Greyfriars Bobby - a Devoted Dog Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Greyfriars Bobby - a Devoted Dog

2 Conversations

The Edinburgh statue of the loyal dog known as Greyfriars Bobby.

Probably the most famous of Skye Terriers, 'Greyfriars' Bobby lived a life of devotion which became synonymous with loyalty between a man and his dog.

Bobby belonged to John Gray who arrived in the Greyfriars district in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife Jess and 13-year-old son, also named John, around 1850. John was a gardener by trade, but the ground was hard and at 40 years of age he was unable to find suitable work as such. Rather than face the workhouse, John decided to join the local police force where, for a pittance, he worked the rat-infested streets of the district. He found pounding the cobbled streets lonely work, so in 1856 he enlisted a little Skye terrier to accompany him and effectively be his guard dog.

Skye terriers are notoriously brave and loyal little dogs, they were first bred on the Isle of Skye and The Hebrides where they were used in the hunting of small game on land and in water. Due to their bravado, they were suitable for hunting more aggressive prey like foxes, otters and badgers, therefore Bobby was a very suitable choice for a police dog of the time.

On a daily basis John and Bobby would attend a restaurant called the Eating House or the Coffee House on their beat, where they would take refreshments before returning to pound the streets. Day in, day out, the pair were a well-known sight around the streets of Edinburgh.

The Sad Days

The winters in Edinburgh can be hard, and John's health had been deteriorating for some time due to the inclement weather. After only two years of walking the streets together, John died on 15 February, 1858, of tuberculosis.

John Gray was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard1 and Bobby was seen at the procession and burial. Over the following days Bobby seemed unable to tear himself away from his master and took up position on John's grave. Bobby refused to be enticed away from the grave for any length of time, and despite the best efforts of John's family, local people and the keeper of the kirkyard2, Bobby remained in his position on the grave of his master.

When all of his options were exhausted, James Brown, the church gardener and keeper of the kirkyard, eventually gave up trying to evict the little dog and made a makeshift shelter for him. It would become his home for the next 14 years.

Bobby's Fame

News spread of Bobby's loyalty, and people would actually travel to see him; crowds would gather for the one o'clock sounding of the cannon3 at Edinburgh Castle, at which time Bobby would leave his station, and run to the Eating House which he had frequented with John. There he would be fed by the owner before returning to his graveside vigil.

What happened to John's family during this period is unclear, but the people of Edinburgh took good care of Bobby. He did form a certain attachment to a local joiner named William Dow, whom he would accompany to what was then the Traills Coffee House for his meal. He also spent some time with a Sergeant Scott at the castle garrison, and enjoyed his company so much Bobby would sometimes visit him while he was on duty at the Castle. Sergeant Scott would also take Bobby to the restaurant; but Bobby never left the graveside of John Gray for any longer than necessary to be fed, watered, and presumably toileted. Sergeant Scott was buried in Piershill Cemetery in an unmarked grave, but in August 2006 a headstone was provided by a local company to mark his resting place, with the inscription: In memory of Colour Sergeant Donald McNab Scott, 10 August, 1817 - 23 June, 1893, Friend of Greyfriars Bobby.

In 1867 a new bylaw was introduced which required all dogs in the city to be licensed; failure to hold a license would result in the dog being put to sleep. Without a living owner, Bobby was destined to be caught and destroyed. Bobby's fame however, was to be his salvation. Sir William Chambers, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, became aware of his plight. After meeting the little dog and becoming enchanted by him, he decided to pay for his license indefinitely. By all accounts Sir William Chambers was a stern man, but so touched by his devotion that he presented Bobby with a collar, complete with brass inscription, stating: Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost 1867 licensed. This collar can be seen at the Museum of Edinburgh, Huntley House, where it still attracts interest, along with his engraved feeding bowl.

Bobby died aged 16 in 1872, still keeping watch at his master's grave some 14 years after John Gray's death. Due to legislation regarding who can be buried on consecrated ground, the little dog was not buried with his master. Instead Bobby was interred just inside the gates of Greyfriars Kirkyard, where he was as close as legally possible to John.

The Lasting Memorial

Baroness Angelia Georgina Burdett-Coutts, the President of the Ladies Committee of the RSPCA and another dog lover, was so deeply moved by his story that she asked the City Council, and was granted, permission to erect a granite fountain with a statue of Bobby placed on top.

The life size statue was fashioned in bronze by William Brody, and was unveiled without ceremony in November 1873, opposite Greyfriars Kirkyard. The statue still attracts visitors today, and it can be seen just a few steps from the kirkyard gates at the junction of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row. It stands before the Greyfriars Bobby Inn, which was once the Traills Coffee House, now renamed in honour of the little dog.

Greyfriars Bobby was held in such high esteem by the people of Edinburgh that he is still the only dog to have been given the freedom of the city by the City Council, and even today his grave always displays fresh flowers. Bobby's headstone reads Greyfriars Bobby - died 14 January, 1872 - aged 16 years - Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.

Bobby has been immortalised in several television programmes such as Futurama's 'Jurassic Bark' episode; and in films, including Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog. This 1961 film was based on the book Greyfriars Bobby which was written in 1912 by the American author Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson. Some 'poetic' license was taken with the facts, but at the heart of the story is the love of one little dog for his master, and no amount of tinkering with the facts can change that.

1A kirkyard is a cemetery in the grounds of a church.2Part of his job was to keep the kirkyard clear of children and dogs.3In the late 1850s a passing sea captain noticed that whilst Edinburgh had many clocks, none recorded exactly the same time. It was decided soon after that the cannon at the castle would be fired daily at one o'clock, so that everyone could synchronise their watches and clocks. This tradition continues today.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more