August 4, 2011 / 3:00 PM / 8 years ago

Greyfriars Bobby was a scam to lure tourists

LONDON (Reuters) - The most faithful dog in the world, which kept a 14-year vigil at his master’s grave in Edinburgh, Scotland, was nothing but a Victorian business stunt, according to historian Jan Bondeson.

The 140-year-old story of Greyfriars Bobby continues to draw tourists to the graveyard that was once inhabited by the Skye Terrier commemorated by a bronze fountain erected in his memory in the cemetery and immortalised on the silver screen by Walt Disney in a 1961 film.

But Bondeson, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, claims that Bobby was far from the dependable dog portrayed in the tale of undying Scottish devotion.

He says the story was a fabrication, created by cemetery curator, James Brown, and restaurant owner, John Traill, to drum up custom for local businesses — and that Bobby was a stray mutt, bribed with food to stay in the graveyard.

“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.

The trusty terrier - as the story goes- kept watch over the grave of his beloved master, Edinburgh policeman John Gray, from his death in 1858 until the animal died in 1872.

However, after studying drawings and contemporary accounts of Bobby while researching his book, “Amazing Dogs,” Bondeson also 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 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.

Edited by Paul Casciato

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