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Gordon the Gypsey

On 6 August 1822 a new melodrama titled “Gordon the Gypsey” was staged at London’s English Opera House (Lyceum Theatre) and reviewed favourably by the Morning Post. Another favourable notice appeared later that month in the European Magazine, the anonymous critic attributing the story to James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd. The critic failed to mention Anna Jane Vardill’s “Annals of Public Justice 1: The High Court of Justiciary, and a Gypsy Chief”, which appeared two years earlier in Volume 77 (February 1820) of the European Magazine and recounts the same tale, though with fewer characters.

“Gordon the Gypsey” was performed numerous times over the following years, with a variety of cast members.

Gordon the Gypsy
T. P. Cooke as Gordon

By August 1828 the novelty of the melodrama was wearing thin. The drama critic of the New Times called it “ill conceived and . . . badly written”, and extended his sympathy to the actors who had to work with such poor material. The reviewer reserved praise for the singers in what must have been an extravagant musical production.

From the 1850s onwards, many collections of Hogg’s works included a tale called “Gordon the Gypsey” that is identical to Vardill’s “The High Court of Justiciary, and a Gypsy Chief” and is annotated with the same footnotes.

Vardill was not averse to borrowing inspiration from other authors, but it is unlikely that she should have copied a Hogg story verbatim et literatim, or that the editors of the European Magazine should have failed to notice the blatant plagiarism.

Perhaps as a consequence of Vardill’s European Magazine contributions being either anonymous or subscribed with the initial “V”, many of those contributions were subsequently attributed to other authors. What is surprising about the attribution of her gypsy story to James Hogg is that it was made only two months after the publication of Vardill’s final contribution to the European Magazine, and by a contributor to that magazine.

Appended is a selection of reviews and notices relating to the stage production of “Gordon the Gypsey”, listed in chronological order. Also listed are three early collections of Hogg’s works that include the “Gordon the Gypsey” story.

  1. 07 August 1822 (Morning Post)
  2. August 1822 (European Magazine)
  3. 29 August 1822 (Morning Post)
  4. 04 August 1827 (New Times)
  5. 08 August 1828 (New Times)
  6. 14 June 1836 (Morning Post)
  7. “Gordon the Gypsey” (attr: James Hogg)

7 August 1822


English Opera

A new Scottish Melo Drama, in two Acts, entitled “Gordon the Gipsey,” was last night produced at this Theatre. The story is as follows:—

Gavin Cameron, the Laird of Drummond’s Keep, having murdered the former Laird, is overtaken by remorse in his old age, and he is moreover unhappy on account of the loss of his son Allan, whose fate is not known. He had intended that his niece Alice should be the wife of his son, and be fondly clings to the hope that he may yet return, when Gordon the Gypsey, the son of the murdered Laird, panting to revenge his father’s death, and to possess himself of the beautiful Alice, enters the Castle by a secret passage, supposed to be known only to the Assassin and his Son, and is received by the Laird as the lost Allan. It is proper to remark, that this Gordon has become the chief of a gypsey gang and has committed numerous crimes, for which his life is forfeited, in consequence of which a large sum is offered by the Government for his apprehension. Allan has been absent 16 years, and his representative easily imposes on the Laird, but an old woman in his household discovers him to be a cheat, and proclaims the imposture. Her testimony is not credited, and when through her means Gordon is arrested, and recognised by others as the Gypsey outlaw, the Laird satisfied that his enemy is really his son, enables him to fly from justice. Cameron is subsequently convinced of his error, when he, with his niece, falls into the hands of the Gypsey. His doom is pronounced and Gordon prepares to put him to death, but at this moment the soldiers sent in quest of him perceive the object of their search. Their arrival, however, prevents not the execution of his design. He succeeds in revenging the murder of his father, by killing the Laird, and falls himself by the fire of the military.

