A History of the Chipulina Family
Maria Dominica Bignone - The Fiasco

1782 The French and Spanish were so confident of the effectiveness of the 'floating batteries' that many people set up camp on the Sierra Carbonera to see the spectacle. In June General Louis de Berton, Duke of Mahon and Marquis of Crillon arrived to take over command of the Franco-Spanish forces which now included units fresh from success in Minorca. In total they numbered some 40000 men. By September the Franco-Spanish 'floating batteries' were under way.

The object was to breach the defensive walls as a prelude to an assault by the troops. Assembled in the bay and awaiting the results was the combined Franco-Spanish fleet consisting of no less than than seven three-deck ships, thirty-one two-deckers, three frigates and a host of smaller craft. There were also sixteen specially designed assault craft, forerunners of today's modern landing craft. In the opening salvo of the grand attack 400 cannons were fired simultaneously. It was all a disastrous failure. In ordinary circumstances they might well have succeeded, but the British countered the 'floating batteries' with an innovation of their own. They used red-hot shot.

This was a system in which the shot was heated until red-hot and then, using tongs, was introduced into the cannon. The signal to fire the cannon had to be extremely precise otherwise the whole contraption would blow up. One way or the other the effects were lethal. All told nearly 2 000 Spanish soldiers and sailors were killed in the 'floating batteries' fiasco. Both Crillon and the Spanish Admiral Cordoba had predicted the failure.

Elliot points towards the 'Floating Batteries'. 

Another picture of the event shows the Town of Gibraltar well contained within Charles V Wall with massive fortifications facing the sea. To the south appear a series of cultivated fields and well tended gardens. It confirms the reports that every bit of suitable land was being used to provide food.

Another view of the fiasco

Bad luck continued to plague the Spaniards. During a gale the sixty-gun ship 'San Miguel' broke anchor and run aground in Rosia Bay where she was forced to surrender.

In October Lord Howe arrived near Gibraltar with his squadron. Cordoba, the Spanish Admiral, suggested a fool-proof strategy to stop him entering the bay. He would line up his ships at the entrance giving himself every advantage as the British ships were forced to sail towards him. The French, however, over-ruled the idea and insisted on giving chase in order to do battle in open sea. A change of wind to levanter allowed Howe to enter the bay leaving the Franco-Spanish fleet outside. For a third time the garrison was relieved bringing two fresh regiments and much needed supplies.

Relief of Gibraltar during the Great Siege

The French however overruled the plan and gave chase in order to do battle in the straits. A change of wind allowed Admiral Howe to enter the bay leaving the enemy outside.
This was the third time that the siege was broken. The Spanish Admiral suggested a fool proof strategy to stop him. He would line up his ships at the entrance to the bay. They can just be made out in the picture between Howe’s ships on the left horizon.

Admiral Howe

A contemporary picture of the Rock during the Great Siege. Note the destruction out at sea on the top right of the picture as several Spanish ships explode after being hit.

1783 The Great Siege ended in February. Each commander now gave the other the opportunity to see what was on the other side. Elliot toured the Spanish works and dined at San Roque and the Duke returned the visit and toured the defences and Ince's galleries. On an even more pleasant note, Mozart wrote an 'Ode to Calpe' to commemorate the defence of Gibraltar. In July the first ship arrived from Genoa with many who had left during the siege. Angelo Cepolino and his family may have been on the ship. In September the Treaty of Versailles was signed by Britain and France. Happily, Gibraltar was not mentioned.

1785 On the 6th of April Antonia Cerisola (5.2) was born in Gibraltar. Antonio Maria Cerisola (6.3), who was probably her father, had arrived in Gibraltar in 1760. The family were originally from Genoa and she was one of my great, great, great grandmothers as she was destined to become Angel 'El Nazo' Chipulina's (5.1) wife.

1786/88 As the affairs of the Rock gradually returned to normal, the old antagonisms between Britain and Spain also began to resurface. In a letter written on behalf of Charles III, the Spanish statesman Floridablanca set out certain political guidelines. Among other things he advocated continued use of the pretext of quarantine to sever trade between Gibraltar and the Spanish coast in order to make the Rock commercially useless. The quarantine was strictly enforced by land and sea and caused considerable annoyance among the locals. But it failed in its principal objectives. Trade continued to flourish and the inhabitants did not leave. Elliot was still Governor.

Lieutenant-General George Augustus Elliot

Floridablanca also suggested that Gibraltar could be retaken either by negotiation or by force if war occurred. Curiously his letter mentions a tunnel begun in Catalan bay during the siege which could be continued with relative ease to the other side of the rock. So far nobody seems to have looked for or found this tunnel. A modern building may be obstructing the most likely spot. Meanwhile Elliot returned to England and General Robert Boyd remained as Lieutenant-Governor. The civilian population was now 3 386, somewhat higher than in the pre-siege census of 1777.

