For over a century, the local legend of Greyfrairs Bobby has been a central part of Edinburgh History. 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 Greyfrairs 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 Greyfrairs eventually created Bobby his own shelter next to his master’s grave. Bobby’s fame quickly spread through Edinburgh, and the loving city locals flocked to Greyfrairs to leave donations for Bobby and catch a glimpse of the troubled terrier. Touched by his devotion till the very end, Baroness Angelia Georgina Burdett-Coutts, President of the Ladies Committee of the RSPCA, erected a granite fountain with a statue of Bobby in honour of his memory in 1873. And the rest, as the saying goes, is Edinburgh history.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree of Edinburgh History
According to an article in the Daily Mail, the legend of Greyfrairs Bobby was nothing more than a Victorian hoax cooked up by money-grabbing businessmen. Dr Jan Bonderson, a historian at Cardiff University, has unearthed evidence to suggest the loveable Bobby was in fact two different dogs to keep the hoax going for longer. Neither of which belonged to John Gray. It appears that the first dog was a stray who wondered into the nearby Heriot’s hospital, and 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 tail 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 an article by the BBC, 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 as visits to the graveyard had increased 100 fold since Bobby’s story broke in The Scotsman. 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 Greyfrairs 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.
If you’re interested in Edinburgh history, why not follow in the footsteps of legends of the past with one of the World Heritage Trails from Parliament Hotels.