Debunking the Myth of Greyfriars Bobby

The Greyfriars Bobby Story: Fact or Fiction?

Today is Greyfriars Bobby Day. So, we’re taking a look at the Greyfriars Bobby story in a little more detail …

So the Story Goes …

For over a century, the local Greyfriars Bobby legend has been told. As the story goes, a gardener named John Gray arrived in Edinburgh in 1850. Unable to find work, he joined the Edinburgh Police Force as a night watchman to avoid the workhouse. To keep him company through the cold winter nights, he acquired a ‘partner’ in a wee Skye Terrier called Bobby.

After a bout of tuberculosis, John Gray died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Legend has it that his faithful companion sat by his grave for 14 years. After many failed attempts to evict the pooch, the gardener and keeper of Greyfriars eventually created Bobby his own shelter in the kirkyard. Bobby’s fame quickly spread through Edinburgh. The loving city locals flocked to Greyfriars to leave donations for Bobby and catch a glimpse of the troubled terrier. And when Bobby died, he was buried at Greyfriars alongside his master.

Touched by his devotion till the very end, Baroness Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, President of the Ladies Committee of the RSPCA, commissioned a granite fountain with a statue of Bobby in honour of his memory in 1873. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

According to this news article by the Telegraph, the legend of Greyfriars Bobby was nothing more than a Victorian hoax cooked up by money-grabbing businessmen. Historian Dr Jan Bonderson has unearthed evidence to suggest the loveable Bobby was in fact two different dogs. Neither of which belonged to John Gray.

It appears that the first dog was a stray. He wondered into the nearby Heriot’s hospital and was later taken to the graveyard. James Brown, curator of the cemetery, took him in, and unsuspecting locals assumed he was mourning his dead master. Newspapers of the time report how Mr Brown would charm visitors with Bobby’s tale in hopes of a securing a tip. In return for their generosity, he would then lead them on to a local restaurant owned by John Traill.

In this BBC News article, Dr Bonderson, states that he believes it was Traill’s idea to replace Bobby when he eventually died with another dog. After all, a dead Bobby would be bad for business. Visits to the graveyard had increased 100 fold since Bobby’s story broke! Not only would this explain Bobby’s exceptionally long life, it would also explain the difference in his appearance in paintings and photos before and after 1867.

While separating fact from fiction is never easy, the story of Greyfriars Bobby is the stuff of legends. It has inspired a number of Hollywood movies, television programmes and numerous books, and regardless of the many versions of the story and the inconsistencies of the facts, it has done little to deter visitors from paying tribute to Scotland’s most beloved canine – proving that when it comes to Edinburgh history, every dog has his day.

Visit Greyfriars for Yourself

The Greyfriars Bobby statue still stands at the top of Candlemaker Row in Edinburgh, opposite Greyfriars Kirk. You can visit the statue and kirk for yourself, and learn more about the Greyfriars Bobby story still making headlines today. Take a look at our special offers and book your visit today!