The Greyfriars Bobby Edinburgh

The Greyfriars Bobby Edinburgh

Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier  who became known in 19th-century Edinburgh for supposedly spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner until he died himself on 14 January 1872. The story continues to be well known as active oral history in Edinburgh through several books and films, and became a prominent commemorative statue and nearby graves act as a tourist attraction.

The best known version of the story is that Bobby belonged to John Gray, When John Gray died he was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, the graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk in the Old Town of Edinburgh. Bobby then became known locally, spending the rest of his life sitting on his master’s tomb.

In 1867 Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Si rWilliam Chambers paid for Bobby’s licence, and gave the dog a collar now in the Museum of Edinburgh

Bobby is said to have sat by the grave for 14 years until he died in 1872and was buried just inside the gate of  Greyfriars Kirkyard not far from John Gray’s grave.

The accuracy of stories of Greyfriars Bobby has been challenged many times—for instance in books by Forbes Macgregor Greyfriars Bobby: The Real Story at Last and by Jan Bondeson Greyfriars Bobby: The Most Faithful Dog in the World.and by Richard Brassey in “Greyfriars Bobby The Most Famous Dog in Scotland”.

Questions about the story’s accuracy are also not new. In a newspaper article in The Scotsman, “Greyfriars Bobby A Dogs Devotion” (August 11, 1934), Councillor Wilson McLaren responds to contemporary questions about the accuracy of the stories by describing his own conversation, in 1871, with “Mr Traill” of “Traill’s Coffee House” in relation to the dog he himself was then feeding, reassuring readers about the story Mr Traill had given him, and describing responses in 1889 to questions about the story’s accuracy.A  sense of the difficulty of determining accuracy is gained from two opposing letters to The Scotsman newspaper on February 8, 1889 (part of the debate referred to by McLaren), both from people claiming close links to Greyfriars Kirk, both claiming to have known of the dog personally, but with opposing views over the accuracy of stories.

A common discussion is over which of two people named John Gray was the real owner of Bobby (one being a night watchman and the other a farmer). In Councillor McLaren’s account Mr Traill in 1871 had spoken about John Gray the farmer.

Jan Bondesons  book advances the view that fundamental facts about the dog and its loyalty are wrong. Bondeson suggests that as background, in 19th-century Europe there are over 60 documented accounts of graveyard or cemetery dogs. These were stray dogs which were fed by visitors and curators to the point the dogs made the graveyards their home, people coming to believe that they were waiting by a grave, and the result being that the dog was looked after. Bondeson claims that after an article about Bobby appeared in The Scotsman, visitation rates to the graveyard increased, which supposedly created a lucrative situation for the local community. Bondeson also believes that in 1867 the original Bobby died and was replaced with a younger dog, and that this explains the longevity of Bobby

A lifesize statue of Greyfriars Bobby was created by William Brodie in 1872. This was paid for by a local aristocrat, Baroness Burdett-Coutts and unveiled on November 15, 1873. It stands near the south (main) entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard. The monument is Edinburghs smalles tlisted building. Originally built as a drinking fountain, it had an upper fountain for humans and a lower fountain for dogs. This had the water supply cut off (as with all Edinburghss drinking fountains) around 1975 amidst health scares.Both basin areas were infilled with concrete soon after. After being daubed with yellow paint, allegedly by students, on General Election night in 1979, and being hit by a car in 1984, restoration became critical. The monument was subsequently fully restored under the supervision of the then Edinburgh District Council in 1985. The entire base is newly carved but emulates the original exactly. A plaque on the base reads “A tribute to the affectionate fidelity of Greyfriars Bobby. In 1858, this faithful dog followed the remains of his master to Greyfriars Kirkyard and lingered near the spot until his death in 1872. With permission erected by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts”. Inscribed on the statue is “Greyfriars Bobby, from the life just before his death” and “W.H. Brodie Sc RSA 1872”.

A plaque on the site of a tavern where Bobby was a welcome visitorA red granite stone was erected on Bobby’s grave by The Dog Aid Society of Scotland, and unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester on 13 May 1981. Since around 2000 this has been utilised in a shrine-like manner, with sticks (for Bobby to fetch) frequently left and occasionally dog toys, flowers, etc. The monument reads: Greyfriars Bobby – Died 14th January 1872 – Aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.

A year later Lady Burdett Couts had a statue and fountain erected at the southern end of the George The IV Bridge to commemorate him.


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