Monday, January 25, 2010


"GYPSIES" by Hablot Knight Browne

When I wrote my post "The Scottish Connection" I mentioned that my Scottish Great-Aunt Teenie used to love it when the tinkers came 'round, so that she could practice her Gaelic on them. Reading "5 Precious Things", the blog by my Scottish friend Ruthie, I came across the term tinkers again. Ruthie mentioned that she had read two books about these unique Scotsmen and women.

Fascinated, I decided to do some research on the tinkers and learned to my horror that they are a much-maligned segment of Scottish society. The first thing I learned is that "tinker" (tink/tinkie) is no longer an accepted term. In fact, it is pejorative and derogatory. So is gypsy or gypo, another label which has been falsely assigned to them. The very word tinker (also tinkler) is often commonly used to disparage someone of dirty appearance or untidy and antisocial habits. But contrary to popular belief, tinkers highly value cleanliness and have a definite moral code.

The confusion arises because there are actually more than a half dozen types of traveling people in Scotland, consisting of diverse, unrelated communities speaking a variety of different languages and holding to distinct customs, histories and traditions. (In using their titles I am going to continue with the Scottish spelling of "travellers" even though it bothers my American eye - and Spell Check doesn't like it either. My usage of the term "tinker" is meant to be very respectful).

The groups are the afore-mentioned Highland Scottish Travellers, Lowland Scottish Travellers, Irish Travellers, Border Gypsies, Fairground Travellers, New Age Travellers, and the Roma Gypsies (or Romany/Romanichal).

The New Age group is self explanatory. The Fairground Travellers (also called Fun Fair Travelers or Showmen) move around with carnivals and fairs and would probably equate with what we derogatorily call "carnies" in America. The Roma are members of a tribe that originated in Northern India long ago and spread throughout all of Europe. They are the traditional Gypsies, a shortening of the misnomer Egyptians.

Highland Scottish Travellers of old

Highland Scottish Travellers, while perhaps one of Europe's last nomadic people, are not Roma Gypsies. They are distinct from them ethnically, culturally and linguistically. They are indigenous, Gaelic-speaking people.  In Scottish Gaelic they are known as the Ce√†rdannan ("the Craftsmen"). The word tinker itself comes from the Gaelic "tinceard" or tinsmith. Poetically known as the Summer Walkers, they also are referred to as traivellers, traivellin' fowk and nawkers.  

Summer Walkers are closely associated with the Northwest Highlands, and many of the families carry clan names like Macfie, Stewart, MacDonald, Cameron, Williamson and Macmillan. They would pitch their bow tents at the edge of villages and earn money there as tinsmiths, hawkers, horse dealers or pearl fishermen. Many found seasonal employment on farms, e.g. at berry picking or during harvest. They also brought entertainment and news to the country folk.

The Highland Scottish Traveller community has a long history in Scotland with records going back to the 12th century. They share a similar heritage with, although distinct from, the Irish Travellers. As with their Irish counterparts, there are several theories regarding the origin of Scottish Highland Travellers, one being that they are descended from the Picts. Other theories are that they were excommunicated clergy, or families fleeing the Highland potato famine or the pre-Norman-Invasion.

Tinkers in front of their traditional bow tent

Tinkers were a vital part of the rural scene of the past. In the early years of the 20th century they were a familiar sight in the Highlands. Traveling in small family groups, they roamed both the highways and the back roads, sometimes with ponies and carts to carry their gear, often with handcarts, sometimes wheeling their worldly goods in old-fashioned prams. Dogs trotted at the tail of the carts and were lifted up beside the bairns (babies) when they were tired.

The tinkers' camps were to be seen in sheltered spots throughout the glens and straths. They knew the terrain as intimately as town dwellers know their local high street, particularly which houses would give them a welcome and which houses should be avoided.

The menfolk repaired pots and pans and made horn spoons, willow baskets and clothes pegs for their wives to sell. In addition to seasonal work on the farms, many dealt in scrap iron, and a few fished the rivers for fresh water pearls to sell. The women peddled, or hawked,  their wares - household goods and crafts.

Caption reads Colin {and} Clementine MacDonald -
traditional family who follow the whelks
Spring to Autumn from Angus to West Highlands

Scottish Travellers have a secret cant, or language, the Beialrearich, which has never been written down. It is a complex mixture of Scots and Gaelic, some of it archaic, with a sprinkling of Romany. This allows the tinkers to switch nimbly to cant in the presence of even Gaelic-speaking strangers, a skill that was useful when they were questioned about suspected theft or poaching.

Sadly, all traveling people have been given a bad reputation, thanks to some of their number. True Scottish Highland Travellers were often erroneously perceived to be thieves, liars, shysters, con men, beggers, fortune tellers and the like. Country folk often projected their fear of "gypsies" into tales of how they kidnapped children.

In a horrifying reversal of this, tinkers believed that they were perpetually threatened, young and old alike, by the prospect of abduction to the dissecting rooms of medical schools. Stories were told of relatives who had unaccountably disappeared, said to have been snatched by the "noddies", top-hatted medical students who drove the black "burkers" (doctors') coaches through the countryside at night in search of their prey. It is little wonder that the tinkers refused to leave their old people and children unattended when in the hospital.

