One of the great things about the Bard is the
outstanding people you have contact with while researching or
writing about him. Ian MacMillan certainly is no exception. He
has written earlier for this space and it is good to see his
curiosity and expertise on Robert Burns once again.
You will find this article a wee
different from most in that he actually walks you through the
steps to find the information on the diamond stylus in the
Rozelle Museum. The following was sent to me in the form of an
email and I have left it that way on purpose. Have fun, I did!
The email simply says,
Good to hear from you Frank as promised
Robert Burns Diamond Stylus
article in the Robert Burns Federations 2006 Spring Chronicle
about Rabbies 22 day Highland tour in 1787 prompted a number of
queries from Burns enthusiasts.
One point questioned was a reference I made to Burns
using a diamond stylus, presented to him by the Earl of
Glencairn , to write his version of graffiti on various window
panes. This has been referred to in a number of books but the
specific reference I quoted was taken from Dr. John Cairneys
On The Trail of Robert Burns published by Luath Press Ltd.,
first in 2000.
The query was whether Burns used a diamond ring, as
some works state, or a pen /stylus, and does the object still
exist and if so where?
That set me off on a search, the kind of mission
that I am sure is very familiar to Burnsians, to answer and
hopefully find this holy grail.
I e-mailed and telephoned quite a number of experts
in the Burns World and had a reply from all of them including
Dr Cairney but none knew the answer.
Then, followed a fascinating visit to Ellisland Farm where
the curator, Les Byers, was very generous with his time and
expertise. (By the way I would recommend a visit to any Burns
enthusiast. Les has a treasure trove of knowledge which he is
only to keen to share.) He was sure that it was a stylus and
thought it was in a museum, perhaps the Royal Museum in
Edinburgh. I tried there, the Mitchell in Glasgow and Alloway
I was about to give up my search or face divorce
proceedings from my own Bonny Jean, when James, a regular
contributor to the Federations web site discussion group,
( access on -
pointed me to a reference about articles in the Rozelle museum
in Alloway, just up the road from Burns Cottage. There, I not
only hope to have found my grail but have held the stylus,
albeit with white protective gloves which I am sure Rabbie was
not required to don.
The object is described as Robert Burns Diamond
Cutter and was part of a collection in Ayrshires original Tam
OShanter museum. Photographs can be viewed on the web site as
Search for - Future Museum South West Scotland, [
Then - People/Key People
Robert Burns - scroll 29 lines down. There you will find the
following information and photograph
Period: 18th Century
This tool is made up of a cylindrical, hollow wooden handle with
a metal protrusion at one end and a wooden one at the other.
There is a diamond inserted into the tip of the metal piece and
it was this that was used to cut glass. The original catalogue
record for the object states that it is an "old glass cutting
diamond used by Robert Burns". Burns was known for scratching
verse onto windows when inspiration took him. A number of such
window panes survive.
Materials/Media: wood, metal and diamond In the collection of:
Rozelle House Galleries Accession Number: AYRTOS:100346 Digital
Copyright: South Ayrshire Council Further Information
The museum have asked me to state the following...
Accession No AYRTOS 100346 is part of the collections from the
former Tam OShanter Museum in Ayr, currently under the care of
South Ayrshire Council. Research is required into the provenance
and ownership of these collections, some of which were on loan
from private collectors.
I have also been asked to say that if anyone would like more
information, or wish to see the cutter, please contact -
Elinor Clark, Collections Management Officer,
South Ayrshire Council,
Rozelle House Galleries,
Ayr, KA 7 4NQ.
My own opinion, for what it is worth, tallies with others
including Dr. Cairney, that Robert Burns did use a stylus to
write so neatly. I, of course, have no proof that this was the
actual object he used rather than one of the facsimiles that
have appeared but, unless anyone comes up with a better idea, I
will claim that I have found and held my grail. I will also look
forward with interest to what Rozelle manage to unearth about
ownership and provenance.
Many thanks to all those who helped me in my search including Dr
John Cairney, Peter Westwood, John Manson of the Alloway Museum
and in particular to Les Byers, James and of course Elinor from
All the best in Burns, Ian
Both photies are of Gruinard bay in Wester Ross. The first looks
South to the mountain range that climbers here hold second in
attractiveness/challenge to the Cuillans in Skye - its name is
An Tealloch - Gaelic for the anvil/forge.
The second is of the very old graveyard below our home, -
Fernbank, in Laide, Wester Ross - It is thought there may be a
Christian history to this site going back to St. Columba's time
in the 7th century.
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