Dr Robert Gordon Student-Probationer

Dr Robert Gordon


Divinity Student – Probationer



This title invites two questions: who was this Robert Gordon? And why give attention to his life as a divinity student and probationer?

Robert Gordon was minister for many years of the High Church, Edinburgh and a leading figure in the movement that led to the Disruption of 1843 and the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. After the death of the renowned Thomas Chalmers, he was invited to take his place as Professor and Principal of New College, Edinburgh. He declined that invitation, but that he was invited to occupy these posts shows that he was a man of standing and importance in the Church.

He was born on 5th May, 1786, in Old Crawfordton, in the parish of Glencairn and the county of Dumfries, the son of James Gordon and Janet MacGill. He attended the parochial school of which his father was then school-master. But his father died when Robert was six and he completed his schooling in the neighbouring parish of Tynron. In 1802 he was appointed school-master in his native parish, but he gave that up in favour of Arts and Divinity studies in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. He became mathematics master at Perth Academy and was licensed by the Presbytery of Perth on 27th July, 1814.

He was ordained minister of Kinfauns parish church, Perthshire, on 12th September, 1816. Thereafter he was appointed to Buccleuch Chapel of Ease, Edinburgh, in 1821; and to Newington Chapel there in 1824. He was presented to the New North Parish Church, Edinburgh, in 1825 and to St Giles in 1830.

He took an active part in the non-intrusion movement and his association with the Presbytery of Dunkeld in what was known as the Lethendy case was particularly noted. It was at a time when the evangelical party in the Church of Scotland was seeking to remove all possibility of a minister, nominated by the patron of the parish, being settled against the will of the people. An Act anent Calls (commonly known as the Veto Act) had been approved, which forbade Presbyteries from settling a minister if a majority of the male heads of families objected. In the Lethendy case, the patron had presented or nominated Thomas Clark to the charge; the majority of male heads of families had objected and the Presbytery declined to proceed with his ordination. The patron then presented Andrew Kessen to the charge; and the Presbytery was proceeding with his settlement when Thomas Clark successfully appealed to the civil courts to stop these proceedings. But under the instruction of a higher church court, the Presbytery ordained Kessen to the ministry. For this the Presbytery was called to account by the civil courts and was summoned to appear for sentencing before the Court of Session in Edinburgh1”. Gordon, though not a member of the Presbytery, distinguished himself by sitting with the Presbytery at the bar to receive the sentence with them. This confirmed him as a committed non-intrusionist.

He was Moderator of the General Assembly in 1841 and was in the first ranks of those who left St Andrew’s Church on Disruption day and joined the procession to Tanfield Hall for the first Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. He was minister in the Free High Church till his death – a church which met within New College. He played a leading part in Free Church affairs and died on 21st October, 1853.

He married Isabella Campbell on 30th November, 1816, and had 12 of a family. Two of his sons became Free Church ministers – Donald Campbell Gordon in Elgin; and Robert Gordon in Buccleuch, Edinburgh, who remained in the Free Church at the Church Union of 1900.

Gordon was a well respected man, dignified, thoughtful and unobtrusive. Dr Patrick McFarlan, Greenock, described him thus: “the sober thinking, the clear minded, the cool headed, the cautious Dr Gordon – a man who is fitted, more than any man I know, by the peculiar qualities of his admirably balanced mind, for guiding and directing the Councils of the Church” (Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), Thursday, January 16, 1840).

A little incident was remembered by a student, which is an interesting demonstration of Gordon’s style, especially in contrast with Candlish’s. “The room at one side was entered by what are called folding-doors. Dr. Candlish had entered by opening one of the folds, but on trying to shut it, he failed. In his quick nervous way he tried again and again, increasing the energy of his efforts at every attempt – in vain. At last he gave it up; whereupon Dr. Gordon rose from his seat with his usual modest dignity, and advancing slowly towards the door, raised one of his hands and pressed with it the higher part of the refractory fold, while with the other he shut the door at once in the quietest manner, and then slowly and with the utmost gravity returned to his seat2”.

But Gordon was unobtrusive to a fault. He was excessively diffident. For example, in May, 1824, Chalmers heard him preach and saw him afterwards and recorded in his diary: “I verily believe that he is sinking under an excess of humility, and that he imagines himself quite tame and useless, when all are delighted and all are impressed by him3”.

Why then should we look at his early life as divinity student and probationer? There are three answers we can give to that question.

Firstly, he has been seriously neglected. The other great leaders of the Free Church have had full biographies written about them: Chalmers, Candlish, Cunningham, Welsh, Dunlop. Many other prominent men in the Free Church have been similarly treated: Charles J. Brown, James Grierson, James Begg, Thomas Guthrie, Andrew Bonar and so on. But for any formal account of his life, we are dependent on an account of his life in Disruption Worthies and on biographical dictionaries or obituaries. Anything that may bring him to the attention of researchers must be useful in rescuing this man from undeserved obscurity.

Secondly, there are a few facts given about his life during this period, but not many and sometimes there are conflicting views expressed. There are sources of information that can fill out the picture and resolve the conflicting opinions and that is a reason for studying this period of his life.

Thirdly, we do not know much about the growth and development of his opinions. Was he always an evangelical, always a non-intrusionist? Were there influences in his youth that explain the sort of man that he was? A look at this period of his life may help to answer these questions.


There are resources available for the study of Robert Gordon’s life. Some of his personal papers are held in the National Records of Scotland and are catalogued along with the records of the High Church, Edinburgh. There are seven volumes of his Journal (NRS CH2/653/4-10). According to the catalogue they cover the years 1812 to 1853 (though the Journal for 1815 is missing). Unfortunately, most of these are in some sort of short-hand or code and are not easily decipherable, though the ones for the period covered by this study are sufficiently clear in some places as to provide some relevant information. Moreover, they are no more than notes of what he did each day. Where understandable, they read like title headings for his day’s activities, rather than give a clear account of what he did. Very rarely do they give a clear expression of what he thought. The great day of the Disruption, for example, is dealt with in a few short lines. Great events apparently do not receive any special comment.

There is also an item described as a Diary, 1812-1817 (CH2/653/3), but it is really a record of Gordon’s outgoing correspondence. Parts of it are written in short-hand but most of it is not. But, except for a few important letters, what he writes about is recorded in note form – as a memory aid for himself – which can leave the researcher somewhat frustrated. What, for example, does this mean: “Copy of How d’ye do and Goodbye” – Register given up – Calvin’s Institutes – disappointed – East Church Scone.” In fact, we can decipher some of this, but at first sight it is intriguing or even frustrating. Does “disappointed” refer to The Institutes or to Scone? And how was he disappointed?

Much of the information in this article is drawn from these Journals and the Diary. Other sources used are mainly available on the web and links are provided in foot-notes as we go along. Links are not provided for the Presbytery Minutes referred to, but these Minutes are easy accessible by any one with access to the Scotland’s People web-site.

So, to our tale.

His Formal Studies

Robert Gordon was made a member of the Dialectic Society of Edinburgh University on 20th December, 18054.
As no student was eligible for membership before completing at least one year of studies, Gordon must have become a student in Edinburgh in 1804. This fits well with the fact that a replacement teacher was appointed by the Glencairn Kirk Session for the parish school there in 1804.

In 1808-1809 he gave himself to scientific study. The earliest of his papers kept in the National Records of Scotland show this: Notes on accelerated motion. 28th November – 23rd December, 1808; Notes of hydraulics, 18th January – 16th February, 1809; and Notes on astronomy, 17th February – 10th March, 1809 (NRS CH2/653/12-14).

As to his further studies, in Divinity, we have general information about this from the records of the Presbytery of Perth. When he was proposed to be taken on trials for licence on 26th January, 1814, he presented three certificates which were then engrossed in the Presbytery record. These show when and where he studied divinity.

The first certifies that he had given regular attendance at the divinity hall of King’s College, Aberdeen, during sessions 1809-10, and 1810-11; and that he had attended partially in sessions 1812-13 and 1813-14; and that he had delivered his discourses with much approbation. This certification was given on 6th January, 1814, and signed by Gilbert Gerard.

A similar certificate from W.L. Brown certified that he studied for these same periods at Marischal College. In regard to his “partial” attendance he attended three meetings each year and delivered four discourses “with distinguished approbation”.

A further certificate was dated 11th June, 1813, from Edinburgh and is signed by William Ritchie. It certified that he was enrolled as a student of divinity on 1st January, 18125.

These three certificates all carry the customary certification as to the student’s conduct being “such as becomes a student of divinity” with the cautious rider “as far as is known to me”, but the second certificate adds that he was “highly deserving of encouragement”.

The men who gave these certificates were the Divinity Professors of their Colleges and did not necessarily have a close connection with the students under their care, though there is reason to think, that Principal William Laurence Brown had some personal acquaintance with Gordon. For some years Gordon would be a co-Presbyter of William Ritchie and would succeed him as one of the ministers of St Giles, Edinburgh.

The Bannerman Family

On 11th March, 1816, Gordon wrote to the provost of Montrose about his presentation to the parish of Kinfauns and spoke of the situation being “in the immediate neighbourhood of a family with whom I have lived in terms of friendship for nearly 10 years.” His connection with this family may be dated more precisely. On 5th May that year, he notes that it is his birthday and that it is ten years exactly since he left Glencairn on 5th May, 1806. The family he refers to is the Bannerman family and the time frame mentioned suggests that he formed a connection with them in the middle of his Arts course.

His obituary in The Free Church Monthly6 tells about the formation of this connection: “During his literary course at the University of Edinburgh … an offer of a tutorship in Perthshire was made to him by Professor Josiah Walker of Glasgow, of which, after consulting Professor Playfair, he accepted.” Josiah Walker7 was not a Professor in Glasgow until 1815. He was at the relevant time a customs officer, living in Perth and therefore likely to be acquainted with the Bannerman family who lived in Perthshire. It is not obvious how Walker could have known Gordon at this stage but the reference to John Playfair who was a Professor in Edinburgh and who clearly was well acquainted with Gordon, as we shall see later, invites the speculation that Walker asked Playfair to recommend a suitable person for the tutorship and that he recommended Gordon. Given that Gordon took up the position through Walker’s agency, it is not surprising that we find Walker mentioned in Gordon’s Journal: “Walked with Mr Walker. Politics of Glasgow College and Mr W’s prospects of the Professorship of Humanity” (23rd December, 1814); and on the 29th of the same month: “Supped with Mr Sidey, Provost Robertson, Provost Ross, Mr Walker, Mr Esdaile, Mr Dick, Dr Stewart – very pleasant”.

