History of the Gipsies Chapter VII - Border
It would be an unpardonable omission were I to overlook
the descendants of John Faw, "Lord and Earl of Little Egypt," in this
history of the Gipsies in Scotland. But to enter into details relative to
many of the members of this ancient clan, would be merely a repetition of
actions, similar in character to those already related of some of the other
bands in Scotland.
It would appear that the district in which the Faw tribe
commonly travelled, comprehended East Lothian, Berwickshire and
Roxburghshire; and that Northumberland was also part of their walk. I can
find no traces of Gipsies, of that surname, having, in families, traversed
the midland or western parts of the south of Scotland, for nearly the last
seventy years; and almost all the few ancient public documents relative to
this clan seem to imply that they occupied the counties above mentioned.
I am inclined to believe that the Faws and the Baillies,
the two principal Gipsy clans in Scotland, had frequently lived in a state
of hostility with one another. These two tribes quarrelled in the reign of
James V, when they brought their dispute before the king in council;
and from the renewal of the order in council, in the reign of Queen Mary, it
appears their animosities had then existed. In the year 1677, the Faws and
the Shaws, as already noticed, advanced into Tweed-dale, to fight the
Baillies and the Browns, as mentioned by Dr. Pennecuik, in his history of
Tweed-dale. At the present day, the Baillies consider themselves quite
superior in rank to the Faas; and, on the other hand, the Faas and their
friends speak with great bitterness and contempt of the Baillies, calling
.them "a parcel of thieves and vagabonds." [This
long standing feud between the Baillies and the Faas is notorious. (236)
On paying a visit to a family
of English Gipsies in the United States, the head of the family said to me:
"You must really excuse us to-day. It's the Faas and Baillies over again; it
will be all I can do to keep them from coming to blows." The noise inside of
the house was frightful. There had been a " difficulty" between two families
in consequence of some gossip about one of the parties before marriage,
which the families were sifting to the bottom.
The Faas and their partisans,
on reading this work, will not overwell relish the prominence given to the
In Rudditnan's Weekly
Magazine, of the 4th August, 1774, the following notice is taken of this
tribe, which shows the fear which persons of respectability entertained for
them: "The descendants of this Lord of Little Egypt continued to travel
about in Scotland till the beginning of this century, mostly about the
southern Border ; and I am most credibly informed that one, Henry Faa, was
received, and ate at the tables of people in public office, and that men of
considerable fortune paid him a gratuity, called blackmail, in order to have
their goods protected from thieves."
One of the Faas rose to great
eminence in the mercantile world, and was connected by marriage with Scotch
families of the rank of baronets. This family was the highly respectable one
of Fall, now extinct, general merchants in Dunbar, who were originally
members of the Gipsy family at Yetholm. So far back us about the year 1670,
one of the baillies of Dunbar was of the surname of Faa, spelled exactly as
the Gipsy name, as appears by the Rev. J. Blackadder's Memoirs. On the 18th
of May, 1734, Captain James Fall, of Dunbar, was elected member of
parliament for the Dunbar district of burghs. On the 28th of May, 1741,
Captain Fall was again elected member for the same burghs ; but, there being
a double return, Sir Hew Dalrymple ousted him. The family of Fall gave
Dunbar provosts and baillies, and ruled the political interests of that
burgh for many years. "When hearty over their cups, they often mentioned
their origin ; and, to perpetuate the memory of their descent from the
family of Faa, at Yetholm, the late Mrs. Fall, of Dunbar, whose husband was
provost of the town, had the whole family, with their asses, &c, &c, as they
took their departure from Yetholm, represented, by herself, in needle-work,
or tapestry. ["He will be pleased to learn that there is, in the house of
Provost Whyte, of Kirkaldy, a piece of needle-work, or tapestry, on which is
depicted, by the hands of Mrs. Fall, the principal events in the life of the
founder of her amily, from the day the Gipsy child came to Dunbar in its
mother's creel, until the same Gipsy child had become, by its own honourable
exertions, the head of the first mercantile establishment then existing in
Scotland." [This seems to be an extract from a letter. The authority has
been omitted in the MS—En.]] The particulars, or details, of this family
group were derived from her husband, who had the facts from his grandfather,
one of the individuals represented in the piece. A respectable aged
gentleman, yet living in Dunbar, has often seen this family piece of the
Falls, and had its details pointed out and explained to him by Mrs. Fall
The mercantile house of the Falls, at Dunbar, was so
extensive as to have many connexions in the ports of the Baltic and
Mediterranean, and supported so high a character that several of the best
families in Scotland sent their sons to it, to be initiated in the mysteries
of commerce. Amongst others who were bred merchants by the Falls, were Sir
Francis Kinloch, and two sons of Sir John Anstruther. It appears that the
Falls were most honourable men in all their transactions; and that the cause
of the ruin of their eminent firm was the failure of some considerable
mercantile houses who were deeply indebted to them.
One of the Misses Fall was married to Sir John Anstruther,
of Elie, baronet. It appears that this alliance with the family of Fall was
not relished by the friends of Sir John, of his own class in society. The
consequence was that Lady Anstruther was not so much respected, and did not
receive those attentions from her neighbours, to which her
rank, as Sir John's wife, gave her a title. The tradition of her Gipsy
descent was fresh in the memories of those in the vicinity of her residence
; and she frequently got no other name, or title, when spoken of, than
"Jenny Faa." She was, however, a woman of great spirit and activity. Her
likeness was taken, and, I believe, is still preserved by the family of
]Speaking of a gentleman in hia autobiography, Dr.
