Though there is no record
left as to when the Christian faith reached this part of Scotland, there is
ample evidence of the manner of its approach, for the brave and venturesome
pioneers of the Gospel have left indelible marks upon our rocky coast.
The celebrated missionaries
of Iona approached our land and its people from the sea. They occupied some
uninhabited islet which they made the base from which to reach the people of
the mainland. That was their method, a method of peaceful penetration. They
had no sword except that of the Spirit. They had no lord to whom they owed
allegiance except the unseen Lord of the soul, whose commission they sought
to fulfil as the supreme end of life.
Columba himself was called
"the island soldier" and his followers adopted his method, as they
manifested his spirit, in the work of evangelisation. The names of our
islets still sing their glory. Eilean-nan-ron is not the isle of the seals,
as is commonly supposed, but the isle of Ronan, a Columban saint. The stance
and remains of his cell are still on the island. Eilean na Naoimh, the isle
of the saints, points to its occupation by those devoted Gospel heroes of
the unknown past. Eilean a Chonnaidh does not mean, as is generally
supposed, the island on which the people of Oldshore pick up broken pieces
of wreckage for firewood, but the habitation of the Mission Band or
Brotherhood, Eilean a Chomhnuidh. It became their residence, their
headquarters. So also Port Chalaigeag is a name given, not by the
inhabitants of the coast, but by people approaching it from the sea. Ronan
and his men left their coracle in Port Chalaigeag, the little wee harbour,
while they evangelised the countryside.
In those far off days there
were no people round Loch Laxford, and the Missionaries did not frequent it.
But at a later date they found a harbour of refuge from the sea, as many
another has since done, in Eilean-nan-Eireannach, the Isle of the Irishmen.
Loch Doughall (Dugald's Loch) is a name that points in the same direction,
the Irish or Argyllshire name of some venturesome soul who did his work and
passed away, leaving the mark of his name upon our rocky shores in the
Those men came to our coast
with a song in their hearts. The gladness of the Gospel story bore them over
the waves, and enabled them to endure the untold hardships of the sea, and
the privations of life upon its uninhabited islands. Their faith sustained
them, and they met all the dangers and trials of their lot with a triumphant
hymn of praise.
I walk secure and blessed
In every clime and coast,
In Name of God, the Father,
The Son, and Holy Ghost.
We are all their debtors.
Little or nothing is known of
the religious life of the people during the silent centuries that lie
between the introduction of Christianity and the period of the Reformation.
Durness was the point from which the Church reached the people from Kylesku
to Borgie river. That whole district was one parish in the diocese of
Caithness. Balnacille was the centre from which all religious influence
emanated till the year 1726 when the parish was divided into three, namely,
Durness, Eddrachillis, and Tongue. The minister who was then in Durness,
George Brodie, chose to leave it and come to live in Badcall Scourie, as the
first minister of the parish. He died in 1740.
The most prominent minister
in the Reay Country in the period between the Reformation and the Revolution
was Alexander Munro of Durness whose truly apostolic labours were greatly
blessed. He round the people sadly ignorant of the Gospel and wholly
illiterate. They were, however, fond of music and song, a trait of character
which he cultivated and used as a means of evangelisation. He composed
hymns, in which the fundamental and experimental truths of religion were
expressed in memorable form, and set them to easy and popular music. In this
way he induced the people to recite and sing the Gospel in their homes, at
their ceilidhs, and at their work. Mr. Munro's hymns, Laoidhean Mhaighstir
Alasdair, as they were called, were widely known and highly popular in this
part of his wide parish.
Before his death in 1643, an
Englishman, a refugee from the non-conformist persecutions of the period,
sought refuge in the remote fastnesses of An Ceathramh Garbh. His name was
George Squair, a native of Warrwickshire. He set himself to learn the Gaelic
language, which he so mastered that he was able to preach to the people in
their native tongue.
With no ecclesiastical
status, and with no salary he did the work of an evangelist in what was then
a needy corner.
He lived happily among the
people as one of themselves. His haunt, however, was discovered by the
authorities, and red coats were sent to find him. When hotly pursued on one
occasion he saw a girl weeding potatoes, which were then coming into use in
these parts. He asked her what she was doing, and she replied, "Weeding
potatoes." "And have you while so engaged any thought about the interests of
your soul?" he asked. "Yes," she said. "While weeding I am praying that the
Lord may weed the love of sin out of my heart." "If that be so" he said,
"you will try to conceal me from my persecutors, who are close behind, and,
in doing so, tell the truth." "Come quickly, then," she said, "and lie down
in this deep furrow, and I will hide you with weeds."
When the soldiers arrived and
asked if she had seen Mr. Squair, she said: "Yes, he came the way you've
come, and stood where you are standing: if you are active you may catch him
soon." They hurried on their way, and when they were well out of sight he
Ev'n as a bird out of the
Escapes away, so is our soul set free.
He married a native of the
parish, that same young woman, it may be. A daughter of this marriage
married a Mr. Munro, a native of the parish of Rosskeen, who held land near
Dun-robin, which is now part of the home farm there. They had a son, George,
who became the celebrated minister of Farr from 1754 to 1775, and whose
generous hospitality Rob Donn, in his poem on The Presbytery, and in another
piece, only one verse of which is extant, has immortalised.
