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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Set at defiance the whole multitude at Biggar fair


formidable were the numbers of the nomadic Gipsies, at one time, and so alarming their desperate and sanguinary battles, in the upper parts of Tweed-dale and Clydesdale, that the fencible men in their neighbourhood, (the _country-side_ was the expression,) had sometimes to turn out to quell and disperse them. A clergyman was, on one occasion, under the necessity of dismissing his congregation, in the middle of divine service, that they might quell one of these furious Gipsy tumults, in the immediate vicinity of the church.[130]

[130] A writer in Blackwood's Magazine mentions that the Gipsies, late in the seventeenth century, broke into the house of Pennicuik, when the greater part of the family were at church. Sir John Clerk, the proprietor, barricaded himself in his own apartment, where he sustained a sort of siege--firing from the windows upon the robbers, who fired upon him in return. One of them, while straying through the house in quest of booty, happened to ascend the stairs of a very narrow turret, but, slipping his foot, caught hold of the rope of the alarm bell, the ringing of which startled the congregation assembled in the parish church. They instantly came to the rescue of the Laird, and succeeded, it is said, in apprehending some of the Gipsies, who were executed. There is a written account of this daring assault kept in the records of the family.--ED.

About the year 1770,

the mother of the Baillies received some personal injury, or rather insult, at a fair at Biggar, from a gardener of the name of John Cree. The insult was instantly resented by the Gipsies; but Cree was luckily protected by his friends. In contempt and defiance of the whole multitude in the market, four of the Baillies--Matthew, James, William, and John--all brothers, appeared on horse-back, dressed in scarlet, and armed with broad-swords, and, parading through the crowd, threatened to be avenged of the gardener, and those who had assisted him. Burning with revenge, they threw off their coats, rolled up the sleeves of their shirts to the shoulder, like butchers when at work, and, with their naked and brawny arms, and glittering swords in their clenched hands, furiously rode up and down the fair, threatening death to all who should oppose them. Their bare arms, naked weapons, and resolute looks, showed that they were prepared to slaughter their enemies without mercy. No one dared to interfere with them, till the minister of the parish appeased their rage, and persuaded them to deliver up their swords. It was found absolutely necessary, however, to keep a watch upon the gardener's house, for six months after the occurrence, to protect him and his family from the vengeance of the vindictive Gipsies.

To bring into view and illustrate the character and practices of our Scottish Gipsies, I will transcribe the following details, in the original words, from a MS. which I received from the late Mr. Blackwood, as a contribution towards a history of the Gipsies. Mr. Blackwood did not say who the writer of the paper was, but some one mentioned to me that he was a clergyman. I am satisfied that the statements it contains are true, and that the William Baillie therein mentioned was, in his day and generation, well known, over the greater part of Scotland, as chief of his tribe within the kingdom. He was the grandfather of the four Gipsies who, as just mentioned, set at defiance the whole multitude at Biggar fair. It will be seen, by this MS., that while the principal Gipsies, with their subordinates, were plundering the public, in all directions, they sometimes performed acts of gratitude and great kindness to their favourites of the community among whom they travelled. In it will also be exhibited the cool and business-like manner in which they delivered back stolen purses, when circumstances rendered such restoration necessary.

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