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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Crossed the Forth at the Queensferry


Gipsy chiefs in Scotland appear, at one time, to have received a share of the plundered articles in the same manner as those of the same rank received from their inferiors in Hungary. Grellmann says: "Whenever a complaint is made that any of their people have been guilty of theft, the Waywode (chief) not only orders a general search to be made in every tent or hut, and returns the stolen goods to the owner, if they can be found; but he punishes the thief, in presence of the complainant, with his whip. He does not, however, punish the aggressor from any regard to justice, but rather to quiet the plaintiff, and at the same time to make his people more wary in their thefts, as well as more dexterous in concealing their prey. These very materially concern him, since, by every discovery that is made, his income suffers, as the whole profit of his office arises from his share of the articles that are stolen. Every time any one brings in a booty, he is obliged to give information to the Arch-gipsy of his successful enterprise, then render a just account of what and how much he has stolen, in order that the proper division may be made. This is the situation in which a Gipsy looks on himself as bound to give a fair and true detail, though, in every other instance, he does not hesitate to perjure himself."

A shrewd and active magistrate, in the west of Fife, knew our Scottish Gipsy depredators so well, that he caused them all to be apprehended as they

entered the fairs held in the town in which he resided; and when the market, which lasted for several days, was over, the Gipsies were released from prison, with empty pockets and hungry bellies--most effectually baffled in their designs.

Great numbers of these Gipsy plunderers, at one time, crossed the Forth at the Queensferry, for the purpose of stealing and robbing at the fairs in the north of Scotland. They all travelled singly or in pairs. Very few persons knew whence they came, or with whom they were connected. They were, in general, well dressed, and could not have been taken for Gipsies. Every one put up at a public-house, at North Queensferry, kept by a Mr. McRitchie, already mentioned, an inn well known in the neighbourhood for its good fare, and much frequented by all classes of society. In this house, on the morning after a fair in Dunfermline, when _their business_ was all over, and themselves not alarmed by detection, or other scaring incidents, no fewer than fourteen of these plunderers have frequently been seen sitting at breakfast, with Captain Gordon, their commander, at their head. The landlord's son informed me that they ate and drank of the best in the house, and paid most handsomely for everything they called for. I believe they were among the best customers the landlord had. Gipsies, however, are by no means habitual drinkers, or tiplers; but when they do sit down, it is, in the phraseology of the sea, a complete _blow-out_. About this public-house, these Gipsies were perfectly inoffensive, and remarkably civil to all connected with it. They troubled or stole from none of the people about the inn, nor from those who lodged in the house, while they were within doors, or in the immediate neighbourhood. Anything could have been trusted with them on these occasions. At these meetings, the landlord's son frequently heard them talking in the Gipsy language. Gordon, at times, paid the reckoning for the whole, and transacted any other business with the landlord; but, when the Gipsy company was intermixed with females, which was commonly the case, each individual paid his own share of the bill incurred. It was sometimes the practice with the young bands to leave their reckoning to be paid by their chiefs, who were not present, but who, perhaps next day, came riding up, and paid the expenses incurred by their men. I am informed that two chiefs, of the names of Wilson and Brown, often paid the expenses of their bands in this way. When any of these principal Gipsies happened to remain in the public-house all night, they behaved very genteelly. They paid the chamber-maid, boots, and waiter with more liberality than was the custom with mercantile travellers generally. Captain Gordon, just mentioned, assumed very considerable consequence at this place. Frequently he hired boats and visited the islands in the Forth, and adjacent coasts, like a gentleman of pleasure. On one occasion he paid no less than a guinea, with brandy and eatables _ad libitum_, to be rowed over to Inch-colm, a distance of four miles.

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