Snuffbox; gold filigree snuffbox, Robert Burns.; 2009/106/1


Snuffbox; gold filigree snuffbox, Robert Burns.

About this object

This is a wonderful addition to our collection of Burnsiana, notwithstanding its uncertain provenance. No-one knows how it came to be in Dunedin because the last owner who knew its story died suddenly. He left the snuff box to a friend but with no information on its previous history. It was subsequently acquired by the Museum with financial assistance from the Otago Settlers Association and the Dunedin Burns Club to mark the 250th anniversary of Burns’s birth in 2009.

It has been dated to the late 18th century so is certainly consistent with the lifetime of the poet. It bears a faded inscription around the top of the box, partially erased over time by the lip of the lid. What can be deciphered reads, '[Presented?] by Wm Tytler Esq. [Indecipherable words] May 8 1786 Robt Burns. For auld lang syne.'

William Tytler was a friend of Burns who collaborated with him in collecting old Scottish songs, many of which were adapted or further developed by Burns, including Auld Lang Syne. The date is highly significant. It touches on a period of great uncertainty in Burns’s life. His famous book of poems had not yet been published and he had just been rejected by his great love and future wife, Jean Armour. In despair Burns contemplated emigration to Jamaica and embarked on a passionate affair with a servant, Margaret Campbell. The two may even have exchanged marriage vows according to Scottish custom during May 1786. But Margaret – known to history as ‘Highland Mary’ – died of fever, possibly pregnant with Burns’s child. He was devastated. He wrote a number of poems to deal with his grief, including 'To Mary in heaven'. It is this poem that Burns is depicted composing in his famous statue in Dunedin’s Octagon.

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