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History of Montrose
Chapter III. - Religious State


IN the limes of Popery, the Dominicans or Black Friars had a Convent in Montrose, founded in 1230 by Sir Alan Durward, the most daring and powerful Scotch magnate of his time. It is supposed to have stood on that portion of the common links which still bears the name of St. Maiy, situated a little to the eastward of Victoria Bridge. It was afterwards removed to the immediate vicinity of the town, by the influence of the celebrated Patrick Panter, of the Newmanswalls family, by whom it was richly endowed from lands in the neighbourhood. The monks being disturbed in their new abode by the noise of the traffic on the road, got liberty, in 1524, says Pennant, to return to their former more retired spot, which they had quitted a few years before. The remains of the Hospital founded by Panter were visible at no distant date, and stood in the Sandhaugh about a mile nearer the town, on the west side of Murray Street.

The religious orders from whom the Monasteries and Convents had their origin, it must be allowed, did not at once degenerate into what they afterwards became, nests of corruption; for the first monks we read of in the middle of the third century, were men, whom the persecution of the heathen emperors, compelled to live in deserts; and who, being by a long course of solitude rendered unfit for society, chose to continue in their monastic way, even after the true rouse of it had ceased. Neither are we *to regard these orders as an altogether unmitigated evil, for they were the depositories of the Word of God, and of most, if not of all, the learning in the world In feudal times; and there were to he found among them from time to time, men better than their system, who were faithful missionaries of the Cross {and who were persecuted by their co-religionists for being so), thus showing, that in all ages of the world, God preserves a seed to serve Him. If they had only given the Bible to the people, and diffused abroad religious and secular education, they would have been kept free from many of the errors that crept in, for the Bible is the charter of our liberties.

“The Parish Church, dedicated to St. John, was in the diocese of Brechin, and rated in the ancient tax at 20 Scots. From the year 1214, that a person bearing the Christian name of Henry, subscribes himself ‘Chaplain of Munros,’ to a deed of that period, no further mention is found of any of the old churchmen, until the beginning of the fifteenth century. There were several alterages in the church, but the names of two only survive: the Holyrood, raised in celebration of the exaltation of our Saviour’s Cross, and the altar of the Blessed Trinity—the latter of which was founded by Elisco and Thomas Falconer, burgesses of Montrose, and supported by the rents of certain lands in the vicinity.”

The blessed Reformation at length dawned upon the world. Many other causes than the revival of letters and establishment of Universities, conspired to bring it about. u In the latter part of the fifteenth century, a change for the better began to exhibit itself in Scotland. James III. made vigorous attempts to civilise his people, by breaking down the power of the nobility, and by developing a middle class,” which, however, did not fully manifest itself, till after the Reformation, the cause which led to it in Scotland according to Mr. Froude. James IV. encouraged commerce, granting by a charter the shore-dues and other revenues to the magistrates of Montrose, whereby the burgh began to acquire increasing importance — its merchants early traded with the low countries, and brought home copies of the scriptures, so that this condition of things as a whole led on in due time to the Reformation. Thus the sea which purifies the earth, is also the highway of nations; and by giving facility to their intercourse, the minds of men become free and expanded; and if any new light dawns in any region to which merchants resort, it is soon communicated to others. How different it was in feudal times, when the free towns of Germany had the whole carrying trade by sea, and all new ideas were shut out!

John Erskine, too, by his influence with the inhabitants of Montrose, on his return from his travels (in which he was accompanied by Richard, the eldest brother of Andrew Melville), led them early to embrace the cause of the Reformation ;—the principles also of Wicliffe, being widely spread, helped on this result, as regards Scotland generally, according to Dr. M‘Crie.

John Erskine, having on his return from abroad, between the years 1480 and 1490, as will be afterwards more particularly mentioned, brought a teacher of Greek to Montrose. George Wishart, the early martyr, having been one of his pupils, and afterwards his successor, taught and circulated the Greek New Testament so openly, that he was summoned before Bishop Hepburn of Brechin, the effects of whose sentence he escaped by fleeing to England, where he remained nearly six years. Returning to Scotland in July, 1543, he immediately thereafter preached publicly in Montrose, within a private house, in the neighbourhood of the church. He was not suffered to remain long in these parts; yet he had left such a testimony behind him, that the people would no longer endure the increased oppression and tyranny, which were so constantly manifested towards them. Within ten years after this time, the pulpits of most of the churches were filled by reformed clergymen.” Some of the most distinguished masters of schools were at this time secretly attached to the doctrines of the Reformation, and upon its establishment became ministers of the church. Mr. Thomas Anderson, one of these, was the first reformed minister at Montrose, and had for assistant Mr. John Beattie, reader. Both these gentlemen bestowed much kind attention on James Melville during his school-boy days. The former, Melville describes as “a man of mean gifts, bot of singular guid lyff. God moved him to mark me, and call me often to his chalmer to treat me, when he saw anie guid in me, and to instruct and admonish me otherwise. He desyrit me ever to rehearse a part of Calvin’s Catechisme on the Sabbaths at eftemoone, because he hard the peiple lyked weill of the cleames of my voice, and pronouncing with some feiling; and thereby God moved a godlie, honest matron in the town, to mak mikte of me thairfore, and called me hir lytle sweit angle.” It was at Montrose, under Mr. Anderson, that Melville, at the early age of 13, became a communicant of that church, of which at a future period, he was so great an ornament.

