BARRACK LIFE on The Rock of Gibraltar, 1797

in Features

There was a Society of Methodists in Gibraltar, chiefly composed of men, belonging to the different regiments in the garrison. They had a small place, where they had started meetings for prayer and exhortation; there were a few of these Methodists in our regiment. Shortly after I joined it the commanding officer gave out an order, for none of the regiment to attend any of their meetings. What effect this order had, in deterring any from attending at the time it was issued, I know not: it had not at least a permanent effect, for I know that several did attend afterwards, and no notice was taken of it. I went to this place only once. all the time I was in Gibraltar, and I was nearly a twelve month in the place. This shows what a careless state of mind I was in; for I may say it was the only religious exercise I was at, in all the time. There were indeed prayers read to the garrison, every Sunday morning on the Grand Parade, when the weather was dry: but the Chaplain was always at such a distance, that I never heard a word he said. There was a chapel at the governor’s residence, where service was performed through the day, but I never was in it.

I began to fall into company which led me frequently to get intoxicated; I did not indeed fall into a habit, nor acquire an inclination for intoxicating liquors for their own sake; but had some circumstances continued, I have great reason to fear that an appetite for them would have been formed, and that I might have turned out a habitual drunkard. Gibraltar was indeed, to produce a habit of drunkenness. The wine was cheap; and the place is warm; and in time of war with Spain, there are very little fresh provisions, and what is fresh, is frequently indifferent. There is a great deal of hard labour for the soldiers, for part of which they get extra pay; by the evening, many of them are fatigued, and actually need a refreshment beyond their ordinary provisions; but those who need the refreshment are not content to go and get what is required for themselves; they often take one or two of their comrades with them, and having once sat down in the wine house, they generally sit until either their money is exhausted, or their time has run out. The moment the evening gun fires, for the men to be in their barracks, the wine houses must be emptied and shut, until after the new guards are marched away to relieve the old ones next morning, that no soldier may have it in his power to get drunk before guard mounting. Those who are treated one night, treat in their turn who treated them, when they get pay for work.

Many of the barrack rooms are uncomfortable, on account of their size, containing sixty or more men. This greatly destroys social comfort; for one or two individuals can molest all the rest; so that select retired conversation cannot be enjoyed. Anything of that kind is always ready to be interrupted by the viscous and ignorant, who do not fail to scoff and gibe, at what they do not understand or relish themselves. Among so many men, too, there will always be found some, who take a malicious pleasure in making their neighbours unhappy. This renders the barrack room quite uncomfortable during the evening, which, as a greater part, are employed at work, or otherwise occupied during the day, is the principle time when they can be together. This, along with other things,  induces those who have a little money, to spend the evening in the wine house with their more select companions. Different sorts of vermin are plenty in the barracks; and it is the common excuse for drinking, that they cannot get a sound sleep unless they are drunk. It was customary at the time to settle the men’s accounts once in two months; and as very little pay was given to the soldiers over their rations during the intervals; the greater part had a considerable sum to receive; and then drinking was so very common, that to prevent a multiplicity of punishment, it was found necessary to have no parade, except in those for guard, in order that the money might be the sooner done; and the different regiments in the garrison had to take different days to settle their men’s account, that the garrison might not be involved in one general state of intoxication at the same time. But I hear that matters are differently managed now; the men are oftener settled with, and get a larger proportion of their pay weekly, which prevents them having so much money to receive at once. The most comfortable time I had, was when I was upon guard. There are many very retired stations, some of them in elevated situations, on the very summit of the Rock, 1300feet above the level of the sea, from which the view is surely grand, and where a fine opportunity is afforded for meditation. I sometimes took my bible to guard with me, but I never read it

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