gibraltar!

It is a common saying that "some men achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." The same may be said of places; but here is one to which both descriptions may be applied – that has had greatness thrust upon it by nature, and has achieved it in history. There is not a more picturesque spot in Europe. The Rock is fourteen hundred feet high – more than three times as high as Edinburgh Castle, and not, like that, firm-set upon the solid ground, but rising out of the seas – and girdled with the strongest fortifications in the world. Such greatness has nature thrust upon Gibraltar. And few places have seen more history, as few have been fought over more times than this in the long wars of the Spaniard and the Moor; for here the Moor first set foot in Europe, and gave name to the place (Gibraltar being merely Gebel-el-Tarik, the mountain of Tarik, the Moorish invader), and here departed from it, after a conflict of nearly eight hundred years.

The steamer anchors in the bay, half a mile from shore, and a boat takes us off to the quay, where after being duly registered by the police, we are permitted to pass under the massive arches, and through the heavy gates of the double line of fortifications, and enter Waterport Street, the one and almost only street of Gibraltar, where we find quarters in that most comfortable refuge of the traveller, the Royal Hotel, which, for the period of our stay, is to be our home.

When I stepped on shore I was among strangers: even the friend who had been my companion through Spain had remained in Cadiz, since in coming under the English flag I had no longer need of a Spanish interpreter, and I felt a little lonely; for inside these walls there was not a human being, man or woman, whom I had ever seen before. Yet one who has been knocked about the world as I have been, soon makes himself at home, and in an hour I had found, if not a familiar face, at least a familiar name, which gave me a right to claim acquaintance. Readers whose memories run back thirty years to the laying of the first Atlantic Cable in 1858, may recall the fact that the messages from Newfoundland were signed by an operator who bore the singular name of De Sauty, and when the pulse of the old sea-cord grew faint and fluttering, as if it were muttering incoherent phrases before it drew its last breath, we were accustomed to receive daily messages signed "All right: De Sauty!" which kept up our courage for a time, until we found that "All right" was "All wrong." The circumstance afforded much amusement at the time, and Dr. Holmes wrote one of his wittiest poems about it, in which the refrain of every verse was "All right: De Sauty!" Well, the message was true, at least in one sense, for De Sauty was all right, if the cable was not. The cable died, but the stout-hearted operator lived, and is at this moment the manager of the Eastern Telegraph Company in Gibraltar. This is one of those great English companies, which have their centre in London, and whose "lines have" literally "gone out through all the earth." Its "home field" is the Mediterranean, from which it reaches out long arms down the Red Sea to India and Australia, and indeed to all the Eastern world. Its General Manager is Sir James Anderson, who commanded the Great Eastern when she laid the cable successfully in 1866. I had crossed the ocean with him in '67, and now, wishing to do me a good turn, he had insisted on my taking a letter to all their offices on both sides of the Mediterranean, to transmit my messages free! This was a pretty big license; his letter was almost like one of Paul's epistles "to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, greeting." It contained a sort of general direction to make myself at home in all creation!

With such an introduction I felt at home in the telegraph office in Gibraltar, and especially when I could take by the hand our old friend De Sauty. He has a hearty grip, which speaks for the true Englishman that he is. If any of my countrymen had supposed that he died with the cable, I am happy to say that he not only "still lives," but is very much alive. He at once sent off to London a message to my friends in America – a good-bye for the old year, which brought me the next morning a greeting for the new.

From the telegraph office I took my way to that of the American Consul, who gave me a welcome such as I could find in no other house in Gibraltar, since his is the only American family! When I asked after my countrymen (who, as they are going up and down in the earth, and show themselves everywhere, I took for granted must be here), he answered that there was "not one!" He is not only the official representative of our country, but he and his children the only Americans. This being so, it is a happy circumstance that the Great Republic is so well represented; for a better man than Horatio J. Sprague could not be found in the two hemispheres. He is the oldest Consul in the service, having been forty years at this post, where his father, who was appointed by General Jackson, was Consul before him. He received his appointment from President Polk. Through all these years he has maintained the honor of the American name, and to-day there is not within the walls of Gibraltar a man – soldier or civilian – who is more respected than this solitary representative of our country.

