Robert the Bruce Buried Again

By Sue Mowat

This story really begins in January 1807, when the Heritors of the parish (local landowners) and representatives of the Town Council met in the session house of the kirk (the old nave) to discuss the state of the building, which was `incommodious and in bad repair`. At first they thought they would just have repairs done and the pulpit and seating re-arranged. A competition for a suitable plan was won by the architect William Stark and in July a committee of the Heritors was formed to get the alterations carried out. Less than a month later however the southwest tower collapsed, emphasising the perilous state of the building and by October the Heritors were considering an estimate for repairs (£3310 3s. 10d) along with one for building a new church (£3700 16s. 2d).

It will surprise no-one who has experience of committees that nothing further was done about a new building and over the next eight years, apart from the essential rebuilding of the tower, money was wasted on a series of ineffectual repairs. Finally, in February 1816, it was clear that a new church should be built. The next issue was the site – would there be a separate building to the south of the kirk or an addition at the east end, on the site of the former monks’ choir? Acting with unprecedented speed it took the Heritors less than a year to decide on the latter plan, find an architect and award the building contract to the lowest bidder, local man John Bonnar.

Work on clearing and levelling the site began in February 1818 and on the seventeenth of the month the workmen came upon a double vault near the former site of the High Altar. The inner vault contained a lead-wrapped skeleton, along with fragments of an oak coffin and scraps of fine linen interwoven with gold thread, and it was soon decided that these must be the remains of King Robert the Bruce, who had been buried at Dunfermline in 1329. The Barons of the Exchequer were informed, and they ordered that the vault should be covered with flat stones to protect it until they decided what should be done with the body. As an extra precaution against possible depredations the provost arranged for a permanent watch to be kept by the grave and the walls of the new church to be built up to a height of at least seven feet.

The Barons decided that the body should be reburied and finally, on 5 November 1819, the great day arrived. Many dignitaries and crowds of townspeople assembled to witness the reburial of the king. The event was widely reported and this is what the Perthshire Courier of 18 November had to say about it, concentrating particularly on anatomical details.

Dunfermline Nov 5 1819
This day the grave of Robert Bruce was re-opened and inspected in the presence of the right honourable Baron Clerk Rattray, Henry Jardine Esq, King’s Remembrancer, and other gentlemen of distinction, attracted by curiosity to the scene, together with the Provost and Magistrates of the burgh, many of the heritors and ministers of the parish, and a numerous assemblage of inhabitants of town and country.

Considerable alterations were observed to have taken place since the first inspection in February 1818; the ribs of the body, which were then in their natural position, having collapse, and most of the shroud in which the body was enwrapped being consumed. A point, on which much diversity of opinion had been entertained since the first opening of the grave, was now settled, that the shroud was above not under the lead; sanctioning the supposition that the body may have lain in state previous to interment, when this rich covering, consisting of fine damask cloth, interwoven with gold, would be exhibited; as also, that it had been enclosed in a wooden coffin, when laid in the tomb, of which some vestiges, as formerly notices, remained.

It was clearly ascertained that the body had been embalmed, agreeably to historical record, for part of the sternum or breast bone was found, that had been separated to facilitate the removal of the heart, which was further confirmed by the discovery near the grave of an oblong leaden box, which, in all likelihood, contained the entrails. The lead that enclosed the body was laid open, so as to expose to view the whole skeleton, of the length of which, as well as of several parts, exact measurements were taken. The body was five feet ten inches in length, which, when in life, might have been upwards of six.

The head attracted principal notice. It was disjoined from the body, and held up to the admiring gaze of the spectators, during which it was pleasing to observe a solemn stillness reign, betokening the feelings of reverential awe, awakened by the recollection of the noble spirit that once animated it, contrasted with the present humiliation of its mortal tenement. The skull was quite entire, and perfectly firm. The teeth on the under jaw were all remaining, but a few on the upper were wanting. It was properly cleaned, and two excellent casts taken from it, with will afford materials to the craniological enquirer, as well as gratifying the curiosity of thousands who had not an opportunity of seeing the lifeless original. The medical gentlemen were particularly struck with finding the angles of the lower maxilliary or chafft-bones remarkably acute. The also notice with surprise the small and delicate bon, hyoids, which supports the tongue, in a state of great preservation. The cartilages, too, belonging to the larynx, on top of the wind-pipe, as well as some of those of the sternum, still existed.

