Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Parish Life in the North of Scotland
Chapter XXV - Changes in the National Church


I MAY here refer, by the way, to Mr. John Ross, who, in 1812, was expelled from the Divinity Hall in Edinburgh. Subsequently he went to London, and acted there as one of the reporters on the staff of The Times newspaper; he returned to Ross-shire in 182o, in the circumstances which I am about to relate.

It came out afterwards, though he took good care to conceal it at the time, that a certain Association in London, whether in connection with the then existing Government or not I am not prepared to say, entered into a speculation for conveying Highland labourers to Buenos Ayres, or some other part of Spanish America. To render their scheme all the more successful and efficient, it was resolved that this Highland colony should be placed under the superintendence, both on their passage thither and afterwards on their arrival, of an ordained clergyman of the Church of Scotland, to whom a stipend of £300 per annum should be secured by the Association. Ross, from his official avocations in connection with The Times newspaper, came in contact with the Association and its scheme, and the proposal being made to him, he at once closed with it. He was already a licentiate of the Scottish Church, and nothing stood between him and the object in view but ordination. Returning to the north, he collected, chiefly in Sutherland, upwards of fifty emigrants, who were all appointed to assemble at Cromarty on a certain day, and to go aboard the ship destined to convey them to their future settlement under him as their minister. He himself, in the meantime, was ordained by the Presbytery of Dingwall, and all things preparatory to their final departure being thus arranged, Ross wrote me a letter, asking my presence on board, as moderator of the Synod, to give them a word of exhortation, and afterwards to dine with him, along with Mr. Stewart of Cromarty and Mr. Finlayson, the minister of the Gaelic Chapel. I took no notice of his letter, but Mr. Stewart and Mr. Finlayson agreed to go. Whatever they did officially I know not, but they dined with Ross on board ship. After dinner, to indulge in a love of fun, he said that he really did not know which of them was the taller; would they both stand up, hack to back, to let him ascertain the difference. They were simple enough to do so, and no sooner had he got the backs of both their heads into such close proximity with each other than, placing the palms of his hands on their foreheads, lie rapped them both together with so much vigour as to make them ring again. Mr. Stewart felt justly indignant, and though Mr. Finlayson indulged a laugh, the end of the matter is as that a boat was called for; on which both the reverend gentlemen left and went home. Ross, with his emigrant congregation, arrived in Spanish America, but he died not long afterwards.
On the 7th of June, 1826, I received a joint-communication from Messrs Matthew Norman MacDonald and James Bridges, as treasurer and secretary respectively of a Society recently formed for improving church patronage. The object of this Society was to collect funds all over Scotland for the purpose of buying up from its former owners, hereditary or otherwise, the patronage of the churches in the Establishment, to be settled in all time coming in terms of the Society's regulations, on the male heads of families in full communion with the church for a certain period preceding a vacancy; not hesitating to give a large price for any parish, if situated in the immediate neighbourhood of Edinburgh; and calling upon friends to come forward and assist, as many parishes are already and will continue to come into the market. The directors particularly refer to a recent purchase which they had made of the patronage of the parish of Colinton, the price of which was very large, and which the parishioners, however willing to re-imburse, were unable to do without public aid. Accompanying their letter was a form of reply, which was couched in the following terms:—"In consequence of the recent purchase of the parish of CoIinton by the Society, I agree to subscribe . . . towards its funds." This was to be attested by the name of the subscriber, along with his address, and directed to M. Norman Macdonald, Esquire, W.S., Great King Street, Edinburgh, the treasurer of the Patronage Society. In existing circumstances the scheme was scarcely a feasible one; and its projectors did not seem to look at all either beyond the limits of their own time, or to future consequences, nor to foresee the Disruption of the Church, which took place only eighteen years afterwards. To buy up the patronage of one or two, or even more, of the parishes of Scotland, would have required more money than the Scottish people were either able or willing to give, while the scheme to purchase all the patronages in Scotland was Utopian. With the most distant reference to Disruption times such a scheme, the more it might inspire, the more mischief would it be instrumental in producing. It is but doing justice, however, to the directors of the Society that, in common with all of that period, without exception, they had not the most distant conception or anticipation of such an event. The patronage of the parish of Colinton was the first and last of their purchases, but whether that was afterwards secured to the people or sold to the highest bidder I know not. The only other attempt of a similar nature was to obtain the patronage of Dairsie in Fife; but the purchase was made not by the parishioners, or by the Society, but by Mr. William Innes of Sand-side, a wealthy Caithness proprietor, who presented my friend Mr. Angus MacGillivray to the living, conformably to the wishes of the people.

