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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter XXI


1843 and After—Rev. Henry Douglas — His Amiability— “Rabbi Duncan”—Work at Saline and Alexandria—Douglas and M‘Cheyne engaged to Sisters—Inducted to Kilsyth—Reception—William Henry—Douglas’s Personal Appearance— Delicate Health and Death—Rev. Alex. Hill—Preaching and Urbanity—A Distinguished Family—A. K. H. Boyd—Church Membership—Galloway Bequest—Translation to St. Andrews —Dr. Park—“In like manner I shall go”—St. Andrews Session Minute.

In 1843 the Church in many places received a double blow. The resignation of ministers beloved and trusted was an injury in itself of a serious kind. On the other hand, it was often the case that the ministers called to fill the numerous vacancies were by no means possessed of the talents of those who had seceded. In the emergency, men of mediocre power were promoted to parishes which, otherwise, they never would have had the least chance of obtaining. Such appointments were, without doubt, greatly hurtful. But there was no one to blame. The Church had to work with such tools as she found at the crisis lying to her hand. In the circumstances, picking and choosing were out of the question, and so the vacant pulpits were replenished and the work went on. And it was attended with a success which far surpassed the most sanguine expectations of the Church’s best friends. The sowing in tears was succeeded by a reaping time of joy. From the ground the Church rose rapidly to be a power and influence for good in the land she had never been before.

In Kilsyth the Church had only one of these sufferings to bear. Dr. Bums, but coldly welcomed at the first, had in the course of his ministry established himself in the respect and esteem of the parishioners. When he seceded, consequently a considerable number seceded with him. Although on the Sunday after his return from Edinburgh there were not a dozen worshippers who gathered in the parish church, there was still a much larger number that remained faithful. And these had no occasion to hang their heads because of any short-coming in his successor. Than Henry Douglas a better appointment could hardly have been made. He was a man of singular loving-kindness, of gentle and urbane manners, and of agreeable and friendly disposition. He was deeply read in Scripture, a man full of the Holy Ghost, and a minister who knew nothing amongst his parishioners saving Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He fed the flock with the finest of the wheat. Certainly he led them by the still waters. I have looked over all his sermons, and not one have I found dealing with the prevailing controversies* or openly expressed malice of the times and circumstances amidst which his lot had been cast. He received from many in the parish indignities and’insults, but he walked straight onward in the footsteps of his Master. He did not return railing for railing, and being reviled he reviled not again. And the result of his beautiful patience and tenderness is a memory that is sacred, a name that is fragrant like an ointment poured out, and a lingering regret in the place of his ministry that as a faithful ambassador of Christ he was neither honoured nor appreciated as he ought to have been. In the place where he worked as a probationer, and in the first parish to which he was appointed he was honoured in his life; in the parish of Kilsyth, however, the esteem that has been extended to him has been entirely of a posthumous character. It is only on looking back, the people of Kilsyth recognise his moral dignity and spiritual elevation.

The father of Henry Douglas was the Rev. James Douglas, minister of Stewarton. Mr. Douglas was ordained to Stewarton on the last Thursday of May, 1793, and he was married to a lady named Annabella Todd on the 15th January, 1795. He had a family of seven sons and six daughters; amongst the latter were twins. Janet Douglas, the fourth child, was born nth Feb., 1802. Her first husband was Dr. John Torrance, surgeon, Kilmarnock. Her second husband was the well-known peripatetic philosopher and colloquialist, the Rev. Dr. (“Rabbi”) Duncan, to whom she was married in 1840. To the professor she bore one daughter, named Maria Dorothea, after the Empress of Austria. She received her name at the request of the empress. The Rev. James Douglas died at Stewarton on the 11th April, 1826. His widow died at the manse of Kilsyth on the 19th July, 1847, aged seventy-three years, and was buried at Stewarton.

Henry Douglas was the fourth son of the family, and was born at Stewarton, 30th August, 1811. Through his mother he was related to the Wallaces of Ayrshire. Having completed his course at the University of Glasgow, he was appointed parochial assistant in Saline parish. The young man at once gave evidence of his fitness for the profession he had chosen. The ladies presented him with a magnificent chronometer in appreciation of “his unwearied zeal and ability in the discharge of his duties.” On the 22nd April, 1841, he was ordained to the charge of Alexandria. There he was even more appreciated than he had been in Saline, and as a preacher he became so widely and favourably know, that when the secession took place he was very much sought after. At Alexandria, he was joined by his mother and Annie Arnot, the old nurse of the family. The latter, as she had attended him at the beginning of his life, was also to be with him at the end. Henry Douglas never married. He and the Rev. Robert Murray M'Cheyne were engaged to two sisters, the Misses M-, daughters of a respectable west-county family. The lady to whom Mr. Douglas was to be married fell a prey to consumption, and died at Madeira. To this disease, Mr. Douglas and Mr. M'Cheyne also succumbed. When it became known that their minister had accepted a call to Kilsyth, the people of Alexandria were possessed of a feeling of universal regret. They confessed they had been richly benefited by his ministry, and they highly approved of his conduct during the time of the Patronage conflict He preached his last sermon in Alexandria Church on the 24th September, 1843.

On the Thursday following, Henry Douglas was inducted minister of Kilsyth. Principal M'Farlane conducted the service. On the succeeding Sunday, the 1st October, 1843, he was introduced by the Rev. Mr. Dun of Cardross, and at the second diet of worship he preached his introductory sermon. His text was 2 Cor. x. 4, “ For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the putting down of strongholds.” The sermon was of a weighty character, and both it and the manner of the preacher—not demonstrative, but full of quiet earnestness—had in them a promise of blessing for the future. In March, 1844, when he dispensed his first sacrament, there communicated 210. In the July of the same year, 237. At the July sacrament of 1846, there communicated 246, and in the July of the following year, 239. The former session. clerk having seceded, refused to deliver over the church records and plate. The session, which consisted of the Very Rev. Dr. Smith, the present minister of Cathcart, and two elders, by the advice of the presbytery were on the point of taking strong measures before the Civil Court, when, the books and vessels having been restored, further proceedings were rendered unnecessary. This was exceedingly fortunate for the new minister, as it freed him from all legal entanglements, and allowed him at once to proceed with his proper pastoral and spiritual work. He paid no attention to the divisions that existed, and seems to have regarded it as his duty to visit the body of the parishioners. By a large portion he was kindly welcomed; by a few, he was not. The field was unpromising at the first. He was not, however, many months settled when he began to see the work of the Lord prospering in his hands.

Mr. Douglas extended the session—a work in Kilsyth and the West often attended with considerable difficulty.

On the 12th Jan., 1847, he opened a parish library. The session did not now order families to quit the parish, but they still educated a large number of poor children free of expense, and they took pains to see that every child which received this privilege was regular in attendance at public worship. Evidences are not wanting that the wages of a collier was four shillings a day, and of a weaver a very little more per week. In the case of a birth of triplets the session allowed 3s. 6d. a week for » the nursing of one of the children. William Henry was appointed church officer in 1847. He occupied that position for over forty years, and during that long period he was only twice off duty!

In personal appearance the Rev. Henry Douglas was tall and slight and fair. He had an intellectual appearance, and there hung about him an air of refinement, both in look and manner. Some time after his induction, his health began to fail. When riding one winter day to Kirkintilloch to preach, he caught a severe cold. His illness began with clerical sore throat. That he might throw off his disagreeable symptoms, he passed the dead of the Scottish winters in Spain and elsewhere. In 1847, he went to the West Indies. Whilst in Jamaica, on a visit to his brothers, he rallied in health so much that he was able to preach in the Scotch church at Kingston. He was offered the charge of the church, and was tempted to accept it. The illness of his mother, however, hurried him home. After he had laid her to rest, he felt his own days were numbered. When he was struck down for the last time, he wrote to a near friend: —“All my hope and contemplation in death is derived from that glorious Gospel which I have endeavoured, however weakly and imperfectly, to declare to you, so that if I was spared, I would have no new gospel but much added experience of the preciousness of Christ as all my salvation and all my desire.” His sister, Mrs. Duncan, was with him at the last, and to her he spoke these his last words:—“For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” It was a beautiful departure, full of Christian peace and trust. He preached his last sermon in Kilsyth Church on the 1st April, 1849. The text was Heb. vi. 18: “That by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” He died on the 15th June, 1849. His garden was his only recreation, and many of his flowers were in richest bloom.

Alexander Hill was a very different man from Henry Douglas, but their differences fitted him all the better for carrying on that work which his predecessor did so well. The nature of Douglas was the more spiritual, that of Hill the more warm and kindly. Hill mingled amongst his parishioners after a manner Douglas never did and could never do. He came nearer and closer to them. To Douglas, Kilsyth was the terminus of his ecclesiastical career, to Hill it was the starting point. But he should never have gone, and left to his better judgment he never would. He was happy in Kilsyth, he with his parishioners and his parishioners with him. It was his first place, his first parish. He came young and untried, but he at once gave evidence of the possession of those gifts and graces which the circumstances most required. He had a fine presence, and a full-toned mellifluous voice, which remained with him to the last. The voice was a family possession, and recalled with marvellous distinctness the utterance of his distinguished father, and still more distinguished grandfather.

His leanings were evangelical. But his sermons were neither so high nor so low, neither so broad nor so narrow, as to set the mind of the worshipper off at a tangent thinking of the preacher’s school. They were of a type that had been enormously powerful in its day, but then beginning to wear out of date. In his devotional service he was most like himself. You could go along with him without difficulty. You felt he was taking your burden of sin and laying it where it ought to be laid. In prayer it was as if he held your hand ip his, and was leading the reluctant penitent back to the Father. And in all his nature there was not a trace of the Pharisee. Not a feather of the plumage had been pencilled. It was a pleasure to be in the presence of a nature so hearty, so unaffected, so open, so wholly unselfish. Men felt they could be—what they could very seldom be with clergymen—at home with him. He could rejoice with the joyful, and weep with the sorrowful, and in neither was there taint of insincerity. It was there his power lay. He got at men’s sympathies. The rich and poor alike owned his influence. At a meeting of old people ten days before he died, when he saw an old blind fishwife sitting in an out-of-the-way comer, he went to her and said—“Kitty, you won’t hear so far down, you must come up a bit.” Kitty replied—“Oh, Mr. Hill, I am so blind, I could not find my way.” “Come with me, take my arm Kate,” said the minister, and drawing one of her withered hands in his, he took her and seated her at the top of the table. There was a coming and going, and the incident attracted little attention, but one who saw it correctly observed—“Look at Mr. Hill, he is as happy with Kitty on his arm as if she had been the Queen.” He knew nothing of those poor, false assumptions of condescension practised—and never without detection— for the purpose of getting round people. His actions were spontaneous. The true minister. The true gentleman.

When the young minister came to Kilsyth he bore with him an honourable name. He was off those Hills who had been influential in the Church for generations. He was the son of Dr. Alexander Hill, first minister of Dailly, and then Professor of Systematic Theology in the University of Glasgow. He was the grandson of Dr. George Hill, who was a graduate when he was fifteen, and a Professor of Greek in St. Leonard’s College when he was twenty-two, who afterwards became minister of St. Andrews, and Principal and Primarius Professor in St. Mary’s College, St. Andrews, and the fame of whose “ Lectures in Divinity ” is still in all the Churches both of Great Britain and America. And there was what some will hold to be a more honourable connection still. He was a direct descendant of the masterful Principal Carstares, who had saved the Church, as has been noticed, in an eventful crisis of her history. If the Kilsyth parishioners felt proud of their young pastor, had they not good reason?

Alexander Hill was a student of the University of Glasgow. As a young man, he was buoyant and hopeful, and held in good regard by all his companions. One of his college friends was A. K. H. Boyd, who was two years behind him in his university course. On the Sunday after he was licensed, the 7th January, 1849, he preached twice; in the forenoon, in the Barony, when a large number of his fellow-students gathered, interested, to witness the starting of their friend in professional life; in the afternoon, in the Tron Church, when his future colleague was again with him, as might have been expected, seeing the Tron was then his father’s parish. The afternoon subject was “The hope that maketh not ashamed.” To most young men, the first service is much of a trial, and somewhat of a strain, on the nervous sensibilities. The young man, however, acquitted himself more than creditably. He conducted the services after a manner which justified prognostications of a bright future.

Mr. Hill’s probationary period was of the shortest. Before the year was out, he was the minister elect of Kilsyth. The people had their choice, and they chose him. The day of his ordination was the 20th December. It was a beautiful winter day; overhead the sky was clear, and underfoot the ground was hard-bound with frost. As Mr. Hill and his friend, Mr. Boyd, who was again with him, were walking through the village in the evening, after the solemn services of the ordination were over, they witnessed one of those magnificent sunsets which come to the parish with the winter solstice. In Kilsyth, the winter sunsets are far more glorious spectacles than those of the summer. Looking back upon that evening, Dr. Boyd says, "The sky was red, and, as the great sombre disc of the sun went down, we saw against it the handsome square tower of that pretty church which was now his own.” And so the two young men parted to see little of each other till a regardless fate yoked them together as fellow-workers in the same field.

The work of the parish prospered in Mr. Hill’s hands. The church attendances became as large as they had ever been. In the winter of 1852, 331 communicants sat down at the tables. This number implies a membership nearly double, for, in Kilsyth, the numbers communicating are now, and have always been, small in proportion to the number of members in connection with the church. But this was not the full strength of the church, for, in the October of that year, when Mr. Hill dispensed the sacrament at Banton, there were 84 members belonging to that district who partook of the communion. In the June of i860, Mr. Hill broke the bread of life amongst the people of Kilsyth for the last time, and on that occasion 302 communicated. It was during the incumbency of Mr. Hill, and on the 22nd Dec., 1854, the kirk session, after full consideration, fixed the third Sunday of June, and the third Sunday of November, as the dates of the six-monthly communions, and these dates have remained unchanged until now. A set of new communion tokens was struck in 1852, and these remained in use till the incumbency of the Rev. R. Hope Brown, when cards were issued as being found more serviceable.

Happy is the church that has no history. With the exception of one little thing—a difference with a member of session which necessitated presbyterial action—the time of his ministry in Kilsyth was spent in great comfort. Of course he had his domestic trials and sorrows—for eleven years is a large period in the life of a clergyman. Too soon was Jane Horn, his first wife, taken from him. The oldest daughter became the wife of Dr. W. W. Tulloch, of Maxwell Church, Glasgow. In Nov., 1859, he married, a second time, Jane Reid. There was an addition made to the manse. Scanty are the opportunities which parishioners get of doing their minister a favour. The only opportunity the farmers had was the yearly ploughing of the glebe. It was a notable day, and the turn-out of ploughs was wholly out of proportion to the work to be done. Such things are not trifling; properly considered, they are “significant of much.” In Mr. Hill’s time, the town drummer appears only to have earned two shillings a week, and the cotton weavers from eight to nine shillings. The Galloway bequest also dates from his time. The first notice of it in the session books is at a meeting held on the 17th Oct, 1854. It was left by Mrs. Captain Galloway, whose husband had been born in the parish. The whole fund only amounted to ^83 3s. nd. The interest was to be devoted to the “poor and needy of Kilsyth parish in such proportion as said minister and elders for the time may judge proper.”

The last meeting of kirk session of which Mr. Hill acted as moderator was held on the 17th September, i860. To remove from the parish of Kilsyth to the second charge of the parish of St. Andrews was to go not one, but several steps down. He took these steps down for three reasons. First, because he was urgently and repeatedly asked to accept the position. Secondly, because promises were made that he would be no pecuniary loser. And thirdly, because no hope could be held out to him of the first charge unless he took the second. The one was the portal to the other. It is not with the collegiate charge of St. Andrews as it is with so many other collegiate charges. The one is not nearly so valuable as the other. The second is related to the first as the chapel to the cathedral. Thinking of the circumstances, Mr. Hill hung back. Eventually he yielded to the urgency of the solicitation and went. Mr. Hill addressed himself to his work with all his heart He was on the friendliest footing with Dr. Park, his colleague; agencies were started which had never existed before, and, so far, all went well. There were promises, however, which had not been kept, and when at Dr. Park’s death the first charge had to be filled up, the committee appointed the present incumbent. Mr. Hill was passed over, his claims were disregarded. It was a heavy blow, and he never recovered from it. He felt he did not deserve the treatment that had been measured out to him; he knew he had good reason to expect other courses, and it broke him down. If he could have been persuaded to exercise the influence at his back it would have been different, but he would not; and so the matter ended as it did. Without either a murmur or an angry word, Mr. Hill went on his way; but often he turned his thoughts back to Kilsyth, to the happy times he had spent there, and to a people who knew how to be kind. Dr. Park and Mr. Hill were sitting together at a Choral Union concert when the former was taken suddenly ill. Mr. Hill went home with him, and stayed with him till midnight, when he passed away. It was heart disease. When Mr. Hill returned to his own house, he said, “ When the town wakes up there will be sorrow in St. Andrews. Ah! well, in like manner I shall go, I feel it here,” and he laid his hand on his heart. And so it was. Equally sudden was the call; and equally great the sorrow. Eleven years in Kilsyth, fourteen years in St. Andrews, that was the length of his ministry.

On the nth January, 1875, the St. Andrews Session passed the following minute:—

“The Kirk Session having this day met, it was moved, seconded, and unanimously resolved, to enter upon their minutes their deep regret on account of the loss they have sustained through the sudden death of the Reverend Alexander Hill, Minister of the Second Charge of this Parish, whose kindly and genial manner to all classes of the Parishioners, and whose sound and faithful preaching of the Gospel of Christ, combined with diligence in pastoral duty, and the care of the sick, the aged, and the young, gained for him the regard and esteem of the community.

(Signed) A. K H. Boyd, D.D., Moderator.”


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