Some may think there is not much need of a Consul where there are no Americans, and yet nearly five hundred ships sailed from this port last year for America: pity that he should have to confess that very few bore the American flag! Thus the post is a responsible one, and at times involves duties the most delicate and difficult, as in the late war, when the Sumter was lying here, with three or four American ships off the harbor (for they were not permitted to remain in port but twenty-four hours) to prevent her escape. At that time the Consul was constantly on the watch, only to see the privateer get off at last by the transparent device of taking out her guns, and being sold to an English owner, who immediately hoisted the English flag, and put to sea in broad daylight in the face of our ships, and made her way to Liverpool, where she was fitted out as a blockade-runner!

Those were trying days for expatriated Americans. However, it was all made up when Peace came, and Peace with Victory – with the Union restored and the country saved. Since then it has been the privilege of the Consul at Gibraltar to welcome many who took part in the great struggle, among them Generals Grant and Sherman and Admiral Farragut. Of course a soldier is always interested in a fortress, for it is in the line of his profession; and the greatest fortification in the world could but be regarded with a curious eye by old soldiers like those who had led our armies for four years; who had conducted great campaigns, with long marches and battles and sieges – battles among the bloodiest of modern times, and one siege (that of Richmond) which lasted as long as the famous siege of Gibraltar.

But perhaps no one felt a keener interest in what he saw here than the old sea-dog, who had bombarded the forts at the mouth of the Mississippi six days and nights; had broken the heavy iron boom stretched across the river; and run his ships past the forts under a tremendous fire; only to find still before him a fleet greater than his own, of twenty armed steamers, four ironclad rams, and a multitude of fire-rafts, all of which he attacked and destroyed, and captured New Orleans, an achievement in naval warfare as great as any ever wrought by Nelson. To Farragut Gibraltar was nothing more than a big ship, whose decks were ramparts. Pretty long decks they were, to be sure, but only furnishing so many more port-holes, and carrying so many more guns, and enabling its commander to fire a more tremendous broadside.

Talking over these things fired my patriotic breast till I began to feel as if I were in "mine ain countrie," and among my American kinsmen. And as I walked from the Consul's back to the Royal Hotel, I did not feel quite so lonely in Gibraltar as I felt an hour before.

As the afternoon wore away, the Spaniards who had come in from the country to market, to buy or sell, began to disappear, and soon went hurrying out, while the belated townsmen came hurrying in. At half-past five the evening gun from the top of the Rock boomed over land and sea, and with a few minutes' grace for the last straggler, the gates of the double line of fortifications were closed for the night, and there was no more going out or coming in till morning. It gave me a little uncomfortable feeling to be thus imprisoned in a fortress, with no possibility of escape. The bustling streets soon subsided into quietness. At half-past nine another gun was the signal for the soldiers to return to their barracks; and soon the town was as tranquil as a New England village. As I stepped out upon the balcony, the stillness seemed almost unnatural. I heard no cry of "All's well" from the sentinel pacing the ramparts, as from sailors on the deck, nor the "Ave Maria santissima" of the Spanish watchman. Not even the howling of a dog broke the stillness of the night. The moon, but in her second quarter, did not shut out the light of stars, which were shining brightly on Rock and Bay. Even the heavy black guns looked peaceful in the soft and tender light. It was the last night of the year – and therefore a holy night, as it was to be marked by a Holy Nativity – the birth of a New Year, a "holy child," as it would come from the hands of God unstained by sin. A little before midnight I fell asleep, from which I started up at the sound of the morning gun. The Old Year was dead! He had been a long time dying, but there is always a shock when the end comes. And yet in that same midnight a new star appeared in the East, bringing fresh hope to the poor old world. Life and death are not divided. The very instant that the old year died, the new year was born; and soon the dawn came "blushing o'er the world," as if such a thing as death were unknown. The bugles sounded the morning call, as they had sounded for the night's repose. Scarcely had we caught the last echoes, that, growing fainter and fainter, seemed to be wailing for the dying year, before a piercing blast announced his successor. The King is dead! Long live the King!



It was a bright New-Year's morning, that first day of 1887, and how could we begin the year better than by climbing to the top of the Rock to get the outlook over land and sea? The ascent is not difficult, for though the Rock is steep as well as high, a zigzag path winds up its side, which to a good pedestrian is only a bracing walk, while a lady can mount a little donkey and be carried to the very top. If you have to go slowly, so much the better, for you will be glad to linger by the way. As you mount higher and higher, the view spreads out wider and wider. Below, the bay is placid as an inland lake, on which ships of war are riding at anchor, "resting on their shadows," while vessels that have brought supplies for the garrison are unlading at the New Mole. Nor is the side of the Rock itself wanting in beauty. Gibraltar is not a barren cliff; its very crags are mantled with vegetation, and wild flowers spring up almost as in Palestine. Those who have made a study of its flora tell us that it has no less than five hundred species of flowering plants and ferns, of which but one-tenth have been brought from abroad; all the rest are native. The sunshine of Africa rests in the clefts of the rocks; in every sheltered spot the vine and fig-tree flourish, and the almond-tree and the myrtle; you inhale the fragrance of the locust and the orange blossoms; while the clematis hangs out its white tassels, and the red geranium lights up the cold gray stone with rich masses of color.

