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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Of the then Gipsy constabulary force in Peebles shire


[144] Weekly Magazine, 10th September, 1772, page 354.

Long after this battle took place, James Bartram and Robert Brydon, messengers-at-arms in Peebles, were dispatched to apprehend William Keith, in the ruinous house already mentioned. As they entered the building, early in the morning, with cocked pistols in their hands, Keith, a powerful man, rose up, half naked, from his _shake-down_, and, holding out a pistol, dared them to advance. Bartram, the chief officer, with the utmost coolness and bravery, advanced close up to the muzzle of the Gipsy's pistol, and, clapping his own to the head of the desperate Tinkler, threatened him with instant death if he did not surrender. A Gipsy, who had informed against Keith, was with the officers, as their guide; but the moment he saw Keith's pistol, he artfully threw himself, upon his back, to the ground. He immediately rose to his feet, but, in great terror, sprang, like a greyhound, over a _fauld dyke_, to escape the shot which Keith threatened. The intrepid conduct of the officers completely daunted the Gipsy. He yielded, and allowed himself to be hand-cuffed, thinking that the messengers were strongly supported by the servants on the farm; for, on perceiving only the two officers, he became desperate, but he was now fast in irons. In great bitterness he exclaimed, "Had I not, on Saturday night, observed five stout men on Mr. Simson's turf-hill, ye wadna a' hae ta'en me." The five individuals were all remarkably strong men. It was on Monday morning the Gipsy was apprehended, and it would appear he had been reconnoitering on Saturday, before risking to take up his quarters, which he did without asking permission from any one. He imagined that the five turf-casters were ready to assist the officers in the execution of their duty, and that it would have been in vain for him to make any resistance. The frantic Gipsy now leaped and tossed about in the most violent manner imaginable. He struck with so much vigour, with his hands bound in irons, and kicked so powerfully with his feet, that it was with the greatest difficulty the officers could get him carried to the jail at Peebles. His wife came into the kitchen of the farm-house, weeping and wailing excessively; and on some of the servant-girls endeavouring to calm her grief, she, among other bitter expressions, exclaimed, "Had a decent, honest man, like the master, informed, I would not have cared; but for a blackguard like ourselves to inform, is unsufferable." Keith was tried, condemned, and banished to the plantations, for the part he acted at the slaughter at Lourie's Den.

Here we have seen the melancholy fate of two, if not three, of the then _Gipsy constabulary force_ in Peebles-shire; one murdered, another hanged, and the third banished. However strange it may appear at the present day, it is nevertheless true, that the magistrates of this county, about this period, (1772,) actually appointed and employed a number of the principal Gipsies as peace officers, constables, or country-keepers, as they were called, of whom I will speak again in another place.

The nomadic Gipsies in general, like the Baillies in particular, have gradually declined in appearance, till, at the present day, the greater part of them have become little better than beggars, when compared to what they were in former times. Among those who frequented the south of Scotland were to be found various grades of rank, as in all other communities of men. There were then wretched and ruffian-looking gangs, in whose company the superior Gipsies would not have been seen.


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