Mr. Anderson was succeeded at Montrose by Mr. John Dune, James Melville’s father-in-law. Educated in the Romish faith by his own brother, the Abbot of Dunfermline, he was expelled that Convent for heresy, imprisoned at Edinburgh for sometime, and then sent to “ward” in Montrose in 1583; after which the king, in testimony to his value as a preacher, settled upon him .140 a year, which pension was granted to himself, his wife, and son, and “the langest levair of them thre.”

Montrose, up to this time, was a single charge, and it was only towards the close of the seventeenth century, during the time of the last Episcopal minister, that it became collegiate. It was upon petition of the inhabitants themselves that Government allowed them to be taxed for the support of a second minister, which tax ceases on the demise of the present incumbent, and is then otherwise provided for.

At the time the annuity-tax was imposed, a Mr. David Lyell was parochial minister, and Mr. Neill was the first second or burgh minister—the former, originally a presby-teriaa, became afterwards an Episcopalian minister. Changes of this kind were not unfrequent in early times—especially in the reign of James VI., who rather favoured Episcopacy, and was an unsteady friend to presbyterianism. Montrose has upon the whole chiefly stood by the latter form of church government since the Reformation—that is to say, by far the greatest number of the inhabitants have been of this persuasion; and it must be said, that true and evangelical religion has been preached within its walls--—especially in the recollection of those of its inhabitants who can look back 50 or 60 years. In 1811, the present venerable incumbent of the second charge, viz., Dr. Joseph Paterson, was ordained and the text he preached from was “Preach the word.” He preached from the same text in the 50th year of his ministry, and is still able to bring out of his treasures things new and old. Some of us who heard his trial discourse, must remember of a dove flying about in the church, and hovering over the pulpit, and more perhaps ^ere looking at it than at the minister. It must be said of Dr. Paterson that he has an earnest practical way of preaching, which must come home to the hearers, as it is evident he speaks from the heart, and from a feeling of the preciousness of the truth in his own experience. His popularity has always continued from the first; and there was always a marked, difference between the attendance when he preached and Mr. Mollison. The writer of this was ten years away from Montrose, between 1823 and 1833, and when he returned and heard the Dr. again, as he had often heard him before, he felt himself more than ever really at home, from the power of early associations. The Dr. is still most assiduous in the visitation of his people; and not of them only, but of all in distress, and that, although at the age of 84, in the severest weather. One time I met him last winter in a. drifting fall of snow, and remarked that it was very hard to bear this weather, “Ugh!” said the Dr., and passed on. Among the ministers in the neighbourhood that occasionally preached in the Old Church, there was none I liked better to hear than Mr. Foote of Logie. He was a lively, earnest, and attractive preacher, and had a good deal of suitable action, which set off his discourse well, and as to which Dr. Cook made the remark, that it would leave him as he grew older. The same feeling of reverence and respect, as having once been minister in our own good town, as well as for his talents, came over the writer, when in 1823, being at Pitkaithly Wells, he heard Mr. Esdaile preach in the church of Dum-bamey. I remember hearing his farewell sermon at Montrose. It is impossible, in fact, unless one has felt it, to imagine the delight and fulness of heart one has on hearing a minister we had been accustomed to at an early period of our lives. The Rev. George Cowie once came to Aberdeen when I was at college, and whether he preached a sermon to the students or not I don’t remember, but all the family went to hear him, and being from Montrose, I listened to him with unflagging attention; and many times I felt for him, for he would have stopped now and then as if he could not find another word to say, and I was glad when he got on again : but how astonished was I to hear, on returning to Montrose, that this was his way of drawing the attention of the hearers.

When we read of the persecutions of the church in early times in our own country, we cannot be too thankful for the spiritual liberty we now enjoy; and when a parish minister holds out the right hand of fellowship to Christians of all denominations; when he prays for the success of all evangelical churches, and can shake hands over buried wrongs—such a minister will endear himself to all, and fulfil his mission, whether in Montrose or Glasgow; and none the less so that John Knox looks down upon him in lofty grandeur from the Necropolis—the city of the dead. For as one has said, the most perfect idea of an Established Church is when that Church, holding to its standards, yet gives full scope to others to propagate their principles. What more can the Baptists even expect from Mr. Bums, when he presided at one of their missionary meetings in Montrose, giving them thereby his countenance and aid ? By this kindly intercourse, if any, will asperities be rubbed off, and all yet see eye to eye. All have an open Bible from which to search for the true and the right way for themselves. No doubt if a universal creed could be drawn up, embracing only essentials in which all Christians could agree, it would be better; but have we not that in the Biblel and although right belief is the principal thing, yet scriptural obedience must follow* Another thing, much to the credit of Dr. P., may be said, when William Nicol, long grave-digger and bellman, took his last illness, he expressed a hope that he had laid by a posey, for he liked to hear of all laying by something to meet the wants of old age; and he had long ago, before the Parochial Board was thought of in Montrose, and when too little had been collected at the church door, threatened, that if the collections were not more, they must have recourse t% the legal mode of relief—more in the way of stirring the people up to greater liberality, than that he wished it Mrs Carnegie gave a good advice to the people of the Old Church about putting money into the plate—especially to shipmasters, when they are away from home, that they should collect the offerings from their crews, and give the amount to the session when they came home. If her advice and example had been attended to by high and low according to their ability, there would have been no necessity for poor’s rates in Scotland, and a better spirit of independence would have been encouraged. In reading the statistical account of the parishes of Scotland, it is surprising to see how in old times this spirit was kept alive, by the judicious assistance given to the industrious poor.

