Gaffer Gamgee

From Tolkien Gateway
Hamfast Gamgee
"Gaffer Gamgee and the Black Rider" by Stephen Hickman
Biographical Information
Other namesGaffer, Old Gamgee, Ranugad Galbasi
BirthS.R. 1326
DeathS.R. 1428[note 1] (aged 102)
ParentageHobson Gamgee
SiblingsAndwise Roper, May and Halfred of Overhill
SpouseBell Goodchild
ChildrenHamson, Halfred, Daisy, May, Samwise and Marigold
Physical Description
Hair colorIn later life, grey
GalleryImages of Hamfast Gamgee

No one had a more attentive audience than old Ham Gamgee, commonly known as the Gaffer. He held forth at The Ivy Bush, a small inn on the Bywater road; and he spoke with some authority, for he had tended the garden at Bag End for forty years, and had helped old Holman in the same job before that. Now that he was himself growing old and stiff in the joints, the job was mainly carried on by his youngest son, Sam Gamgee. Both father and son were on very friendly terms with Bilbo and Frodo. They lived on the Hill itself, in Number 3 Bagshot Row just below Bag End.

Hamfast Gamgee, better known as the Gaffer, was a Hobbit of the Shire, and the father of Samwise Gamgee of the Fellowship of the Ring. He was the gardener of Bag End before he passed the title onto Sam.


Hamfast was born in T.A. 2926, the third son of Hobson Gamgee, who was a roper by trade. He had three siblings: Andwise Roper, May and Halfred of Overhill.[1]

He entered the service of his relative, "Cousin Holman", and became a gardener. One of his first jobs was tending the garden of Bag End.[2] On 22 June, T.A. 2942, he and Holman frantically tried to keep the garden in order during the auction of the presumed-dead Bilbo Baggins.

Hamfast resided in Number 3, Bagshot Row and Daddy Twofoot was his next-door neighbor[2] and had never been as far as Bucklebury.[3]

Hamfast became a gardener in his own right in about T.A. 2961, and a local expert on potatoes and other roots; "Master Hamfast" (as Bilbo called him) appreciated Bilbo's politeness and respecting his knowledge.[2] He married Bell Goodchild, and they had six children: Hamson, Halfred, Daisy, May, Samwise and Marigold.[1] Sam became Hamfast's apprentice.

Sam took over most of his father's work, who had become too old for the laborous work.[2] He became known as the "Gaffer", a name Sam uses more often than "Hamfast".

Prior to the Farewell Party, the younger hobbits sought information about the legendary Mr. Bilbo Baggins at the Ivy Bush. Always a man of loquacity and knowledge, he argued with Sandyman, Old Noakes and Daddy Twofoot about the Bagginses and the Sackville-Bagginses. After the party, Bilbo left him two sacks of potatoes, a new spade, a woolen waistcoat, and a bottle of ointment as he suffered from creaking joints.[2] By T.A. 3018 he also began to lose his sight.[3]

In T.A. 3018, his new neighbor, Frodo Baggins decided to leave the Shire, and Gandalf had obliged Sam to go with him. Frodo pretended to be moving to Buckland, and sold Bag End to Lobelia, for which Hamfast was not so happy. He allowed Sam to go with Frodo to help and tend the garden of his new house, as he said.[3]

On 23 September, the night of the departure of Frodo and Sam, Khamûl, one of the Nazgûl rode up the lane as the elderly hobbit was taking his air, and asked about "Baggins". The Gaffer told him that he had left for Bucklebury and it's not their business to know why, and refused to leave any message. The stranger hissed, making Hamfast shudder. Soon after the Nazgûl left, Sam arrived to give Hamfast the keys to Bag End before leaving. Surprised by Sam's arrival, the Gaffer told Sam about the stranger.[3]

A week later, he was visited by Gandalf who he also informed about Frodo's whereabouts.[4][5]

When Lotho and eventually Sharkey took over the Shire, the Gaffer was evicted from Bagshot Row.[6] After the Battle of Bywater, in which he had only a marginal role, he moved back into the newly restored Bagshot Row, the "New Row." He was looked after by the Widow Rumble, which Frodo uses to comfort Sam about moving into Bag End. After his granddaughter is born, Sam calls his father to decide upon a name. Gaffer tells him to stick with the tradition of naming hobbit-girls after flowers and Frodo gives Sam the name "Elanor". The Gaffer lived for another 7 years and died in Fourth Age 7.[7]

His son, Sam, named his seventh child Hamfast after his father.[1]


The name Hamfast is a modernization of Old English hám-fæst, meaning "Stay-at-home", or literally, "Home-fast". It is a translation of his Westron name, Ranugad Galbasi.[8] In the King's Letter, the name (referring to Hamfast Gardner, the fourth son of Sam and Rose, not the Gaffer) is translated into Sindarin as Baravorn.[9]

"Gaffer" is a colloquial word for "old man". It is a contraction of "grandfather."

In other stories

In the illustrated short story Mr. Bliss, there is a resident in the village named Gaffer Gamgee who struggles to listen to the discussion between Mr Binks and Sergeant Boffin about whether Mr Bliss should be locked up for failure to pay for his car. Sergeant Boffin also has a son named Sam.[10]


In Letter 257, J.R.R. Tolkien recounts a holiday to Lamorna Cave in the early 1930's. To amuse his sons, he named a local Gaffer Gamgee. This "curious local character" was "an old man who used to go about swapping gossip and weather-fashion and such like". The surname was chosen because it alliterated with Gaffer.

Tolkien had several encounters with actual Gamgees, however. Gamgee Tissue, a word young Ronald considered comical, was named after J. Sampson Gamgee (1828-1886), a famous Birmingham surgeon,[11] whilst in the Black Country dialect cotton wool was referred to as "gamgee".[12] The Gamgees were notorious surgeons - years later, Dr. Leonard Gamgee tended those war-wounded, including Lieutenant Tolkien.[13]

Portrayal in adaptations

1978: The Lord of the Rings (1978 film):

The Gaffer does not appear in the film; but is mentioned to have been thrown out as Sam looks into the Mirror of Galadriel.

1981: The Lord of the Rings (1981 radio series):

John Church plays Gaffer Gamgee. He used a thick peasant accent for the role. He is included in early episodes including a full dramatisation of his encounter with the Nazgul. He also features towards the end of the adaptation when he admonishes the returning Hobbits for wearing "ironmongery."

1992: Der Herr der Ringe (1992 German radio series):

Hamfast "Gaffer" Gamgee is played by Wolfgang Reinsch.
Gaffer in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:

Gaffer appears in the film's Extended Edition, where he is played by Norman Forsey. The conversation in the Ivy Bush is moved to the Green Dragon Inn, though the dialogue remains much the same. He does not appear at Sam's marriage in The Return of the King.

2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (video game):

Gaffer appears twice; at first, he drinks at the Green Dragon, but during the night, he informs Frodo of the Ringwraith that stalks the Shire. He was voiced by an uncredited Jim Piddock.