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  • Kylie Sprott

Freedom and Whisky

I have to admit that my knowledge of Robert Burns, the celebrated Scottish poet, was fairly scant and limited to singing Auld Lang Syne on New Year's Eve. I knew he was a bit of a national hero, but beyond that, I was a novice.

A beloved friend convinced me to watch "Outlander", which sparked my curiosity in all things Scottish, including Robert Burns. For those who have yet to watch it, Outlander is a love story not only about soulmates Claire and Jamie, but also a love story about Scotland.

There is a wonderful episode in Season 3, when Claire discovers that Jamie survived the massacre of Culloden. A printed pamphlet that quotes Robert Burns and his famous "freedom and whisky go together" line, was the proof that Claire needed to return to the 18th century to find Jamie once more. This is mainly because the pamphlet pre dated Robert Burns, and this particular Robert Burns poem (The Author's Earnest Cry and Prayer from 1786) was one that Claire used to recite to Jamie. Very romantic stuff and enough to make most of us swoon. True love and soul mates!

So, I was delighted to discover that my great grandmother, Margaret, was also a bit of a Robert Burns fan. On the voyage to Australia, she elected to bring a commemorative Robert Burns plate. Amazingly enough, this plate not only survived the voyage, but is still in pretty good shape today.

Of course, such a plate would have been a very precious belonging for Margaret. The fact that she elected to bring it to Australia indicates that it must also have had enormous sentimental value.

From my research, I can confirm that the plate was made by Ridgways England in the early 1900s and features a transfer print on a typical sepia background. It is a decorative item and was made to hang on the wall.

The date of the plate indicates that it was most probably purchased or gifted to Margaret and William Morris close to the time of their wedding in 1905. This theory does make sense and would explain its sentimental value - however, we shall never know for sure.

As I learn more about Robert (Rabbie) Burns, I can see why he spoke to the heart of the Scottish people and my great grandparents. He grew up in the aftermath of the failed Scottish uprising where so much blood was shed and there was an active eradication of such important Scottish culture mainstays such as tartan, Gaelic language and folk music.

He believed that all men were created equal and bucked the concept of a hierarchy imposed by the English. I also quite like his love of women and whisky - he led quite the life and was a highly creative soul that came from farming stock. I can see why this plate celebrating such a national hero was so precious to my great grandmother.

After much discussion, my mum and I think that perhaps this plate should return to my flat in Rothesay, in a loving nod to my great grandparents. Of course, making sure it gets there in one piece and is then safe in the flat, is of primary concern. However, it is nice to think that the plate is going full circle and heading back to Scotland - and I hope that Margaret and William would be pleased to know that.

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