How many Ministers adhered to the Free Church at the Disruption?
It might seem a simple matter to find out how many ministers in the Scottish Church adhered to the Free Church of Scotland at the Disruption in 1843 – but it is not so. In order to come to an accurate assessment of the number of Disruption ministers, we need to define some terms.
By “ministers”, we mean men that had been ordained to the work of the ministry. Licentiates or probationers may use the title Reverend and may be called ministers. Many of them, too, adhered to the Free Church at the Disruption but here we are referring to those who had passed the stage of probation and had been ordained to ministerial service. Moreover, we are referring to ministers in pastoral ministry in Scotland. So missionaries or ministers outwith Scotland, and Professors within Scotland are excluded from the count.
By “at the Disruption”, we do not refer to the act of walking out of St Andrew’s Church, Edinburgh, on 18th May, 1843, nor to the signing of the Deed of Demission on 23rd May. Men who adhered to the Free Church in the immediate aftermath of the main event, in sympathy with the principles expressed on these dates, are also counted.
But what does “adhering to the Free Church” mean? Here we are counting those who signed or expressed an intention of signing the Disruption documents (The Protest or the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission or the Supplementary Act) or were thought to have expressed such a commitment to the Free Church that their Church of Scotland Presbytery felt justified in calling them to account.
In seeking to answer the question posed here, we are basing our analysis on two main sources – the one giving information about who adhered to the Free Church, the other giving information about those who left the Church of Scotland. In theory, the two sources should agree exactly. On the one hand, there is the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission which ministers signed on 23rd May, 1843, and which was open to other ministers to sign thereafter. More specifically, we are taking that document as printed in Ewing’s Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843-1900, which is on this website: Act of Separation and Supplementary Act of Separation. We may think of this as the “official” version of these documents. There are 470 names on this list. And there are the Fasti Ecclesianae Scoticanae (FES), Volumes 1-7, from which one can deduce how many ministers left their charges in the Church of Scotland at that time: “joined the Free Church” is generally the terminology used.
There are, however, discrepancies between these sources. For example, not all seceding ministers signed the Deed of Demission; some are said to have signed and retracted almost immediately; men whom the Free Church counted as having been ministers in the Church of Scotland are not mentioned in FES as having been ministers of the Church. We therefore have brought under consideration other sources, as follow.
(1) There is another edition of the Disruption documents. These formed part of the Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland and they differ slightly from the “official” version. They are: Act of Separation and Supplementary Act of Separation. For convenience, we will refer to these as “the Assembly list”. There are 469 names on this list.
(2) McCosh’s The Wheat and the Chaff gathered into Bundles contains a very handy breakdown of the attitudes of Church of Scotland ministers to the Disruption. He gives the names of those who left the Church by Presbyteries and types of charge. This was a contemporaneous production. He gives 486 names.
(3) Thomas Brown’s Annals of the Disruption was written in retrospect – more than 50 years later – and an appendix gives the names of all Disruption ministers and their future ministries. This too is available on this web-site: Appendix 1. There are 481 names on the list.
Collating these sources, there are said to be 497 ministers in the Church of Scotland who became Free Church ministers in 1843 (that is, excluding professors and overseas missionaries). There are 53 cases where there is a division of opinion which is worth exploring. That means that there is a consensus of opinion regarding 444 of them.
A major source of information about these men and their ecclesiastical status is the Minutes of the Presbyteries of the Church of Scotland. They can answer the questions: Were they declared as no longer belonging to the Church of Scotland? Were they treated as ordained ministers or as probationers? The Minutes of most Presbyteries are extant and are held by the National Records of Scotland and can be identified by searching the NRS Catalogue. Some of these records are also available on line at Scotland’s People.
Looking at these 53 doubtful cases, we can deal with them in various categories.
Free Church men who did not sign the Deed of Demission
There is no question about these men having left the Establishment at the Disruption: there is clear evidence that they did. The question is: why didn’t they sign the Deed of Demission? In most of these cases, we just don’t know. Before we give details of such cases, we can identify two factors which led to certain men adhering to the Free Church but not adding their names to the Disruption documents.
Delayed adherence in hope
It is well known that some felt a difficulty in leaving the Church of Scotland prior to the reading of the Queen’s Letter, which was to be read at the General Assembly in 1843. What if some reasonable and acceptable measure was to be proposed? Some also wanted to see what could yet be done in the General Assembly to resolve the Church’s difficulties. Some wanted to wait and see how the Church of Scotland, freed from the non-intrusionists, would undo the measures or recall the decisions that had been made when the evangelical party were in control. What would happen to the so-called Veto Act? How would ministers, deposed by the Church despite the rulings of the Civil Court, be treated? Would they take action on these matters or would they simply submit to the rulings of the Civil Court
Henry Wellwood Moncreiff
Among these who did not immediately secede were Henry Wellwood Moncreiff, minister at East Kilbride, and his brother James, advocate. It is clear from the Minutes of the Church of Scotland Assembly (pp.188-192) that they were determined to make their voices heard for the non-intrusion position.
