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Burns Night

Whilst Robert “Rabbie” Burns died at the young age of 37, his rich and varied life would make him a good case study for pensions.

Burns grew up in poverty and hardship with the hard manual labour of the farm taking their toll with a premature stoop and a weakened constitution.

He had many children. His first child, Bess, was born to his mother's servant, while he was embarking on a relationship with Jean Armour, who became pregnant with twins in March 1786.

To support his family he took up a friend's offer of work in Jamaica as a bookkeeper on a slave plantation. Burns had fallen in love with Mary Campbell, whom he had seen in church while he was still living in Scotland but she died of typhus.

As Burns lacked the funds to pay for his passage to the West Indies, his friend suggested that he should publish his poems.

On the same day that his poems were published, Jean Armour's father tore up the paper in which Burns attested his marriage to Jean. To obtain a certificate that he was a free bachelor, Burns agreed to stand for rebuke in the Kirk for three Sundays and transferred his share in the farm to his brother. Burns postponed his planned emigration to Jamaica and two days later when he learnt that Jean Armour had given birth to twins.

In 1786 Burns, borrowed a pony and set out for Edinburgh and they were published in the following year. Burns sold his copyright for 100 guineas.

His stay in the city also resulted in some lifelong friendships and a new relationship with the separated Nancy McLehose with whom he exchanged passionate letters. When it became clear that Nancy would not be easily seduced into a physical relationship, Burns moved on to Nancy's domestic servant, who bore him a son, Robert Burns Clow, in 1788. He also had an affair with a servant girl, May Cameron.

On his return from Edinburgh in 1788, he resumed his relationship with Jean Armour and took a lease on a farm. He also trained as a gauger or exciseman in case farming continued to be unsuccessful. He was appointed to duties in HM Customs & Excise in 1789 and eventually gave up the farm in 1791.

What pensions help could he have benefited from?

  • His periods of self employment as a farmer would have need him to make his own pension provision.
  • Had he gone to Jamaica, he would have to check that he had enough National Insurance credits to get the full State pension.
  • With so many loves of his life, he would have needed to keep his Expression of Wishes forms up to date.
  • When he received the payment for his copyright, he may have reduced his tax bill by making a pension contribution.
  • His last role at HM Customs & Excise would have provided him with a public sector pension and he may have qualified for an ill health pension.

By sharing your story, there will be a few ways that The Pensions Advisory Service can help you make the most of your pension.

Now, wha this tale o truth shall read,
Ilk man, and mother's son, take heed:
Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd,
Or cutty sarks rin in your mind,
Think! ye may buy the joys o'er dear:
Remember Tam o Shanter's mare.

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