International Museum Day: 30 Objects – Robert Burns’ Rod

07 May 2017

For International Museum Day on 18 May our Head of Collections, Alice, has chosen her top 30 objects from Mount Stuart’s Collections which we’ll bring to you throughout the Month. Ranging from books, furniture, silver-work, paintings and documentation from hundreds of years of Stuart family life, this barely scratches the surface of our Collections so make sure to plan your visit and experience it for yourself!

Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 to Willian Burns and Agnes Broun. Growing up, he combined working on the family farm with his education and began writing poetry while working. The imagery of creativity and labour later earned him the moniker ‘Ploughman Poet’ so beloved by his supporters and popularised by the Edinburgh literati during his visit to the Town. His poetry was often autobiographical and frequently dealt with matters of the heart including Jean Armour, later Mrs Burns and his later paramour Mary Campbell who was immortalised in his poems as Highland Mary.

When the money from his first edition of poetry known as the Kilmarnock Edition was spent, Burns sought a paid position with an associated pension to support his growing family with Jean Armour. In 1788, he began work as a Customs and Excise Officer in Dumfries & Galloway, spending the remainder of his life inspecting the region’s goods. This gauging rod, inscribed with his initials and stamped with the date 1792, belonged to Burns and was used to check that barrels of alcohol such as beer and wine did not have false bottoms. He ended his days in this role suffering with increasingly ill health until a premature death, aged 37 years, in 1796.  The rod has the initials RB burned into it is and is accompanied by documentation listing the original owner (after Robert Burns himself) as Jean Burns before the 4th Marquess of Bute acquired it in 1945.