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Entrance to Victualling Yard

Ref: HLBP1/031

The Victualling Yard was a victualling facility built for supplying Royal Navy ships while anchored at Rosia Bay. The present entrance to the Victualling Yard contains the inscription at the top of the entrance, which reads as ‘G III D G M B &H R’. These initials translate to 'George III Deo Gratia Majesta Britanicus & Hibernia Rex'. The Victualling Yard formed part of the Royal Navy base and contained stores of food, water, and clothing in sufficient quantities for a large fleet until the 1980’s. Today, it is used as premises for the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic (since 1st June 2006).

When the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu'min ordered the first foundations for a settlement – known as the City of Victory (Medinat al-Fath) – to be built in 1160, the area within what is now Grand Casemates square was used by the Muslims to beach their galley’s. This area, enclosed within the lower reaches of the main castle complex was known as La Barcina and in effect became the city’s first victualling point for Muslim, and later Spanish galleys which now used the Old Mole to supply their ships with water and provisions.

Navy Yard, 1753 Montresor Map detail.

After 1704, the British continued to use the facilities afforded by the Old Mole and the facilities within the Victualling Yard (now the area of the ICC building) was expanded during the 18th Century. The Royal Navy had by then established a dockyard further south near the New Mole (South Mole) which provided a safe haven for carrying out repairs to shipping protected by the guns of the New Mole Fort and South Bastion respectively . The precarious position of the Victualling Yard in relation to the Spanish land batteries to the North was clearly exposed during the Great Siege after much of the city, including most of the yard was reduced to rubble.

Gibraltar’s strategic importance as a naval base of operations in the Mediterranean began to gain traction after 1792 when the Revolutionary Wars first pitted the Royal Navy against the navies of France and later Spain for dominance of the sea. Rosia Bay was by now used by the Royal Navy as an alternative harbour to the Old Mole and a number of residences for Officers of the Navy had been built along Rosia Parade. One of those cottages was used as a residence by John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent, Admiral in Charge of the Mediterranean Fleet whilst convalescing from illness. In 1799, Jervis recommended that the Royal Navy Victualling Yard be relocated to an area just south of Rosia Parade.

John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent by Sir William Beechey.

This location had a number of clear advantages as far as the Navy was concerned. The new Victualling Yard would be tucked in behind the Parson’s Lodge outcrop making it extremely difficult for the yard to be directly targeted by seaward gunfire. In addition, the site had the further advantage of being directly under the protection afforded by Parson’s Lodge Battery and the Rosia Batteries, all of which commanded the high ground above the small bay. In contrast to the original Victualling Yard, this entire area would conveniently also be out of range from the land batteries at North Front.

Jervis proposed to finance the new yard by selling the naval stores at Waterport and Irish Town, which was initially resisted by Governor Charles O'Hara who was not too keen on the idea. The Admiralty agreed with Jervis but they were unable to get permission from London for the chief engineer, Major Fyers, to initiate the project. Further complications arose when it was realised that the amount of men, money and materials required for the construction of the water tanks in particular would be staggering.

Nevertheless, Major Fyers, the Commanding Engineer, finally drew up detailed plans for the new naval facilities at Rosia by June 1799, with the contract awarded to Giovanni Maria Boschetti who was also tasked in preparing the initial estimates for the costs of the works. The plan included water tanks, victualing yard as well as a proposed pier to be built to the wreck of the Medusa, a store-ship, driven ashore and wrecked on the 26thd November 1798 near Rosia Bay.1

It appears that HMS Medusa had been wrecked whilst Lord St. Vincent, on shore at Gibraltar, was passing instructions to her captain, Cdr. Alexander Becher, through a speaking trumpet, which caused confusion and led to the ship being driven ashore.

Plan de Gibraltar, Barbié du Bocage detail, 1799.

Giovanni Maria Boschetti had been born in Graglio near Bergamo in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. He was aged 25 by the time he arrived in Gibraltar from Milan in 1784, where he probably studied construction or engineering. Gibraltar had been devastated after three and a half years of siege and it was said barely a house had been left standing so Boschetti’s arrival with his skill set as a mason was no coincidence. The post-siege architecture of military-ordnance-style arched doorways, Italianate stucco relief, Genoese shutters, English Regency ironwork balconies, Spanish stained glass and Georgian sash and casement windows2 are all credited to Boschetti whose style continued to influence Gibraltarian architecture throughout the 19th Century. Initially, Boschetti’s main source of income appears to have been as a contractor to the army and naval establishment in Gibraltar where he was employed in a number of projects. For the army he built Brewery Barracks in the Europa Flats for example.  Works for the navy included amongst other things a cable and cordage store, careening wharf as well as the levelling and paving of the new dockyard facilities3, repairs and alterations to the Naval Hospital and to the new quarters for the Dispenser.4 Boschetti had also been responsible for the construction of four large freshwater reservoirs near Ragged Staff, which was supposed to improve the collection of channelled water from the 17th Century canal that stretched all along the southern side of Charles V Wall which in the end proved somewhat unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, despite this setback Boschetti was still awarded the contract to build the new Victualing Yard, including the water tanks at Rosia. In later years, once most military works began to dry up, Boschetti turned to civilian projects including the new Civil Hospital in 1815 and the Exchange and Commercial Library in 1818, where Boschetti is listed as one of its major financial contributors, and whose Genoese louvered shutters bears all the hallmarks of Boschetti’s architectural style.