“On coming to the names of the ministers of the Presbytery of Strathbogie who had been suspended, and afterwards deposed, Mr James Moncreiff rose and moved, that these names be not in the meantime put on the roll. Rev. Mr Cook of Laurencekirk contended, that this motion was made at too early a period. The Clerk then proceeded with the reading of the roll, and when it was concluded, Mr Moncreiff rose again, and moved that the names of the deposed Strathbogie ministers be not retained on the roll. After a pretty long discussion, Mr Moncreiff agreed to postpone his motion in the meantime, as it appeared to be the general opinion that, in point of form, this was not the proper time for pressing it;—but he could not depart from it, and would insist that they could in no way recognise these deposed ministers.”
His brother Henry also cleared the way for his ongoing participation in what some considered to be an illegal Assembly: “He held that, according to the usual practice of this House, and of other deliberative bodies, though certain illegal interferences might have taken place with the election of these bodies, it did not necessarily follow that their meetings were altogether illegal. He was, therefore, prepared to take this ground”. It should be noted that this is a different view from that of the Act of Separation which said: “…they refuse to acknowledge the supreme ecclesiastical judicatory … now holding its sittings in Edinburgh, to be … a lawful Assembly of the said Church.”
Very shortly later Henry Moncreiff spoke again: “It appeared to him, in consequence of a recent decision of the Court of Session, supposing that decision final, that they were placed in this anomalous position – either they had not an Assembly which could act fully for the purpose of maintaining the authority of an Assembly, their acts carrying civil effects, or otherwise they had not an Assembly properly elected with reference to ecclesiastical rule. Combining these considerations with other circumstances, he could not but feel there might be doubt raised with reference to the moral weight, as well as the validity of the acts of an Assembly so constituted. If he thought he could be successful in following a conciliatory course – which he was anxious to do with reference to the Veto law, always adhering to the fundamental principle of Non-intrusion, and also with reference to the quoad sacra ministers, not holding that so sacred a question as others did, – if he thought he could be successful in following such a course, waiving the objections to which he had referred, then he would follow that course. That was the meaning of his position at the present moment; but circumstances would determine how far he might be enabled to follow such a course.”
What the Moncreiffs – and others of the same mind with them in the Assembly – might have been able to accomplish, we do not know. The Moncreiffs were suddenly called away to London on account of their mother’s illness. Accordingly, Henry Moncreiff did not make an impact on the Assembly’s deliberations, nor did he leave the Establishment at that time.
In due course, he attended the meeting of his Presbytery – the Presbytery of Hamilton – on 14th June, 1843. There it was agreed that in obedience to the Assembly’s decision, the roll should be adjusted and that the names of ministers and elders in quoad sacra churches should be removed. Moncreiff dissented and protested with a view to complaining to the Synod and said reasons would be forthcoming. He took similar action when the ministers who were reported to have adhered to the Free Church were cited to appear before the Presbytery on 27th June. These ministers did not appear on that date and they were declared to be no longer ministers of the Church of Scotland and their congregations were declared vacant. Moncreiff seems to have been present at that meeting but was silent. However a pro re nata of the Presbytery was called on 3rd July to consider certain papers transmitted by Moncreiff. These papers consisted of the demission of his charge and his adherence to the Free Church. These were not immediately acceptable to the Presbytery and it was not till their meeting of 11th July, when Moncreiff confirmed his position, that they declared him no longer a minister of the Church of Scotland.
Moncreiff’s failure to leave the Establishment on 18th May was not due to any lack of commitment to the Disruption cause. He was simply not happy with the timing of the event.
He was minister in St Fergus. He took a prominent part in the discussions at Deer Presbytery on 30th March, 1843, when it was agreed that the names of the ministers and elders of quoad sacra charges should be removed from the roll of Presbytery in the light of the decision of the civil courts in the Stewarton case. Along with four others, he dissented from the finding. Though clearly sympathetic to Disruption principles, he did not immediately adhere to the Free Church. It was not till 27th June that he intimated to his Presbytery the demission of his charge. The Presbytery, however, did not immediately accept his demission but appointed a committee to communicate with him. Anderson had moved to the parish of Boyndie and the Committee wrote to him there. He replied in a letter of 8th July: “…I cannot help thinking that the assumption of supremacy on the part of the civil courts over matters purely spiritual has been homologated by some of the decisions and Deliverances of last General Assembly.” He was not satisfied that “any adequate relief has been offered or afforded by the Legislature to protect the judicatories of the Church from the encroachments of the civil courts.” In the light of his letter, the Presbytery, seemingly with great reluctance, pronounced Anderson no longer a Church of Scotland minister and his charge now vacant.
Note how, like Moncreiff, the decisions and Deliverances of the last General Assembly proved the last straw for Anderson. He did not leave with the seceders of 18th May but gave the Church of Scotland Assembly a further opportunity of resolving the issue. Like Moncreiff, only when no relief was forthcoming, did he break his ties with the Established Church
Prevented by death or illness
He was minister of Bolton, East Lothian. The Assembly list says that he signified his adherence to the Free Church by letter previous to the rising of the Assembly but he does not appear to have signed the Deed of Demission.
There was a standard procedure laid down by the Church of Scotland Assembly for dealing with ministers (and elders and probationers) who had adhered or who were reported to have adhered to the Free Church. If they were commissioners to the Assembly and had signed the Protest or Deed of Demission then their Presbyteries had immediately to declare their churches vacant and the ministers to be no longer ministers of the Church of Scotland. Otherwise, they were to be summoned to attend a meeting of Presbytery, it being understood that their non-attendance would be taken as an acknowledgement of their attachment to the Free Church. They would then be treated in the same as the ministers who had been commissioners to the Assembly – declared to be no longer ministers (or elders or probationers) of the Church by law established.