The Bannermans were a well connected church family. James Bannerman was the minister of Forglen from 1717 till 1749 8. He had two sons in the ministry – Patrick, who was minister of Saltoun; and David who succeeded his father in Forglen and was, from 1758 till 1810, minister of St Martin’s, Perthshire 9. This David married Janet Turing, daughter of John Turing, minister of Drumblade. They had four children: Jean; Ann; James Patrick, and John Alexander – all of whom figure in this article.

James Patrick Bannerman was also a minister – in Cargill, Perthshire from 1784 to 1807 10. He too married a Turing: Mary, not the daughter of Alexander Turing, minister of Oyne, as some have suggested, but of a John Turing of London 11. James Patrick Bannerman and Mary Turing had a large family, the youngest being James Bannerman 12, who became minister at Ormiston, adhered to the Free Church at the Disruption and later became a Professor in New College. James Patrick Bannerman died on 17th September, 1807, leaving his widow to care for a large family.

There are more ministerial connections in this family, but these suffice for our purpose. It is with this Bannerman family – more particularly the family of the minister of St Martin’s – that Robert Gordon was closely connected as a student and probationer. There are various factors that point in that direction.

According to the Caledonian Mercury, 10th August, 1848, Gordon proposed the name of James Bannerman, then a Free Church minister in Ormiston, East Lothian, for a professorship in New College, Edinburgh. He had known Mr Bannerman from his infancy to that hour and he could state that from his youth upwards he had distinguished himself by his diligence and successful talents. John Reid Omond, Free Church minister at Monzie, Perthshire, also links Gordon to this James Bannerman in his early days: “He [Bannerman] received his elementary education at the Perth Academy, and had as his tutor the late Dr Gordon of Edinburgh”13.

The residential addresses we have for Gordon at this stage of his life lead to the same conclusion. The earliest address we have in his Diary is “S.M. by Perth, July 22, 1809”. That is surely St Martin’s – the home of the minister, David Bannerman. The address used in the greater part of his correspondence is Rosebank, Perth. At some stage, Mrs Jean Mair (née Bannerman) lived there and she died there in 1830. The index of testamentary documents in Perth Sheriff Court describes her as “Jean Mair, alias Bannerman, Residing at Rosebank near Perth, Widow of late Arthur Mair of Calcutta (NRS Perth Sheriff Court SC49/31/11). This is the daughter of David Bannerman, the minister.

Gordon named a daughter, Ann Bannerman Gordon. There was an Ann Bannerman both in the family of David and of James Patrick Bannerman. The testamentary documents of Ann the daughter of David were recorded in Haddington Sheriff Court, as follows: “Bannerman Ann Miss, 21 / 8 / 1839, Residing at Rosebank and Ornnsten [Ormiston], Haddington Sheriff Court”. This shows that the Bannermans of Rosebank and of Ormiston are one and the same. In her will, Ann Bannerman left £100 to Dr Robert Gordon, minister of St Giles.

Writing to somone to gain support for his presentation to a vacant charge, Gordon wrote with the backing of “Mrs M.; Miss B. and Col. B.” (that is, Mrs Jean Mair, Miss Ann Bannerman and Col. John Alexander Bannerman). These are the children of Rev David Bannerman. Mrs Mary Bannerman – the widow of Rev. James Patrick Bannerman – is not mentioned. This suggests that, whatever contact Gordon had with that family, he did not reside with them but with Mrs Mair and Ann Bannerman at Rosebank in the parish of Kinnoull.

Rosebank was not merely a house – it had land attached to it. According to Ann Bannerman’s will already mentioned, this consisted of “two ridges of land commonly called the two deals of land. Bounded by the property of Robert Clark of Marmount on the east; by Bankhead now belonging to me on the north; by the old highway leading from Bridgend of Perth towards the Carse of Gowrie on the west and by the road or access leading from the said Old Highway to the property which belonged to Robert Clark on the south – now known as Rosebank – acquired by me and my sister on 15th May 1810” 14.

The person to whom Gordon wrote most frequently was “Colonel J.A. Bannerman, India Office, London”. This was John Alexander Bannerman, the son of David Bannerman, the minister.

John Alexander Bannerman was born on 5th June, 1759. As a young man of 17 or 18 he entered the service of the Honourable East India Company and he rose to be a lieutenant Colonel in the Madras Native Infantry. He married Ann West in 1789 in Palamcotta, Madras, India. She was the daughter of James West, who was also of the Madras Army, and Ann de Morgan. He returned to Britain in 1800. In 1807, he briefly served as M.P. for Bletchingley in the Wellesley interest. He purchased an estate in Perthshire, in 1808. In that same year, he became a Director of the East India Company and served till 1817. He then became governor of Prince of Wales Island, as it was then called – later known as Penang – but died there of cholera on 8th August, 1819. A tablet erected in his memory in the Protestant Cemetery in Penang, Malaysia, states that he died: “after a life passed in the benevolent and active exercise of every virtue becoming a Christian and a Soldier universally respected and deeply deplored by an affectionate family” 15. This Col. Bannerman held an estate in the Perthshire parish of Lethendy 16. According to his testamentary papers the income of this state in 1821 was £1,846 15/9 17.

General Agent for the Bannermans

What did Gordon do in the Bannerman household and what was the pattern of his life at that time? Judging by his correspondence he was deeply involved in the affairs of Colonel Bannerman and his Perthshire estate. In his Journal, a frequent entry on a Saturday morning, was “Rode to Lethendy”. What he did on each occasion is not always specified but sometimes it is. For example “Rode to Lethendy: Roup at Cranley [Farm in Lethendy] (17th May, 1813); … inspected march (29th May); … peats (3rd July); … sale of Mr Butters’ crop (3rd August) [Laurence Butters was the minister there 18] ; … to sell sheep (2nd October); … settled accounts with foreman” 27th December, 1814”.

We can give only a sample of the matters about which he writes to Col. Bannerman. These are chosen to show the range of activities which came within his remit.

From his Diary, we get the following: On 27th September, 1812, he writes from Rosebank to Col. Bannerman: “state of harvest work – weather – market – wheat crop”. He also informs him that there has been an offer for the tenancy of Blacklock Farm. By the 11th, the situation has developed: “J. Ramsay takes Blacklock …John Irons takes Bankfield”.

On 9th October, 1812, he writes to John Forbes, ground officer at Lethendy “to send a little hay first opportunity and the whole when the weather was favourable”. On 15th he gives “directions for making compost” to James Thomson, Junior, Bank of Lethendy. He also requests William Lauder, mason, Lethendy, to provide an estimate for building the march dyke. The following day he writes to John Forbes and refers to the plan of the new school house which is to be built. On the 19th he writes to Robert Douglas, wright at Blairgowrie, regarding the delay in building the school and school master’s house. On the 21st there is further correspondence regarding work on the school: “work to be begun this week”19. On the 25th he writes Bannerman about the state of the harvest; and informs him of the opening of a quarry in Bankfoot Farm. This information may be supplemented by notes from his Journal of 20th October: he wrote John Forbes enclosing Missives for the let of Blacklock with instructions about them being subscribed.

Occasionally, in his Journal, there are more substantial agricultural observations: “Bank crop by no means good. The North West field and the field immediately east of it, both summer fallowed and dressed with Dung and partly with Compost, Potato Oats very thin and short – Dung does not appear to have done any good at all. Grass looking well – pasture very dry indeed and the Cattle obliged to be driven to Spout wells – Fleshers very shy about Sheep – Vexed till assured by Mr Bell that there will be no loss to keep them till after Martinmas. Mr Bell approves of my plan of extending the Sheep to the Bank by making them eat the Turnips off the ground” (28th August, 1813); “Grass not good – cattle mending but prices falling – propose making all the fallow turnips – sheep will dung it … lambs doing very well – must have more next year” (6th June, 1814).

He reminds Bannerman of the climatic conditions in Perthshire: he explained on 4th April, 1813, that they had not begun to sow because the snow was still deep – which shows what the situation was like in Scotland at the end of the little ice age, before global warming had got under way.

It is not all crops and animals. He can also report:“Orchard looking pretty well” (Journal, 2nd July 1814); and “Lethendy accounts” and “Rosebank accounts” frequently appear in his activities recorded in his Journal, showing that he has responsibility in more than the one estate. For example: “Calculated Interest on Cash Account Rosebank” (19th July, 1814).

Note that Gordon is not the land steward: John Forbes is, and Gordon writes to him giving and passing on instructions. Gordon was some sort of agent or general manager acting on behalf of an absentee landlord, supervising all his business interests. This is a responsible position, especially for a man as young as he. It is not one that most divinity students could possibly fulfill. Gordon was a man of unusual and varied talents, willing to assume a heavy responsibility.

The Student

Here I use the word “student” in a general sense. His activities as a divinity student, we shall refer to in due course. But apart from these studies, it is obvious that almost all his spare time was spent in reading and study. This study was varied in nature.

He interested himself in English literature. He read Shakespeare – King John for example. Among others mentioned in his Journals there are: She stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith; Childe Harolde, by Lord Byron (the first part of which had just been published); Maria Edgeworth’s Tales of Fashionable Life (which had also been fairly recently published) and The Absentee (which must have been hot off the press when Gordon got it in July, 1812); the Novels of Madame Genlis; The Pleasures of Hope and Gertrude of Wyoming – poems by Thomas Campbell; and Crabbe’s Tales (which also were only published in 1812). He has a noted preference for modern poetry and for drama. He exercises his critical faculty in this reading of general literature: “Vol 1 of the Antiquary … very much inferior to Guy Mannering 20” (7th May, 1816).

Whether this secular reading reflected his character or molded his character we cannot say. It is a subject outwith the range of this study and incapable of being adequately dealt with without a more complete understanding of Gordon’s philosophy of life at this time.

Though he read general literature, he was more interested in scientific subjects. Amongst the material that he read at this time were two key books of the time: Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Thomas Robert Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population. He read “Hamilton on National Debt” 21. He studied “the Political state of Scotland with regard to Freeholders” 22; he glanced at a “Survey of Dumfries” 23, and read “Acton’s Survey of Ayr”, which I can’t yet identify, and a “Paper on Lancastrian schools”.

Nor did he read these works in a cursory manner; he studied them in a critical spirit. Thus, for example, an entry in his Journal on 26th March, 1813, reads: “Wealth of Nations – not quite satisfied with his Doctrine on Restraints on Importation.” Then follows an extensive criticism, and he finishes with a general statement: “a great deal of sophistry in the whole chapter.” He is not just a reader across disciplines; he is a thinker.

Another subject that he studied was Italian. He had his first lesson on 6th November, 1812 – which sounds to me as if he had a tutor. He bought an Italian Lexicon for himself on 4th March, 1813, which came to him along with a Hebrew Lexicon and Calvin’s Institutes. Later he “Began to read Spanish with Mr Whitelaw [?]” (31st October, 1814).

Scientific subjects, however, were his real priority. In this area we note – what we have observed in regard to his general reading – that there is variety in regard to subjects studied and that he is an observer and experimenter, not just a reader.

He subscribed regularly to The Mathematical Repository so he received a regular fresh input of mathematical information 24. He also received what he refers to as “Nicholson’s Journal”, that is, Nicholson’s Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts 25.

There are regular references to “Trigonometry (Woodhouse)” – a reference to A treatise on plane and spherical trigonometry, by Robert Woodhouse of Cambridge, published in London in 1809. Other works that he appears to work through systematically are Elements of Chemistry, by John Murray, Edinburgh, 1801; Elements of geometry, geometrical analysis, and plane trigonometry, with an appendix, notes and illustrations, by Sir John Leslie, Edinburgh, 1809; The principles of analytical calculation, by Robert Woodhouse, London, 1803; An account of the systems of husbandry adopted in the more improved districts of Scotland; and a general view of the principles on which they are respectively founded: drawn up for the consideration of the Board of Agriculture, with a view of explaining how far those systems are applicable to the less cultivated parts of England, by Sir John Sinclair, 1809; An elementary treatise in natural philosophy, translated from the French by Olinthus Gregory, Rene J. Hauy, Kearsley, 1807; Optics in The elements of natural or experimental philosophy, by Tiberius Cavallo, London, 1803; Elements of agricultural chemistry in a course of lectures for the Board of Agriculture, by Sir Humphry Davy, Edinburgh, 1813; A treatise of mechanics: theoretical, practical, and descriptive, by Olinthus Gregory, London, 1807. He read Leibntz without specifying which writing. Besides these specific books, he also studied other branches of scientific and mathematical learning: mensuration; book keeping; weights and measures, glass blowing, and astronomy.

Gordon was a practical scientist. He wrote on scientific themes: on 19th January, 1813: “Wrote opinion on Telary Teguments for preserving substances from putrefaction”. On 23rd October, 1813: “Took height of Rosebank above the River by the Barometer”. He spends the evening of 15th February, 1813, setting up an apparatus in order to replicate an experiment suggested by Professor Leslie. On 2nd April, he conducts an experiment of his own: “Took the temperature of Bower’s Well at 10, the air being about 32˚, and found it 43.75˚. Took temperature of fresh water from pump at Rosebank … 43.50˚”. He conducted the same experiment on other occasions at different times of the day.

He was an acute observer – as in this meteorological description of the state of the elements on 4th April, 1813: “Clear morning to 10 – cumulus appearing in the West and a haze or Cirrostratus gradually extending over all the sky by 12, forming a dense Circle about the Sun extending from his centre to a distance equal to half his Meridian Altitude. The Cirrostratus formed into parallel bands from North to South, and towards the Zenith passed into Cirrus. Towards 3 the Circle disappeared about 6 the Cirrostratus became again more uniform …”

On 12th February, 1813, he gives extensive details about an eclipse of the sun which would take place on 7th September, 1820. At Greenwich, he wrote in his Journal, the eclipse would begin at 12 23.45 and end at 3 16.20. This appears to be his own work (not copied from a book) and shows his advanced ability in making astronomical calculations. And the eclipse did take place as he predicted 26.

In May, 1813, he got Leslie’s altometer: “Does not answer – water exudes too fast.” So he “made a new collar of leather for the top which promises to do better.” But he had to make further adjustments a few days later. And in the end – on 19th October: “Altometer broken with the frost.”

He was also a member of Perthshire Farming Society. He was a scientific farmer and he experimented, for example, with different types of wheat: “Received two parcels of wheat from Mr Gibson of Canonby” (12th January, 1816).

Leisure Time

Regarding what we might call leisure activities, we note the same variety that we see in all his activities. He occasionally played backgammon; more often he played chess. He played dominos with the children. He occupied himself in drawing – some of which, of course, may have been associated with his scientific interests. Most frequently he played the flute. He is sufficiently interested in that that he sends to London for a new flute: 2nd December, 1813: “Played a little on the New Flute – rather better than the old.”

He also attended public entertainments, for example, a concert on 16th April, 1813. In June that year, he attended the theatre. On the 21st, he saw Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals and on the 30th Heir at Law by George Coleman. On the former occasion he noted that Terry, Siddons and Russell appear. As to their performance, “very well” is his comment. Terry and Russel appeared on the second occasion as well, the former as Dr Pangloss and the second as Zekiel Homespun: “both admirable – a little overdone.”

This interest in theatre was not a passing enthusiasm. On 15th November, he began to read Dunlop’s Memories of George Frederic Cook 27. Two days later, he writes: “a very interesting work – so much so that I hardly spent a thought on the how, every particle of the what being amusing – suppose it is not ill written – only some outlines of Plays horribly drawn and out of place. After all Cooke’s irregularities follies and weaknesses, one finds it difficult to condemn – But it is always the case with the vices of splendid characters.” He laid down the volume “with mingled sentiments of admiration, pity and regret. I remember seeing him play twice in Edinburgh. Sir Pertinax McSycophant on the 3rd of February and Richard on the 22nd [?] 1808” 28. He can speak with some accuracy because he refers to his Journal of that year – a Journal which has not been preserved. He knows the plays mentioned sufficiently well as to be able to criticize the book’s depiction of them.

On one of his annual visits to Aberdeen for study purposes, he went to the theatre (30th December, 1813); and on passing through Edinburgh on his way to visit his mother in Glencairn he again took the opportunity of attending the theatre: “Went to the theatre and heard Miss Stephens sing 29 – a fine sweet gentle singer and pretty” (11th August, 1814)

The Divinity Student

A prospective minister has to be pronounced sound by a Presbytery in “life, literature and doctrine” before being ordained. Robert Gordon was a well educated man, sound “in literature”. But what of his life and doctrine?

In regard to his theological studies, he mentions the titles of a few books that he is using, amongst them being: Hebrew Grammar (3rd August, 1812); Butler’s Analogy (25th September, 1812); Hebrew Lexicon and Calvin’s Institutes (4th March, 1813); Pole’s Synopsis (24th March, 1813); Cicero, De finibus bonorum et malorum (25th April, 1813); Whitby’s Arminianism and Calmet’s History of the Bible (10th July, 1813); Burder’s Oriental Customs and Parkhurst’s Greek Lexicon (17th July, 1813); Clark on the Attributes (13th September, 1813); Harewood on the New Testament (2nd November, 1813); Preface to Burnet on the 39 Articles (12th November) 30.

His occasional visits to the University do not seem to have been particularly burdensome. He had been working at a lecture on John 8:12: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life”. On 14th November, 1812, he wrote to Principal Brown of Aberdeen saying that he would be in Aberdeen at Christmas and requesting to have the first day’s reading at Marischal College. On 31st December he read his lecture. On 2nd January there was a meeting of the Theological Society. The following day he heard R. Brown and Tawse preach – “the latter very well indeed” 29. The next day he attended a lecturer by Dr Gerard. He traveled home on 7th January.

The following year his time in Aberdeen followed much the same pattern. He had, as previously, written asking for his exercises to be taken at an early date. He left Perth at 6.30 a.m. on 28th December. He traveled via “Cupar” [that is, Coupar Angus], Forfar, Brechin, and Stonehaven, and arrived in Aberdeen by 10 p.m. The next day he visited the Public Library before breakfast and thereafter was at the Athenaeum. He called on his friend Tawse in the evening. On the 30th he called on Dr Gerard and Mr Brown and saw a couple of plays at the theatre – “very good”. On the following day he called on Professor Bentley in the morning. He “dressed for dinner: dined and supped at Dr Brown to 1.30”. On Sunday 2nd January, 1814, he heard Mr R. Brown preach and he dined with Mr Farquharson – “very agreeable indeed”. On the Monday, he was again with Professor Bentley in the morning and he attended a lecture from Dr Gerard. On the 5th, he read his exegesis and part of an exercise and addition. The following day he called on Dr Gerard for his certificate and the next day he went home to Perth. And that was his training for the ministry over. He had satisfied the academic authorities and had a fine time socializing with friends and enjoying the theatre.

Literary and Academic Interests

The most significant factor in regard to his literary interests was that he had a connection with a publication to be called the Quarterly Register.

In his Diary he referred to sending out a Prospectus advertising this proposed publication. Some of those to whom he wrote may have been potential contributors, but more likely they were potential subscribers. Then we find Gordon dealing with literary contributions for this Register. On 24th March, 1813, he wrote to Principal Brown of Aberdeen and his son Robert James Brown, “acknowledging receipt of Gray’s paper for the Register”. Then on 25th March, 1813, he wrote to James Cleghorn of Messrs Constable, Edinburgh, offering them a quarterly or yearly metaphysical Journal, so he has got to the stage of looking for a printer for his Quarterly Register. Finally, we have the comment to Andrew Tawse and P. Farquharson on 5th April, 1813: “Register given up”. That Gordon – just a young man of 27 – had even dreamed of such a publication and had made plans to effect his dreams, says something about his character.