Every necessary inspection being made, and the head replaced, the body was raised from the spot on which it had reposed undisturbed for near five centuries; and, together with the box before alluded to, and some of the newspapers and coins of the day, enclosed in lead, put into a new leaden coffin prepared for the purpose, which returned to its original position. The coffin was then completely filled with hot pitch, to exclude the air, and so more effectually promote the preservation of the bonds. This precaution, however, was considered by many unnecessary, while it was abhorrent to the feelings of almost all. On the lid of the coffin was this simple inscription: –  “ROBERT BRUCE, 1329, 1819”

At the conclusion of the ceremony most of the ‘principal gentlemen’ present retired to the Townhouse, where the freedom of the burgh was bestowed on twenty- two individuals by the provost, Major David Wilson of the Royal Marines.

The Provost

Poirtrait of Major David Wilson

Major David Wilson

Major Wilson had been elected in 1808 and in 1819 was aged 59. He lived in a house in Queen Anne Street, opposite the head of Cross Wynd, and was the chief agent (manager) of the Dunfermline branch of the Bank of Scotland, along with the writer William Beveridge. He died in 1822, owing nearly £580 which he had borrowed over the previous year and which William Beveridge paid for him, getting himself appointed Wilson’s executor in order to recover the money. However, the provost’s assets, including his army pay of 12/6d a day, only amounted to £153 18s, leaving Beveridge considerably out of pocket.

The New Burgesses

National Office Bearers and Polititians

Portrait of Sir Samuel Shepherd

Sir Samuel Shepherd

Heading the list of new burgesses was the Right Honourable Sir Samuel Shepherd, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Scotland. He had been born in 1760, the son of a London toymaker and began his career in the law by entering the Inner Temple in 1776. He was an excellent and popular lawyer and was appointed to a succession of prestigious offices, but deafness prevented him from accepting any post that would involve him in the trial of prisoners. At the time of the Bruce re-interment Shepherd had been Lord Chief Baron for just six months. He held the position until 1830, when ill-health forced him to retire and he died ten years later.

Next in line was the Honourable Baron Clerk Rattray. The Edinburgh lawyer James Clerk Rattray of Craighall in Perthshire had been appointed a Baron of The Exchequer in 1809. He had served as Sheriff of Edinburgh and was always very active in promoting the advancement of the City. His obituary in The Edinburgh Courant said of him ‘as a judge and a public man it may be safely said that there was in his character a union of firmness, of enlightened views of public expediency, of conscientious adherence to what he judged to be right and of uniform placidity and benignity of disposition which has not been exceeded in the conduct of any other public person with whom our time has made us acquainted.’ He was apparently equally superior as a country gentleman and a family man and what the obituary does not mention is that James Rattray was also a keen patron of the turf, entering horses in a number of races. He retired from the Exchequer Bench in May 1829 and after two years of continually failing health he died at Craighall on 29 August 1831. Not long after his death the Scottish Court of the Exchequer was abolished

Photo of Craighall Castle, Rattray

Craighall, home of James Rattray

Next came another official of the Court of Exchequer, Henry Jardine WS, the King’s Remembrancer. The office of Remembrancer had originated many centuries before in the English Exchequer as the official who compiled the memorandum rolls and thus “reminded” the Barons of the Exchequer of business pending. The Court of Exchequer in Scotland was founded at the Union of 1707 and the Scottish Remembrancer represented the Crown’s interests in cases of unclaimed goods or money that reverted to the Crown for any reason and also dealt with treasure trove. Henry Jardine was born in 1766, son of the Rev. John Jardine, minister of the Tron Kirk of Edinburgh. He studied law and became a Writer to the Signet in 1790 and in 1819 had only recently been appointed King’s Remembrancer. He was an antiquarian who was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1814 and in 1823 was a founder member of the Bannatyne Club. He was knighted in 1825, retired in 1837 on a pension of £1400 per annum, and died on 11 August 1851 at his home, 123 Princes Street.