Thus loitering by the way, you come at last to the top of the Rock, where a scene bursts upon you hardly to be found elsewhere in the world, since you are literally pinnacled in air, with a horizon that takes in two seas and two continents. You are standing on the very top of one of the Pillars of Hercules, the ancient Calpe, and in full view of the other, on the African coast, where, above the present town of Ceuta, whose white walls glisten in the sun, rises the ancient Abyla, the Mount of God. These are the two Pillars which to the ancient navigators set bounds to the habitable world.

On this point is the Signal Station, from which a constant watch is kept for ships entering the Straits. There was a tradition that it had been an ancient watch-tower of the Carthaginians, from which (as from Monte Pellegrino, that overlooks the harbor of Palermo) they had watched the Roman ships. But later historians think it played no great part in history or in war until the Rock served as a stepping-stone to the Moors in their invasion and conquest of Spain. When the Spaniards retook it, they gave this peak the name of "El Hacho," The Torch, because here beacon-fires were lighted to give warning in time of danger. A little house furnishes a shelter for the officer on duty, who from its flat roof, with his field-glass, sweeps the whole horizon, north and south, from the Sierra Nevada in Spain, to the long chain of the Atlas Mountains in Africa. Looking down, the Mediterranean is at your feet. There go the ships, with boats from either shore which dip their long lateen-sails as sea-gulls dip their wings, and sometimes fly over the waves as a bird flies through the air, even while large ships labor against the wind. As the current from the Atlantic flows steadily into the Mediterranean, if perchance the wind should blow from the same quarter, it is not an easy matter to get out of the Straits. Ships that have made the whole course of the Mediterranean are baffled here in the throat of the sea. Before the days of steam, mariners were subject to delays of weeks, an experience which was more picturesque than pleasant. Thirty years ago a friend of mine made a voyage from Boston to Smyrna in the Henry Hill, a ship which often took out missionaries to the East, and now had on board a mixed cargo of missionaries and rum! Whether it was a punishment for the latter, on her return she had head winds all the way; but in spite of them was able to make a slow progress by tacking from shore to shore, for which, however, she had less room as she came into the Straits, through which, as through a funnel, both wind and current set at times with such force as in this case detained the Bostonian five weeks! "The captain," says my informant, "was a pretty good-natured man, but as he was a joint-owner of the ship, this long detention was very trying. But to me" – it is a lady who writes – "it was quite the reverse. I found it delightful to tack over to the side of Gibraltar every morning, and drift back every evening to the shores of Africa, with the little excitement from the risk of being boarded by pirates in the night! I never tired of the brilliant sunsets, the gorgeous clouds, with the snow-capped mountains of Granada for a background. But for the captain (even with missionaries on board, who were returning to America) the head winds were too much for his temper, and after vainly striving day after day to get through the Straits, he would take off his cap, scratch his head, and shake his fists at the clouds!

"After tacking for three weeks off Gibraltar, wearing out our cordage and exhausting our larder, we put into the bay and anchored. Here we were surrounded by vessels from all parts of the world, and were so near the town that we could almost exchange greetings with those on shore. One Sunday the Spaniards had a bull-fight just across the Neutral Ground; but I preferred a quiet New England Sabbath on shipboard.

"After lying at anchor in the bay for two weeks I went on shore one day to lunch with an American lady. Returning to the ship in the evening, I betook myself to my berth. At midnight I heard unusual sounds, clanking of chains, and sailors singing 'Heave ho!' From my port-hole I could see an unusual stir, and dressing in haste went on deck. Sure enough the wind had changed, and all the vessels in the bay were alive with excitement. The captain was radiant. I could see his beaming face, for it was clear and beautiful as moonlight could make it. He invited me to stay on deck, sent for a cup of coffee, and made himself very agreeable. We were soon under way. I was in a kind of ecstasy with the novelty and the beauty of it all. The full moon, the grand scenery, the Pillars of Hercules, solemn in the moonlight, and the added charm of six hundred vessels, from large to small craft, all in full sail, made a rare picture. I sat on deck till morning, and certainly never saw a more beautiful sight than that fleet spreading its wings like a flock of mighty sea-birds, and moving off together from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic."

