Follow in the footsteps of Robert Burns by tracing his journey from the humble cottage in Alloway to his fame in the salons of Edinburgh. Click on the icons to discover the objects from Burns's life and how they illustrate his fascinating story.

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Robert Burns was born in this cottage in Alloway on 25 January 1759. He lived here until 1766.

This imposing chair was used by William Burnes. Robert often had to stand by it and listen to his father's disapproving remarks.

This nursing chair was used by the Poet's mother Agnes Burnes. She would have used it to nurse her first four children.

In the Burnes family bible, Robert's father William wrote the names and birthdates of his children inside the front cover.

Robert's father William wrote A Manual of Religious Belief for the religious education of his children around 1768.


From Humble Beginnings

In a simple cottage in Alloway, Robert learned the importance of family, religion, and education. These values remained with him throughout his life.

This book, A new edition of the Life & heroick actions of the renown"d Sir William Wallace, was one of Robert's childhood favourites.

Robert's first song, O Once I lov'd a bonie lass, was inspired by Nelly Kilpatrick, the lass chosen as his work partner during the harvest.

This tuning fork was used by Mr Roger in the Kirkoswald school around the time Burns attendend lessons there.

In Tibby I hae seen the day, Burns immortalises his one-time love Tibby Stein (Isabella Steven) who rejected him due to his lack of wealth.

Around 1779 Robert Burns attended dancing lessons in Tarbolton. Burns's dance teacher William Gregg played this fiddle while Robert learned the steps.


Seeds of Inspiration

The future poet gathered material from many sources. Whether he was falling in love or attending forbidden dance lessons, Robert's adolescent experiences shaped his personal philosophy.

This letter, the earliest surviving in the hand of Burns, is written to William Niven in July 1780 when they were 21 years old.

Freemasonry played an important part in Robert's life. Burns was initiated as Mason on 1 October 1781.

Robert became a father for the first time in 1785. Little Bess inspired her father to write this tribute to his first-born.

In 1781 Robert travelled to Irvine to work as a flax dresser. During this time he created some of his more morbid works, such as Stanzas on the same Occasion.

William Burnes died at the age of sixty-six in 1784. This silver watch belonged to him and was passed on to Robert, the new head of the household.

Burns's fondness for the common man is no better showcased than in Love and Liberty - A Cantata, sometimes known as The Jolly Beggars.


From Boy to Man

Robert entered adulthood following a series of life-changing events. The death of his father and the birth of his first child placed a heavy responsibility upon him.

Robert was involved in a short but intense love affair with Margaret 'Highland Mary' Campbell in spring and summer of 1786. During one of their meetings along the river Ayr, Robert gave her this two volume bible.

This is the only surviving sheet, out of 96 printed, advertising the proposal to print Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect by Robert Burns.

Robert Burns faced financial problems throughout his life. In this poem, written on a Bank of Scotland one guinea note, Robert laments his reliance on money.

While reflecting on leaving the land of his birth for Jamaica, Burns penned the poem, The Gloomy Night is Gath'ring Fast in 1786.

The first edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was published by John Wilson in Kilmarnock on 31 July 1786.

In this review from The Lounger, author Henry MacKenzie christens Burns a 'heaven-taught ploughman' and declares the volume a work of genius.


Fate & Fortune

Faced with financial hardship, the aspiring Bard grappled with difficult decisions. The publication and instant success of his first volume of poems, however, allowed him to pursue his literary dreams.

Robert carried this tiny writing set with him as he travelled throughout the countryside.

During his tour of the highlands, Robert kept this journal detailing the places and people he encountered along the way.

William Creech, the publisher of his Edinburgh edition of poems, gave Burns this promissory note of 100 guineas for the copyright of his work.

During the first night of the Highland tour, Burns stayed overnight at the Cross Keys Inn in Falkirk and left behind this inscribed pane of glass.

At the height of their affair in 1788, Robert sent these wine glasses to Agnes McLehose along with his love poem Verses to Clarinda.

This toaster was made in Jean Armour's home town of Mauchline and given to her as a wedding present.

Shortly after their marriage in 1788, Robert wrote this letter to Jean while preparing a home for them at Ellisland Farm near Dumfries.


An Enlightened Journey

Burns's success allowed him to expand his social and geographical horizons. He gathered friends from across all social classes and travelled throughout Scotland while publishing further editions of his poetry.

This side view of Robert is the most accurate surviving image of the bard. It was 'cut' when the poet was 35 years old.

This four volume set of The Scots Musical Museum contains Robert's personal notes about the individual songs he contributed to the publication.

In 1790 Burns wrote his great dramatic poem Tam o'Shanter. It drew upon the traditional stories he had heard growing up in Ayrshire.

Robert used his connections to begin a career as an Exciseman in the late 1780s. He used these rods to measure the volume of liquids.

Burns wrote Robert Bruce's March to Bannockburn after visiting the battlefield during his Highland tour. This is the second version of the poem.

This is a fragment of Auld lang syne dating from around 1793. Only six manuscript copies of this song are known to still exist.

Robert wrote this song The Dumfries Volunteers in 1795 to prove his loyalty to Britain after rumours spread of his sympathies with the French Revolutionists.

Robert's health began to fail in spring 1795. He wrote this letter to his friend and patron Alexander Cunningham while receiving medical treatment at Brow Well.

These duelling pistols belonged to the Poet and were given to his physician Dr. William Maxwell while Burns was on his deathbed.


A Delicate Compromise

Competing demands led to Burns settling in Dumfries as an Exciseman. Fitting in his writing between his official duties and busy social life took its toll on the Bard's health, with dire consequences.

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