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Biggar and the House of Fleming
Chapter XIX - The Vagrants of the Biggar District


THE Biggar district was, from a remote period, overrun by swarms of tinkers, gipsies, chapmen, beggars, etc. Some of these wanderers were well known, and kindly treated. They went regular rounds, obtained quarters at certain farmhouses, and claimed and received an 'awmous,’ or small benefaction, in the shape of a coin, a bannock, or a handful of meal, at the doors of the charitable, and bestowed a benediction in return. The sturdy beggars, sorners, and bluegowns of a bygone age, carried in their capacious wallets what was called an awmous dish, which was round in shape and composed of wood, and, in fact, bore a close resemblance to a large quaich or drinking cup. On calling at a house, the gaber-lunzie held out this dish to receive the alms of the gudewife, which, in that case, generally consisted of a handful or two of barley or oatmeal By this method he was able to ascertain the exact amount of the dole bestowed, and to measure out in return a corresponding amount of benison to the giver. The meal was then deposited in the appropiate meal-pock, and the awmous dish had its place of honour in one of the pocks in front. We can thus see the appropriateness of the comparison used by Burns, when he says, that one of the heroines of his 'Jolly Beggars*

'held up her greedy gab,
Just like an aumos dish.'

The accompanying engraving represents an awmous dish, carried, we believe, by one of the sturdy beggars that at one time frequented the Upper Ward of Clydesdale. These vagrants in the long winter nights, when seated at the back of the ample hearth, entertained the family circle with the news of the district, or with stories of their experience and adventures in their early years. The pedlars, male and female, carried a tempting collection of wares from house to house, and conveniently supplied persons far remote frojn shops with articles of ornament or utility. The tinkers mended pots and kettles, sold trenchers, horn spoons, heather besoms, rush mats, pottery ware etc. The men were expert hunters and fishers, and some of them excelled as musicians, while the females practised the art of fortune-telling. Their encampments, by the side of plantations, or in secluded corners of the country, with their blazing fires, and their array of asses, horses, and dogs, had a romantic effect, and impressed the mind with a primitive state of existence, ‘ ere the base laws of servitude began.’ They paid scrupulous respect to the property of those who treated them kindly and afforded them shelter; but plundered, without mercy, all those who drove them from their doors, or refused them the corner of a field on which to pitch their encampment. Besides these wanderers, there were a number of idiots, who roamed the country at large, afforded amusement by their antics, witticisms, or mimicry, or were regarded with terror for their sudden resentment and their savage malignity.

The laws against the sturdy vagabonds that prowled idly about the country were numerous and very stringent. They were consolidated into one comprehensive statute, in 1579, during the reign of Queen Mary, and provided that vagrants, on being apprehended, ‘ sail be put into the King’s waird or irons, so lang as they have ony gudes of thair awin to live on. And fra they have not quhairupon to live of thair awin, that thair eares be nayled to the trone or to an uther tree, and thair eares cutted off, and banished the countrie; and gif, therafter, they be found againe, that they be hangit.’ These laws, and others of a similar kind, afterwards enacted, appear to have become, in a great measure, a dead letter; and if we can fully credit the statements of Fletcher of Salton and others, the country about the close of the seventeenth century was overrun by thousands of vagrants, of whom the settled inhabitants knew little, except being kept in terror by their brawls, depredations, and exactions.

The authorities of Biggar made various attempts to keep the town free from the riots and annoyances of the unsettled and lawless hordes that frequented the Upper Ward. The enactments against them were renewed on the 22d April 1727, in the following terms :—‘The same day, the Bailie renews all former Acts of Court made anent resetting of sturdy beggars, by giving and selling to them meat and drink, whereby they abuse the hail inhabitants of the town; and therefore prejudice to all former Acts, statutes and ordains, that no person or persons within the town of Biggar resett such sturdy beggars, somers, gypsies, or give unto them drink for yr money, under the pain of ten punds Scots, toties quot's.’ On the 15th October 1728, Bailie Luke Vallange fined John Rob, indweller in Biggar, in the sum of ten pounds Scots, for entertaining thieves and beggars, the ‘fangs’ (plunder) being found in his house.

