Tarbolton Mill

Tarbolton Mill - Composed by John C Grant (https://johncgrant.com). Traditional composer from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland.

Willie’s Mill, the setting of the scene in “Death and Doctor Hornbook,” corresponds to Tarbolton Mill, situated alongside the meandering Water of Fail. This mill is located roughly a quarter of a mile from the northern extremity of Tarbolton, positioned along the route leading to Lochlee and Mossgiel.

At the heart of the tale, Dr. Hornbook emerges as none other than Mr. John Wilson, a notable presence within the community who held the dual roles of schoolmaster and grocer in Tarbolton. In those times, the absence of a medical practitioner led to figures like Mr. Wilson taking on the mantle of providing medical advice and dispensing remedies, often with the assistance of literature such as “Buchan’s Domestic Medicine” and similar references.

Though this practice wasn’t uncommon, Mr. Wilson’s fervent enthusiasm, combined with his eloquence as an educator, inadvertently drew the attention of Robert Burns at a Mason meeting. The result was the poetic creation of “Death and Doctor Hornbook,” which illuminated the hazards of quack doctors and their influence on society.

Upon its creation, Robert Burns chose to withhold this composition from the initial edition of his poems, possibly out of consideration for “Dr. Hornbook.” However, it eventually found its place in the Edinburgh edition published two years later.

The aftermath of Robert Burns’ poem had a tangible impact on Mr. Wilson’s life. The ensuing mockery and jest led him to relinquish his roles as both shopkeeper and educator. He relocated to Glasgow, where he eventually secured a respectable position as a session-clerk, marking a more dignified chapter in his life.

As time has progressed, the mill has transformed into a private residence, the rhythmic echoes of its machinery forever etched into the memory of those who close their eyes and listen.

Tarbolton Mill - Composed by John C Grant (https://johncgrant.com). Traditional composer from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland.

A guide track for ‘Tarbolton Mill’ is available below for listening: -

You can download a PDF of the sheet music here - or braille format here.

The track is additionally available within the following collections and sets: -

Associated Collections: -
6/8 Ayrshire Places Bagpipe Jig Robert Burns The Tarbolton Collection