From the above outline of the main business of this Melo-drama, it will be seen that the Author has boldly deviated from the arrangement usually preferred. The son of the person murdered is such a character that he cannot be allowed to carry the Lady. The youth, Allan, who is mysteriously absent, fails to return; and thus, at the end, Alice has no husband, and not even a lover. It is not improbable that this will subject the writer to some sharp criticism on the part of the Ladies; but we cannot view the peculiarities we have noticed as defects. The equality of Cameron and Gordon as to guilt, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to guess the result. A powerful interest is excited, striking situations are produced, and surprise exceeds surprise till the fall of the curtain. Though the scenes are eminently romantic, they are not so outrageously extravagant as to interfere with the anxiety of the audience to ascertain the fate of the Dramatis Personae; and the expedients resorted to, in order to effect the sudden changes brought about, are always ingenious and most pleasing. The serious part of the business is relieved by some amusing scenes of a playful character, and, as a whole, we pronounce this to be a highly-animated and interesting drama, and well entitled to the universal applause which it obtained from a crowded and elegant audience.

We ought to add that the author was most ably supported by all concerned in the performance. T. P. Cooke was excellent as the Gypsey; his ferocious follower, M‘Iron, was very well acted by Mr. Callahan, and we never saw Rowbotham to so much advantage as in Cameron. Broadhurst sung with very good effect, and Wilkinson made the garrulous landlord of the Blue Sheep’s Head very good company. The female characters were sustained with adequate ability by Miss Carr and Mrs. Bryan.

The music by Mr. Watson comprehends some agreeable selections and tasteful original compositions, and when, to what we have already said, we add, that the Piece presents some beautiful new scenery, we hazard little in predicting that it will be Gordon the Gypsey’s fortune to act a distinguished part through the remainder of the season.

Morning Post, Wednesday 07 August 1822.

August 1822

A new Melo-drama has been brought out at this Theatre [English Opera House – Lyceum Theatre], under the name of Gordon the Gypsey.

The story has all the qualities adapting it to a Melo-drama, and of which the dramatist has judiciously availed himself. The piece has good music, good scenery, and abounds in those incidents and situations, which rouse the feelings, and make the heart palpitate with fear and alarm for the fate of the hero, and the manner in which he may extricate himself from his dilemmas, and escape the “moving accidents by flood and field.” Gordon is the son of a Scotch laird, owner of Drummond Keep, an inaccessible fortress on a rock, hanging over a lake.

Gordon’s father is murdered by his friend Cameron, who possesses himself of the Keep, in which he resides, with his only niece. His son having been obliged to fly the country, as one of the Jacobite rebels, Gordon has become the leader of a band of gypseys, and, discovering the mode of ingress into Drummond Keep, he is resolved to effect his entrance, to personate Cameron’s long-lost son—to espouse the niece, to whom he is attached—and then to wreak his vengeance on Cameron, for the murder of his father. He succeeds in gaining admission into the Keep, and in imposing himself upon Cameron as his son; but being pursued by the King’s troops, he is obliged to precipitate his plans, and, in the act of plunging old Cameron into the lake, he is shot by the soldiery, who were in pursuit of him. This is the outline of the story, which may be seen in the tales of Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd. Mr. Cooke performed the part of Gordon, and looked terrific.

His fine figure and vigorous action remarkably adapt him to such characters; his waving the burning bush to call his gang to his assistance, on the night when he discovers the entrance into the Keep, is characteristic and awful in the extreme.

Wilkinson, as a sort of Boniface—the toper landlord of the Blue Sheep’s Head, was irresistibly comic. His contest with M‘Iron, Gordon’s rude lieutenant, was ludicrous enough—but our praise extends only to Mr. Wilkinson,—not to his character, which is one of the most pointless we ever witnessed. The piece, on the whole, was deserving of approbation, and it was favourably received by the public.

The European Magazine, Vol. 82, August, 1822. p. 166.

29 August 1822

English Opera House

Gil Blas and Gordon the Gypsey have been the attraction at this Theatre for the last ten nights, and we are happy to observe that both pieces are nightly rising in public favour. The house has been fashionably and fully attended on each evening; so much so, that the proprietor has found it absolutely necessary to postpone two new Dramas (one from the pen of Mr. Beazley, and the other from Mr. Planche), which are quite ready for representation.

Morning Post, Thursday 29 August 1822

04 August 1827

English Opera House. Strand.

This evening, August 4, will be performed, the Melo-Drama, called

Gordon the Gypsey.