The Moderate party in the church had at this time reached about the zenith of their power. Their ascendancy, however, was assiduously and successfully resisted by their Evangelical opponents, the consequences being that they were swamped and became the minority. The measures which the Evangelical section of the church adopted, for the increase of their own number and influence, were various; but that which most contributed to their success was a plan which about a year or two before they entered into—to promote and to consolidate union among themselves, and interchange of opinion with each other, with special reference to the points in dispute between them and their opponents. This union or combination was called the "Conference," and its object will be explained by stating the substance of a communication sent me by the secretary, Mr. Bridges, dated the 29th June, 1826, purporting to be a private circular addressed to each of its members on "some matters deserving of their attention." They are first earnestly reminded that this is a spiritual and not a party union; that its fundamental object is, by mutual counsel, to promote the good of the church; and that each of the members is expected to appropriate one hour of the week to prayer for the welfare of the church. The increase of faithful members of the Conference, by the proposal, from time to time, of those who in their quarter uniting in general views, are likely to act cordially with us, and the endeavour to procure the return to the Assembly of members of congenial sentiments, were other important matters to the consideration of which members were invited. The circular then refers to the leading matters in dispute, such as the plurality question, or the union of offices held by professors of divinity, and the debates on the subject of baptism, as in the case of Bracadale in Skye, and the case of Dunkeld. Such was the substance of the circular, which was issued immediately after the rising of the Assembly. It contributed largely to unite brethren to each other so as to present an unbroken front to their opponents. The stated meetings of the Conference were to be held on the last Tuesday of November, January, and March, on the second Tuesday of May, and on several days of the Assembly.

The only public event of any importance to us in this remote corner of the kingdom, during the year 1827, was the opening of additional places of worship in connection with our National Church in Scotland. These new charges were directly endowed by the State under an Act of Parliament which had been brought in by Sir Robert Peel (then Air. Peel), the Home Secretary. They were therefore commonly called Parliamentary or Government churches, and were seven in number, viz., Duror, in the Presbytery of Lorn; Tomintoul, in the Presbytery of Abernethy; Kinlochluichart, in the Presbytery of Dingwall; Shieldaig and Plockton, in the Presbytery of Lochcarron; Keiss and Herriedale, in the Presbytery of Caithness. Both churches and manses were built on sites freely given to the Government for that purpose by the proprietors of land in the different localities. The stipends to the ministers amounted to £120, and the patronage was vested in the Crown. The whole scheme was completed in the autumn of this year. The ministers appointed respectively to the new charges were Mr. Donald MacNaughton to Duror; Mr. Charles MacPherson to Tomintoul; Mr. David Tulloch to Kinlochluichart; Mr. Roderick MacRae to Shieldaig; Mr. Alex. MacDonald to Plockton; Mr. Thomas Jolly to Keiss; and Mr. D. MacLauchlan to Berriedale. The ministers of these peculiar charges, though fully ordained to preach and to dispense the sacraments, were notwithstanding excluded from the Presbyteries within whose jurisdiction they officiated. This, in regard to the original constitution of the Scottish Church, was irregular and inconsistent. But the arrangement originated entirely in the jealousy of the dominant Moderate party, who wished the parochial ministers (although not bishops either in name or de jure), to be regarded as having Episcopal powers in their respective parishes.

