By Georgina Bromwich

On Saturday evening, around 200 people attended the reconsecration of St George's Church, the Anglican church on Bloody Island.
Minorca.—Minorcans and Britons joined to celebrate their shared history over the weekend, in one of a series of events commemorating the 300th anniversary of the building of the British Naval Hospital on King's Island, in the middle of Mahón's port.

On Saturday evening, around 200 people attended the reconsecration of St George's Church, the Anglican church on Bloody Island, including the British Ambassador, Giles Paxman, and Captain Frederick Price, the Defence Attaché at the British Embassy in Madrid.

Until recently, the chapel was in ruins – one of the volunteers who has collaborated with the refurbishment of the naval hospital on Bloody Island, Mike Martin, explained that only three months ago, the chapel's walls were just centimetres high and there was no roof.

The rapid restoration of the chapel has been thanks to the donations of volunteers, friends and sponsors, enabling the King's Island Hospital Foundation to contract builders to complete the work. One of the most generous donors was Briton George Anson, whose ancestor, George Anson was the First Lord of the Admiralty between 1751 and 1757. Ever since Anson purchased a house in Minorca four years ago, he has taken considerable interest in the work of volunteers on Bloody Island and the hospital's links to the Royal Navy.

Every detail in the new chapel has a story to tell – from the handcrafted tapestry presented by Pamela Scales, who moved from Minorca back to the UK a few years ago, to the wooden-crafted candlestick by Andrew Jackson, a member of Minorca's Anglican church community, to the embroidered drapes and cloths by Minorca resident Anne Jennings, and Dolly Martin's flower arrangements, as well as many other furnishings.

Bloody Island open day
Saturday's ceremony saw the reclaimed chapel at maximum capacity – Mike Martin recounted how they had to borrow pews from the Catholic church, but even they didn't suffice, with some 80 people having to listen to the service from outside.

Luis Alejandre, the president of the King's Island Hospital Foundation and driving force behind the restoration project, was very nearly late for the consecration – just an hour before it began he was sworn in as a councillor in the Council of Minorca.

Following the service, the British Embassy laid on a cocktail reception party – which continued into the evening. As part of the 300th anniversary commemorations, Bloody Island held an ‘open day' on Sunday, inviting island residents and tourists to see the restoration efforts first hand, including the inauguration of an ‘Autopsy Room' dedicated to the military surgeon George Cleghon, the presentation of the Priest's Garden and the laying of a wreath and unveiling of a commemorative plaque underneath a new sculpture of Admiral John Jennings.

There were queues on the jetty at Es Castell from before 9am as visitors awaited their turn to board the motorboat in charge of ferrying people to and fro – Luis Alejandre estimated that 1'200 people visited the island in total, marking a record. The ferry's driver, Pep Prim confessed “ I've never taken so many people across before”, and visitors included not only Minorcans, but also British, Italian and French tourists.

Rooms that were once hospital wards have today been converted – after years of hard work by volunteers – into individual museums and exhibits, including a pharmacy (and a medicinal herb garden in the central square), rooms dedicated to the XVIII, XIX and XX centuries tracing the hospital's role in history, as well as the Catholic and Anglican chapels among others. The hospital's central tower – which until recently was masked by scaffolding – was also on display, having been pieced back together by Minorcan architect, and volunteer, Antoni Gomila. As part of the commemorations, the folk group, Es Castell de Sant Felipe, performed the traditional, ball des còssil.

One of the morning's highlights was the presence of nine of Honorary Artillery Company, dressed in their heavy red coats and finery dating from the days of King Charles I – given the sunshine it can't have been the most comfortable of uniforms – who paraded from the hospital to the sculpture of Admiral Jennings and the commemorative plaque. Complete with a wooden flute, sculpted from American rosewood, and a base drum, these retired soldiers fired their muskets (much to the surprise of onlookers) and added to the formality of the ceremony. The visit of members of the Honorary Artillery Company was thanks to the generosity of two sisters, Mary Withall and Lesley Bazille, who covered the expenses of their trip. Their recently deceased father, John Stretton, lived on Minorca for 35 years (when he arrived in the 1970s, he purchased a rocky piece of headland near Es Castell that turned out to house the remains of an eighteenth century building built by the British: Fort Marlborough).

Mary Withall explained that their father had donated many medical books to Bloody Island's library, and by inviting the Honorary Artillery Company to participate in the commemorations, they wanted to honour their father's memory.

HMA Giles Paxman, Captain Frederick Price, the British Consul in Majorca and Minorca Paul Abrey and the Honorary British Consul in Minorca, Deborah Hellyer, together with Luis Alejandre, presided over the opening of the Priest's Garden – a landscape garden next to the chaplain's house that has been created thanks to the efforts of British resident and volunteer, Mike Puttock.

This was followed by the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the members of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the British Army who served in Minorca during the eighteenth century, as well as in memory of those whose lives were lost on King's Island. The plaque also commemorates the founding of the British Naval Hospital. Paxman laid a poppy wreath at the monument, and unveiled the plaque and Jennings' sculpture.

Yesterday, a second commemorative ceremony was held, with the presence of Fulgencio Coll Bucher, the Chief of Staff in the Spanish Army, followed by a private dinner held at Mahón's Naval Base.

Golden Farm – a privileged viewpoint
On Sunday evening, the Hospital Island Foundation held an official reception for Minorcan authorities, visiting Navy personnel and islanders at the distinctive landmark on the north coast of Mahón's port, Sant Antoni farm – known to the English as Golden Farm.

Over 200 dignitaries, sailors and friends of the Isla del Rey gathered for drinks and tapas as the sun set, entertained by a US Navy brass quintet, and an equestrian display by riders from Son Martorellet on pure-bred Minorcan horses. The musicians, known as “Top Brass”, performed both jazz and popular Spanish pieces, while the horse riders mixed both traditional dressage performances with a recreation of Nelson and Lady Hamilton's love story on horseback with displays of horses rearing up onto their hind legs, as seen in Minorca's summer fiestas.

Admiral Nelson
Guests included Minorca's Honorary British Consul, Deborah Hellyer, Captain Frederick Price, the Defence Attaché at the British Embassy in Madrid, the newly elected Mayor of Mahón, Agueda Reynés, Col. Francisco Riva, navy personnel – including representatives from the USS Bulkeley – as well as representatives from Minorca's British and business community and the television presenter, Mercedes Milá. British Ambassador, Giles Paxman, and the Majorcan and Minorcan Consul, Paul Abrey were not present as they had travelled to Majorca that afternoon.

Rarely open to the public, Golden Farm has a prominent place in Minorca's history books – with references to the farm's presence dating back to 1535.
This grand, red-painted farmhouse has privileged views across Mahon's port and is where Admiral Lord Nelson was rumoured to have stayed when his ship docked in Mahón's waters, so stories even go as far as to suggest that he spent time in the property with his lover, Lady Hamilton. While historians doubt there is much fact behind such stories, one of Golden Farm's owners was a keen collector of antiques and naval memorabilia, so the property's interior is something of a museum. And given the uninterrupted views across the port, visitors agree that Nelson would have made a wise choice if he had decided to spend a night ashore here.

The hospital's history
During the eighteenth century, Mahón's protected port was a cherished safe haven for naval fleets battling in Mediterranean waters – Mahón's strategic location and expansive harbour was carefully protected by whichever nation dominated the island of Minorca.

Soon after the British established their rule on the island, in 1708, Admiral Byng was quick to pinpoint the Illa del Rei (King's Island), as a good location for a naval hospital.

While Byng's initial plans were rejected because of their high cost, in 1711, Admiral Jennings presented Queen Anne with a revised proposal – borrowing money to start construction – and in April 1711 work began.

Nicknamed “Bloody Island” by British sailors, the hospital was used by British, French, Spanish and even as a base for North American troops during the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. When the French invaded Algiers in 1830, and used Mahon's port as a stop-off between Marseille and Africa, the hospital had 3'000 beds.

The hospital was in use up to 1964, before falling into disrepair.
Seven years ago, Mahón resident (and former Chief of Staff in the Spanish Army) Luis Alejandre, created “Friends of Hospital Island”.
Every Sunday morning since 2004, this group of friends have given up their free time to travel to the island in an attempt to restore the hospital building to its former glory.


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