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Robert Petrie was born at Kirkmichael, Perthshire, in February 1767. His father was named John Petrie, and his mother Elizabeth Read; and he was baptised as “Robertus.” There is little known of his early history; but he was regarded in and about his native place as an excellent violin player, although from his personal habits and propensities he has been described as a “ne’er-dae-weel.” He was much employed at balls, weddings, &c., and was associated with a partner, by name John Fleming, who played the violoncello on such occasions. Both Fleming and Petrie are said to have participated with the Hon. William Maule in one of thos mad freaks which were so characteristic of the latter. On this occasion a mock resurrection had been organized and was performed in the churchyard of Logie, Dundee. Fleming it is said afterwards regretted having been concerned in the frolic, and he declared that none of those who took part in it would die a natural death. To verify his prophecy, he kept a book, in which he might record the various deaths. So far as Maule and he himself were concerned, however, his prediction proved wrong; but (whatever had been the fate of the rest of their associates) we know that Petrie was found dead one morning in the end of August or beginning of September 1830 by the side of a small stream. He had suddenly expired when on his way home from a party.

Petrie is mentioned as having taken part in a competition for violin playing held in Aberdeen about 1822. Feeling himself somewhat handicapped in the course of it by his opponents, he expressed to his friend Flemming his doubts as to the final result. Fleming, however, reminded him that he had still one tune to play ere the final decision would be made—“The Ewie wi’ the crookit horn.” This Petrie performed so well that amid the plaudits of the audience he was declared the first prize-winner. The cup awarded him, however, never reached Kirkmichael—a fact probably to be attributed to the irregularity of his habits.