Burns arrived at Ellisland on 11th June 1788. He was then 29 years of age.
Fields at Tynron
The farm was so neglected that it did not even have a farmhouse and he had
to live in a hut at nearby Isle Tower until one was built. The farm had
been worked on the old ‘run-rig’ system which meant that the land was
divided into narrow strips which were used for permanent crops. These were
raised in the middle and drainage was mostly by surface run-off between the
rigs. This gave the landscape a corrugated appearance. There were no
hedges so animals often strayed into the crops causing much damage.
Grazing land was shared between farms and the fields generally carried more
stock than they could support. Winter feed was always in short supply as
there was little hay and no root crops such as turnip.
Burns could take comfort, however, in the knowledge that even if the farm
was to fail he would soon have a job in the Excise to fall back upon. His
wife, Jean Armour, and their infant son Robert moved down from Mauchline
in December to join him.
Sanquhar Tolbooth Museum
After many problems with the builders they moved
into the new house in May 1789. Their second son Francis was born in
August, and a month later Burns began his excise duties. Excise was a tax
similar to V.A.T. but collected at the point of manufacture or import
rather than at the point of sale. A wide range of goods was liable for
it, mostly notably silk, tobacco and spirits. Burns as a guager had to
calculate and collect the tax due. Thus in addition to improving a run
down farm he had to travel over 200 miles per week on horseback collecting
excise duties and complete the necessary bookwork during his evenings.
For this he received £50 per year plus £50 for every smuggler arrested and
half of any goods seized.
Although he had two full-time jobs and his health was not good he found
time to write many songs. The long hours on horseback allowed him to work
over verses. He began to collaborate with James Johnson, an engraver who
was producing an anthology of Scottish songs called the ‘Scots Musical
Museum’. The second volume, virtually edited by Burns was published in
1788 and contained 40 of his own songs. The third volume which appeared
in the following year had 50 more. He was also a prolific letter writer.
Burns must have been a man of considerable energies.
Sheepfold, Queensberry Hills
Fortunately in July 1790 he was transferred to the Dumfries Third (or
Tobacco) Division which reduced his weekly mileage. He was good at his
job and popular with his superiors. His standard of living on the farm
was above average and he could employ farmworkers to help him with the