Convict Labour - The building of the Dockyard (Pt 7)
BY FREDDIE GOMEZ
[Left] Orange Bastion probably the last works carried out by convict labour. There is a marked difference in workmanship of the stonework performed on the wall during that period compared with that of an earlier time
The injustice done to the penal servitude convicts by the 1857 Act provoked the majority of the prisoners to conduct themselves with a rebellious attitude. The standard of their workmanship fell to a very poor quality. They only fulfilled the minimum amount required that avoided punishment, which then would have deprived them of the square meal that composed their standard diet. And as a display of defiance and to show their contempt for the authorities with whom they had become very displeased, they adopted the phraseology: "They went on the civil and lazy line".
Records show that after 1857 the volume of work performed by the convicts in the Europa Quarries (Camp Bay and Little Bay area) had considerably declined. The convicts employed in the Europa Quarries during the years 1857 to 1859 was 138, and the material extracted during that period - which was deposited at the New Mole - was on an average of 152 tons daily. By 1860 the employment of convicts in these quarries had increased to 153 but their daily working output had decreased to an average of 138 tons. The reduction in value of their work performance was no different to that of the stone dressers who were constructing as well as repairing the line walls of the garrison. Their poor workmanship can still be seen today in some of line walls that surround the city of Gibraltar as the picture below shows.
The Admiralty, therefore, concluded that they had no option but to hire private labour to carry out the works that hitherto had been undertaken by the convicts. A statement issued thereafter by the Admiralty announced that 211 workers were required to carry out the works at hand. For the works involved the Admiralty would pay out an annual figure of £9,866, which would then be divided by the overall workforce with differences in wage scale in accordance with skill in craftsmanship of the employee. It was, however, soon thereafter realised that an extra ten per cent ought to be added to compensate those workers who would have to travel to work from Spain, thus making the annual pay-out figure £10,852.
Nevertheless, the step the Admiralty had taken in employing private labour not only would be saving that office a thousand pounds a year but it would ensure that a far better quality of work would be performed.
[Left] Although repairs to this wall were carried out in haste, after three ships smashed against it in a storm which lasted three days in 1859, the poor workmanship in the repairs are plainly visible