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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
James Alexander Haldane, Esq., Minister of the Tabernacle, Leith Walk


Kay's Portrait, taken at the period of his greatest popularity, represents Mr. James Alexander Haldane—a gentleman who has for more than forty years devoted himself gratuitously, and with exemplary assiduity, to the preaching of the gospel; and whose proceedings, as well as those of his elder brother, Robert Haldane, Esq., of Airthrey, at one time at least, attracted much interest, not only in Edinburgh, but throughout Scotland.

Mr. James Haldane was the posthumous son of Captain James Haldane of Airthrey, and an immediate descendant of the Haldanes of Glenagles, in Perthshire, one of the most ancient and highly connected baronial families in Scotland. His mother was the daughter of Alexander Duncan, Esq. of Lundie Castle, near Dundee, and the sister of Admiral Lord Viscount Duncan. He was born on the 14th July, 1768, at Dundee, within one fortnight after the death of his father, who was exit off at the early age of thirty-nine, by a sudden illness, in the bloom of manhood. His widow only survived the death of her husband about six years, when her two sons were left under the guardianship of her brothers, Colonel Duncan of Lundie and the Admiral.

Both were educated at the High School and College of Edinburgh, and boarded with Dr. Adam, the well known Rector. At the age of sixteen, Mr. James Haldane entered the service of the East India Company as a Midshipman, on board the Duke of Montrose. He made four voyages to Bengal, Bombay, and China; and, at the age of twenty-five, the earliest period at which the rules of the service permitted him to command a ship, he was appointed to the command of the Melville Castle, previously commanded by Lord Duncan's brother-in-law, Captain Philip Dundas.

His life at sea was distinguished by many of those narrow escapes to which a sailor is often exposed. On ono occasion, when ordered to go aloft to reef the sails, the man next him was knocked from the yard and drowned in the sea. At another time, he fell out of a boat at night, and was only saved by keeping fast hold of the oar with which he had been steering the boat. On another occasion, he had received an appointment as Third Officer of the Foullis Indiaman. He was detained in Scotland longer than he expected, and when he arrived in London the Foullis had sailed. This was a great disappointment; but it turned out to be a most providential circumstance, as the Foullis was never more heard of, and is supposed to have been burned at sea. Various other incidents of the same kind might be related, which were calculated to make an impression on a reflecting mind, and inspire a sense of the providence of God, and the importance of being prepared for eternity.

Immediately after his appointment as Captain of the Melville Castle. Captain Haldane married Miss Mary Joass, the only daughter of Alexander Joass, Esq. of Colleinwart, in Banffshire, by Elizabeth, the eldest sister of the celebrated General Sir Ralph Abercromby. The circumstance of his marriage was calculated to foster a desire to remain at home; but the situation he held as Captain of an East India-man was at that period the sure road to fortune, and more especially in the case of Mr. Haldane, who had the double support of his own and his wife's connections—the former securing to him the patronage of Lord Melville, the President of the Board of Control—and the latter, the patronage of Sir Robert Abercromby, the Governor of Bombay and Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in India.

During the months Mr. Haldane remained in command of the Melville Castle at Spithead, a mutiny took place on board the Dutton, which gave occasion for the display of that daring courage and presence of mind for which he was at all times conspicuous. It was occasioned by the Captain of the Dutton sending a man-of-war's boat to have several of his men pressed for some real or alleged act of insubordination. The mutiny broke out in the night—shots were fired— and one man was killed. It was under these circumstances that Captain Haldane ordered out his boat, and went alongside the Dutton. The mutineers threatened him with death if he attempted to come on board. The officers and their supporters, on the contrary, invited his assistance. By the exercise of the greatest determination he succeeded in boarding the Dutton, amidst the clamour and menaces of the mutineers, and the cheers of the other party, who now invited him to put himself at their head, and, sword in hand, drive the mutinous crew beneath the hatches. This, proposal, however, he declined; and, going forward alone into the midst of the mutineers, he addressed them on the folly of their conduct, and the certain punishment which would follow if they were successful in overcoming their officers. The result was, that order was restored without further bloodshed; and Captain Haldane, who had always been popular as an officer, was on all hands complimented for this service.