The Baron Bailie, on the 28th March 1747, gave the following decision:—‘The same day, complaint having been made upon Samuel Bell, innkeeper in Biggar, and Agnes Noble, his spouse, that for some time past they have been in use of hotmting and allowing vagrants, tinklers, somers, and sturdy beggars to lodge in their house. The Bailiff passes them for all bygone transgressions of that nature, but appoints them to find caution, that from this time to the term of Whitsunday next, at which time they are to leave this place and reside at Linton, that they shall not harbour any such vagrants or sturdy beggars, under the penalty of twelve punds Scots for each transgression, totks quotks, by and attour repairing what damage neighbours shall sustain by and through their harbouring them, as said is.'

The gipsy hordes that roamed about the Upper Ward in former times, consisted 6f distinct families or clans. The principal of these were—the Jardines, Browns, Baillies, Faas, Shaws, Ruthvens, Keiths, and Wilsons. They were the source of great annoyance and disquiet wherever they went, both on account of the brawls which took place among themselves, and the depredations which they committed. Two of these parties, the Faas and Shaws, had a terrible fight at Romano, in Tweeddale, about ten or twelve miles from Biggar, on the 1st of October 1677. They had been at a Haddington fair, and were on their way to Harestanes, to meet two other gangs, the Baillies and the Browns; but they quarrelled about a division of the spoil taken at the fair, and a fight ensued. The Faas consisted of four brothers and a brother's son; and the Shaws, of the father and three sons, with several women on both sides. The combat was keen and bloody, and victory at last inclined to the side of the Shaws. Sandie Faa and his wife were killed dead upon the spot, and Geordie Faa was dangerously wounded. Old Robin Shaw and his three sons were, some time afterwards, apprehended; and having been convicted of the murder at Romano, they were hanged in the Grassmarket in February 1678. Dr Pennecuik, to whom the estate of Romano belonged, erected, in 1688, a dovecot on the spot on which this fight, or ‘polymachy,’ as he calls it, took place, with the inscription,

'The field of Gipsie blood, which hero you see,
A shelter for the harmless dove shall be.'

The late Robert Johnston, merchant, Biggar, was wont to relate a story concerning the gipsies and his paternal great-grandfather, James Brown, who was tenant in Skirling Mill nearly a century and a half ago. We give it in nearly his own words. On one occasion, a strong band of tinklers quarrelled with the country people assembled at a Skirling fair. The business of the market was stopped, and many persons left it in consequence of the violent behaviour of these ruffians, when James Brown and his brother-in-law, Richard Bums, armed themselves with trusty Andrea Ferraras, and at the head of a courageous body of countrymen attached the tinklers, and drove them quite out of the village. One of them, however, determined on revenge, and, running off in the direction of Skirling Mill, was overheard threatening, with the bitterest imprecations, that the whole of the buildings would be immediately in flames. Several persons, on hearing this threat, followed him with all speed, to prevent him from executing his design; but what was their surprise, on reaching the court in front of the house, to find the fellow stretched on his back, and a man above him holding his throat with a grasp which, in a short time, must have put an end to his existence. This man’s name was John M‘Ivor. He was a native of the (north countrie,’ and had been out in ‘the fyfteen.’ Leaving his native mountains, he ca^ne to the low country, and employed himself as a hawker, and that morning had come to the mill after the male portion of the family had gone to the fair. Being fatigued with a long morning’s journey, he had sat down to rest himself in the barn before proceeding to the fair, and had fallen asleep, when he was awoke by the screams of the terrified females, and, rushing out, knocked the intended incendiary down, and held him fastened to the ground till competent assistance ^arrived. Many years afterwards, the gudemap of the mill had occasion to make a journey some distance from home. In a solitary part of the road he saw an encampment of tinkers, which he could not avoid passing. Revenge was a peculiar characteristic of these vagabonds.. The gude-man, at the sight of them, in a place far remote from any assistance, felt a sudden tremor creep over him ; but he resolved to show, no signs of fear, and therefore, faced them boldly. While engaged in conversation with them,, one of them brought forth a sword and said, ‘ Gude-man, what think ye o’ that swurd? Is it as lang and sharp as the ane ye used at Skirling Fair?’ To these questions the gudeman made a jocular reply. No violence, however, was offered him, and he was allowed to wend his way home in safety. The sword used by Mr Brown, on the occasion of clearing the fair, is still preserved by Mr Johnston’s family.

