Heritage and Culture
The Story of Greyfriars Bobby
Our story begins in 1850, and follows the life of one John Gray, a gardener. Moving to Edinburgh with his wife Jess and son, John struggled to find work. Determined to avoid the workhouse, he decided to join the Edinburgh Police Force and worked as a night watchmen.
John found the nights very lonely, and opted to recruit a partner to keep him company. His partner was of the canine kind, a spirited Skye Terrier to be exact. John was delighted to have such an enthusiastic companion and he named his new friend and 'watchdog' Bobby. It wasn't long before John and Bobby became well known in the local community. A familiar sight, they could often be seen pacing the old cobbled streets of the Edinburgh Old Town, no matter the weather.
As the years passed, the faithful friends were never parted, however the years of night shift and patrolling Edinburgh in all sorts of weather began to take its toll on John. He became extremely ill and records show that he was treated by the Police surgeon for tuberculosis.
John passed away on the 15th February 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. After eight years of companionship and service, poor Bobby couldn't understand what had happened to his faithful friend. Touching the hearts of the local community, Bobby soon became a local celebrity as he refused to leave the graveside of his companion John. Just as they had shown strength on their patrols, no matter the weather, Bobby would sit by John's grave, waiting for him to return.
The gardener and keeper of Greyfriars Kirkyard made several attempts to evict poor Bobby, however Bobby was determined to remain close to his companion. Eventually the Keeper gave in and began to provide shelter and food for this determined little dog. He placed sacking under two table stones at the side of John's grave for Bobby to sleep under.
As news of Bobby's determination spread, crowds of fans would flock to the Kirkard to see him. At the sound of the 1 o'clock gun, Bobby would make his only move of the day for his midday meal. Bobby would follow William Dow, a local joiner and cabinet maker to the same coffee house he had visited with his companion John, and the coffee house would feed him.
In 1867 it could have been the end for poor Bobby, when a new bye-law was passed requiring that all dogs in the city of Edinburgh must be licensed. If they were found without a license, they would be put to sleep. In an act of kindness, Sir William Chambers (The Lord Provost of Edinburgh) made the decision to pay for Bobby's license. He presented Bobby with a collar. The collar had a brass inscription which read 'Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost 1867 licensed'.
For fourteen long years, Bobby remained at John's graveside, unwavering in his determination. Keeping a constant watch over the graveyard, he continued to guard it as he had done with his companion, until his death in 1872.
When the story of Greyfriars Bobby reached the president of the Ladies Committee of the RSPCA (Baroness Angelia Georgina Burdett-Coutts) she was so moved by the tale that she requested a granite fountain with a statue of Bobby be made.
William Brody, a local sculptor created the statue, from life, and it was unveiled without a ceremony in 1873. The statue can be found opposite the entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard. The collar given to Bobby by Sir William Chambers can also be seen at the Museum of Edinburgh.
The city of Edinburgh will always remember Bobby and his never wavering loyalty towards his companion John.
On Bobby's headstone it reads, 'Greyfriars Bobby - died 14 January 1872 - ages 16 years - Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all'.