There were, however, in connection with the Church, other three classes of ministers placed in exactly similar circumstances. These were, first, the ministers of the "Chapels of Ease," of whom there were at that time, distributed among the Presbyteries, fifty-five. A second class consisted of the missionaries engaged by the General Assembly's Committee for managing the Royal Bounty. Of these there were, in 1827, thirty-six, chiefly among the Highland Presbyteries. Previous to the year 1819 one of these missions was stationed at Achness and Ach-na-h'uaighe, within the bounds of the Presbyteries of Tongue and Dornoch. This station was suppressed, as before described, by the late Marchioness of Stafford who, in her eager and unhallowed haste to establish the Moloch-system of sheep-farming, expelled the inhabitants, burned their houses, and in the course of a comparatively short time levelled with the ground no less than three places of worship.

A third class of ministers, ordained to the functions of the pastoral office in connection with the Church of Scotland, but excluded from her ecclesiastical courts, were those employed by the "Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge," instituted in 1701. In 1827 Mr. Patrick Butter had been stationed at Fort-William, and Mr. Archibald Cook at Berriedale and Bruan. After Berriedale had been, that same year, made a Parliamentary Church, Mr. Cook's labours were transferred by the Society to the district of Bruan. The people of Berriedale, however, continued to attend his ministry as long as he remained in connection with the mission. Mr. Colin Hunter was stationed at Lochtayside, and Mr. John MacAlister at Glenlyon. The latter gentleman was afterwards minister of the Gaelic Chapel in Edinburgh, then of the parish of Nigg in Ross-shire; after the Disruption he went to Arran, where be died. The remaining ministers of this class were, Mr. Alexander .MacDougall, stationed at Strathfillau; Mr. Alexander Ross, at Ullapool; Mr. Gilbert Brown of New Blyth; while the two remaining stations, Eriboll and St. Kilda, were that year vacant.

Of these four classes of ministers, those of the Government churches were presented by the Crown, and paid by the State, as already mentioned; those of the Chapels of Ease were elected and paid by their respective congregations; the missionary-ministers were, with the concurrence of the people, appointed and paid by the Committee for managing the Royal Bounty; while the last class were appointed and paid, also with the consent of the inhabitants of the respective districts, by the Christian Knowledge Society. It was made a condition, however, with reference to the two last classes of missionaries that, while their Committees paid them a stipend of £50, their congregations should by annual contributions, aim at doubling that sum. These were not the times, however, in which contributions for religious purposes, or for the support of ministers, were, within the Established Church, except in very rare cases, ever attempted. This was specially the case in the Highlands, and missionary-ministers in many of the out-lying districts were put upon very short commons. Nay, in some parts, the people felt much more disposed to take than to give, and, so far from contributing to increase the small money stipend, they did their best to diminish it by borrowing from him any little ready money he might have about him. Should he comply with their request, they could only assure him that they "would be in his debt forever." This was the only re-payment which they were either able or willing to make.

The parish ministers were usually subjected to many delays and annoyances by their heritors. I received a letter, dated 12th March, 1830, from Mr. Mackintosh of Thurso, in which he refers to his projected new church. The only obstacle to its erection forthwith was, that the heritors could not unhappily agree about the plan—a most elegant one—which they, with the exception of Sir John Sinclair, thought too expensive. They would, indeed, have avoided the outlay altogether, if it had been possible. But the dilapidated state of the old church pressed it upon them as a matter of necessity. It was, indeed, one of the oldest relics of ancient, and probably of popish, times then existing in the county, and was dedicated to St. Peter. It was of limited capacity iii proportion to the population, and was besides a tottering, dangerous ruin. The proposed plan had been for some time on the books of the Presbytery, and the heritors, at their last meeting, had promised to get all things ready for commencing the work, but still it was delayed. He justly adds that, even should he take legal steps, he could not compel them to hasten. It is remarkable that, although Mr. Mackintosh took such an active part in the first stages of these proceedings, and even participated in the ceremony of laying the foundation-stone, he did not live to see the building finished—he never preached in it. In the wise providence of God that honour was reserved for his immediate successor, Mr. W. R. Taylor. [Dr. W. R. Taylor was Iicensed by the Presbytery of Chauonry 14th Oct., 1828. ordained to the Scotch Church, Chadwell Street, London, 23rd Oct., 1829, and admitted to Thurso 14th April, 1831. He entered the new Parish Church in Jan., 1833. The stately Free Church edifice in which he has latterly ministered was opened by him in 1870. The old Parish Church of St. Peters is now become a venerable ruin; it is said to have been built by Bishop Gilbert Murray, in the 13th century.—Ed.]