The family of gipsies that had the most intimate connection with the Biggar district, were the Bullies. The chief of this clan, towards the close of the seventeenth century, was William Baillie, who professed to be a descendant of tbe family of Lamington, and assumed an air of importance accordingly. He travelled constantly about the Upper Ward, and was sure to be present at all the fairs in this extensive district. He was a bold and successful marauder, and derived his living almost wholly from plunder. The dairy, the hen-roost, the meal^ark, the mountain, and the river, were all laid under contribution, to supply the wants of himsqlf and his dependants. Many anecdotes were wont to be told of his exploits, as a thief and pickpocket, round the hearths of the Upper Ward, but these are .now nearly all forgotten. We give the following one:—At an old fair of Biggar, which is held in November, the clan of the Baillies had been, singularly unsuccessful ; and the sun had sunk behind the lofty mountain of Tintock, and the gloamin’ was throwing its dusky shades over .the noisy assemblage which was still congregated around the Cross-knowe, and yet scarcely an article of any value had been captured. It was the practice of these marauders to fix upon some house or place, at which one of their number was stationed, to receive the booty from the hands of those by whom it had been purloined. On this occasion, a room for this purpose had been taken in an old house which was burnt a number of years ago; and here several of the gang assembled, and lamented their want of success, cursed the vigilance of the town officer and his assistants, and projected schemes for future attempts. Will, during these discussions, happening to observe a rustic pass with a large plaiden web on his shoulder, exclaimed, i I’ll wad ony o’ ye a pint o’ Lucky Vallance’s best usquebae, that ere ten minutes that web will be in my possession.’ The bet was taken; and Will, having provided himself with a darning-needle and thread, followed hastily after the man, who was proceeding up the town. The darkness and noise which prevailed, enabled Will, unperceived, to stitch a comer of the web, that hung at some distance from the man’s back, to the lappel of his own coat. He then tripped the man, and seizing the web, placed it on his own shoulder. The man, on regaining his feet, grasped at the web, and demanded it as his. 'Na, na,’ quoth Will, this is no your web. Some o’ the tinklers maun hae run aff wi’ the ane that ye had; and really, gudeman, ye ought to mak your gear mair sicker when there are sae mony o’ thae thievish fellows in the fair. See, man, how I hae secured mine (showing him the web stitched to his coat; and had ye followed the same plan, ye might hae defied Will Bailie and a’ his gang to tak yours awa without your kennin.’ On saying this, Will walked coolly off, leaving the poor man overwhelmed with grief and amazement at the loss of his web.

William Baillie’s wife, Mary Youston, was also a very remarkable character. In height she was nearly six feet, her eyes were dark and penetrating, her face was much marked with the small-pox, and her appearance was fierce and commanding. She was even more dreaded than her husband, as she was more audacious and unscrupulous. Few persons cared to give her offence, because, if they did, they were sure in the end to suffer some loss or injury. It was a common saying, in reference to anything that was done to prevent further injury, ‘It is like Mary Youston’s awmous, gien mair for her ill than for her guid.1 She was, like her husband, a dexterous thief and pickpocket, so that it was a common observation regarding her, ‘Whip her up Biggar Street, on a market day, wi* a man at ilka oxter, and she wad steal a purse ere they got her to the head o’t.’ Many stories of her sayings and exploits were, at one time, prevalent among the peasantry of the Biggar district. We give a specimen or two. One day Mary arrived at the village of Thankerton, with several juveniles, who were usually transported from place to place in the panniers of the cuddies. She commenced hawking her commodities amongst the inhabitants, when some of the children of the village came into the house where she was, and cried, ‘Mary, your weans are stealing the eggs out of the hen’s nest.’ Mary quite exultingly exclaimed, (The Lord be praised 'I am glad to hear that the bairns are beginning to show some signs o’ thrift.'

One harvest morning during her peregrinations, she called, with a number of followers in her train, at a farm-house a few miles from Biggar. The family were all employed, at some distance from the house, in cutting down the grain, except the gudewife, who had just dished the parritch for the morning’s meal. Mary declared, that as she and her attendants were excessively hungry, they must have a portion of the parritch. It was in vain that the gudewife remonstrated, and declared that the quantity prepared was just sufficient for the shearers. A pock on one of the cuddies was opened, a number of ram-hom spoons were procured, and the contents of the bickers disappeared in a twinkling. Mary, in her rounds afterwards, never failed to call at the farm-house, to solicit an awmous, or the sale of some of her wares. The gudewife invariably told her to go about her business, as she wished to have nothing further to do with her. Mary’s constant rejoinder was, ‘Lord sauf us! gudewife, wull ye never forget the drap parritch.

