Highland Mary Monument Project – How we arrived at Today – (Part 1)
Mary Campbell (Highland Mary) spent her early years in Dunoon then Campbeltown. In her early teens she went in to service for various families in Ayrshire. It was there that she met Robert Burns and the two became very close, exchanging bibles on the second Sunday in May in 1786.Mary then had to return to Greenock to nurse her young brother Robert who had a fever. Robert recovered but Mary became infected and died in October 1786. She was buried in an unmarked MacPherson lair in the old West Highland Kirk yard (later the Old West Kirk). Burns was reportedly distraught on learning of his sweetheart’s death.
In 1812 the Greenock Burns Club passed a motion that a subscription should be opened for the purpose of erecting a tombstone in memory of Highland Mary. However it was not until 25th January 1842 that the foundation stone was laid “with full Masonic honours”. The monument was designed by William Mossman and sculpted by John Mossman of the well known Glasgow family firm of sculptors.
In 1917, due to the expansion of the shipyard of Caird & Co. (later Harland & Wolff), consideration had to be given to the transfer of the Old West Kirk to an alternative site. The church was moved stone by stone to its present site on the Esplanade. (The original site is signposted on Container Way opposite the entrance to Tesco’s car park.) After careful consideration it was decided that Highland Mary’s remains be transferred to Greenock Cemetery. On 8th November 1920 the grave was opened, the remains disinterred and put in an oak casket. On 13th November the casket was re-interred in Greenock Cemetery in “an impressive religious ceremony”.
In 1979 restoration work was carried out on the monument. In 1991 it was noted that further restoration work was required. However, due to being unable to obtain sufficient grant funding a reduced restoration was agreed. It was then that Inverclyde District Council stepped in and with their assistance the monument was cleaned, the area landscaped, a small fence erected, and a footpath relaid with suitably engraved slabs. The monument was rededicated in the autumn of 1996 – the bi-centenary year of Burns death.