It was, however, about this time that a great change was effected in the mind of Captain Haldane. It was not sudden, but gradual. The following is his own simple and interesting account, in a letter to one of his messmates:—"I had a book by me which, from prejudice of education, and not from any rational conviction, I called the Word of God. I never got so far as to profess infidelity, but I was a more inconsistent character. I said I believed a book to be a revelation from God, while I treated it with the greatest neglect, living in direct opposition to all its precepts, and seldom taking the trouble to look into it, or, if I did, it was to perform a task—a kind of atonement for my sins. I went on in this course till, while the Melville Gaatle was detained at the Motherbank by contrary winds, and having abundance of leisure time for reflection. I began to think I would pay a little more attention to this book. The more I read it, the more .worthy it appeared of God; and, after examining the evidences with which Christianity is supported, I became fully persuaded of its truth." Instead of being careless and indifferent about religion, he now came to see its great importance; and he determined to be content with his own and his wife's fortune, and to quit the pursuit of superfluous wealth. After he adopted this resolution, it appeared difficult to accomplish the necessary arrangements for resigning the command before the sailing of the East India fleet. The fleet, which had already been long delayed by contrary winds, was however detained for several weeks longer, and a gentleman was in the meantime found, properly qualified by his service, and also able to advance the money which was in those days necessary to purchase the transfer of so lucrative an appointment.

Nothing was further from Mr. Haldane's purpose at this time than to become a preacher. It was his intention to purchase an estate, and lead the quiet life of a country gentleman. But, while residing in Edinburgh, he became acquainted with the late excellent Mr. Black, minister of Lady Yester's, and Dr. Buchanan, of the Canongate Church, and others, through whom he was introduced to several pious men actively engaged in schemes of usefulness. His enterprising mind gradually became interested in their plans; and he was further stimulated to engage in preaching by the visit of the celebrated Mr. Simeon, of King's College, Cambridge, whom he accompanied in a tour from Edinburgh through a considerable part of the Highlands of Perthshire.

Shortly afterwards, his brother, Mr. Robert Haldane, determined to sell his estates, and to devote his life and property to the diffusion of the gospel in India. "With this view, having sold to the late Sir Robert Abercromby his beautiful and romantic estate of Airthrey, he applied to the East India Company for permission to go to Bengal with three clergymen, the Rev. Mr. Innes, then of Stirling, the Rev. Dr. Bogue, of Gosport, and Mr. Greville Ewing, then assistant minister at Lady Glenorchy's Church, Edinburgh. Mr. Haldane was to have defrayed all the charges of this mission, and was also bound to pay to each of his associates the sum of .£3000, and their passage home, in case they chose to return. This benevolent design was frustrated by the refusal of the East India Company to grant their sanction to a plan, the magnitude of which excited their alarm; and both Mr. Haldane and his brother therefore resolved to devote themselves to the preaching of the gospel at home.

Mr. James Haldane preached his first sermon in May, 1797, in the village of Gilmerton, near Edinburgh, then a very neglected spot, and, as now, inhabited by colliers. Mr. Haldane subsequently attracted great attention, and frequently has been known to address in the open air, on the Calton Hill of Edinburgh, very large congregations, attracted by the novelty of a layman and Captain being the preacher.

In the summer of 1797, Mr. Haldane made a very extended tour, in company with his friends Mr. Aikman and Mr. Bait, now minister of Alnwick, through the northern counties of Scotland and the Orkney Isles. This tour, partly from the novelty of lay preaching, and partly from the other circumstances, produced a great sensation. The people came out in crowds to hear; and while doubtless much good was effected, not a little irritation was awakened in other quarters. In the following summer the Rev. Rowlaud Hill, the uncle of Lord Hill, visited Scotland with a view of preaching. In his published journal he gives a graphic description of his first interview with Mr. James Haldane. He had arrived at Langholm, where he met Mr. Haldane, accompanied by Mr. Aikman, who were on an itinerating tour through the south of Scotland. "These gentlemen," says Mr. Hill, "were then unknown to me. I was told, but in very candid language, their errand and design; that it was a marvellous circumstance, quite a phenomenon, that an East India Captain—a gentleman of good family and connections—should turn out an itinerant preacher; that he should travel from town to town, and all against his own interest and character. This information was enough for me. I immediately sought out the itinerants. "When I inquired for them of the landlady of the inn, she told me she supposed I meant the two priests who were at her house; but she could not satisfy me what religion they were of. The two priests, however, and myself soon met; and to our mutual satisfaction, passed the evening together."

