Burns Night Disgrace 111

As Robert Burns lay dying, he was plagued by his debts and creditors and worried about the future of his family. He wrote an anguished letter to Montrose to his first cousin James Burnes, begging him to send £20 to pay off, among other things, the tailor for Robert’s customs officer uniform. James, not for the first time, sent the money uncomplainingly to his beloved cousin.

Robert (who was christened Robert Burnes) had visited James at least twice in Montrose. The family home which James built was later the birthplace of his grandson Alexander Burnes, the great explorer, spy and diplomat whose biography I have written, and of his almost equally remarkable brother James. Alexander’s father, also James Burnes, was the first of four successive generations of Burnes born in the family house to become Provost of Montrose.

I detailed in my book Sikunder Burnes that, when I visited the house ten years ago, it was derelict and most of the features had been robbed out. It has continued to deteriorate. This has been quite deliberate and the owner, an auctioneer, had been systematically robbing it of fireplaces, cornices, the provost lamp, and other items of value and auctioning them off. Shocking new photos reveal that he completed this work of destruction to an astonishing degree, and the items of interest – like some amazing Victorian baths and sinks – that remained in the property when I saw it a decade ago have also gone.

The work of destruction complete, this historic building, built by one of Scotland’s most truly remarkable families, is now a shell and up for auction to a property developer. I had contacted Historic Environment Scotland, Angus Council and the Scottish Government to attempt to have something done, but with no result.

So tonight as we recite those great poems, remember a life full of humanity, and get maudlin drunk, let us consider how much we really care about Burns and his heritage. I am an emotional old fool I know, and got attached to Alexander when researching his life, but these images made me cry.

If anybody still has not read my biography of Alexander Burnes, if you can afford to do so please buy it, otherwise your local library will be able to get it for you.

111 thoughts on “Burns Night Disgrace

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  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Think posters are taking Freemasonry too seriously. Many people, mostly men, never grow up.

    Even Brougham was a Mason when he was young.

  • M.J.

    I woinder if it could be made into a museum cum cafe restaurant dedicated especially to Scottish food and history, with a special sections on the poet Burns and diplomat Burnes? There’s a name for you – Burns & Burnes! Perhap it could earn the distinction of having two bliue plaques.

    Perhaps the most likely sponsors or starting shareholders would be wealthy people from Scottish backgrounds in Canada and the USA?

  • Maxwell

    I was at the house at Christmas wit pip hills founder of the malt whisky society. Never mind the history, which I grant you is extraordinary, as is your book it’s a nice house.
    Happy to try and kick up an article on the P and J if you want or maybe the SundsyHerald but we will have to do it now.
    We met with Hugh. Kerry and I reviewed yourbook

  • Tony M

    SCOTS, wha hae wi’ WALLACE bled,
    Scots, wham BRUCE has aften led,
    Welcome to your gory bed,
    Or to Victorie!
    Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;
    See the front o’ battle lour;
    See approach proud Edward’s power–
    Chains and Slaverie!

    Wha will be a traitor knave?
    Wha can fill a coward’s grave?
    Wha sae base as be a Slave?
    Let him turn and flee!
    Wha, for Scotland’s King and Law,
    Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
    FREE-MAN stand or FREE-MAN fa’
    Let him on wi’ me!

    By Oppression’s woes and pains!
    By your sons in servile chains!
    We will draw our dearest veins,
    But they shall be free!
    Lay the proud Usurper’s low!
    Tyrant’s fall in every foe!
    LIBERTY’S in every blow!–
    Let us Do–or Die!

    Robert Burns

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