Giovani Maria Boschetti, wearing his consular uniform including distinctive eight pointed badge of the Order of the Militia Aurata (Unknown).

Works on the Rosia Tanks started in 1799 and finished in 1804. The Rosia Water Tanks consisted of six parallel underground chambers made of bricks brought from Britain and sand-lime mortar, then waterproofed. The roofs of the Victualling Yard served as a catchment directing rain to a settlement tank, which was then purified by flowing it successively from one tank to the next. The lowest tank was sufficiently high to gravity feed vessels berthed at Rosia Mole.5

Hoses were used to supply vessels within Rosia Bay; a lighter barge supplied those anchored off it in the bay.

According to a reference in Steering to Glory, by Nicholas Blake, (Chatham, London, 2005) they held 5,000 tons of water. The dimensions of the tanks are as follows:6

Tank No. 1 60m long X 4.5m wide X 6.5m high

Tank No. 2 60m long X 4.5m wide X 6.5m high

Tank No. 3 60m long X 4.5m wide X 6.5m high

Tank No. 4 55m long X 4.5m wide X 6.5m high

Tank No. 5 58m long X 4.8m wide X 6.5m high

Tank No. 6 58m long X 7.2m wide X 6.5m high

Rosia Water Tanks interior.

Local historian and architect William Serfaty describes their function:7

The level of the bottom of the tanks is high enough to empty out to ships or lighters berthed at Rosia Harbour by a sophisticated gravity feed running under what is now the road to Camp Bay. The entire structure was built without access to Portland cement. The construction is excellently executed in brick and sand-lime mortar with a complicated finish to waterproof the tanks. The vaulted roofs of the tanks are a wonderful sight, and also serve to provide a sloping catchment surface (which catches the light beautifully), directing water to the appropriate settlement tank, from which it is then directed to storage tanks.

It was important to keep the water pure, so the system was kept secure, and access to the catchment roof restricted to the employed personnel by the provision of a high wall, which has kept the site out of the public eye all these years.

So well did the contractor, Juan Maria Boschetti, build the reservoir, that 150 years later in the 1950s the navy built Rosia Distillery in the space at sea level below and in front of the Rosia Cottages between the two eighteenth century defensive walls. Its site is now a slope, constructed about 2000 with rubble from demolished buildings at Cumberland Road and Tower Buildings, for vehicles to reach Rosia Harbour. It continued to supply the resultant stored water from the tanks to lighters, which would pull alongside at Rosia Harbour to load up with fresh water for naval vessels from the reservoir.

There is ample evidence these tanks were operational by the time of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In 1804, for example, Captain William Otway, Commissioner of Gibraltar Yard was able to inform the acting Governor Sir Thomas Trigge that:8

     …the late heavy rains having above half-filled the Great Tank at Rosia: I think that His Majesty’s Ships may take water from thence whenever Your Excellency has reason to suppose that there is a probability of the Wells at Ragged Staff becoming dry.

Otway also remarked on:

     …the necessity of having some Careful Person constantly to reside on the Spot for the care of the Works, and for whom some sort of habitation must be built

1846 South Barracks from Rosia - (J.M.Carter). The pier was also constructed by Giovanni Maria Boschetti.

Construction of the Victualling Storehouses, Cooperage Offices, Pier and other conveniences for provisions and stores, however, did not commence until 1808. The delay appears to have been down to the elevated costs associated with the construction of the tanks and a need to amend the original 1799 plans as this could have led to the destruction of the water tank at Rosia.9

The new plans included bombproofing of the lower storeys of the storage buildings, which despite the increased costs was approved by Sir Hew Dalrymple, the Lieutenant Governor who agreed with the proposed changes to the construction and the siting of the new buildings. Dalrymple was certainly keen to have the Navy Victualing Yard at Rosia completed as quickly as possible as the Ordnance Department, who had surrendered the ground at Rosia in exchange for the Victualing Yard in town which they were due to take possession of by May 1808.10 In the event, it would not be until 1812 when the entire Victualing Yard complex was finally completed. Despite of Otway’s call for housing for the Victualing Agents at Rosia, it would take around another century for the construction of three buildings known as the Rosia Cottages.