Gordon the Gypsey, Mr. Bennett; Gavin Cameron, Mr. Chapman; Dunbar, Mr. Thorne; M‘Iron, Mr. J. Bland; Alice, Miss Gray,

After which Military Tactics.

To conclude with The Cornish Miners.

On Monday, Love in a Village; after which, The Cornish Miners.

New Times (London), Saturday 04 August 1827

08 August 1828

English Opera House

Last night Gordon the Gypsey, a melo-drama in two acts, was presented for the first, and we trust the last time this season, as it is altogether unworthy the boards of a Theatre which ranks so high in the public estimation, and to which our national stage is indebted for so many pleasing after-pieces, and so many delightful operas. The affair to which we have alluded is altogether one of noise and scene-shifting, of nauseous sentimentality, and indifferent singing—of the ludicrously exaggerated expression of the most diabolical feelings, and of a conclusion that is in no respect satisfactory except in its being followed by the falling of the curtain. It will be seen too from the following cast of the characters, the piece derived but little support from the acting.

  1. Gordon the Gypsey — Mr. Vining
  2. Gavin Cameron — Mr. Evans
  3. Dunbar — Mr. Thorne
  4. Mc.Iron — Mr. Bland
  5. Griffin Le Noir — Mr. Salter
  6. Mr. Gillispie Farantosh — Mr. Sloman
  7. Alice — Miss Gray
  8. Marian Moome — Mrs. Bryan
  9. Dame Bawbie — Mrs. Jerrold.

In justice, however, we must state that Mr. Vining did every thing that could be done with a part so ill conceived and so badly written, as that of the worthy hero. But, in the name of all that is wonderful, what induced the manager to put that excellent pedestrian actor and highly respectable chorus-singer, Mr. Evans, into a character in which he had to spout even melo-dramatic tragedy? Really it was too much to inflict upon an audience who were weary with laughing at the imaginative flights of Rattler (in He “Lies like Truth”), and who had before that revelled in the enjoyment of the enchanting melodies of Mozart.

But, apropos to music, there was one good chorus in the melodrama, and a glee, in which there are some passages of sweet music. This glee was called for a second time by a few of the gallery dilettanti, but as it was rather “lengthy,” we must certainly confess we did sympathise with the majority of the audience, who gave the most unequivocal proofs of their considering the repetition as something bordering upon a severe infliction. To conclude with what perhaps we ought to have begun, let us say that Tit for Tat was represented in a style deserving much praise, and was received with the greatest enthusiasm by a crowded house. Phillips was every thing in Don Alfonso that the musical critic, or the simple lover of the “harmony of sweet sounds,” could desire. This gentleman is now decidedly one of the best bass singers in the world. To a voice firm, rich, and of extraordinary sweetness and compass, he unites a perfect taste and great musical science. Time and study have completely freed him from the broken and syllabic delivery, and we might say, indeed, all the other faults which we once remarked in him. In his acting, too, there appears to have been a considerable improvement. His Don Alfonso, at least, is excellent.

New Times (London), Friday 08 August 1828

14 June 1836

Theatre Royal, Lyceum and English Opera House.

This Evening the new Domestic Drama called

The Farmer’s Story.

Stephen Lockwood, Mr. Serle; Mortlake, Mr. Hemming; Mark Ryland, Mr. Perkins; Bristles, Mr. Wrench; Rut, Mr. Oxberry; Baggs, Mr. Romer.

Mary Lockwood, Mrs. Keeley; Peggy, Miss Jackson.

Followed by — Matteo Falcone.

To conclude with — Gordon The Gypsey.

Gordon the Gypsey, Mr. M(?)lan; Dunbar, Mr. Plumer; Gavin Cameron, Mr. Perkins; Alice, Miss Shaw.

Morning Post, Tuesday 14 June 1836

“Gordon the Gypsey”

  1. Hogg, James. Tales and Sketches by the Ettrick Shepherd. Glasgow: Blackie. 185? pp. 324-34.
  2. Hogg, James, and Thomas Thomson. The Works of the Ettrick Shepherd. 2 volumes. London [etc.]: Blackie, 1866. v. 1, pp. 699-702.
  3. Hogg, James. The Tales of James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd. London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co. 1880. Vol. 2. pp. 484-9.