Greyfriars Bobby died on the 14th of January, 1872.
Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier from Edinburgh that was turned into a bronze statue by a wicked witch, because it wouldn’t stop yapping and snapping at her heels. Nah, not really, there’s no such thing as a wicked witch that could turn a dog into a bronze statue. Even the god of the Old Testament could only manage pillars of salt. Anyway, you can tell Bobby was from Edinburgh, because if he’d been a “dug frae Glesga”, he’d be known as ‘Greyfriars Boaby’. And what’s with ‘Greyfriars’, surely it should be Greyfriar’s or Greyfriars’ – or Greyhaired Bobby?
Actually, there is a bronze statue of Greyfriars Bobby, which was erected in Edinburgh thanks to its having been funded by a very nice woman who was very much a lady rather than a witch; the philanthropist, Lady Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts. The life size statue was created by William Brodie (no relation the infamous Deacon) in 1872, almost immediately after Bobby’s death, at the grand old age of sixteen, on the 14th of January, 1872. It was erected beyond the southern end of the George IV Bridge, near the National Museum of Scotland and unveiled, without much ceremony, in November, 1873. Bobby stands in front of the eponymous ‘Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar’, which is located near the main entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard. He’s facing away from the pub at the apex formed by George IV Bridge (you’ll not notice a bridge per se; it’s the name of the road leading down from the Royal Mile towards the Museum) and Candlemaker Row, which leads back down towards the Grassmarket. So you can get a nice photo of Bobby with his Bar in the background. His monument is the smallest listed building in Edinburgh, with a category ‘A’ listing to boot.
The statue as it now stands isn’t the original, which had a two-tier drinking fountain – an upper fountain for two-legged hounds and a lower, dog-level fountain for man’s four-legged friends. The water supply to the fountain was cut off amidst health scares in 1975 and the water tables were filled-in with concrete. Later, in 1985, the whole red granite base was remodelled; something that was long overdue as vandals (or the Goths?) had been inspired to deface it. The nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard is a bit of a creepy landmark, where today’s Goths wouldn’t look out of place, and is the burial place for many a famous Scot, including wee Bobby. In fact, he’s buried just inside the gate and not too far from his master’s grave, because as it was consecrated ground, he couldn’t be buried within the cemetery. In 1981, the Duke of Gloucester unveiled a red granite stone, which had been erected on Bobby’s grave by The Dog Aid Society of Scotland. Incidentally, the inscription on the gravestone carries the legend, “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”
So how come all this fuss about a wee dog? Plain old Bobby was born in late 1855, one of a number of pups in a litter cast by his mother on an old grain sack in the basement of a house in the Canongate. Soon after he was weaned, he came into the possession of John Gray, who had been a gardener, but after arriving in Edinburgh around 1850, with his wife, Jess, and son, John, he was unable to find such work and ended up joining the Edinburgh City Police as a night watchman. The alternative was the workhouse, which wouldn’t have been a nice thought. What is nice is the thought of Bobby accompanying John during the night, throughout the year, regardless of the weather. The two of them were a familiar sight, trudging around the cobbled streets of old Edinburgh and inseparable for the best part of two years; the night watchman and his faithful friend.
Then suddenly and tragically, albeit not too surprisingly, because he had contracted tuberculosis, on the 8th of February, 1858, John Gray died of tuberculosis and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, adjacent to Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh’s Old Town. The years of nights on the damp Edinburgh streets had taken their toll on John Gray. Thereafter, Bobby became very well known in 19th Century Edinburgh as the dog who spent every day of the rest of his life ‘guarding’ the grave of his master. Bobby reputedly spent the next fourteen years sitting on John Gray’s grave.
Some more pragmatic versions of the story record that the otherwise devoted Bobby regularly left his post for meals. Those he got at the same coffee house that he had frequented with his now dead master, following along on the heels of Willie Dow, a local joiner and cabinet maker, whom he knew. Bobby also spent the colder nights and winters in nearby houses. Some say that folks would gather daily at the entrance to the Kirkyard, waiting for the one o’clock gun and the appearance of Bobby leaving the grave for his midday meal. The keeper of the Kirkyard tried often enough to evict Bobby from his station, but when he realised the dog was having none of that, he made a bit shelter adjacent to John Gray’s grave, using some sacking and a couple of flagstones. Yes, indeed, wee Bobby had undoubtedly touched the hearts of the local residents.
In 1867, almost a decade or so after Gray’s death, the Magistrates of Edinburgh passed a new bye-law, which required all dogs to be licensed or destroyed. Bobby was at risk, but there was a goodly soul at hand to come to his rescue. The Lord Provost at the time, Sir William Chambers – who was also a director of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – decided to intervene and paid for a licence for Bobby. Chambers had the dog presented with a collar, with a brass inscription, which read, “Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost 1867 licensed”. These days, you can see Bobby’s collar and bowl at the Museum of Edinburgh in the Canongate.
Nobody asks what became of John Gray’s wife and son, Jess and John, and nobody thinks it’s odd that neither the two of them chose to look after Bobby and keep him fed. There’s no account of any attempts being made by either of them to drag Bobby away from Greyfriars, but who knows, maybe they couldn’t afford to keep the puir wee dog. In any case, neither Scotland’s Capital City nor its tourist visitors are likely to forget Edinburgh’s most famous and faithful dog – Greyfriars Bobby.