About this time I had considerable correspondence with the heritors of the parish of Resoiis regarding the payment of my stipend and the repairs of the manse. In regard to the latter, one of them, Mr. Urquhart of Kinbeachie, wrote to me on 31st May, 1830, from the Isle of Wight, to say that he presumed that I did not demand more than what was absolutely necessary, and that the Presbytery granted no more than what was correct to give; so far, therefore, he could have no objection to do the needful towards these repairs. "But," he adds, "if otherwise, the sum granted is always open to animadversion on my part, although I consider myself bound to pay my share of the expenses. I presume that, upon reflection, you will own with myself that this is not the time for the Church to incur extra expenses, from the general feelings that are now fast arising in the minds of men in these kingdoms to promote reformation and economy both in Church and State."

That both Church and State needed reformation then and now is undeniable. But the particular kind of reform desiderated by Mr. Urquhart and the Scottish landholders was of a peculiar complexion. These most patriotic men held in trust the property of the Church, which was set apart by the laws and constitution of these kingdoms for its use, and was doled out by the Court of Session as the Church from time to time required it. The economy they demanded was really such as would enable them to lay out these funds in improving their own estates. They wanted no such moral and spiritual reformation as was realised years afterwards at the Disruption. For how did the Scottish heritors act at that time? Why, in this way—that not in Great Britain had that reformation of the Church keener opponents, or more violent persecutors, than they. Nay, so far did they carry their rage against Christ and His kingdom that some of them refused to give a few feet of God's earth, even of the most worthless part of their property, as land on which to build a house for the worship of God. This line of action will yet tell against them, even in the course of time, but more especially when they shall come to settle their accounts with Him who, on "the Great Day," shall sit in judgment, with saints and angels as his assessors, on both the judges and the judged of this present world.

In looking back on that period of my life, when I was a minister of the Establishment, I have good cause to congratulate myself on the the exchange which, even, from a worldly point of view, I have since made. For the twenty years consecutively in which I was a minister of the Established Church, I did not receive a farthing of my stipend without a grudge, or even without the curse of my heritors along with it. The delays they ever made in paying at the term, the insolent and ill-grounded excuses they advanced for such delays, and the vexatious, litigious disputes into which they led me to enforce payment, were calculated, not merely to prevent me from laying anything by for the education of my family, and for the necessities of old age, but even to deprive me of the means of paying my lawful debts, or of procuring the most ordinary necessaries of life. Nay, they thought that, in giving what justly belonged to me, they were only granting me a favour, for which I was to show my gratitude to them in any way in which they were pleased to call for or to expect it. How different was all this from, and how contrary to, the treatment which I have uniformly received since I joined our beloved and truly noble-minded Free Church of Scotland! Its managers, instead of opposing me or adding to my expenses, more than half-way met my wants, and even anticipate them. After shaking myself free of the Establishment and its annoying, unhallowed appendages, in joining the Free Church, I may truly say that I exchanged debt and poverty for peace of mind and a competency, enabling me to supply my every-day wants and to pay all debts.

But I hasten to conclude these reminiscences of the past years of my life by expressing my thankfulness to God, for having so guided me in His providence as, at the Disruption of the Church in 1843, to set me free of the Establishment, with all its base appendages of lawyers, ministers, and patrons, so that I might join myself to a Church whose profession is—even if it be nothing more—that of being under the exclusive government of Him Whom men crucified, but Whom His heavenly Father hath made both Lord and Christ.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus