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Robert Burns Mausoleum Dumfries Scotland

Robert Burns Mausoleum Dumfries

Located St Michael's Kirkyard, Dumfries, is the Robert Burns Mausoleum which is in the form of a Greek temple, and contains the tombs of Robert Burns, his wife Jean Armour and six of their children. St Michael's Church is also often open.

In memory of
Robert Burns
who died the 21st July 1796,
in the 37th year of his age.

The foundation-stone of the Mausoleum was laid on the 5th of June 1815. and the building was completed in the following September, the entire cost amounting to about £1500. When the tomb was finished, it was still an imposing casket without its congenial gem, or like a gorgeous throne without an occupant. The solemn duty of conveying the dust of Burns from the north-east corner to the new home provided for it by the nation was devolved upon four gentlemen, Mr William Grierson, the secretary to the committee; Mr James Thomson, superintendent of the monument: Mr Milligan, builder: and Mr James Bogie, gardener, Terraughty. We have never seen any adequate reason assigned for having this delicate, yet highly honourable, process of exhumation and reinterment done privily and as it were by stealth. However, a secret, quiet mode of procedure, which had some slight advantages of its own, was resolved upon; and accordingly the above named gentlemen, an hour or two before 'the witching time' of midnight, on the 19th of September 1815, hied to the spot pointed out in a previous chapter, and, aided by a small body of workmen, laid bare the earthen bed in which the poet, after 'life's fitful fever,' had 'slept well' since 1796. Beside him lay the remains of his two young sons, Maxwell Burns and Francis Wallace Burns. The coffins of the boys were nearly entire, and, after being placed in shells, were carried to the Mausoleum vault; but in the case of the bard 'the chest that had neither key nor lock' had been already tampered with by the rifling fingers of decay. At first sight the venerated contents seemed marvellously perfect, suggesting the idea of one who had just sunk into the slumber of death, the lordly forehead of the dreamless sleeper still rising arched and high, the 'dome of thought' covered with hair still dark as a raven's wing, and the teeth retaining all their original regularity and whiteness. 'The scene,' we are told, 'was so imposing that most of the workmen stood bare and uncovered, and at the same time felt their frames thrilling with some indefinable emotion as they gazed on the ashes of him whose fame is as wide as the world itself. But the effect was momentary; for when they proceeded to insert a shell or case below the coffin, the head separated from the trunk, and the whole body, with the exception of the bones, crumbled into dust.' Ere yet the advancing morn had empearled the east, the precious relics on which the gloaming of the day and the lamps carried by the party had faintly glimmered, were hid from sight in the darkness of their new tenement.

Not finally, however, as on the night preceding the burial of Bonnie Jean, 31st March 1834, the remains of the poet were viewed by a party of gentlemen, including Provost Murray, Mr Archibald Hamilton, writer, Rector M'Millan, Mr James Bogie, Mr Andrew Crombie, builder, Mr John M'Diarmid of the Courier, and Dr Archibald Blacklock, who visited the vault in order to obtain a cast of the skull for phrenological purpose. Dr Blacklock in reporting upon the subject states that the cranium was found in a high state of preservation, the bones of the face and palate being also sound: 'and some small portions of black hair with a very few gray hairs intermixed, were observed while detaching some extraneous matter from the occiput.' The skull was carried away to the house of Mr Kerr, plasterer, in North Queensberry Street, now occupied by his son Mr William M'Diarmid Kerr, and a plaster matrix was taken of it by his assistant, Mr James Fraser, afterwards Bailie Fraser. Two or three tiny tresses that had adhered to the napkin in which the cranium was wrapped were retained, as priceless souvenirs of the illustrious dead. After being a few hours out of the vault the skull was replaced - all the nocturnal operations having been completed as the clock of St Michael's chimed the hour of one. A cast of the skull having been transmitted to the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh, Mr George Combe drew up from it a report on the
cerebral development of the poet. The cranium was 22 and a quarter inches in circumference; from ear to ear vertically over the top of the head, 14 inches; length, 8 inches: greatest breadth, nearly 6inches. These measurements,' says Mr Combe, 'exceed the average of Scotch living heads, including the integuments. for which four-eighths of an inch may be allowed.'

William McDowall, 1875-88.

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