Robert Burns Timeline

The Scottish poet Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire, at what is now Burns Cottage. The day of his birth is celebrated today throughout the world as Burns' Night, with Burns' Suppers, poems and songs. Find details on some of the key milestones in Burns' short but eventful life below.

Key events in the life of Robert Burns: Ayrshire years

1759 – Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire on January 25, in the ‘auld cley biggin’ that is now known as Burns Cottage. He was the eldest of the seven children of William Burnes and Agnes Broun.

1766 – Burnes family move to the 70-acre Mount Oliphant Farm, near Alloway

1774 – Writes his first song, O once I lov’d [a bonie lass]

1777 – Burnes family move to a larger farm at Lochlea, near Tarbolton

1781 – Moves to Irvine, North Ayrshire, to learn flax-dressing

1781 – Becomes a freemason

1784 – Robert’s father William dies

1784 - The family change their name to Burns. The family move to Mossgiel farm near Mauchline

1785 – Meets Jean Armour. Becomes a father to Elizabeth Paton Burns (1785–1817), born to his mother’s servant Elizabeth Paton

1785 – Writes ‘To a Mouse’

1785 – Has an affair with Margaret Campbell (‘Highland Mary’)

1786 – The first edition of Burns’ poetry.  Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect, known as the Kilmarnock edition, was published. It sells out within a month.

1786 – Becomes a father to twins, Robert and Jean, born to Jean Armour

Key events in the life of Robert Burns: Edinburgh years

1786 – Abandons plans to emigrate to Jamaica to work as a bookkeeper on a slave plantation. Instead, travels to Edinburgh to look into publishing a second edition of his poems

1786 – Mary Campbell (Highland Mary) dies of typhus

1787 – Second edition of poems is published in Edinburgh

1787 – Becomes a father to a child, born to Edinburgh servant May Cameron

1787 – Meets Agnes McLehose (‘Clarinda’)

1788 – Marries Jean Armour

Key events in the life of Robert Burns: Dumfries years

1788 - Takes a lease on a farm at Ellisland near Dumfries but also trains as an exciseman should farming prove unsuccessful

1788 – Becomes a father to twin girls, born to Jean Armour

1788 – Becomes a father to Robert Burns Clow, born to Janet Clow a domestic servant

1788 – Burns writes Auld Lang Syne

1789 – Begins work as an excise officer

1789 – Becomes a father to Francis Wallace Burns, born to Jean Armour

1790 – Writes Tam o’ Shanter

1791 – Moves to Dumfries

1791 – Writes ‘Ae Fond Kiss’

1791 -  Becomes a father to Elizabeth, born to Ann Park

1791 – Becomes a father to William Nicol Burns, born to Jean Armour

1792 – Becomes a father to Elizabeth Riddell Burns, born to Jean Armour

1794 – Becomes a father to James Glencairn Burns, born to Jean Armour

1796 – Dies in Dumfries on July 21st at the age of 37

1796 - Robert’s youngest son, Maxwell Burns, is born to Jean on the day of the poet’s funeral.

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Last updated 8 Jul 2015