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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

For his many crimes of sorning


Tradition

states that William Baillie's conduct involved him in numerous scrapes. He was brought before the Justiciary Court, and had "his ears nailed to the tron, or other tree, and cut off, and banished the country," for his many crimes of "sorning, pickery, and little thieving." It also appears, from popular tradition, that he is the same William Baillie who is repeatedly noticed by Hume and McLaurin, in their remarks on the criminal law of Scotland.

In June, 1699, William Baillie, for being an Egyptian, and for forging and using a forged pass, was sentenced to be "hanged; but the privy council commuted his sentence to banishment, but under the express condition that, if ever he returned to this country, the former sentence should be executed against him." William entered into a bond with the privy council, under the penalty of 500 merks, to leave the kingdom, and to "suffer the pains of death, in case of contravention thereof."

This Gipsy chief paid little regard to the terrible conditions of his bond, in case of failure; for, on the 10th and 11th August, 1714, "Baillie," says Hume, "and two of his associates, were convicted and condemned to die; but as far as concerned Baillie, (for the others were executed,) his doom was afterwards mitigated into transportation, under pain of death in case of return." "The jury," says McLaurin, "brought in a special verdict as to the sorning,[135] but said nothing at all as to any

other points; all they found proved was, that William, in March, 1713, had taken possession of a barn, without consent of the owner, and that, during his abode in it, there was corn taken out of the barn, and he went away without paying anything for his quarters, or for any corn during his abode, which was for several days; and that he was habit and repute an Egyptian, and did wear a pistol[136] and shable," (a kind of sabre.)

[135] _Sorn_, (Scottish and Irish:) an arbitrary exaction, by which a chieftain lived at pleasure, in free quarters, among his tenants: also one who obtrudes himself upon another, for bed and board, is said to sorn.--_Bailey._

[136] A great many of the Scottish Gipsies, in former times, carried arms. One of the Baillies once left his budget in a house, by mistake. A person, whom I knew, had the curiosity to examine it; and he found it to contain a pair of excellent pistols, loaded and ready for action.

"As early as the month of August, 1715, the same man, as I understand it," says Baron Hume, "was again indicted, not only for being found in Britain, but for continuing his former practices and course of life. Notwithstanding this aggravation, the interlocutor is again framed on the indulgent plan; and only infers the pain of death from the fame and character of being an Egyptian, joined with various acts of violence and sorning, to the number of three that are stated in the libel. Though convicted nearly to the extent of the interlocutor, he again escaped with transportation."

Baillie's policy in representing himself as a bastard son of an ancient and honourable family had, as I have already observed, been of great service to him; and in no way would it be more so than in his various trials. It is almost certain, as in cases of more recent times, that great interest would be used to save a bastard branch of an honourable house from an ignominious death upon the scaffold, when his crimes amounted only to "sorning, pickery, and little thieving, and habit and repute an Egyptian."[137]


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