... a Ruinous Affair

Burns’ neighbour at Ellisland was Robert Riddell of Friars Carse. Riddell allowed him to use the Hermitage, a small summer house on the estate, in which to meditate and compose poetry.

Drawing of Lead Mining Museum Portrait of Francis Grose
Wanlockhead Lead Mining Museum Francis Grose

Through Riddell, Burns met Captain Francis Grose who was compiling a book on the antiquities of Scotland. Burns asked him to include an illustration of Alloway Kirk.

Grose agreed provided the poet would contribute a ‘witch story’ to accompany the drawing. The result was ‘Tam O’Shanter’, the tale of a farmer who when returning home late after a night’s drinking, met with some witches. The poem was written in a single day on the banks of the Nith and is arguably his best work.



"Tam O' Shanter" by Robert Burns Carving of Patrick Miller
Tam O'Shanter Patrick Miller

Whilst at Ellisland he was invited by Patrick Miller, his landlord, to go out in his small experimental steamboat on Dalswinton Loch. The boat, which was fitted with an atmospheric engine designed by William Symington, had two hulls and was the first paddle propelled steamboat in the world. It was during his time at Ellisland that he had an affair with Anna Park, niece of Meg Hyslop, the landlady of the Globe Inn, Dumfries. The result was a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1790. Jean, with considerable understanding adopted the baby as her own. Nine days later she herself gave birth to their third son, William Nichol Burns.


Photograph of Cattle on Hillside Photograph of Waterside Hill
Dairy Cattle Waterside Hill, Dalry


Although Burns was relatively happy at Ellisland, producing some of his best songs such as ‘Auld Lang Syne’,’ Willie Brewed a Peck o’ Maut’ and ‘John Anderson My Jo’, the farm itself was a disaster. The soil was exhausted and would not support either crops or dairy cattle. By 1790 Burns had decided that the farm was an altogether "ruinous affair" and the following year after auctioning the stock and crops he moved with his family to Dumfries.


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