Rosia Bay Cottages.

Since its construction, the Rosia Victualing Yard and water tanks served the military establishment on the Rock for two centuries. Until April 2004, the tanks were used to store all the desalinated water from Glen Rocky Distillery, as were the military stores within the yard itself before being transferred to the Government of Gibraltar.

In October 2005, the then Government announced the water tanks would be demolished to build an eight storey block of 200 affordable flats. Appeals were made to the Governor of Gibraltar, Sir Francis Richards, to list the tanks in the Gibraltar Heritage Trust Act 1989. Despite the pleas, neither the tanks nor the Victualling Yard were listed in 2006.11 Listing was limited to the entrance to the yard.

Dr. Ann Coats, Secretary of the Naval Dockyards Society and author of History of the Rosia Water Tanks, Gibraltar, described the Rosia Water Tanks as:

    A unique engineering monument to Royal Navy ingenuity and Gibraltarian craftsmanship, transforming Gibraltar into an invincible fortress. They enabled Nelson and Admiral Lord St Vincent to maintain their fleets in the Mediterranean, blockading Toulon and vanquishing the French at the Battle of the Nile.12

Rosia Bay and New Mole 1900's. The slanted roof of the Victualing Yard was used to collect rain water which would be stored in the tanks directly in front.

there was strong opposition from diverse groups such as the Gibraltar Heritage trust, the Society  for  Nautical Research,  SAVE  Britain’s  Heritage,  ICOMOS-UK,  Europa  Nostra,  MEPs  and  the  South District Association to save the Rosia Tanks which included the collection of over 3,000 signatures, 10% of the Gibraltarian population of 30,000 objecting to the proposed demolition.13

The British Government, however, maintained that this was a ‘defined domestic issue’ and would not intervene.

The Gibraltar  Heritage  Trust  took  the  case  to Judicial  Review  in  January 2006 but  had  to  withdraw  because  it  did  not  have  funds  to  pay  legal damages resulting in the resignation of all the trustees from the Board.

The Rosia Water Tanks were finally demolished in August 2006. The Government's actions were severely criticised both locally and internationally at the time with the Chief Minister accused of having proceeded with the demolition regardless, with no Environmental Impact Assessment or archaeological/architectural survey reports.14

Water tanks following demolition, 2006.

At present, the only part of the Victualing Yard that is listed is the main entrance, including the initials ‘G III D G M B &H R &’ which refers to 'George III Deo Gratia Majesta Britanicus & Hibernia Rex'. However, Tito Benady suggests that Boschetti manipulated the letters so that his initials GMB appeared in the architrave or epistyle above the doorway.15

Victualing Yard entrance.

Victualing Yard stores.

Victualing Yard offices.

1 National Maritime Museum: The Caird Library and Archive, ADM 354/227/143 - Copy of a letter from J.N. Inglefield at Gibraltar Yard proposing the detailed plan of Major Fyers, dated 1799 Jul 29.

2 Montado, Claire:

3 National Maritime Museum: The Caird Library and Archive, ADM 106/1296/83 - Receipt of order to approve the contract to level and pave the dockyard.

4 National Maritime Museum: The Caird Library and Archive, ADM 354/221/153 - Commissioner Middleton reports on the survey made by the Gibraltar Officers and Mr. Boschetti on the repairs and alterations, required by Rear Admiral Knight, to the Naval Hospital and to the new quarters for the Dispenser.

5 Coats, Ann "History of the Rosia Water Tanks" (2006). Gibraltar South District Association. Retrieved 14 September 2012.


7 Ibid.

8 Neville Chipulina Blogspot:

9 National Maritime Museum: The Caird Library and Archive, ADM 354/229/21 - William Wesley Pole alternative plan for the Victualing Yard approved by Sir Hew Dalrymple, the Lieutenant Governor. R Barton, William Shirle and J Hamilton.

10 National Maritime Museum: The Caird Library and Archive, ADM 354/231/109 - Letter from Commissioner Middleton, Gibraltar to the Board.

11 Coats, Ann "History of the Rosia Water Tanks" (2006). Opcit.

12 Ibid.


14 Ibid.

15 Benady, Tito: La Organización de la Base de la Royal Navy en Gibraltar en el siglo XVIII

Entrance to Victualling Yard Image