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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Bound to the collieries or salt works

[85] From the time of arrival of the Gipsies in the country, in 1506, till 1611, the date of the first trials of the tribe, as given by Baron Hume, a period of 105 years had elapsed; during which time there had doubtless been five generations of Gipsies added to the population, as Scottish subjects; to put whom to death, on the mere ground of being Egyptians, was contrary to every principle of natural justice. The cruelty exercised upon them was quite in keeping with that of reducing to slavery the individuals, and their descendants, who constituted the colliers, coal-bearers, and salters referred to in the following interesting note, to be found in "My Schools and Schoolmasters," of Hugh Miller.

"The act for manumitting our Scotch colliers was passed in the year 1775, forty-nine years prior to the date of my acquaintance with the class of Niddry. But though it was only such colliers of the village as were in their fiftieth year when I knew them, (with, of course, all the older ones,) who had been born slaves, even its men of thirty had actually, though not nominally, come into the world in a state of bondage, in consequence of certain penalties attached to the emancipation act, of which the poor ignorant workers under ground were both too improvident and too little ingenious to keep clear. They were set free, however, by a second act passed in 1799. The language of both these acts, regarded as British ones of the latter half of the last century, and as bearing reference to British subjects living within the limits of the island, strikes with startling effect. 'Whereas,' says the preamble of the older act--that of 1775--'by the statute law of Scotland, as explained by the judges of the courts of law there, many colliers, and coal-bearers, and salters, are in a state of _slavery or bondage_, bound to the collieries or salt works, where they work _for life, transferable with the collieries or salt works_; and whereas, the emancipation,' &c., &c. A passage in the preamble of the act of 1799 is scarcely less striking: it declares that, notwithstanding the former act, 'many colliers and coal-bearers _still continue in a state of bondage_' in Scotland. The history of our Scotch colliers would be found a curious and instructive one. Their slavery seems not to have been derived from the ancient time of general serfship, but to have originated in comparatively modern acts of the Scottish Parliament, and in decisions of the Court of Session--in acts of Parliament in which the poor ignorant subterranean men of the country were, of course, wholly unrepresented, and in decisions of a court in which no agent of theirs ever made appearance in their behalf."

What is here said of a history of Scotch colliers being "curious and instructive," is applicable in an infinitely greater degree to that of the Gipsies.--ED.



[86] This and the following three chapters are illustrative of the Gipsies, in their wild state, previous to their gradual settlement and civilization, and are applicable to the same class in every part of the world. Chapter VI, on the Gipsies of Tweed-dale and Clydesdale, might have been taken the first in order, as descriptive of the tribe in its more primitive condition, but I have allowed it to remain where it stands. A description of the habits peculiar to the race will be found, more or less, in all of these chapters, where they can be consulted, for the better identification of the facts given.--ED.

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