In regard to his academic ambitions at this time, in a letter dated 25th July, 1815, he referred to a “flattering certificate” which Professor John Playfair, Professor first of all of Mathematics and then of Natural Philosophy in Edinburgh University, had provided for him four years previously when he was a candidate for a Professorship in Aberdeen. This must be a reference to an attempt to become Professor in King’s College, Aberdeen, in 1811 when there was a rearrangement of professorships 32. It was a very bold step to pit himself against such talent. He failed to get the post, but that he, as a young man, made the attempt says something about both his ability and his self-assertiveness.

The Writer

On 25th March, 1813, Gordon wrote to James Cleghorn of Messrs Constable, Edinburgh, offering him an article. This introduces us to another area of Gordon’s interests – his writing.

Messrs Constable, to whom he wrote about his Register, was the firm of Archibald Constable, father of Thomas Constable, who was also an Edinburgh printer. James Cleghorn, the particular person to whom he wrote on this occasion, was a native of Duns, Berwickshire, and had been a farmer till 1811 when he became the editor of the Farmer’s Magazine which Constable published. All the following references to this magazine can be accessed via this page.

Along with the offer of his quarterly metaphysical Journal, Gordon also offered an article on book-keeping for the Farmer’s Magazine and on 29th March, 1813, he sends Cleghorn “a system of book-keeping for farmers and seeks his advice on it”.

This offering found favour with the editor of the Farmer’s Magazine and duly appeared in print (1813, p.139). The article itself covered pages 139 to 145. It gave an account of the Double Entry system of accounting as applied to farmers. Thereafter there are eight further pages consisting of an example from “Bankhead Farm” and showing how the accounts on this system should be laid out.

The “Diary” brings to our attention his interest in writing and further research elsewhere brings out the fact that this is by no means the first time that he had contributed to this periodical. In 1810 (Volume 11), he wrote an article entitled Estimate of the Expense of Enclosing by Hedge and Ditch (pp.35-37). He designated himself “R.G., S.M. by Perth, July 22, 1809.” Later in the same volume, he wrote On the Education of Farmers etc. He wrote on the subject in general and then introduced an experiment which he had himself conducted into the use of different types of marls as fertilizers. He appears here as an educated man engaged in farming. This material ran from pages 281 to 286 and was dated 24th April.

His next offering ran from p.417 to p.421. It was a follow up from the previous one and was entitled: Observations concerning the Natural History of Marl. He described a bed of marl in his neighbourhood. The article was dated 30th July, 1810. Then there were Observations upon paying Rent in Grain and upon the Depreciation in the Value of Money (pp.500-507). Then in 1811 (Vol.12, pp.197-202) he gave his Thoughts on the Character and Qualities which belong to a good Land Steward or Factor. No date or place was given. On p.445 of that issue, there was a response to what he had said in his article on 22nd July. Further items appeared in Vol.13, p.346-351, On the Utility of Meteorological Journals, dated “Perth Academy, 15th July, 1812”; and Vol.13 p.351, On Dividing up a Triangle into any number of equal parts.” This was also dated “Perth Academy, 16th July, 1812.”

He kept a record of meteorological readings and had them published in Annals of Philosophy, Or, Magazine of Chemistry, Mineralogy, Mechanics, Natural History, Agriculture, and the Arts, Vol.7, p.364, under the title: Meteorological Table; extracted from the Register kept at Rose Bank, Perth. Latitude, 56° 25′. Elevation, 130 feet. By a Young Gentleman of the Perth Academy, Rose-Bank, March 9, 1816.” This publication can be found here.

This scientific work continued during his first ministry. He himself kept a meteorological journal in Kinfauns. Edward Irving wrote to him in reminiscent mood, after Gordon had moved to Edinburgh: “… Conceive me then in your parlour at Kinfauns or if you please upon the green before the door, by the side of your hygrometer and rain gauge” 33.

He regularly submitted his meteorological data for publication in the Edinburgh Magazine or Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, as it became. He wrote on 8th January, 1818: “I have already submitted to your readers an abstract of my meteorological observations for each month of 1817 separately” and he then went on to give the figures for the year as a whole 34. He signed this offering “R.G.” but there is no doubt that Robert Gordon was the author because he referred to the thought he was giving to a hygrometer. He provided similar data to this publication in 1818 and 1819. A letter describing his system and containing tables of readings was printed in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, under the heading Account of a Meteorological Journal for 1819 kept at Kinfauns by the Reverend Robert Gordon. In a Letter to Dr Brewster 35. By then, therefore, he was in correspondence with other scientists. Indeed, Brewster, writing in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (Vol.10, 1826, p.363) referred to his work and followed his recommendation.

He also wrote the articles on Euclid, Meteorology and Geography for the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia 36. These are extensive articles. For example, the article on Geography extends to over 50,000 words. Gordon actually had a book on the subject which he had been contemplating publishing.

There were frequent references in his Journals to visits to the printer’s office. This has got to do with his writing for the local newspaper. The full extent of his involvement with the local press is not yet clear but writing for the Perth Courier was clearly a regular element in an already very busy life. The Courier was a Tory newspaper begun in 1808 and its editor was the Josiah Walker who had originally recommended Gordon to the Bannermans. References to this aspect of his activities are frequent, for example, “Began leading article for Courier” (8th September, 1812); “Wrote leading article for Perth Courier” (1st December, 1813, and 16th November, 1814); and a week later: “Summary of Politics for Perth Courier”; “At the request of a friend I have for the last 14 weeks supplied the press with the detail and summary of public news from materials furnished me by the Proprietors2 [of the Courier] (30th June 1815).

There is one reference to him writing a report for Evans and Ruffys’ Farmer’s Journal 37 (2nd January, 1816).

In short, he was a prolific writer, wide ranging in his interests.

Scientific Interests

That Robert Gordon had a “scientific” approach to farming is obvious. In his article on the character of a good land steward, he argued that after integrity “natural strength of mind improved by a liberal education” was necessary. His agricultural interests and his scientific interests overlapped. When he wrote about the utility of a metereological journal, he commended the use of a certain type of barometer: “… a barometer that shows every alteration to the hundredth part of an inch may be had for the small sum of two guineas – and what is perhaps the strongest possible recommendation, the workmanship of Miller and Adie of Edinburgh.” His frequent letters to this establishment in Edinburgh gave evidence of his ongoing scientific interest 38. On 31st March, 1813, Gordon wrote to them. The writing is not clear, but he certainly asks about electrifying machines and air pumps. This scientific interest continued into his ministry in Kinfauns.

Then there was the self-registering hygrometer which he designed. He discussed hygrometers in the article on Meteorology that he wrote for the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia and he described his own invention. His hygrometer was referred to in the same work under Hygrometry and under Thermometer, an article which describes it as a very elegant hygrometer in which “the principle of Rutherford’s minimum thermometer is elegantly applied to both the maximum and minimum indications of dryness.” He himself described the instrument in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and acknowledges his indebtedness to others. Indeed he modestly says: “I can lay no claim, therefore, to the honour of a discovery, but I hope I have some little to that of an improvement. It is well known to meteorologists, that observations of temperature were comparatively of little use till the invention of self-registering thermometers; and why may we not be allowed to hope, that the use of a self-registering hygrometer will hereafter bring to light some important facts regarding the laws which regulate the distribution of moisture in the atmosphere?” This item is written in his customary format: as a letter to the Editor and it is signed “R.G. 27th February, 1818”.

The Teacher

He was appointed mathematical master in Perth Academy.

Perth Academy was an ancient institution in Perth. The Old Statistical Account described it thus: “The Academy for mathematics, astronomy, and the several parts of education which are proper to fit young men for business, is well attended by students, even from some distant countries, and is in a flourishing state39”.

A fine new building had been erected on Rose Terrace which was occupied by the Academy and other educational institutions. It had been designed by Robert Reid, who was later the King’s architect. Construction was started in October 1803, and finished in 1807 so it was still relatively new when Gordon came to live in the area.

The Rector of the Academy at this time was Adam Anderson. He was just a few years older than Gordon40”. He later became Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy in St Andrews University. A biography of him has been published entitled The Schoolmaster Engineer: Adam Anderson of Perth and St Andrews 1780-1846, Kenneth Cameron, 2007. A review of that book states: “Anderson’s personal contributions towards the Georgian Fair City’s public service infrastructure, economic well-being, and its environmental preservation were unequaled, and many proved durable”. Another source says: “He contributed original papers on the measurement of the heights of mountains by the barometer, the hygrometric state of the atmosphere, the dew point, and the illuminating power of coal gas, to Nicholson’s Journal41”.

Given his age and his scientific outlook, it would not be surprising if the Anderson that is mentioned in Gordon’s Journals was Adam Anderson, the Rector – in which case Gordon had a social relationship with him as well as a professional one.

Gordon took up his position in the Academy on 5th October, 1812: “Academy first day”. We should not think this was a full-time activity. The normal pattern was that he taught two classes, each of one hour’s length for five days in the week. This appointment continued till close to his ordination: “Academy to 3: Last meeting” (25th July, 1816).

Besides the “Academy”, there are also references to the “School”. He never says who are in this school. If he was not only the mathematics master but also the tutor of James Bannerman, as we have mentioned above, we may take it that “the school” refers to his responsibilities in tutoring the children of the late James Patrick Bannerman. Like the Academy, the School was not a full-time activity. It consisted of an hour or two perhaps once or twice in each day. Unlike the Academy, the School operated on Sundays as well as on the other days of the week. We presume that on that day he oversaw their knowledge of the Scriptures and of the Christian faith.

Hours were flexible: “School to 11; Academy to 12” or “School to 10.45; Academy to 12” or “School as usual to 10. Foreman from farm to 11. Academy to 12. Academy to 3; school to 7.30” were typical Journal entries – with the hours varying from day to day. There is no clear programme of what he did either in the Academy or in the School. But at least part of the time in the School was spent reading a book: “With pupils Goldsmith’s Rome 42” (19th July, 1814). No doubt he used Goldsmith as a basis for his own comments on the subjects he dealt with.


Lewis Dunbar 43, minister of Kinnoull, proposed Robert Gordon, student of divinity and one of the teachers in the Academy of Perth, for probationary trials by the Presbytery of Perth, on 26th January, 1814, and his certificates of study were duly presented, as we have noted above.

On the third Wednesday of February he was examined by the Presbytery and he “gave satisfactory evidence to the Presbytery of his proficiency in Theology and Philosophy and Greek and Latin literature, whereupon the Presbytery resolved to proceed with his Trials, after they shall have obtained the leave of the ensuing Synod.” He satisfied the Presbytery after what he described as “quite a grilling”.

On 27th April, after the meeting of Synod, the Presbytery again took up the question of Gordon’s licensing and prescribed for him the following trials: “For chronology and church history, the first half of the 17th century; for the Hebrew language, the 121st Psalm and for the greek language, the New Testament, ad aperturam libri [wherever the book falls open]; for exegesis An Homo, proprius viribus, sine Spiritus Sancti ope, aliquid Deo gratum et ad sui ipsius salutem conducibite, prostare potest? [Can a man, in his own strength, without the help of the Holy Spirit, produce something which is pleasing to God and which contributes to his own salvation?]; for Homily, Luke 12th chap and 34th verse; for exercise and addition, Hebrews 2nd chap and 6th verse; for lecture, the 121st psalm and for popular sermon any verse of that psalm.”

At subsequent meetings his trials were completed to the full satisfaction of the Presbytery. So at Perth on 27th July, 1814, the Presbytery proceeded to license. Gordon answered in a satisfactory way the questions appointed by the 10th Act of Assembly, 1711; he “judicially subscribed” the Formula prescribed by the said Act and there was read to him the Act of 1759 against simoniacal practices. Thereafter he was duly licensed as a preacher of the gospel of Christ.

Learning to Preach; Looking for a Presentation

After receiving licence, there is a different emphasis in his life. He still acts as agent for Bannerman, and teaches school and academy but there are new emphases. There is firstly a picture of a new minister whose services are in demand within the Presbytery and who is working to improve his preaching; and, secondly, there can be no doubt, at first, that he is vigorously pursuing a presentation to a vacant charge.

As can be seen from his Journals, he preached regularly and in a good number of places in the Presbytery. At the end of July – the first Sunday after licensing – he preached in Kinnoull at a Communion: “Called Mr Dunbar – heard his Action Sermon – communicated – made my first public appearance in the tent and preached from John 8 32 [“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”]. Felt less embarrassment and much more interest in my subject that I expected – and had little difficulty in delivering without reading – Had my sermon before me – A very large and a very attentive audience” (31st July, 1814).

This was followed by a short visit to his old home in Dumfries-shire and, of course, the local boy was invited to preach in the parish church: “Preached in Glencairn Church – First Public appearance in a Pulpit – Very wet day but a very crowded audience” (21st August 1814).

Thereafter, back in Perthshire, he preached for Robert Kay, minister of Perth, West Church. That was followed by his appearance in “E. C.” – the East Church of Perth, where James Esdaile was minister: “better than expected”. He also preached for “Mr Thomson” – that is, for William Aird Thomson of the Middle Church, Perth: “– not quite so fast as usual – conclusion of sentences still very bad – observed by Mr Brown – Spoke above the proper pitch of my voice – Church large and difficult to preach in”. Then he preached in St Paul’s, Perth, where his sermon was not divided into heads and he was “very much exhausted” and at St Martin’s, where he had formerly lived and where William Constable was then minister. Then there was Lethendy: “very bad church”; and Dunning and Dunbarney, where he preached “a great deal too rapid”; Tippermuir and Scone, where he left his sermon notes in the pulpit Bible and he wrote to the minister to retrieve them; and in Kinnoull where preached twice on 2 Corinthians 5 17 [“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new”] – “not satisfied” with the first sermon; “better satisfied” with the second. He took the same sermon in the West Church, Perth, the following Sunday: “With notes only – made some small mistakes”. Again he preached in Kinnoull, this time on Hosea 13 9 [“O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help”]: “A sermon which I was by no means pleased with – Preached with notes only”. And on yet another occasion there: “My discourses are too argumentative for general use – Resolve to correct this.” He commented on his preaching elsewhere: “Preached afternoon – too fast – better strike note higher and not so loud. Subject seemed better understood than former sermon” (11th December, 1814). He preached in Kinfauns in December, 1814, and in February, 1816; and in St Madoes on 25th and 26th February, 1815; and for Mr Liston, minister of Redgorton, on the 1st Sunday in June that year. “Preaching often” is how he describes his activity writing to his mother.

This mainly involved preaching for ministers in settled charges rather in vacancies which required a minister – but he was getting himself known in a wide area of Perthshire. And getting oneself known was important at a time when the nomination to a parish was made by a patron – usually a prominent land-owner.

He was also learning. Just as he criticised his own sermons in his Journal so also he discussed his preaching efforts in some of his letters: “account of preaching today” he writes to one correspondent; to another, about his sermon: “too argumentative”. He recorded a quotation from a review of a book of sermons of Sir Henry Moncreiff: “Preaching ought to be a proper mixture of Doctrine and Practice without attempting to make an audience comprehend what is incomprehensible … Preaching is the translation of old ideas and known truths into the language of the day” (18th December, 1814). We may take it that he used these ideas as general guidelines for his sermons.

It is evident from the comments that he made on his preaching that he gave thought to the outward aspect of the task: his speed of speaking, the pitch of his voice, the strength of his voice. He was also seeking to prepare well but then to preach without reading from his script. He also paid attention to the style of his material to make sure it was comprehensible. Although he preached sermons more than once, he was constantly revising and re-writing them – a process which he called “mandating”. He did this constantly, even on an infrequent day out: “Prepared for jaunt to Dunkeld – Rode poney – mandated sermon by the way – Breakfast at Inver – Visited Hermitage – Rumbling Bridge – Craig Vinian – returned by 6” (17th August, 1816).

Shortly after his licensing, he took a great interest in the vacant parish of Bendochy in the Presbytery of Meigle, about 15 miles north of Perth. This became vacant on 16th October, 1814, on the death of the incumbent, John Honey 44. The patronage of the parish was with the Crown, but with remarkable, even unseemly speed – three days after the minister’s death – Gordon wrote on 19th October to David Millar, Esq., of Tullyfergus requesting his support as heritor in the Parish. He also wrote others asking for their influence on heritors of Bendochy parish. On the same date, he corresponded with James Esdaile, minister in Perth, requesting his influence with Mr Husband, formerly agent for Mr Morison of Naughton, heritor of Bendochy. The following day he wrote to William Watson, Esq., Auchtertyre by Meigle, requesting his influence for Bendochy “in name of Mrs M[air], Miss B[annerman] and Col B[annerman]”; to David Kinloch – a man he had corresponded with on behalf of Colonel Bannerman – requesting his interest with Kinloch of Kinloch for Bendochy; and to Colonel Bannerman keeping him informed of the various channels he was using to get the presentation. He also sent two letters seeking to get support from the proprietors of Cupar Grange, a property within the parish of Bendochy; and another letter to someone soliciting the interest of Captain John Stewart of Percy and Alexander McDuff of Springfield. On the 28th he wrote Col. Bannerman again reporting how the campaign was proceeding: “McK’s tutor” had given up his attempt to get the presentation. Gordon has a very forceful approach to getting a presentation!

But Gordon was not going to get Bendochy. According to the Minutes of the Presbytery of Meigle of 1st March, 1815, “Compeared Mr William Watson, Esquire, Auchtertyre, and gave in a Royal Presentation from the Prince Regent in name and behalf of his majesty in favour of Mr Thomas Barty, minister at Newtyle, to be minister of the Church and Parish of Bendochy.”

However, Gordon had already realized that he was not going to get that presentation for he wrote to his mother on 17th November, “lost hope of the Church”.

He was still interested in vacant churches: “W[est] C[hurch] like to be vacant,” he wrote on 6th November, 1814. This was Robert Kay’s Church and why Gordon thought it would become vacant is not clear – Kay was there till his death in 1816. In March, 1815, he wrote that Inchture was likely to become vacant and the following month he wrote to a friend in Kirkcaldy asking if Kinglassie was vacant. In fact, the minister of Inchture remained in place till his death in 1840 – though about the time when Gordon wrote there were libels raised against him because of a fama clamosa45. As for Kinglassie, the minister there also remained in place till his death in December, 1816 46. Perhaps Gordon anticipated the minister’s death (he was born in 1732); perhaps there was talk of him getting a colleague and successor.

Then his interest in vacancies was suddenly suspended, because a different opportunity arose.

Preliminary Evaluation

Before continuing, it is appropriate and helpful to make some assessment of Gordon.

We see in all this a man of remarkable and diverse talents. If he was at one and the same time writer, factor, scientific researcher, part-time student, teacher at Perth Academy and tutor in the Bannerman family then he was a most diligent and hard working man. Robert Chambers speaks of his “power of calculation, combined with capacity for the multifarious details of business” and states that these won him the offer of an important situation in the East India House. Clearly, it would be Colonel Bannerman that made the offer. He declined the offer.

He declined the offer, because he had other interests at heart. But strange though it may seem, his correspondence gives little indication of these other interests and does little to indicate that he was dedicated to the work of the ministry.

There are occasional references to discussions on spiritual subjects: “Long conversation on Revelation and necessity of atonement” (Journal, 31st October, 1812); “Conversing with James Boyack on Predestination” (6th Feb 1814). But, as far as we can judge, he hardly ever mentions any religious topic in his letters. There is no sign of any “spiritual correspondence” which was such a feature of some evangelical ministers of the time. His diary does not contain an assessment of his spiritual progress as the diaries of some other men did: no annual spiritual accounting at Birthdays or at the coming of each New Year; no heart searching at Communion time; no obvious prayerful wrestlings in regard to the usefulness of his sermons. His Journals deal with externals.

Up to the time of his licensing and beyond, we know nothing of his religious outlook at all – nothing of his experience, if any, of evangelical religion; nothing of his attitude to non-intrusion and the spiritual independence of the church – these are simply not in the picture. There is every reason to think that he is a “moderate” in outlook.

It is not obvious what church he attended nor indeed is it obvious at first sight that he attended church at all. He doesn’t usually mention preachers or sermons heard, or the level of people’s attendance at church. The only evidence that he attended the Kinnoull church is that he remarked on occasions that there was no church in Kinnoull that Sunday for certain reasons. There is no comment on sermons heard – nothing to show whether or not he appreciated the preaching or found it useful for his spiritual development. This is in contrast to his attitude in other areas of life. He had his opinion about the stage but not about the pulpit. He gave his assessment of Adam Smith but not of his local minister’s ministry. He conducted scientific experiments but gave no sign of experimental religion.

Because he doesn’t mention going to church on Sundays, his Journal entries for Sundays read just like those of any other day. There are the same secular books read, the same visits paid, the same past-times. The first day of the week is “Sunday” to him, not the “Sabbath” or even the “Lord’s Day” as it would have been to many another minister. On a Communion Sabbath he reads Acton’s Survey of Ayr (26th July, 1812). Evangelicals would surely have thought it more important that he should cultivate his devotional life on any Sabbath, especially a Communion Sabbath. He must have known what was required in keeping the Fourth Commandment according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days …”. But he certainly didn’t practise it.

Moreover, some of his leisure activities would have been frowned on. Backgammon was perceived as a game of chance and not appropriate for an evangelical minister, though, of course, a mathematician would see it as a game involving very exact calculations of probablities. But his interest in the theatre would have been frowned on by most evangelicals at the time – and probably by some others as well. There was an Act on the ecclesiastical statute book prohibiting ministers from going to the theatre. Alexander Carlyle, minister of Inveresk, considered that the Act made no difference in practice. “Although the clergy in Edinburgh and its neighbourhood,” he wrote “had abstained from the theatre because it gave offence, yet the more remote clergymen, when occasionally in town, had almost universally attended the playhouse. … It is remarkable, that in the year 1784, when the great actress Mrs Siddons first appeared in Edinburgh, during the sitting of the General Assembly, that court was obliged to fix all its important business for the alternate days when she did not act, as all the younger members, clergy as well as laity, took their stations in the theatre on those days by three in the afternoon47.” Nevertheless, it was, in the eyes of many, a worldly pursuit, unworthy of a true minister of the gospel, inappropriate for one who had the cure of souls.

There is, therefore, no sign of an evangelical orientation in his religious views or experience. Nor is there any sign of his commitment to a non-intrusion perspective. It is true that to receive a presentation to a vacant charge a probationer needed to know the right people – people with influence. Some non-intrusionists no doubt engaged in lobbying to some degree believing it was a necessary evil in the circumstances then obtaining. But Gordon engaged vigorously in lobbying for a presentation to Bendochy. He gave every impression of doing so without any reservations. His attitude seemed to be: you try to get a charge the same way as you try to get a mathematical chair – you round up people who can use their influence on your behalf. There is no apparent evangelical spirit in regard to the nature of the ministry. There is no sign of evangelical experience or of non-intrusionist leanings.

It is against that background that we must see what happened next.

Montrose Academy

Montrose already had an ancient and famous Grammar School, but a plan to establish an Academy there was developing in 1815, the aim being to provide a curriculum broader in range and more practical than the traditional schooling based on classical learning.

The first we hear about the Academy in Gordon’s correspondence was when he wrote to Professor John Playfair in Edinburgh on 25th July, 1815, in regard to a testimonial: “My friends here,” he wrote “have encouraged me to come forward as a Candidate for the Rectorship of the Academy about to be established at Montrose.” The following day he wrote to Sir David Brewster soliciting his interest for the Montrose post.

In the following month he wrote from Broughty Ferry to James Esdaile, minister in Perth, that he has been examined by Principal Baird and others for the Montrose Rectorship. He got the post.

This is a very important matter to him. On 10th November, 1815, referring to his appointment as Rector, he wrote: This “is one precisely suited to my habits and inclination. I have therefore no hesitation in expressing my readiness to accept that situation.” If the rectorship precisely suited his habits and inclination, then we must suppose that the ministry, as he saw it at that stage, didn’t. Perhaps it was a close second best. Nonetheless, at this point, he saw himself cut out to be a teacher – indeed a Rector – and not an ordinary one, but one charged with the high responsibility of setting up a new, modern, institution, in rivalry to an old, traditional well established one. Running an academy is more to his taste than ministering to a flock.

Preparing for Montrose, now took up his time. On 17th January, 1816, he wrote to the Provost of Montrose to say that he has drawn up a Prospectus of the system of education to be adopted in the Academy.

Then something happened which changed his mind entirely.

The Change

His own references to this change are few and lacking in detail. The first one is in a letter to James Grierson, assistant surgeon, on 8th December, 1815. James was the son of William Grierson who was minister in Glencairn at the time of Gordon’s birth. He was close in age to Gordon and was at this time surgeon with H.E.I.C.S. Whatever Gordon said to him is summarized in his Diary as “religious opinions changed”. On 9th January, 1816, he wrote to “B”, a regular correspondent: “Religious views”. In that context he also referred to “Adam’s Confessions” – but what that meant I don’t know. It was not till 30th March, 1816, that he wrote to his mother: “religion – views changed”.

Inasmuch as he was clearly an evangelical in his later life, it was an evangelical conversion of some sort that he had gone through. What do we know of the nature of this change?

Michael W. Honeycutt suggests that William Cunningham, eventually a Professor in New College, appreciated Robert Gordon’s ministry because Gordon had had a similar experience to that of Cunningham. Cunningham as a student was at first a moderate. He attributed his change to evangelicalism to a sermon preached by Robert Gordon on James 1:18: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth”. Honeycutt stated: “Gordon began his public ministry as a Moderate, was converted, and became one of the leading Evangelicals in the Church of Scotland”. He makes this statement on the authority of John Macleod’s Scottish Theology48.

We only know a little of the nature of this change and nothing definite of the instrumentality of it. The little we do know comes from a few words of retrospect with which Gordon commenced his Journal for 1816. Because his journal is often written in note form and is interspersed with some form of shorthand, we do not have a coherent picture of his experience. What we have is this: “Sensible of a considerable change … feelings particularly on the subject of Religion. Last year my opinions were perhaps as orthodox as they are at present. Religion and Understanding … heart. The last two or three months …”

From this we can say that the change was gradual. He does not point to a moment or a day or an occasion, but says this happened over a period of months. It was a change that was not doctrinal. He was not Arian or a deist previously; he was orthodox in his beliefs both before and after the event. It was a change that affected his feelings – he had found heart religion, “experimental” religion.

This was part of a bigger package of reassessment. We get hints of it in some journal entries: “Read about the half of Davy’s Agricultural Chemistry, but could not go on with it. How one’s taste for a particular subject changes – not many years ago I felt the strongest predilection for such a subject . Custom is a second nature” (25th March, 1814). Two days later, a Sunday, he wrote: “Church – sermon by Mr Wright Kingsbarns49 – dined with Mr Dunbar and Mr Wright – a very pleasant well informed man”. After a bit in code: “Such changes in sentiments and feelings are quite unaccountable.” It seems reasonable to think that the last sentence refers to himself. But what does it mean? George Wright was, according to McCosh, a man who voted consistently on the “moderate” side in the run-up to the Disruption, so we cannot think of him urging evangelical views on Gordon 50”. We simply do not know the details, but this sentence does suggest that Gordon had embraced or, at least, expressed new opinions.

A couple of months later, we have this: “Began to correct Homily Luke 12 39 [“And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through]. Memorandum. Read the same to Dr Brown 30th January, 1811 with approbation – and at that time thought it tolerable both in matter and composition. See it in a very different light now” (25th May, 1814). No doubt many ministers look back on their first efforts with dismay, or even horror, but this does show that he was changing his opinions as time went on.

His insight into things not grasped hitherto extends to the central meaning of the Christian faith: “Found that the views generally entertained of Christianity are very different from the account of Scripture _ The discharge of moral duties is considered as quite enough – and faith becomes a word without a meaning. Motives too are very frequently misunderstood, because the nature of Rewards and Punishments is misunderstood – They are always regarded as some arbitrary appointment of heaven – not as naturally and necessarily arising out of Sin and holiness” (8th November, 1814).

His conversion to an evangelical outlook was then explainable partly as an aspect of a maturing process. He was a relatively young man. It is not unnatural that, exposed to the realities of ministerial life as a probationer, he felt the need to think through matters that he had taken for granted or to which he had not given sufficient thought.

To my mind, we might well ask if a contributory factor was that he had a thoughtful approach to preaching. If he scrutinized the style and content of his preaching, asking the question, “Am I communicating with my people?”, it would not be strange if he were led to ask the question: “How can a man get his people to respond to the message if he hasn’t responded to it himself?” How could a minister preach on 2 Corinthians 5:17 – as Gordon did – without asking of his own experience of being a new creation?

The experience that Gordon had may seem very low key in comparison with the highly pressurized experiences looked for by the likes of Robert Murray McCheyne or William Chalmers Burns. It may seem so, too, even in comparison with the conversion experiences of Thomas Chalmers or William Cunningham. But we should not discount Gordon’s experience as so abnormal as to call in question its reality. Other men were going through quiet changes in their outlook about this time. Robert Jeffrey, minister of Girthon Parish, stated “that from the first he had preached the Gospel to the light he had received, but that a great change had taken place fifteen years before, when his views of religion became much more earnest and deeply evangelical51”. Henry Duncan’s experience is described as a gradual one: “During the early part of his ministerial career, Henry Duncan was claimed by the ‘Moderate’ party in the Church; but he gradually grew more decided in his evangelical sentiments, and cast in his lot entirely with the party of Dr John Erskine, Sir Henry Moncreiff, Dr Andrew Thomson, and Dr Chalmers” 52.

We may ask whether this evangelical experience showed itself in a changed life-style. The problem in assessing that question is that about this time his life-style was undergoing a change anyway. He was now a probationer and there were incessant demands on him to preach. Of necessity, the balance of his life has been recalibrated. However, there are two items that now appear regularly in his Journal that were not there before. The first of these is “Family prayers” and the second, which is invariably associated with it, is “PP”. We can only speculate what that means but “personal prayer” springs to my mind.

Then there is this: “Meeting of Committee of Bible Society [till 9] Sir R Turing, Miss Turing and Mr Turing to supper” (15th June, 1816). Bible Societies were by no means supported only by evangelicals but they were generally patronized more by evangelicals than by moderates. Perhaps he had been long associated with the Bible Society in Perth, but this is the first time his interest is recorded. Incidentally, “Sir R. Turing” is Sir Robert Turing of Foveran, son of Alexander Turing, minister of Oyne, and a first cousin of the Bannermans of Rose Bank.

