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Rosia Bay Defensive Wall and batteries including one 64pdr rifled muzzle-loading gun

Ref: HLFP3/032

These are a series of seven batteries placed over the ancient medieval wall over the crest of the precipice which ringed Rosia Bay. This small bay or inlet was known in Spanish times as La Cala de San Juan [Bay of St John] indirect reference to the Ermita de San Juan Bautista [Hermitage of St. John the Baptist] which was situated in the vicinity (located at the entrance to the present Vineyards Housing Estate). Originally, the building had been a small mosque which was presented to Fray Diego de Bernal, Commander of Trebejo, Bodonal and Figuera, on 16th May 1470, following the recent Castilian capture of the Rock in 1462. The latter had participated fully with the fleet of the Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, under his own personal command, and the mosque was eventually re-consecrated and dedicated in honour of the saint venerated by the Order. The earliest image of the area is contained in the 1567 drawings of Anton Van den Wyngaerde, and show the fortified walls of what are now Rosia Batteries with an open area to the east (the present Rosia Parade and site of Rosia Plaza buildings) designates as Joan Plaza [John Square]. In Bravo de Acuña´s detailed map of the southern fortifications the bay was known as the Caleta de San Juan and the plaza led to two religious houses: San Juan el Verde (H) to the North and the hospice of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (I) to the South. However, the chapel of San Juan el Verde stood much further to the North and can be identified as a small house above the fortification known as Media Luna de los Tres Reyes (D). So although the small bay was indeed known as the Caleta de San Juan and the Plaza de San Juan, the religious house shown as (H) was actually another chapel by the name of San Rosia as demonstrated in Guillaume-Nicolas Delahaye´s map of 1727. The later use of the name of ‘Rosia’ for this area appears to have been based erroneously by writers of period (including Lieutenant Thomas James writing in 1755) attributing the name of the bay to St. Rosia which stood directly above the bay in what is now the area of the Vineyards.

1567 - Anton Van Wyngaerde Rosia Bay fortifications.

Luis Bravo de Acuña - Red Sands and Rosia (detail).

1727 - Guillaume-Nicolas Delahaye Rosia Bay (detail).

The defensive walls shown in Bravo’s map were part of the Moorish defensive wall and towers, later reinforced by the Spanish engineers that stretched all the way from the Watergate in the North to the Calita de los Remedios (now Camp Bay). Much of these defences were in a dilapidated state by the time the Anglo-Dutch forces captured Gibraltar. Rosia Bay was soon being used as a safe harbour and a battery was placed on the rocky outcrop above to protect the ships watering in this small cove. The first record of gun emplacements during the British period occurred in 1725 when mention is made of ‘two guns on the mount by Rosia’.

On average, the walls of the battery walls were about thirty-three feet high and some nine feet thick at the rampart with a two-foot parapet. During the Anglo-Spanish War of 1762, these fortifications were heavily armed and included Great Marlborough Battery with three 32-pounders, Fowke’s Battery with three 4-pounders and three 3-pounders, with, on the line, one 32-pounder, three 12-pounders, three 6-pounders and nine 4-pounders. Marlborough Battery had been named in honour of the brilliant career soldier and statesman, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough and Fowke’s Battery named after the erstwhile Governor of Gibraltar, Lieutenant-General Thomas Fowke, who served on the Rock from 1754 to 1756.

1738 - Tindal and Rapin Line Wall around Rosia Bay (detail).

