Bonnie Jean to get her own statue to rival Robert Burns

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SHE was the long-suffering wife of Scotland’s national poet, the mother of nine of his children and the inspiration for some of his finest songs.

Yet Bonnie Jean Armour has received scant recognition for her role as Robert Burns’ better half.

Now, at last, she is to be commemorated in Dumfries where she lived and died.

The town’s Burns Howff Club is commissioning a statue in her honour and has asked Dumfries and Galloway Council for permission to erect it on a site between the poet’s house and the mausoleum where he and Jean are buried. Councillors are expected to give their approval on Tuesday.

The club’s honorary secretary David Smith said: "We are in sight of our 25,000 target for the project and we are now at the stage of choosing an artist and foundry."

The statue would be either life-size or slightly bigger, he said. It will depict Jean as a young woman with a child at her side in a standing or walking pose and will be uplit in a surrounding flowerbed, which it is hoped will deter vandalism.

The club plans the unveiling on July 21 next year, the 207th anniversary of poet’s death. The date has been chosen because many Burns aficionados will be in town for a commemoration ceremony.

Burns experts describe Jean as a "generous, compliant woman with a clear singing voice". She was willing to put up with his wildest extravagances and even took in his love child - Anna Park’s daughter - with the reputed remark: "Oor Rabbie should have had twa wives."

The last of her nine children was born on the day of Robert’s funeral and only three of them survived her. She outlived the poet by 38 years.

No portraits of Jean were painted before she became a grandmother - and they contradict each other. One, by Samuel Mackenzie, shows her with a strong, care-worn face and heavily-chiselled features. Another, by James Gilfillan, depicts a chubbier woman with dark brown curls peeping out from under her bonnet.

"The small mouth is pursed but there is a sagacious look in these penetrating black eyes," writes James Mackay in his biography of Burns.

There are no authentic written descriptions of Bonnie Jean as a young woman, although some authors have used their imagination in describing her - something the creator of her new statue will also be forced to do.