A young Lieutenant called Drinkwater having been in Gibraltar during the Great Siege of 1779 – 1783 and unable to leave the garrison not even by ship because of the blockade, recalled how siege warfare could be mind numbingly boring as there were great swathes of time where the Garrison literally waited for the next period of shelling by the enemy. On his return to Gibraltar the then Captain Drinkwater requested that the Garrison had a library to help alleviate the boredom and provide some recreation. Officers often travelled with their own books but men didn’t and they were a troublesome business among the military baggage handlers. The idea was well received by the Governor Sir Robert Boyd and both he and the Lieutenant-Governor, Major-General O’Hara donated money to help fund the cause, it was so that the library was founded in 1793. Originally in a building on Main Street the library grew large enough to need its own premises including reading rooms, a garden to take refreshments and rooms for games like bridge etc. Using land the Governor had for grazing his horse and cattle, the construction began in 1800 and was completed in 1804. Other buildings were added around it and a new wing added in 1867 but the building is now as it was then including the bookcases and some of the original furniture. Interestingly there is also the original ‘sand glass’ which was used to prevent gentlemen ‘hogging’ The Times newspaper too long.
Also part of the construction was the premises on which the Gibraltar Chronicle was put together and printed. Gibraltar’s ‘national’ newspaper was first printed as a garrison newsletter on the 4th May 1801. It is one of the oldest newspapers still in print in Europe and scored a world exclusive in October 1805 when it reported victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Lord Nelson.
How to get there:
The Garrison library is located close to the centre of Main Street. It is a 5 minute walk behind the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. Follow the Bishops Rapalo’s Lane between Marks and Spencer and the Cathedral, up a short flight of steps and you will find it across from the parking of the O’Callaghns Hotel. Also look out for the Scottish Church in the same square.