In 1757, the latter’s successor, James O’Hara, 2nd Baron Tyrawley, and his assistant, Captain Rainsford, carried out the construction of a series of new defences right round Rosia Bay. On the north side there was a three-gun battery at the water’s edge and behind that, Prince Frederick’s Battery which would act as a retrenchment. Then there was a sweep of new lines encircling the Bay with an eight-gun battery on the left and a five-gun battery in the middle. The Chief Engineer, Colonel William Skinner, was of the opinion that these works were mostly useless additions and remarked that ‘nor can it be imagined these new works will be of any duration as they are formed of such perishable materials as sand, cask and fascines.’ Skinner submitted his own report, confident that the nature of the coast, with its ragged edge, its dangerous shoals and unpredictable weather could be sufficient safeguard against the bombardment of the existing sea defences. He was further of the opinion that against any possible small-scale landings by the enemy, it would be sufficient to have pickets and sentries at vulnerable points and a well-munitioned mobile reserve at Europa.

1762 - Defences around Rosia Bay

According to Colonel John Drinkwater, in his ‘A History of the Siege of Gibraltar 1779-1783’, this area was relatively well defended and ‘from the New mole fort to the north end of Rosia Bay, the rock is difficult of access; nevertheless, a parapet is continued, and batteries are erected, as situations dictate. The works at Rosia are strong and flank each other. They are close along the beach, which is low, and have retired battery of 8 guns in the rear.’

1815 - plan showing artillery pieces mounted around Parson’s Lodge, later called 9th Rosia.

1828 - T.M. Baynes Town from Buena Vista Battery. The Rosia Bay Line Wall is shown bottom left.

During the first half of the 18th Century not much work had been in terms of reinforcing the defensive line around the bay area. Major General Thomas Staunton St Clair’s in a series of watercolours dated to 1827, for example, show the guns of 5th Rosia Battery still on wooden platforms and a defensive wall extending around what would later become the Parson’s Lodge fort. In the defensive battlements of what would later become Napier of Magdala Battery a Spanish medieval watchtower, drawn by Wyngaerde in 1567 still overlooked the bay.

1827 - 42nd Regiment fishing Rosia Bay, Thomas Staunton St. Clair.

1827 - 42nd Regiment fishing Rosia Bay, Thomas Staunton St. Clair.

1827 Naval Stores at Rosia Bay Gibraltar, Thomas Staunton St. Clair.

In January 1841, General Sir John Jones visited the Rock in order to study the state of its defences; the latter had served in Gibraltar from 1798 to 1802, so he knew the place and its problems well. He saw various possible points of attack on the exterior lines of the Rock, including the area of the Europa defences with a later observer commenting that ‘the danger of a false attack, or a real descent being attempted in fine weather as a diversion’, whilst the main attack would go in elsewhere. It was his opinion that the fortifications at Rosia were inadequate as being a curved bay, the flank defences from the various batteries had to be overlaid. This would leave stretches of shore liable to be captured by a landing force which could then strike inland and get behind those defending the Europa Pass and Buena Vista. To overcome this defect, Sir John Jones proposed an advanced battery on the Bay (later Parson’s Lodge Battery) and a straight breakwater that could be flanked effectively by gunfire.

By 1859, the Rosia Batteries mounted twenty-nine guns in all with the 5th Rosia Battery having three 32-pounders and two 8-inch guns. By 1886, the latter battery had again been updated to two 64-pounders RMLs and three 32-pounder smooth bore guns.

19th Century - William J. Huggins views of line wall and Rosia.

Rosia defensive walls late 19th Century.

1900 - Rosia Road and Bay.

1870's - No. 45 Barrio de Rosia.

In 1975, two 64-pounder RMLs removed from their emplacements in the Queen’s Galleries were renovated and placed at 5th Rosia Battery. However, one of the 64-pounders was subsequently removed to the UK in exchange for the present HAA 3.7-inch Gun presently located at Napier of Magdala Battery (originally placed at Harding’s Battery). A plaque, located at the base of the banquette between the two guns, commemorates the placement of the two 64-pounders at Rosia by members of the 1st Fortress Sqn, 518 Coy and 206 Coy R.E. in October 1975.

64-pounder at 5th Rosia Battery.

Rosia Bay Line Wall.

Rosia Bay Defensive Wall and batteries including one 64pdr rifled muzzle-loading gun Image