“The Spanish are digging in to the north and getting closer with cannon and shot Sir!” said the soldier. Governor of Gibraltar, General Elliott thought for a second, looked at the north face of the Rock where a small platform could be seen jutting out from the sheer cliff. “What I need is cannon on that notch!” he commanded. All around looked to the sky, some of the officers even scratched their heads in thought. Suddenly from the back the small voice of a Cornish tin miner, Sgt Major Ince was heard. “We could dig our way through the rock Sir.” A few murmurs, someone emitted a stifled laugh, the Governor said, “I like it!”
British ingenuity was at its best when during the Great Siege of 1779 – 1783 Governor of Gibraltar General Elliott set a competition and offered $1000 to anyone who could get a cannon on an area on the north face of the Rock called the ‘Notch’. An idea offered by Sgt Major Ince to cut through the limestone rock by hand was taken and the British set to work in 1781. The tunnels were dug using black powder charges, hammers, chisels and shovels. An amazing feat of both engineering and human effort these are a sightseeing opportunity totally unique to Gibraltar. Walking up the steep slope to the entrance of the tunnels gives you some appreciation of the effort of the men who built them, it must have been unimaginable. Even worse, as you walk through the tunnels, is the display case with the rations for the men. The case has a weeks rations that today wouldn’t last a day. Continue the more than 350 foot walk through the 200 year old galleries and experience life as it was for them. Marvel at the cannons lining the holes looking out across the isthmus to Spain and shudder as you imagine the roar of the cannons firing in such a space. The tunnel is lined with ’embrasures’ a fortification that allows the firer to remain protected as the weapon fires. As you walk along the tunnels you will also see ammunition stores and some of the passageways leading to old WWII tunnels. The tunnels were completed in mid 1783 about 3 months after the Great Siege ended. At the end of the tunnel is St Georges Hall where legend says Lord Napier held a banquet for General Ulysses S. Grant 18th President of the USA. Interestingly for his efforts Ince was given a commission in the Army, a plot of land on the Rock still called Ince’s Farm and the Duke of Kent (Queen Victoria’s father) gave him a ‘fine horse’. There is no mention of the $1000.
How to get there:
Before entering the Great Siege Tunnels you must first purchase a Nature Reserve entrance ticket which will allow you access to other sites of interest including St Michael’s Cave. The Tunnels are located to the North of the Nature Reserve and can be accessed either by walking up from the town or by walking down (1.6 km) from the Cable Car Top Station. We recommend you purchase the Cable Car and Nature Reserve combo ticket which includes entrance into all of the sights.