During the period of the
covenanting struggle the sacrament of the Lord's Supper could be observed
only with great secrecy by the dispossessed ministers. The blessing
attending Mr. Squair's ministry was such that a strong desire was felt by
his followers in the parish to have a communion service. The two places at
which such services used to be held were Larach-narn-fiord, at
Airidh-nan-Cruithneach, above Scourie, and at a point between Oldshoremore
and Druim-na-gaoithe. Both places were regarded as too open and prominent
for the purpose, and a spot on the riverside between Rhiconich and Loch
Gharbad was selected. Word was sent out privately to those who could be
trusted, and who were known to be interested. About one hundred met on
Sabbath morning. "Those were the more devout and faithful in all the hamlets
in Eddrachillis and Kinlochbervie. They approached the place as if by
stealth, with feelings greatly agitated, but with hearts rising in earnest
supplications that the Lord might grant them His protection and His gracious
presence. When they came to the place they found themselves in the centre of
a glade overgrown with birchwood, and sheltered by wild and beetling rocks.
The pulpit desk was a birch tree, sawn off at a considerable height, and the
tables were formed of turf covered with green, smooth sod.
The service was opened with
singing and prayer, and after reading and a short exposition, and again
singing, Mr. Squair took for his text the words of Thomas when delivered
from his unbelief, "My Lord and my God." The whole service was a memorable
one . . . .
"It was long believed that
Obsdale, in the parish of Rosskeen, was the only place in the north in which
the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was administered during the twenty-eight
years' persecution. It will be seen, however, that the parish of
Kinlochbervie divides with Rosskeen that honourable distinction."
Mr. Squair was for a long
time the only Presbyterian minister in the Reay country. He was eventually
joined by three other persecuted ministers, who travelled by Lochbroom and
Assynt to Eddrachillis. One might be safe there, but four could not be for
long. They resolved on common action. They went to Tongue, where Lord Reay
was supposed to be sympathetic, but he dared not show any sympathy. He
refreshed them secretly, and sent them on to his kinsman at Bighouse. There
they met with similar treatment.
Thence they made their way to
Ulbster House where the Sinclairs were supposed to he friendly. There they
were kindly received and concealed for a time. The Bishop of Caithness had
many sharp and long ears, and Sinclair feared detection. He sent a faithful
messenger to the Earl of Sutherland who was known to be sympathetic, asking
if he could shield the men. He had not been successful in shielding his own
minister, the Rev. John M`Culloch, but he offered the men his protection, if
they could be conveyed privately to Dunrobin.
They were kindly received in
the dead of night from a boat at the jetty below the castle, but the Earl
still feared they might possibly be spies trying to ensnare him. They might
he prelatic detectives on the hunt for big game and large fines. After
consulting the Duchess on the point, it was resolved to invite the men after
supper to conduct a private prayer meeting, the spirit and conduct of which
would discover to their hosts whether they were true men or not. During
worship all suspicions and fears were banished. The visitors revealed
themselves as true men of God, and they were received as the guests of God.
By Golspie Burn there is a
cave, dry and commodious, completely concealed from the ordinary passers-by,
but well known to local people. There the ministers were hidden, and served
from the castle table by the very hands of their host and hostess, till the
(lay of deliverance came. Then they were loud in praise of their protectors.
They are said to have prophesied, as a special revelation of God, that all
the lands of Assynt and the Reay country, over which they had been pursued,
would one day come into the possession of the Sutherland family. The
prophesy was fulfilled in due time.
Mr. Squair was so outworn by
his toils, privations, and sufferings that he was never again able to come
back to Kinlochbervie.
For a long time before
Kinlochbervie was erected into a a parish, it formed part of what was known
as "The Eriboll Mission." An ordained minister, who did not enjoy the status
of a parish minister, was appointed to the mission. He had to preach in
Melness, Eriboll, and Kinlochbervie, on successive Sabbath days. Travelling
in all sorts of weather through pathless moors, often without a horse, was
always difficult, and sometimes dangerous.
The famous John Robertson, of
Kingussie, was the first of a succession of excellent ministers, who served
the Mission. He was succeeded by Mr. Neil M'Bride, afterwards of Kilmory,
Arran. Major MacKay, of Eriboll, who was himself a professing Christian, had
a piano in his home, and the minister refused to pray in his house so long
as this instrument was played in it. The Major told him he was not to worry,
as the Lord enabled him to conduct worship in his own home and in that of
The difference of views and
feelings came to a head on a New Year's eve, when the Major gave an
entertainment and dance to all his dependents. "It was his habit to do this,
that he might have them all at the same time under his own supervision, and
save them from congregating in questionable places, where some of them were
in danger of disgracing themselves with drunkenness and riotous conduct.
Entertainment he knew they must have, and he thought they ought to have it
in a harmless and healthful way, that would save them from having it in a
way demoralising to them."
Mr. M'Bridc looked upon it
differently, and thought the Major was setting others an evil example. He
denounced the evil in public, and so the breach widened. Excellent as Mr.
M'Bride was, and much esteemed, still the sympathies of the good people were
more with the Major than with him.
This state of matters,
however, led regardless characters to play a practical joke of a disgraceful
kind on the minister. Like Mr. Robertson, Mr. M'Bride administered the
Lord's Supper at Kinlochbervie as well as at Eriboll. Every thing necessary
was not so easily obtained then as now. He had, therefore, to take a journey
across the Moine to Tongue to get the needed bread and wine. On returning to
Eriboll, these, together with the communion plate, were securely packed in
creels, to be slung from a "crubag" and carried on horseback. All was so
placed as to be ready for an early start next morning.
