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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

A Gipsy closely related to the Lochgellie band


James Robertson, a Gipsy closely related to the Lochgellie band, of whom I have already made mention, frequently danced, with his wife and numerous sisters, in a particular fashion, changing and regulating the figures of the dance by means of a bonnet; being, I believe, the same dance which I have attempted to describe as performed by others of the tribe in Scotland. When his wife and sisters got intoxicated, which was often the case, it was a wild and extravagant scene to behold those light-footed damsels, with loose and flowing hair, dancing, with great spirit, on the grass, in the open field, while James was, with all his "might and main," like the devil playing to the witches, in "Tam o' Shanter," keeping the bacchanalians in fierce and animated music. When like to flag in his exertions to please them with his fiddle, they have been heard calling loudly to him, like Maggy Lawder to Rob the Ranter, "Play up, Jamie Robertson; if ever we do weel, it will be a wonder;" being totally regardless of all sense of decorum and decency.

The Gipsies in Fife followed the same occupations, in all respects, as those in other parts of Scotland, and were also dexterous at all athletic exercises. They were exceedingly fond of cock-fighting, and, when the season came round for that amusement, many a good cock was missing from the farm-yards. The Lochgellie band considered begging a disgrace to their tribe. At times they were handsomely dressed, wearing silver buckles in their shoes, gold rings on their fingers, and gold and silver brooches in the bosoms of their ruffled shirts. They killed, at Martinmass, fat cattle for their winter's provisions, and lived on the best victuals the country could produce. It is, I believe, the common practice, among inferior Scotch traders, for those who receive money to treat the payer, or return a trifle of the payment, called a luck-penny: but, in opposition to this practice, the Lochgellie Gipsies always treated those to whom they paid money for what they purchased of them. They occasionally attended the church, and sometimes got their children baptized; but when the clergyman refused them that privilege, they baptized them themselves. At their baptisms, they had great feastings and drinkings. Their favourite beverage, on such occasions, was oatmeal and whiskey, mixed. When intoxicated, they were sometimes very fond of arguing and expostulating with clergymen on points of morality. With regard to the internal government of the Lochgellie Gipsies, I can only find that they held consultations among themselves, relative to their affairs, and that the females had votes as well as the males, but that old Charles Graham had the casting vote; while, in his absence, his wife, Ann Brown, managed their concerns.

There is a strict division of property among the Gipsies; community of goods having no place among them. The heads of each family, although travelling in one band, manufacture and vend their own articles of merchandise, for the support of their own families. The following particulars are illustrative of this fact among the Gipsies:--A farmer in Fife, who would never allow them to kindle fires in his out-houses, had a band of them, of about twenty-five persons, quartered one night on his farm. Next morning, the chief female borrowed from the family a large copper caldron, used for the purposes of the dairy, with which she had requested permission to cook the breakfast of the horde upon the kitchen fire. This having been granted, each family produced a small linen bag, (not the beggar's wallet,) made of coarse materials, containing oatmeal; of which at least four were brought into the apartment. The female who prepared the repast went regularly over the bags, taking out the meal in proportion to the members of the families to which they respectively belonged, and repeated her visits in this manner till the porridge was ready to be served up.


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