Alexander Carlyle, in 1744, says: "He had the celebrated Jenny Fall,
(afterwards Lady Anstruther,) a coquette and a beauty, for months together
in the house with him and as his person and manners drew the marked
attention of the ladies, he derived considerable improvement from the
constant intercourse with this young lady and her companions, for she was
lively and clever, no leas than beautiful."—Ed.]
["There are," says a correspondent, "several gentlemen in
this town and neighbourhood who have heard declare, that the Falls
themselves had often acknowledged to them their descent from the Gipsy Faas.
I am told by an old Berwickshire gentleman, who had the account from his
mother, that the Falls, on their departure from Yetholm, stopped some little
time at a country village-hamlet called Hume, in Berwickshire, where they
had some female relations; and after a few days spent there, they set out
for Dunbar, taking their female friends along with them.
"Latterly, the late Robert and Charles Fall, who were
cousins, kept separate establishments. Robert possessed the dwelling-house
now occupied by Lord Lauderdale; and Charles possessed one at the shore,
(now the custom-house.) built on the spot where some old houses formerly
stood, and was called ' Lousy Law.' It was in these old cot-houses that the
Falls first took np their residence on coming to Dunbar. It appears the
mother of the first of the Falls who came to Dunbar was a woman of mnch
spirit and great activity. Old William Faa^ the chief of the Gipsies at
Yetholm, when in Lothian, never failed to visit the Dunbar family, as his
relations. The Dunbar Falls were connected, by marrisge, with the
Anstruthers, Footies, of Balgonie, Coutts, now bankers, and with Collector
Whyte, of the customs, at Kirkaldy, and Collector Melville, of the customs,
At a contested election, for a member of parliament, for
the burghs in the east of Fife, in which Sir John was a candidate, his
opponents thought to annoy him, and his active lady, by reference to the
Gipsy origin of the latter. Whenever Lady Anstruther entered the burghs,
during the canvass, the streets resounded with the old song of the "Gipsy
Laddie." A female stepped up to her ladyship, and expressed her sorrow at
the rabble singing the song in her presence. " Oh, never mind them," replied
Lady Anstruther; "they are only repeating what they hear from their
parents." [I beg the reader to take particular
notice of the circumstance. A Scotch rabble is the lowest and meanest of all
rabbles, at such work as this. In their eyes, it was unpardonable that Lady
Anatruther, or "Jenny Faa," ahould have been of Gipsy origin; but it would
have horrified them, had they known the meaning of her ladyahip "being of
Gipsy origin," and that she doubtless "chattered Gipsy," like others of her
tribe.—Ed.] The following is the song alluded to:
JOHNNY FAA, THE GIPSY LADDIE.
The Gipsies came to my Lord Cassilis' yett,
And oh ! but they sang bonnie;
They sang sae sweet, and sae complete,
That down came our fair ladie.
She came tripping down the stair,
And all her maids before her;
As soon as they saw her weel-far'd face
They coost their glamourie owre her.
She gave to them the good wheat bread,
And they gave her the ginger;
But she gave them a far better thing,
The gold ring off her finger.
"Will ye go wi' me, my hinny and my heart,
Will ye go wi' me, my dearie;
And I will swear, by the staff of my spear,
That thy lord shall nae mair come near thee."
"Gar take from me my silk manteel,
And bring to me a plaidie;
For I will travel the world owre,
Along with the Gipsy laddie.
"I could sail the seas with my Jockie Faa,
I could sail the seas with my dearie;
I could sail the seas with my Jockie Faa,
And with pleasure could drown with my dearie."
They wandered high, they wandered low,
They wandered late and early,
Until they came to an old tenant's barn,
And by this time she was weary.
"Last night I lay in a weel-made bed,
And my noble lord beside me;
And now I must lie in an old tenant's barn,
And the black crew glowring owre me."
"O hold your tongue, my hinny and my heart,
O hold your tongue, my dearie;
For I will swear by the moon and the stars
That thy lord shall nae mair come near thee."
They wandered high, they wandered low,
They wandered late and early,
Until they came to that wan water,
And by this time she was weary.
"Aften I have rode that wan water,
And my Lord Cassilis beside me;
And now I must set in my white feet, and wade,
And carry the Gipsy laddie."
By-and-by came home this noble lord,
And asking for his ladie;
The one did cry, the other did reply,
"She is gone with the Gipsy laddie."
"Go, saddle me tlie black," he says,
"The brown rides never so speedie;
And I will neither eat nor drink
Till I bring home my ladie."
He wandered high, he wandered low,
He wandered late and early,
Until he came to that wan water,
And there he spied his ladie.
"O wilt thou go home, my hinny and my heart,
O wilt thou go home, my dearie;
And I will close thee in a close room
Where no man shall come near thee.''
"I will not go home, my hinny and heart,
I will not come, my dearie;
If I have brewn good beer, I will drink of the same,
And my lord shall nae mair come near me.
