The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
The Statues of Poet Robert Burns
By some accounts the United States has 13 statues of
Robert Burns. In our January History Club meeting we
looked at six of these statues: New York City; Albany,
New York; Barre,
Vermont; Denver, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois and
San Francisco, California. The oldest is in Central Park
in New York City, which was unveiled October 3, 1880.
The Chicago statue is located in Garfield Park and was
unveiled on August 25, 1906. The full story can be found
The Scots of Chicago
beginning on page 56.
America does not have the honor of being first to erect
a statue and perhaps neither does Scotland. That honor
may go to Australia. Robert Burns had a friend by the
name of Peter Taylor who lived in Edinburgh and painted
houses and coaches. Apparently, Burns did sit for him
and Taylor painted his portrait. This happened in 1786.
If we accept Taylor as a portrait painter then this may
be the best image we have of Burns.
image we most often see is the one painted by Alexander
Nasmyth in 1787. It hangs in the Scottish National
Robert Burns was 28 at the time. Nasmyth was
actually a landscape painter and we don’t know how good
he was at painting portraits. Some believe that the
painting by Peter Taylor “may be the closest likeness.”
I am sure there are others who believe that Nasmyth is
John Greenshields (1792-1835) was a sculptor who began
as an apprentice stone mason and worked as a quarrier,
hewer and builder before working with the mason and
sculptor, Robert Forrest in 1822. His studio was at
Broomhill, Clydeside Scotland. He designed the first
public monument to Sir Walter Scott in George Square,
but died before its final completion.
Walter Scott knew Greenshields and had on several
occasions visited his studio. In 1831, he saw a statue
of Robert Burns and wrote: “in a sitting posture, which,
all the circumstances considered, must be allowed to be
a very wonderful performance.” Scott became “an
important patron and admirer of Greenshields.” The
statue carved by Greenshields may be the only one based
on the portrait by Peter Taylor. All others are based on
the likeness drawn by Alexander Nasmyth.
The statue seen by Scott on his visit to the studio of
John Greenshields is thought to be the oldest one of
Robert Burns that has survived. According to the British
Geological Survey web site, the statue was commissioned
by William Taylor of Leith between 1826 and 1830.
William Taylor’s son Peter emigrated to Australia in
1876 and had the statue shipped in 1882. They indicate
that it was “the only painting created when Burns was
The citation on the statue reads:
“Burns, from an original painting by his friend,
Peter Taylor, Edinburgh 1786. By John Greenshields,
sculptor, Edinburgh, 1830. Presented to
the public park by W. A. Taylor, Esq. Camperdown, 1883.”
Peter Taylor donated the statue to the town of
Camperdown before his death. For 150 years it has
occupied a small corner in the botanical gardens where
it has been vandalized. “The nose is broken off, the eye
socket damaged and parts of the hat brim missing.” The
statue and the story were recently discovered by Gordon
Ashley an Australian writer and historian. He is now
fighting to save the statue. It has been removed from
the gardens to a protected area and he would like the
statue brought back to Scotland for repairs.
Apparently neither government has the money to ship the
statue back to Scotland, so a search was started to find
matching stone in Scotland. The British Geological
Survey did some “stone-type fingerprinting and decided
that the quarry Drumhead near Denny, Scotland “still
contains exposures of rock which is of good quality and
suitable for repairs.
In my Blog
of November 22, 2010, I made comments about this story
from a BBC news article. Of course, I had no idea where
the Drumhead Quarry was located, so I asked for help. In
less than 24 hours the owner, Tish Graham, contacted me
through the Internet. She and her husband own the
Quarry! They are donating the stone and by now it should
be on its way to Australia. If you would like to follow
this story, they have a
Facebook page for Drumhead Quarry. I am a follower
and enjoy the information.
Picture 1: Robert Burns by
Picture 2: Robert Burns by
A Gift of Burns to Abraham Lincoln
This article appeared in the
Chicago Daily Tribune
on January 10, 1880.
seems that Mr. Thomas Bayley Potter, M.P. had prepared a
two volume gift of the writings of Robert Burns. as a
personal gift to Abraham Lincoln, President of the
United States. The book covers were “of a fine and
beautifully polished straw-colored fancy wood, known as
the wood of Mocklin from Dumfriesshire, Scotland. On the
outside of each volume was an engraving of Pitnacree, a
picturesque spot in the Highlands where Mr. Potter had a
residence some fourteen or fifteen years ago.”
Inside there was an engraved portrait of General
Garibaldi, who was for many years a personal friend of
Mr. Potter. The two volumes were contained in a
velvet-lined box made of the same fancy Mocklin wood. On
the top of the box was another picture of Pitnacree.