Ranald George Macdonald of Clanranald MP was the 19th Chief of Clan Macdonald of Clanranald. Born in 1788, he was the youngest son of Lieut. Colonel Robert Macdonald of Inch Kenneth. In 1812 he had been elected MP for Plympton Erle in Devon and served until 1824. He died in 1873.

Portrait of Mary Adam, by Allan Ramsay

Mary Adam, by Allan Ramsay

William Clerk, advocate, was the Principal Clerk of the Jury Court of Session, with a salary of £800 a year. He was born in 1770, the second son of John Clerk, brother of James Clerk, the third baronet of Pennicuik. His mother was Susanna Adam, daughter of William Adam the architect, whose sister was the mother of Captain Charles Adam (see below), William Clerk’s cousin. Other cousins were the current Clerk of Pennicuik, Sir George, and Robert Adam the architect. William Clerk did have a tenuous connection with Dunfermline, although he probably did not know it – William Adam’s wife Mary Robertson was the daughter of William Robertson of Gladney who had been tacksman (leaser) of the Dunfermline coal works from 1697 to 1705. William himself owned Ramsay’s portrait of his grandmother, which he left to another cousin in his will. William was a friend of Walter Scott and was with him, Henry Jardine and seven others, when the chest in Edinburgh Castle containing the Regalia of Scotland was opened in February 1818. He never married,but his two children by Ann Marshall, William and Mary Ann, were baptised at St Cuthbert’s church Edinburgh in 1813. He acknowledged the children and left them money in his will describing them in the customary manner as his ‘reputed’ natural son and daughter. He died in 1847 aged 77 at his house in the prestigious Rose Court in Edinburgh, leaving an estate worth £18450 to his cousin Sir George Clerk of Pennicuik, with the proviso that legacies should be paid to his children and to various other cousins.

Portrait of James Skene by an unknown artist

James Skene, artist unknown

James Skene of Rubislaw was a lawyer, amateur artist and friend of St Walter Scott. He was born in 1775, the second son of George Skene of Rubislaw, near Aberdeen. After his father died in 1776, his mother moved the family to Edinburgh, for the education of James and his six siblings. His elder brother died in 1791 and James inherited Rubislaw when he came of age. After a few years studying in Germany James was admitted to the Scottish bar in 1797. In 1802 he revisited Europe, returning to Edinburgh in 1816. In the following year he joined the Royal Society of Edinburgh and for many years was curator of its library and museum. It was probably in this capacity that he attended the re-interment of Robert the Bruce. In 1838 he took his family to Greece for their health and lived for several years in a villa near Athens. He returned to Britain in 1844 and lived for some years at Leamington Spa. He died at Frewen Hall, Oxford, in November 1864.

Naval Officers

Two naval captains were made burgesses. The Honourable Captain William Henry Percy seems to have been an aristocratic nonentity, but Captain Charles Adam was a national hero, who was to have a glittering naval and political career. The second son of William Adam of Blairadam, he joined the Royal Navy in 1790, serving under his uncle Admiral Lord Keith. In June 1799 he was given his first command as Captain of the frigate HMS Sybille and on 19 August 1801, at the age of 23, he captured the French 42-gun frigate La Chiffonne which had transported to the Seychelles 30 ‘convicts’ who had been banished for being involved in a plot against Napoleon. Her capture took only 19 minutes and one of many accounts of the action in the national and local press praised,

Portrait of Captain Adam

Captain Adam

“the gallant behaviour of Capt Adam in boldly pushing into the harbour under French colours, notwithstanding the narrowness of its entrance and other natural difficulties, until he came within half a musket shot of the enemy, who was moored across and defended by the battery of four 12-pounders on shore, from which red-hot shot were fired during the action.”

