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Gypsy Boswell

Anne-Marie Ford    -    2 June 2013

“Centenarian Gypsy’s Death at Bakewell,” proclaimed the Derby Daily Telegraph of Saturday, 27th April 1912:

The death of Gypsy Osery Boswell took place at Bakewell workhouse on Friday in the hundredth year of his age. Gypsy Boswell and his wife Catherine, who is 88 years of age, came from Beeley Moor to Cowhill-lane, near Bakewell, where they were accommodated with an outbuilding, and in this they lived until a week ago, when Osery was removed to the workhouse, and Catherine went to live with friends at Matlock.

Since the ages of Romanies and Travellers were often exaggerated, it isn’t perhaps surprising to discover that Osery Boswell was, in reality, about 82 years of age, and his wife, Caroline, not Catherine, was 73, having been baptised at Clawson, Leicester on 21st April 1839, the daughter of Beechenny Booth.

Osery, the son of Viney and Comfort Boswell, and Caroline had nine known children. Their first, Rosanna Amelia, was baptised at Middlewich, Cheshire on 16th May 1858, when Caroline was just nineteen. Rosanna’s birth was followed by that of Salathiel, baptised in Delamere, Cheshire on 21st August 1859, Sampson, born at Matlock, Derbyshire the following year and Holtheamiah, baptised at Chelmorton, Derbyshire on 16th April 1862. Since their first daughter had died young, Osery and Caroline named another daughter Rosanna Amelia, baptising her at Knutsford, Cheshire on 25th August 1864; Sophia came next, baptised at Mobberley, Cheshire on 19th March 1867, then a son, Edward, was born in Matlock about 1868, and Joshua Boswell, baptised, once more, in Chelmorton, on 14th April 1870. The last known child of this couple, Milenda, was born in Derbyshire around 1871.

The Monday after news of Osery’s death had been announced in the local newspaper the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette also noted the event in its 29th April 1912 edition, informing its readers that “Osery Boswell, believed to be oldest Gypsy in the world, has died in the workhouse infirmary, Bakewell, at the age of a hundred.” This description of Osery was repeated in the Dundee Courier of the same date, when it announced that the “World’s Oldest Gypsy” was dead:

Osery Boswell, aged 100, who has died at Bakewell, Derbyshire, was said to be the oldest Gypsy in the world. He was taken ill a few days ago in a rough, hovel-like building which he and his wife, who is eighty, had made their home. When removed to the workhouse infirmary and compelled to have a bath, Boswell is said to have boasted that he had never had a bath in the whole of his long life.

Dozens of nineteenth century Gypsies claimed to be centenarians, but not one of them has yet been confirmed as such in the birth records. Assuming they were born just before they were christened, and died just before they were buried, a few ‘centenarians’ were 20 years or so short: Barrington Buckland, for example, was 82, not 102, Sibby Draper was 90, not 108. A number were 15 years or so short: Spanish Lovell was 85, not 101, Woodfine Smith was 86, not 102, and Matthew Lock was 86, not 100. Elizabeth Leatherland, aged though she was, couldn’t have been 111 when she died, because that would make her a month short of 52 when she had her last known child. Comfort Boswell can’t have been 98 (actually she was 76), when she died, because that would put her in her late sixties when she had her last child.

The photograph which follows this piece is that of Osery and Caroline Boswell, taken in March 1912, a month before Osery died. The outbuilding in which they are living is clearly a poor habitation, but what is particularly fascinating about the image is the detail of the everyday – Caroline’s crochet and tiny scissors are still perfectly clear, as she stares, slightly defiantly, into the camera. We are grateful to Katy Hooper, Special Collections, Sydney Jones Library, Liverpool University for this photograph. To find out more about the genealogy of this fascinating family buy Viney Boswell and his Brothers, part of the Famous Romany Families booklet series, either through Genfair or the RTFHS.

The Romany and Traveller Family History Society has just published a Family Tree booklet on Viney Boswell, (Osery’s father), and his brothers, as part of its on-going Famous Romany Families series. The A4 booklet runs to 32pp and costs just £8.00 + p&p.

A previous publication on the Clayton and Booth families, in which Caroline Booth, Osery Boswell’s wife figures, is also available at a cost of £8 + p&p; a bargain when you consider the cost of just one certificate is over £9!

In addition, a booklet tracing the genealogy of Barrington Buckland is also hot off the press. In the usual A4 format, it provides 28 pp of detailed, original research into this famous tribe and costs £7.00 + p&p.

Please see our publications page, the RTFHS website or the Facebook page for the RTFHS for further details, or order direct through Genfair.

SMGC 1/1 PM.36-37: Oseri Boswell and his wife. Taken at: Bakewell, Derbyshire, March 1912. Prints of this image: SMGC 1/3 Unid. 1.17. Macfie, Liverpool no.A.16 is written on the reverse.

Copyright © 2013 Anne-Marie Ford