After much fatigue,
Kinlochbervie was reached in due time, and, when the minister's wants were
attended to, they set about all necessary preparation for the communion. On
unpacking the creels, both minister and elders were shocked to find that
everything had been abstracted—plate as well as wine—and their weight made
up with stones and sod. This must have been done during the night before
starting from EriboIl, and naturally enough—whoever the miscreants that did
it—the doing of it was attributed to the state of feeling that existed
between Mr. M'I3ride and Major MacKay.
Mr. M'Bride and those
congregated for the solemnity, however, determined that the communion should
not be deferred. Before Saturday, wine and flour were secured, Mr. M'Bride
himself is said to have baked the bread, and stone ware was used instead of
plate. Though the outward provision was thus of the humblest and most
primitive kind, still the communion Sabbath was a day to be remembered—a day
whereon the Lord vouchsafed His gracious presence in a way that filled the
hearts of His people with a feast of good things.
The people of Kinlochbervie
were indignant at what was done, as being a slight upon them, as well as
upon Mr. M'Bride, so they determined to collect and present him with a new
set of communion plate. They entrusted the securing of it to a Mr. Robert
MacKay, who was called to Inverness or Edinburgh for examination in
connection with his being appointed as teacher in the district by the
Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge.
He bought the plate, and got
Mr. M'Bride's name engraved on it. But on his return, he found Mr. M'Bride
had left the Reay country to enter upon his charge in Arran, and, being
gone, the ardour of the people cooled, and the collection to defray the
expenses of the plate was never made. Mr. MacKay, therefore, made a present
of it to his friend, the Rev. Mr. Falconer, Eddrachillis, and his successor
in office. At the Disruption it was the personal property of the Rev. George
Tulloch, who joined the Free Church, and he in his turn left it to the
congregation of the Free Church at Scourie, and we presume it is still used
there at communion seasons.
Mr. N1'Bride was succeeded in
the Mission by the Rev. John Kennedy, afterwards of Redcastle. His ministry
in Kinlochbervie was richly blessed even if he had no more to his credit
than Bean a Chreidirnh ;Moir herself. In The Days of the Fathers in
Ross-shire we have two passages that show us the difficulties under which
the work of the church was carried on in those times: "On one occasion,
walking from Eriboll to Rhiconich, he was accompanied by his beadle, and by
his youngest brother, then a mere boy. They had not proceeded far when a
snowstorm came on, and his little brother became quite exhausted. Raising
him in his arms, my father carried him, and not only kept up with the
beadle, but left him behind. The interval between him and the beadle was
increasing so fast, that he at last waited till he came up, when he found
him so wearied that he was compelled to relieve him of the portmanteau which
he carried, and to strap it on his own hack. Those who were waiting his
arrival at the journey's end were not a little surprised to see him coming
with the bag on his hack, and the boy in his arms, and dragging the beadle
by the hand.
"The Sacrament of the Supper
was dispensed at Kinlochbervie, while he was missionary in the district. The
only minister present with him on that occasion was the parish clergyman.
The less that would he given him to do, the better pleased would he himself
and all others be, and so the whole burden of the service was left upon the
"The only available and
comfortable room near the place of meeting was occupied by the ministers. A
considerable number of respectable persons had gathered, among whom were
Major MacKay of Eriboll, Mr. MacKay of Hope, and several others. In a corner
of the meeting-house there was a square seat into which heather had been
packed, and there, covered with their cloaks, the Major and some others
slept. The minister's house-keeper having to furnish the gentry with a
light, as they retired to their sleeping places, failed to find a
candlestick, and, being anxious to save appearances, was in no small
ferment. In great perturbation, she came to her master to tell him that the
only candlestick she could put before Major MacKay was a peat with a hole in
it. "There was no better candlestick in the stable at Bethlehem," was his
only reply to her statement of grievances. He knew well that those about
whose comfort Abigail was so anxious, were quite content with whatever
provision was made for them.
"A great crowd of people had
gathered, and the parcels of provisions they had carried with them were
stored behind a screen, formed by a sail hanging from one of the rafters of
the meeting-house. Each one came, at stated times, for his parcel, that he
might eat his crust beside a stream on the hillside. In barns they found
accommodation during the night. But the Lord was in the midst of them, and
many felt His saving power and saw His glory during that communion season.
On Monday, in particular, so much of the Lord's presence was enjoyed by His
people that to many of them it was the happiest day of their life. When the
time for parting came, none had courage to say "farewell" to the minister.
They lingered around him, and followed him to his house; and, before they
separated, he and they sat down together, to a refreshment in the open air.
That over, they walked together towards an eminence, over which the people
had to pass. On reaching the summit they stood around the minister as he
prayed, and commended them to the care of the Good Shepherd of Israel.
He then said to them, as
tears ran down his cheeks, "This is pleasant, my dear friends, but it must
end ; we need not expect unbroken communion, either with each other or with
the Lord, till we all reach in safety our home in heaven," and, without
trusting himself to bid them farewell, he turned away from them, and they,
each one weeping as he went, took their respective journeys to their homes."