On 31st May, 1843, John Abernethy was accordingly summoned to appear at the next meeting of Haddington Presbytery on 7th June. A letter from Abernethy was read at that meeting. He was indisposed and in bed and couldn’t attend. The Presbytery, he says, could take his absence “as full evidence that I adhere to the Protest lodged with the General Assembly on the 18th of May last and that I am no longer to be considered a member of the established Church of Scotland”. Mr Ritchie was appointed to preach at Bolton and intimate the vacancy to the congregation. Ewing’s Annals report that “the church was preached vacant a few Sabbaths before his death [on 26th July, 1843], or rather, was pronounced vacant, for no audience could be got to witness the ceremony.” The Presbytery Minutes do not show that Mr Ritchie reported to the Presbytery regarding his having preached Bolton vacant, though others who had received similar commissions did, and it may be that what happened is described by Mr Smith who preached there the following Sunday: “he had gone at the proper time to Bolton but found that no intimation of service had been given and that no congregation had assembled”. It may have been his illness that prevented Abernethy from signing the documents but his adherence to the Free Church is not in doubt.
Ewing’s Annals list George Logan as a Free Church minister. He says: “On the day of separation he was confined to bed, but he wrote a letter of adherence to the Free Church, and requested that a copy of the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission be sent for his signature. Before this could be done he died on the 2nd July 1843.” Ewing takes the intention of adhering to the Free Church as a ground for considering him a Free Church minister, though he never signed the Deed of Demission. FES, Vol.3, p.136 agrees with Ewing with regard to the facts of the matter but considers him never to have left the Establishment because he never actually signed the Deed of Demission.
In a disputed case of this nature, we might do well to listen to the Presbytery involved. The Presbytery of Paisley met on 14th June, 1843. They noted that there existed a fama that George Logan had signed the Deed of Demission and he was cited to appear. But he died before the Presbytery met again. Inasmuch as the Presbytery had begun to take action against him, I would count him amongst the seceders.
A similar though slightly simpler case is that of Thomas Ross, Lochbroom. The Assembly list says that he signified his adherence to the Free Church by letter previous to the rising of the Assembly. According to Ewing, “he adhered to the Free Church, but died immediately after the Disruption” – on 25th July. FES, however, says: “His name was given in by his family as joining the Free Church in 1843, but, though he lived two months after the Secession, he never signed the Deed of Demission.”
Nonetheless, he was considered a Free Church minister. The Presbytery of Lochcarron met on 7th June, 1843. They believed that Thomas Ross and Alexander MacDonald had adhered to the Free Church and cited them to appear at their next meeting. On 28th June, these men didn’t appear; they were declared no longer to be ministers of the Established Church and their charges were declared vacant. John Mackenzie, minister of Lochcarron was appointed to go to Lochbroom on 9th July to declare the church vacant. In due course, he reported that he had preached as requested.
No known reason
The following men didn’t sign the Deed of Demission. Why they did not sign is not clear, but they are acknowledged to have joined the Free Church both by the Free Church and in most cases by Church of Scotland records.
Gilbert Brown was minister in New Byth. He wrote a letter to the Presbytery of Turriff dated 5th June, intimating that he was separating himself from the Established Church and joining the Free Church. Earlier in that meeting his name had been taken off the roll of Presbytery as he was not a minister in a parish church.
John Brown was minister in Langton. The Presbytery of Duns on 6th June, 1843, recognized that there was a fama that Brown was to demit his charge and join the new secession. He was summoned to the Presbytery meeting of 20th June. When he failed to appear he was pronounced no longer a minister of the Established Church and Langton was declared vacant.
Thomas Burns was minister in Monkton. The Presbytery of Ayr on 31st May, 1843, cited him to appear on 14th June. He didn’t appear and was accordingly dealt with in the usual way.
Alexander Grant was minister in Cookney. The Presbytery of Aberdeen met on 29th June, 1843. They received a minute of the Presbytery of Fordoun which pointed out that Alexander Grant, had resigned his charge and was about to sign the Deed of Demission. They pointed out that Grant was a licentiate of Aberdeen Presbytery and currently resident within its bounds. Aberdeen Presbytery wrote Grant to clarify his situation. He neither wrote nor appeared and on 13th July he was pronounced to be not a minister of the Established Church.
Alexander MacDonald was minister of the quoad sacra Church in Plockton in the parish of Lochalsh. The Presbytery of Lochcarron on 7th June, 1843, cited him to appear at their next meeting, as it was thought he had adhered to the Free Church. He failed to appear and on 28th June he was declared to be no longer a minister of the Church of Scotland and his charge declared vacant. Note: Perhaps this is the man who signed the Deed of Demission as “Alexander MacDonald, Urquhart”. If not, we do not know who “Alexander MacDonald, Urquhart” is.
George Mackay was minister in Clyne. There is no doubt of his Free Church credentials – on 27th June the Presbytery of Dornoch declared him to be no longer a minister of the Church of Scotland – though his name does not appear on the list of signatories as printed in Ewing.
