The Lowland Church of Campbeltown
from its Foundation in 1654 till the Disruption.

Being a Lecture delivered to the Kintyre Antiquarian Society by Colonel Charles Mactaggart, C.S.I., C.I.E., on the 3rd of December, 1924.

Part Three

        In those days the Communion was dis­pensed only once a year and it was pre­ceded, and followed, by what we may fairly describe as, “a spate of preach­ing." The Thursday preceding the Communion Sunday was kept as a fast day, and on it two long services were held. Another long preparatory service was held on the Saturday preceding, and a long thanksgiving one on the Monday following, the Communion Sunday. Well, in the year 1754, the Synod of Argyll at a meeting, from which, it is said, the Elders who represented the Lowland Church of Campbeltown were excluded by a trick, issued an order abolishing those Saturday and Monday services. Apparently the Synod had long contem­plated such action; but had been prevented from taking it as long as Mr Boes was alive, owing to fear of him and of his influence with the Argyll Family and in the country generally. It is certainly difficult to understand why the Synod, a body in which Ministers were all-powerful, ever came to issue such an order: but the lowland people of Campbeltown, at any rate, had no difficulty in making up their minds as to the reason which prompted the Synod to act as it did, and they attributed it entirely to the laziness and selfishness of the highland ministers. Here is what the "Old Minute" says on the subject : - “Preaching to many of them (the highland ministers) was a task very disagreeable, and the attendance they were obliged to give at sacra­mental occasions was a grievance they had for some time suffered with impatience; the reason of which  was, that their attendance on two or three sacramental occasions, through the summer season was a great hindrance to another lucrative business, in which they were, for the most part, deeply engaged, viz., grazing and farming. In these they had found great benefits and being beneficial they engrossed their atten­tion." But I think there is a more charitable explanation of the Synod's action, and it is this. The Communion had become the great social, as well as the great religious, event of the year. People from outlying parts of parishes flocked into headquarters on the Wednesday evening preceding the Communion Sunday, and camped there, or put up with friends, till the following Monday afternoon. Friends then met who had not seen each other for a year, a lot of profitable business was trans­acted, and, doubtless, in the evenings a certain amount of conviviality prevailed. In short, the Communion season was gradually degenerating into the "Holy Fair," depicted by Burns, and I surmise that the Synod's action was directed against that growing evil. But, what­ever the Synod's motives were in issuing the order, the Lowland Congregation of Campbeltown greatly valued the Satur­day and Monday services, and were determined that they would not be deprived of them by any order of the Synod. When the next communion was approaching, the Lowland Congregation begged Mr McAlpine to ignore the Synod's order and hold Saturday and Monday services as usual; but he refused to comply with that request and, in con­sequence, his Elders and Congregation absented themselves from the Church on the Communion Sunday. In the following year, 1755, the Congregation peti­tioned the General Assembly against the Synod's order; but, as the petition did not come to the Assembly through the Presbytery and Synod it was refused consideration. Again in 1756, the Congregation petitioned the Assembly, sending the petition through the proper channel, and the Assembly issued an order permitting any minister, within the bounds of the Synod of Argyll to hold all the services formerly customary at the Communion season, and which his congregation desired him to hold; but Mr McAlpine refused to act on the Assembly's deliverance, for he held that the Synod's edict had not been cancelled and that, if he disobeyed it, he was liable to censure by his brother ministers. Mr McAlpine and Mr Stewart, the Minister of the Highland Church, were great friends, and, throughout the dis­pute with his Congregation, Mr McAlpine was strongly backed up by Mr Stewart and the support of the Elders of the Highland Church, in the Conjoint Kirk Session, which by that time had been formed, made him practically indepen­dent of his own Elders and Congrega­tion. In that unsatisfactory state matters remained for about four years, and until 1760, when Mr McAlpine and Mr Stewart quarrelled, and the position of the former became extremely ­unpleasant and difficult. He then apparently realised that his best course was to effect reconciliation with his Congregation, so, in 1761, much to the delight of his people, he consented to hold a service on the Saturday preceding the Communion Sunday, and, having once made up his mind to "turn his coat," he was not long in completing the process, for, in 1762, he himself petitioned the General Assembly for permission to dis­obey the order of the Synod and to hold the Saturday and Monday services which his Congregation desired. He appeared before the Assembly and made what is traditionally said to have been a very able and brilliant speech in support of his petition, and the Assembly, swayed by his eloquence, granted his prayer. Mr McAlpine's action, and his fine speech before the Assembly, gained for him the complete support of his Congregation, and they prepared a great welcome for him on his return to Camp­beltown: but, unfortunately, he became ill before he left Edinburgh, and died there a few days after the close of the Assembly. His body was brought back to Campbeltown and was buried in Kil­kerran, with every possible mark of re­spect, by his people. No trace of his tomb now exists.

In 1757 the Kirk Sessions of the Highl­and and Lowland Churches were joined together as the "Conjoint Kirk Session of Campbeltown”. The union of the Sessions was undoubtedly the outcome of a plan – one might, I think, fairly call it “a plot” --entered into by Mr Stewart and Mr McAlpine, and its object was to make the latter independent of his own Elders, by the votes of the Highland Church Elders - who were more numerous than those of the Lowland Church and were under Mr Stewart’s thumb. Whether the union of the two Sessions always worked out exactly as the two Ministers expected it would, and whether some of their successors have not had cause to regret the action then taken, I do not know; but, after a careful study of the Kirk Session’s records, I have no hesitation in saying that the union ultimately proved very beneficial to both Churches. I cannot find in the Session's minutes any instances of serious friction between the two bodies of Elders, and the Elders of each Church seem to have been left to manage the domestic concerns of their respective Churches. Further, the union of the two Sessions undoubtedly greatly added to the power and influence of the Kirk Session in Campbeltown, and it certainly was of immense assistance to both Churches, at certain critical times in their history, especially so im­mediately after the Disruption of 1843.

No one who has not read the Kirk Session's records can form any idea of the influence and power of the Conjoint session, up to comparatively recent times, in Campbeltown. Besides managing the affairs of the Churches, the Session controlled poor relief and, to a great extent, education, and it was, above all, a very powerful ecclesiastical court, exercising a very vilgilant jurisdiction, not only over offences against morality, but over comparatively trifling details in the domestic affairs of the people. Here in Campbeltown two old ladies, in CIockie's Close or the Parliament Square, could not indulge in the luxury of a “tongueing match" without their being before the Session, and being fined or otherwise punished, and, I suppose, much the same state of affairs, pre­vailed in other parishes in Scotland.

As an instance of the power of the Kirk Session, I may tell you a story I read in the Session's minutes. I don't think that in telling it now I am guilty of any great breach of confidence, or that I am being very injudicious, for all those concerned have long been "gathered to their fathers” and, even if they were alive now, no one would think a penny the worse of them for the parts they played in the incident, about which I am going to tell you.

Those of you, who are as old as I am, probably remember Provost Beith, "John Beith, Junior," as he signed himself till the day of his death. I remember him as a little, bent, old gentleman, always soberly dressed in baggy black trousers, a long black frock coat, a black neckcloth and a tall hat, and always carrying a large umbrella, which he gripped well by the middle. He was for fifteen years Provost of Campbel­town, was “The Provost" of my young  days, and was deservedly the most popular and respected Campbeltonian of his time. Well, in his young days, in 1836, John Beith fought a duel here in Campbeltown. Other persons engaged in it were Mr George Harvey and Capt. Hector McLean, both well-known Camp­beltonians. We are not told in the minutes what the duel fought was about, nor what weapons were used. Presum­ably, an exchange of pistol shots took place - happily without either combatant being wounded; but the duel was, apparently, quite a serious affair and, possibly, it was the last regular duel fought in Scotland. I believe the Quarry Green was the place of the encounter. In due course the gentlemen concerned were hauled up before the Session. They all apologised to the Session and expressed great regret for the parts they had played in the duel, and Mr Beith and Mr Harvey, when questioned by the Session, admitted that duelling was illegal, wicked and immoral: but Capt. M'Lean refused to express any opinion on that general question. In the end Mr Beith, who was an Elder, was suspended from that office for a period which, I think, ultimately extended to about two years, and the other gentlemen were dis­missed from the bar with an admonition and a warning to be more circumspect in their conduct in future. It was the Disruption which destroyed the power of the Kirk Sessions. As long as there was only one session in each parish, it was powerful and its edicts were respected; but with the advent of two or three wee sessions, each competing with the others, their influence, outside church affairs, rapidly became negligible.

The row which took place when Mr McAlpine was appointed Minister of the Lowland Church was a mere "storm in a tea cup” compared with that which occurred when Mr George Robertson was nominated as his successor by the Duke of Argyll (the 4th Duke) in 1763.  Mr Robertson, twenty years later, received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Glasgow, and is always re­ferred to in Campbeltown history and legend as "Doctor Robertson," so I shall, in my subsequent remarks, give him that appellation. He had come to Campbeltown, three years before his nomination as Minister of the Lowland Church, as Assistant Master in the Grammar School and, after holding that office for a year, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Kintyre and appointed Assistant to Mr Stewart, the minister of the Highland Church. Almost immediately afterwards he married a daughter of Mr Stewart. During his stay in Campbeltown he had certainly suc­ceeded in making himself thoroughly unpopular with the Lowland people of the place, and the Lowland Congregation were absolutely determined that they would not have him as their Minister if they could possibly prevent his settle­ment. His "call" was only signed by three members of the Lowland Congre­gation, one of whom was the Duke's Chamberlain; but the necessary number of signatures was obtained by allowing members of the Highland Church to sign it. The reasons why the Lowland Con­gregation objected to having Dr Robert­son as their Minister are very fully set forth in the "Old Minute," and, put briefly, they were; that his disposition, manners and bearing were objectionable and had given general offence, that he was insufficiently educated and had been licensed by the Presbytery without his having undergone the necessary train­ing, and that his sermons were very poor, being short and "read in an indifferent and supine manner." Congrega­tional meetings were held; petitions were sent to the Presbytery and to the Duke ; Dr Rowat and Provost Findlay were deputed to go to London and interview His Grace, and the Congregation even offered to pay Dr Robertson for life an annual sum, equal to the difference between his salary as Assistant to Mr Stewart and the stipend of the Minister of the Lowland Church, if he would withdraw his candidature ; but all to no purpose, and he was duly inducted Minister of the Lowland Church in 1763.

That the "Old Minute" is very unfair in its estimate of Dr Robertson is certain. That he was tactless, that his manners were overbearing, or as we would now a days say,  "bossy," and that he was a difficult man to deal with, must be admitted; and, that those un­pleasant features in his disposition per­sisted till the end of his long life, his relations with Dr Norman MacLeod (Senior), when the latter was Minister of the Highland Church, seem to me to indicate; but it is certainly untrue that his education was defective, for his literary attainments were sufficiently good to obtain for him the degree of Doctor of Divinity, the highest honour which his University could give him, and that he was fully qualified to perform ministerial work of a high class, both in and out of the pulpit, his subsequent long and, on the whole, successful ministry clearly proves.

As was to be expected from a man of his disposition, Dr Robertson did nothing in the way of trying to conciliate his Congregation after his appointment. On the contrary, he seems to have abused them frequently from the pulpit, and when he did meet with his Elders, it was only to squabble with them. The Duke, apparently anxious to square matters with the Lowland Congregation, soon offered Dr Robertson a better appoint­ment elsewhere, but he refused the offer, saying to his friends that "he was now in possession and would not give it up for the best Duke in England." In that unsatisfactory state matters drifted on for four years, the breach between Dr Robertson and his Congregation ever growing wider, when, to make a long story short, the vast majority of the Lowland Congregation, " fed up " with seventeen years of constant strife with two Ministers whose services had been forced on them against their inclinations and in spite of their protests, seceded from the Lowland Church and formed them­selves into what is now the Longrow Congregation. That I am justified in stating that the great majority of the Congregation then left the Lowland Church is certain, for twelve hundred and seventeen sittings were engaged in the old Longrow Church before it was completed, and the seceders were able to guarantee a building fund of over Ł1400, a large sum in those days, to pay for build­ing that church. There can be no doubt that practically all the Elders and the heads of all the most important lowland families in the town were among the seceders, and the remnant of the Lowland Congregation, which remained in the Kirk Street Kirk with Dr Robertson, seems to have consisted mostly of the local lairds and their followers, and of the dependants of the Argyll Family.


Part 4 in November

Return to Page One

Wee Drams

Page  2:    A History of the Gilchrists - continued

Page  3:    In Campbeltown Again.

Page  4:    The Lowland Church of Campbeltown from its Foundation ................ - Part Three

Page  5:    Heather MacFarlane's Page

Page  6:    A Scottish Quiz

Page  7:    EMPTY

Page  8:    By Hill and Shore - Part Two

The A.I.B. Stewart Page - EMPTY