(Pitnacree is not far from Pitlochry where my wife and I
once saw an outdoor play - a festival theater as I
On the fly leaf of Vol. 1 Mr. Potter wrote the
following: “I intended to present these volumes to
Abraham Lincoln, President of the Republic of the United
States, in the spring of the year 1865, but his untimely
death interrupted. It was my wish to send him a small
token of my intense respect and admiration for his
character and my devotion to the cause which he upheld -
the cause of freedom and popular government. I now
present the book to Robert T. Lincoln, the worthy son of
the great President, as a mark of my esteem and regard
for him and his family, and I would also add as a mark
of the sincere gratitude which I feel for the kind
reception which Mrs. Potter and I have recently met with
in the United States, and of my aspirations for the
prosperity of the Union. May it always be one and
indivisible, maintaining liberty and advancing
Mr. & Mrs. Potter visited Chicago they were introduced
to Robert T. Lincoln and it was then that a decision was
made to present the two volumes. “It was not in
reference to any special knowledge of President
Lincoln’s literary taste that Mr. Potter selected Burns
for the purpose of this gift in preference to any other
author, but Mir. Robert Lincoln informed Mr. Potter that
his father’s favorite poets were Burns and Milton.
We know that Mr. Lincoln often read the writings of
Robert Burns and could quote many of them, even with an
accent. I didn’t know about Milton. Wonder if that could
be a misquote or perhaps Robert knew something we don’t?
I could also find no information as to Mocklin wood.
Does anyone know? I also wonder what happened to the
velvet box and the two volumes. I will enquire on my
next visit to the Abraham Lincoln Library in
Thomas Bayley Potter, M.P.
Pictured 2: Robert Todd Lincoln
Cast of Robert Burns’ Skull
Did you know there was a cast made of Robert Burns skull
in 1834 and that it can now be seen in the new
Museum in Alloway, Scotland? Here is one story
written in 1895.
Thomas Fowler was obviously not happy that the grave was
opened. He even opposed the new mausoleum believing that
Burns would have preferred a simpler grave.
the new structure was completed, on the 19th
of September 1815, his grave was opened, and men for a
moment gazed with awe on the form of Burns, seemingly as
entire as on the day when first it was laid in the
grave. But as they began to raise it, the whole body
crumbled to dust, leaving only the head and bones. These
relics they bore to the mausoleum which had been
prepared for their reception. But not even yet was the
poet’s dust to be allowed to rest in peace. When his
widow died in March 1834, the mausoleum was opened, that
she might be laid by her husband’s side. Some
Craniologists of Dumfries were then permitted, in the
name of so-called science, to desecrate his dust with
their human outrage. At the dead of night, between the
of March and the 1st
of April, these men laid their profane fingers on the
skull of Burns, tried their hats upon it, and found them
all too little; applied their compasses, registered the
size of the so-called organ and satisfied themselves
that Burns had capacity enough to compose
Tam o’ Shanter, The Cotter’s Saturday Night
To Mary in
This done, they laid the head once again in the hallowed
ground, where, let us hope, it will be disturbed no
Permission to examine the skull of Robert Burns was
given by “the consent of relatives” and the editor of
The Dumfries Courier
accompanied the several gentlemen to the cemetery. The
cast was made by phrenologists who believed that much
could be told by a study of the skull including the size
and shape. “Having completed our intention, the skull,
securely enclosed in a leaden case, was again committed
to the earth precisely where we found it.”2
Pictured: Burns Mausoleum
Burns: Also Locke & Bunyan,
By J. C. Sharp. Thomas Fowler, J. A. Froude, Arkell
Weekly Company 1895
Combe wrote a
complete report on their findings which can be found
on the Internet.
From the Editor
On January 1, 2010, we launched the web site for the
Scottish American History Club. Here you can find a body
of information that included the “Scottish Name List”
and the Scottish American Newsletters. You can also keep
up to date on the History Club meetings and activities.
Google Analytics has been keeping track of the profile
and they report 5,351 visits with 10,260 pages viewed.
The most visits came from the United States, of course,
with 3,993. The United Kingdom 516 visits; Canada 228
visits; and Australia with 152 visits. The name lists
had the most visits with 1,461 followed by the
Newsletter with 478.
At the same time, I began a Blog which you can find on
the left side of the web site. I posted 168 stories for
the year 2010. The Blog had 2,030 visits with 1,529
coming from the United States; 296 from the United
Kingdom and 53 visit from Canada. Other visits came from
Argentina, Croatia, Vietnam, Tajikistan and Austria.
My thanks to Elaine Moore who has volunteered her time
to build the web site and keep it current.
February 5, 2011
Join us on a trip to Nova Scotia compliments of Mr. &
Mrs. William G. MacLeod of Brookfield, IL. The MacLeod’s
were in Nova Scotia for 2 weeks and
they have a great presentation of their trip.
- We are pleased to have
Caroline Goldthorpe as our speaker.
Thanks to the generosity of Nike Whitcombe. Ms.
Goldthorpe , BA, AMA, FRSA, is British with wide museum
experience from England and the United States. She
trained and worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum,
was Curator of a provincial museum in Southern England
and the Deputy Head of the Costume Dept. At the Museum
of London. In New York, she was
Curator at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art for six years, producing the exhibition (and
From Queen to Empress; Victoria Dress 1837-1877.
She presently teaches a course at Northwestern.
- Please note the change in date as a courtesy to the
- Annual History Tour