The Menorcan input in our community.

When the subject of large emigrations from the Island of Menorca across the ages is broached, most people will undoubtedly mention the small fleet of ships which departed for Florida in 1768 or the massive colonisation of French Algeria which took place as from 1830. Likewise, if in Gibraltar the same question arises regarding the communities which now form part and parcel of the present Yanito identity, apart from those of British and Andalusian origins, it is certain that Genoese, Jewish, Maltese and even Portuguese elements will be referred to. What is not likely to be mentioned, either in the Island of Menorca or on the Rock, is the unknown and long forgotten emigration and input of Menorcans in Gibraltar during the course of the 18th century, up to the commencement of the 19th century. This was at a time when the two territories shared a common British sovereignty as a result of Articles X and XI of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which officially endorsed the end of the War of the Spanish Succession.

In essence, as in the case of Margarida Trémol of the Ciutadella of Menorca, who was already residing in Gibraltar in 1727, up to the time of Catherina Pratts, who was registered in the 1868 Census as a ‘British Subject born in Menorca, there were huge numbers of Menorcans, in their hundreds, whose names appear in the Church Registers and in official Gibraltar Government records. In most cases, all these individuals were forced to leave their island, either due to over-population, severe economic reasons or merely because of the constant changes in British, French and Spanish control which took place in Menorca from 1708 until 1802. All these Menorcans, together with Ligurians, Sephardic Jews, and other inhabitants from Mediterranean countries, were attracted by the essential need of imported labour in the besieged fortress of Gibraltar during the first century of British rule.

At the same time, and taking into account the relevant and intense military relationship between Menorca and Gibraltar during this period, the commercial and, above all, demographic flow between these two strategic British fortresses in the Mediterranean, was also intrinsically important. There were, for instance, many native persons from the area surrounding the port of Maó (especially from the nearby Arrabal del Castillo de San Felipe) who had arrived on the Rock to take up a number of occupations. There were the tailors Joan Netto and Miquel Pons, the painter Pere Orfila, the shopkeeper Josep Victori, the nurse Eulàlia Netto, the musician Joan Comellas, the cook Antoni Henrich and the lawyer Joan Pratts.

Furthermore, during much of the 18th century, there were a number of Menorcan priests serving the needs of the principal Church of St. Mary the Crowned; although, it must be said that they carried out these duties with lesser or greater success. These priests consisted of the Vicar of Gibraltar, Francesc Ignasi Ximenes (1734-1743), Antoni Fontcuberta (1747-1749), Joan Febrer (1749-1750) and the two brothers Rafel Messa (1771-1773) and Francesc Messa (1773-1792).

There were many Menorcan mariners who sailed between these two ports in the Royal Navy, and also later as privateers under the British flag. Chief amongst these were members of the wealthy Scarnichia family (known as Escarnitixi in Menorcan documents), previously of Neapolitan extraction, which had close links both with Menorca and Gibraltar. So much so that in 1756, Jaime Scarnichia, born in the Arrabal de San Felipe, took refuge on the Rock together with his father and the rest of his family just before the capture of the island by the French. In Gibraltar, the family flourished economically as a result of their involvement as corsairs; subsequently, Scarnichia put himself at the service of the Portuguese Royal Navy, where in a few years he climbed from practical pilot to the position of Admiral of the fleet.

All these Menorcans who had settled on the Rock, either permanently or temporarily, underwent all the experiences and events of their fellow citizens, which afflicted the embryonic British colony situated at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. These included the harsh taxes and duties imposed on the population by the military governors and the interminable blockades and sieges by Franco-Hispano forces (it must be noted that the only civilian diary of the 1779-1783 Great Siege was written by the Menorcan Chaplain Padre Francesc Messa). At the turn of the century, they also suffered the havoc caused by the Yellow Fever epidemics and typhus outbreaks which coincided tragically with the advent of a large increase in population living in significantly insalubrious circumstances. Diego Preto, Thomas Alaw, Miquel Pratts and Magdalena Pax were some of the very first Menorcans who died in the fortress as a result of the various mortal infections afflicting Gibraltar in the first part of the 19th century. In the year 1804, a third of the population of the Rock perished due to one such epidemic.

Most of these Menorcans in Gibraltar were able to survive this arduous way of life of sieges and epidemics, and their vestiges live on till the present day in the more than twenty surnames which still predominate in the community. These include such illustrious personages as the painter Gustavo Bacarisas and the syndicalist and politician Sir Joshua Hassan, both of whom had links with the small Mediterranean island.

In order to assist in a proper recognition of this emigration process never before researched in Menorca, and as a revindication of its input in Yanito society, a book, in Catalan, has recently been published, entitled ‘Els ‘minorkeens’ de Gibraltar’ (PAMSA 2018). This publication is intended to complete and further enhance the sole works available on the subject which were written by the local prolific author Tito Benady and appeared in ‘Revista de Menorca’ (1992) and ‘Gibraltar Heritage Journal’ (2015).

 

BY MARTÍ CRESPO I SALA (TRANSLATED BY MANOLO GALLIANO)