Mary, it is understood, did not originally belong to a gipsy tribe, but was the daughter of honest and respectable parents. William Baillie, in his wanderings, having accidentally met her, ‘cust his glamour ower her,’ and she immediately forsook her home, and fol lowed the commanding and fascinating gipsy. In her subsequent career, she showed herself so apt a scholar in the arts of gipsy life, that she greatly surpassed all her compeers, and commanded obedience wherever she went. Though her husband stood greatly in awe of her, he does not seem to have preserved strict fidelity to his marriage obligations. In the records of the Presbytery of Biggar, it is stated, that at a meeting of that reverend court, on tbe 9th of June 1695, Margaret Shanklaw being summoned, and called, compeared, and judicially acknowledged the crime of adultery with William Baillie the gipsy; and being seriously exhorted by the moderator (the Rev. John Buchanan of Covington) to mourn over her sins, she was referred back to the Session of Lamington, to satisfy, according to the Acts of the General Assembly of the Church. William Baillie, we are told, was killed at Biggarshiels, in a fray regarding the distribution of some plunder that had been obtained at a neighbouring fair; and Mary died at an advanced age, in an old kiln at Harelaw, and was interred in the Churchyard of Carstairs. They had at least two children, Mathew and Nannie. Nannie married one of the Keiths, and continued to pursue the same wandering life as her forefathers.

Mathew, who succeeded to the authority and dignity of the chief of the clan, travelled over the country and practised the same arts as his predecessors. He contrived, somehow, to amass a little wealth, and affected to occupy a higher standing than his forefathers. At fairs, and other public occasions, he made a considerable display with his broad-tailed coat, his wrist-frills, and silver shoe-buckles. He fixed his headquarters at Biggar. He erected a house in Westraw, which is still standing; and which, above one of the doors, has his initials, M. B., and the date 1752, along with the letters M. . C. I., and a mason’s mark. His name appears several times in the records of the Baron Bailie’s Court during the year 1765, in connection with the right which, in virtue of his feu, he acquired to the Westraw Moss. He was twice married, and had a family by both wives. By his first wife he had Jock, Jamie, Mary, and another daughter, who was married to one of the Morrisons. By his second wife, whom he brought from the north, and whose name was Margaret Campbell, he had Mathew, Leezy, and Bachel. Mathew appears, from the Session records of the parish of Biggar, to have been bom in the house at Westraw, on the 4th of September 1754.

Mathew’s children, for the most part, connected themselves in marriage with the gangrel tribes who, at the time, frequented the Upper Ward. They sold the house in Westraw to Mr George Cuthbertson, and it is now the property of Adam Wyld, Esq. The most noted of their immediate descendants was Peter, or, as he was most commonly called, Pate Baillie, who for many years settled about Loanhead and Bonnyrigg in Mid Lothian, and who excelled as a player on the fiddle. He certainly was gifted with musical abilities of a very high order. Had these received due cultivation, and had he not possessed the wayward and obstinate disposition and the unsettled habits of the gipsy, he might have taken a high place as a musical performer. He devoted his attention almost exclusively to Scotch music; and certainly the variations which he improvised, when playing some of our best tunes, were highly original and striking. His rude and offensive manners prevented him from receiving that patronage from the higher classes of society which he would, no doubt, have otherwise obtained; but he was often employed by the country people at penny weddings, kirns, and other merry 'splores,' when he was largely plied with intoxicating drink, and it was alleged that he played as well when he was drunk as when he was sober. He died some twenty years ago, and was interred, we believe, in the Churchyard of Lass wade.

One or two of the other most noted wanderers that frequented the Biggar district during the present century, may be very briefly noticed. John Thomson, commonly called 4 Langleathers,’ was a person of great strength, and carried a budget of old iron implements and other articles on his back that few persons could lift. He was decidedly fatuous; and the report was, that he had received such a shock on witnessing the destruction of the city of Lisbon by an earthquake in 1755, that he never again entirely recovered his reason. He used, in his contemplative moods, often to mutter to himself, ‘I saw a city sunk.' He was inoffensive, except when roused by the annoyances and tricks of mischievous boys. He then became exceedingly noisy and outrageous; and being a dexterous ‘hencher’ of stones, it required great nimbleness on the part of his youthful tormentors to avoid his aim. When he happened to be at Biggar on Sabbath, the boys and he were sure to come into collision, and then a great deal of noise and disturbance was the consequence. He had rather a fondness for these encounters, and was not easily prevailed on to give them up. ‘When any person remonstrated with him, and said that he ought to pay more respect to the Sabbath, ‘ Weel, weel, then,’ said Jock, ‘ Til aff to Crawfordjohn; there’s nae Sabbath there.’

Daft Francie was another well-known wanderer. He was remarkably quiet and inoffensive. His thoughts ran almost constantly on the subject of religion, and he considered that he had a special vocation in the exercise of prayer. When he entered a house, with the inmates of which he was on familiar terms, he generally proposed, let the season or the hour be what it might, to engage in devotional exercises. At certain times, that was by no means convenient; and the consequence was, that the poor fool was often left praying alone. He attended religious worship in the nearest church every Sabbath day ; and at every tent-preaching for twenty miles round he was sure to be present, especially on sacramental occasions. His grimaces, mutterings, and ludicrously devout appearance, often provoked laughter in the church, and disturbed the equanimity of the preacher. A clergyman, on proceeding to his church one Sabbath morning, observed Francie stationed by the wall of the church, waiting till the ringing in of the last bell. He had been often annoyed by the fool’s extravagant conduct in the church; so he went up to him and said, (Now, Francie, you must promise to sit quietly on your seat; you must make no faces, and speak not a single word.’ ‘I’ll doo your biddin’,’ said Francie. The minister then directed his steps to the church door, when Francie hastened after him, and cried out, among the assembled loungers outside the church, ‘ Minister, I want to speak wi’ ye.’

'What is it?’ said his reverence. 'Wull a body no be allooed to host?’ inquired Francie, with a tone of such solemn gravity and earnest simplicity that the bystanders could not refrain from a shout of laughter. One Sabbath afternoon, the inhabitants of a parish adjacent to Biggar, in returning from church, met Francie, who had been hearing one of his favourite preachers elsewhere. 4 Francie,’ said one of them, 4 ye war ill away frae ower kirk the day. The minister, I’m shure, wad hae pleased ye, for the Gospel cam spewin’ oot o’ his mouth just like a flood.’ ‘It must hae been an unco effort,’ said Francie, 'for it’s nae easy wark spewin’ wi’ a toom stomach.’ Francie very often engaged in the work of public exhortation himself. When he worshipped in a parish church, his practice was to slip out immediately on the conclusion of the service, and, mounting a through-stone in the churchyard, to hold forth with great vehemence and volubility to all who would stop and hear him. On one occasion, being very much dissatisfied with the services of the Rev. Thomas Gray of Broughton, he commenced to preach in the churchyard with such vehement shouts and vociferation, that two horses, who were grazing in a neighbouring field, were alarmed, and, pulling up their tethers, ran off at full speed, and did not halt till they had reached the top of an adjoining eminence, called Jockie’s Brae. This poor wanderer came to an untimely end. He was travelling one very dark night in the parish of Eddleston, and, having lost his way, he stumbled into a sheet of water called the West Loch, and was drowned.