Angus MacMillan was minister in Kilmory, Isle of Arran. The Assembly list says that he signified his adherence to the Free Church by letter previous to the rising of the Assembly. On 14th June, 1843, he was cited to appear before the Presbytery of Kintyre because of the fama that he had adhered to the Free Church. He wrote confirming that he had indeed left the Establishment for the Free Church, and was dealt with in the accustomed fashion.
Ralph Robb was minister of Strathkinness. Although he did not sign the Deed of Demission, he signed the Protest.
Donald Sage was minister in Resolis. The Assembly list says that he signified his adherence to the Free Church by letter previous to the rising of the Assembly. The Presbytery of Chanonry, to which Resolis belonged, was so depleted that, in accordance with the General Assembly’s instructions, they were joined by the members of Dingwall Presbytery at their meeting of 14th June, 1843. Sage was summoned to appear at their next meeting as there was a fama that he had joined the Free Church. He failed to appear on 5th July and was dealt with in the by now usual form.
George Smellie was minister of the Lady Kirk of Sanday. He was assistant minister and successor to Walter Traill of Westove. FES, Vol.7, p.265 says that he joined the Free Church. McCosh acknowledges Smellie had every intention of doing so and thinks that it may have been an oversight that he did not sign the Deed of Demission.
At the time he was on the point of taking up an appointment in Canada and indeed he became minister of Melville Church, Fergus, Ontario, in December, 1843. Ewing does not mention him as a Free Church minister but does state that a number of people from Sanday adhered to the Free Church in 1843 – which is more likely to have happened if one of their ministers had been leading them in that direction. Moreover, he became Free Church in Canada: “Rev. Smellie was inducted as minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (The Auld Kirk), Dec. 13th, 1843. Within months a disruption caused him and 360 of the 449 parishioners to split from the Synod of Canada (Church of Scotland) and form the “Free Kirk”, later reformed as Melville Church, and later still as Melville United Church (Findagrave).
James Smellie was minister in Deerness. FES, Vol.7, p.265 says he adhered to the Free Church, and this is confirmed by the record of the Presbytery of Kirkwall: he was cited to appear before them on 12th July, 1843. He wrote saying that he had no reason to withdraw his adherence to the Protest and was duly pronounced no longer a Church of Scotland minister.
Joseph Somerville was minister of St Thomas’ (Chapel of Ease), Glasgow. Although he didn’t sign the Deed of Demission, both Ewing’s Annals and FES agree that he left the Church of Scotland. He died on 19th September, 1844. There is no obvious Free Church associated with him. William McKelvie, Annals and Statistics of the United Presbyterian Church, p.673 says he joined the Free Church and left it.
All of these men in this section are to be counted as ministers who left the Church of Scotland at the Disruption.
Archibald Nicol was minister of the Isle of Coll, Argyll. FES says he remained in the Free Church at the Disruption and moved to Walls and Sandness in December, 1843. Ewing states that he became a Free Church minister at the Disruption and later removed to Shiskine in the Isle of Arran in 1852. Ewing is correct. For a brief discussion of this, see the blog on this web-site: Archibald Nicol.
He should be counted as a Disruption minister.
Men who returned promptly to the Church of Scotland
These men are not mentioned in Ewing’s Annals, presumably because they returned to the Established Church so quickly that they left no significant mark on the Free Church. They should be counted as Disruption ministers, because they did adhere to the Free Church, however briefly.
The Assembly list says that he signified his adherence to the Free Church by letter previous to the rising of the Assembly. “The one week unhesitatingly and cheerfully subscribed the deed of demission, and the next sent a letter to the moderator of the Free Presbytery, requesting him to withdraw his name, and another to the Residuary Presbytery, entreating to be received back into the Establishment” (McCosh, The Wheat and the Chaff, p.111). On 2nd August, 1843, the Presbytery of Glasgow reported on the letter which McCosh mentions. In it, McCalman admitted that he had for a time associated himself with those who had lately seceded from the church and expressed his regret at the steps which he had taken and from which he now desired to resile. He became a parish minister in the Established Church – in Latheron: see FES, Vol.7, p.126
He was minister in Arrochar: see FES, Vol.3, p.326. The Assembly list says that he signified his adherence to the Free Church by letter previous to the rising of the Assembly. Again McCosh tells the story, which is confirmed by other sources: “At the disruption, withdrew with the Free Churchmen from the Establishment, and subscribed the deed of demission. Thereafter repented of the step he had taken, and sought and obtained re-admission to the Establishment — a proceeding in which he has only the example of another two or three to keep him in countenance. It is but just to say that he had previously been in very broken health. (McCosh, The Wheat and the Chaff, p.50). This is confirmed by a report in the London Magnet of 3rd July, 1843, p.6: “The Rev. Peter Chalmers first minister of Dunfermline, the Rev. Peter Proudfoot, minister of Arrochar, and the Rev. Colin Hunter, minister of Portnahaven, Islay, have withdrawn their adherence from the free protesting presbyterians and sought admission into the established Church of Scotland.”
On 6th June, the Dumbarton Presbytery cited him to appear at their meeting on 20th June. On that date, he presented a letter, dated 19th June, saying that he couldn’t appear because of ill health. He expressed his intention of remaining with the Established Church. He never signed the Deed of Demission and his adherence to the Protest had been withdrawn. The Presbytery were gratified to hear this.
