Located opposite Edinburgh’s famous Greyfriars Kirkyard is a statue of Scotland’s most famous dog, Greyfriars Bobby. Alive in the mid-19th century, the terrier Bobby was known for his loyalty to his master, who he accompanied on his rounds through Edinburgh’s cobbled streets.
After Gray died, Bobby shot to fame because of his unwavering time spent sitting at his master’s grave in the nearby Kirkyard. Crowds gathered every day to watch Bobby take his lunch at one o’clock, and he became a beloved emblem of faithfulness.
Towards the end of his life, a wealthy philanthropist had a statue made in his likeness, and after he died, a graveyard to Bobby was erected in Greyfriars that reads: ‘Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all‘.
So who was Greyfriars Bobby?
His master was a night watchman
In 1850, a gardener called John Gray along with his wife Jess and son John arrived in Edinburgh. Gray was unable to find work as a gardener, so avoided the workhouse by joining the Edinburgh Police Force as a night watchman.
At the time, policemen were obliged to have watchdogs with them, and so Gray took on a small Skye or Dandie Dinmont Terrier that he named Bobby. Together, the pair became a familiar sight walking through Edinburgh’s cold streets by night.
However, the years Gray spent on the streets took their toll, and he was treated by the Police Surgeon for tuberculosis. He succumbed to the disease on 15 February 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
He refused to leave his master’s grave
Bobby soon drew attention from local residents as he refused to leave his master’s grave, even when the weather was severe and he became old.
The gardener and keeper of Greyfriars tried to evict Bobby from the Kirkyard many times: however, in the end, he gave up and provided Bobby with a shelter by placing some sacking between two tablestones next to Gray’s grave.
He became a celebrity
Crowds began to gather at the entrance to the Kirkyard every day, waiting for the one o’clock gun, at which point Bobby would leave the grave for his midday meal, just as he had done with his late master upon the same cue. It is reported that Bobby would follow William Dow, a local joiner and cabinet maker for a local coffee house called Traill’s Temperance Coffee House that Bobby had frequented with Gray.
However, this claim might be slightly exaggerated: it was reported by John Traill, the owner of the coffee house; however, he only owned the coffee shop four years after Gray died, so it is likely that he exaggerated or even fabricated the claim as a way of drumming up business.
The Lord Provost of Edinburgh paid Bobby’s licence
In 1867, a new bye-law was passed that required all dogs in the city to be licensed, or they would be euthanised. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir William Chambers, paid Bobby’s licence and presented him with a collar with a brass inscription that stated ‘Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost 1867 licensed’. Today, the collar is on display at the Museum of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s local residents doted over Bobby, who remained loyal at his master’s grave for fourteen years until his death in 1872.
A statue of him was commissioned
Shortly before Bobby died, wealthy philanthropist Lady Burdett-Coutts, president of the Ladies’ Committee of the RSPCA, commissioned a statue to be made by Edinburgh sculptor William Brodie. Brodie is also known for making statues of characters from Walter Scott’s Waverley novels for the Scott Monument in Princes Street.
The memorial was placed at the southern end of George IV Bridge, close to Greyfriars Kirkyard and the National Museum of Scotland. It was unveiled on 15 November 1873. Today, the statue is frequently visible with a golden, shiny nose, owing to tourists rubbing it for good luck.
He may have been a stray
Though the story of Greyfriars Bobby is undoubtedly quaint, its accuracy has long been debated. It has been claimed that in 19th-century Europe, there were some 60 documented accounts of graveyard or cemetery dogs. These strays were fed by visitors, meaning the dogs remained there, and became associated with waiting by a certain grave, as if endlessly loyal.
It has also been reported that after an article appeared in The Scotsman about Bobby, visitors to the graveyard increased, with the resultant commercial benefit for the local community meaning that it may have proved lucrative to embellish the story. It has also been speculated that in 1867, Bobby died and was replaced with a younger dog, which would explain his longevity.