A History of the Chipulina Family
Diego José Gomez -'No Picki la Grapi'

1848/49 Elsewhere things continued to look grim and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels issued their 'Communist Manifesto'. In Gibraltar the ancient skull of a young woman was discovered in a shallow cave on the North Face of the Rock a few feet above sea level. The discovery aroused little interest and was reported laconically as, ' . . . the discovery of an old skull.'

Eleven years later a similar skull was discovered by the Rhine. Gibraltar's neglected archaeological find was put forward as corroborative evidence and was accepted as such. It was a missed opportunity. Neanderthal man should really have been called Gibraltar Woman.

Gibraltar Woman

That year Major-General Sir Robert Gardiner became Governor. He was one of the great artillerymen of the time. He was also a man of high principle who believed that an officer's first consideration was the welfare of the men under his command. Under his governorship wharfage tolls were imposed in Gibraltar for the first time. The year following his appointment the Infanta of Spain and her Consort came to Gibraltar to dine with him.

Sir Robert William Gardiner.

Ordinary people who have to earn a living invariably make a go of things regardless of diplomatic relations between countries. And so it has always been in Gibraltar. During this era and well into the next century Anglo-Spanish relations at top level were incredibly cosy. Any visitor to Gibraltar with Royal connections, for example, automatically received a Spanish Cavalry escort if they went into Spain. The joint patrons of the Royal Calpe Hunt - the unspeakable of the British establishment in Gibraltar in full pursuit after the uneatable of the Campo area - were the Kings of Spain and Britain. At one time the joint Masters of the Hunt were the Governor's wife and a Spanish Marques. One can only assume that they left it at that.

1850 Two years after his arrival General Gardiner wrote a report to London in which he suggested that smuggling was demoralising the troops as those on sentry work were always open to bribery. It was also, he suggested, in direct contravention of the Treaty of Utrecht. The reply must have been both diplomatic and non-committal and business continued as usual. Meanwhile the saga of Don Pacifico rolled on remorselessly. The British foreign secretary, Viscount Palmerston, suddenly decided to support the Gibraltarian's demands on the Greek Government and ordered the blockade of Piraeus and the seizure of Greek ships.


In November Giovani Batista Sacarello (4.5) died at the age of sixty in Mazagan in Morocco. His remains were brought to Gibraltar where he was buried. It seems unlikely that he was living in Mazagan as the rest of the Sacarellos were by now in Gibraltar. He probably just died on board his ship while making a trip to Morocco. Meanwhile General Gardiner did a quick count and estimated the population of the Rock at 16 000.

Felucca off Gibraltar. Feluccas were fast Mediterranean boats that were a common sight in and around Gibraltar in those days. Giovani Sacarello (4.5) must have seen his fair share of them as he travelled to and from Gibraltar in his ship. This romantic view of the Straits shows Gibraltar with grossly exaggerated gun emplacements and huge imaginary hills behind it.

1852 Two years later the Governor prohibited a meeting of merchants who were trying to make enquiries to the Secretary of State for the Colonies about the civil administration of the Colony. Fundamentally the argument was really about smuggling and about the making of easy money. But the Governor had picked the wrong moment for a fight. Palmerston's Whigs, ardent supporters of Adam Smith's free-trade dogma, were in the ascendancy. A Government powerful enough to repeal the Corn Laws which had protected landed Tory interests against cheap foreign imports were unlikely to be impressed by Gardiner's arguments. Almost inevitably Gardiner was overruled. Defeated and disgraced he was made to give way and from that moment onwards the local merchants knew that from now on they would be able to do more or less as they pleased where money matters were concerned.

1853 Money, however, was not the only problem facing the Rock. The civilian population now stood at a record 16 000 people and this prompted Sir Robert to pose the question as to what was to become of it in the event of war. It was an academic intimation of a problem that would become a reality in the next century. For the moment the British Government contented itself with solutions which ranged from intimidation to enforced expulsion. Life went on and the Casino Calpe opened. Several members of the various families were either founder members or became members shortly after. The club was to become something of an institution in Gibraltar.

The Casino Calpe, Gibraltar’ oldest club was founded by prominent local worthies. This photograph was taken in 1876. The view is from Main Street looking towards Irish Town. The rather subdued decorations were for the Prince of Wales, the future Edward the VII who was visiting at the time.

1854 The Crimean War began. It was a bad year commercially. There were beggars in the streets and there was much sickness among the Garrison's troops. Patent medicines abounded and one advertisement in the Gibraltar Chronicle for a concoction called 'Chlorodyne' guaranteed its effectiveness against cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea, colic, asthma, rheumatism, neuralgia, whooping cough, cramp and hysteria. Dr. Fleming may have been wasting his time. Or perhaps not as there was yet another outbreak of yellow fever. The Spanish authorities allowed the construction of a village on the 'Neutral Ground' of the isthmus to ease congestion. When the epidemic was over the place remained in British hands despite understandably bitter Spanish protests.


The Governor, who seems to have learned little from his previous skirmishes with the merchants, continued to complain to Palmeston about the disproportionate amount of smuggling that was going on in Gibraltar. Streams of Spaniards would enter the Rock in the morning, move from shop to shop, and then return 'swathed and swelled' with goods, bribing the customs men as they returned home. The phenomenon was aptly and descriptively known as contrabando de hormigas. In disgust Gardiner seems to have taken matters into his own hands and acted against the smuggling trade. The merchants immediately retaliated by sending a delegation to London. The MP's for Lancashire, a county with a considerable export trade with Gibraltar, took up their case. Smuggling, they said, was Spain's problem not Britain's.

