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Robert Burns Family and East Lothian

Did Robert Burns ever visit East Lothian?

The question remains unanswered, but we know for sure that his brother, mother and sister came to this part of Scotland and never left.

Gilbert Burns was born in 1760, the second child of William Burnes (the e was dropped later) and Agnes Broun. Robert was their oldest child and as there were only twenty months between the brothers they probably remained close friends all their lives. The brothers were schooled together from a young age, went on to work together as tenant farmers, and Gilbert helped Robert with his book sales. Robert died in 1796 and in 1800 Gilbert moved from Ayrshire, with his large family, to Morham in East Lothian. He worked as the estate manager to Captain John Dunlop. Presumably the position was given to Gilbert because Robert was an acquaintance of the captain’s mother, Frances Dunlop of Dunlop in Ayrshire. In 1804 Gilbert was then appointed as factor to the Lennoxlove estate in Haddington by Lord Blantyre. His annual salary was £140. He moved into a two storey thatched house at Grant’s Brae on the Haddington to Bolton road with his wife Jean Breckenridge, with whom he had eleven children. It was a busy house as his widowed mother and sister Annabella also lived there! Their house is no longer there, a monument now stands in its place.

Gilbert Burns was a well-known figure around Haddington and in 1808 he became an elder of St Mary’s Church in Haddington. He died on 8th April 1827 aged 67 and is buried in Bolton churchyard, East Lothian. He erected a tombstone in this graveyard to the memory of some of his children, his mother and his sister. His son Gilbert left money in his will that was to be used to enclose and maintain his father’s burial place.


Martine, John, Reminiscences and Notices of the Parishes of the County of Haddington, p30, p113, 1999

Robert Burns in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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