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Burns, as his brother Gilbert wrote, began "to think of trying some other line of life. He and I had for several years taken land of my father for the purpose of raising flax on our own account. In the course of selling it, Robert began to think of turning flax-dresser, both as being suitable to his grand view of settling in life, and as subservient to the flax raising. He accordingly wrought at the business of a flax-dresser in Irvine for six months, but abandoned it at that period, as neither agreeing with his health nor inclination." (Gilbert Burns, in a letter to Mrs Dunlop, 1797)
Robert Burns mentioned flax in his first letter to Willie Niven, in July 1780: "I have three acres of pretty good flax this season; perhaps in the course of marketing it I may come your way."
Irvine Burns Club possesses a copy of the 'Glasgow Mercury' for the week Thurs Jan 16 - 23, 1783 [Vol VI, no. 264, price 3d], on the front page of which appears the following public notice:
Premiums for flax-raising
Trustees Office, Edinburgh, Dec. 18, 1782
The Commissioners and Trustees for Fisheries, Manufacturers, and Improvements in Scotland, do hereby advertise, that they have determined the Gainers of the Premiums for Flax-raising, crop 1781; and that the persons preferred are as follows, viz.:
Being Twenty Shillings [£1] per acre [to a max.of six acres]
...................... here follows a long list of farmers, arranged per county
Being for Lintseed saved for sowing
..................... here follows a shorter list, and under Ayrshire we see
Robert Burns Lochlee Tarbolton £3 0s
This document, thought then to be the only surviving copy of that edition of the 'Mercury'*, was exhibited at "The Burns Exhibition" in Glasgow in 1896, and afterwards returned to Thomas Wilson, Glentane Cottage, West Kilbride. At some point it then passed to Burns Cottage, Alloway, and was later acquired for Irvine Burns Club in 1976.
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I shall forever support The Legend That is Robert Burns and The Hero That is Sir William Wallace - SCOTLAND THE BRAVE!! FREEDOM!!!