One of the most remarkable mendicants that ever travelled the Upper Ward, or drank a glass of usquebae at a Biggar alehouse, was James Abemethy. Of his history very little is now known. He was bom in Edinburgh March 1722, and was bred a corkcutter. In his eighteenth year he was inspired with a warlike spirit, and, being no^ less than six feet four inches in height, he enlisted into the King’s Life Guards. The two incidents of his military career to which he most frequently referred, was his presence at the disastrous battle of Fontenoy, fought in 1743, and his being one of the detachment of picked men who, in the year 1761, formed the escort to the Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg Strelitz, when she arrived from the Continent to marry George HI. He received his discharge about the year 1764, and returned to his native place, where he obtained employment at Craigleith Quarry. He here met with an accident which rendered him lame for life; and after this he betook himself to the profession of begging, which he continued to prosecute for the long period of fifty years. His appearance was striking. His stature, as already stated, was considerably above the usual size; his aspect was fierce and commanding, and manifested no symptom of the usual humility and condescension of a mendicant; and a curious old hat, with the brim cocked up, which he invariably wore, gave him a semimilitary air. Several wallets, including his meal-pocks, hung round him, and were partially concealed by a plaid; and the staff, or ‘kent,’ by which he supported himself in the course of his peregrinations, was fully two yards in length, and of corresponding strength. No person in the Biggar district carried so formidable a kent, with exception, perhaps, of James Forrest, who dwelt at Langlees, and was famed for his love of ‘ parritch and his strong antipathy to potatoes, whiqh he constantly denounced as ‘ vile roots, unfit to be men’s meat.' The accompanying engraving, which is taken from a print published during the mendicant’s life by a bookseller in Paisley, gives a tolerably fair representation of his usual appearance when he was greatly advanced in years, and shortly before he abandoned for ever the scene of his wanderings. The print was taken from a sketch made by a young man, son of Mr Robert Hamilton, factor to the Earl of Hynd-ford, at Mauldslie Castle. James entertained a strong aversion to the idea of having his likeness taken, and resisted all efforts to induce him to sit for this purpose. This object, in the end, was gained by stratagem. In the course of his rounds, he came to the locality where Mr Hamilton resided, and, on calling at one of his favourite houses, he was invited into the kitchen, and some bread and cheese and a stoup of whisky set before him. Young Hamilton was concealed in a closet, which commanded a view of the place where the mendicant sat, and thus was enabled to take a correct sketch of his countenance and general appearance.

Abemethy was a contemporary of Andrew Gemmells, and in many respects was a counterpart of that remarkable mendicant, who has been immortalized by Sir Walter Scott under the name of Edie Ochiltree. He went regular rounds, and called only at certain houses for an alms. He considered that he had a prescriptive right to be served at these houses, and would seldom take a refusal. On one occasion, he called at one of his farm-houses near Biggar, and demanded his usual dole. The gudewife, being busily engaged in churning, told him that she had not time to attend to his wants just now, but promised to give him a double gratuity the next time he came round. Abemethy was by no means disposed to give credit, and therefore setting out, and, making a complete circuit of the farm premises, returned and demanded his promised supply. The gudewife was hardly disposed to admit that he had gone his usual round; but amused at the artifice resorted to, and seeing there was no use in attempting to stave off the claims of the mendicant a second time, she, with the best grace she could, gave him a double ‘ gowpen’ of oat-meal. After he commenced his wanderings, he would seldom engage in any manual labour, but regarded begging as his sole vocation. One day he arrived at a farm-house in Peeblesshire, where the cattle were scant of fodder, and a young lad was the only person left to thrash in the barn. The farmer thought he would tempt Abemethy to give him assistance by offering him a shilling for a day’s thrashing. The mendicant rejected the offer with disdain. 'Why, man,’ said he to the farmer, 'if ye’ll serve me for a day, and carry my meal-pocks, I’ll gie ye half-a-crown for your pains; and Fm shure ye’ll no find it half sae sair wark as your thrashin’.’ Abemethy had great fondness for a glass of good spirits, and sometimes partook of considerable quantities without any apparent injury. One day he entered a grocer’s shop in Biggar, and said to the shopkeeper, 'Tammas, draw me a gill of whisky oot o’ yer best barrel; there’s a good king’s coin to pay for’t; and let me hae a bit parliament cake to taste it wi’.’ The grocer filled the stoup and set it down on the counter; and then turning round to obtain a parliament, Abemethy with singular dexterity lifted the measure, drank off its contents, and placed it on the counter, wholly unobserved. Abemethy appearing in no hurry to taste the liquor, the grocer inquired the cause. 'I’m waitin’ till ye fill the stoup.’ 'Fill the stoup! the stoup is filled already. If it is no fou, I’ll gie ye a gill for naething.’ 'Done,’ said Abemethy, and turning the stoup upside down, showed that it was entirely empty.

