If people know anything about Greyfriars Bobby it tends to be what they have gleaned from the early 20th century novel or, much more frequently, from the Hollywood movie. Entertaining as these stories may be, they are only very loosely based on actual events. The supposed facts described are mostly fictitious.
But Bobby himself was not a fiction. You can see a photo of him above. And the facts of the real story have been told in a 1990 book called “Greyfriars Bobby: The Real Story At Last” (published by Gordon Wright Publishing, Edinburgh). The author Forbes Macgregor claims to have discovered the truth about Bobby, having done extensive research on the subject.
He reports that Bobby was a Skye terrier who belonged to John Gray, an Edinburgh policeman, in the 1850s. A police constable in those days was required to have a watch-dog, and that was Bobby’s function despite the fact that Skye terriers are small dogs.
Conditions of service for Edinburgh policemen were very harsh in those days and most did not stay in the job for long. John Gray lasted five years, which was exceptional, but then took ill and died. He was buried in the graveyard of Greyfriars Kirk where he had been a parishioner. After the burial Bobby had been taken back to the family home but got out and returned to the graveyard. The gates were locked at night but police patrolled the graveyard every so often and Bobby apparently managed to sneak in behind the police. He then took up position on his master’s grave.
The Greyfriars gardener, James Brown, gave Bobby food and water during the following months despite the fact his duties included keeping dogs and children out of the graveyard. After several months, James Anderson, whose house overlooked the graveyard, took an interest in Bobby and in bad weather he managed to persuade the dog to leave the grave to spend the night in the shelter of his house.