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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

39 39 Life of Baron Trenck


acts of theft, and robbery, and murder were laid to the charge of these unfortunate wretches; and, according to the existing laws of the empire, they were interrogated under torture. They were first tormented by means of thumb-screws, which they did not seem greatly to regard; the Spanish boots, or 'leg-vices,' were next applied, and seldom failed to extort confession. Hemperla alone set both means at defiance, which induced the judges to believe he was possessed of some spell against these agonies. Having in vain searched his body for the supposed charm, they caused his hair to be cut off; on which he himself observed that, had they not done so, he could have stood the torture for some time longer. As it was, his resolution gave way, and he made, under the second application of the Spanish boots, a full confession, not only of the murders of which he was accused, but of various other crimes. While he was in this agony, the judges had the cruelty to introduce his mother, a noted Gipsy woman, called the crone, into the torture-chamber; who shrieked fearfully, and tore her face with her nails, on perceiving the condition of her son, and still more on hearing him acknowledge his guilt.

"Evidence of the guilt of the other prisoners was also obtained from their confessions, with or without torture, and from the testimony of witnesses examined by the fiscal. Sentence was finally passed on them, condemning four Gipsies, among whom were Hemperla and

the Little Gallant, to be broken on the wheel, nine others to be hanged, and thirteen, of whom the greater part were women, to be beheaded. They underwent their doom with great firmness, upon the 14th and 15th November, 1726.

"The volume contains . . . . . . . some rude prints, representing the murders committed by the Gipsies, and the manner of their execution. There are also two prints representing the portraits of the principal criminals, in which, though the execution be indifferent, the Gipsy features may be clearly traced."

Leaving this view of the character of the continental Gipsies, we may take the following as illustrative of one of its brighter aspects. So late as the time of the celebrated Baron Trenck, it would appear that Germany was still infested with prodigiously large bands of Gipsies. In a forest near Ginnen, to which he had fled, to conceal himself from the pursuit of his persecutors, the Baron says: "Here we fell in with a gang of Gipsies, (or rather banditti,) amounting to four hundred men, who dragged me to their camp. They were mostly French and Prussian deserters, and, thinking me their equal, would force me to become one of their band. But venturing to tell my story to their leader, he presented me with a crown, gave us a small portion of bread and meat, and suffered us to depart in peace, after having been four-and-twenty hours in their company."[39]

[39] Life of Baron Trenck, translated by Thomas Holcroft, Vol. I, page 138.

I shall conclude the notices of the continental Gipsies by some extracts from an article published in a French periodical work, for September, 1802, on the Gipsies of the Pyrenees; who resemble, in many points, the inferior class of our Scottish Tinklers, about the beginning of the French war, more, perhaps, than those of any other country in Europe.

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