The bewildered grocer drew another gill, and set it down. Abemethy, though a beggar, was a man of honour. He explained how the first gill had disappeared, drank the second, and paid for both. On another occasion, he called at a spirit-dealer’s shop at Carnwath, and asked for a gill. The shopman drew the liquor, and asked where was his bottle. 'I’ll shune let ye see that,’ said James; and lifting the stoup, emptied its contents at a single 'waucht,’ and demanded another fill. The astonished publican hesitated to comply. 'I maun hae’t,’ said the sturdy vagrant; 'I’ve got ane for the tae side, I maim hae anither to balance it.’ It was drawn, and immediately swallowed as before. 'Noo,’ said the drouthy gaberlunzie, 'if I had a third for the centre, I wad be a’ richt.’

Abemethy, like his contemporary Andrew Gemmells, often used great familiarity with persons in the higher stations of life, and sometimes even retorted on them with bitter effect. One day, on his way to Hyndford House, he took a near-hand cut through the grounds, and accidentally met with the Earl of Hyndford himself. The Earl, displeased at the trespass, accosted James somewhat angrily, and said, ‘ Get off, ye coward; what are you wanting here ? ’ The mendicant, not at all abashed, replied, am nae greater a cooard than your Lordship.' The Earl, amused at this reply, asked for an explanation. ‘ That can shune be gien,' said James. 'Your Lordship fled frae Dunkirk, and I fled frae Fontenoy. Ye rade, and I ran; wha is the greatest cooard?’ The Earl, pleased with the repartee, gave James a sixpence, and sent him to the house for refreshments; and ever after James received sixpence and plenty of food, as often as he visited Hyndford House. Like most members of the wandering train, he had to maintain a constant warfare with the canine race. On approaching a farm-house, he was usually assailed by all the collies and mastiffs about the place. The mendicant never flinched, but, shouldering his kent, boldly advanced to the attack. If any unwary cur ventured within range, he received such a 'lounder ’ as sent him at once howling to his den. On one occasion, he was passing along the Main Street of Carnwath, and there met a mastiff that was dissatisfied with his appearance, and seemed disposed to offer him battle. James accepted the challenge, and, ascending the steps of the Cross, provoked the dog to come to close quarters. The bruilziement soon attracted a number of spectators, and, among others, the owner of the dog, the Rev. Mr Mark, who dwelt near, and who was well acquainted with the vagrant. 4 James,’ cried he, 'you will surely not hurt my dog.’ ‘ Your doug' ’ said James, 'I’m sorry that he’s yours; for if he had been ony ither body’s, I wad shune hae laid his yaffing for ever.’

Abernethy travelled the country till he had reached his one hundred and third year. By the increasing infirmities of age, he was now unable to walk to any distance, and was generally conveyed from place to place in a cart. He relished this mode of travelling very ill, as he could not get time to sun himself about the dykes, and particularly to visit his favourite ale-houses. Notwithstanding his tippling propensities, he contrived somehow to save a little money; and, in 1825, he relinquished his peripatetic habits, and took up his abode in an institution in Edinburgh, where he stipulated that he should, at least, receive two glasses of whisky daily, and a due modicum of tobacco. It is understood that he did not long survive the close of his wanderings. His favourite toast is said to have been the following :—

'Here’s health to the sick,
Honour to the brave,
Success to the lover,
And freedom to the slave.’

John Robertson was one of the most expert and clever knaves that ever prowled about the Upper Ward. He had received a good education, was well acquainted with Scripture, and excelled as an expert penman. His knowledge of men and manners was extensive and accurate; his conversational powers were of a superior order, and his apprehension was remarkably quick and acute. He usually feigned himself to be deaf and dumb, and then professed to tell fortunes. With his chalk-writing, he made astounding disclosures to the rustic? ranged round the fire on a winter evening. To persons with whom he was intimate, he was wont to give the following explanation of his mode of fortune-telling:—'Such is the propensity of human nature to pry into futurity, that I am very successful as a spaeman; and as I take no money, I am less apt to be committed as a vagrant. I can hide my tongue in such a 'manner that it cannot be observed; and though I am dumb, I am not deaf: I hear in one house what is going on in another, and can easily make a tolerable history. I first kneel down on the floor, then draw a magic circle with my chalk; next, I write the initials, J. S., which will serve for John Smith, James Sommerville, Joseph Sym, Jacob Simpson, and a thousand more. On seeing the initials, a girl perhaps whispers, “I’ll wager that’s our Johnnie that’s at the sea.” Having found a clue, I draw a ship, and write Mediterranean, or whatever can be elicited from the tattle of the maidens. If, on inspecting the initials, they look grave, or give a hint about death, I draw a coffin; but if the initials do not suit any absent friend of the parties, I make them a sentence, “I say,” and follow it up with a new set of letters till I can fabricate a story.’