Colin Hunter was minister in Portnahaven; later he became minister in Kilninver: see FES, Vol.4, p.97. He doesn’t appear in Ewing’s Annals. McCosh fills out the above newspaper item: “At the disruption joined the Free Church, and subscribed the deed of demission, and, after all this, coolly returned to the Establishment. Has since secured a presentation to the parish of Kilninver” (McCosh, The Wheat and the Chaff, p.58).
Peter Chalmers was minister in Dunfermline. see FES, Vol.5, p.32. The above newspaper report is confirmed by the action of the Presbytery of Dunfermline. On 7th June, Peter Chalmers and others were cited because they were thought to have adhered to the Free Church. At the Presbytery meeting on 21st June, “Mr Chalmers being called, rose and stated that he had withdrawn his adherence to the body styling themselves the Free Protesting Church of Scotland.” This statement was judged to be satisfactory and his name was continued on the roll.
Peter Brydie was minister in Fossoway: see FES, Vol.5, p.64. The Assembly list says that he signed the Deed of Demission during the Assembly. This was the situation according to Ewing, referring to the Free Church congregation of Fossoway: “The minister of this parish was enrolled a member of the Free Church Assembly at the Disruption, but he repented the step, and in January 1844 was declared to be no longer a minister of the Free Church”. FES, agrees with the facts but says about Brydie: “Joined the Free Church in 1843, but as he was of unsound mind at the time, his demission was found to be null and void.”
Peter Brydie was dealt with by the Auchterarder Presbytery. On 1st June, 1843, he was cited to appear before them because of his alleged attachment to the Free Church. On 13th June he didn’t appear and his case was delayed so as to receive information regarding Brydie’s health and the feelings and proceedings of the parishioners in regard to him. On 4th July, the elder from Fossoway reported that Brydie still adhered to his decision to secede. Brydie “was well enough to form a deliberate opinion upon all the matters before them and his mind was fully made up.” Therefore he was pronounced no longer a minister of the Established Church. However, a pro re nata meeting was called for 13th October to consider Brydie’s case. Alexander Mackenzie, writer in Perth, appeared for him and stated that Brydie was in a state of lunacy and unsound mind when he was summoned to appear. He produced a certificate from Dr Malcolm of James Murray’s Royal Asylum in Perth that Brydie had been confined as a lunatic there since 28th August but was now happily recovered. Two other doctors said the insanity had occurred at least 2 months previously. Brydie therefore presented a petition asking that the Presbytery’s decision of 4th July be rescinded. The matter was referred to the Synod for their advice and direction. The Synod remitted the matter back to the Presbytery of Auchterarder to decide. They met on 24th October. The medical experts now said Brydie had probably been insane for 6 months previously and the Presbytery’s previous decision was reversed.
Ministers not recognized in FES
There are several congregations whose ministers became Free Church ministers at the Disruption, which are not mentioned in FES. There are different situations in view in different cases. In this connection, it is useful to notice that McCosh gives various classes of Church of Scotland ministers operating outwith the parish structures. We can make use of his classification to some extent here. There are three classes which he mentions:
(1) Ministers of Chapels of Ease in connection with the establishment, ordained assistant ministers, and missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), having no seat in church courts.
(2) Missionaries employed by the committee of the General Assembly for managing the Royal Bounty.
(3) Missionaries in the Presbytery of Strathbogie — parishes of the deposed ministers.
To these we can add, for the sake of discussion here:
(4) Ministers of the Old Light Burgher Church who acceded to the Church of Scotland in 1839.
(1) Ministers of Chapels of Ease etc.
FES does not give a record of ordained assistants to parish church ministers. It usually records ministries in Chapels of Ease etc. The reason why a couple of the men in this section are not recorded in FES may be that these congregations never became fully sanctioned charges of the Church of Scotland.
Peter Robertson was the minister of Callander Parish Church, who demitted his charge on 29th June, 1843. Only McCosh of the sources being used here says he adhered to the Free Church at the Disruption. But the Presbytery of Dunblane on 13th June, 1843, dealt with a letter from him dated 23rd May, resigning his office as minister of the Church and Parish of Callander. Dr Gray was appointed to have a friendly interview with him. On 29th June his resignation was accepted. Although there was no reason stated in the Minutes of Presbytery for his resignation, given the date of his letter, it would seem reasonable to think that he adhered to the Free Church. Others sources agree (e.g. Rev. Peter Robertson).
John Montgomery was assistant minister in Arbroath at the time of the Disruption, when he became a Free Church minister. FES as a rule does not mention assistant ministers, which explains why his name does not appear there.
John Logan was minister of the SPCK mission charge at Lawers. This charge is not dealt with in FES. On 3rd January, 1843, the Presbytery of Weem, held a meeting pro re nata. They received notice of John Logan’s appointment to Lawers and his acceptance of the charge. They prescribed trials for him. On 7th February his trials were sustained and his ordination appointed. This took place on 1st March, 1843. On 14th June, 1843, he was cited to appear at the next meeting of Presbytery, because of a fama that he had joined the Free Church. On 28th June he was declared to be no longer a Church of Scotland minister.
