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Book of Scottish Story
Charlie Graham, the Tinker


The notorious Charlie Graham belonged to a gang of tinkers, who had for a long time travelled through the country, and whose headquarters were at Lochgelly, in Fife. They were to be found at all markets, selling their horn spoons, which was their ostensible occupation. But there was a great deal of business done in the pickpocket line, and other branches of the thieving art. About Charlie there were some remarkable traits of generosity. In the midst of all the crimes he committed, he was never known to hurt a poor man, but often out of his plunder helped those in a strait. His father was in the same line, and was long at the head of the gang; but being afterwards imprisoned for theft, housebreaking, etc., he was banished the county, banished Scotland, and publicly whipped. On one occasion he was banished, with certification that if he returned, he was to be publicly whipped the first market-day, and there after to be banished. Old Charlie was not long away when he returned, and was apprehended and conveyed to Perth jail. A vacancy having occurred in the office of executioner, the first market-day was allowed to pass without inflicting the sentence, upon which Charlie entered a protest, and was liberated. In various ways he eluded justice,— sometimes by breaking the prison, and sometimes for want of evidence. The last time he was brought in, he was met by an old acquaintance, who asked, “What is the matter now?" to which old Charlie replied, "Oh, just the auld thing, and nae proof;” which saying has since become a proverb. But this time they did find proof, and he was again publicly whipped, and sent out of the country. One of his daughters, Meg Graham, who had been bred from her infancy in the same way, was every now and then apprehended for some petty theft. Indeed, she was so often in jail, that she got twenty-eight dinners from old John Rutherford, the writer, who gave the prisoners in the jail a dinner every Christmas. Meg, in her young days, was reckoned one of the first beauties of the time; but she was a wild one. She had been whipped and pilloried, but still the root of the matter remained.

Young Charlie was a man of uncommon strength and size, being about six feet high, and stout in proportion. His wrist was as thick as that of two ordinary men; he had long been the terror of the country, and attended all markets at the head of his gang, where they were sure to kick up a row among themselves. Two of their women would commence a battle-royal in the midst of the throng, scratch and tear one another’s caps, until a mob was assembled, when the rest were very busy in picking pockets. In this way they were frequently very successful.

At a market to the west of Crieff a farmer got his pocket-book taken from him. It being ascertained that Charlie Graham and his gang were in the market,—who were well known to several of the respectable farmers, who frequently lodged them on their way to the country,—it was proposed to get Charlie and give him a glass, and tell him the story. Charlie accepted the invitation; and during the circulation of the glass, one of the company introduced the subject, lamenting the poor man’s loss in such a feeling way, that the right chord was struck, and Charlie's generosity roused. An appeal was made to him to lend the poor man such a sum, as his credit was at stake. Charlie said they had done nothing that day, but if anything cast up, he would see what could be done. During this conversation another company came into the room; amongst whom was a man with a greatcoat, a Highland bonnet, and a large drover whip. After being seated, this personage was recognised as belonging to the gang, and they were invited to drink with them, whilst the story of the robbery was repeated. On this Charlie asked his friend if he could lend him forty pounds to give to the poor man, and he would repay him in a few days. The man replied that he had forty pounds which he was going to pay away; but if it was to favour a friend, he would put off his business and help him; when, to their astonishment, the identical notes which the man had lost were tossed to him; and Charlie said that that would relieve him in the meantime, and he could repay him when convenient. It was evident that Charlie smelt a rat, and took this method to get off honourably. Of course, the forty pounds were never sought after.

Charlie was one day lodged with a poor widow, who had a few acres of ground, and kept a public-house. She complained to him that she was unable to raise her rent, that the factor was coming that night for payment, and that she was considerably deficient. Charlie gave her what made it up, and in the evening went out of the way, after learning at what time the factor would be there. The factor came, received payment, and returned home; but on the way he was met by Charlie, who eased him of his cash, and returned the rent to the poor widow.

The Rev. Mr Graham of Fossoway came one day to Perth to discount some bills in the Bank of Scotland. Having got his bills cashed, his spirits rose to blood-heat, and a hearty glass was given to his friends, until the parson got a little muddy. His friends, loth to leave him in that state, hired a horse each to convey him home. It was dark and late when they set out, and by the time they reached Damhead, where they put up their horses, it was morning. The house was re-building at the time, and the family living in the barn when the parson and his friends were introduced. Here they found Charlie and some of his friends over a bowl, of which the minister was cordially invited to partake. His companions also joined, and kept it up with great glee for some time—the minister singing his song, and Charlie getting very big. One of the friends, knowing how the land lay, was very anxious to be off, for fear of the minister’s money, and ordered out the horses; but to this Charlie would by no means consent. This alarmed the friends still more; as for the minister, he was now beyond all fear. However, in a short time a number of men came in and called for drink, and then Charlie, after the glass had gone round, said he thought it was time for the minister to get home, and went out to see them on their horses; when he told them he had detained them till the return of these men, who, if they had met them, might have proved dangerous neighbours; but now they could go home in safety.

He was one day on his way to Auchterarder market, when he met a farmer going from home, in whose barn he had frequently lodged, when Charlie told him he was to lodge with him that night. The farmer said he could not take strangers into his barn in its present state, as his summer’s cheese, and many other things, were lodged there. "D-—-n your cheese," replied Charlie; "do you think, old boy, that I would lay down my honesty for your trash o’ cheese?" They parted, and Charlie got permission from the gudewife for himself as there were no others with him. The farmer came home late, and knew not that Charlie was there. In the morning when he went into the barn, he was astonished to find it all in an uproar. Upwards of twenty individuals —men, women, and children—were lying among the straw. The wife was called upon to see what state the barn was in; and the old man, in no very soft voice, railed at her for admitting such a band. She replied that she would send them away quietly: and this she did by giving them as much brose and milk as they could take. On their departure, Charlie told him he was a mean old crab, and that his wife was worth a hundred of him. However, he kept his word as to the cheese, and nothing was touched.

In the market next day, a good deal of business was done in his way ; several pockets were picked, and a number of petty thefts committed. Charlie being in the habit of dealing with respectable merchants for horn spoons, he was one day in the shop getting payment for a parcel. The money was counted down, but during the time his wife was taking it up, the merchant turned to speak to some one in the shop ; the wife, on taking up the money, said she wanted five shillings ; the merchant said he was positive he laid down the whole. She still insisted that she wanted five shillings, and the merchant was determined to resist; on which Charlie interfered, saying, "Come, come, ye limmer, down with the money; none of your tricks here."

At one time he took it into his head to enlist for a regiment in India, with a party in Perth; he did very well until they were ordered to join the regiment. All the recruits being assembled but Charlie, he at last was found drinking in a public-house, but would not stir a foot. The officer was got, and the party attempted, after fair means had failed, to take him by force. They only got him the length of the street, when he drew a short bludgeon from an inside pocket, and laid about him from right to left, in such a way that the whole were soon sprawling on the street, and he escaped. The officer, seeing what kind of a character he was, desired the sergeant not to look after him, as he would have nothing to do with him.

At all the fairs he was present with his gang. If any row commenced he was sure to take a lead,--and which-ever party he joined were generally left masters of the field. One midsummer market at Perth, a dreadful row got up between the weavers and the farmer lads, hundreds of whom attended the market at that time. Charlie and his friends joined the weavers; the streets were soon in a perfect uproar; the chapmen’s stands were upset, and themselves tumbled in the midst of their goods; sweeties and gingerbread were scattered in all directions by the pressure of the contending parties; and broken heads and faces were to be seen in abundance. The whole fair was thrown into a dreadful state of confusion, until a party of military were brought out, who at length, succeeded in restoring order; but Charlie and his friends were not to be found. Many individuals lost their hats, etc., and got bruised bones and torn coats ; it was also discovered that many pockets had been picked during the affray.

Charlie had often been convicted of theft, imprisoned, and banished the county. He not unfrequently made his escape by breaking out of prison; but was at length apprehended for horse stealing; and during his confinement was put in irons, in one of the strong cages in the old jail. During his imprisonment he was very cheerful, often declaring they could have no proof against him ; but a short time convinced him of his folly. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. When brought out to execution, he was attended by four artillerymen, for fear of resistance. He recognised many of his old acquaintances in the multitude —particularly the merchant with whom he dealt in spoons, and gave him a bow and a wave of his hand. When the fatal hour approached he appeared quite subdued, and submitted to his fate with calm resignation. After his body was cut down it was conveyed to the grave by an immense multitude; the coffin was opened and filled with quicklime, to render it useless for the surgeon.

Charlie’s death was a severe loss to the gang; immediately after this Charlie Brown, his brother-in-law, became leader. This fellow, although not so large a man, was stout, firmly built, of great activity, and, like Graham, had been frequently in the hands of the law, and made shift to get clear, until at last the fiscal was determined to have him. It being ascertained that he was in the neighbourhood, a party of light dragoons was sent out with the officers, who traced him to Auchtergaven. When he saw the party, he set off through the fields, until fairly run down by two of the horsemen, and brought to Perth. This desperate character had on him about eighty guineas ; he was charged with several crimes, convicted, and sent to Botany Bay for life. After this the gang, who had for a long period infested the country, dispersed, and was seldom heard of.…. Published in TRADITIONS OF PERTH


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