It was understood that Robertson had studied at the University of Glasgow, at the time at which it was attended by Campbell the poet, and the late Rev. Hamilton Paul of Broughton. He had afterwards fallen into dissipated and irregular habits, and had served both as a soldier and a sailor. In the end he betook himself to a wandering life, principally in the counties of Lanark, Ayr, Dumfries, and Renfrew; and he calculated that it took him nearly two years to complete his rounds. He contrived to pick up a sufficient amount of food in the houses which he visited to supply his daily wants; and he usually spent the money which was bestowed on him for his fortune-telling, and out of compassion for his pretended deficiencies of hearing and speech, on strong drink, to which, of course, he was much addicted. He had, naturally, a strong constitution; so he was never at a loss for a bed. When he could not obtain the corner of a bam or a byre, he thought nothing of ensconsing himself at the back of a dyke, where he slept as soundly, and with as little apparent harm, as if he had been accommodated in the most elegant and comfortable quarters.

One of the last of the noted Upper Ward tinkers, was Moses Marshall. He did not belong to the gipsy race, but was born at Newton-of-Ayr, where his forefathers had resided for several centuries. He was bred a currier, and, when a young man, listed into the Royal Artillery. After serving with this corps for eighteen years, he deserted in the West Indies. He was afterwards pressed on board a man-of-war; but embraced the earliest opportunity of deserting from this service, which he hated even worse than the Artillery. He then commenced a wandering sort of life, which he continued till within a week or two of his death. He wrought as a tinsmith, and dealt in hardware goods; but as he was addicted to occasional rounds of hard drinking, he often exhausted his whole stock in trade; and it was a matter of some mystery how he contrived to get it replaced In person, he was tall and powerful; and at one period was excessively pugnacious, when under the influence of strong drink. He was engaged in constant broils, and thus became a terror wherever he went; while punishments of various kinds, inflicted on him for his outrages, seemed to be employed in vain. He was often met in personal combat, and would have been more frequently defeated than he was, had his principle on these occasions not been that 'a’s fair in time o’ war.’ One day he encountered a strong fellow at Bathgate, and would have received a sound pommelling, had he not, as a last resort, caught the man’s nose with his teeth, and by a terrible wrench deprived him of this facial appendage, and made him roar out for mercy. On another occasion, he 'took up’ the toll-house at Tarbrax, when a shepherd in the neighbourhood, hearing the noise, came in and attempted to subdue the infuriated Moses. A determined encounter took place; but ere long the herd was glad to relinquish the fray with the loss of a finger. During his latter years, Moses became more pacific in his disposition, or at least in his practice. His declining strength, no doubt, made him less able to use those weapons with which he had achieved victory on many a hard-fought field.

Moses had a great dislike to live in the lodging-houses that are usually to be found in the towns and villages of the district. He earnestly petitioned the proprietors of land within the bounds of his wanderings to allow him a small corner to pitch his encampment; and this request was generally granted. He could, in fact, use a considerable degree of familiarity with the local gentry. A proprietor in the parish of Coulter one day came upon Moses’ encampment, and found him busily engaged in preparing dinner. Among other viands round the fire was an excellent leg of mutton, which he appeared to watch with great care. ‘ Moses,’ said the laird, ‘ you seem to keep a very vigilant eye on the mutton.’ *Muckle need,’ said Moses; 'were I no to do that, it wad very soon disappear.’ He seemed to be apprehensive that some of his followers would lay hands on it before the feast began. ‘ Mr-,’ said Moses, addressing the laird, (as I hae often dined at your expense, I shall be very happy if ye’ll tak a bit chack wi’ me the day, as you’re here at ony rate.’ The laird thanked Moses, but declined the invitation, on the ground that he was previously engaged. After a short illness, Moses died at Coulter, on the 15th of May 1860, in the eighty-sixth year of his age.


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