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Gibraltar! What a thrill does the very name evoke to one who knows a little of English history and England’s heroes! But to those who have the good fortune to steam in a P. and O. liner down the coast of Portugal, and catch sight of the Rock on turning by Cabrita Point into the Bay of Algeciras the thrill of admiration is intensified. For the great Rock lies like a lion couched on the marge of the Mediterranean. It is one of the pillars of Hercules: it commands the entrance to the inner sea.
From 712 to the beginning of the fourteenth century Gibraltar was in the hands of the Saracens; then it fell into the hands of the Spaniards. In 1704, the year of Blenheim, a combined English and Dutch fleet under Sir George Rooke captured the Rock from the Marquis de Salines, and Gibraltar has since then remained in the possession of the English, though several attempts have been made to wrest it from us. Before we follow Captain Drinkwater in some details of the great siege, a few words must be said about the Rock and its defences as they then were.
The Rock itself juts out like a promontory, rising to a height of 1,300 feet, and joined to the Spanish mainland by a low sandy isthmus, which is at the foot of the Rock about 2,700 feet broad. On a narrow ledge at the foot of the north-west slope lies the little town, huddled up beneath the frowning precipice and bristling batteries excavated out of the solid rock. At different heights, up to the very crest, batteries are planted, half or wholly concealed by the galleries. All along the sea-line were bastions, mounted with great guns and howitzers, and supplied with casemates for 1,000 men. In all the fortifications were armed with 663 pieces of artillery. Conspicuous among the buildings was an old Moorish castle on the north-west side of the hill: here was planted the Grand Battery, with the Governor’s residence at the upper corner of the walls. Many caves and hollows are found in the hill convenient both for powder magazines and also for hiding-places to the apes who colonize the Rock. The climate even at mid-winter is so mild and warm that cricket and tennis can be played on dry grass, wherever a lawn can be found in the neighbourhood, as the writer has experienced. But at Gibraltar itself all is stony ground and barren rock; only on the western slope a few palmettos grow, with lavender and Spanish broom, roses and asphodels.
In 1777 a good opportunity seemed to be offered for Spain to recover the Rock from England. The North American colonies had seceded, and the prestige of Britain had suffered a severe blow. The fleets of France and Spain, sixty-six sail of the line, were opposed by Sir Charles Hardy’s thirty-eight, but with these he prevented the enemy from landing an invading army on the English shore. But Spain was intent on retaking Gibraltar, and had already planted batteries across the isthmus which connects the Rock with Spain.