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The tune was originally Oh the Shearin's No' for You after an older song about the rape and impregnation of a young girl. These words were thought too course by the Victorians.

The story of the words "Let us haste to Kelvin grove, bonnie lassie O" is surrounded by scandal and litigation regarding the copyright. When first published in the early 19th century (words in 1819, words and music in 1821), the author was given as John Sim. After Sim's death, Thomas Lyle claimed to have written it. It appears as though Lyle wrote the first draft and gave it to Sim; Sim altered and added to it.

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