What clinches the matter for me is this entry in his Journal: “Middle Church … heard Mr A Thomson – excellent sermon – O how I would like to preach as he does John 14” (Thursday, 4th April, 1816). Gordon generally did not make comments on sermons he heard. That he did so here in fairly extravagant terms is, therefore, quite significant. “Mr A Thomson” is surely Andrew Mitchell Thomson, minister of St George’s, Edinburgh, leader of the evangelical party, and brother of the minister of the Middle Church53. To preach like him is surely the aspiration of a man devoted to the evangelical cause.

The Presentation

This change in Gordon’s religious views is very quickly followed by a change in his circumstances. He explained what had happened in a letter to the Provost of Montrose written on Monday, 11th March, 1816: “The parish of Kinfauns … fell vacant on Friday last by the death of Dr Duff. I had heard of this event only a few hours when I received an intimation from Lord Gray through my friend Mr Anderson, that his lordship had made application to the Earl of Mansfield, the patron for the living of Kinfauns, in my favour and had been successful. The very flattering circumstances in which this communication was made having never applied to Lord Gray either directly or indirectly for that or any living, would I presume go far to justify my acceptance of the presentation.” He therefore declined the Rectorship of Montrose Academy, which had seemed so suited to his habits, in order to take up ministry in a small country parish. The over-ruling of providence, which produced a presentation out of nothing, unsought, seems to be the key factor in his decision. God’s mysterious working in providence is an idea quite familiar to the evangelical mind – though, admittedly, surely to other types of mind as well.

But the matter had by no means been so low-key as his letter to the Provost suggests. He received word that “Lord Gray was at Scone requesting Kinfauns for me”, and he awaited word of the outcome. “About 3 o’clock Mr Anderson informed me that Lord Gray had just called – and that Lord Manfield had promised his Lordshp to present me to Kinfauns – Did not feel so much at the moment as I expected – Doubted for a moment the reality and by degrees began to be more agitated.”

The formalities had to be gone through but undoubtedly he regarded the charge as his and there were practical matters to attend to. “Went to Kinfauns with Mr A[nderson?] to wait on Lord Gray. Very kindly received. Find that Lord Gray had solicited Kinfauns of his own accord” (11th March). Dr Duff had recently spent money in pursuing an augmentation of his stipend but had died without reaping the full benefit of his efforts: “Conversed with Mr A and suggested … pay Dr Duff’s Expenses of Augmentation – wrote Mr Cook W.S. on the subject” (14th March). Next month he made several calls to Lord Gray and his legal agents about the presentation and on 2nd May when he had sight of the document he discovered to his dismay that it had been made out in the name of William Gordon!

Then there were questions about the crop in the glebe, which Duff had sown and Gordon would reap, and furnishings for the Manse: “Conversed with Mr Kennedy about Crop on Kinfauns Glebe” (14th June); “Conversed with Dr Dow and agreed to take articles and Crop of Kinfauns at a valuation” (20th June).

Meanwhile the formalities are conducted in the Presbytery. John Duff, the minister of Kinfauns, died on 8th March, 1816, and the congregation was preached vacant by Mr Kennedy on 24th March by the appointment of the ministers who had attended the interment. This action was approved of at the following meeting of Presbytery.

On 26th June, there “compeared [before the Presbytery of Perth] Mr George Condie, writer in Perth, and produced a letter of proxy dated at Scone House the seventeenth day of May, eighteen hundred and sixteen, and signed by the earl of Mansfield, authorising him to lay before the Presbytery a presentation granted by the said Earl, in favour of Mr Robert Gordon, preacher of the gospel, to be minister of the parish and parish church of Kinfauns, and to prosecute the settlement of the said Mr Gordon, according to the rules of the church, which letter of proxy was sustained. Whereupon Mr Condie laid before the Presbytery said presentation bearing date at Scone House, seventeenth of May, eighteen hundred and sixteen, and signed, Mansfield, whereby the Earl of Mansfield, undoubted patron of the parish and parish church of Kinfauns, has nominated, presented and appointed the said Mr Robert Gordon to be minister of the parish and parish church of Kinfauns, giving, granting and disponing to him, the constant, local and modified stipend, together with the Manse and glebe, and all other emoluments whatever belonging to the Minister of the said parish and parish church, from and after his admission, as minister thereof, and requiring the Presbytery of Perth, to admit and receive the said Mr Gordon, to the said benefice, in such manner as is directed by Law and the rules of the Church. There were laid also before the Presbytery a certificate of Mr Gordon having qualified himself to Government, of date the thirty first of May and Mr Gordon’s letter of acceptance of the foresaid presentation, dated the twenty sixth of June, eighteen hundred and sixteen, all which papers having been read and duly considered by the Presbytery, they did and hereby do sustain said Presentation. Whereupon Mr Condie took instruments in the hands of the clerk.”

It was then moved and agreed to that the Presbytery should meet at the church of Kinfauns to moderate a call to Mr Gordon, to be minister of that church and parish and “the Presbytery did and hereby do appoint a meeting of the Presbytery to be held at the church of Kinfauns on Thursday, the eleventh of July next, at twelve o’clock noon, for that purpose and also for appointing to Mr Gordon, his Trials, Dr Dow to preach and to preside on the occasion. They also appointed Dr Dow to preach in the church of Kinfauns on Sabbath, the thirtieth of June and to intimate the said meeting after divine service in the forenoon, warning all concerned to attend.”

At the meeting appointed, the edict was returned duly executed and endorsed. Dr Dow preached from Acts 17:22-23. A written call was then produced by the Clerk and read. It was then subscribed by Mr James Hay, Esq., of Seggieden, Laurence Craigie of Glendoick, Esq., and Alexander Campbell, proxy for Lord Gray, heritors, by John Jardine, elder, and by nearly all the heads of families in the parish. The call was unanimously sustained by the Presbytery. Trials were then prescribed: for lecture the 126th Psalm; for popular sermon any verse of that Psalm; for exercise and addition Hebrews 2:14; for exegesis, An auxilium Spiritus Sancti sit necessarium ad salutem? [Is the help of the Holy Spirit necessary for salvation?]. For Hebrew, the said Psalm; and for Greek, the New Testament, ad aperturam libri. The trials were to be ready for the next ordinary meeting.

On 28th August these trials were sustained and Thursday, 12th September, was fixed as the day of his ordination. This encounter with the Presbytery was very different from the “grilling” he received on his application for licence: “Delivered discourses and passed. Read no Heb or Gr – no questioning.” By now, they know the man and his abilities, and the examination is therefore more cursory.

So Gordon was ordained to Kinfauns, Perthshire, on 12th September, 1816. There was a lapse of just over two years between licensing and ordination. This may seem a long time, but in the circumstances of the time it was relatively quick. There was an over supply of licentiates and many of them never went on to ordination. To wait for several years for a presentation was not uncommon.

The Edinburgh Caledonian Mercury, of Monday, 23rd September, 1816, described the occasion of his ordination: “Thursday se’ennight, Mr Robert Gordon, preacher of the gospel, was ordained minister of the church of Kinfauns, … Mr [Robert] Kay, one of the ministers of Perth, [Perth, West] presided on the occasion, and delivered a very impressive charge both to pastor and people.”

Gordon himself records that Kay preached from Philippians 3:7: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” – a text which well might have been considerd as specially appropriate considering that Gordon had given up a prestigious post as Rector in Montrose for the sake of a small country parish. “Prayer and imposition of hands most solemn and impressive.”

We might pause here and reflect on the fact that this settlement took place under the system introduced by the patronage act which came into effect in 1712. How would a strict non-intrusionist, such as Gordon became, view such a settlement?

This case shows patronage operating at its best. Although the presbytery did not appoint Gordon to preach in Kinfauns before the signing of the call to him, the congregation already knew him. He had preached there on previous occasions, the latest being just a few weeks before Duff died: “Walked to Kinfauns – preached for Dr Duff” (11th February). Moreover, he had personal contact with leading men in the parish before the charge was even vacant. “Saw Captain Campbell … Kinfauns” (16th February, 1816); “Walked with Mr Anderson to Kinfauns. Compared Meteorological Register with Captain Campbell” (20th February). He was not an unknown quantity.

Prior to the passing of the Patronage Act, the responsibility for nominating a minister for a vacant charge lay with the elders and heritors of the parish. In this case, there was no effective eldership – the Kirk Session had not met for some years, and the main heritor took the lead in raising the matter with the patron. Moreover, according to the Caledonian Mercury just quoted, “the call was signed by all the heritors, and by every individual in the parish, who was competent to judge of the solemnity of the act. A more harmonious call, indeed, has not occurred in this neighbourhood for many years.”

Although conducted under the system of patronage then in place, it was undoubtedly also conducted in conformity with the principles enshrined in the enactment which the Patronage Act had modified. There was no sense in which Gordon was intruded into the congregation; no way in which the congregation was pressurized into expressing acceptance of an unknown or unwanted minister. If Gordon had at this stage a non-intrusionist conscience, it would not have been disturbed by the way his settlement was conducted.

Gordon concludes his account of his induction day: “Returned to Perth by 3 – School to 4. Dinner in Salutation.” The “Salutation” was the Salutation Inn (now the Salutation Hotel) on South Street, Perth. It claims to be the oldest established hotel in Scotland54. The “dinner” was presumably the dinner which the new minister gave for the members of his Presbytery. They had a fine time, it would seem: “Bill at Salutation enormous” (18th September, 1816).

Thus Gordon’s days as a probationer came to an end.


Does this account of Gordon’s life as divinity student and probationer fulfil the three aims that were set out above?

Certainly, it does in some ways. It substantially fulfils the first two goals inasmuch as it displays a man of remarkable energy and all round ability. It invites attention to the great man that he was and it certainly fills in aspects of his life that have not been mentioned before. By any account, what he did at this period of life is quite outstanding. He comes over as a very learned person, able to give his attention to different tasks at the one time, diligent, hard-working, a man likely to go far – a man whose future deserves to be recorded in greater detail.

