Tunnelling inside the Rock of Gibraltar in 1782
During the mid-1970s my parents lived in Gibraltar. The house in which they resided was called Ince’s Farm, a name with a fascinating history. If you have been to Gibraltar you will surely have visited St Michael’s Cave, a network of natural limestone caves displaying stalactites and stalagmites within the rock. But there are also miles of tunnels, some of which were excavated in the late 18th century.
|Ince's Farm by L. Sanguinetti 1977|
In 1779 Spanish and French armies laid siege to Gibraltar, hoping to starve the British army and citizens into giving up ownership of the Rock and its small town. This was to become the longest siege ever endured by a British Garrison. The townspeople had to abandon their homes which were bombarded by the French and Spanish and settle in tents and roughly made huts to the south. Lack of fresh produce caused them to suffer from scurvy and living so closely together, smallpox, yellow fever and influenza quickly spread amongst the population.
By May 1782 the Governor of Gibraltar, George Augustus Elliott, was desperate for a means of attacking the foreign troops who were advancing slowly in ever extending trenches along the isthmus which connected Gibraltar to Spain, but they were out of view beyond the rock face.
It was at this point that he came into conversation with Sergeant Major Henry Ince. Henry Ince had been a Cornish miner before joining the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment and in 1772 had been transferred, along with other, “mechanics,” to the newly formed Company of Artificers, a forerunner of the Royal Engineers. Sergeant Major Ince suggested that he should begin tunnelling through the rock to the Notch, a ledge on the sheer North face. He was appointed Overseer of Mines and, with the aid of 12 men, began to clear a way through the rock using gunpowder, quicklime and water and pick-axes. There was an immediate need for ventilation so small openings were blasted in the cliff face. These proved to be in good firing positions and so began the Upper Gallery for 4 guns. There was a problem in the sharp downwards angle required for firing but this was solved by Lieut. Koehler who mounted the large guns on, “depressing carriages”. He was aided by the ammunition developed by Lieut. Shrapnel.
|Gibraltar by L. Sanguinetti 1977|
The siege ended in 1783 when it became evident that the British would not need to give up. After the ceasefire, the Duc de Crillion, commander of the opposing troops, visited the tunnels, exclaiming, “These works are worthy of the Romans.”
As a reward for his invaluable work, Henry Ince was granted a large plot of land on Queens Road, half way up the rock, on which he established “Ince’s Farm”. One day, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, came upon Henry, riding his old horse. The Duke said that the sergeant major should have a finer horse, “more in keeping with your worth and duties,” but the horse he gave to Henry was too strong and spirited so the Duke suggested that Henry should sell it.
Henry Ince remained in Gibraltar for 36 years and despite some local opposition he established the Methodist church there, being one the prime Methodist lay preachers. He wrote letters to John Wesley whom he had probably met while he was a soldier in Ireland around 1760. Henry had at least 2 wives and 6 surviving children, Joseph, William, Robert, Harriet, Henry and George, who were listed as beneficiaries in Henry’s will. Returning to England in 1804, he died in Gittisham, Devon in 1808, at the age of 72. On his tombstone behind the tower of St Michael's church his tunnels in Gibraltar are described as, "lasting testimony to his skill, industry and zeal."