Such picturesque scenes are not so likely to be witnessed now; for since the introduction of steam the plain and prosaic, but very useful, "tug" tows off the wind-bound bark through the dreaded Straits into the open sea, where she can spread her wings and fly across the wide expanse of the ocean.

To-day, as we look down from the signal station, we see no gathered ships below waiting for a favoring breeze; the wind scarcely ripples the sea, and the boats glide gently whither they will, while here and there a great steamer from England, bound for Naples, or Malta, or India, appears on the horizon, marking its course by the long line of smoke trailing behind it.

To this wonderful combination of land and sea nothing can be added except by the changing light which falls upon it. For the fullest effect you must wait till sunset, when the evening gun has been fired, to signal the departing day, and its heavy boom is dying away in the distance,

"Swinging low with sullen roar."

Then the sky is aflame where the sun has gone down in the Atlantic; and as the last light from the west streams through the Straits, they shine as if they were the very gates of gold that open into a fairer world than ours.



If Gibraltar were merely a rock in the ocean, like the Peak of Teneriffe, its solitary grandeur would excite a feeling of awe, and voyagers up and down the Mediterranean would turn to this Pillar of Hercules as the great feature of the Spanish coast, a "Pillar" poised between sea and sky, with its head in the clouds and its base deep in the mighty waters. But Gibraltar is at the same time the strongest fortress in the world, and the interest of every visitor is to see its defences, in which the natural strength of the position has been multiplied by all the resources of modern warfare.

A glance at the map will show what is to be defended. The Rock is nearly three miles long, with a breadth of half to three quarters of a mile, so that the whole circuit is about seven miles. But not all this requires to be defended, for on the eastern side the cliff is so tremendous that there is no possibility of scaling it. It is fearful to stand on the brow and look down to where the waves are dashing more than a thousand feet below. The only approach must be by land from the north, or from the sea on the western side. As the latter lies along the bay, and is at the lowest level, it is the most exposed to attack. Here lies the town, which could easily be approached by an enemy if it were not for its artificial defences. These consist mainly of what is called the Line-Wall, a tremendous mass of masonry two miles long, relieved here and there by projecting bastions, with guns turned right and left, so as to sweep the face of the wall, if an enemy were to attempt to carry it by storm. Indeed the line defended is more than two miles long, if we follow it in its ins and outs; where the New Mole reaches out its long arm into the bay, with a line of guns on either side; followed by a re-entering curve round Rosia Bay, the little basin whose waters are so deep and still, that it is a quiet haven for unlading ships, but where an enemy would find himself in the centre of a circle of fire under which nothing could live; and if we include the batteries still farther southward, that are carried beyond Europa Point, until the last gun is planted under the eastern cliff, which is itself a defence of nature that needs no help from man.

Within the Line-Wall, immediately fronting the bay, are the casemates and barracks for the artillery regiments that are to serve the guns. The casemates are designed to be absolutely bomb-proof, the walls being of such thickness as to resist the impact of shot weighing hundreds of pounds, while the enormous arches overhead are made to withstand the weight and the explosion of the heaviest shells. Such at least was the design of the military engineers who constructed them: though, with the new inventions in war, the monster guns and the new explosives, it is hard to put any limit to man's power of destruction. This Line-Wall is armed with guns of the largest calibre, some of which are mounted on the parapet above, but the greater part are in the casemates below, and therefore nearer the level of the sea, so that they can be fired but a few feet above the water, and thus strike ships in the most vital part.

The latest pets of Gibraltar are a pair of twins – two guns, each of which weighs a hundred tons! These are guarded with great care from the too close inspection of strangers. No description can give a clear impression of their enormous size. In the early history of artillery, the Turks cast some of the largest pieces in the world. Those who have visited the East, may remember the huge cannon-balls of stone, that may still be seen lying under the walls of the Round Towers on the Bosphorus. But those were pebbles compared with shot that can only be lifted to the mouth of the guns by machinery. The bore of these monsters would delight the soul of the Grand Turk, for, (as a man could easily crawl into one of them,) if the barbarous punishment of the old days were still reserved for great offenders, a Pasha who had displeased the Sultan might easily be put in along with the cartridge, and be rammed down and fired off!
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