Captain Adam was rewarded with command of La Chiffonne, which was added to the British fleet. Over the next 13 years he also commanded HM ships Resistance, Invincible and Impregnable. When the war against Napoleon ended Adam retired from active service, although he commanded the royal yacht Royal Sovereign from 1814 to 1816 and again from 1821 to 1825, when he was promoted to Rear Admiral. In 1831 he was elected MP for Kinrosshire and served in Parliament until 1841. During this time he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, First Naval Lord and Lord Lieutenant and Sheriff Principal of Kinross.

In 1841 Adam became commander in chief of the North America and West Indies Station of the RN, aboard HMS Illustrious and again became First Naval Lord in 1846. In the following year he was appointed Governor of Greenwich Hospital and in 1848 received his final promotion, as Admiral. He died at Greenwich in 1853 and was buried in Greenwich Hospital Cemetery, where his name is listed on the Officer’s Monument in the centre of the park which succeeded the cemetery.


Captain Adam Ferguson, Keeper of the Regalia of Scotland, was the eldest son of the philosopher Adam Ferguson. He was another friend of Sir Walter Scott, who he had met when they were students at Edinburgh University and who described him as having ‘the lightest and most airy temper with the best and kindliest disposition’. Ferguson joined the army in 1800, being promoted Captain of the 101st Regiment in 1808. He served in the Peninsular War under the Duke of Wellington and was taken prisoner during the retreat from Burgos in 1812, being released when peace was concluded in 1814. The royal regalia of Scotland had been discovered and put on display in Edinburgh Castle in February 1818 and it was mainly through Scott’s influence that Ferguson was appointed Keeper in the autumn of that year and he was one of those knighted by George IV when the king visited Edinburgh in 1822. Ferguson died in 1854 and was buried in Greyfriars Churchyard.

William Forbes was the former Keeper of the Records of the Town Council of Edinburgh. Nothing is known about Forbes’ career except that he was an Edinburgh writer. He married his first wife Jean Brown in 1786 so was probably born in about 1760. He seems to have come from quite humble beginnings as his will made in 1811 mentions his brother John, a sergeant in the army, another brother Frederick who was a gardener in Kelso and a sister, Margaret, who had married a shoemaker. When William died in 1823 he owned a flat in St James Street Edinburgh and another in Broughton which would have been inherited by his only surviving son, Peter. His moveable assets of £122 5/10½d were largely swallowed up in paying a debt of £79 to James Gillon, a fellow Edinburgh writer.

Robert Clerk Rattray younger, of Craighall was an Edinburgh advocate, and the son of Baron Clerk Rattray. Although a member of various influential Societies he seems never to have held public office. In 1824 Robert married Christina Richardson, by whom he had a son and four daughters, and he inherited Craighall on the death of his father in 1831. The family home in Edinburgh was at number 120 George Street, where they lived in great comfort with a cook, a housemaid and under housemaid, a butler, a footman and a coachman. Robert died at Craighall in October 1851 at the age of 55.

Distinguished Doctors

Bust of Dr James Gregory

Dr James Gregory

Of the three medical gentlemen made burgesses the least distinguished, though important locally, was the 65-year-old Dr James Robertson Barclay of Keavil, one of the Heritors who had taken the decision to build the new church. In the early years of the Napoleonic Wars, Dr Barclay had been head of the army medical staff of General Sir Charles Stuart in Portugal and the Mediterranean. He died of stroke and palsy in June 1827 and was buried in the Dunfermline old nave.

Dr James Gregory was Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University and Physician to the King for Scotland. He had been born in Aberdeen in 1753 and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and University. In 1764 the family moved to Edinburgh and it was there that he graduated as a doctor of medicine in 1774. He then spent some time in Leiden, Paris and Italy but in 1777, after his return to Scotland, was appointed teacher of clinical medicine at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. In 1790 he became head of the School of Medicine at Edinburgh after the death of Dr William Cullen. From 1798 to 1801 he was also President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Three years after the re-burial of Robert the Bruce Dr Gregory was run over by a horse and carriage in St Andrew Square and died of his injuries. He was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard.

