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Colonial Hospital façade

Ref: HLBP1/017

The present St. Bernard First and Middle Schools, opened as from September 2015, is in the Old Town on the site of the old Colonial Hospital which had remained vacant following the transfer of the old St. Bernard Hospital to Europort. The project embraced three key elements – education, community and heritage and was expected to contribute to the urban regeneration of the Upper Town. The two new schools were to be known as St Bernard’s First and St Bernard’s Middle Schools.

The First School has 8 classrooms as well as a range of specialised teaching areas and spaces specifically designed to cater for this age range including rooms for Music, ICT and a library. The Middle School has 16 classrooms, a library and specialised rooms including dedicated teaching areas for Music, ICT, Art, and Science in keeping with the needs of older children. A salient feature of the Middle School is a central glass-roofed, multi-purpose atrium which will be available for students and teachers to enjoy either for social or educational purposes. Both schools will be fully accessible to pupils, parents or teachers who may have mobility issues. The schools are also fully networked and equipped with ICT resources and facilities.

In addition, there is a Sports Hall which is to be shared by the two schools with a play area/sports court on top of the Hall. Both the Sports Hall and court will be available for community use.

The project also provided an excellent opportunity for the restoration and renovation of iconic buildings which were built in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Minister for Education, Gilbert Licudi QC, said: “This exciting project creates much needed school facilities in this area as well as sports facilities for the Community. This will be, in fact, the first purpose built Sports Hall in the Central or Upper Town area. It will be a showpiece of urban regeneration in the Upper Town combining heritage with educational needs and new facilities for the whole community to enjoy.”

The project commenced on June 2014 and was completed by September 2015.1

Originally this was the site of one of two Spanish Hospitals shown in the 1627 Luis Bravo map and known as San Juan de Dios. The other hospital built to the south of Plaza Mayor, was known as La Santa Misericordia and had been founded in the early days of the Spanish re-conquest of Gibraltar.

The hospital of San Juan de Dios was originally the House of Juan Mateos who was born in Gibraltar in around 1520. It is recorded that Juan Mateos took part in the defence of Gibraltar against Turkish pirates in 1540 – dealing the death blow to the Turkish pirate leader Muzarred.2 Juan Mateos had been a crossbow seller3 and later was a vendor of stamped official papers for the preparation of legal documents. By 1567 had become a substantially wealthy man. According to the Spanish historian Ayala, Juan Mateos was "moved with pity for the ills of mariners who arrived in port, or who lived there, made the hospital of his own house, which stood on the western slopes of the Rock, just above and separated from the old Barcina quarter, to treat patients from the French disease."4

Location of San Juan de Dios Hospital according to Luis Bravo’s 1627 map.

Alonso Hernandez del Portillo's contemporary account stated that at La Misericordia "many injuries are cured, and also those suffering from diverse diseases, except the buboes (syphilis) with great charity; and it is very old; and foundling children are raised."5 thus, those suffering from syphilis appear to have been treated at Juan Mateos's own house instead which being built further up the slopes of the Rock, and away from the town, now became by default an Isolation Hospital. For 24 years Juan Mateos worked single-handedly - spending all his savings and begging for alms from citizens to run his Hospital. In 1591, when the Bishop of Cadiz, don Garcia de Haro, heard about Juan Mateos's unselfish work, he decided that the Order of San Juan de Dios should be tasked with assisting with the running of the hospital.6 The monastic Order of San Juan de Dios had been founded by a Juan Ciudad, an ex-soldier working as an itinerant bookseller in Gibraltar. At first the hospital was known as Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados and later Nuestra Señora de la Salud which included a small single nave church. It was not called San Juan de Dios until after the founder of the Order had been canonized in 1691. Juan Mateos now became a monk of the order and was one of six monks who looked after patients at the 20-bedded Hospital. The hospital treated up to 400 patients each year.

As a monk Juan Mateos now went Barefoot and bareheaded, wore a hair-shirt covered by a sack cloth. He ate very little and spent all his time with patients or begging for alms. He died in 1594 mourned by the whole city and buried by the altar in the hospital chapel.7

It is also recorded that in 1620 the English Fleet sailing under Admiral Mansell's command was in the Mediterranean campaigning against Barbary corsairs. He was given permission to put sick semen off at Gibraltar - no doubt at the hospital of San Juan de Dios.8

In 1649 the plague struck Gibraltar. It is very possible that some of the 250 human remains uncovered in 2014 during excavations at the site of Gibraltar's old Colonial Hospital were the victims of this terrible disease. However, at present this investigation is ongoing.

San Juan de Dios Hospital as sketched by George Palao.

After 1704 the abandoned buildings were probably taken over as a military hospital but closed down in 1708. Ayala laments that the old Convent of San Juan de Dios was at one time used as a store. Palao puts the date when it was used as a store from 1708 to 1716.9

It was finally repaired and reopened as a navy hospital in 1725 just in time for the 1727 siege. The Navy Hospital is shown in the 1728 map as "the Great Hospital" described as "two sheds or huts, capable of receiving about 30 men." Ayala described the hospital as "...the main hospital built by the kings of England for the cure and relief of the seamen... in a magnificent work, spacious and designed in the form of an amphitheatre upon the living rock."10 It remained in use by the navy until 1748 with the old Naval Hospital was built. Nevertheless, the 1753 Montresor map describes the main building as the “Garrison Hospital.” It appears as three central buildings around a central courtyard. A separate pavilion for the surgeons with its own private garden stood in front of the main building, whilst another small building just to the north served as a kitchen. A small Hospital Guard Room existed to the west, behind the Surgeon’s Pavilion.

San Juan de Dios 1738 - Tindal and Rapin map.

The theologian Robert Poole visited the hospital on the 29th October 1748 described the harrowing conditions of the hospital: … “I went to visit the soldiers’ hospital, which stands lower down towards the town, and is agreeably situated: this I am informed was formerly a soldiers’ barracks, and since converted into a hospital, for which purpose it is no proper building, as being destitute of many requisites necessary thereto. The grounds are paved with bricks, and appeared very damp, the wards much too narrow, and the beds placed to thick; and being not provided with windows to fan the fetid air and let in the fresh, hence the wards become extremely offensive; and was so far from being proper for the sick to breathe in, that it was sufficient to cause disease, than to assist in removing them.” Poole describes the hospital as being on two floors with the three wards above as unfit and inconvenient as that on the ground floor. He found that one of these wards only measured fourteen feet wide and the whole house only able to provide beds for around 60 patients, and these needed to be fitted very closely to each other being insufficient to meet the needs of the four regiments, which therefore required some to be taken care of elsewhere. The four wards were provided with four women or nurses; one for each ward, who have, as assistants to them, two men that are called orderly soldiers. He further describes the kitchen as “two small, little, smoky huts, standing in the open air, just without the entrance into the ward.” The hospital had no well of their own so “…water for the use of the hospital had to be brought up from the fountain in the city, at the bottom of the Grand Parade (Commercial Square); which is a long and tedious way to bring it, especially as it is far up the Rock, and therefore they must consequently suffer many inconveniences for want of a plentiful provision of this most cleansing, necessary ingredient of life: and hence, this hospital seems to labour under every misfortune…”11

1753 Montresor map showing the cluster of buildings that comprised the Garrison Hospital

1753 Montresor map showing the cluster of buildings that comprised the Garrison Hospital.

The general description of the hospital provided by Poole is well illustrated in the 1753 Montresor map which clearly shows the narrow ward described by Poole to the north of the building and the kitchen outside the grounds. However, by this time building of the new Naval Hospital which had started in 1740 was scheduled to have been completed by 1745 so we can only assume that delays in fitting out the new hospital prevented the move to better accommodation even as late as 1748. But by then, the transfer to the new Naval Hospital was imminent and soon after the buildings appear to have been abandoned.

However, by 1756, lack of suitable accommodation meant that 327 men were billeted in the "late hospital" now known as the Blue Barracks because of the blue wash the facade was painted on instructions of the Earl of Home that "the exterior walls of all private houses and Barracks should be painted over with coloured paints or washes to protect the eyes..." The company of military artificers was formed in the Blue Barracks in 1776 by Colonel William Green, the Chief Engineer.

During the Great Siege the Blue Barracks was largely destroyed by bombardments as shown in the painting of the destruction of the city which now hangs in the Gibraltar Museum.

Gibraltar in ruins looking North by Captain Thomas Davis in 1793 (Gibraltar Museum)

By 1815 the buildings and grounds were amplified to three wings - all built on the foundations of Juan Mateos's original house. The new hospital accommodated 500 men and known as the Cob (dollar) Hospital because of its costliness.12 Meanwhile the civilian population had no proper hospital facilities - Catholics kept their sick in some small rooms in the Spanish church (St. Mary the Crowned), the Jews had a wretched ward of 6 to 8 beds and the leases of some houses were assigned to the support of the British poor. The lack of proper medical facilities meant that during the 1804 Yellow Fever epidemic around 5,000 civilians succumbed to the disease compared to 894 soldiers. Only 28 out of a then civilian population of 14,000 escaped the infection.13

In 1804 a committee for the public health was set up with subscriptions of leading citizens including Aaron Cardozo, of the Jewish community, many of the leading Catholic and Protestant merchants as well as the Moroccan consul Hammet Beggia and the Methodist Society. Lt. Governor Sir Thomas Tigge also contributed generously but the biggest donor was the Milanese born architect and builder, Guiseppe Maria Boschetti. The money raised was used to erect a temporary Isolation Hospital to the north of Landport Gates on the site of the present Laguna Estate.14

In 1815 the newly arrived governor, George Don, reconstructed the old Blue Barracks into a Civil Hospital. Don had intended the construction of the building would be borne by civilian contributions but this proved insufficient and most of it was financed by the Crown. To raise the required funds Don imposed special taxes on ships anchoring in the bay as well as on bread and all flour imported. Court fines were also used for this purpose as well as legacies such as John Gavino's in 1820 which was devoted to the Catholic section of the hospital. A fee of 2/2d daily (half a Spanish 'hard' dollar) what's to be paid by those patients who could afford it. Further savings were made when Boschetti agreed to manage the construction of the works without charge.15

In March 1815, an officer, a sergeant, and thirty men began construction of the new building with Boschetti supplying Joseph lemoise as the civilian Superintendent of Works. The first two wards were opened in August 1815 and the completed hospital was formally opened by Don on the 17th of July 1816. Two identical marble plaques were erected to commemorate the new hospital. It was named the Civil Hospital and comprised of three separate departments, for Catholics, protestants and Jewish patients - each managed by a committee who provided a Deputy Governor to run the administration of the hospital under the direction of governor Don himself. Later governors retained the position of Governor of the Civil Hospital. The Civil Hospital also became known as the Triple Hospital due to the shape and function of each Wing. The Civil Hospital was certainly functional and was described as "useful but not ornamental". In appreciation for his work, the Catholic Community commissioned a portrait of Don which hung in their section of the hospital and is now kept at the Gibraltar Museum.16

In 1818, the hospital established a maternity service to assist with "home deliveries." A maternity Ward would only be opened 100 years later. In 1821 two rooms were allocated for insane patients and in 1823 further improvements were initiated by Boschetti.

In 1828 Gibraltar was struck by a terrible Yellow Fever epidemic. In only 4 months, 5,442 civilians and military patients were affected of which 1,605 died. 585 such patients were treated at the civil Hospital with 185 deaths, just above the average mortality for the whole epidemic but a very creditable effort considering that only the severest cases would have been admitted to hospital. Only 90 beds were available at the time and Don himself footed the £100 drugs bill resulting from the epidemic.

Hugh Frazer, Surgeon and Secretary of the Civil Hospital wrote to sir George Don on the 5th of October 1829:

“... I therefore find it amply sufficient to observe that the building so appropriated [for the Civil Hospital], was formerly a Barrack, called the 'Blue Barrack' that for many years, when under this appellation, it was an old ruinous, confused Mass of Buildings, that under the sanction of His Majesty's Government it was given up in this state in the year 1815 for the purposes of an hospital; upon this tottering Mass, have the present splendid, airy and comfortable Apartments arisen.

... it may be likewise well to observe that very little of the old Building now remains, the repairs having been of so extensive a nature as to render in reality, a recent erection. There are 93 Bedsteads always ready for the reception of Patients, and that is about as many as the Building can well contain, that is of acute cases of disease - during the Epidemic of 1828, this number was proved rather too great, but merely because each Case was a serious one."

No modification was carried out to the Civil Hospital over the next 50 years but the 1875 Report on the Civil Hospital recommended extensive reconstruction work and the enlargement of the hospitals capacity from 90 to 120 beds. A third floor was suggested for the Protestant Block, and also for the Administration Block, to home an infectious diseases ward.

Captain Samuel Buckle, the Colonial Engineer, produced a plan for the new hospital and Albert Imossi was the Contractor of Works.17 On the 28th of June 1880 (Anniversary of Queen Victoria's coronation) the Governor, Lord Napier of Magdala, laid the foundation stone for a new South Wing. On the 31st of December 1882, Lord Napier opened the two new wards named Don and Napier Wards - intended for male medical and surgical patients respectively. Also unveiled was the new emblem for the new Hospital which consisted of a Castle and Key to which was added the Serpent of Aesculapius with the words CALPE above the castle. This plaque was removed when the new renovations started in 2014 and is currently at the Heritage Trust.

Architectural design of the new façade for the Civil Hospital

Architectural design of the new façade for the Civil Hospital

Old entrance to the Colonial Hospital

The old Roman Catholic section became the female wards and the Hebrew section was moved to an existing building at the north end of the hospital (later Maternity Ward). An operating room was added in the Administration Block. The female wing behind the Victoria Ward on the occasion of the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 1887. However, it was later named after Victoria Mackintosh, John Mackintosh, the great Gibraltarian philanthropist.

The 1875 Report also recommended verandas "to protect against the afternoon sun for the main wards." It was during these renovations that the elegant facade was erected.

Civil Hospital façade dated 1882.

Doric pillars and balustrade at the Colonial Hospital

In the late 1880's the colonial Government took over the running of the hospital. As from the 1st October 1889 the Civil Hospital became the Colonial Hospital.18 Throughout Colonial Government rule, the sturgeon would be recruited exclusively from Britain. Only in 1949 would Dr James Durante become the first civilian Medical Officer of Health for the city of Gibraltar. In 1957, Dr John Cochrane was appointed Chief Medical Officer of the hospital, the first Gibraltarian born medical practitioner since the days of the old Civil Hospital.

The division of the hospital into three sections according to religion was abolished soon after the Civil Hospital Ordinance of 1885. However, the Hebrew ward continued until 1891 to make it easier for patients to comply with their dietary laws. When finally, the ward was closed, the Hebrew community protested vigorously but to no avail.

During the Great War the Colonial Hospital admitted many sick and wounded merchant seaman - from 128 in 1914 to 567 in 1917.19 Many of these sailors were treated for malaria contracted from use of the coaling station at Dakar where malaria was rife. In 1917 alone, 140 sailors were admitted for this disease, which three were fatal.

Colonial Hospital Ward

After the Great War the Red Cross Society donated to the people of Gibraltar the sum of £5,000 collected in Gibraltar for the war wounded but not used. This money was employed in building a new Outpatients and X-ray departments. The first portable x-ray facilities became available in 1935. Money was also used to create a maternity department which was opened in 1921. The building work cost £4,000 with the remainder used to purchase the X-ray equipment. Before the construction of the maternity ward, pregnant women required permission from the governor in order to deliver babies at the Colonial Hospital. Despite these new facilities, it took sometime before women came round to the idea of having a baby outside their own homes.20

On the 23rd of June 1922, a Children's Ward of 12 beds was opened. Within a week, 8 of the beds were filled by inpatients. Local philanthropist John Mackintosh also presented the hospital with £800 in order to install an electric lift which was installed in 1924.21

Between 1928 and 1932 additional nurses’ quarters, a mechanical laundry, and then anaesthetic sterilizing rooms for the operating theatre were opened. The old Hardinge Ward was converted into a new kitchen as recommended in the 1875 report. In 1932, the female Ward was extended. Inaugurated by the Governor, Alexander Godley, was named Godley Ward in his honour.

With all these improvements and additions, the Surgeon, James Lochhead recorded in his Annual Report that the Colonial Hospital was now "constructed and equipped as an efficient European Hospital.

King George V entering the Colonial Hospital during his visit in 1935.

During World War II, the Colonial Hospital was run as a combined military and civilian Hospital, under the direction of the RAMC.22

In 1945, following the return of the civilian population a record-breaking 608 births was recorded at the hospital. The increased demand resulted in the extension of the Maternity Department to the lower floor, where the Children's Ward had been.

A new wing was added in 1956 to how's the new Children's Ward and a Casualty and Outpatients Department. The sum of £15,000 was subscribed for this project. The foundation stone for this new wing was Laid by Queen Elizabeth on the 11th of May 1954, during a visit to Gibraltar as part of her post-coronation Commonwealth tour.23

In 1963, the name of the Colonial Hospital was changed to St Bernard's Hospital. Seven years later the John Mackintosh Wing was opened to accommodate the medical wards. This wing housed both male and female patients, the new hospital laboratory, a geriatric wing, nursing school and ward for private patients. With these new additions, St Bernard's Hospital boasted of a total of 192 beds.

In 2005 St Bernard's Hospital moved to its new home in Europort, and over four centuries of health care history at the site came to an end.

The site remained closed for a decade until Government announced that the Old St Bernard’s Hospital site would be converted into two new schools and community sports facilities. The works primarily involved the renovation and modernisation of existing buildings to turn them into a First School and a Middle School. Its budget was estimated at £17 Million.

Colonial Hospital early 20th Century

Old plaque from the Colonial Hospital showing Castle and Key of Gibraltar and the Serpent of Aesculapius. It is currently held in the Heritage Trust

Colonial Hospital façade Image