There are areas which remain somewhat obscure. For example, I would like to have been able to discover more about what was involved in his “school”. It would have been good to know more of his change of his religious feelings. I haved not dealt with the questions of his friendships or his politics or his marriage which occurred shortly after his ordination. These are not sufficiently clear from the sources we have been using to warrant the treatment we have given other themes.

This study also raises other questions that would require a wider study. For example, was Gordon’s experience of training for the ministry typical? How adequate was such training?

Nonetheless, despite these deficiencies and the questions that this study raises, it provides a fairly clear picture of his life-style as a divinity student and probationer and alerts us to the fact that this is a man of real potential worth, as it were, keeping our eye on.

But to what extent does this help us to understand what he became? In many ways it does, but there are three comments that we can make on this.

Firstly, we mentioned in our summary of Gordon’s life how he publicly committed himself to the non-intrusion movement, by sitting with the Presbytery of Dunkeld at the bar of the Court of Session. It may be, as I believe has been said, that he did so out of sympathy with one of the ministers of the Presbytery who was a special friend to him. But I would like to make a suggestion about another possible motivation.

Perhaps he identified himself with the ministers in the Lethendy case because he, in his youth, had been so closely connected with the people of Lethendy. It was in that parish that Col. Bannerman had his estate. Gordon had corresponded with their heritors, he had worked with them and sat down at table with them; he had constructed a school for the Lethendy people, he had arranged tenancies in the parish, he had made scientific experiments there and had tilled their soil. He had been in close contact with them for the best part of ten years. It is worth considering the possibility that the recollection of that close contact was a motive in his taking his place with the Presbytery of Dunkeld in the Lethendy case.

Secondly, although we do know that he went through some religious experience which changed the course of his life, we still do not know enough about that experience to be able to explain his attachment to the non-intrusion cause. Gordon as a public figure is clearly displayed in Presbytery Minutes and in the newspapers of the day. Gordon the person is more elusive. This study is deficient in that it doesn’t reveal anything significant about the inner life of Gordon. This can be attributed to two factors: firstly, to the nature of the source being used. Both his Diary and his Journals consist of brief annotations that do not allow deep insight into the person who wrote them. Moreover, personal references seem to be made in a code which, at the moment, is locked to us. Secondly, it can be attributed to the nature of the person involved. He is simply a very private person – he writes personal things in short-hand. More needs to be done to get at the real Robert Gordon.

Thirdly, there is one area in which the man he became was very different from the young man that he had been. We have seen him to be ambitious and confident: he wants to start a philosophical literary journal of his own; he applies for a Professorship as a very young man; he spreads his views on matters scientific through the Farmer’s Magazine and other journals. He is pro-active in seeking a presentation. He is ambitious enough to take on the Rectorship of a new Academy, shaping its curriculum and ethos from the outset.

It is true that some of these attitudes may be seen in his later life. He ascended the ladder of professional preferment fairly quickly, moving from being the minister of a small rural parish in Perthshire, to being minister of a prestigious charge in the capital, within a few years. But on the whole he was known for his caution and for his diffidence. He does publish a little when he moves to Edinburgh but most of his sermons were published posthumously. Chalmers found his humility excessive. Candlish must have found it at least disconcerting when Gordon left him to present a matter to a church court that Gordon had the responsibility of doing. His diffidence could in some circumstances be crippling: he gave up the opportunity of being Professor and Principal in New College. It is difficult to imagine the young Gordon doing that. What happened to the man? We may expect that an experience of grace takes the edge off selfish ambition, but that doesn’t explain Gordon’s extreme diffidence.

The conclusion therefore is that we still don’t know enough about the personal life of a very important and probably a very complex man.

1 Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae (FES), Vol.4, p.166

2 Memorials of Robert Smith Candlish, D.D., p.323

3 Hanna’s Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Chalmers, Vol.3, p.16

4 History of the Dialectic Society, p.152

5 For Gerard, see Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae (FES), Vol.7, p.372; for Brown see FES, Vol.7, p.359
and for Ritchie see FES, Vol.1, p.60.

11 For Bannerman/Turing ministerial connections see the Cumming-Turing Tree, on this web-site.

14 National Records of Scotland (NRS) SC40/40/4

17 NRS CC8/8/147/640; SC70/1/26 and SC70/1/68/60

18 See FES, Vol.4, p.166.

19 Writing in the Old Statistical Account, published in 1796, Butters describes the sad state of education in the parish: “The laft fchoolmafter died 10 years ago; the fchool-houfe had been in ruins long before; and the heritors have never yet found it convenient to provide us either with one, or with the other; an irreparable lofs to the rifing generation. Some fteps, however, will foon be taken, for having this opprobrious grievance effectually removed” (OSA Lethendy).

20 Walter Scott’s The Antiquary appeared in three volumes in Edinburgh on 4th May, 1816, (The Antiquary). Guy Mannering had been published the previous year.

21 This is presumably An inquiry concerning the rise and progress, the redemption and present state and the management, of the national debt of Great Britain and Ireland, by Robert Hamilton, Professor of mathematics in Aberdeen.

22 This is perhaps A view of the political state of Scotland, at Michaelmas 1811: comprehending the rolls of the freeholders, an abstract of the constitutions of the royal burghs, and a state of the votes at the last elections: to which is prefixed, an account of the forms of procedure at elections to parliament, published in Edinburgh, in 1812.

23 This is probably: General view of the agriculture, state of property, and improvements, in the county of Dumfries: drawn up under the direction of the Board of Agriculture, and at the request of the landholders of the county, by Dr William Singer, Edinburgh, John Ballantyne and Co., 1812.

24 For an example of this Repository see The Mathematical Repository.

25 For full details of Nicholson and his Journal and for access to this publication see: Nicholson’s Journal.

28 The play referred to is Charles Macklin’s The Man of the World.

30 Most of these works are identifiable: A discourse concerning I. The true import of the words election and reprobation, and the things signified by them in the holy scripture. II. The extent of Christ’s redemption. III. The grace of God … IV. The liberty of the will in a state of trial and probation. V. The perseverance or defectibility of the saints …: To which is added a postscript, in answer to some of Doctor Edwards’s remarks, Daniel Whitby, D.D.; Dictionary of the Holy Bible: historical, critical, geographical, and etymological: wherein are explained all the proper names in the Old and New Testament, the natural productions, animals. vegetables, minerals, stones, gems, &c. The antiquities, habits, buildings, and other curiosites of the Jews. With a chronological history of the Bible, Jewish calendar, tables of the Hebrew coins, weights, measures, &c. &c., Augustin Calmet (1672-1757); Oriental customs: or an illustration of the sacred Scriptures, by an explanatory application of the customs and manners of the Eastern nations, and especially the Jews. Therein alluded to, together with observations on many difficult and obscure texts, collected from the most celebrated travellers, and the most eminent critics, Samuel Burder, London, 1802; A Greek and English lexicon to the New Testament: in which the words and phrases … are distinctly explained, and the meanings assigned to each authorized by references to passages of Scripture, and frequently … confirmed by citations from the Old Testament, and from the Greek writers. To this work is prefixed, a … Greek grammar, John Parkhurst, London, 1809; Synopsis criticorum aliorumque S. Scripturæ interpretum, Matthew Poole (1624-1679): A discourse concerning the being and attributes of God: the obligations of natural religion, and the truth and certainty of the Christian revelation. In Answer to Mr Hobbs, Spinoza, the Author of the Oracles of Reason, and other Deniers of Natural and Revealed Religion. Being sixteen Sermons, Preach’d in the Cathedral-Church of St Paul, in the Years 1704, and 1705, at the Lecture Founded by the Honourable Robert Boyle, Esq; In which is inserted A discourse concerning the connexion of the prophecies in the Old Testament, and the Application of them to Christ. There is also, An answer to a seventh letter, concerning, the Argument a priori, in Proof of the Being of God, Samuel Clarke, D. D., London,1738; An exposition of the XXXIX Articles of the Church of England, Gilbert Bishop of Sarum (1643-1715).

31 Andrew Tawse was a man of about Gordon’s age: he had studied at Aberdeen at the time Gordon was studying there. He became a Church of Scotland minister, but died young (FESVol.6, p.104). He was at that stage tutor in the family of the Farquharsons of Whitehouse, Tough. P. Farquharson was presumably Peter, the son of this family, and later advocate in Aberdeen.

33 The Diary and Letters of Edward Irving, p.137, edited by Barbara Waddington.

34 Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 1818, p.117.

36 Access to this Encyclopaedia can be got from here.

37 Evans and Ruffy’s Farmer’s Journal and Manufacturer’s and Trader’s Register, etc. was published in London from 1809 till 1832 – available at Farmer’s Journal.

38 Alexander Adie was born in Edinburgh in 1775. He was the nephew of John Miller and they went into business as Adie and Miller, instrument makers. They supplied instruments for leading scientists of the day, including, for example, Charles Darwin and Sir David Brewster.

39 Old Statistical Account, p.538

40 Sources differ with regard to his exact age: Perth burial records state that he died on 15th December, 1846, aged 66; and the 1841 census gives his age as 59; Wikipedia states, on the basis of information gained from his gravestone, that he was born on 27th June, 1783. The St Andrews Biographical Register accepts that date and adds that he was the son of Andrew Anderson, shipmaster, Kincardine on Forth and Ann Moon. But the Old Parish Records record a date of 2nd July, 1780, for Adam, a child of Andrew Anderson and Ann Moon. Moreover, that couple had other children recorded on 20th October, 1782, and on 11th April, 1784, so it is difficult to conceive of another one born on 27th June, 1783.

41 For the Academy and its Rector see The Schoolmaster Engineer; Adam Anderson and Perth Academy.

42 The Roman history, from the foundation of the city of Rome, to the destruction of the western empire, two volumes, Oliver Goldsmith. An abridged version for the use of schools may be found here .

47 Autobiography of the Rev . Dr Carlyle, pp.322-323

48 William Cunningham. His life, thought, and controversies, p.21, Thesis submitted to the University of Edinburgh in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, January 2002 – which can be accessed here.


50 Annals of the Disruption, Chapter 2

51 The Wheat and the Chaffp.73

52 Disruption Worthies, https://www.ecclegen.com/disruption-worthies-2/#Duncan,%20Henry”>Henry Duncan