Search launched for Burns ‘graffiti’

23rd January, 2013

The hunt is on to find a verse by Robert Burns rumoured to have been inscribed on a window pane on an estate in Dumfries and Galloway.

Staff at Drumlanrig Castle and Queensberry Estate are working with a historian to track down the poem which is thought to have been etched on a window pane of a building on the surrounding Queensberry Estate by the national bard during a visit over 200 years ago.

Burns, who lived at nearby Ellisland Farm in Dumfries and Galloway from 1788 to 1791, was a close friend of John McMurdo – who succeeded his father as chamberlain to the Duke of Queensberry and served the family from 1780 to 1797.

Burns regularly visited McMurdo at Drumlanrig and his famous poem ‘Bonnie Jean’ was written in 1793 about McMurdo’s younger daughter Jean (1777-1839).

While there he is also thought to have composed the tribute to his friend on a window at McMurdo’s house on the Estate using a diamond-tipped stylus, which he had been given as a present by James Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn.

The wording of the poem has been featured in anthologies of Burns’ work, but the exact location of the glass inscription has been lost in the mists of time.

However, staff at the seat of the Buccleuch family are set to delve into the archives in order to try and authenticate the claims, unearth its whereabouts and solve the mystery once and for all.

Estate ranger Brian Hammond, who has worked at Drumlanrig for over 40 years and is a Burns enthusiast, came across a reference to the inscription when reading a book prior to Burns Night and decided to seek it out.

He said, “Robert Burns has very strong links with Drumlanrig, and his close friendship with McMurdo and more frosty relationship with the 4th Duke of Queensberry William Douglas are well documented.”

“He was inspired to write a number of well-known verses whilst visiting the estate when living nearby, and there are many recorded examples of his ‘graffiti’ on glass panes and window frames at places such as inns where he spent time on his travels.

“When I realised there may be one on the Estate I thought it would be interesting to try and track it down, but with well over 300 windows on the Castle alone it’s not a simple task.”

Brian has now enlisted the help of Dr David Munro, former director of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and archivist for the Queensberry Estate, in his quest to discover the location of the inscription.

Dr Munro said, “Burns did write a number of short poems on windows, including verses at inns at Carron in Falkirk and Moffat in the Borders, but I had not come across suggestion that he had written on a window at Drumlanrig until now.

“The Burns connection with Drumlanrig and the McMurdos is an interesting one and there are numerous letters between them in various archives. The Queensberry chamberlains used to stay at Dabton House on the Estate, and we are investigating to see if this was where McMurdo actually stayed and whether there is any evidence of the inscription there.”

It is hoped that if the inscription can be found that it can be preserved for posterity and potentially made available for public viewing.