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Robert Paterson

M, #8043, b. circa 1713, d. 14 February 1801
Last Edited: 14 Apr 2015
Old Mortality as depicted by sculptor Andrew Currie on the Scott Monument : [downloaded from http://sites.scran.ac.uk/scottmon/pages/hisnovels/statues/old_mortality.htm April 2011]
Old Mortality - original Drawing by J MacWhirter
[downloaded from http://www.theglenkens.org.uk/old-mortality-robert-paterson April 2011]
The gravestone of Robert Paterson ('Old Mortality') This gravestone for Robert Paterson is in Caerlaverock Parish Churchyard at Bankend. Paterson spent many years maintaining inscriptions and erecting memorials to the Covenanting martyrs. He met Sir Walter Scott who came up with the name ‘old Mortality’ that was used in his novel of the same name. The stone was erected by Scott’s publishers in 1869. The stone has the following inscription:-


downloaded from http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1851412 [April 2011] copyright Chris Newman and licenced for re-use under the Creative Commons Licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
  • Birth*: Robert Paterson was born circa 1713 at Haggis Ha, Hawick.1
  • (Deceased) Death*: He died on 14 February 1801 at Bankend of Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, .1,2
  • Name Variation: Robert Paterson was also known as Old Mortality.


  • Note for Web*: Old Mortality - Robert Paterson
    No description of the Covenanting times is fully complete without mention of “Old Mortality” – the now historic name of Robert PATERSON who, some 50 years after the end of the Struggle, commenced to erect and maintain many of the gravestones, marking the last resting-place of Covenanting martyrs. Paterson, was a stone-mason, working from Gatelawbridge Quarry, near Thornhill, Dumfriesshire. He left home in 1758 and, it is said, never returned home to his wife and children for 40 years! He preferred to roam a large part of the country, carrying out his trade, and shaping and erecting simple stones to individual martyrs. His work so inspired Sir Walter SCOTT, that he wrote the novel “Old Mortality”, which, later, gave Robert Paterson his name and place in history. He was born near Hawick in 1715, and died at Bankhead of Caerlaverock, where he is buried, in 1801. His devoted work endured that the grave of so many Covenanter martyrs were properly marked and recorded for future generations.
    'Old Mortality', or Robert Paterson was by profession a stone mason, born in the parish of Hawick in 1715. He settled in Dumfriesshire and married around 1745. To begin with he seems to have done some paid work and spent the rest of his time travelling round the area attending conventicles and setting up memorial stones to remember 'the righteous', but from 1758 he seems to have spent all his time travelling leaving his wife and family to fend for themselves. His wife in desperation sent her oldest son, then 12 to look for him and persuade him to come home, but he took no heed, the same happened when she sent her 2 daughters, so eventually she moved to Balmaclellan in 1768 and opened the school where she worked until her death in 1785. Two of their sons, Robert and Walter became stone engravers in Balmaclellan, and many years later Joseph Train met Robert and passed his father's story on to Sir Walter Scott. Robert senior, travelled all over south west Scotland working for nothing, though he never lack lodging, and finally died at Caerlaverock in 1801 in possession of the sum of £7 7s 10d where he is buried in an unmarked grave.
    "In all his wanderings, the old pilgrim never seemed to need, or was
    known to accept, pecuniary assistance. It is true, his wants were very
    few; for wherever he went, he found ready quarters in the house of some
    Cameronian of his own sect, or of some other religious person. The
    hospitality which was reverentially paid to him he always acknowledged,
    by repairing the gravestones (if there existed any) belonging to the
    family or ancestors of his host. As the wanderer was usually to be seen
    bent on this pious task within the precincts of some country churchyard,
    or reclined on the solitary tombstone among the heath, disturbing the
    plover and the black-cock with the clink of his chisel and mallet, with
    his old white pony grazing by his side, he acquired, from his converse
    among the dead, the popular appellation of Old Mortality."
    Quote from OLD MORTALITY by Sir Walter Scott
    Old Mortality - Robert Paterson
    Written by Administrator
    Monday, 17 May 2010.3
  • Note for Web: Old Mortality and his gravestones.
    Robert Paterson was born ca 1713 on the farm of Haggis Ha, in the parish of Hawick and as married man moved to the village of Balmaclellan . A stonemason by trade and owner of a small quarry, he spent most of his life touring the lowlands of Scotland visiting and maintaining Covenanter grave sites. His method of cutting or incising of letters and the ability to get so much into a limited space makes his work very distinctive. He gained some fame as `Old Mortality, the character in the book of the same name by Sir Walter Scott.
    His connection with Scott is said to have stemmed from a Joseph Train who was the local excise supervisor in Newton Stewart and something of a collector of anecdotes, tales and traditions of the Covenanters. Train told Scott about Robert Paterson Senior, and that (at that time ca 1816) his son Robert , then aged about 70, was living in Balmaclellan. The grandson of Paterson, the Rev Nathaniel Paterson, minister at Galashiells, was a close acquaintance of George Thomson, librarian to Sir Walter Scott.
    O.M. married Elizabeth Gray, a cook and maid to Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick of Closeburn. She used her contacts to secure the lease of the freestone quarry at Gatelowbrigg, in the parish of Morton. They moved there ca 1746. In subsequent years Paterson became more and more involved in his pursuit of Covenanter memorials and his wife often sent the children to find him . Perhaps in desperation the family moved to Balmaclellan in 1768.
    Paterson and Scott actually met when he was on one of his longer journeys and cutting a headstone in Dunnottar Churchyard. Sir Walter Scott was on a visit to Dunnottar Castle and was collecting material for what became the Waverley Novels, including "Old Mortality" and "Tales of my Grandfather".
    Paterson died 14 February 1801and is buried at Bankhead of Caerlaverock, A monument ,erected in 1869, reads:
    Why seeks he with unwearied toil
    Through Death`s dim walks to urge his way;
    Reclaim his long asserted spoil,
    And lead oblivion into day ?