"But I will swear by the moon and the stars,
And the sun that shines sae clearly,
That I am as free of the Gipsy gang
As the hour my mother did bear me.
They were fifteen valiant men,
Black, but very bonny,
And they all lost their lives for one,
The Earl of Cassilis' ladie.
Tradition states that John Faa, the leader of a band of
Gipsies, seizing the opportunity of the Earl of Cassilis' absence, on a
deputation to the Assembly of divines at Westminster, in 1643, to ratify the
solemn league and covenant, carried off the lady. The Earl was considered a
sullen and ill-tempered man, and perhaps not a very agreeable companion to
Before proceeding to give an account of the modern
Gipsies on the Scottish Border, I shall transcribe an interesting note which
Sir Walter Scott gave to the public, in explaining the origin of that
singular character Meg Merrilies, in the novel Guy Mannering. The
illustrious author kindly offered me the "scraps" which he had already given
to Blackwood's Magazine, to incorporate them, if I chose, in my history of
the Gipsies ; but I prefer giving them in his own words.
" My father," says Sir Walter, "remembered Jean Gordon of
Yetholm, who had a great sway among her tribe. She was quite a Meg Merrilies,
and possessed the savage virtue of fidelity in the same perfection. Having
been hospitably received at the farm-house of Lochside, near Yetholm, she
had carefully abstained from committing any depredations on the farmer's
property. But her sons, (nine in number,) had not, it seems, the same
delicacy, and stole a brood-sow from tlieir kind entertainer. Jean was so
much mortified at this ungrateful conduct, and so much ashamed of it, that
she absented herself from Lochside for several years. At length, in
consequence of some temporary pecuniary necessity, the good-man of Lochside
was obliged to go to Newcastle, to get some money to pay his rent. Returning
through the mountains of Cheviot, he was benighted, and lost his way. A
light, glimmering through the window of a large waste-barn, which had
survived the farm-house to whieh it had once belonged, guided him to a place
of shelter; and when he knocked at the door, it was opened by Jean Gordon.
Her very remarkable figure, for she was nearly six feet high, and her
equally remarkable features and dress, rendered it impossible to mistake her
for a moment ; and to meet with such a character, in so solitary a place,
and probably at no great distance from her clan, was a terrible surprise to
the poor man, whose rent, (to lose which would have been ruin to him,) was
about his person. Jean set up a loud shout of joyful recognition. ' Eh,
sirs! the winsome gude-man of Lochside I Light down, light down; for ye
manna gang farther the night, and a friend's house sae near!' The farmer was
obliged to dismount, and accept of the Gipsy's offer of supper and a bed.
There was plenty of meat in the barn, however it might be come by, and
preparations were going on for a plentiful supper, which the farmer, to the
great increase of his anxiety, observed was calculated for ten or twelve
guests of the same description, no doubt, with his landlady. Jean left him
in no doubt on the subject. She brought up the story of the stolen sow, and
noticed how much pain and vexation it had given her. Like other
philosophers, she remarked that the world grows worse daily, and, like other
parents, that the bairns got out of her guiding, and neglected the old Gipsy
regulations which commanded them to respect, in their depredations, the
property of their benefactors. The end of all this was an enquiry what money
the farmer had about him, and an urgent request that he would make her his
purse-keeper, as the bairns, as she called her sons, would be soon home. The
poor farmer made a virtue of necessity, told his story, and surrendered his
gold to Jean's custody. She made him put a few shillings in his pocket;
observing it would excite suspicion should he be found travelling altogether
penniless. This arrangement being made, the farmer lay down on a sort of
shalce-doton, as the Scotch call it, upon some straw; but, as is easily
to be believed, slept not. About midnight the gang returned with various
articles of plunder, and talked over their exploits, in language which made
the farmer tremble. They were not long in discovering their guest, and
demanded of Jean whom she had got there. ' E'en the winsome gude-man of
Lochside, poor boy,' replied Jean ; ' he's been at Newcastle, seeking siller
to pay his rent, honest man, but deil-be-licket he's been able to gather in
; and sae he's gaun e'en hame wi' a toom purse and a sair heart.' 'That may
be, Jean,' replied one of the banditti, but we maun ripe his pouches a bit,
and see if it be true or no.' Jean set up her throat in exclamation against
this breach of hospitality, but without producing any change of their
determination. The farmer soon heard their stifled whispers and light steps
by his bed-side, and understood they were rummaging his clothes. When they
found the money which the prudence of Jean Gordon had made him retain, they
held a consultation if they should take it or not; but the smallness of the
booty, and the vehemence of Jean's remonstrances, determined them on the
negative. They caroused, and went to rest. So soon as day dawned, Jean
roused her guest, produced his horse, which she had accommodated behind the
hallcm, and guided him for some miles, till he was on the high-road
to Lochside. She then restored his whole property, nor could his earnest
entreaties prevail on her to accept so much as a single guinea.
"I have heard the old people at Jedburgh say that all
Jean's sons were condemned to die there on the same day. It is said the jury
were equally divided, but that a friend of justice, who had slept during the
whole discussion, waked suddenly, and gave his vote for condemnation, in the
emphatic words: 'Hang them a'.' Jean was present, and only said, 'The Lord
help the innocent in a day like this.'
Her own death was accompanied with circumstances of
brutal outrage, of which poor Jean was, in many respects, wholly
undeserving. Jean had, among other demerits, or merits, as you may choose to
rank it, that of being a staunch Jacobite. She chanced to be at Carlisle,
upon a fair or market day, soon after the year 1746, where she gave vent to
her political partiality, to the great offence of the rabble in that city.
Being zealous in their loyalty when there was no danger, in proportion to
the tameness with which they had surrendered to the Highlanders, in 1745,
they inflicted upon poor Jean Gordon no slighter penalty than that of
ducking her to death in the Eden. It was an operation of some time, for Jean
was a stout woman, and, struggling with her murderers, often got her head
above water; and, while she had voice left, continued to exclaim, at such
intervals, ' Charlie yet 1 Charlie yet!'
"When a child, and among the scenes which she frequented,
I have often heard these stories, and cried piteously for poor Jean Gordon.
"Before quitting the Border Gipsies, I may mention that
my grandfather, riding over Charter-house moor, then a very extensive
common, fell suddenly among a large band of them, who were carousing in a
hollow of the moor, surrounded by bushes. They instantly seized on his
horse's bridle, with many shouts of welcome, exclaiming, (for he was well
known to most of them,) that they had often dined at his expense, and he
must now stay, and share their good-cheer. My ancestor was a little alarmed,
for, like the good man of Lochside, he had more money about his person than
he cared to venture with into such society. However, being a bold, lively
man, he entered info the humour of the thing, and sate down to the feast,
which consisted of all the different varieties of game, poultry, pigs, and
so forth, that could be collected by a wide and indiscriminate system of
plunder. The feast was a very merry one, but my relative got a hint, from
some of the elder Gipsies, to retire just when ' The mirth and fun grew fast
and furious;' and, mounting his horse, accordingly, he took French leave of
his entertainers, but without experiencing the least breach of hospitality.
I believe Jean Gordon was at this festival.
"The principal settlements of the Gipsies, in my time,
have been the two villages of Easter and "Wester Gordon, and what is called
Making good the proverb odd,
Near the church and for from God."
In giving an account of the modern Gipsies on the Scot
tish Border, I shall transcribe, at full length, the faithful and
interesting report of Baillie Smith, of Kelso, which was published in
Hoyland's "Historical Survey of the Gipsies."
"A considerable time," says Mr. Smith, "having elapsed
since I had an opportunity or occasion to attend to the situation of the
colony ot Gipsies in our neighbourhood, I was obliged to delay my answer to
your enquiries, until I could obtain more information respecting their
"The great bar to the benevolent intentions of improving
their situation, will be the impossibility to convince them that there
either is, or can be, a mode of life preferable, or even equal, to their
"A strong spirit of independence, or what they would
distinguish by the name of liberty, runs through the whole tribe. It is, no
doubt, a very licentious liberty, but entirely to their taste. Some kind of
honour peculiar to themselves seems to prevail in their community. They
reckon it a disgrace to steal near their homes, or even at a distance, if
detected. I must always except that petty theft of feeding their sheltiesand asses, on the farmer's grass and corn, which they will do, whether
at home or abroad.
"When avowedly trusted, even in money matters, they never
deceived me, nor forfeited their promise. I am sorry to say, however, that
when checked in their licentious appropriations, &c, they are very
much addicted both to threaten and to execute revenge.
"Having so far premised with respect to their general
conduct and character, I shall proceed to answer, as far as I am able, the
four queries subjoined to the circular which you sent me ; and then subjoin,
in notes, some instances of their conduct in particular cases, which may
perhaps elucidate their general disposition and character.
"Query 1st. What number of Gipsies in the county?
"Answer. I know of none except the colony of Yetholm,
and one family who lately removed from that place to Kelso. Yetholm consists
of two towns, or large villages, called Town-Yetholm and Kirk-Yetholm. The
first is in the estate of Mr. Wauchope, of Niddry; the latter in that of the
Marquis of Tweed-dale. The number of the Gipsy colony at present in Kirk-Yetholm
amounts to, at least, 109 men, women and children ; and perhaps two or three
may have escaped notice. They marry early in life ; in general have many
children ; and their number seems to be increasing.
"Query 2d. In what do the men and women mostly
"Answer. I have known the colony between forty and
fifty years. At my first remembrance of them, they were called the
Tinlders (Tinkers) of Yetliolm, from the males being chiefly then
employed in mending pots and other culinary utensils, especially in their
peregrinations through the hilly and less frequented parts of the country.
Sometimes they were called Homers, from their occupation in making
and selling horn-spoons, called cutties. Now, their common
appellation is that of Muggers, or, what pleases them better,
Potters. They purchase, at a cheap rate, the cast or faulty articles
from the different manufacturers of earthenware, which they carry for sale
all over the country; consisting of groups of six, ten, and sometimes twelve
or fourteen persons, male and female, young and old, provided with a horse
and cart, to transport the pottery, besides shelties and asses, to carry the
youngest of the children, and such baggage as they find necessary. A few of
the colony also employ themselves, occasionally, in making besoms,
foot-basses, &c, from heath, broom, and bent, and sell them at Kelso and the
neighbouring towns. After all, their employment can be considered little
better than an apology for idleness and vagrancy. I do not see that the
women are otherwise employed than attending the young children, and
assisting to sell the pottery when carried through the country.