In Europe the French Revolution had begun and was gathering momentum. The general unrest was making life difficult for many Frenchmen as the old familiar system was violently replaced by the new and the unknown. They fled their country in droves seeking refuge. Some came to Gibraltar and many names of French origin such as Fabre, Sene, Dumas, Galliano, Trico, Dumoulin, and Dubulais are still found on the Rock today. In Spain Charles III died and was succeeded by his son Charles IV.

1790 Life went on in Gibraltar and the following year Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Boyd finally became Governor when Elliot died.

Sir Robert Boyd

It was about this time that Francesco Sacarello (5.9) and Maria Russo (5.10) married in Spotorno in the Republic of Genoa. It appears they only had one son, Giovanni Batista Sacarello (4.5).

Early 20th century snapshot of Spotorno.More than a hundred years later I passed through Spotorno. It was not a particularly memorable place but the fish restaurant I eat in was superb!

1791 By the following year the civilian population had declined to 2 890. This census was the first detailed numbering of the population of the Rock. The registers, however, continued to be plagued with misspelled names. In March Thomas Paine published Part I of his Rights of Man in which he defended the French Revolution.

1792/96 The French Revolutionary Wars began and Spain, as Britain's ally against France, lifted the quarantine regulations affecting Gibraltar. Three years later the regulations were back in force as the Spanish premier Godoy was obliged to sign a treaty of alliance with France against England. To make matters worse the Directorate rashly agreed to help Charles IV regain Gibraltar.

Meanwhile General Sir Henry Clinton had become Governor. He did not last long and was succeeded by Lieutenant-General Charles O'Hara, who was already known locally as 'The Old Cock of the Rock' for fairly obvious reasons.

Drunkenness had by now increased dramatically throughout the garrison and the civilian population began to wonder whether Spanish rule might not be preferable to British. They offered representatives of the remaining troops substantial incentives to help them. O'Hara, however, found out and dealt with the dissidents by expelling 1 100 civilians.

O'Hara was in fact rather ill-placed to deal with his drunk and disorderly troops. The 90 taverners of the Rock provided him with the income he needed to entertain on the lavish scale he was accustomed to. Among other things he was reputed to have kept at least two mistresses. O'Hara was also responsible for the building of a 200 foot high observation post on a 1 370 foot high ridge of the Rock. An observer was supposed to be able to see ship movements off Cadiz 60 miles away. Unfortunately no one had considered the intervening mountains which obstructed the view, and for many years the 'folly' served as a monument to the 'Old Cock of the Rock'.

The Rock showing ‘O’Hara’s Folly’ as a tall tottering tower

1797 Despite the expulsions the population continued to rise. The upheavals in Italy during the Revolutionary Wars were persuading more and more people to emigrate. Anything was better than staying. That year for example, Genoa was forced under pressure from Napoleon to transform itself into an egalitarian Ligurian republic, under a French protectorate. Equality was a very relative concept in those days.

On the 30th January Maria Dominica Bignone (4.6) was born in Gibraltar. Her parents, Giuseppe Bignone (5.11) and Paula Salari (5.12) must have immigrated to Gibraltar from Genoa several years previously. The name Bignone, however, does not appear on the previous census or on any subsequent lists. The most likely reason is that they never registered their residence. In fact it was probably quite a good idea not to do so as the Government were increasing their attempts to limit the number of people emigrating to the Rock.

Very often even marriages, births and baptisms went unrecorded. There is no doubt, however, that Maria (4.6) was born in Gibraltar as her name appears on the appropriate date in the archives of the Church of Santa Maria La Coronada. She was baptised on the 5th of February that year and she would become one of my great, great, grandmothers.

Cathedral of Saint Mary the Crowned.The church was built by the Spanish in 1462 on the site of the old mosque. It has been reconstructed several times since then. My great, great grandmother, Maria Dominica Bignone (4.6) is the first person in my family to be registered as having been baptised in this church.

1798/99 In June Malta was taken by the French and Pitt tried to solve the Irish problem by passing the Act of Union between the two countries. It solved nothing. In Italy the French armies were defeated adding to the general confusion in that part of the world. In November came the Coup de Brumaire and Napoleon became virtual dictator of France. It was all grist to the maritime trading mill of Gibraltar.

A contemporary view of Gibraltar from the north. This rather strange perspective of the Rock is made even more remarkable by the fact that it was painted by a Swede. Note the correctly positioned Devil’s Tower bottom left and the unrealistic defences along the west side of the Rock.