Setting the scene
Greyfriars Graveyard in Edinburgh was established in 1562 by Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s a beautiful green space with some interesting sights on offer, and has borne witness to some significant events such as the signing of The National Covenant in 1638. However, They are stories for another day. Today, I want to tell you about an example of unwavering fidelity which centres are around the graveyard.
You may or may not be familiar with the story of Greyfriars Bobby, either through stories or a few films that have been made for over the years, including one by Disney.
Greyfriars Bobby – the true story
Around summer 1858 a small dog is seen accompanying a funeral at Greyfriars Kirkyard. Once the body of his master is buried and everyone has left, the dog remains, sleeping on top of the unmarked grave.
Over the next couple of evenings, the superintendent of the burial ground tries to chase the dog away from the site, but each morning when James Brown arrives, the dog has returned, continuing his vigil at the graveside. This constant attendance by this little dog lasted for 14 years until his own death in 1872. It was believed that our little terrier was about 2 years old when his master died.
The example of such devotion and loyalty captured the hearts of many and while there do seem to have been examples of people attempting to coax Bobby into their homes, he remained loyal, devoting himself to protecting his master’s grave and refused to move.
That’s the general story of Greyfriars Bobby. He stayed close to his master’s grave throughout the remaining 14 years of his life. That said, there are some noteworthy occurrences during thos,e 14 years. Let’s now look at them with the use of a timeline.
|1858||As discussed already, this year sees the death of the Master of Bobby, the Skye Terrier and the arrival of the dog in the cemetery sleeping on his Master’s grave|
Bobby became very popular, with stories being written in newspapers across Scotland and possibly wider afield. This little dog captured the public imagination. Soon the kirkyard was very busy with people visiting to see the devoted little dog. greyfriars Bobby’s fate ended up in the hands of the Edinburgh Magistrates to make a ruling on the dog’s welfare. They ordered James Brown, Kirkyard Superintendent, to take care of the dog and to provide him with shelter in his own home.
Following this ruling, a local restaurant owner agreed that he would feed the dog its dinner at lunchtime, although John Traill did not buy the restaurant until 1862. Greyfriars Bobby got used to his dinner being provided and would head to the restaurant when the one o’clock gun was fired from Edinburgh Castle. Even in 2023, you can still hear the gun at 1pm daily. See https://www.edinburghcastle.scot/see-and-do/highlights/one-oclock-gun for more information.
|1867||The Dog Duty Act 1867|
This legislation was important for our 4-legged hero as it introduced the need for dogs to be licenced. Any dog without an owner (no collar) would be rounded up and you can imagine the fate that would await them. As Bobby had repeatedly refused to go home with anyone to be adopted as their pet, under this new law he would be considered to be a stray.
Enter William Chambers, Lord Provost of Edinburgh who bought a licence for Bobby and a leather collar so he would be allowed to continue his loyal vigil in Greyfriars Kirkyard. The leather dog collar and his feeding bowl can be seen on display in the Museum of Edinburgh.
The Baroness was concerned with social welfare of the poor and of animals. She was President of the Ladies Committee of the RSPCA. She had heard about Greyfriars Bobby and travelled to Edinburgh to see this little dog for herself. She commissioned the construction of a water fountain outside of the Kirkyard which was erected in 1873, after our canine friend’s death.
|1872||Bobby died in 1872 and his body was interred in Greyfriars Kirkyard, near his master’s grave. Photos are shared above.|
|1873||The Water Fountain is erected with a lifesize sculpture of Bobby on top as a testiment to true loyalty. His nose has become discoloured and shiny as visitors to Edinburgh and the Kirkyard pat the dog/rub his nose on passing. The Council has apparently tried to stop these activities but to no avail. |
Here’s a link to an image of the full fountain: https://images.app.goo.gl/fvoQJTZ5xskzNV3L9
The fictional story
Over time, the story has been edited and embellished, firstly by American, Eleanor Atkinson in 1912 with her novel ” Greyfriars Bobby”. Eleanor identified Bobby’s owner as “Auld Jock”. Although fictional, he was considered by many to be based on Police Constable John Gray who died in february 1858 and is buried in the Kirkyard. As can be seen from the photo, he became caught up in the story of Greyfriars Bobby and was considered to be the dog’s owner. However, contemporary reports indicate that the dog first appeared in the Kirkyard at a funeral a few months after John Gray’s own burial.
Reflecting on all the facts I have been able to glean, I’d say people find the idea of being able to identify and give a name to the Master of this inspiring Skye Terrier rather than have him mourning at the graveside of an unidentified, nameless soul attractive. It doesn’t fit with the idea of a good story to have such an important character as an unknown.
Regarding John Gray, it was not uncommon, in those days, for Police Constables to have their own dogs accompany them while out on patrol, so its easy to see how a loyal dog would have been at his master’s side in life as in death and how he became closely linked to the story. I guess Police Dogs hadn’t yet been introduced.
At the end of the day there are some gaps in the official story of what happened but is that important when the key message we should be taking away is this pet’s loyalty. Loyalty is an important trait we are always seeking and I’ll be exploring this more soon in a post on Wise & Shine, looking particularly at the employment relationship and how loyalty fits in and where the problems might arise. Stay turned so you don’t miss the link and if you haven’t yet signed up for my blog, then now’s your chance using the link below.