The following extract from Mr. Hill's dedication of part of his work to Mr. Haldane is so characteristic that we insert it:—

"You was educated for a maritime life, and from a situation creditable and lucrative, commenced a peddling preacher, crying your wares from town to town at a low rate—indeed 'without money and without price,' and scattering religious tracts as you travel from place to place; while it was my lot to be bred to the trade, and to serve a regular apprenticeship for the purpose; but, being spoilt in the manufacturing, I never received but forty shillings (a story too trivial to relate) by my occupation as a Churchman. Affluence is a snare; a decent independent competency is a blessing—a blessing, if thereby we can preach Jesus freely, and prove to the poor of the flock that we can sacrifice our own profit if we can be profitable to them."

Hitherto neither of the Messrs. Haldane had left the Church of Scotland; but the visits of Mr. Simeon and Mr. E. Hill had so much increased the excitement which existed on the part of the General Assembly, that a "Pastoral Admonition" was issued warning the people against the new preachers, and particularly prohibiting Episcopal ministers from England, like Mr. Simeon or Mr. Hill, to occupy the pulpits of the Scottish Church. This very soon compelled the Messrs. Haldane and their friends to secede from the Church. Mr. E. Haldane, at an expense of upwards of £30,000, purchased or erected large chapels in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Dumfries, Perth, and many other places. Mr. James Haldane became the minister of the newly-erected chapel in Leith Walk, called the Tabernacle—so named after Mr. Whitefield's places of worship. To keep up the interest of the people, eminent ministers from England were invited to preach in the Tabernacle; and, although it seated more people than any other church in Edinburgh, it was for many years crowded to excess.

In the year 1808, however, certain changes being made in the mode of conducting the divine service in the morning, which were very ill calculated to attract popularity, the attendance fell off; and, the Tabernacle being too large for the regular congregation, the lower part was converted to other purposes. Mr. Haldane still preaches to a large congregation; and, during the forty years he has been so engaged, his disinterested labours have rather been the occasion of his spending than of his receiving money. The seats are all free; and he derives no emolument whatever from his office.

Had it been the object of the Messrs. Haldane to gain a name, and become the founders of a sect, their ambition might easily have been gratified. The success which attended their joint labours was at first very great, and their chapels were well attended. But this never formed any part of their scheme; and their adoption of Baptist sentiments separated them from many of those with whom they formerly acted. Since the agitation of the voluntary question, they have taken no part in opposition to the Established Church, considering it to be rather a political than a religious controversy.

In the early part of their career their motives were often questioned; and it happened more than once that Mr. James Haldane was interrupted by the civil authorities when preaching in the open air. This happened, in particular, at Ayr, at North Berwick, and in Aberdeen; and on one occasion an action might have been brought against an Argyleshire magistrate for arresting Mr. Haldane and Mr. John Campbell, since well known as a missionary and traveller in Africa. Mr. Haldane, however, contented himself, after having been liberated by the sheriff, with going over the same ground which he had previously intended; and the interest excited by his arrestment drew forth such numbers to hear him as amply compensated for his previous interruption.

Mr. Robert Haldane has been also laboriously engaged in the same work to which both he and his brother devoted themselves in their early manhood. On the Continent, and particularly at Geneva, and at Montambau, Mr. Haldane resided for several years after the peace, and was the means of effecting much good among the ministers and theological students in these celebrated Protestant seminaries. Ho has also expended very large sums in the education of young men as ministers, both in England, Scotland, and the Continent. We believe the number amounts to little short of four hundred. Among these there are now several men of great eminence, such as Principal Dewar of Aberdeen, Dr. Russell of Dundee, Mr. James of Birmingham, Drs. Paterson, Henderson, &c. Mr. Robert Haldane has also published several works of very considerable value, particularly one on the Evidences of Christianity, and another containing a very elaborate Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans.

Mr. James Haldane has three services every Sunday at the Tabernacle, as well as a week-day service; and his labours in Edinburgh, together with his former numerous itinerating tours through Scotland, and also in England and Ireland, have been the means of awakening thousands to concern for their eternal welfare. It was remarked by a late eminent minister of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, that when conversing with his communicants, it was surprising in how many instances they attributed their first serious impressions to Mr. Haldane's preaching. Both brothers still continue with unabated energy to pursue the same schemes of usefulness. At the period they commenced their public career, towards the end of the last century, evangelical doctrine was at a very low ebb in Scotland; and through their instrumentality, in no small degree, has it been owing that so striking a revival has since taken place.


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