1855 Gardiner was recalled, Lieutenant-General Sir James Fergusson replaced him and the merchants rejoiced. Unlike local politics the weather was extremely calm for a long period of time that year, and not a single sailing ship was able to leave the Mediterranean for three months. The Mediterranean is separated from the Atlantic by a sill at a depth of 150 fathoms. The denser Mediterranean waters flow over the less dense Atlantic at a steady surface current of three knots. The stiff breeze needed to carry a sailing ship outwards had simply not been available. Many a local must have prayed for a break in the weather, including perhaps Dr. Scandella, a Gibraltarian of Genoese decent, who succeeded Hughes as Bishop of Gibraltar.

On the 26th of February my great grandfather Diego José Gomez (3.7) married Magdalena Mancilla (3.8). It is not known where or when Diego José (3.7) met Magdalena (3.8), but by now the Mancilla family had probably moved from Coin to San Roque. He must have done a considerable amount of coming and going during his courtship. After they married they settled down in Diego José's (3.7) house in Crutchett's Ramp.

Marriage certificate of Diego José Gomez (3.7) and Magdalena Mancilla de Porras (3.8)

At the time and well into the next century, the Casemate's barracks housed members of one of the resident British regiments. The Regimental bugler played all the routine calls from a platform which was just across the house at Crutchett's Ramp. The sound of the bugle was a regular feature of life for the Gomez family. They may also have witnessed the last military public hanging in Gibraltar as this took place in Casemates Square in full view of the house.

Casemates Square. Casemates Barracks is on the left. I have marked 42 Crutchett’s Ramp with a small red rectangle.

1856 The following year the Crimean War came to an end. The brave six hundred had done their bit for queen and country in the valley of death. Lord Cardigan on the other hand, had fully confirmed his reputation as probably the stupidest man ever to have held a commission in the British Army. It had all been, to quote the French General, Pierre François Bosquet, ' . . . magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre.'Two years later, four Russian 24-pounder cannon captured during the war were presented to the people of Gibraltar.

The Shadow of the Valley of Death. This rare old photograph was taken not long after the famous charge of the Light Brigade. Note the number of cannon ball all over the valley.

1857/60 Economically things had definitely turned for the worse. In fact things were so bad that there was even an inquiry into the conduct and work of the Convict Establishment and the feasibility of replacing it with hired labour. At that time 270 convicts were employed by the admiralty and 440 by the War Department.

The depressed economy seems to have had little effect on Diego José Gomez(3.7) . A man of few words, he had made a successful business out of importing fruit, mainly muscatel grapes from Málaga which he then supplied to the army messes in Gibraltar. There is some evidence that he owned a barge or barcaza that he probably used to transport his goods from across the bay or from Malaga itself.

The phrase:,'Yani, no picki la grapi, Si quiere comprar, compra, y si no, dejala,’ is attributed to him which suggests he owned a fruit shop and that his knowledge of English was quite poor despite having been born and bred in Gibraltar. He was probably no exception in this respect. He was also very fond of lemon and always had one handy at the table with his meals. The profits from his various activities he invested in a house at 42 Crutchett's Ramp.

My great grandfather’s house in 42 Crutchett’s Ramp. In the 19th century the building only had two stories covered by a sloping roof. The third floor flat was a later addition.

Diego (3.7) also bought a property in La Linea, near the beach. A scribbled note on the back of an old document states: 'Casa Linea, 20 metros de frente, 26 de centro a fondo.' This makes the Spanish property nearly twice the area of the one in Crutchett's Ramp. The house in Gibraltar had a private cistern to collect rain water and a hand pump to draw it. The former was still there more than a century later although it was no longer in use.

The cistern was a common feature in most of the homes of the more well off families. In periods of drought, however, the shortfall was made up by purchasing extra water from aguadores. These were individual suppliers who carried the water in wooden barrels. They used donkeys to carry the barrels up and down the steep narrow streets of the Rock. Most people had their own regular supplier, as did each army company.

Aquadores. Water suppliers collecting water from the rain water fountain in Gunner’s parade. Note the donkey laden with small water barrels light enough for an individual aquador to carry. Note also the gun on the left of the picture.

It was around this period that my other great grandparents Francisco Felipe Sacarello (3.3) married Maria Magdalena Fava (3.4). Their wedding celebrations must have been rather more expensive than they had budgeted for. That year the Privy Council ordered duties on wines and spirits. A year later on the 30th of June their daughter Mary Sacarello ((2.2) was born in Gibraltar. She was one of my grandmothers. There was yet another change of Governor as Lieutenant-General Sir William J. Codrington took over from Fergusson.

Lieutenant-General Sir William J. Codrington. This very old photograph was taken in 1855 while Codrington was fighting in the Crimean War and before he became Governor of Gibraltar.

Mary (2.2) was known as Maruja in her youth, but this soon gave way to Memo, the name which everybody knew her by in later life. She had or would have three brothers, Bartolo, Laurence, and John Baptist and was born into a town with a population of some 15 000 souls of which more than 5 000 were now unemployed.