From the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, Old Series, Vol. II, p191 (1890-1891)
DEATH of a well-known English Gypsy
Sylvester Boswell (“Westaaros”), famous for his deep Romines (1), died April 8 and was buried April 24 in Flaybrick Hill Cemetery, in the same tomb with his two sons Byron and Bruce. He died in Walton Workhouse, where he had been placed by his family about four years ago, when his mind began to fail. He was seventy-nine years of age, but most of the Gypsies here believe him to be much older; his nephew, J. Gray, insisting that he was at least 100. Upon his giving up tent-life, his goods were divided among his surviving sons and relatives, and as his subsequent death did not actually occur on the camping-ground, the usual Gypsy custom of destroying the deceased’s effects was not in this case followed. He is, however, said to have himself made away with a number of small valuables before his retirement. I remember, after that event took place, the ground underneath and around his small tent was dug up to a considerable depth, in the hope of finding some of the articles, which he is believed to have somewhere secreted.
(1) Vide Bath, Smart and Crofton’s Dialect of the English Gypsies; Groome’s In Gipsy Tents; and Morwood’s Our Gypsies in City, Van and Tent
Sylvester Boswell – often known as ‘Wester’ – was baptised on 23 August 1812 at St Mary’s, Dover, Kent, the son of Tysa Boswell and Sophia (nee Heron). His father was allegedly serving in the Army at the time and so was stationed on the Kent coast. As many Gypsy historians know, Tysa (aka Tyso/Taiso) was killed by lightning at Tetford, Lincolnshire, in 1831, as was Edward Heron. The two men were buried together in the churchyard there under a large monument. Sylvester’s mother Sophia died in Brindle, Lancashire, in 1861, reputedly aged 100, and is buried in the churchyard of St James, Brindle.
It’s believed that Sylvester had three partners. The first – according to the oral history – was Mary aka Moll Smith [B1 in the Borrow’s Gypsies tree of 1910]. There were no children and Mary then went on to become the partner of Golden Hope and had a large family with him.
The second partner was Sarah Heron by whom – so the story goes – Sylvester had one child. Perhaps it’s this one, found in the baptismal register of West Keal, Lincolnshire, dated 16 July 1832: Sempronius Boemea, son of Sylvester and Sarah Boswell, occupation potter. (He was known later in life as ‘Bui’.)
And partner No. 3 was Florence Chilcott, the maternal aunt of the Corlinda Lee – wife of George Smith [C12] – who you’ll find mentioned many times elsewhere on this site. The children of Sylvester and Florence were: Byron (born 1839), Mackenzie (born 1842), Oscar (born 1844), Bruce (born 1847), Julia (born 1850), Wallace (born 1853), Laura (born 1859) and Trafalgar (born 1856).
In 1878 Trafalgar Boswell married Athaliah Whatnell, daughter of Adelaide Smith [C6] and James Whatnell. Their son Silvester Gordon Boswell (born in the Gypsy encampment at South Shore, Blackpool, Lancashire, in 1895) not only inherited his grandfather’s name but his literary talent too. Old Wester was well-known as a scholar Gypsy with his own extensive library and a deep knowledge of the Anglo-Romani language that he shared with George Borrow. And young Silvester Gordon – in turn – became the first British Gypsy to have his autography published by a major publisher when his Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy appeared in 1970.
An overgrown monument at Flaybrick Cemetery commemorates Sylvester Boswell and three other people: his son Byrom [spelt thus, rather than ‘Byron’] who died or was buried 23 May 1883; his son Bruce died/buried 23 April 1886; and an infant named Burns Boswell died/buried 11 March 1873. Research in other sources shows that the latter is a grandson of Sylvester, being the child of Mackenzie Boswell and his partner Lureni Young, baptised 3 February 1873, Tranmere, Cheshire with the parents’ names recorded as ‘McKinzie’ and ‘Loraine’. Mackenzie himself is buried under his own fine monument nearby, as described in another entry on this site.