"They are, in general, great adepts in hunting, shooting
and fishing; in which last they use the net and spear, as well as the rod;
and often supply themselves with a hearty meal by their dexterity. They have
no notion of being limited in their field sports, either in time, place, or
mode of destruction. In the country, they sleep in barns and byres, or other
out-houses; and when they cannot find that accommodation, they take the
canvas covering from the pottery cart and squat below it, like a covey of
partridges in the snow.
"Query 3d. Have they any settled abode in winter,
"Answer. Their residence, with the exception of a
single family, who, some years ago, came to Kelso, is at Kirk-Yetholm, and
chiefly confined to one row of houses, or street, of that town, which goes
by the name of the Tinkler Bow. Most of them have leases of their
possessions, granted for a term of nineteen times nineteen years, for
payment of a small sum yearly, something of the nature of a quit-rent. There
is no tradition in the neighbourhood concerning the time when the Gipsies
first took up their residence at that place, nor whence they came. Most of
their leases, I believe, were granted by the family of the Bennets, of
Grubit, the last of whom was Sir David Bennet, who died about sixty years
ago. The late Mr. Nisbet, of Dirlton, then succeeded to the estate,
comprehending the baronies of Kirk-Yetholm and Grubit. He died about the
year 1783 ; and long after, the property was acquired by the late Lord
Tweed-dale's trustees. During the latter part of the life of the late Mr.
Nisbet, he was less frequently at his estate in Roxburghshire than formerly.
He was a great favourite of the Gipsies, and was in use to call them his
body-guards, and often gave them money, &c.
"On the other hand, both the late and present Mr.
Wauchope were of opinion that the example of these people had a bad effect
upon the morals and industry of the neighbourhood ; and seeing no prospect
of their removal, and as little of their reformation, considered it as a
duty to the public to prevent the evil increasing ; and never would consent
to any of the colony taking up their residence in Town-Yetholra.
"They mostly remain at home during winter, but as soon as
the weather becomes tolerably mild, in spring, most of them, men, women and
children, set out on their peregrinations over the country; and live in a
state of vagrancy, until driven into their habitations by the approach of
"Seeming to pride themselves as a separate tribe, they
very seldom intermarry out of the colony ; and, in rare instances, when that
happens, the Gipsy, whether male or female, by influence and example, always
induces the stranger husband, or wife, to adopt the manners of the colony;
so that no improvement is ever obtained in that way. The progeny of such
alliances have almost universally the tawny complexion, and fine black eyes,
of the Gipsy parent, whether father or mother. So strongly remarkable is the
Gipsy cast of countenance, that even a description of them to a stranger,
who has had no opportunity of formerly seeing them, will enable him to know
them whenever he meets them. Some individuals, but very rarely, separate
from the colony altogether ; and when they do so, early in life, and go to a
distance, such as London, or even Edinburgh, their acquaintances in the
country get favourable accounts of them. A few betake themselves to regular
and constant employments at home, but soon tire, and return to their old way
"When any of them, especially a leader, or man of
influence, dies, they have full meetings, not only of the colony, but of the
Gipsies from a distance ; and those meetings, or late-wakes, are by
no means conducted with sobriety or decency.
"Query 4th. Are any of their children taught to
read, and what portion of them? With any anecdotes respecting their customs
"Answer. Education being obtained at a cheaper
rate, the Gipsies, in general, give their male children as good a one as is
bestowed on those of the labouring people, and farm servants, in the
neighbourhood; such as reading, writing, and the first principles of
arithmetic. They all apply to the clergyman of the parish for baptism to
their children; and a strong, superstitious notion universally prevails with
them, that it is unlucky to have an unchristened child in the house. Only a
very few ever attend divine service, and those as seldom as they can, just
to prevent being refused as sponsors at their children's baptism.
"They are, in general, active and lively, particularly
when engaged in field sports, or in such temporary pursuits as are agreeable
to their habits and dispositions ; but are destitute of the perseverance
necessary for a settled occupation, or even for finishing what a moderate
degree of continued labour would enable them to accomplish in a few weeks.
"I remember that, about 45 years ago, being then
apprenticed to a writer, who was in use to receive the rents and the small
duties of Kirk-Yetholm, he sent me there with a list of names, and a
statement of what was due, recommending me to apply to the landlord of the
public-house, in the village, for any information or assistance which I
"After waiting a long time, and receiving payment from
most of the feuers, or rentalers, I observed to him, that none of the
persons of the names of Paa, Young,Blythe, Pluckie, &c, who stood at the
bottom of the list, for small sums, had come to meet me, according to the
notice given by the baron-officer, and proposed sending to inform them that
they were detaining me, and to request their immediate attendance.
"The landlord, with a grave face, enquired whether my
master had desired me to ask money from those men. I said, not particularly
; but they stood on the list. 'So I see,' said the landlord; 'but had 3'our
master been here himself, he did not dare to ask money from them, either as
rent or feu duty. He knows that it is as good as if it were in his pocket.
They will pay when their own time comes, but do not like to pay at a set
time, with the rest of the barony, and still less to be craved.'
