Category Archives: Military history

The Gibraltar Stone

Woodbury Common

We recently visited Woodbury Common in east Devon, a huge area of common land that comprises much heathland and is part of the Pebblebed Heaths Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as well as a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). To the south, it is bordered by the seaside towns of Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton. We will be giving a talk on ‘Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History’ at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival, so we thought that it was a real coincidence to discover a Gibraltar Stone on Woodbury Common.

Roy Adkins standing by the Gibraltar Stone at Woodbury Common, holding the US edition of ‘Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History’

Continue reading

Oranges and Treasure

Hermione treasure ship

During the Seven Years’ War of 1756 to 1763, Philemon Pownoll commanded the Royal Navy sloop Favourite, while his friend Herbert Sawyer was in charge of the frigate Active. Cruising near Cape St Vincent (the south-western tip of Portugal) in May 1762, they spotted, chased and captured the Spanish vessel Hermione, bound from Lima in South America to Cadiz.

Captain Pownoll advert at The Sharpham Trust’s open day

The Hermione was brought into Gibraltar and then given a naval escort to England, where the cargo and ship were valued at Continue reading

Reading Matters

For many years, we created newsletters that were emailed to subscribers and were also posted on Our Newsletters website page, fifty-three in all. They contained our latest news, as well as features on anything that appealed to us. We were able to stray well beyond the confines of our published books, or perhaps expand on something in those books, and we were also able to include photographs and other illustrations.

Regrettably, we have now stopped producing newsletters, because of the imposition by the European Union of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which places an onerous burden on small businesses.

From now on, keep an eye instead on the different pages of our website, and take a look at this blog. We will continue to add any news in our Latest News page of the website, and any forthcoming talks or interviews will be listed on the Events page.

If you enjoy these newsletters and blog, then you will probably also enjoy our books!
If you are now at a loss for something to read, we would (of course) suggest that you try any of our books that you haven’t read. Here’s a cut-out-and-keep summary, though Continue reading

Henry Ince and Soldier-Artificers

Early life

The young Henry Ince is shrouded in mystery. Records suggest he was born at Penzance, Cornwall, in 1735 or 1736 and became a nail-maker and miner, but only his mining occupation is certain. For some reason he was in Ireland in 1755 and enlisted in the 2nd Regiment of Foot. He possibly became a Methodist in Ireland, where John Wesley was at that time preaching. The regiment next moved to the Isle of Man and in 1768 to Gibraltar. Ince, now a sergeant, wrote to Wesley lamenting the lack of religion among the soldiers, particularly Methodism. His involvement with Methodism is discussed, along with other details, in an article by Sue Jackson in Gibraltar Heritage Journal 16 (for 2009).

Soldier-artificers

Gibraltar’s defences were being strengthened under the direction of the Chief Engineer, William Green. As the army engineers were officers, the actual work was done by civilians, which Green felt was unsatisfactory. In 1772 he was given permission to form a soldier-artificer company of skilled military workmen, which was a great improvement, and Ince was recruited into the company as a sergeant. One of its first tasks was the construction of the massive King’s Bastion. During the subsequent Great Siege, the soldier-artificers proved invaluable, and decades later the engineers and soldier-artificers were amalgamated into a single unit that eventually became the Royal Engineers.

Tunnel vision

After the sortie, the Spaniards rebuilt their siegeworks, gradually moving closer to the sheer north front of Gibraltar. Because it was difficult to fire at these siegeworks, it was decided to mount guns on top of an outcrop called ‘the Notch’ or ‘the Hook’, about halfway up the cliff face. It would act like a bastion, giving a wide field of fire over the siegeworks. To gain access to this rock platform, they needed to drive a tunnel through the limestone rock.

North front of Gibraltar, facing Spain, with ‘the Notch’ far left (with two later gunports)

and three of Ince’s gunports centre and right

The legend

One story is that Ince, now a sergeant-major, proposed the idea after one bombardment: Continue reading

Gibraltar in America

This is the story of a famous painting by the American artist John Trumbull, which is used on the jacket of the American edition of our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, published in hardback in the United States and Canada by Viking (ISBN 9780735221628), 449 pages long, plus prelims and prologue, maps and other illustrations. It is also available as an e-book and an audio download. It is almost the same as the UK edition, though with a few corrections and amendments and a very striking jacket.

The French connection

The publication coincides with the 240th anniversary of France becoming officially involved with the American Revolution (War of Independence). Never having recovered from the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), France was looking to ways of seeking revenge against Britain. From 1777 she had allowed arms and other equipment to be shipped to the rebels in America, while American privateers were permitted to shelter in French ports. In March 1778, France signed a treaty recognising American independence, and the first hostile act between Britain and France was a frigate action in June 1778, when the French Belle Poule fought the British Arethusa. The following month, Britain declared war on France. It took France almost another year to persuade Spain to join in, leading to the start of the Great Siege of Gibraltar in June 1779.

John Trumbull’s finest painting

The UK and American jackets of Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History are very different, but both are based on the work of contemporary American artists. The UK jacket features a painting by John Singleton Copley (see our newsletter 50), while this Viking jacket uses a magnificent painting by John Trumbull.

Born at Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1756, Trumbull became a soldier at the beginning of the Continue reading

Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival

For our final talk of 2017 on our new book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege of British History, we were invited to the Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival, which took place from 16th to 19th November. Because our talk was the very first one, we had no idea in advance what to expect.

The venue for our talk was the beautiful historic Garrison Library, where we have spent many hours doing research. Full of atmosphere, it was the focal point for the festival and provided the ideal setting, because it was originally founded by John Drinkwater. He served as an ensign in the 72nd Manchester Regiment throughout the Great Siege Continue reading

John Drinkwater and Nelson

John Drinkwater was a more lowly officer, but one of the most interesting characters of the siege. He was born at Latchford near Warrington in Lancashire in 1762, and his father was a former naval surgeon who had set up a medical practice at nearby Salford, on the edge of Manchester. It was only natural, therefore, that if he was going to join the army, it was likely to be a local regiment.

 

John Drinkwater in his captain’s uniform after the siege

 

American War of Independence

Once the French started helping the American colonies, a new wave of patriotism spread through Britain, with new regiments being recruited by private subscription, including the 72nd Regiment of Foot at Manchester. Drinkwater was a former Manchester Grammar School pupil who joined this regiment as an ensign in 1777. He was 15 years old, with no military experience, Continue reading

The Great Siege: A Quick Summary

For more than 3½ years, from June 1779 to February 1783, the tiny territory of Gibraltar was besieged and blockaded, on land and at sea, by the overwhelming forces of Spain and France. It became the longest siege in British history. We relate this epic tale in our new book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History.

 

 

West side of Gibraltar

 

Located between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, right on the edge of Europe, Gibraltar was a British military garrison and home to several thousand civilians, a place of varied nationalities, languages, religions and social classes. Before the siege, life was particularly pleasant Continue reading

Fact and Fiction

Our most recent book, Gibraltar. The Greatest Siege in British History, has had an appreciative reception from those concerned with non-fiction, particularly for the research involved. This gave us many new sources of information, allowing us to present a much more detailed account than has ever been previously possible. New sources and a fresh approach are only the half the battle, because the book must also present the material in a manner that is entertaining, informative and a page-turner. Our aim is produce books that people want to read, and the highest praise is when any of our books is described as historically accurate, and yet reads like a novel.

It is especially pleasing to be recognised by fiction writers, because they know best what makes a good story! We are particularly pleased to receive praise from masters of their craft such as Alaric Bond and Julian Stockwin. Both these authors Continue reading

George Augustus Eliott 300 years

First-class heroes

This year, 2017, is the 300th anniversary of the birth of George Augustus Eliott, who was governor of Gibraltar throughout the Great Siege (1779 to 1783). Lieutenant-General Eliott had a long military career and was eventually honoured with the title of Lord Heathfield. During the Great Siege, he had overall control of Gibraltar, both the military garrison and the civilian inhabitants, and his strategic skill is credited with the successful defence of the Rock. He is still commemorated on Gibraltar today, but elsewhere he is a largely forgotten hero.

 

Eliott commemorated on Gibraltar stamps, issued in 1967

on the 250th anniversary of his birth

Gibraltar is famed for its philately, issuing beautiful postage stamps to celebrate aspects of life on the Rock. In 1967, on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Eliott, commemorative stamps were issued. One shows him holding the Gibraltar key; one has his portrait on a map of Europe; Continue reading