Donald Mackenzie was minister of the SPCK mission charge at Ardeonaig, Perthshire. This charge is not dealt with in FES. He was ordained there by the Presbytery of Weem on 21st December, 1837. On 14th June, 1843, he was cited to appear at the next meeting of Presbytery, because of a fama that he had joined the Free Church. On 28th June he was declared to be no longer a Church of Scotland minister.
John Sinclair was minister of the SPCK mission charge at Bruan, Caithness. Ewing says that he adhered to the Free Church. This congregation is not mentioned in FES. He died on 22nd August, 1843.
(2) Missionaries operating under the Royal Bounty
Various missionaries, supported by the Royal Bounty, sided with the Free Church at the Disruption. The missionaries at Glengarry, Burghead, Ord, Braemar, and Knoydart are recorded in FES. The men below are not recorded there. The reason may be that these congregations never became fully sanctioned charges of the Church of Scotland.
John Downie Kennedy
John Downie Kennedy was minister at Rosehall. He appeared, as requested, at the Presbytery of Dornoch on 2nd December, 1835. He produced his licence; delivered his exercises which were “sustained with much approbation”. The Presbytery “considering that the District of Rosehall requires the ministrations of an ordained clergyman, appointed Messrs Cameron, MacGillivray, Gordon Store, and Gordon Assynt, a Committee to ordain Mr Kennedy with all convenient speed, according to the Rules of the Church.” He was accordingly ordained missionary minister of Rosehall on 20th January, 1836.
Being summoned to appear before the Presbytery on 13th July, 1843, he wrote a letter: “I beg to say that I have not yet signed the Protest and Act of Separation from the Established Church.” The Presbytery therefore agreed to write him again “demanding of him to say expressly whether he does adhere to the Church of Scotland or not.” He neither appears nor writes to the Presbytery and eventually the Presbytery, on 14th September, decided “that there is abundant and forcible proof that Mr John Kennedy, minister missionary at Rosehall, has seceded from the Church of Scotland.” They declared his church vacant.
Robert Rose Mackay
Robert Rose Mackay, Halkirk, was a minister supported by the Royal Bounty in the Dirlet Mission of Halkirk Parish. This charge does not appear in FES.
Patrick Tulloch, Strathglass, was a minister supported by the Royal Bounty. This charge does not appear in FES, but there is no doubt of his adherence to the Free Church. Nor is there doubt about his status as an ordained minister. On 4th January, 1842, he, a missionary at Strathglass, was taken on trials by the Presbytery of Inverness. His trials were sustained. The minister of Kilmorack wished him to be ordained for the full exercise of his ministry and he was ordained to the ministry on that date. On 13th June, 1843, the Presbytery of Inverness had reason to believe that Patrick Tulloch had adhered to the Protest and he was cited to appear before the Presbytery. He didn’t appear and, on 18th July, was declared not to be a minister of the Church.
(3) The Strathbogie Churches
The Strathbogie case might well be considered the most serious case, contributing to the Disruption. This is not the place to give a detailed history of the turmoil that was connected with it. But some sort of explanation is necessary for those unacquainted with it. It involved a presentee to the church of Marnoch proving unacceptable to the majority of male heads of families. Under the Act anent Calls (the “Veto Act”), the Presbytery should have set him aside. However, the legality of the Veto Act was being called in question and the Strathbogie Presbytery, within whose bounds Marnoch fell, was dominated by Moderates and they did not wish to comply with the Veto Act. The result was a long running battle in which there were in effect two Presbyteries: a “Moderate” Presbytery willing to obey the instructions of the Court of Session; and an “Evangelical” Presbytery which followed the instructions of the General Assembly. (So there are in the National Records of Scotland two sets of Minutes for the Presbytery of Strathbogie from 1840 to 1842 – one set from each Presbytery). Seven ministers of the “Moderate” Presbytery were put out of their charges by the General Assembly. Because they actually continued with their ministries, the General Assembly appointed missionaries to take over their parishes. The question at issue here is: what was the status of these missionaries?
Firstly, even the “Moderate” Presbytery recognizes them as being Church of Scotland men who adhered to the Free Church. On 7th June, 1843, the Presbytery of Strathbogie cited men to appear before them on 21st June “to answer to the charges alleged against them” – that is, that they had adhered to the Free Church. They included “Mr Moncur residing at Botriphny, Mr Moffat residing at Cairnie, Mr Thomas Wright, Rhynie, Mr William Sinclair, Huntly, Mr William Taylor, Glass, and Mr Thomas Bain, Mortlach, all licentiates within the bounds of this Presbytery.” On failing to appear, they were declared to be no longer licentiates of the Church of Scotland.
They are clearly recognized as probationers. But was that the opinion of the “Moderate” Presbytery or were all agreed as to their status? There is every reason to think that all agreed they were only licentiates. Three small points can be mentioned in this connection. The (“Evangelical”) Presbytery of Strathbogie considered a request that steps be taken to ordain elders in the church at Rhynie. This was the New Church there, the parish church being in possession of the incumbent who had been suspended by the Church. On 1st December, 1841, they approved a list of men to be ordained, the first named being Rev. Thomas Wright, the General Assembly’s missionary there. If he had been an ordained minister, he surely would not have been elected to the eldership. Moreover, Islay Burns was the General Assembly’s missionary in Botriphnie for a time, yet he was not ordained until he was settled in Dundee post-Disruption. William Moffat, missionary at Cairnie signed the Probationers Deed of Demission. There can be no doubt that they were probationers, not ordained minsters.
