The Great Siege Tunnels

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siege tunnels

The maze of tunnels called the Great Siege Tunnels are maybe the most spectacular defence system devised by man.

At the end of the great siege in February of 1783, the defeated Commander of the Spanish and French troops, the ‘Duc de Crillon’, is believed to have said “These works are worthy of the Romans” when he was shown the fortifications that had led to the defeat of his troops. This comment highlights the unique ingenuity of these men who against all odds endured the onslaught of the advancing forces and were still able to devise a novel system of defence that afforded them victory.


It was throughout the war of american Independence, once France and Spain created an all out plan to recapture the Rock from the british in Gibraltar’s fourteenth siege, continuously referred to as the great siege, that lasted from July 1779 to February 1783, that the then governor Eliott (later known as Baron Heathfield of Gibraltar) is alleged to have offered a reward to anybody who might tell him the way to get guns on to a projection from the precipitous northern face of the Rock called the Notch.

Sergeant Major Ince, a member of the company of Military Artificers, (more commonly known as the Royal Engineers in the current army) suggested that this could be done by tunnelling. He was granted permission to construct the Siege Tunnels, and Sergeant Major Ince started work beneath the direction of Lieutenant J. Evelegh, whi was also a Royal Engineer and Aide DE Camp to the Governor of Gibraltar, on may twenty fifth, 1782.

The tunnellers constructing the Siege Tunnels relied on only the strength of their arms and their skills with a sledgehammer and a wrecking bar, they were also additionally assisted by gunpowder for blasting to construct the Siege Tunnels. In five weeks eighteen men had driven a tunnel eight sq. feet (2.40sq.m) by eighty two feet long (25m) into the Rock. It’s fascinating to compare this with the record of a completely mechanised tunnelling company in Gibraltar during world war II, who in a single week advanced one hundred eighty feet (55m).

Originally there was no intention of mounting guns within this gallery of the Siege Tunnels, however as the work progressed the fumes from continual blasting virtually suffocated the miners, therefore it absolutely was necessary to open a vent to let air into the tunnel. virtually almost


it was accomplished what a wonderful port this might be for a gun, therefore one was mounted without waiting to reach the ‘Notch ‘. different ports were cut into the rock and guns mounted within them, and by the time the siege ended in February 1783, the tunnel was 370 feet (113m) long and had four guns mounted in it. This 1st gallery was named ‘Windsor Gallery’. Sergeant Major Ince didn’t stop there – he went on to tunnel another two different galleries referred to as “Kings and Queens Lines” lower down the north face of the Rock.

Work didn’t stop with the end of the siege, however rather than continuing straight towards the ‘Notch’, another tunnel was driven downward and an outsized chamber opened beneath the ‘Notch’ referred to as St. George’s Hall, wherever an array of seven guns was put in. The Cornwallis Chamber within the Siege Tunnels was additionally excavated at this point. It had been in St. George’s hall that Lord Napier of Magdala – Governor of Gibraltar – is alleged to have given a banquet in honour of General Grant, the then president of the USA.

In gratitude to Sergeant Major Ince, he was not only given a Commission but also granted a plot of land on the upper Rock, still renowned nowadays as Ince’s Farm. additionally, the Duke of Kent – Gibraltar’s Royal Governor and father of Queen Victoria – gave him a prised horse, in 1802 in recognition for his work in constructing the Siege Tunnels.

The entrance to the upper Galleries of the Siege Tunnels is dominated by a Victorian 64-pounder cannon. There are different Victorian guns within the Galleries dating back to 1850, similarly as an ingenious eighteenth century cannon.


During the Second world war there was further work inside the rock, where the Royal Engineers (originally the Artificer Company throughout the great Siege) as well as a Canadian contingent, achieved marvelous feats of engineering, adding some thirty three miles (52km) of tunnels.

Sergeant Major Henry Ince
Henry Ince, a Cornishman by birth was one among the original members of Green’s Company, and was appointed a Sergeant on the date of formation. He was soon promoted to Sergeant-Major in September 1781, and served not solely throughout the siege except for long afterwards. He definitely left an unerasable mark on the history of Gibraltar where he had 1st served as a private within the second Regiment of Foot.

Rare for the time, a special rate of pay was granted to him, besides the 2s. 10d. each day as foreman. His charge enclosed the constant development of the Galleries. He retired in 1791, with thirty years service, however continued at the works as a supervisor. He lived at the farm at upper of the Rock, that still bears his name, and has become a notable figure in Gibraltar. His contribution to Gibraltar’s victorious defence was substantial. Sergeant-Major Ince died on the ninth October 1808 in Gittisham and was then buried there on fourteenth October 1808. He died at the age of seventy two years.

Getting there

The Great Siege Tunnels are located up The Rock and can be accessed with by bus (See below) or alternatively cable car which will take you a longer walk to get to the tunnels, but you will be able to stop off at other attractions along the way as well as being able to admire the amazing views from the top of The Rock.

Which bus?

1

You can catch Bus 1 which will drop you off at the last stop on Willis’s Road (just tell the driver you want to go to the Siege Tunnels and he’ll let you know when to get off) and then it is only a short walk up hill along Willis’s Road to get to the Great Siege Tunnel entrance.