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Book Reviews

Greyfriars Bobby and the One o’clock Gun
George Robinson
Xlibris, 80 pages, (paperback) $9.99 UK, 9781483601519
(Reviewed: July 2013)

Greyfriar’s Bobby and the One o’clock Gun is a charming work of historical fiction that will move children and adults alike. This short book of vignettes revolves around a stray Skye terrier and the Edinburgh neighborhood that took him in, but it’s also an engaging portrait of Scotland in the late 19th century.

Greyfriar’s Bobby was a real dog, and the One O’Clock gun of the title a real technology, a cannon used to signal the hour and help regulate shipping on the fjord, Firth of Forth. Bobby cadges free meals from area restaurants, but he also follows Colour Sergeant Scott on his errands (including tests of the gun) and occasionally makes himself a minor hero, finding a young girl lost in a crowd, for example, and a survivor in the rubble of a collapsed building. Author George Robinson researched Bobby’s story and the history of Edinburgh, and his book, complete with lovely engravings, cries out to be read aloud to children. Passages written in Scottish brogue will be especially fun to sound out. “I dinnae ken what I would have done if you and Bobby hadnae come along. The theiving scoundrels were trying tae rob me!”

The history is engaging—there’s a tragic tenement collapse, an animal rights protest as horse-drawn trams appear in town, and Bobby’s legacy and memorial fountain—and while these things are somber, the mood never bogs down. The little dog becomes a sort of community mascot and his charm wins us over as well.

Greyfriar’s Bobby is a slender volume, but its crisp prose and beautiful art make it a winner.

Also available as an ebook.


Greyfriars Bobby and the One O’clock Gun
George Robinson
Two Stars (out of Five)

Scottish history comes alive through a famous canine hero.

Based on true events, real people, and an actual Skye terrier known throughout Edinburgh in the late 1800s, Greyfriars Bobby and the One O’Clock Gun, by George Robinson, provides a thorough, albeit disconnected, narrative of important historical events in Scotland’s capital city.

The early part of the book concentrates on the acquaintanceship of colour sergeant Donald Scott and the terrier, which he names Bob. Donald watches as the whole of Edinburgh embraces the terrier, even bestowing on him the more familiar name “Bobby.” Bobby proves himself a hero of sorts when he attacks a would-be mugger, sparing an old man whose silver
watch is broken in the scuffle. It is while getting the watch fixed for this man that Donald, along with Bobby, accompanies the watchmaker and repairman to check the master clock of the observatory.

Much of the dialogue throughout this and other sections is too on-the-nose and explanatory. “As you’re probably aware, the correct time is essential when calculating longitude,” explains a professor. Outside of the occasional character who speaks with a convincingly captured Scottish accent—“I dinnae ken what I would have done if you and Bobby hadnae come along”—the story’s main players sound alike, also seeming to be matched point for point in terms of personality.

Donald and the terrier observe firsthand the time ball, Edinburgh’s time-signaling mechanism of those days, which drops at one o’clock daily to aid navigators in accurately setting their marine chronometers at sea. There is an excitement concerning the idea of such time balls spreading across ports worldwide that lasts until the device is upstaged by an especially resonant gun being automatically fired to sound the one o’clock signal.

Some scenes, such as that in which Donald gets a haircut before seeing the Highlanders arrive, are substantiated by neither new historical information nor plot movement. On the other hand, the arrival of the Highlanders provides an up-close view of Scotland’s military history, though the only plot to speak of invokes a pattern: something goes awry, and Bobby saves the day. In an ensuing episode, Donald saves the day by capturing a monkey wrecking his friend’s bar. While humorous enough in isolation, the scene hardly connects with surrounding material.

Over halfway through the book, we begin learning of Bobby’s adventures separate from Donald, including when the terrier attends Founder’s Day at Heriot’s and has his license purchased by the Lord Provost. This shift in focus, which not only sidelines the most familiar human character but also suddenly emphasizes Bobby over Scottish history, is disconcerting. While scenes centered on historical moments do weave in humor—usually related to Greyfriars Bobby, as he becomes known—they largely resist both the input of characterization and integration into a stable narrative.
While the real Greyfriars Bobby is an intriguing figure of Scotland’s past, this account does not supply the captivating behind-the-scenes minutiae or establish the cohesive flow of events that would really bring the story to life. Inasmuch as a plucky pet is the central character, the book may best serve young readers interested in learning the history of Scotland.

Hannah Eason


Robinson, George
Xlibris (80 pp.)
$11.99 paperback, $3.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1483601519; March 28, 2013


Thoroughly researched historical anecdotes about Greyfriars Bobby—the epitome of a loyal dog—with an emphasis on the locals who cared for him.

Greyfriars Bobby was a famous little Skye terrier said to have guarded the grave of his owner in Edinburgh for 14 years, ending his watch only when he died in 1872. Of course, during that time, he was well-loved by many people in Scotland, and he became something of a tourist attraction. In this book, Robinson, who researched Bobby extensively, dives into the lives of real local people who knew Bobby. While Bobby had many friends, the focus here is on recently returned soldier Donald, who acknowledged that he could not truly keep Bobby, since Bobby was a stray that, in a way, had many homes. Nonetheless, they became companions, visiting friends together, including one at the restaurant where Bobby frequently found dinner. Neighbors help, too, by saving Donald and Bobby from disasters like muggings, fires and vandals. Bobby became well-known and well-liked around the town, especially after he gained attention for running for dinner when the “one o’clock gun”—a gun literally wired to a clock so that it went off at the same time every day—was fired. There are a few thrilling bits, including the mugging and the vandals, as well as when Bobby disappeared, but overall, the book is more character driven than plot driven. This style of pacing gives the book an old-fashioned feel that’s enhanced by the format: The font mimics the product of a typewriter, and every chapter begins with a black and-white lithograph illustrating the scene. While it might be too slow for some, the writing is solid, and the town well-sketched. Certainly, anyone with an interest in Greyfriars Bobby will get a lot out of this title, and it’d be a nice choice for families to read together.

A dog and his friends come alive in this quiet, pleasant little book for all ages.

Greyfriar’s Bobby and the One O’Clock Gun

This charming little book about the famous Skye terrier that frequented Edinburgh and befriended Colour Sargeant Scott is a work of love.

A meticulous researcher, George Robinson provides a series of anecdotes that tell the story of life in Edinburgh during the late 19th century. Through the experiences of the little dog, we learn about the importance of the original time ball and the technical difficulties of replacing it with an audible signal, that became the One O’Clock Gun.

We learn about the protests against animal cruelty when horse-drawn trams were introduced to the city (slightly topical!) and the collapse of a building in the High Street, with the loss of 35 lives.

While some might find the meetings that took place during lunchtimes and the fact that the characters in the booklet speak to Bobby as if he were another human being, rather contrived, I’m sure dog-lovers will relate to this phenomenon! The little terrier was certainly a popular figure who knew where to go to get fed.

The characters in these anecdotes are – or were – real people, from Colour Sergeant Scott who befriended Bobby to Ritchie’s the clockmakers, Professor Piazzi Smyth, the astronomer from Calton Observatory, the Traill family, whose restaurant was one of Bobby’s favourites and Baroness Burdett-Coutts who funded his memorial drinking fountain.

The booklet also contains some quite stunning engravings from the period and the author’s own quirky front cover design. With 72 pages, it’s priced just £5 (or less) from Amazon.