There are six ministers whom McCosh lists as adhering to the Free Church, serving in Strathbogie at the time of the Disruption, five of whom may be mentioned here: Thomas Bain; William Moffat; William Ritchie Moncur;. William Taylor; and Thomas Wright
All of these should be discounted as Disruption ministers.
(4) The Churches that came in from the Secession Church in 1839
There were 29 congregations of the Old Light Burgher Church which joined the Church of Scotland in 1839. The ministers of these congregations are duly noted in FES – except for the following two, which, we presume, were omitted because their Church of Scotland congregations ceased to exist after the Disruption: neither congregation appears, for example, in the Roll of Synod of Lothians and Tweeddale, in 1845.
Thomas Gordon, Falkirk. He was minister of a Burgher congregation that had joined the Church of Scotland in 1839. FES does not mention this congregation, but there is no doubt that he was a minister of the Church of Scotland: he was on the roll of Synod in November, 1839 – though the name of his congregation is not given (it was given as “Falkirk 2nd” the following year); nor was there any doubt that he adhered to the Free Church: he was declared to be no longer a minister of the Established Church by the Presbytery of Linlithgow on 27th June, 1843.
Andrew Mackenzie, Edinburgh, He was minister of a Burgher congregation that had joined the Church of Scotland in 1839. FES does not mention this congregation, but there is no doubt that he was a minister of the Church of Scotland: he was on the roll of Synod in November, 1839 – “Henderson Church, Andrew Mackenzie”; nor was there any doubt that he adhered to the Free Church: he was declared to be no longer a minister of the Established Church by the Presbytery of Edinburgh on 4th July, 1843.
All these ministers, with the exception of the Strathbogie men, should be counted as Disruption ministers.
Licentiates not Ministers
It is confusing that in the Presbyterian system, a man may be called a minister and take the title Reverend, but may be only a probationer and not an ordained minister. We are dealing with ordained ministers here, and a number of men who joined the Free Church and are thought of as “Disruption ministers” were only probationers at the Disruption. McCosh in particular mentioned ministers who left – and who did leave – but were not ordained ministers. All the men, mentioned in this section, should be counted as probationers who adhered to the Free Church.
McCosh states that Alexander Balfour, missionary at West Wemyss, was a minister who joined the Free Church. He did indeed join the Free Church, but as a licentiate. This is clear from the actions of the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy in regard to him. He was summoned to appear at the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy on 30th June, 1843. On his failing to appear, he was declared no longer a licentiate of the church.
James Elder Beith
According to McCosh, J. E. Beith, was a minister supported by the Royal Bounty in the Glens, parish of Ardchattan, who joined the Free Church.
This man is not mentioned in Ewing’s Annals nor is he nor this congregation mentioned in FES. He was, however, on a list of Gaelic-speaking Probationers published by the Home Missions Committee in 1852: “James E. Beith, Leith”. What is known of this man is well summarized by information about his death at Findagrave: “Rev James Elder Beith BIRTH 22 Jun 1805 Kilmichael Glassary, Argyll and Bute, Scotland DEATH 4 Nov 1857 (aged 52) Blair Atholl, Perth and Kinross, Scotland BURIAL Blair Atholl Parish Churchyard Blair Atholl, Perth and Kinross, Scotland
Son of Gilbert Beith and his wife, Helen Elder. Missionary Minister. Probationary Free Church Minister. Married Catharine MacDougall, daughter of Dougald MacDougall, on 28th June 1848 in North Leith, Midlothian, Scotland. (The marriage was also registered in Tain, Ross & Cromarty). Widower. Died at Bridge of Tilt, Blair Atholl.”
This means that he was the brother of Alexander Beith, a Free Church minister.
James Fergusson, Keith. Again, McCosh gives ministerial rank to a probationer. He was assistant to William Laing in East Church, Crieff, before moving to Keith, in the Presbytery of Strathbogie. He was not ordained till June, 1844, in an English Presbyterian Church in London. But he was Free Church – in 1851 he was living in Newtyle, Angus, his occupation being “minister – Free Church”. For more of this man, see Records of the Clan and Name of Fergusson etc, Donald Fergusson, a Free Church minister.
John Fraser, Kiltarlity. He signed the ministers’ Deed of Demission – yet he was only a licentiate. On 13th June, 1843, the Presbytery of Inverness had reason to believe that John Fraser preacher in Erchless had adhered to the Protest and he was cited to appear before the Presbytery. He didn’t appear and, on 18th July, was declared not to be a licentiate of the Church. Erchless is near Kiltarlity. A “John Fraser, Erchless, Beauly” was a name on the Roll of Probationers adhering to the Free Church.
There are two or three cases where a man has signed the Disruption documents both as a probationer and as a minister. I can only suggest these men were probationers at the Disruption; that they were ordained immediately as Free Church ministers, and that by the time they signed the Deed of Demission they were in fact ordained ministers.
Robert Lang, Edgerston, Jedburgh. His name was on the Roll of probationers adhering to the Free Church and he signed the probationers Deed of Demission, so he was not an ordained minister as McCosh implies.
