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Robert Burns - Burns Statue Square, Ayr

Robert Burns Statue

In the summer of 1786, the 27-year-old Robert Burns was beset by troubles and becoming increasingly desperate. His farm at Mossgeil was struggling, and the father of the pregnant Jean Armour (who he would eventually marry) was threatening legal action.

Burns accepted an offer of work as a 'book-keeper' on the Ayr Mount sugar plantation on Jamaica, belonging to Patrick Douglas of Garrallan near New Cumnock - Douglas's brother Charles was managing the plantation. Burns may have been given to understand that this would be a largely administrative post, but in fact his duties would have included acting as an overseer - a slave-driver in the sugar fields. Two ships on which he had been due to leave sailed without him, and it has been argued that he was becoming increasingly unhappy about the prospect. In the event, the success of his first book of poetry - the Kilmarnock Edition - resulted in the abandonment of the scheme.

In defence of Burns, it has been pointed out that many campaigners against slavery and racism have been inspired by his poems and songs about liberty and equality. They included Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who toured widely to lecture on the evils of slavery in the southern states of the USA. He came to Ayr in 1846 and again in 1860, and on the former occasion he visited the birthplace and monument at Alloway to pay tribute to the Bard.