Certainly Scotland has not always been kind to tinkers, leaving them suspicious not only of hospitals but also of wary of strangers and officials. Under 17th Century Scottish law, to be a gypsy was a capital crime punishable by hanging! "Egyptians" were ordered to "quit the realm within thirty days on pain of death". The famous outlaw and fiddler James MacPherson was executed under this statute.

Even when free from all hints of reproach, the name tinker signifies people whose way of life makes them outsiders. A contributory factor to their isolation is the Scottish climate, which is less than suitable for a nomadic lifestyle because of its harsh winters and unpredictable rain and wind at any season of the year. 

Some photos I found did not distinguish between
different types of Scottish travelers. With their gaily
decorated "Gypsy" wagon, these women may be Roma.

Recent changes in the economic structure of society have made both the tinkers' old way of life, and their ability to earn a traditional living, more difficult. Rural depopulation means that there are fewer houses at which to call, while the housewives' reliance on mass-produced goods has killed off many of the traditional tinkers' crafts.

Since the 1950s, other aspects of modern life have forced rapid changes on the travelling community. Tin smithing is a dead art, horse dealing a thing of the past, hawking is now done by catalog and supermarket. The majority of Scottish Highland Travellers have settled down into organized campsites or regular houses. They may still travel the roads today, but in smaller numbers and usually in vans and trucks, or what the British call caravans and we in the U.S. call travel trailers and RVs.

As early as WWI some traveling families were beginning to settle for the winter in rented rooms, taking to the road in the spring and returning each autumn so that the children could clock up the obligatory 200 half-day attendances at school. However, most families preferred their tents to what was often substandard housing, and many of the older generation still do.

Many older Travellers were brought up on the road and still remember in detail the traditional, archetypal lifestyle of Scotland's nomadic clans. Some have written books about this lifestyle. Here are the two books by and about Scottish Travellers that Ruthie mentioned in her blog:

"The Yellow on the Broom: The Early Days 
of a Traveller Woman " by Betsy Whyte

Betsy Whyte was born into a family of travellers who roamed the Scottish countryside between the wars. Whyte has been called a terrific storyteller and her recollection of her childhood has been described as vivid. Two later books make up her trilogy of the Travellers' way of life.

"Jessie's Journey: Autobiography of a
Traveller Girl" by Jess Smith

From the ages of 5 to 15, Jess Smith lived with her parents, sisters and a mongrel dog in an old blue bus. They traveled the length and breadth of Scotland, and much of England too.

Here's a link to other books about other Scottish tinkers:

While Whyte and Smith put their stories in writing, other Scottish Highland Travellers have played an essential role in the preservation of traditional oral Gaelic culture. Their outstanding contribution to Highland life has been as custodians of an ancient and vital singing, storytelling and folklore tradition of great importance.

In the last 50 years folklorists have recorded a large number of tinker ballads, songs and folk tales. Many tinker men are accomplished pipers, whose skill adds to the family income. The folk song revival movement thrust a handful of Traveller singers and storytellers into an unexpected limelight.

It is estimated that only 2,000 Scottish travellers continue to lead their traditional lifestyle on the roads. They are still being fiercely discriminated against today. Those familiar with the Travellers detect an underlying sense of persecution and despair among these people who cherish the traditional ways and values of their forefathers.

Scottish Travellers at the famous
Aikey Brae Fair, Aberdeenshire, 1906


the wild magnolia said...

Excellent post! Interesting and very well written! Gypsys are mysterious by their very lifestyle. Summer Walkers...Travellers...Tinkers, I love these words. A people set apart, different and special. Great reading! They were punished for being who they were. The Summer Walkers prevailed.

Janet said...

Wonderful post! When I was a child we used to have "gypsies" come through our area in the summer and I was always told to be careful! I, however, thought they were interesting and have always been fascinated by them.

Anonymous said...

You always write such interesting and informative posts. Thank you. I enjoyed reading it.

Autumn Leaves said...

Julie, you are such a font of information. I have honestly never heard of the negative connotations of "tinkers," always thinking of them as traveling fixers and sellers of their time for things needing to be done in the home or on the property. A completely different connotation than I get with the term gypsies (which to my mind has a negative connotation in and of itself, not that I necessarily agree with that either). Hmmm...

Shopgirl said...

When I was a little girl, I was told that if I was bad they would sell me to the Gypsys. I was always afraid of them. I was in a little store once when I saw a lady Gypsys put a canned ham under her dress and walk out of the store. I was sure then that they were bad people. Sad!
We have the Basque here in Idaho. They have wonderful celebrations and have lovely food. They are like Gypsys of old but mostly came from Spain.
I really enjoyed this post Julie.
Happy everyday, Mary

Beth Atwood said...

Julie, thank you, thank you for this post! I am a McMillin through my mother's side. We always knew about the church connection, and more recently about a possible Pictish connection, but I had no idea about Scottish travellers. I know I have been strongly drawn to knowing about gypsies, etc. Your book links will be really helpful. Again - thank you so much!

gma said...

This was a very interesting post Julie. Great photographs too. Don't know why I've always loved stories of travelers and gypsies....maybe because I have wanderlust myself.

Lila Rostenberg said...

I always thought of "tinker" being someone who mended pots and did other useful things. Too bad it has become derogatory!
This is very interesting, it reminds me of the story about a rather "rootless" childhood in America told by Jenette Wells in "The Glass Castle", though obviously, these nomadic Scots are part of a long tradition and culture!

Patrice Palmer said...

Thank you for such a wonderful post. I've always been fascinated by the gipsy/Roma people, and up until the past few years, had never known of the Travellers of Ireland and the UK. What's so sad is that all of these unconventional, non-conforming people are still marginalized, victimized and discriminated against in many parts of the world. Part of the problem has been the lack of and interrupted education due to their constant movement about the countryside. When one is not educated, one does not have the knowledge and communication skills to effectively defend oneself. A learned distrust of society hasn't helped them, either.

The problems these human beings face is so extreme and entrenched that the United Nations has, in the case of the Roma, made general recommendations to prevent discrimination, violence, and other hate-crimes against them. ( are also experiencing much of the same. It is so unfortunate that people are always so suspicious and afraid of those unlike themselves, as this fear is often the root of much of the world's violence and wars.

On a more positive note, I wrote a wee bit about a beautiful autumn day that brought out the gipsy in me. Here's a link:
This is a link to Part 1 of an interesting You Tube video by Ireland's Kildare County Library Services, made to encourage inclusivity.

Again, thank you for using your blog to highlight and inform people about such an interesting and enigmatic people.

Julie said...

I accidentally hit the wrong button when trying to publish this comment:

Judith A . Bates has left a new comment on your post "SCOTTISH TINKERS AND TRAVELLERS":

Julie, I found your blog through Lila's lovely blog. What a complete treasure trove this blog is for a complete "Scottophyle" like myself!!! It's like walking into a friends home that is stuffed full of everything that I love. From music, to books and art...we are definately kindred spirits. Thank you for such an amazing and inspiring experience!

Mary said...

Amazing post Julie - you share so much history and interesting facts with us always, thank you. I remember gypsies and tinkers around my home in Devon in the
'50's - one girl from a gypsy encampment (they did live in Romany style caravans) attended my school briefly before they moved on.

Looks like Dakota territory here - we've been snowed in since Saturday! I photographed lovely visiting birds to the feeders and porch - hope you can stop by. I'm also doing a fun 'travel quiz' regarding my next big trip - bet you can guess the destination!!

Hugs - Mary

P.S. Sad and completely unexpected ending to The Elegance of the Hedgehog!

Patsy Whyte said...

Hi Julie,

What a wonderful post. And the comments are fantastic, too. I never knew anyone really cared about Scottish travellers.

"Since the 1950s, other aspects of modern life have forced rapid changes on the travelling community. Tin smithing is a dead art, horse dealing a thing of the past, hawking is now done by catalog and supermarket. The majority of Scottish Highland Travellers have settled down..."

Julie, you are probably not aware of the hidden "ethnic cleansing" - I don't know what else to call it - which contributed to the destruction of the traveller way of life in Scotland. I should know. For the first 19 months of my life, I was a traveller.

My name is Patsy Whyte. My great aunt is Betsy Whyte, the author of The Yellow On The Broom.

From the age of 19 months until I was 15, I was brought up in a children's home in Aberdeen.

I was one of a family of ten traveller children, torn apart by the state in the 1950's.

My childhood was scarred by years of mental and emotional abuse, prejudice and hatred.

I've written a book - which, in a sense, carries on from where Betsy's story about the traveller way of life ends.

It took me more than 30 years to pluck up the courage to write it. But I swore to myself that one day I would. I didn't want the authorities to get away with it. I wanted some sort of record, to mark all the suffering I and all the other traveller families went through.

The book is called No easy Road. It can be found on Amazon via this link (UK) or this link (USA).

I hope you don't mind me mentioning my book. Many people, even in Scotland, don't know what really happened to traveller families all those years ago. Many, many thanks for your interest.

Julie said...

Dear Patsy,

Thanks so much for contacting me and giving the link to your book. I would love to correspond with you. My e-mail address is About the time I wrote this post, I ordered "Jessie's Journey" and Betsy's book, "The Yellow on the Broom". I have subsequently read Jessie's book (and loved it) and reviewed it on my book blog, "Julie's Bookshelf". I thought I should give it a little time before I read another book about the Scottish Travellers so have not read "The Yellow on the Broom" yet. I have done some research and did know about the prejudice directed toward Scottish Tinkers and Travellers, but did not know that it went so far as racial cleansing. Shameful!!

I will be sure to obtain a copy of your book and read it, and do a follow-up on the whole situation on my blog. This is definitely a cause worth writing about.

Waiting to hear from you,

Julie Fredericksen, Bismarck, ND

Martha Stewart said...

Just like Patsy Whyte I to am a Scottish Tinker/Traveller. I do not have a problem with the name Tinker as my family ie male line all were designated tinsmiths,and the name comes from their occupation as tinsmiths.
Also like Patsy Whyte I was taken along with siblings and cousins from my parents in the late fifties. One of my cousins wrote a book of his horrific childhood in a particular childrens home. The book 'Never to Return' by Sandy Reid. If any one out there would like to know exactly how it was like to be a Tinker living in a tent and marginalised by his way of life I would recommend 'The Book of Sandy Stewart' which is a verbal account of Sandy Stewart's life and family through interviews conducted by Roger Leitch. However one word of caution the book is written in Sandy's own language of Scots mixed with the Traveller cover tongue of Cant. I wish Patsy well with her books and have enjoyed reading the comments on this article.

Realta said...

Hello - I am an Irish author currently working on a book on Irish Travellers - Their lives- culture- customs - Language- customs - Every aspect. If any one reading can advise me or help I would be more than grateful for information -
Thanking you and I do love this blog.

Garry McCallum said...

I beleive after reading these posts that there is a lot of people on this website that could be a "Missing Link" between me and my Familys past. My Name is Garry McCallum and up untill my Grandfather settled down in a council House (In the 1950s) All of my Family were "Hawkers,Basket Makers,Tinsmiths,Agucultural Labourers, Tinkers & Gypsies"

I find my Ancestors Facinating, and while doing my Family Research i Have had a Real Insite into how they Lived.

I am Currently Trying to Contact any Living Cousins who come from the Travelling back ground, up untill now i am the only Person to have Traced my Blood Line.

My Names in my family are McCallum,Stewart,McLaren,Mcfie and Campbell. They Travelled around the Stirlingshire,Kilmaronock,Dumbartonshire areas. Places like Balfron,Drymen,Denny,Killearn. If any body out there has any info or would like any of my familys info you can drop me an email on

We have a Facinating past and something to be Proud of.

Garry McCallum

Tom Childs said...

Excellent information. I started to do my family history in the past few years. I am a 2nd generation Canadian. My maternal grandmother's family came from many parts of the highlands including Elgin, Rothes, Buckie and down to Aberdeen. When I started to get factual information (Birth, death, marriage cert) I noticed they all had the same professions (horse dealers, hawkers and tinsmiths). The names always came up as the same (Williamson, Watson, McMillan,Stewart and MacAfee). I found out then they were of this little known group called the Scottish travellers. I read all the books I could, found other distant relatives and compared notes. I even contacted the Elphinstone Institute of the University of Aberdeen which was doing a research project. What an amazing and little known story. What a rich and distinctive ancestry to come from!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Julie. I had heard that the Macphies, who were the local tinkers in my father's region, were a "broken clan".
I also knew that the travellers,
in any manifestation, are usually people who have not fitted easily into various colonial or expansionist ventures. I have concluded that the Christian church acted for the expansionist Viking/Norman culture that ultimately became the British Empire, one offshoot of which is today's American "empire". The church provided the propaganda which demonised "heathens", or people of the open heath, or "pagans" people of the fields.
Broken clans had only two alternatives: turn to the protection of another clan, or walk the roads.
One of your previous respondents distinguished between "good" tinkers and "bad" gypsies. But they have the same challenges from urbanised culture that all travelers have.
On a lighter note, as a girl, I loved the romantic novels of Jeffrey Farnol, though they were excessively "over-coloured" in language and characterisations. Reading between the lines, you will get a good picture of early 19th century struggles between gentry and countryfolk.

Karen H said...

Hello Folks,
My name is Karen and I'm 35yrs old....I was raised a traveller and come from Caithness, Scotland.

I've heard and been called all the names that are associated with folks like us...tinks, tinkies, tinklers, gypos, pikeys,hawkers....the list is endless! Oh the joys...LOL

What I love about being raised a traveller is the fact that when me and my mother go shopping...if we decide that we don't want country folk (non-travellers)to hear what were saying, my mother switches to talking in the Cant and we have a good chuckle at their expense! HA HA

Being a traveller is a hard way of life often involving, violence, alcohol abuse and living hand to mouth sometimes...although that is not the case in all traveller groups/families.

Although I choose to live a modern exsistance I will never let go of the traditions and ways of thinking like the has set me in good stead in my life...

If anyone might know of travellers in Caithness, even from years back, please let me know as my mother is like an elephant....she never forgets a name nor a face!! LOL She knew nearly all the travellers in Thurso, Caithness. Her name is Lavinia Williamson.

Anonymous said...

Re: Wee Wullie. Hello, my name is James Williamson, my great-grandparents left Thurso for the States in 1903. They owned a china shop in Thurso on High Street ( it is now Harpers Flyfishing ). William and Jamesina Williamson, they had 11 bairns, 3 of them are buried with their grandfather " Billy the Oiler" in Thurso. My email is:, I have a ton of info on tinkers of all names. Anyone may feel free to email me. As a bit of interesting info my y-dna seems to point to my Williamsons as being Pictish.

Anonymous said...

There are still scottish travellers following the whelks at the tide through summer and winter a hard life but bothering no one , unfortunatly it gets harder to find places to stop as councils put barriers ,gates , even mounds of earth so that the trailers cannot get stopped , some councils openly admit that they do it to keep the travellers out , so far from embrasing and acknowledging a culture that has been part of the fabric of scotland for ever and the folk are born and bred scottish , prejidice and disscrimination is rife ,would this be tolerated in any other culture i ask? many wonderfull books are written and many memories are fondly remebered , but unless folk in council offices make real efforts and stop paying lip service to the travelling community the travelling life will be lost to the folk who cling hard to hold on to it ,

very intresting comments and so nice to see positive talk

Anonymous said...

I am interested to read about Betsy's niece's book, and all the others.
It is shameful what the (oor) councils did with the travelling people and their children - the forced settling. Although the prejudice in law, from Reformation onwards - such as provoked MacPherson's hanging in Banff, was not unique to Scotland, but England too.
It seems, Julie, that much of your reading from Wiki is not entirely accurate though... or is incomplete.
But thank you for bringing the plight of the Scottish Traveller to light. I do want to read more about the SOuth of Scotland, Galloway Travellers as I am more acquainted with the Angus/Highland travellers, such as the stories of the Stewarts, Jeannie Robertson, Stanley etc.
Broken clans did take to the road, particularly post-Culloden but before that too, but some of the travelling names were also musicians (pipers) like MacPhees, MacPhersons etc. or perhaps their nature as a broken clan lead to the musical profession.
Sad to say, in education today, we still hear colleagues saying "Stewart... that's a travelling name...better watch out." However, I also have to say that the taking into care of children in the 50, 60, 70s etc and the enforced settlement - and separation from traditional life - has left a group of men and women sadly disenfranchised and deprived of their culture/sense of background and more than somewhat socially impoverished, and this does show in some cases..not through their heritage or blood as travellers but having come through parents or grandparents being homeys, raised in a non-family setting (I have worked with many children in care whose families were travellers, and the disruption of the social policy of removal/being settled on their lives has had severe impacts, two generations on).
I am so glad to see the great work of STEP and the like, across the nation.
The Elphinstone Institute here does great work in preserving some of the culture.
And yes, the word tinker is both pejoritive and descriptive of a trade: I tend to hear it used in ballads or in an accurate setting but as a child it was an insult.
Irish Travellers are called Minceirs - and minker, too, is an insult term both in ref. to travellers and for any "dirty" person notwithstanding the focus on cleanliness the travelling folk actually have.


100% Traveller n proud said...

hi,i'm a scottish highland traveller myself,tho i don't agree with some of the theories re our origins,but rant is re traveller bairns getting took into care YES this did happen just because some people thaught the traveller lifestyle was wrong. my aunt and uncle tried to adopt 2wee TRAVELLER bairns that were in care and lo and behold they were rejected as suitable adoptove parents...why? because they were travellers and lived on a travellers's ok to take our kids away,but we can't even be adoptove parents EVEN now in so called liberated days.the gypsy/traveller lifestyle is seen in a negative light and it is everything but negative,the up bringing iv'e had as a traveller has been great it makes u more tolerant of others and learns you to respect your elders and to respect your self also,sadely these things are not taught to many many kids in council housing schemes...yet our way of life is constantly malighned as negative...the traveller life is positive:-)

100% Traveller n proud said...

HI,can i ask if realta is the man who came out to the travellers site at alva to ask highland travellers if they could teach him the highland gaelic/cant as some may know the highland cant is diffrent from the scoto/romani some travellers talk.anyway we moved away and never got to finish our talk with this irish if that is you i apologise for not finishing what u wanted to know.and feel free to contact me again tky

Gael McCarte said...

Thank you for this post. I too wear the thistle and shamrock. My paternal grandfather was in The Gorbals, his family having repatriated to Scotland from Irealnd. I recently heard my maternal grandfather was possibly a Celtic Traveller altho we have ancestors who look more like the circus travellers. This is odd to me as my mother taught us "My mother said I never should/ play with the gypsies in the woods./ If I did she would say,/ 'naughty bad girl to disobey'".

I too am living in the USA and endowed with fey and whimsy. I am fascinated with the travellers and grieve their expulsion from Dale Farm in Essex. In this allegedly enlightened age how can travellers be the object of such prejudice and cruelty? Your site is fantastic.

Bob Knight said...

As someone from Scottish traveller stock (Stewart)I'd just like to say how much I enjoyed looking at your site. I know quite a few of the folk who have contributed here - lovely people all.

It's only in the last year that I've discovered the "mini-holocaust" that took place with traveller children, thenks to Martha Stewart, one of your contibutors. We know we're related, but haven't quite worked it out yet. :)

If anyone would like to contact me, for any reason related to travellers,then I'm on Facebook under "Bob Knight-Songwriter," or

Keep up the good work.

Darlene Erskine said...

I am writing a book and using Scottish and Irish Travellers in the storyline. It is set in about 20 years in the future and I am using a character Rowena to discuss certain topics I am interested in. Her conflicts of ethnicity and culture and her heritage will be used to discuss identity and family and home. If anyone has any information they would like to contribute I am just starting to study the topic. My email is Thanks!

james.stewart108 said...

insmithing has been going back years, all over the world my four fathers was tinker, tinsmith's up in the cabrach, they were all over its a way of life gone,but my sousin's and my two sister's was lifted and sent into a children's home in Buckie and in Dundee at the age of 4 i was lifted,we were comeing up from down in Dundee then we got lifted in Inverurie, the Stewart' Whyte's and the Reids are of my mother Betsy Stewart's family tree and so is my aunty Martha Reid M.S. Stewart like my aunty Bella Kelbie and Cathie Kelbie was all my auntys when we all got lifted and sent into children's homes in Aberdeenshire on the 1st of July 1960 on the Inverurie green, we three children Jane, Elizabethand me, James we were badly abused as children in that homes.

Anonymous said...

As an offspring of a Traveller, I do note the class system that goes on between the Travellers....when it suits them. The "educated" type Travellers tend to ignore those who are less well off. Unless, it suits them. I have a fair knowledge of "inside knowledge" of the Travellers and find it a disgust that only the "educated" ones have their say in matters that regards us all. I have found members of my own Traveller family to overtly snub, disregard and, to my knowledge, try to sabotage their own relatives accounts of their beginnings, up bringings and stories. Why should this be so? I feel, as a Travellers family member, that everyones opinion is valid, whether true or when given the old "artistic liscence" . What I don't get is this two faced, back stabbing among the community. Don't Travellers have enough problems without these silly little things aswell?

james.stewart108 said...

My grandmother is Maggie Stewart the aunty to Jeannie Robertson and she left me her Copyright's to her ballads and in stories what Hamish Henderson had recorded and no one else holds Maggie stewarts ballads Copyrights yes i know Ian Russell from the Elphinstone Institute of the university of Aberdeen and I told him that I own all the wrights to Maggie Stewarts ballads and i told Ian Russell to look into your Internet and tick Tobar an Dualchais Kist O Riches I give my consent to put my grandmothers Ballads on the Internet for people like you to here my wonderfull grandmother Maggie's Ballad's and no one is back stabbing no one and if so its not me,and that was why I give my consent to give my grandmothers stories and her songs that Hamish Henderson he own's the Recordings of Maggie Stewart, so other people can enjoy listing to her, so who had sent me that email from a Anonymous blogger, if I want your apinion, then i will ask, but not untill then.

100% Traveller n proud said...

anonamous,im a Traveller, im not too well educated, but i have never felt that there is a class thing between travellers, i am not rich and i am not poor, i have very wealthy relatives and i have poorer relatives. but i have never felt that only the wealthier ones gets listened to, in fact some of the wealthy ones cant read or write them selfs. i cant speak for ur own family tho, as all Travellers are different :)

Anonymous said...

Good content - my ancestors were scottish traveller with links to McPhie, MCCallum, Burke and probably Gordon although not travellers. I have a correspondant in America Tom McMillan who is tracing his travellers roots. I have my tree on although I am not active at the moment. We were basket makers, although my father could make baskets he never passed the skill to us. Although we were housed in tenaments in Perth a lot of traveling families were also there. The estate was all low or no income families and if you gave youur address you were instantly treated as scum. They have developed and privatised that area even renaming the street, Was Hunters Cres and Ruthven Ave. wiped out from history. Contact me if you think any of the names I mention are of interest. I am already linked to Garry McCallum who has a wonderful record on Ancestry.

Brian said...

I can remember back in the 70's travelling to Islay and seeing the hooped tents on the edges of the lochs. And asking my father who lived there he told me that they were the tinker's great tinsmiths basket makers and horse dealers. We never turned a traveller away looking for water or whatever . My Father from co Monaghan looked forward to the irish travellers coming to work on the farms when he was a boy. I too have a facination with the freedom they once had . Beautiful post :)

Anonymous said...

Brian said, the freedom of the travelling people they once had has gone, here is some Extracts of my words to the (The House in the County)by Maggie Stewarts grandson James Stewart (Choures) Thats why we all go Roving for Roving life is not of our own, there is allways some kind of authority that cant leave us traveller's alone, that's why we go over the Donside that's why we go over the Dee That's why we go over the Spitle and in by Blairgowrie.

Unknown said...

Did you know that not all of the southern border travellers were of non romani culture there is a group out of yetholm that are romani scottish travellors who came to scottland in the 1400's

malcolm archibald said...

My wife has a Border gypsy ancestor and we have visited Yethom where the Gypsy Palace was: so your blog interested me. I am also writing a book about Highland crime in the 19th century and am working on a piece where tinkers named MacCallum were involved in a murder. Sadly they do not come out well.

Garry McCallum said...

Hi Malcolm

My family were all Scottish Tinkers! I also discovered that i had a great uncle that Murdered his wife in their tent after a an accident. I would be very interested in talking to you. My main Blood line is McCallum, but i also have McLarens, Stewarts & McPhee's. My email address is

Kind Regards


Garry McCallum said...

Hi Malcolm

My family were all Scottish Tinkers! I also discovered that i had a great uncle that Murdered his wife in their tent after a an accident. I would be very interested in talking to you. My main Blood line is McCallum, but i also have McLarens, Stewarts & McPhee's. My email address is

Kind Regards


Unknown said...

Were not all. Bad but I find funny that we get a bad wrap and then we bitch mostly it is we were theives con-men, I am a true traveler my mom and dad both travekers dads sc otch moms irish.we still preserve our old ways me and my wife r raising our boys in these ways .the old ones would steal like the story u told about the ham lol not us they sound Irish we scotch dont that an irish thing we have a rule if u r going to steal it better be over $100, 000 if not it isn't worth it la wyers r not cheap .so thats why we r lagit my family own m.h.p. shopping centers .I own a construction comoany in tampa fl .if u like to know the truth abouts just ask mactommy36@gmail please dont think we r anything like the tv show american gypsy wedding they claim to be english romani they r not they r roadies lol fooling the networks low class they r no gypsy or traveler bloodline I can trace my roits back to the 1500 no outsider blood once an outsider lgets ixed in u can not call youreself a traveler we r good people with high moral values

Unknown said...

Im a scotch traveler from the states .dont know many from the old country.but im % 100 traveler mom and da so on and so on .I know many stewarts here and in canada my wife is from canada also % 100 scotch traveler we r proud and raise r boys in our peopled old ways my name is tom McMillan my wife is mary McMillan so if anyone would like to talk my hantel well it would be barry to here from u mactommy36@gmail

Anonymous said...

my Grandfather was a traveller James Campbell,My Great grandparents were Whytes,Stewart's and McPhees I also have Mc Alastair s and reids in the old family tree

Ex-pat said...

Fascinating, informative post, and comments. Great to see so many from Travellers (or those with Traveller ancestry).
When I was at high school in Crieff for a couple of years in the 80's, Tinker was a totally derogative term. They were also called Gadgy. The tinkers were treated like Untouchables. I presume this situation was not unique to Crieff High. What little I heard at home about tinkers was positive.

I'm of Scottish parentage, but I grew up mostly in Canada. In the 90's I was shocked to learn that First Nation children were still being removed from their parents and put into institutions up until the early 1970's. I am equally shocked to read that that happened in Scotland to Traveller children in the 50's. Look the world over - this type of thing seems to happen frequently. A sad commentary on humankind.

Anonymous said...

Hello,I trying to find out some of my my wee gran Nan mothers family history, her mother was a Wells possibly___ Jane Wells from Banff area,I remember very little of her stories of her early life but remember Williamson mentioned.It would be good to learn a bit more.Her name was Nan Webster daughter of Frank Webster.Montrose, old thread I know hope to hear back,Andy in Perth

Dr. Charles Craig said...

Family Tree DNA ( has established a Celtic Travellers DNA Project and I've found the surname "Graig" there, which may help me solve the "Who do you think you are?" question. My illiterate Graig-surnamed direct male ancestor showed up in America from present-day Northern Ireland in 1772 in the company of a shipload of Covenanter (Reformed Presbyterian) immigrants and, not surprisingly, perhaps, was mistakenly shown by my surname, Craig. I hope to find Graig-surnamed males willing to compare their Y-DNA with mine.

Anonymous said...

My great great grandad was a gypsi and ad like to no any one nows a old storys about andrew gavin he was a bear nuckle fighter and one of the best

Anonymous said...

dear Celtic Lady. Jess Smith with a request. I have lodged a petition with Scottish Parliament to give the tinkers Heart of Argyll back to the Travelling people. Please take a look and see if you would help us retrieve our ancestral heart.
All info is on Scottish Parliament Petition page-give the Tinkers heart of Argyll back to the Travelling People. I have created a FB page Saving the Heart of the Travelling People

many thanks xxx

Managua said...

Brilliant post - and all so true. Thanks very much a very good read.

Anthea said...

I am so glad to see so much about this community. My father's parents, who were cousins, were from Border traveller ancestry though settled in Tyneside. The names were Devine/Divine (later changed to Shields in a successful effort to evade the law), White, Dean (based in North Sunderland), and Blewett.

Ellen Reid said...

My grandfather was called David Jamieson he married Helen McFee,they raised 6 children 3 boys & 3 girls one of which became my mother. They traveled Argylshire unfortunately my grandfather died on the Island of Rothsay,he was in his early 40ies.He had been visiting his son who had married an Nancy Drummond, I believe she had just given birth to their first child.Although sill fairly young my grandmother never remarried. She was an exceptional women and at her funeral on the island of Arran they church was full of Traveller's from all over Scotlan who had come to pay their respects. I had not realised how well thought of she was. I find it difficult to understand why there is no mention any where ofthe name Jamieson, can anyone enlighten me, Ellen Reid.

Anonymous said...

Iam a traveler and I still travel now the travelin way of life is over all the younger 1s today arnt intrested in shiftin iam related to most scotish travelers iam from a very big family

Anonymous said...

Hi Ms. Celtic Lady, I am a Campbell (Caimbeul) from Honolulu, Hawaii. Just wondering do you know if there were Campbell Clan "Travellers" and or do you know a book that may provide some info if they are? Thank you so much, if you know, but if you don't, I'll try to check on this. I like looking at photos of my line of ancestors, just interested about them. I saw a pic of their castle online :)

Unknown said...

I was very encouraged to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this special read. I definitely savored every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post
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Anonymous said...

The woman in the glenelg photo is my great great granny from the stewart clan tinker selling themail pots and pans would be great if u could help me email find out more thanka John

Anonymous said...

My mothers family are Scots travelling people the Stewarts and macphee

Susan Stewart said...

I am one. A tinker that is. Only second generation to be raised in social housing. We were called dirty, and picked on even well into the 2000's in places like moral and north being from travellers is still enough to get you a beating in some circles. My great grandfather was Booie (bookie) James Stewart, he married a Mcmillan. His great grand niece would be the late Sheila Stewart. She wrote many books about our breed. Also Hawker is derogatory,tinker, think, mink, black tinkler. But we have our own cant and its does survive in small pockets. Even the country hantle and scaldy use some of our words. But we can communicate danger or suspicion with out you ever knowing

Anonymous said...

I am a blue buck. That is a half traveller.

Unknown said...

I worked for the williamsons. I am not a traveller They taught me to be be stong minded and independent something my parents did not teach. I noticed that people think neg of them but now I run my own company all thanks to the Williamson brothers.

Unknown said...

Well said, Tom MacMillan.

Unknown said...

Hi Patsy, I'm going to buy your book as soon as I've finished writing this. My heart goes out to you for what you went through as a young child. Sending best wishes.

Unknown said...

Hello Celtic lady to answer your question yes there is many Scottish travellers with the surname Campbell I know this because I am an English Traveller

Anonymous said...

Garry my names Margaret Anne McCallum..and the McCallum Gypsy travellers were also related to the McDonalds My Granda was John McCallum he was a traveller he made his money from travelling with the shows and and he was also a bare Knuckle fighting champ but I don't know what happened as my granda was forced to settle he was until the day he passed proud of his heritage but my mum would tell me and my sister not to tell anyone that we are gypsy not even our friends because they will not want to be friends and other folk will call us names and force us to move ..we did anyway we are proud of our roots but think something bad happened that forced granda to settle I know my mum and her other four sibling were all took into care for a short term before gran and grands got them back mum doesn't talk about it ..some of my family still travel and even the settlers move house from town to town including my mum I think growing up the longest we stayed in a town was two years ..but growing up I always ended up seeking out other gypsy friends and am planning on travelling when my daughter goes to collage next year ..if your looking for other gypsy family that still travel try argyle and bute in Scotland there is a load there just now in three different sites me and my gypsy pal got a caravan on the she also has a house in saddle Campbeltown near the site heading down next week to see some kin (travelling family) and staying at my pals ... Good luck in your search my granda used to say to me you have gypsy blood running through yer veins you kin achieve anything ye want there's nout (nothing) ye canny dae (do) Garry before I go I just to say to you you got gypsy blood you just found one of yer kin ��

Anonymous said...

Garry can you email me my family are Scottish Gypsy travellers my grandad was John mccallum him and his wife Mary were forced to settle so they could get there kids back out of care my email is

Anonymous said...

My great grandmother was a Williamson from Thurso she married Adam Munro I was brought up a traveller the travellers are a dying race of people I know the can't I am going to put it in book form

Unknown said...

Hi both my great grandparents where of the Scot travelling community their surnames was McAfee and whyte. I know my great grandmother was traveling around Banff area

Davie Taylor said...

Is/was Taylor a tinker family name? My fathers family originated from Logiealmond, Perthshire around the early 20th Century.
I recall attending a musical event where the singer was the famous traveller singer Belle? Stewart and her mentioning Taylor's in Perthshire when recounting her early life. I think she said they moved to Scotland from down south.
Ironically my father had a lifelong friendship with a gent called Johnnie Williamson (obviously a well know traveller name) who he started his working life with when he was a wee boy in Perth.
I'd be interested to know and also how I might find out more.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if anyone still reads through these messages but interested in the Williamson family in particular and anyone who has further info on them. In particular a James Williamson who was a travelling pedlar and his wife Agnes or Nancy Millar. They had a daughter Margaret Williamson born circa 1827 in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. She married Nicholas Pascal then Alexander McPherson, they were all traveller hawkers / pedlars who travelled the North east of Scotland extensively for years. There may be a connection to James Williamson by way of a brother Isaac Williamson who married Mary Lindsay and a sister Margaret Williamson who married Archibald McAlister. I'd be interested in any info anyone may have on any of these people mentioned or their families. Thanks in advance.

John Williamson said...

My name is John Williamson. I have James Williamson B. 1801, Margaret Lindsay Williamson 1825 who died in 1909 in my family tree. I and some other relations have our info on The names McAllister, McMillan and Morrell. Past census show Tin Smith, basket weaver, Hawker, Etc. There was a China shop in Tain. My Grand mother was Elizabeth Jamieson Williamson. She ended up living in Oban and then Rothesay, Isle of Bute. She was the last generation of my family that grew up in a Traveller's family. I find this fascinating....must be the reason for my father and myself wanderlust.

Garry McCallum said...

Hi John,

I think that I have this section of your family connected to mine. My family are McCallum’s, who lived around
Balfron, and Drymen. And the wider places of Dumbartonshire & Stirlingshire.

I love my family Ancestry. ��

Garry McCallum.