Portrait of Dr Monro

Dr Monro

Dr Alexander Monro of Craiglockhart was Professor of Anatomy at the Edinburgh Medical School but was considered by many to be a mediocre scientist and certainly not the equal of his brilliant father and grandfather, in whose footsteps he had followed. Charles Darwin was one of his students and commented that Monro ‘made his lectures on human anatomy as dull as he was himself’. His lectures were known to degenerate into riots. He was also extremely scruffy and dishevelled and often turned up to lecture still bloodstained from his dissection room.

Monro was born in Nicolson Street, Edinburgh in November 1773 and studied at the University, where he received his MD in 1797. After a brief period studying in Paris he returned to Edinburgh in 1800, having in his absence been elected a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. It was during Monro’s tenure as Professor of Anatomy, in 1828, that Burke and Hare carried out their murderous campaign. They sold the bodies to another anatomist, Dr Robert Knox, so Monro was not involved, but the scandal did nothing for the reputation of the Edinburgh Medical School. Monro died at Craiglockhart in 1859 and was buried in the Dean Cemetery.

The Architect

William Burn, architect of the new church, was born in Edinburgh in December 1789, the fourth child of Robert Burn, also an architect. He was educated at the Royal High School and in 1808 was apprenticed to the London architect, Sir Robert Smirke who designed the British Museum. Burn was in London for three years, during which time he was the site architect for the Covent Garden Theatre.  On his return to Scotland he set up his own business from his home in Leith Walk and was so successful that he was soon able to move to George Street.

In 1816 Burn began to specialise in designing country houses, his clients over the years including the dukes of Hamilton and Buccleuch, the earls of Haddington and Kinnoul and other wealthy Tories. Churches were also part of his repertoire and as well as the new Dunfermline Abbey church he designed North Leith Parish Church, St John’s Episcopal Church in Princes Street and several churches on the Buccleuch estates and elsewhere.

In the event, his design for the Abbey church was not entirely successful. The addition of the words ‘King Robert The Bruce’ to the top of the tower was not necessarily his idea, but many thought they were in poor taste and spoiled the proportions of the building. More serious was the discovery that the echo in the interior was so bad that much of the preaching was inaudible. Several attempts were made to overcome the problem but the echo could not be completely eliminated.

Fife Lawyers

Andrew Clephane, Sheriff Depute of Fife, was an Edinburgh advocate. His appointment as Sheriff Depute was a recent one, made in April 1819. Clephane was born in about 1780 and after the appropriate education was called to the bar in 1801. In 1816 he was appointed Sheriff Depute for Peebleshire and served for three years until his appointment to Fife, which he held until his death in 1838. For his court work, he was based at Cupar where he hired a lodging, but his main residence in Fife was the house of Kirkness, which he rented. Between these two he spent the four months of the year required by his office, but his home was in West Circus Place, Edinburgh. It was at Kirkness, while walking in the garden, that Clephane suffered a stroke from which he died two days later. He was buried in St Cuthbert’s churchyard in Edinburgh. According to his obituary in the Fife Herald:

In private life he was kind, generous and affectionate. His public avocations were performed in the truest spirit of integrity and disinterestedness (impartiality) and though brought up in the Tory school of politics he on no occasion allowed party feeling to mingle with his actions as a judge and we are sure his memory will long be held in respect by all who knew him.

Photo of Hillside, nr Saline, birthplace of Alexander Colville

Hillside, nr Saline, home of Alexander Colville

Alexander Colville esq Sheriff Substitute of the Western District of Fife, was the judge who presided at the Dunfermline Sheriff Court. He was born in 1770, the son of Rev Alexander Colville of Hillside (near Saline), minister of Ormiston. Nothing is known about his education, although he must have had legal training. He inherited Hillside House on the death of his father in 1813 and in 1829 at the age of 59 married Catherine Wilson, a woman half his age. They had three children, Mary, Alexander and John Wilson. The date of Alexander’s appointment as Sheriff Substitute is uncertain but when Mary was baptised in 1832 he was described in the baptism register as plain ‘Alexander Colville of Hillside’. In the entry for Alexander’s baptism in the following year the register adds ‘Sheriff Substitute for the Western District of Fife’.

Mary Colville followed her mother’s example of marrying an older man. In 1851 at the age of 19, she married the 48-year-old Patrick Oliphant of Kinnedar, retired Captain of the 35th regiment of the Madras Native Infantry. In an upgrading of all the officer ranks of the Indian Army in 1855 Patrick  was promoted to Major and was henceforth known as Major Oliphant, famous locally for his fervent Christianity, good works and prize-winning cattle.

Alexander Colville jnr trained as a lawyer and inherited Hillside on his father’s death in 1859. In 1865 he married Elizabeth Horn by whom he had five children. He died in 1917 at the family’s second home, 12 Park Place, Stirling. John Wilson Colville became a merchant and moved to England where he married Anna Maria Whitwell and pursued a very lucrative business. When he died at Bournemouth in 1909 his estate amounted to £77721.

John Macdonald, writer, was the Joint Procurator- Fiscal of the western district of Fife whose Sheriff Courts were held in Dunfermline. He was born in Banff in 1793 but nothing is known about his early life and neither is it known when he came to Dunfermline. In 1820 he married Margaret Hunt who died in 1829 apparently childless. In 1835 Macdonald married Christina Robertson Burns at Perth. They had eight children but only two sons and a daughter survived to adulthood and one of the sons, James, died of TB at the age of 35. The daughter, Barbara, married the local solicitor Patrick J Soutar and the surviving son, Lewis, studied agriculture and became a farmer.

John Macdonald, by now a widower, died at his ‘large and commodious house’ in St Margaret Street in July 1866, leaving an estate worth £27,520 comprising for the most part stocks and shares and mortgages held by him. His youngest son, Lewis, was still a minor and his will reveals suspicions about the honesty of James, so he appointed Barbara his sole executor and her husband Patrick Soutar as guardian to Lewis. His estate was divided equally between the three surviving children.


The reverend Peter Chalmers was the assistant to Allan McLean, the senior or ‘first’ minister of Dunfermline. Chalmers, born about 1790, was the son of a Glasgow merchant and after his elementary education, at the age of sixteen, entered Glasgow University where he followed the classical and theological curriculum, winning many prizes during his course. He was licensed to preach in about 1814 and was taken on as his assistant by Dr Thomas Chalmers. When the Rev John Fernie, second minister of Dunfermline, died in 1816 Peter Chalmers was appointed in his place and soon acquired a reputation among the parishioners for powerful preaching and concerned pastoral care. Allan Mclean would certainly have been present at the reinterment of the Bruce but was not made a burgess, presumably because he had been given the freedom of the burgh on some previous occasion. McLean died in 1836 and Chalmers then became first minister.

Peter Chalmers is now best known as the author of the two-volume history, The Statistical and Historical Account of Dunfermline but he also published a Treatise on Duelling, a prize-winning essay on the Dunfermline Coalfields and the Dunfermline parish entry in the New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845). Always interested in improving educational opportunities, he was one of the founders of the ‘Mechanics Institute of Dunfermline’ in 1825 and also supported its successor ‘The Scientific Association’. He died in 1870 and was buried, along with several of his children, in the north-most of the railed enclosures at the east end of the Abbey church, which had been set aside for the burials of Dunfermline ministers when their traditional burial place was covered over by the building of the new church.

The reverend George Bell Brand was minister of the Dunfermline Chapel of Ease in North Chapel Street. The building originated as the chapel of Rev Thomas Gillespie of Carnock, who was deposed by the General Assembly in 1752 for objecting to the appointment of a minister at Inverkeithing by a patron rather than by the choice of the people.

Part of Wood's plan of Dunfermline

Part of Wood’s plan of Dunfermline

Gillespie formed a congregation in Dunfermline, which built the chapel (number 9 on Wood’s plan of Dunfermline 1823). After his death in 1774 some of his people petitioned the Dunfermline Presbytery for connection with the established church and in 1779, after much opposition by the parish ministers, the General Assembly granted the building the status of a Chapel of Ease of the Abbey church. The chapel was erected into a parish church in 1835 and dedicated to St Andrew. (The portion of the Gillespie congregation that continued to follow his teachings built another church on the other side of North Chapel Street, known as the Relief Church – number 10 on Wood’s plan.)

George Bell Brand had been appointed minister of the Chapel of Ease in 1817 and was one of the founders of the ‘Mechanics Institute of Dunfermline’ along with Peter Chalmers. He died of typhus in February 1838 at his house at the east end of Abbey Park Place and is buried in the Abbey churchyard on the south side of the church.

The reverend William Dalziel, was the minister of the Original Burgher congregation of Dunfermline. The Original Burgher church, also known as the ‘Auld Lights’, had been founded as a result of one of the many 18th century church controversies. The Dunfermline congregation was formed in 1799 and in the following year built a church in Canmore Street, of which William Dalziel became minister in 1815. There had been an Anti-Burgher church in Chalmers Street since the mid-eighteen century and in 1820, according to Henderson’s Annals of Dunfermline ‘the congregations of these bodies in Dunfermline as elsewhere joined into one loving denomination of worshippers’, although they continued to worship in separate buildings with their own ministers. In 1839 the Canmore Street church came under the umbrella of the Church of Scotland and in 1843 the building was demolished and the Free Abbey Church built in its place. Also in 1843 William Dalziel left Dunfermline to be minister of a church in Thurso, where he died of a fever in 1859. The Canmore Street church was burnt down in 1976 and the site is now a car park

It is not at all clear why the reverend William Forfar minister of Saline should have been made a burgess of Dunfermline as he does not seem to have been in any way remarkable, except that at his death in 1844 at the age of 87 he was one of the oldest ministers in the Church of Scotland, a distinction that hardly applied in 1819. He had been inducted at Saline in 1782 after four years as assistant to the previous incumbent and was succeeded by the Rev Peter Morrison, formerly of the High Bridge Chapel in Newcastle, who had been his assistant for over a year.

William Scoular

One individual who played an important part in the reburial ceremony but was not made a burgess was the sculptor William Scoular who made a plaster cast of the king’s skull before it was reburied. Scoular had learnt his trade in Edinburgh but in 1814 moved to London where he studied under Sir Richard Westmacott at the Royal Academy and won medals for three of his works. By 1819 he had returned to Edinburgh and was still working there at his studio on the Mound in 1820, but by the following year he had returned to London, where he was commissioned by the Duke and Duchess of Clarence to take the death mask of their infant daughter Princess Elizabeth. He was appointed sculptor in ordinary to the Duke and Duchess in 1823. The years 1825 to 1829 were spent in Rome and on his return to London Scoular made it his base for the rest of his successful career until his death at Dean Street, Soho, in 1854.

By the convivial standards of the time, the Burgesship ceremony was fairly low key. The provost made a short speech expressing his happiness at conferring the burgesships and his pleasure at the discovery of the Bruce’s remains. To this the Lord Chief Baron answered equally briefly, expressing his pride in his new freedom of Dunfermline and in having been born in a country that could boast such an illustrious former king. The Baron Clerk then spoke, agreeing with the Lord Chief Baron. After this, according to the Perthshire Courier, ‘The healths of the burgesses and the prosperity of Dunfermline were then drank and the company parted, much gratified with all that had happened.

For more information

See Ebenezer Henderson’s Annals of Dunfermline pages 594 – 603.

The Annals are available as a download from

The more distinguished members of the reburial gathering are the subjects of Wikipedia and other online articles.

Image of Major David Wilson, (c) Fife Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation