Life of Scott’s ‘Old Mortality’ brought to book

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The life and times of Robert Paterson – immortalised by Sir Walter Scott as ‘Old Mortality’ – have been painstakingly researched for a new book.

Iain Wilson, a historian in Thornhill, Dumfries and Galloway, has spent years compiling facts about the stonecutter’s life, from his birth in Hawick 300 years ago to his death in Caerlaverock in 1801.

Iain had been researching gravestones in the area, and Paterson’s name kept coming up, which piqued his interest.

“It’s taken me quite a few years to put it together, but I thought the tercentenary of his birth – and the bicentenary of Scott’s novel was a good time to bite the bullet and publish,” said Iain.

In 1816, Scott introduced to the world the character of the old stonemason who travelled through south-west Scotland for much of the 18th century erecting and repairing the gravestones of the Covenanters, Protestant fundamentalists of the 17th century.

This book explores the origins of the story of ‘Old Mortality’, the evidence on which Scott drew for the development of his character, and the life and times of Paterson, the real-life individual on whom the character was based. It also deals with the history of Hawick and social conditions during Paterson’s time in the town, as well as other towns in Dumfries and Galloway with which he was associated, his family, his trade and the Covenanters.

Iain self-published the book, In The Tracks Of Mortality, and it is currently available for sale (cost £8.99) at the Tower Textiles Visitor Centre in Hawick; Forest Bookstore and Scott’s Selkirk in Selkirk; Abbotsford House visitor centre and Masons of Melrose.

It can also be ordered directly from the author by visiting