Robert Paterson (stonemason)

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Statue of "Old Mortality" and his pony, in the grounds of the Dumfries Museum. The sculptures are by John Currie (or Corrie).

Robert Paterson (1715–1801), known as "Old Mortality", was a Scottish stonemason who took it upon himself to travel around lowland Scotland carving inscriptions for the unmarked graves of Covenanters martyred in the 17th century. Walter Scott made him a principal character in his novel Old Mortality (1816).[1][2]


Paterson was born near Hawick in 1715. Through the patronage of Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick, whose cook he had married, he obtained the lease of a quarry at Gatelawbridge, but in 1745 his house was plundered by the retreating Jacobites, and Paterson himself, a pronounced Cameronian, was carried off a prisoner.[3]

He subsequently devoted his life to cutting and erecting stones for the graves of the Covenanters, for 40 years wandering from place to place in the lowlands. He died in poverty at Caerlaverock in 1801, and a stone to his memory was erected by Scott's publishers in 1869 in the churchyard. There is also a memorial in Balmaclellan churchyard where Paterson lived for many years.[3]


  1. ^ Hewison 1913, p. 550.
  2. ^ "Old Mortality". Notes and Queries: 187–189. 3 September 1870. 
  3. ^ a b Chisholm 1911, p. 911.


  • Hewison, James King (1913). The Covenanters. 2. Glasgow: John Smith and Son. p. 550. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Paterson, Robert". Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 911.