Tag Archives: George Smith

Faden John Smith’s mystery family make their home in Ireland

On Borrow’s Gypsies family tree, published in 1910 in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, there’s a small knot of people at the bottom of one page with no details attached to them.

They are Bertram [C15 in the tree], Herbert [C16], Beatrice [C17], Norah [C18] and Ambrose Smith [C19], the children of Faden John Smith [B10] and his partner Alice, a non-Gypsy whose surname, according to the tree, is ‘Penden’. Faden John Smith himself is the brother of Ambrose Smith [B8], the ‘Jasper Petulengro’ of the novels of George Borrow.

As far as I’m aware, little or no work has ever been done to trace Faden John’s family or identify the people in it. Until now, that is. For research into Faden John, Alice and the children has revealed that they left England in the late-1860s to make their home in Ireland and that they never returned to live permanently in England again. Perhaps this is the reason why their Smith relatives based in England couldn’t provide T.W. Thompson with any useful information about them when he was compiling the family tree.

John Farthing Smith – to give him the name that he is invariably recorded by in the historic documents discovered so far – married Alice Penn (rather than ‘Penden’) in Hatcham, South London, on 24 October 1857. Alice was indeed a non-Gypsy, born in a street close to Liverpool Street Station in the City of London in 1837, the daughter of a merchant’s clerk.

By the time of the 1861 census, we find the couple camped in caravans at Mile End, Bow, London. They now have one child, recorded in the census as a daughter called Bertha, aged 10 months. But a birth certificate shows that the child was in fact a son, Bertram Farthing Smith, who was born in 1860 in Old Ford Road, Bow. With John and Alice in 1861 are two more adults: John’s sister Elizabeth Smith [B9], the widow of Elijah Buckley, and her son William Smith [C13]. William gives his age as 25 and his birthplace as Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.  Both John and William give their occupations as horse dealers.

Two more children arrive in the family before they leave London: Herbert, who was baptised at St Mary’s, Stratford Le Bow, London, in 1862; and in 1864, Beatrice Alice, born in a house at 1 North Street, Poplar, London.

And then, off go the family to Ireland, possibly as adherents of the ball-giving group of Gypsies led by John’s nephew George Smith [C12], who you can read about elsewhere on this blog. George is the other son of the Elizabeth Smith mentioned above and therefore the brother of William.

In Ireland, John and Alice add two more children to their family. Leonora Eugenie Smith was born on 3 March 1869 in Strabane, County Tyrone. Ambrose – recorded as Lewis William Ambrose Smith – was baptised in Killeshin, County Carlow, on 19 June 1876.

It appears that John and his nephew William Smith may well have gone into business together as horse dealers in the Irish city in which they all eventually settled, Dublin. Either that or the two brothers William and George started up a business, perhaps with John’s help, but with George’s involvement being rather remote: he was living in Scotland in 1891 and 1901 and in Wales in 1911.

John Farthing Smith died in Dublin on 11 June 1896, according to a reference in the Irish calendar of wills. Here he was described as a ‘gentleman’ of 29 Nelson Street, Dublin. Unfortunately, most Irish wills were destroyed by fire in the early 20th century so this index reference is tantalisingly all that survives. More than that, the Irish General Register Office have been unable to trace a death certificate for a John Smith in Dublin in 1896 among their records so we have no more details about his death.

John’s widow Alice continued to live in Dublin. We find her in the 1901 census with her children Bertram, Beatrice, Leonora and Ambros [sic] living at 41 Granby Lane, Dublin. In the 1911 census she and her daughter Leonora are living alone at 12 Emor Street, Dublin. She died in 1920 in Sandford Avenue, Dublin, and the administration of her estate was granted to her son Bertram Smith, described in the calendar of wills as a ‘merchant’.

And what became of the children? Here’s a potted biography for each of them:

Bertram Smith
He became a notable horse dealer in Ireland and is recorded in newspaper reports in the late 1800s attending horse fairs and possibly owning race horses. He travelled back to England to marry, wedding Eleanor Rimmer, daughter of a joiner from Liverpool, in Egremont, Cheshire, in 1901, By the time of the 1911 census, he was back in Dublin and had two children: Bertram, born in Dublin in 1903; and Eleanor, known as Nellie, born 1909, again in Dublin. Bertram’s wife Eleanor died in 1920 in Dublin. Bertram then married for a second time, to a Jane Jenkins, a farmer’s daughter, in 1923 at St Stephen’s, Dublin. His address then is given as Lad Lane, Lower Baggot Street. It’s not known if he and Jane had any children. Bertram’s death has not yet been traced.

Beatrice Smith
She married a Londoner called William Thompson Mackey, a designer of machinery, in 1901, in Dublin North Registration District. In the 1911 census, the couple are living in Fulham, London, with no children of their own but with a niece called Alice Elizabeth Smith, aged 5, born in Dublin. But Beatrice seems to have returned to live in Ireland at some point after that. Her death, as Beatrice Alice Mackey, is recorded in Dublin South in 1945.

Herbert Smith
No reference has been found for Herbert after his 1862 baptism at St Mary’s, Stratford Le Bow, London. Perhaps he died young.

Leonora Smith – the ‘Norah’ of the family tree
Leonora didn’t marry. She continued to live with her mother Alice until Alice’s death in 1920. Her own death is recorded on 20 June 1929 at Adelaide House, Dublin, possibly a hospital, aged 60.

Ambrose Smith
Ambrose followed the profession of horse dealer like his father and cousins. He married Bridget Behan, daughter of a steward, on 22 January 1904 at St Mary’s, Dublin. Within two years, he was dead. His death is recorded on 4 June 1906 at 41 Granby Place, Dublin. It’s not known whether he and Bridget had any children but perhaps the Alice Elizabeth Smith who is living with Beatrice in London in 1911 belongs to him: she was born in about 1906.





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Walter Smith: a different ‘king’ and leader for the ball-giving Gypsies?

George Smith, the self-styled ‘King of the Gypsies’, seems to have a usurper.

Walter Smith, seated, with his son-in-law Stephen Hewitt. Stephen is the husband of Walter's daughter Pamela Smith.

Walter Smith, seated, with his son-in-law Stephen Hewitt. Stephen is the husband of Walter’s daughter Pamela Smith.

As you can read elsewhere on this blog, George Smith [C12 in the Borrow’s Gypsies family tree of 1910] always claimed that he was the one who came up with the ingenious money-making idea of leading his Smith, Young, Chilcott and Lee relatives on a grand tour of Great Britain and Ireland from the 1860s onwards. In major towns and cities along the way, George invited the public to visit their encampment to see how real Romany Gypsies lived and to have their fortunes told by his wife Kurlinda/Corlinda Lee and his daughters or other female members of the community. In the evenings, they held dances – advertising them as ‘The Royal Epping Forest Gypsy Balls’ – held either within the encampment or in public halls nearby. Here George brought in local caterers to serve refreshments and professional musicians to provide music. Kurlinda/Corlinda and George were usually in attendance, under the guise of  ‘The King and Queen of the Gypsies’.

But this newspaper report of 1871 seems to suggest that another member of George’s family had claimed the crown. This is Walter Smith [C3 in the 1910 tree, born 1841, died 1921], first cousin to George. His ‘queen’ is his wife Matilda, nee Gaskin. And it is interesting to see the mention of the Mullinger and Whatnell families. As far as we know, this is the first known contemporary reference to them as adherents of the ball-giving group.

North Wales Chronicle, Saturday 11 November 1871

“A GIPSY BALL.– Whether or not many people go a gipsying in the present day, it is pretty certain that no inconsiderable number go to gipsy balls. This was evident at the Masonic-hall, Scotland-road, Liverpool, on Monday night, when the “King and Queen” of the Gipsies gave a ball. The Zingari tribe of gipsies – they maintain that they are the only genuine tribe – are at present in camp in the neighbourhood of Everton, and they embrace the families of the Mullingers, Smiths and Whatnells. Their home is Epping Forest, but they have been in these parts some time.

The king rejoices in the common name of Smith – Walter Smith, that of his Queen being Matilda Smith. They speak the gipsy language, marry only amongst their own tribe, but consummate their matrimonial alliances in Protestant places of worship. They would appear to depend a good deal on the support of “externs”, making money wherever they are, and getting a living in quite a different style to the old, pastoral style of their ancestors. The ball was one means of replenishing their exchequer, and judging from the members who attended, it was pretty successful. The prices of admission, moreover, were low, and the opportunity of seeing and dancing with their majesties was thus within reach of all.

The King, Queen, and other members of the tribe, together with their children, graced the occasion with their presence, and entered thoroughly into the spirit of the dance. Her Majesty the Queen (Mrs. Smith) was dressed in blue silk, with a rather pretty head-dress which has no Parisian or other name. The rest of the female members of the tribe were for the most part attired in white, with glaring red trimmings, and red Garibaldi jackets. The costume of his Majesty (Mr. Smith) is perhaps best described as being a compound between the dress of a gamekeeper and a groom.

Perhaps the most innocent feature of the affair was the children of the gipsies, with their jet-black hair and piercing eyes, merrily capering amongst the throng of adult dancers. So far as we could observe the ball was well conducted, and will result in a goodly sum being netted by the Zingari tribe.”

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Death of Sylvester Boswell, 1890

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.

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Buried at Flaybrick Cemetery, Birkenhead, Cheshire: No. 2 – the Smiths

This is the second of three items on this site about the Gypsy monuments visited by the Gypsiologist Robert Scott Macfie on 11 October 1909 at Flaybrick Cemetery in Birkenhead, Cheshire. He saw this one commemorating the Smiths, another for the Chilcot/ts and one for Mackenzie Boswell.

Here’s part of the inscription Scott Macfie took from the Smith tomb, now preserved in a document at the Gypsy Collections at the University of Liverpool Library: To the memory of | Elizabeth Smith | who died 5th January 1883 Aged 76 years  Charles Henry Smith | Born January 20th 1864 Departed this life January 12th 1897 [Here Scott Macfie has sketched a freemason’s mark that he saw cut into the stone] Also of Frederick Grandson of Elizabeth Smith | who died at Douglas, Isle of Man, 12th Septr 1889 | Aged 23 and is here interred. Robert Scott Macfie wrote: “This grave is exactly similar  [to the Chilcott grave], and is next to it.”  The description of that tomb says: “Table tomb with gable top on the surfaces of which the inscriptions are cut. Mounted on plinth: no railing. Quiet and tasteful monument without ostentation.”  Elizabeth Smith [B9 on the Borrow’s Gypsies family tree elsewhere on this site] was the widow of Elijah Buckley. Charles Henry Smith [D40] and Frederick Smith [D41] were the sons of Elizabeth’s son George Smith [C12] and his wife Corlinda Lee.

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The manslaughter of Elijah Buckley, 1832

The Essex Standard, and Colchester and County Advertiser

22 September 1832

An inquest was held on the 17th instant held at Waltham Abbey , on the body of Elijah Buckley. The deceased was one of a party of gipsies who had been at Harlow Bush fair, where a quarrel ensued between him and the wife of one of the parties named Stevens, who snatched up a pole, with which he struck him across the head. A regular skirmish followed, in which the deceased was once or twice knocked down. Buckley took to his bed in consequence, and never spoke again. He died on Saturday morning, and as it appeared, from extravasation of blood on the brain. Verdict – Manslaughter against John Stevens.

Elijah Buckley was the partner of Elizabeth Smith [B9] (the sister of Ambrose Smith, c1804-1878) and the father of George Smith [C12] (born 1832) and Leviathan Smith [C14] (born 1828) and – according to the oral history recorded in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society – also of Oti aka William Smith [C13]. (The latter’s baptism has not yet been traced.) Elijah was buried on 19 September 1832 at the Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross, Waltham Cross, Essex,  where he described as being 34 years old and a brazier from High Beech: a location within Epping Forest.