"I accordingly returned without their money, and reported
progress. I found that the landlord was right: my master said, with a smile,
that it was unnecessary to send to them, after the previous notice from the
baron-officer; it was enough if I had received the money, if offered. Their
rent and feu duty was brought to the office in a few weeks. I need scarcely
add that those persons all belonged to the tribe.
"Another instance of their licentious, independent spirit
occurs to me. The family of Niddry always gave a decent annual remuneration
to a baron-baillie, for the purpose of keeping good order within the barony
of Town-Yetholm. The person whom I remember first in possession of that
office was an old man, called Doctor Walker, from his being also the village
surgeon ; and from him I had the following anecdote:
"Between Yetholm and the Border farms, in Northumberland,
there were formerly, as in most Border situations, some uncultivated lands,
called the Plea-lands, or Debatable-lands, the pasturage of which was
generally eaten up by the sorners and vagabonds, on both sides of the
marches. Many years ago, Lord Tankerville and some others of the English
Borderers made their request to Sir David Bennet, and the late Mr. "Wauchope,
of Niddry, that they would accompany them at a riding of the Plea-lands, who
readily complied with their request. They were induced to this, as they
understood that the Gipsies had taken offence, on the supposition that they
might be circumscribed in the pasturage for their shelties and asses, which
they had held a long time, partly by stealth, and partly by violence.
"Both threats and entreaties were employed to keep them
away ; and, at last, Sir David obtained a promise from some of the heads of
the gang, that none of them should show their faces on the occasion. They,
however, got upon the hills, at a little distance, whence they could see
everything that passed. At first they were very quiet. But when they saw the
English court-book spread out, on a cushion, before the clerk, and
apparently him taking in a line of direction, interfering with what they
considered to be their privileged ground, it was with great difficulty that
the most moderate of them could restrain the rest from running down and
taking vengeance, even in sight of their own lord of the manor.
"They only abstained for a short time ; and no sooner had
Sir David and the other gentlemen taken leave of each other, in the most
polite and friendly manner, as Border chiefs were wont to do, since Border
feuds ceased, and had departed to a sufficient distance, than the clan,
armed with bludgeons, pitchforks, and such other hostile weapons as they
could find, rushed down in a body, and before the chiefs on either side had
reached their home, there was neither English tenant, horse, cow nor sheep
left upon the premises.
"Meeting at Kelso, with Mr. Walter Scott, whose
discriminating habits and just observations I had occasion to know, from his
youth, and, at the same time, seeing one of my Yetholm friends in the
horse-market, I said to Mr. Scott, 'Try to get before that man with the long
-drab coat, look at him on your return, and tell me whether you ever saw
him, and what you think of him.' He was as good as to indulge me; and,
rejoining me, he said, without hesitation: 'I never saw the man that I know
of; but he is one of the Gipsies of Yetholm, that you told me of, several
years ago.' I need scarcely say that he was perfectly correct.
"When first I knew anything about the colony, old Will
Faa was king, or leader; and had held the sovereignty for many
years. The descendants of Faa now take the name of Fall, from the Messrs.
Fall, of Dunbar, who, they pride themselves in saying, are of the same stock
and lineage. When old Will Faa was upwards of eighty years of age; he called
on me, at Kelso, on his way to Edinburgh, telling me that he was going to
see the laird, the late Mr. Nisbet, of Dirlton, as he understood that he was
very unwell; and he himself being now old, and not so stout as he had been,
he wished to see him once more before he died. He set out by the nearest
road, which was by no means his common practice. Next market-day, some of
the farmers informed me that they had been in Edinburgh, and seen Will Faa,
upon the bridge, (the south bridge was not then built;) that he was tossing
about his old brown hat, and huzzaing, with great vociferation, that he had
seen the laird before he died. Indeed, Will himself had no time to lose;
for, having set his face homewards, by the way of the sea-coast, to vary his
route, as is the general custom of the gang, he only got the length of
Coldingham, when he was taken ill and died.
"His death being notified to
his friends at Yetholm, they and their acquaintances at Berwick, Spittal,
Homcliff, &c., met to pay the last honours to their old leader. His
obsequies were continued three successive days and nights, and afterwards
repeated at Yetholm, whither he was brought. I cannot say that the funeral
rites were celebrated with decency and sobriety, for that was by no means
the case. This happened in the year 1783, or 1784, and the late Mr. Nisbet
did not long survive." [When Mr. Hoyland commenced making enquiries into the
condition of the Gipsies, he addressed circulars to the sheriffs, for
information. No less than thirteen Scotch aheiiffs reported, "No Gipsies
within the county." A report of this kind was nearly as good as would be
that of a cockney, as to there being no foxes in the country; because, while
riding through it, on the stage, he did not see any. Baillie Smith's report,
although graphic, is superficial. He states that the Gipsies "marry early in
life, and in general have many children;" yet "that their number seems to be
In addition to the above
graphic report of Baillie Smith, I will now give a few details from a MS.,
given to me by Mr. Blackwood, towards the elucidation of the history of the
Gipsies. This MS. bears the initials of A. W., and appears to have been
written by a gentleman who had ample opportunities of observing the manners
of the Border Gipsies.
"I am a native of Yetholm
parish, and a residenter in it, with a little exception, for upwards of
fifty years. I well remember Kirk-Yetholm, when the Faas and Youngs alone
had a footing in it. [The tribe of Young have preserved the following
tradition respecting their first settlement in Yetholm: At a aiege of the
city of Namur, (date unknown,) the laird of Kirk-Yetholm, of the ancient
family of Bennets, of Grubit and Marlfield, in attempting to mount a breach,
at the head of his company, was struck to the ground, and all his followers
killed, or put to flight, except a Gipsy, the ancestor of the Youngs, who
resolutely defended his master till he recovered his feet, and then,
springing past him npon the rampart, seized a flag which he put into his
leader's hand. The besieged were struck with panic—the assailants rushed
again to ths breach—Namur was taken, and Captain Bennet had the glory of the
capture. On returning to Scotland, the laird, out of gratituds to his
faithful follower, settled him and his family, (who had formerly been
travelling tinkers and heckle-makers,) in Kirk-Yetholm; and conferred upon
them, and the Faas, a feu of their cottages, for the apace of nineteen times
nineteen years; which they still hold from the Marquis of Tweed-dale, the
present proprietor of the estate.—Blackwood's Magazine.—Ed.] The Taits came
next, and latterly, at various periods, the Douglasses, Blyths, Montgomerys,
&c. Old William Faa, (with whom I was well acquainted, and saw him married
to his third wife, [On solemn occasions, Will Faa assumed, in his way, all
the stately deportment of sovereignty. He had twenty-four children, and at
each of their christenings he appeared, dressed in his original
wedding-robes. These christenings were celebrated with no small parade.
Twelve young handmaidens were always present, as part of the family retinue,
and for the purpose of waiting on the numerous guests, who assembled to
witness the ceremony, or partake of the subsequent festivities. Besides
Will's Gipsy associates, several of the neighbouring farmers and lairds,
with whom he was on terms of friendly intercourse, (among others, the
Murrays, of Cher-ry-trees,)used to attend these christenings.—Blackwood's
Magazine.—En]) constantly claimed kindred with the Falls of Dunbar ; and
persisted, to the last, that he himself was the male descendant, in a direct
line, from the Earl of Little Egypt. For many years before his death, Mr.
Nisbet of Dirlton, (the then laird of Kirk-Yetholm,) gave him the charge of
his house, at Marlfield, and all its furniture, although he resided six
miles distant from it. The key of the principal door was regularly delivered
to him, at the laird's departure. I remember a sale of wood at Cherry-trees,
belonging to the late Sheriff Murray. William Faa was a purchaser at the
roup, and the sheriff proclaimed aloud to the clerk, that he would be Mr.
Faa's cautioner. All the Tinklers in the village, and even strangers
resorting thither, considered William Faa as the head and leader of the
whole. His corpse was escorted betwixt Coldstream and Yetholm by above three
"He was succeeded by his
eldest son "William, one of the cleverest fellows upon the Border. For
agility of person, and dexterity in every athletic exercise, he had rarely
met with a competitor. He had a younger brother impressed, when almost a
boy. He deserted from his ship, in India ; enlisted as a soldier, and, by
dint of merit, acquired a commission in a regular regiment of foot, and died
a lieutenant, within these thirty years, at London. He was an officer under
Governor Wall, at Goree, when he committed the crime for which he suffered,
twenty years after, in England.
"It was the present William
Faa that the 'Earl of Hell' contended with; not for sovereignty, but to
revenge some ancient animosity. [This is in contradiction to the assertion,
in Blackwood's Magazine, that, on the death of his father, a sort of civil
war broke out among the Yetholm Gipsies; and that the usurper of the regal
office was dispossessed, after a battle, by the subjects who adhered to the
legitimate heir.—Ed.] His lordship lives at New Coldstream, and was the only
person in Berwickshire that durst encounter, in single combat, the renowned
Bully-More. Young fought three successive battles with Faa, and one
desperate engagement with More, midway between Dunse and Coldstream; and was
defeated in all of them. He is a younger son of William Young, of Yetholm,
the cotemporary chieftain of old William Faa. It was still a younger brother
that migrated to Kelso, where he supported a good character till he died.
Charles Young, the eldest brother, is still alive, and chief of the name.
The following anecdote of him will serve to establish his activity.
"Mr. Walker, of Thirkstane,
the only residing heritor in Yetholm parish, missed a valuable mare, upon a
Sunday morning. After many fruitless enquiries, at the adjacent kirks and
neighbourhood, he dispatched a servant for Charles, in the evening. He
privately communicated to him his loss, and added, that he was fully
persuaded he could be the means of recovering the mare. Charles boldly
answered, 'If she was betwixt the Tyne and the Forth, she should be
restored.' On the Thursday after, at sunrise, the mare was found standing at
the stable door, much jaded, and very warm.
"When the Kirk-Yetholm
families differed among themselves, (and terrible conflicts at times they
had,)this same Mr. Walker was often chosen sole arbitrator, to decide their
differences. He has often been locked up in their houses for twenty-four
hours together, but carefully concealed their secrets. [There would appear
to be something remarkable in the position which this Mr. Walker held with
the Gipsies. I know, from the best of authority, that most of the people
living in and about Yetholm are Gipsies, settled or unsettled, civilized or
nncivilized, educated or uneducated ; and of one in particular, who went
under the title of "Lord Mayor of Yetholm." He is now dead. The above
mentioned Mr. Walker was probably a relation of Dr. Walker, mentioned by
Baillie Smith, as the baron-baillie of Yetholm. I notice in Blackwood's
Magazine, that one William Walker, a Gipsy, in company with various Yetholm
Gipsies, was indicted at Jedburgh, in 1714, for fire-raising, but was
acquitted. The Walkers alluded to in the text are very probably of the same
family, settled, and raised in the world. As I have just said, most of the
people in and about Yetholm are Gipsies. Gipsydom has even eaten its way in
among the population round about Yetholm. The Rev. Mr. Baird, in conducting
the Scottish Church Mission among the travelling Gipsies, hailing from
Yetholm, doubtless encountered many of them incog. But all this will be
better understood by the reader after he peruses the Disquisition on the
"The Yetholm Tinklers keep up
an intercourse with their friends at Horncliff, Spittal, Rothbury, Hexam,
and Harbottle. They go frequently to Newcastle, and even to Staffordshire,
for earthenware, and the whole family embark in every expedition.
"I was at school with most of
the present generation of Tinklers. I mean the males; for, to speak truth, I
never heard of a female Gipsy being educated at all.
"None of this colony have
been either impeached or tried for a crime for fifty years past. Two
Tinklers have been executed at Jedburgh, in my remembrance, named Keith and
Clark, for murder and horse-stealing. They were strangers, from a distance."
When I visited Yetholm, I
fell in with a gentleman who resided at that time in Town-Yetholm. I chanced
to mention to him that I was sure all the Gipsies had a method of their own
in handling the cudgel, but he would not believe it. At my request, he took
me into some of their houses, and, observing an old, rusty sword lying upon
the joists of an apartment in which we were sitting, I took it down, and,
under pretence of handling it, in their fashion, gave some of the guards of
the Hungarian sword-exercise. An old Gipsy, of the name of Blyth, shook his
head, and observed: "Ay, that is an art easily carried about with you; it
may be of service to you some day." My friend was then convinced of his
William Faa, when I was in
his house, showed me the mark of a stroke of a sword on his right wrist, by
which he had nearly lost his hand. With others of his clan, he had been
engaged in a smuggling speculation, on the coast of Northumberland, when
they were overtaken by a party of dragoons, one of whom singled out and
attempted to take Faa prisoner. William was armed with a stick only, but,
with his stick in his dexterous hand, he, for a long time, set the dragoon,
with all his arms, at defiance. The horseman, now galloping round and round
him, attempting to capture him, became exasperated at the resistance of a
man on foot, armed with a cudgel only, and struck with such vigour that the
cudgel became shattered, and cut in pieces, till nothing but a few inches of
it remained. Still holding up the stump, to meet the stroke of his
antagonist's sword, William was cut to the bone, and compelled to yield
himself a prisoner. A person, present at the scuffle, informed me that the
only remark the brave Tinkler made to the dragoon was, "Ye've spoiled a good
William Faa, the lineal
descendant of John Faw, "Lord and Earl of Little Egypt," when I saw him,
appeared about sixty years of age, and was tall and genteel-looking, with
grey hair, and dark eyes. He is the individual who fought the three battles
with Young, between Dunse and Coldstream. The following notice of his death
I have extracted from the " Scotsman" newspaper, of the 20th October, 1847 :
"A LAMENT FOR WILL FAA,
"THE DECEASED KING OF LITTLE EGYPT.
"The daisy has faded, the
yellow leaf drops;
The cold sky looks grey o'er the shrivelled tree-tops;
And many around us, since Summer's glad birth,
Have dropt, like the old leaves, into the cold earth.
And one worth remembering hath gone to the home
Where the king and the kaiser must both at last come,
The King of the Gipsies—the last of a name
Which in Scotland's old story is rung on by fame.
The cold clod ne'er pressed down a manlier breast
Than that of the old man now gone to his rest.
"It is meet we remember him; never again
Will such foot as old Will's kick a ball o'er the plain,
Or such hsnd as his, warm with the warmth of the soul,
Bid us welcome to Yetholm, to bicker and bowl.
Oh, the voice that could make the air tremble and ring
With the great-hearted gladness becoming a king,
Is silent, is silent; oh, wail for the day
When Death took the Border King, brave Willie Faa.
"No dark Jeddart prison e'er closed upon him,
The last lord of Egypt ne'er wore gyve on limb.
Though his grey locks were crownless, the light of his eye
Was kingly—his bearing majestic and high.
Though his hand held no sceptre, the stranger can tell
That the full bowl of welcome became it as well;
The fisher or rambler, by river or brae,
Ne'er from old Willie's hallan went empty away.
"In the old house of Tetholm we've sat at the board,
The guest, highly honoured, of Egypt's old lord,
And mark'd his eye glisten as oft as he told
Of his feats on the Border, his prowess of old.
It is meet, when that dark eye in death hath grown dim,
That we sing a last strain in remembrance of him.
The fame of the Gipsy hath faded away
With the breath from the brave heart of gallant Will Faa."
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