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Burns baby Burns

25 January 2007 by Sam

Head and shoulders portrait of Robert Burns

Print of Robert Burns from the Customs and Excise Museum collection, accession number CENM1996.928

Here’s a bit of trivia to impress your whisky drinking chums with when you’re out celebrating Burns night this evening. If you ask most people for 3 facts about Robert Burns, they would probably tell you that he was Scottish, he was a poet and he has a night held in his honour every year to celebrate his birthday. But did you know that he worked as an Excise Officer?

In 1789 Burns was appointed Excise Officer in Dumfries. His job was to gauge the vessels used by brewers and other traders in the manufacture of liquors on which Excise duty was charged and to charge the duty on the liquors when manufactured. A very conscientious officer, Burns was selected for promotion to supervisor, the official in charge of an excise district, but unfortunately died before he could take up his post.

His way with words didn’t appear to rub off on those around him, as his confidential character assessment from 1792 simply states “The Poet. Does pretty well”.

If you’d like to know more about Scotland’s national bard have a look at the Burns Night feature on the BBC website. Or to find out how modern day customs officers are still ‘doing pretty well’ at protecting our ports and airports, you could pay a visit to the Customs and Excise Museum.

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