Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Robert Burns Lives!
Volume 1 Chapter 25

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA,

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

 Ian MacMillanMy article in the Robert Burns Federation’s 2006 Spring Chronicle about Rabbie’s 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 Cairney’s ’ 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 without success.
             I was about to give up my search or face divorce proceedings from my own ’Bonny Jean‘, when James, a regular contributor to the Federation’s 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 Ayrshire’s original Tam O’Shanter museum. Photographs can be viewed on the web site as follows -

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 Number: SABN001n
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 O’Shanter 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,
  Monument Road,
  Ayr, KA 7 4NQ.

  Tel - 01292 445447/443708
  Fax - 01292 442 065
  E-mail -

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 Rozelle.                   

 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.


 You can contact our writer at

Ian MacMillan, Fernbank, Wester Ross, IV22 2NB, Scotland

(FRS: 1-23-07)

Return to Robert Burns Lives! Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus