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The lack of a son: Jamie Macpherson and his Gypsy heritage

Among the many treasures of the Clan Macpherson—displayed of their museum in Newtonmore, within the Scottish Highlands—is a damaged fiddle. This fiddle has lain silent because it was performed after which damaged by Jamie Macpherson in 1700.

a broken fiddle in a case

Jamie Macpherson’s fiddle might be seen within the Clan Macpherson Museum in Newtonmore.

The story that this uncommon object holds is certainly one of lies, love and of a legislation that discriminated in opposition to the free-souled those who wandered the countryside. It has additionally held a hidden story, of the guts that broke with the fiddle, over 300 years in the past. On this weblog publish, we journey on a journey in direction of this untold story, which was dropped at life just lately by Maggie McPhee.

The journey begins at a Highland wedding ceremony, transferring by a childhood among the many hills and heather round Invereshie Home. Alongside the best way, is a jail break within the north of Scotland, a bloody battle at Keith’s midsummer truthful, ending up on the foot of Banff gallows. That is the story of Jamie Macpherson whose damaged fiddle lies within the museum. The fiddle has now been the inspiration for a brand new story, which brings the story of the fiddle and its proprietor alive in new methods.

From two completely different worlds

Jamie Macpherson was born round 1675 to a Macpherson laird and a Gypsy lady, who met at a marriage. His mom and father had been single and as a younger lad, Jamie grew up in Invereshie Home, his father’s house.

A moderately large, plain-looking house with two stories.

Invereshie Home was extensively remodelled within the 1830s. Nevertheless, a few of the authentic options stay on this Class B listed constructing. Discover out extra on our Heritage Portal.


He was visited annually by his mom as she travelled the Highlands and when his father died, he returned to her individuals. Of their firm, he was immersed within the tradition and language of the Travelling individuals. Round campfires he would have heard, realized and shared music, songs and tales from this wealthy tradition (one that’s nonetheless alive and properly in the present day).

A group of men, women and children seated by uncoupled decorated gypsy caravans and covered wagons parked below trees.

This photograph, taken in 1904, reveals a caravan at Meigle in Perthshire. © St Andrews College Library. Licensed through Scran.

Unjust legal guidelines, nevertheless, made it unlawful to be a Gypsy in Scotland at the moment. From the second he returned to his mom’s folks, he was thought of a felony, on the run from the legislation. Captured in Aberdeen, he escaped jail and execution with the assistance of a cousin. A strong native landowner, Lord Braco of Duff, nevertheless, was decided to see Jamie and the boys he travelled with lifeless.

Bloodshed at a good

In September 1700, Jamie was with pals among the many throngs on the St Rufus Honest in Keith, after they had been ambushed. Though they put up struggle they had been overcome and locked up in Banff.

a steepled tolbooth on an historic high street

Banff Tolbooth was constructed on this website in 1712. The spectacular class A listed steeple was added within the 1760s. The tolbooth and jail had been extensively remodelled in 1801 and at the moment are class B listed.



4 of them had been tried in early November by an hereditary decide. Hereditary judges had been untrained in legislation however given energy to carry trials of their native space. Two of the boys, each Browns, got a keep of execution. Jamie Macpherson and James Gordon, nevertheless, had been sentenced to demise on the cost of being Gypsies and hanged on 16 November 1700.

A tragic demise

Many tales have grown up across the demise of Jamie Macpherson’s tragic demise. It’s mentioned {that a} reprieve was secured for him however that Braco, listening to of this, had the city clock put ahead to make sure the sentence was carried out. When he received to the gallows, we’re instructed, Macpherson performed a lament, composed whereas in jail. Identified in the present day as Macpherson’s Rant, it captured the creativeness of Robert Burns, who later wrote his personal model, ‘McPherson’s Farewell’.

an orbately carved stone fountain in a small historic square

The class B listed Biggar Fountain in Banff was inbuilt 1878. It’s thought it was constructed on the location of the outdated gallows.


Since 1952, his fiddle, which was damaged on the gallows in Banff, has been displayed within the Clan Macpherson Museum, treasured for its connection to the son of a Macpherson laird and to the track printed by Burns.

Asserting a spot in historical past

Lacking from the story instructed inside the museum, was Jamie’s Gypsy heritage and the unjust cause for his execution. When the museum deliberate a current refurbishment, they invited Maggie McPhee to be concerned in telling the story of the fiddle. Maggie is a author and a Scottish Traveller. The brand new perspective that Maggie introduced, nevertheless, was not simply as a Traveller, however as a girl. She might see that it was not solely the story of Macpherson as a Gypsy that was hidden inside the museum, however the story of his mom. All through the various tales instructed of Macpherson since he died over 300 years in the past, none file particulars about his mom. She was a girl and not using a title, a narrative, or a voice. As Maggie famous, in a lot of historical past, ladies’s tales (and Gypsies’ too) go untold.

So, when Maggie got here to jot down the story of Jamie Macpherson for the Clan Macpherson Museum, she determined to inform it within the voice of his mom. Though this lady, so key to the story of Jamie Macpherson, was unrecorded by historical past, Maggie McPhee has given her a voice. Drawing on her experiences as a Traveller and a mom, she has introduced Jamie’s mom alive to inform the story of his life and demise.

Maggie has included phrases from her personal language, the Cant, which is thought, from proof offered at Jamie’s path, to have been spoken by the ladies who travelled with Macpherson. Definitions of those phrases, and in addition of the Scots phrases used, are included in a glossary on the finish of this weblog.

Heartbreak By Her Eyes

By Maggie McPhee

I need to let you know about my son, Jamie Macpherson. His father and I met at a marriage, he was a Highland laird and a really charming man. Again then I used to be a younger Traveller woman. A couple of months later, in 1675, Jamie was born in Banff, Scotland. His father took my wean fae me to be introduced up in Invereshie Home. These years with out my Jamie had been laborious. I might journey far to his father’s kain and watch him quietly from the shadows of the bushes as he performed gird and cleek together with his nurse-maid within the backyard.

Many instances I needed to cry out to him, to carry him however I couldn’t and it broke my coronary heart. When Jamie’s father died a couple of years later he got here on the lookout for me and my individuals. We took Jamie into our clan and he fitted good. As time went on Jamie grew to be a good-looking younger man. He was so tall and powerful and will out-fence any man with a sword. Musically gifted, he would typically sit aroond the campfire, enjoying the fiddle and we might hear as his stunning melodies crammed the air.

A gypsy family at an evening encampment: the father, mother and four children sit round a fire with cooking pots, while behind them is their horse and cart.

A Gypsy household camped in Galloway, round 1906. © Whithorn Photographic Group. Licensed through Scran.

As Jamie received older he wandered the countryside with a puckle of nae yoosers, robbing from the bien hantle. However he was all the time good and sort to the poor. Everybody favored my boy, apart from his enemy the sleekit Lord Braco, a wealthy landowner with a grudge.

Someday, Jamie and his pals had been on the St Rufus Honest in Keith, Braco and his males attacked them viciously, killing one man. Jamie’s armed crew fought again with all their may however they had been overpowered and brought to Banff jail.

Injustice and deception

Quickly, Choose Dunbar, a buddy of Lord Braco, sentenced my Jamie to be hung only for being a Traveller. With worry and desperation, I made my solution to Turriff the place I begged and pleaded for my laddie’s life. They took pity on me and confirmed mercy for my boy and gave him a reprieve.

A carved medieval cross sits on a pillar about an historic town street.

Over time, the mercat cross in Banff has moved fairly a bit! From 1768 till 1900 it stood on prime of a doocot exterior the city. Nevertheless, throughout Jamie Macpherson and his mom’s time it could have been in Low Road, the place it stands as soon as once more.


I fled from the courtroom. I rode again quick to Banff however I used to be too late – my boy was gone from this world. Lord Braco heard in regards to the reprieve, he knew it was going to avoid wasting my boy’s life so he put the clock ahead quarter-hour and Jamie was hanged. My coronary heart broke into one million items and I fell to the grund sobbing.

It was in a while that they instructed me how courageous Jamie was – how he stood on the backside of the gallows and performed a soulful tune on his fiddle. When he completed, he supplied up his fiddle to anybody who was standing there however nae haet would take it. So, he broke it on the gallows and flung it on the grund. After the hanging, certainly one of Jamie’s pals picked up the fiddle, wrapped it in a scarf and gave it to me. I locked it within the household kist because it was all I had left of my son.

Jamie Macpherson died on 16 November 1700.

I’ve lived a lifetime of sturt strife
I die by treachery
Directly my coronary heart, I have to depart
And never avenged be.

Discovering a voice

Maggie’s phrases can now be discovered within the Clan Macpherson Museum, the place they seem alongside Jamie’s damaged fiddle, his sword and the workings of the Banff city clock. The journey to giving this Gypsy lady a voice was taken with different ladies too. Maggie labored with poet and researcher, Dr Jo Clement, Eildih McLean of Article 12 in Scotland and Rhona Ramsay, who researches Gypsy/Traveller objects in Scottish museums, to develop the story of the guts that broke with Macpherson’s fiddle.

Glossary of Cant and Scots phrases

(Cant is among the languages of Scottish Gypsy/Travellers)
bien hantle the well-to-do or gentry
fae from
grund floor
kist a chest for holding vital belongings in
nae haet not a one, no physique
nae yoosers no use, or as much as no good
puckle small quantity or group
sleekit sly
wean youngster

In regards to the authors

This weblog was co-authored by Rhona Ramsay and Maggie McPhee. Rhona is a PhD Researcher on the College of Stirling. She is exploring Nacken chaetrie (the fabric tradition of Gypsy/Travellers) in Scottish museums. Maggie is a author and poet. She’s a Scottish Traveller who lives on a Traveller website in Perth.

Scotland’s 12 months of Tales

Soar into extra tales of Scotland in our different blogs celebrating Scotland’s 12 months of Tales.

Banner picture: Jamie Macpherson and his mom, illustrated by Jacqueline Briggs.



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