The war with France was causing food shortages in Britain. The
harvest of 1795 had failed and in March 1796 there were serious food riots in Dumfries.
Sunset, River Nith
Gradually during the year Burnsí health became poorer and in April he
was unable to continue with his Excise duties. His wife Jean was
pregnant again and Jessy Lewars, the sister of an Excise colleague,
came to help in the house.
His friend Dr Maxwell mistakenly diagnosed his illness as "flying
gout" and prescribed sea bathing as a cure. On 3rd July, barely able
to stand, Burns went to Brow Well, a hamlet on the shores of the
Solway, nine miles to the south east of Dumfries, which had a
reputation as a spa.
Each day he waded out shoulder deep into the cold sea water. This
can only have made his physical condition worse. As his salary had
been reduced because he could not work, he became obsessed with the
fear of poverty and when a solicitor sent him a letter for non
payment of a tailorís account for his Volunteers uniform, a terror of
dying in a debtorís prison gripped him. In his depressed state he
wrote to George Thomson for money:
"A cruel scoundrel of a Haberdasher, to whom I owe an account, taking
it into his head that I am dying has commenced a process and will
infallibly put me into jail ... Do for Godís sake send me [£5]."
He realised death was close and wrote to his wifeís father asking him
to send Mrs Armour to Dumfries.
Death notice from Robert Burns jnr.
During the following week the Solway tides were not suitable for
bathing so on 18th July he returned to Dumfries. As he got out of
the cart at the foot of Mill Street "he seemed unable to stand upright
... those who saw him then expected never to see him in life again."
To keep the house quiet his sons were sent to stay with a colleague.
Syme and a number of friends came to see him. On the morning of
Thursday 21st July he became delirious. His children were brought to
see him for a last time and shortly afterwards he lapsed into
unconsciousness and died. He was 37 years old.