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Tibbie Tamson was a Scottish woman who is known to have once lived in the royal burgh of Selkirk in the Scottish Borders during the 18th century. Her grave is located on a hillside approximately 1.5 miles north of Selkirk at grid reference . While Tamson certainly did exist as she is recorded as dying in 1790, few other facts are actually known about her. A number of theories have been put forward to explain her death; and why she was buried in such an isolated spot.
Theories on death and burial
The four most prevalent theories about her death and why she was buried in this spot are: (1) She suffered execution for practising witchcraft thus was buried outside of the burgh as a further penalty; (2) She committed suicide and was denied Christian burial thus was buried outside of the burgh as a form of judicial retribution; (3) She was a victim of a plague thus she was separated from the burgh as a form of infection control; (4) She was the victim of the crime of homicide.
It is theorised that Tibbie Tamson may have been found guilty of practising witchcraft a craft that was a criminal offence in Scotland during the 18th century and because of this she was sentenced to burn to death upon the stake. This theory further states that, owing to what was viewed as her unchristian and criminal activities, her body was buried outside the town as was the legal custom of that time for such activities. If this is true it would indeed explain why she was buried outside Selkirk and close to but not within the neighbouring settlement of Philiphaugh. Folklore in Selkirk seems to hold this position although it maybe a confusion with a certain Megan Lawson of the same century who is on record at the Scottish court as having been executed by strangulation and burnt in Selkirk's burgh square on conviction of the same crime. As of yet, there is no known record of a Tibbie Tamson from Selkirk to have ever been sentenced to death during the 18th century within that burgh itself or any other location in Scotland.
The suicide theory states that she suffered from a mental illness or was intellectually disabled  due to which she was tormented and treated with contempt in Selkirk. The ostracised Tibbie is then said to have been accused of stealing a piece of yarn and was summoned to the sheriff court to face trial for the crime of petty theft, when found guilty of this charge which she is said to have not fully understood she is further said to have been taunted plus tormented even more which was the tipping point as due to embarrassment, she is believed to have hanged herself at home.
Suicide was an action not tolerated or looked upon compassionately at that time and if she indeed committed this action she would have been posthumously punished for it by the Scottish court by having her corpse buried in unconsecrated ground outside the town, this would indeed also explain why she was buried outside Selkirk but not within Philphaugh.
It is of particular interest to note that a Mr Michael Stewart a servant of the local landowner the Duke of Buccleuch, dug up her grave in an effort to give her a dignified interment some time later and he claimed to have actually found the body. He further claimed that the skeleton was clothed with a shawl which had a penny including a farthing inside a pocket. He later reburied the bones during a small Christian ceremony laying a crude headstone on her place of burial which can still be seen today.
It is also worthy of note that Mr Stewart mentions that her body was refused interment in the 'Auld Kirk yard' possibly the old church graveyard at Selkirk's Kirk Wynd and turned over to the Burgh constable to be placed outside the community for the crime of "self murder". This was said to have been reported by Mr Stewart approximately 90 years after Tibbies ordeal. If this is true it may be reliable evidence from a potential eye witness however Mr Stewart would be around one hundred years old when he reported witnessing it and this is very unlikely but it cannot be fully dismissed on grounds that it is not impossible.
It has been theorised that Tibbie Tamson may have been a plague victim who was buried outside the burgh to stop the spread of the virus. Again this would explain why she was buried outside Selkirk and Philphaugh. However, if this indeed were true one would expect to find more people buried outside Selkirk at the same location and in a large number. There has been no such find to date.
There has been a new theory put forward that states Tibbie Tamson may have been a victim of homicide and her murder made to look as if it were a suicide. Certainly, if this was true, it is highly likely that such a case would have been classed as suicide due to almost scant policing and modern forensic knowledge at that time.
- "Framed in Time", 14 October 2010, thesouthernreporter.co.uk
- Garside, P.D. (editor). In Hogg, James (2002) . The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Edinburgh University Press. Note 171(a). ISBN 978-0-7486-6315-6. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- "...the victim of religious despair...in a pious frenzy she took her own life...", 1913, "Highways and Byways in The Border Illustrated", Andrew Lang & John Lang