The legend of Greyfriars Bobby is a touching story of canine devotion that continued beyond his master’s life to a long vigil by the grave for an incredible 14 years.
It began back in 1858 when his owner John Gray died of tuberculosis. Known locally as Auld Jock, as a night watchman for the Edinburgh Police Force, he was well known in the city of Edinburgh, but the long cold nights ultimately affected his health. Bobby kept watch with him too.
This little Skye Terrier was his constant companion and was apparently devastated by his loss; Bobby led the funeral procession, but would not later leave the grave despite the attempts of the caretaker to send poor Bobby away. This persistence and show of affection touched the hearts of the local community who petitioned to allow Bobby to stay in Greyfriars Kirkyard when, as today, dogs were not allowed in.
It is claimed that the gardener of Greyfriars built a makeshift shelter for Bobby.
He only left his lonely vigil when the one o’clock gun sounded from Edinburgh castle; then he would go to the local eating house where Jock used to eat for his food. Then he would return to Jock’s grave afterwards. This grew the curiosity of locals initially, but when word spread about this little dog’s behaviour visitors would come to see Bobby go about his daily routine.
The Lord Provost of Edinburgh presented him with a new collar in 1867. This was to prevent him being destroyed by making him licensed.
Bobby died in 1872 at age 16; a red granite gravestone was unveiled to his memory. His master’s gravestone is only about 75 yards away.
Hollywood made the movie ‘Greyfriars Bobby’ in 1961, when Disney heard of the legend and made it internationally famous. There are tours that visit the graveyard to retell the tale, but it is easily found by foot as it is at the top of Candlemaker’s Row/George IV’s bridge. You can easily find the turning to Greyfriars Kirkyard because you will see the bronze sculpture of Bobby atop a polished granite stand as you approach. This was requested by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, President of the Ladies Committee of the RSPCA. It was a drinking fountain for both man and dog, but for health and safety concerns this is no longer the case.
This legend is a sad one in many respects, but warming because of the depth of love and devotion shown by the animal for his master, which makes it extremely touching. However, there have been theories put forward to claim it is no more than a myth and was a cunning ploy to attract people to the inn.