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Burns's Life

Final Years


The war with France resulted in food shortages in Britain. The harvest of 1795 failed and in March 1796 there were serious food riots in Dumfries. Over the course of 1796, Burns's health gradually deteriorated and in April he was unable to continue with his Excise duties. His friend Dr Maxwell mistakenly diagnosed his illness as "flying gout" and prescribed sea bathing as a cure. On 3rd July, Burns travelled to Brow Well: a hamlet on the shores of the Solway, nine miles to the south east of Dumfries. Each day he waded into the cold sea water.This would likely have made Burns's physical condition worse.

Burns's salary had been reduced because he could not work, and he greatly feared poverty. When he received a letter for non payment related to a tailor's account for his Dumfries Volunteers uniform, he became preoccupied with thoughts of imprisonment in a debtor's gaol.

Burns died on Thursday 21st July 1796 aged just thirty-seven years old. 

The Funeral

As Burns was a popular and respected figure in Dumfries, his premature death was keenly felt by the community, and preparations were made for a grand funeral. As Burns was a Volunteer, a military ceremony was arranged.

On Monday 25th July 1796 an enormous crowd assembled to watch the funeral procession. The bard's body had been transferred to the Midsteeple on the Sunday evening. The procession marched slowly to St Michael's Kirk, to the tune of the Dead March from Handel's 'Saul'. Burns's remains were buried in a humble grave in the north-east corner of the kirkyard. On the day of Burns's funeral, his wife Jean Armour gave birth to his youngest son.

Immediately following Burns's death, his friends - John Syme, William Maxwell and Alexander Cunningham - started a subscription to provide for the poet's widow and children.

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