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Gibraltar has been a popular subject for writers for a long time. Thousands of books have been written about the Rock.

It's true that many of these were written - in Spanish - in the years when, if you wanted to earn Brownie points with the Franco regime, you wrote a book slagging off Gibraltar, the British, and the Gibraltarians (who didn't exist anyway, according to the Spanish Government).

But books about Gibraltar were being written long before that.

Histories of Gibraltar

The first history of Gibraltar was written in the 17th century, by a Gibraltarian, Alonso Hernandez del Portillo. He obviously had difficulty in finding a publisher, because his Historia de Gibraltar was not published in book form until nearly four centuries later. The manuscript was lost and then found again, and was used extensively by the author of the second Spanish history of Gibraltar, Ignacio Lopez de Ayala. Portillo's book has much of interest, especially when he writes about times which were recent for him. However, when he tries to write about Gibraltar in antiquity, he often lapses into fantasy. His view of history was that, if anything happened anywhere within a thousand miles of the Rock, it must have happened here.

In the 18th century books in English began to appear. Many of these were short works or pamphlets dealing with the capture of Gibraltar, or arguments for or against keeping it in British hands. One of these pamphlets was by Daniel Defoe, of Robinson Crusoe fame. Several travel books also gave descriptions of Gibraltar.

The next book to deal exclusively with the history of Gibraltar and its area was The History of the Herculean Straits by Col. Thomas James. James, who had served in Gibraltar twenty years earlier, gives a comprehensive account of Gibraltar and nearby towns on the Straits, and a long, if not always accurate, account of the Rock's history. The book, in two large volumes, is illustrated with plates and maps.

The Great Siege of 1779-1783 gave rise to a number of accounts of the siege, some by people who lived through it. These books will be discussed later on, but it is worth mentioning that the most famous of them, by John Drinkwater, includes an account of the history of Gibraltar.

Ayala's Historia de Gibraltar appeared in 1782 - a nice bit of opportunism, as Gibraltar was very much in the public eye at the time, with the Great Siege still in progress. This book relies heavily on Portillo's manuscript for the early history of the Rock, and on the author's prejudices for his account of contemporary events.

In 1845, James Bell, a Gibraltarian, published a translation into English of Ayala's book, and brought it up to date.

Montero, a physician from San Roque, wrote his Historia de Gibraltar in 1860, and dedicated the profits to a fund for the orphans of the recent cholera epidemic. Just to confuse, a few years earlier a Spaniard with a similar name, Monti, had also produced his own Historia de Gibraltar.

The next history in English, in 1862, was by Capt. Frederick Sayer, who had been Police Magistrate in Gibraltar. This book was innovative in that, for the first time, he included transcripts of previously unpublished documents. In 1870 Frederic Stephens produced A History of Gibraltar and its Sieges, which was also innovative as it was illustrated with photographs, which were pasted in. The very rare luxury edition has 16 photographs, but the standard editions have four, or sometimes only one. The photographs were by J Mann, whose name appears on thr title page, while the author's does not, so the authorship of the book is often attributed to Mann.

A shorter version, with the same title, was intended for children. It was very popular - it went through many editions in the next 40 years, and was much in use as a school prize.

The first significant history of Gibraltar of the 20th century was Col. ER Kenyon's Gibraltar under Moor, Spaniard and Briton. This excellent book was first published as a book in 1911, with revised editions in 1933 and 1938. Kenyon was an officer in the Royal Engineers, and his book focuses on the architecture of Gibraltar in relation to its history. It is well illustrated with sepia photographs.

It was not long before the first book on Gibraltar came out of Franco's Spain. It was Historia de Gibraltar by Jose Carlos de Luna (1944). This was a comprehensive and well-researched book, but predictably biased.

One of the first post-war books on Gibraltar in English was written by John D Stewart, who was Deputy Commissioner of Works on the Rock in the 1950s. Gibraltar, the Keystone is written in an entertaining style, but was unpopular in Gibraltar because he thought that Gibraltarians should opt for Spanish citizenship. At about the same time, Rock of Contention by George Hills, appeared. This is a well-researched history of the Rock, but is heavily biased towards the Spanish side.

In 1975, the late Dorothy Ellicott, pioneer woman politician and enthusiast for Gibraltar's heritage, wrote Our Gibraltar, a useful summary of Gibraltar history. This book has recently been reprinted, and is an excellent book to read if you are new to the subject.

Other histories were written in the last few decades. Some of them are good, others are commissioned works by UK-based authors who show little or no feel for the Rock or its people, and the books are often full of ludicrous errors. As a recent reviewer remarked, they seem to have been "parachuted in" from nowhere to write a book.

This cannot be said for Sir William Jackson's TheRock of the Gibraltarians (1987) The author was one of our most popular Governors, and showed a real interest and feeling for the Rock and its people both during and after his tenure of office. It is well and sympathetically written, and the section on the recent history of Gibraltar is particularly good.