Home » The Scoop

Author: Greyfriars Bobby a Victorian Hoax

A dog's heart is faithful to the end, and even beyond - as the mid-18th century real-life tale of Greyfriars Bobby so poignantly illustrates. As...

Maria Goodavage  |  Aug 5th 2011


A dog’s heart is faithful to the end, and even beyond – as the mid-18th century real-life tale of Greyfriars Bobby so poignantly illustrates. As you wise Dogster readers likely know, a little Skye terrier named Bobby kept a 14-year vigil over his beloved master’s grave in Edinburgh starting in 1858. His heartrending watch ended only when Bobby himself died in 1872.

It’s the kind of story that gives dog lovers the perfect hook on which to hang our deepest beliefs about our dogs loving us into eternity. Of course, few dogs have 14-year graveside vigils, but a story like this makes us reckon many would if they could.

But now historian Jan Bondeson, author of the highly readable book, Amazing Dogs, claims Bobby was a scam designed to lure tourists to local businesses. The dog was a stray mutt who had to be bribed with food to stick around the cemetery, he claims.

“The entire story is wrong –the account of the dog on the drinking fountain who supposedly kept vigil at his master’s grave in all kinds of weather is not accurate. Bobby would go out hunting rats in the church and was kept well fed by the locals. He was not a mourning dog at all — he was a happy little dog,” Bondeson told Reuters.

Yikes! This is kind of like the dog lover’s version of finding out Santa Claus isn’t real. Here’s an explanation from the Yahoo news story about why Bondeson came to this conclusion after studying drawings and accounts of Bobby while doing research for his new book, Greyfriars Bobby: The Most Faithful Dog in the World.

Bondeson…realised that he was looking at two different pooches.

“I noticed that the two dogs looked quite different. The first Bobby was quite an ugly dog but in later paintings he looks just like the statue on the drinking fountain,” Bondeson said.

The first Bobby, an old mongrel, died in 1867, leaving Brown and Traill (author’s note: James Brown was the cemetery curator and John Traill was a restaurant owner) with a problem on their hands, Bondeson said.

“A dead bobby was no good for business, so they replaced him with a pure-bred Skye terrier who lived for a further five years until 1872 — after which it time did not take long for the fountain to be erected,” said Bondeson.

Have any of you read this new book on Greyfriars Bobby? Does it seem like Bondeson’s argument has some teeth? Judging by his previous book, there’s probably some stock in it. I’ve heard there had been some doubt here and there about the Bobby story over the years, but nothing has taken the legend to task like Bondeson’s latest book.

Well, at least there’s still Hachiko… Right?