Notwithstanding that the political situation of Europe seems to be less threatening among its leading powers, still the uncertainty prevalent among those who are generally considered the arbiters of public affairs has had its influence in contracting the limits of speculative adventure, thereby circumscribing the general course of trade throughout the Mediterranean.

In renewing to the department my reports upon the navigation and general commerce of Gibraltar, I beg to state that there has been a tolerably fair current business prevailing in American produce during the past quarter, consisting chiefly in flour, tobacco, and refined petroleum in cases, imported direct from New York.

The steady demand for American petroleum confirms the fact that Russian petroleum so far receives but little attention in this market from the regular traders and consumers, so long as supplies from the United States can be regularly imported at reasonable prices. It, however, remains an open question, in the event of lower prices ruling in the Russian petroleum regions, whether American supplies may not later on experience some greater competitive foreign interference.

According to the statistical data, steam vessels of all nationalities have continued to make Gibraltar their port of call, not only for orders, but also for replenishing their stock of fuel and provisions, and in larger numbers than ever before, the number in 1888 having reached 5,712 steam vessels, measuring in all 5,969,563 tons, while in 1887 the number was only 5,187 steam vessels, with an aggregate tonnage of 5,372,962. This increase cannot but result in considerable benefit to the coal and maritime traffic, which now forms the most important portion of the general commerce of Gibraltar, in spite of the keen competition it experiences from other British and foreign coaling ports.

Freights have also advanced in favor of steamship interests, which, with higher prices in England for coal, have also caused an advance in the price of coal at this port, to the benefit of the coal merchants and others interested in this important trade. At present the ruling price for steam coal is 24s. per ton, deliverable from alongside of coal hulks moored in the bay. As near as I have been able to ascertain, the quantity of coal sold in this market during the past year for supplying merchant steam vessels has amounted to about 508,000 tons, which is an increase of about 20,000 tons over the year 1887.

Notwithstanding that plans have already been submitted to the British government for the construction of a dry dock in Gibraltar, the matter remains somewhat in suspense, since it meets with some opposition on the part of the British government, which, in face of the European fever for general arming, seems more inclined to utilize in another form the expense which such a work would entail upon the imperial government, by replacing the obsolete ordnance recently removed from this fortress and substituting new defenses and guns of the most approved patterns, a matter which has evidently been receiving, for some time past, the special attention of the British military authorities, not doubting that the recent visit to the fortress of the Duke of Cambridge has had some connection with it. In fact, it is reported that the duke has already expressed the opinion that this fortress requires a larger number of artillerymen than are quartered here at present to man its batteries, and it would seem that this recommendation is likely to be carried out.

It is yet somewhat too early to venture an opinion regarding the growing crops of cereals in this Spanish neighborhood, but the agricultural and manufacturing interests in Spain have suffered so much in the past years that the general feeling in Spain continues to tend toward establishing increased restrictions against foreign competition in her home markets. There is every probability that the provinces of Malaga and Granada may shortly be granted the privilege of cultivating the tobacco plant under government supervision, as an essay. If properly managed, it may form an important and lucrative business for those interested in land and agricultural pursuits.

After many consecutive years of heavy outlays, difficulties, and constant disappointments, a new English company has recently succeeded in commencing the construction of a railway from the neighboring Spanish town of Algeciras to join, via Ronda, the railway station of Bobadilla, on the railroad line toward Malaga. It is presumed that when this railroad will be in running order it will greatly benefit this community, especially if the Spanish government should decide to establish custom houses at Algeciras and the Spanish lines outside the gates of this fortress, similar to those existing on the frontiers of France and Portugal.

That some idea may be formed of the constant important daily intercourse which exists between this fortress and Spain, I may state that late police statistics show that 1,887,617 passes were issued to visitors entering this fortress on daily permits during the year 1888, 1,608,004 entering by the land route and 279,613 by sea. I must, however, observe that the larger portion of these visitors consists of laborers, coal heavers, market people, and others engaged in general traffic.

A new industry in cork has lately sprung up, in which leading Spanish and native commercial firms in Gibraltar are directly interested to a considerable extent. Extensive warehouses for the storing of cork wood and machinery for the manufacture of bottle corks have recently been established at the Spanish lines, about a mile distant from this fortress, in Spanish territory, where large quantities of cork have already been stored. The cork is obtained and collected from the valuable trees, which are owned by the representatives of some of the oldest nobility of Spain, who have sold the products of their extensive woods to private individuals for periods reaching as far on as ten years, for which concession large cash advances have already been made. The woods commence at a distance of about twelve miles from Gibraltar, and are of considerable extent.

The railway now in course of construction passes through these woods, which may ere long offer quite picturesque scenery for travelers, especially when the cork trees are bearing acorns, which form the principal food for the fattening of large herds of swine during certain seasons of the year, in this way, also, contributing to the value of this tree, which, like the other kinds of oak trees, is of long and tardy growth. The tree from which the cork is obtained is somewhat abundant in the mountainous districts of Andalusia. It grows to a height of about 30 feet, and resembles the Quercus ilex, or evergreen oak, and attains to a great age. After arriving at a certain state of maturity it periodically sheds its bark, but this bark is found to be of better quality when artificially removed from the tree, which may be effected without injury to the tree itself. After the tree has attained twenty-five years it may be barked, and the operation is afterward repeated once in every seven years. The quality of the cork seems to improve with the increasing age of the tree, which is said to live over one hundred and fifty years. The bark is taken off during July and August.

Cork dust is also obtained from this cork wood, and is much used in the packing of grapes, which fruit is largely shipped from the eastern coast of Spain, especially from Almeria, during the vintage seasons, for the American and British markets. - Reports of U.S. Consuls.