For a long period the parish
was singularly unfortunate in its ministers. The first settled in the newly
erected church was Mr. David MacKenzie. He had been a schoolmaster in the
parish of Reay, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Caithness. He was
ordained and inducted to his parish on the loth day of August, 1829. The
Rev. Hugh MacKay MacKenzie, of Tongue, preached and presided at the
ordination. His texts were, Rev. iii. 2 in Gaelic, and 2 Cor. V. 14, 15 in
The people were greatly
uplifted, for hitherto they had been served somewhat irregularly by
ministers and probationers. The minister of the parish was careless and
addicted to drink. By timely resignation he saved himself from deposition,
but not from his vice. Great expectations were entertained for a useful and
successful pastorate under the new minister. Those expectations were not
realised. He had a servant maid, named Annie Dodds, whom he was reported to
have dismissed. Next summer he went from home and came back with her as his
wife. Tongues at once began to wag. A wild flame blazed through the parish
and a special meeting of Presbytery was held at Rhiconich to inquire into
the facts of the case.
As witnesses were put on
oath, it may be of interest to note the names of the members of the
presbytery and of the witnesses present. The members of Presbytery were, the
Rev. George Tulloch, Scourie ; Mr. Hugh MacKay MacKenzie; Tongue; Mr.
William Finlater, Durness; Mr. David MacKenzie, Farr ; with Air. Hugh
MacLeod, Divinity Student, clerk. The representatives of the congregation
and witnesses were, Murdo Ross, Achlyness; Margaret MacKay, wife of Donald
MacKay, Sheigra; Donald MacKay, Sheigra; Robert MacKay, Sandwood; Donald
Morrison, Junior, Kinlochbervie; George Morrison, Kinlochbervie; Angus
Calder, Achrisgill; John MacKenzie, Achrisgill; George Campbell,
Kinlochbervie; Hugh MacKay, merchant, Kinlochbervie.
The minister was called to
subsequent meetings of Presbytery, but having failed to appear, and having
left the parish and the country he was deposed on the ground of contumacy.
During all this time the
supply of ordinances was but irregular. In 1854 a royal presentation was
issued in favour of Rev. Robert Clark, a native of Tongue, who was then
minister of the Gaelic Chapel in Glasgow. The people, however, had set their
hearts on having Mr. Archibald Cook, of Berridale and Bruan. He had been
there previously giving supply, when he preached both on Sabbath and
week-days. A petition in his favour, signed by 137 heads of families, was
sent to the Presbytery. Mr. Cook had promised to come if he received a
At this juncture the people
did something that stands to the credit of their layalty as clansmen, and to
the nobility of their Christian spirit, though it reveals a pathetic lack of
ordinary worldly wisdom. The Crown as patron presented Mr. Robert Clark.
Such was the people's trust and confidence in their superior that they
actually petitioned the Duke of Sutherland, who had permitted them to be
harried and fired out of their ancient homes, to recommend to the Crown a
minister who would be an acceptable spiritual guide to them!
The people were opposed to
Mr. Clark as he was not their choice. He was a man of good standing and of
good qualities, but they would not have him. Mr. Angus M'Gillivray, of
Strathy, was appointed to moderate in a call to Mr. Clark. There was a large
congregation present, but only the factor and ten heads of families signed
the Call. When persons came forward to sign, audible desparaging remarks
were made about their public and private character, which had the effect of
intimidating others. In any case only ten signed.
The three elders of the
congregation, Angus Calder, Robert Gunn, and John Mackenzie, were appointed
to petition the Presbytery against Mr. Clark and in favour of Mr. Cook. The
terms of the petition are as follows:—"The petition of the undersigned
inhabitants of the district of Kinlochbervie humbly sheweth that the late
most noble and excellent Duke of Sutherland, in answer to a petition from
the people of Kinlochhervie, was pleased to signify to them his intention to
recommend to them the fittest person for being their minister, who should be
agreeable to his tenants of that district, being satisfied that the
usefulness of a minister depends both on his own acquirements and his being
generally agreeable to those over whom he may be called upon to preside.
That favourable communication was generally understood as granting the
petitioners their request, and accordingly a deputation from them attended
upon and obtained from the Rev. Presbytery their authority to call ministers
or preachers in connection with the church to preach at Kinlochbervie in the
interval between their own supplies, that in virtue of this authority, the
Rev. Archibald Cook, an ordained minister of long standing in the church,
whose eminently pious character and singular diligence and faithfulness were
previously well known to many of the people, was invited to preach at
Kinlochbervie, and did so on the Sabbath and a week-day to the universal
satisfaction of a very numerous congregation : that immediately thereafter
another petition in which every individual in the district, except two or
three, harmoniously joined was sent to the present Duke and Countess Duchess
of Sutherland, earnestly praying to get Mr. Cook to be their minister, which
the petitioners have no doubt would have been conceded to them if improper
representations had not been made of the case by persons wholly unconnected
with the district. The petitioners beg leave to say that they are fully
sensible of their noble Landlord's deep interest in their welfare, and that
the selection of a fit person had been the real and only object at heart
with them : and therefore the responsibility of those persons, who have
misrepresented Mr. Cook to them must be very great and awful: and now it
rests with the Rev. Presbytery alone to decide whether the people of
Kinlochbervie, after the well known lamentable circumstances in which they
were recently placed in regard to a minister, shall be deprived again of
their dearest and most valuable rights as a Christian people, by refusing to
give them the minister of their unanimous choice, and by intruding another
upon them, who, for what they consider weighty and important reasons to be
stated in due time, is unacceptable to the whole parish, at least to a great
majority of them.
Your petitioners, considering
that the Rev. Presbytery have already signified their willingness to give
the people their choice, providing the appointment fell into their own
hands, beg leave most humbly and respectfully to express their confidence
that they will give no countenance to a violent settlement of the presentee
against the will of the congregation, but on the contrary shall stop
proceeding in the settlement until they are fully satisfied as to the
harmony of the parish. Your petitioners are aware that Mr. Cook, on whom the
mind of the people is fixed, has been represented to the most noble
landlords as deficient in ministerial qualifications, but the Rev.
Presbytery, constituted in the name of Christ, and acting by His authority
alone, will judge as it belongs to them to do so, whether he is really
qualified by life and doctrine according to the rule of the Apostle 1st Tim.
iii., and whether he is not by his principles and habits of life
particularly suited to the people of Kinlochbervie, among whom there are
none of a higher rank than schoolmasters and fishers. It has been observed
that men of decided piety, and of universal diligence, and of close
application to the duties of the ministry, though of ordinary talents, have
often been more useful in the church than men of greater talents and
learning, and unquestionably this is the sole ground on which the religious
public in general, and the people of Kinlochbervie do particularly cleave to
Mr. Cook, 1st Cor. i., 26-29. And Mr. Loch has admitted in his letter that a
doubt is not even intimated against the piety of Mr. Cook's character and
conduct. Consequently the petitioners cannot help viewing the intrusion of a
minister of a different stamp upon them, and one who by accepting the
presentation to Kinlochbervie in face of repeated intimations given him of
the feelings of the people and from other circumstances stands on a footing
with them very different from what he did formerly, as a direct violation of
the rights of the Christian people, and the promise made to them to be
allowed to choose their own minister, as well as contrary to the word of God
and the standards of our church. May it therefore please the Rev. Presbytery
of Tongue only to consider the promises, and not to sustain the presentation
in favour of Mr. Clark until they have made inquiry into the harmony of the
parish, and to act therein in all respects as they will judge to be most to
the glory of God and the edification of the people, thus uniting them
together in a regular attendance on divine ordinances, according to the Word
of God and the rules of the church, and your petitioners shall ever pray."
The petition was signed by
the three elders and 137 persons, heads of families, in the parish. It is
difficult to understand how the ministers who constituted the Presbytery at
that time could have intruded a crown presentee upon a people like those of
Kinlochbervie. They did so, however, with the result that the three elders
resigned office, and the body of the people never owned Mr. Clark's ministry
and never attended his church.
After the intrusion of Mr.
Clark, the people continued to meet under the leadership of the elders who
ha resigned, together with Donald Lamont, Badcall Inchard, Angus MacKay,
Oldshoremore. The latter was a man of high religious standing among the
people and was doing the work of a catechist, though he never received an
appointment or remuneration as such. The Presbytery was petitioned to
appoint him as catechist, but for want of funds this was not done. These men
were not only ministering with devotion to the spiritual needs of the
people, but were at the same time keeping them in touch with the revived
spiritual life, that was spreading over the land, and that issued finally in
the Church of Scotland Free.
From the first, Mr. Clark
(lid not find it easy to work in the parish. For some years he had but few
to help him, and when the Disruption took place, lie chose to remain in the
state connection. The enthusiasm with which that historic event was hailed
by the people who had suffered for years the spiritual disadvantages of an
intrusion, was widespread. The entire population declared for the Free
Church, with the exception of three families. One man, a native of Tongue,
on being asked why he continued to attend Mr. Clark's ministry, replied, "Do
you suppose I could forsake a man who had his back to the wall? "
Mr. George Tulloch, minister
of Eddrachillis, and Mr. William Finlater, minister of Durness, helped to
organise and consolidate the congregation. Mr. Eric Finlater had just
received license and was sent to serve the parish for a time. Many years
afterwards he wrote his reminiscences in "The Free Church Monthly Record."
"My first sermon in the Free Church was under the shadow, or more strictly
speaking, in the shelter of a rock, the people sitting on the high road.
This was in the parish of Kinlochbervie; and although comparatively young
and inexperienced, and certainly not possessed of popular pulpit talents,
the whole church going population of the district came to hear me, not only
on that but on every succeeding Sabbath, while I sojourned among them.
AIthough we were not out of sight of the parish church that day, the
minister chose, rather than open the church, to go to a distant corner of
the parish, where, if he had any service, lie must have held it along with
an old Gaelic Society Schoolmaster and another man, who happened to be a
native of the same parish as himself."
Though Mr. Clark had lost the
entire respect of the people as a minister of Christ, there was no act of
disrespect towards himself or the church, such as amused and even disgraced
other parishes. In Durness on the first Sabbath after the Disruption, the
tongue of the church bell was rapt in an old stocking, so that it gave no
sound, while in Farr, a dead dog was suspended above the pulpit.
The opposition of the Duke of
Sutherland to the Free Church and his refusal to grant sites had the effect
of delaying the settlement of ministers, for they had no church to worship
in and no manse to live in. The years immediately after forty-three were
years of almost incredible hardship and suffering for both ministers and
people. The case of Kinlochbervie was peculiarly difficult. At first they
had no place to meet in except on the public highway under Craig na Speireig.
The elders who resigned after Mr. Clark's intrusion were not willing to
accept office again. They were all keenly interested in the work of the
church, but their past experience made them hesitate. Eventually in 1846
four were appointed, namely, Angus Calder and John MacKenzie, Achrisgill;
John Macleod, Oldshoremore; and Donald Morrison, Sheigira. They were the
first Free Church elders in the parish. Mr. Eric Finlater has left a pen
portrait of one of them in the Annals of the Disruption. "He had what you
could conceive as being the look of Ezekiel. He was a tall dark complexioned
man, with a countenance as if cast in bronze, a sharp black eye, deeply set
in the head, and surmounted by shaggy eyebrows. His hair was long and dark
brown, and he wore a great coat made of homespun cloth. His look was
downcast, and his voice deep, but not harsh . . . You felt that before you
stood one who had deep experience in the Christian warfare." This was Angus
The people were poor, and at
that period suffering the utmost privation through the failure of the potato
crop. Many were at the point of starvation, yet the collectors who formed
the Association for the Sustentation Fund were able to guarantee a
sufficient amount to enable them to call a minister. In 1848 they called the
Rev. Thomas Fraser, who had been supplying the pulpit for some months. The
hearts of the parish as one went out to him, and he accepted their call.
No sooner was the Duke shamed
to grant sites than building began. The new church was finished in 1846, but
when Mr. Fraser was called there was no manse nor any immediate prospect of
getting one. He gladly accepted the call of a people who gave him their
hearts though they could not give him a home to live in. In spite of their
poverty they were happy together. The parish minister was well housed, state
paid, but soul starved, while he was homeless, often hungry, but very happy.
While they had no money to give for the erection of either church or manse
they had great goodwill which in the form of free labour became the
equivalent of a large sum of money. Early in 1851 the manse was finished. It
was the gift of the Manse Building Fund of the Church. When it was finished
it cost about £5o more than the original estimate, and the contractor
refused to hand over the key till that sum was paid. George Corhet, who
acted as congregational treasurer, wrote to the Manse Building Committee,
and the £50 came, which turned the key in the door, and let the waiting
There is no tradition of the
house warming, but obviously he did not find it as home-like as he wished.
There was a young lady in Melvich, Mary Innes Sinclair, who had agreed to
come to help him to make the manse a home. They were married in 1855, but
their happiness was short lived. She died, leaving two daughters, one of
whom is Mrs Macintosh, Melvich. It is said by those who knew him that he was
never the same afterwards. He died in 1862.
The affection of his people
is commemorated in a memorial stone over his grave in the Oldshore Cemetery,
bearing the following inscription:-
Reyd. THOMAS FRASER,
Minister of the Free Church, Kinlochbervie,
Who died 18th September, 1862, In the 46th year of his age, and in the 14th
of his ministry.
This stone is placed here by his sorrowing congregation to mark their
profound attachment to him as a pastor, and their high value of his
unwearied exertions to promote their temporal and spiritual interests during
the period of his ministry among them.
Mr. Donald Corbet, who
succeeded, was a remarkable man. A native of Ross-shire, he was for many
years a teacher before entering the ministry. He was appointed parochial
schoolmaster of Ardnamurchan in 1830, a position which he held till 1843. At
his appointment the Presbytery recorded that they found him "in all respects
duly qualified to teach the several branches required of him."
He was a warm supporter of
the Evangelical party in the church, and as the Ten Years' Conflict
proceeded, he became involved locally in the heated controversy that
prevailed. Mr. Corbet acted as Session Clerk of the parish. A Mr. Neil
MacPhail was employed as a teacher within the parish, and certain charges
were lodged against him before the Session. He appealed to the Presbytery,
who acquitted him on all the charges, and ordered those who made them to be
suspended from church ordinances. Mr. Corbet was summoned before the
Presbytery for his part in the matter, but for two years he failed to obey
the citations of the court. Eventually he appeared, and was rebuked for his
conduct in the case. The fact was that he, being a pronounced evangelical
and the members of Presbytery being predominantly moderate, was made to
suffer for his principles and for his unguarded tongue at the same time. He
had qualified for the ministry and was a probationer of the church at the
Disruption. In July 1843 he was declared by the Presbytery to be no longer a
preacher of the Church of Scotland.
In the early fifties Mr.
Corbet came to Sutherland, and was employed as supply in Strathy and
Halladale. The charge had been vacant since 1843. The majority of the
communicants and more than half the adherents were strongly opposed to him.
The opposition first favoured Mr. Colin Sinclair, afterwards of Invergordon,
a native of the parish. The division was so strong that a Commission of the
Assembly was sent to make peace. The controversy went on for years, Mr.
Corbet's friends refusing to consider any other, and his opponents refusing
to give in. His opponents then favoured Mr. William Fraser, Lochgilphead,
and another trial of strength took place. When Air. Fraser, Kinlochbervie,
died, Mr. Corbet got a unanimous call, which he cordially accepted. He was a
thoughtful and studious man. He collected and carefully wrote accounts of
religious life in the Highlands. The Rev. Dr. Andrew Bonar published one of
his MSS. under the title of "Strange Footprints of our King."
He was a spare slightly built
man, tidily and smartly dressed, gentlemanly in bearing, speech and habits.
He wore a silk hat and carried a yellow stick, the recognised pastor's staff
and symbol of the evangelicals, whose party the other side called "Creidimh
a bhata bhuidhe" or "The faith of the yellow staff."
He was a systematic worker.