    There are several statues of Old Mortality including that by John Corrie of him with his faithful donkey at the Dumfries Museum. Others are at the Newton Stewart Museum and recently the statues at Balmaclellan have been refurbished and displayed. Examples of his work are, of course, mainly in churchyards although a precious few have made their way into the local museums. Regrettably they are sometimes the victims of the modern blight of vandals and when broken are not always `saved` . The stone for the Caldon Martyrs, six men caught at a prayer meeting and executed on the spot in 1685, was vandalised in 1983 but thankfully the broken stone was taken to the Newton Stewart Museum for safe keeping. This reversed image shows the inscription on the reverse which reads

    Recently Sandy Pittendreigh of the Dumfries FHS came across some old stones deep in the shrubbery of Dumfries Museum. Amongst the ivy covered stones there was also a hogsback cover to a possible Knight Templar`s tomb with markings of a large sword on it, and another old stone with the engraving of a primitive plough. The museum were unaware of the importance of the stones which it transpired were brought there by the local Parks Department ca 1970.
    Detective work by Sandy established that they were from the Old St Michael`s Church in Dumfries where there are several Covenanter graves and the Robert Burns Memorial. The present martyrs` memorial dating from 1837 is an imposing light grey obelisk, and has around it some table stones of the Dumfries martyrs William Grierson and William Welsh. Another gravestone is that of James Kirko or Kirka, who was shot on the Whitesands next the river where a monument stands today. These have the date 1873 inscribed round the edge and the text very closely follows on the fragments that have been found. These are clearly relatively modern replacements for the damaged stones which were cast aside and first recovered a hundred years later in a clean up of the cemetery. Now, a further thirty or so years later another opportunity is at hand to preserve the historical carvings of Old Mortality. I hope the opportunity will be taken this time..1
  • Note for Web: Further information can be found at the websites noted in the sources below.4,5,6
  • Note for Web: Read Walter Scott's Old Mortality here.7


  1. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) http://www.thereformation.info/oldmortality.htm [accessed April 2011].
  2. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1851412 [accessed April 2011].
  3. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) http://www.theglenkens.org.uk/old-mortality-robert-paterson [accessed April 2011].
  4. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) http://www.kirkyards.co.uk/historyarticle.asp?ID=320&p=9&g=4 [accessed April 2011].
  5. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) http://sites.scran.ac.uk/scottmon/pages/hisnovels/statues/old_mortality.htm [accessed April 2011].
  6. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) http://warmemscot.s4.bizhat.com/warmemscot-ftopic1640.html [accessed April 2011].
  7. [S49] Website Web Site online (www.) http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/w-scott/Old-Mortality6x9.pdf [accessed April 2011].