George Henry Borrow, English traveller, writer and linguist. 1803 - 1881

George Borrow was born in East Dereham, Norfolk on 5th July 1803, the son of a soldier. Seemingly destined to be a wanderer from birth, he and the family followed as his father's regiment was posted throughout the British Isles. These travels were to form the basis for his later book Lavengro, published in 1851. Despite his nomadic life, he found time for an education, and an excellent one at that, including schooling at Edinburgh High School and four years at a grammar school in Norwich, which he left in 1818.

He was possessed of a great gift for languages, and Norwich helped him to begin to develop this nascent skill. He was articled to a solicitor, but found this apprenticeship wearisome, and he moved to London for a year, finding some pleasure in writing. Following a spell of ill-health, he began the travels which became the source of inspiration for so much of his work, travelling throughout England and Europe, all the while collecting notes and experiences.

Borrow is perhaps best known for his empathy and affinity with the Gypsies, travelling and living with them, learning their language and customs. So successful was he that they accepted him as one of their own, a rare privilege indeed for a gadje or gorgio (non-gypsy), and it is largely through his study of their language and culture that we know so much of them. His book The Romany Rye, published in 1857 is a telling of his travels with them, and shows his love for a people who he felt were largely misunderstood by the societies through which they moved.

It is not just the Romany culture and language that drew him on, however - he travelled extensively in Russia and Spain whilst he was an agent for the British and Foreign Bible Society. Spain provided yet more material for him - The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies in Spain and The Bible in Spain were both accounts of his travels there.

His writings are often considered to be purely documentary, but a thread of imagination runs through them all, though of all his works, only Lavengro and The Romany Rye are purely fictional in nature.

Despite his extensive travels, he would return to his beloved Norfolk where he met, and married his wife, and dying near Oulton Broad on 16th July 1881, "well satisfied with life".


Zincali, Gypsies of Spain (1841)
The Bible in Spain (1843)
Lavengro (1851)
Letters of George Borrow
The Romany Rye (1857)
Wild Wales (1862)
Encyclopædia Britannica