He did not go from house to house, but held diets of catechising, as they
were called, in each little township weekly. To these all the people were
supposed to gather to be catechised. He visited the sick and the aged, but
not such as were able to attend the regular ordinances of the church. He had
a rare knowledge of herbal and other medical remedies, which proved most
useful in a district without a doctor.
As a preacher he was
passionately earnest and evangelistic. In his absorbed apprehension of the
spiritual and eternal he frequently forgot the swift passage of time. On one
occasion in Strath Halladale he preached from 6.30 on Sabbath evening till 1
o'clock on Monday morning! On a communion Sabbath evening in his own pulpit
he preached from 6.30 till 10.45, when a well known character of the period,
Doll a Chollector, shouted out "Shut up, you babler, and let the people
In May, 1880 he had a
paralytic stroke from which he never recovered. He passed away in June in
the presence of his two sisters who had served him with loving devotion
thoughout his ministry. Mr. George Sutherland, who was Ladies' School
teacher at Fannagmore, was also present, and was a source of strength and
comfort to the sorrowing sisters, is now senior minister of Bruan.
He had made all arrangements
for the Communion, which was then held in June. Mr. Duncan MacGregor of
Ferintosh, and Mr. John MacKay of Althaharra had promised to assist. These
arrangements were carried out by the sisters, who were guided and supported
by Mr. Sutherland.
His tombstone records his
people's high esteem and estimate of him.
Erected by his Congregation
to the Memory of
Revd, DONALD CORBETT,
Minister of the Free Church, Kinlochbervie,
for 16 years.
A servant of Jesus Christ, sound in the faith, full of zeal for the truth,
faithful as a reprover of sin and preacher of the Gospel. Brought under
gracious influences from his youth, a man of unspotted life, a mind
well-informed and studious in his habits, well-versed in the doctrines of
grace and Christian experience, he sacrificed position and prospects for the
crown rights of the Redeemer in 1843, to which he firmly adhered to the end.
His abundant labours and trials ended, he departed in peace on 31st day of
May, 1880, aged 75.
"The memory of the just is blessed."—Prov. x, 9.
The men who ruled the
congregation, as elders, at that period, were John Gunn and Murdo MacKay, so
very much alike in their devotion to the Lord and His kingdom, and so very
different in their natural disposition. Murdo was a quiet gentle soul, who
adorned the offices he held by a humble and prayerful performance of the
duties with which he was entrusted. For many years he acted as precentor and
as Presbytery elder. John Gunn was one of the best-known among "the men" of
Sutherland in his time. In Caithness and Ross-shire he was well known and
highly esteemed as a faithful and helpful speaker on communion Fridays. In
the parish he bore witness to the Lord and His grace such as no one else
before or since has ever done. If the minister was from home John Gunn
conducted the service of the Sabbath to the delight of the discerning. Every
Sabbath evening while he lived, he held a meeting in his kitchen that proved
a means of grace to many. He read Bunyan and Boston, Flavel and Fuller, and
other sappy Puritans—strong meat which he enjoyed himself and which he
delighted to break down for the use of his hearers. His influence in the
parish was paramount. For many of us in those days the fear of Shockie
Guinne was incomparably more effective in our general conduct, especially on
Sabbath, than the fear of God.
The strength and efficiency
of the Christian Church depend not so much on a few men of outstanding
piety, brilliance, and position, whose lives and labours in the high places
of the field confer distinction on, and give lustre to, their church in the
eyes of other churches and of the world, as on the men who, in every parish,
hold aloft the banner of the Cross, bearing witness to the love of Christ
and to the power of His grace, by their devoted and active lives among their
own friends and neighbours. To the latter class William MacIntosh belonged.
For many years his humble and retiring disposition prevented him from taking
the position that his piety and ability entitled him to occupy. A great
admirer and devoted friend of John Gunn he never felt himself called upon,
so long as that veteran lived, to take a leading place, but as soon as he
was called away, William MacIntosh was, by general consent, acknowledged the
most prominent Christian in the parish.
At the fellowship meeting his
prayers breathed a spirit of passionate longing for the manifestation of
power from on high, together with a humility and self-abasement that made
himself and his hearers rely wholly on sovereign grace for all their
blessings. On question day he was a general favourite. When he gave out the
question, as he often did, it always dealt with the love of Christ and the
experiences of grace in the soul ; and when he spoke he invariably dwelt
upon the same themes. He avoided controversy and bitterness. He could not
help that, for there was no bitterness or censoriousness in his nature, and
even if there had been, his apprehension of the Iove of Christ and his level
common sense, would have prevented him from expressing it. The people of the
neighbouring parishes loved him greatly for what of Christ they saw in his
life and character, and the people of Durness, in particular, showed their
regard in a fitting testimonial.
Mr. Corbet was succeeded by
one of nature's choicest gentlemen, Mr. Duncan Finlayson. Born in 1838 in S.
Uist, he went, on the invitation of a kinsman, to Australia at the age of
eighteen. Two years later he returned, and resided at Knock, in the parish
of Sleat, where the saintly John MacPhail was then minister of the Free
Church. Under his ministry the returned emigrant was savingly impressed, and
he was immediately led to devote his life to the work of the ministry. After
being licenced he acted for a time as assistant secretary of the Highland
Committee under Dr. MacLauchlan. Thereafter he served as assistant to the
Rev. Alexander Lee in Nairn. He was ordained and inducted in 1881. It was a
time to be remembered. Most remarkable scenes were witnessed at his first
communion. Mr. Lee was his chief assistant. The services were well attended
throughout, and a very deep impression was made. On Monday the congregation
was swept by a wave of high feeling and enthusiasm. When the benediction was
pronounced the congregation did not disperse. The ministers stayed in
Rhiconich Hotel because the manse was not yet in habitable order. A
procession was formed, and the majority of that large congregation marched
to Rhiconich, a distance of four miles, in expectation of getting another
sermon ! They stood in a body outside the front door in tense expectation.
At length Mr. Alex. Munro, the Hotel-keeper, came out with a chair, which
Mr. Lee mounted, and from which he delivered a powerful appeal from the
words, "If any man thirst let him come unto ME and drink." His dramatic
gestures, his vivid illustrations, and his powerful appeals still live in
the memory of some surviving members of that deeply moved audience.
In Mr. Finlayson's time the
Disruption Church, built on the Tanfield Hall model, with the pulpit to the
side and a door at each end, was reconstructed and reseated, as it is
to-day. The repairs to church and manse cost over £800.
After the passing of the
Declaratory Act, in 1892, a number of families throughout the parish
withdrew from the Free Church, and formed the congregation of the Free
Presbyterian Church of Scotland. This Secession was in no sense due to the
minister, nor a reflection on his work and character. The movement was due
entirely to what its supporters regarded as a matter of principle.
After a lingering illness,
extending over two years, Mr. Finlayson died on the 13th of June, 1905, at
the age of sixty-seven. He is survived by a widow and two daughters who
reside in London.
The memorial over his grave
bears the following inscription:-
Erected by his sorrowing
In Loving Memory of
Revd. DUNCAN FINLAYSON,
Who was for 24 years their faithful Pastor.
Born in South Uist, 1838.
Died at Kinlochbervie U.F. Manse
on 18th June, 1905.
In the spring of 1905 the
Rev. John Macaskill, probationer, was happily settled as colleague and
successor to Mr. Finlayson.
In the Church of Scotland Mr.
Clark was succeeded, in 1856, by Rev. John Adam Macfarlane, who was
translated to the parish of Urray in 1861.
In 1862 the Rev. Peter
Calder, M.A., who had been a teacher at Grantown, and was for two years
minister of Fort Augustus, was inducted at Kinlochbervie, where he remained
for less than two years. He accepted a call to Clyne in 1864. He died there
The Rev. Kenneth MacKenzie
was admitted in December, 1864, and was translated to Kinlochluichart in
1876. Three years later, in 1879, he came to Badcall, Scourie, where he
remained till 1903, when he retired. He died in 1915 at the age of
eighty-seven. He had been twice married, first to Annie Macpherson of
Kirkmicheal, Banffshire, and second, to Penual Grant, daughter of Rev.
William C. M. Grant, minister of Dumess.
The Rev. Simon Hally, M.A., a
native of Glasgow, and a graduate of Glasgow University, was ordained at St.
John's, New Brunswick, in 1873. He returned to this country and served at
Carnwath for a time. He was inducted at Kinlochbervie in April, 1877. He
married, and his wife and he became very popular. Both were greatly beloved.
Next year a daughter, Mary Catherine Margaret, was born, but the mother
passed away, to the deep regret of all who knew her. He accepted a call to
Kinlochluichart, where lie died in 1880.
Mr. Hally was succeeded by
the Rev. David Lundie, M.A., in March, 1880. He was translated to Tongue
nine years later where he now lives in retirement, enjoying the high esteem
of all the people.
The Rev. Alexander Crerar,
M.A., was the last, and in some respects the most interesting, of the old
Church of Scotland ministers. He was a distinguished honours graduate of
Aberdeen. He was licensed by his native Presbytery of Weem in 1869, and
became minister of the Presbyterian Church of Southport. His studious habits
and his retiring disposition did not find in Southport a congenial sphere,
which he quickly quitted and took up work under the Royal Bounty in
different parts of the Highlands till he was admitted to Kinlochbervie in
1889, where he continued till his death in 1929.
Unknown to himself, he was
the occasion of doing a widespread and highly spiritual service to
evangelical religion in the Highlands and Islands. When on his way to the
Grammar School, Aberdeen, for the first time, one of his fellow-travellers
was the Rev. J. Calder MacPhail. The big-hearted minister took a kindly
interest in the student, noted his deep devotion, his high ambition, the
faith and self-sacrifice of his parents, and the provision made by the
Church of Scotland to help promising candidates for the work of the
ministry. At that time the Free Church had no scheme for helping boys to
attend a Grammar School preparatory to entering the University. The minister
was moved to reflection, and by the time he reached Aberdeen the MacPhail
Bursary Scheme was outlined. Soon thereafter it was launched, giving wise
and well-planned assistance to deserving and promising students, at a stage
in their career when they needed sympathetic guidance. It raised the
educational standard of the ministry in the Highlands by giving students an
elementary education that enabled them to make the best use of a University
Within recent times the
parish has given four men to the work of the ministry. The late Rev. Hugh
Gunn, born at Rhuvoult, spent his ministerial life in Skye. The Rev. James
D. MacDonald, M.A., born at Oldshore, is minister of St. Oran's Church,
Edinburgh. The Rev. Lachlan Angus Calder MacRae, born at Badcall Inchard, is
minister of Shebster Caithness, and his brother, Alexander, the author of
this work, is minister in Tongue.
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