James Law, Mariners’ Dundee. Ewing’s Annals says he adhered to the Free Church. But he does not appear on the list of those who signed the Deed of Demission. Otherwise it is acknowledged that he left the Establishment in 1843 – and returned to it shortly thereafter. The situation is this. On 2nd August, 1843, Dundee Presbytery called Law and Adams, licentiates of the church, to attend the next meeting of Presbytery because they were thought to have adhered to the Free Church. They didn’t appear and they were declared to be no longer licentiates of the Established Church.
However on 1st May, 1844, the Presbytery of Dundee, received a petition from Mariners Church: “Your petitioners are tired and worn out with the ever changing, neglectful and oppressive treatment they have underwent in the Free Church. They express deep regret and sorrow from having ever withdrawn from the Established Church of Scotland and now desire most earnestly to be admitted into her communion.” Similarly, from Law there was a petition: “Whereas your petitioner was some time ago cut off from his standing in the Church of Scotland, he is convinced upon mature consideration and from enlarged experience, that the step which he took in connecting himself with the Free Church … was a wrong one. He has therefore resigned his charge with the Mariners Church and withdrawn entirely from the Free Church. Your petitioner desires earnestly to be restored to the Communion of the Established Church.” True liberty is to be found within her pale “theoretically in Lord Aberdeen’s Bill and practically in the whole spirit of her administration.” The Presbytery then had a private consultation with Law. He subscribed the Confession of Faith and the Formula and was admitted as an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland.
That is, he left as a probationer but returned as an ordained minister.
John MacDonald, preacher in Helmsdale, was dealt with by the Presbytery of Dornoch on 27th June, 1843. This Presbytery dealt with seceders collectively, that is, not distinguishing between ministers and licentiates. It is not possible to say categorically that he was not a minister, but the fact that he was only called a preacher probably indicates that he was only a licentiate of the Church. Besides, he signed the Roll of Probationers.
David Mitchell, Pulteneytown. He appears as a minister in FES, but his name appeared on the Roll of probationers and he signed the probationers’ Deed of Demission.
David Mitchell, Blairdaff. He appears as a minister in FES, but his name appeared on the Roll of probationers and he signed the probationers’ Deed of Demission. Moreover, in the Minutes of the Presbytery of Garioch he is described on 26th June, 1843, as “a probationer formerly employed at Blairdaff.” He was cited to appear on 27th July but on that day a letter from him was presented saying that, as he was no longer a probationer of the Church of Scotland by law established, he did not see the need to appear.
Both Brown and McCosh have William Sinclair as pre-Disruption minister in Huntly, in the Presbytery of Strathbogie. But Ewing says he was in Ellon immediately prior to the Disruption and that he was ordained post-Disruption. Indeed, he signed the Probationers’ Deed of Demission as William Sinclair, Ellon.
Robert Stirrat, Airdrie. He signed the ministers’ Deed of Demission and his name was also on the Roll of probationers. As McCosh says, he was a probationer at the time of the Disruption – but only just: he was on the point of being ordained in Airdrie High Church when the Disruption took place.
At the meeting of Hamilton Presbytery on 19th January, 1843, he transferred as a probationer from Irvine Presbytery to Hamilton Presbytery. He was appointed to preach in Airdrie High Church as a candidate “on Sabbath eight days”. On 28th February, papers relative to his presentation to the High Church were presented but consideration of these were left over till next meeting. On 28th March, the Presbytery appointed him to preach in Airdrie, the Presbytery to meet on 20th April thereafter to moderate a call. However, on 20th April an objection was made that the Communion roll was not valid. The matter was referred to the next ordinary meeting on 25th April when William Jackson of the West Chapel, Airdrie, was appointed to meet with the congregation and draw up a proper roll on 14th May. On 27th June Jackson, who had left for the Free Church, reported that he was otherwise engaged on the day appointed and didn’t meet as directed. Robert Stirrat was cited to appear before the Presbytery as a preacher within their bounds. On 11th July, he didn’t appear and he was declared no longer to be a licentiate of the Church of Scotland.
None of these men should be considered Disruption ministers.
The following are not to be counted as Disruption ministers:
Adam Forman was minister in Kirkintilloch (see FES, Vol.3, p.484). He is similarly said to have adhered to the Free Church. But he died on 27th May, 1843, and is not to be counted.
Peter McLaren, Lecropt (see FES, Vol.4, p.354), is said by McCosh to have adhered to the Free Church but neither Ewing nor FES supports this. He died in July, 1843. The Presbytery met after his funeral in the normal way: there was no sign that he had left the Church.
Someone Mitchell, assistant minister in Coll is said to have signed the Deed of Demission after the close of the Assembly, according to the Assembly list. It is not possible to identify this person. In the Minutes of the Presbytery of Mull of 17th June, Archibald Nicol is designated assistant minister in Coll. In FES his name is spelled “Nichol”. I suggest that “Mitchell” is a mis-reading of “Nichol”.
Peter Sawers signed the Deed of Demission as minister of Gargunnock. But he was only in Gargunnock as a Free Church minister. He was in Northumberland at the time of the Disruption and so does not come within the scope of this exercise – which is to identify Scottish pastoral ministers who adhered to the Free Church.
Of the 53 cases examined above, a good case can be made for 33 of these to be considered as Disruption ministers. As there were 444 men whose status was not open to question, this brings to 477 the total of pastoral ministers in Scotland who adhered to the Free Church at the Disruption.