But there are two mysteries here. Firstly, on the two occasions where Oti/William Smith has been found in census returns, he gives ages that equate to a birth year somewhere between 1836 and 1840. If he is being accurate, then he obviously cannot be the son of Elijah.

Secondly, when George Smith writes about his father in his 1886 autobiography Incidents in a Gipsy’s Life (re-published by the Romany and Traveller Family History Society in 2001), he says: “House-dwellers often have remarked as to the life we lead; many have suggested it to be unhealthy. Now, to prove to the contrary, my dear old mother died at the age of 75, and my father at the age of 81.” So we have to consider: is this artistic licence to prove a point? Or did Elijah’s widow Elizabeth take up with an unknown partner after 1832 who raised George from a baby as his own son and also fathered Oti/William? I look forward to finding that missing baptism one day.

You can read more about George Smith and his wife Corlinda Lee elsewhere on this site.

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George Smith plans Romany language newspaper, 1891

From The Boston Globe (Boston, USA), 17 July 1891:

Odd items from everywhere

A newspaper in the gypsy jargon, the Romany language, is soon to be published in England with the expectation of making it the organ of the wandering people. It will be edited by George Smith, the “King” of the English gypsies, who counts upon getting 20,000 subscribers to it.

A great self-publicist and showman, George Smith [C12] was famous – or infamous – for his inventive, money-making schemes. I’ve never seen or heard anything about this newspaper before. So perhaps this was one project that didn’t quite get off the ground for him.

You can read about one that did – his tour around Britain and Ireland heading a Gypsy group that held dances for the public – in another post on this blog. It’s in the one about George’s wife Corlinda Lee and her grave in the Necropolis, Glasgow, Scotland.

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‘The last of the Gipsy Princes’: the funeral of Ernest Smith, 1898

From the North-Eastern Daily Gazette (Middlesbrough), 4 May 1898:

On Monday a gipsy funeral took place in Glasgow. The deceased was Ernest Smith, son of the “King” of the Gipsies of Epping Forest. The ceremonial was of a very elaborate character, and the departure of the funeral from the deceased’s house at 202 Cambridge-street, was witnessed by a gathering of about two thousand people. The coffin was of oak, and the lid bore the inscription “Ernest Smith. Aged twenty-seven. The last of the Gipsy Princes.” The Necropolis was the place of burial. The hearse was drawn by four horses, and following there were nine two horsed mourning coaches, chiefly occupied by members of the tribe, the Gipsy “King” and “Queen”, with deceased’s wife occupying the first. Three funeral services were held. Deceased was a member of the Church of England, and his wife belongs to the Church of Scotland. Church of England services were conducted both at the house and at the grave by the Rev. W.S.B. Petrie, Port Dundas; and the Rev. James B. Grant, St Stephen’s Parish, also conducted a Presbyterian service in the house. It is, however, a mistake to claim the deceased as “the last of the Gipsy Princes”: there are several of these still living in the South of Scotland, including Prince Charlie Rutherford, of Kirk Yetholm.

This ‘last of the Gipsy Princes’ was Ernest Smith [D44], the son of Kurlinda/Corlinda Lee and George Smith [C12]. As the newspaper story reports, he was buried in the Necropolis in Glasgow. Here his tomb is marked by a large monument with the inscription:





DIED 28th APRIL 1898


The gravestone of Ernest Smith at the Necropolis, Glasgow, Scotland. His mother's monument stands behind it in this shot.

Ernest’s mother is buried in an adjacent grave with its own impressive monument that also includes a mention of Ernest in its inscription. (You can read about this monument and see a photo of it in another post on this blog.)

Ernest’s wife was Sarah Jane Ellicock . They married on 3 July 1895 at 52 West Nile Street, Glasgow, Ernest being described as a horse dealer living at 202 Cambridge Street, Blythswood, Glasgow. On his death at the same address three years later his occupation is given as old clothes dealer.

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