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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

The Patrico bids them live together till death part them


The

sacrificing of horses is a curious as well as a leading and important fact in the history of the Gipsies, and, as far as I know, is new to the world. I shall, in establishing its existence among the Scottish Gipsies, produce my authorities with my details.

In the first place, it was, and I believe it still is, a general tradition, over almost all Scotland, that, when the Tinklers parted from their wives, the act of separation took place over the carcass of a dead horse. In respect to McDonald's case, alluded to under the head of Linlithgowshire Gipsies, my informant, Mr. Alexander Ramsay, late an officer of the Excise, a very respectable man, who died in 1819, at the age of 74 years, stated to me that he saw McDonald and his wife separated over the body of a dead horse, on a moor, at Shieldhill, near Falkirk, either in the year 1758 or 1760, he was uncertain which. The horse was laying stretched out on the heath. The parties took hold of each other by the hand, and, commencing at the head of the dead animal, walked--the husband on one side, and the wife on the other--till they came to the tail, when, without speaking a word to each other, they parted, in opposite directions, as if proceeding on a journey. Mr. Ramsay said he never could forget the violent swing which McDonald gave his wife at parting. The time of the day was a little after day-break. My informant, at the time, was going, with others, to Shieldhill for coals, and happened to be

passing over a piece of rising ground, when they came close upon the Gipsies, in a hollow, quite unexpectedly to both parties.

Another aged man of credibility, of the name of James Wilson, at North Queensferry, also informed me that it was within his own knowledge, that a Gipsy, of the name of John Lundie, divorced four wives over dead horses, in the manner described. Wilson further mentioned that, when Gipsies were once regularly separated over a dead horse, they could never again be united in wedlock; and that, unless they were divorced in this manner, all the children which the female might have, subsequently to any other mode of separation, the husband was obliged to support. In fact, the transaction was not legal, according to the Gipsy usages, without the horse. The facts of Lundie, and another Gipsy, of the name of Drummond, having divorced many wives over dead horses, have been confirmed to me by several aged individuals who knew them personally. One intelligent gentleman, Mr. Richard Baird, informed me that, in his youth, he actually saw John Lundie separated from one of his wives over a dead horse, in the parish of Carriden, near Bo'ness. My father, who died in 1837, at the age of nearly 83 years, also stated that it was quite current, in Tweed-dale, that Mary Yorkston, wife of Matthew Baillie, the Gipsy chief, parted married couples of her tribe over dead horses.

About ten years after receiving the above information, Malcolm's Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London came into my hands; wherein I found the following quotations, from a work published in 1674, describing the different classes of impostors at that period in England: "Patricos," says this old author, "are strolling priests; every hedge is their parish, and every wandering rogue their parishioner. The service, he saith, is the marrying of couples, without the Gospels or Book of Common Prayer; the solemnity whereof is this: The parties to be married find out a dead horse, or other beast; standing, one on the one side, and the other on the other, the Patrico bids them live together till death part them; so, shaking hands, the wedding is ended." Now the parties here described seem to have been no other than Gipsies. But it also appears that the ceremony alluded to is that of dissolving a marriage, and not that of celebrating it. It is proper, however, to mention, as I have already done, that horses, at one time, were sacrificed at their marriages, as well as at their divorces.


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