When Dr. P. had reached his jubilee, the public invited "him to a dinner, and presented him with his portrait, which is now to be seen in most houses of the town. On that occasion he said they had not forgot Joseph.

Although in one view, the first place is to be given to the Established Church, it is not to be forgotten, that there are other excellent and talented ministers, among whom, to use the language of James Melville, out of kindness and gratitude, I may name the Rev. William Nixon of Free St. John’s, a most faithful minister—indeed it may be said of him that he leaves all who hear him without excuse if they do not embrace the Gospel. He is also a warm-hearted and generous friend. He was my minister for more than 25 years after my return to Montrose, in 1833, and would have so continued, but for the Mission Church in Castle Street, which he had the honour of setting up, and of fostering with a parent’s solicitude. Indeed, what led us to the Mission Church was this, that in going to St. John’s we often had to cross the path of the precentor, who would have said “ Come our way;” and at last we did so, but only on the condition that I could be of any service to the missionary, who set me a-going with a prayer-meeting in Castle Street on the Sunday evenings at five o’clock. This* I did with Mr. Nixon’s approval, who said we often got benefit to ourselves by doing good to others, which I found to be the case. I always enjoyed the evening services the more when these meetings were over and my own part done. On the whole, Mr. Campbell was very active in the discharge of his duties, and did his best for the good of the mission; and among other things, had collectors to receive any small sums once a week, which, on reaching nearly the price of any article of dress the poor people wanted, the deficiency was made up to them, and so they procured it. Now, amidst all this usefulness, there was a talk of Mr. C. being removed to some other field of labour; but as the greater part of the people wished him to remain, a meeting of a few of us was held in a private house, and I was put upon to write a short letter to be laid before the Convener of the Committee (Mr. N.), to say that in our opinion it would be a great loss to the Mission if Mr. C. were to leave; that we were warmly attached to him, and that we wished he might remain. This was signed by almost all that attended the Mission on both sides of Castle Street and other parts, and laid before the Convener, and the result was, that our petition was granted. After a while, however, some other differences sprang up, which led to Mr. C. leaving the Free Church Mission altogether, being received into the U.F. Church. I did not think it would lead to this when the first meeting was held; and i$ must have been a cause of great grief and disappointment to Mr. Nixon, since he at first set agoing the Mission, and afterwards sustained it. But now Mr. C., through great exertion, has got a church of his own, built in Castle Street, which is an outset to the place; and Mr. Sutherland is now minister of Free St. Paul’s in the same street, also a new building, and both seem to be getting on well, as there is field for both. Some that went to no place of worship formerly, now regularly attend either the one church or the Other. Prayer and effort will accomplish much in both oases, or as the Earl of Dalhousie’s motto is “Ora et labor a” If it had not been for Mr. Nixon, there might not have been a Mission Church at all in Castle Street. Mr. Sutherland has raised a good congregation; his discourses are most evangelical, and those on our Saviour’s utterances on the cross could not be surpassed. Mr. Campbell preaches in the Norse language throughout most of the year, to the foreign sailors who visit the port, besides occasionally in French; and his labours in this way seem to be much appreciated as shown by the numbers who attend.

About this time (1858), Mr. Gordon Forlong came to the town, along with Brownlow North, on an evangelical tour; and Mr. North preached in Mr. Nixon’s church, and Mr. Forlong in the Mission Church in Castle Street, besides holding meetings in the town-hall. Afterwards Mr. Forlong returned alone, and held prayer-meetings for an hour from 9 to 10, at first in the Bed Lion Close, and afterwards in the trades’-hall, every day in the week, and continued to do so, with unwearied earnestness, and with much profit to those who attended, as well as to those who took part in the exercises of reading and prayer. His custom was to ask any brother to read a portion of scripture, which was usually made the subject of prayer; and any one being at liberty to engage, it fell to those who were most spiritually-minded, and by this means much good was done, and a spiritual, revival took place in the town. These meetings are still continued in John Street. There is certainly nothing that Christians can unite in more than in prayer to God for the descent and indwelling of the Spirit of all Grace in their hearts; and there is nothing more sure than that this prayer will be granted; for have we not Christ’s own words to Assure us: “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find ....for if ye being evil know to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” There can be nothing better than to take God at His word, in any petitions we may ask of Him.

Some of the other ministers in the town had revival prayer-meetings in their churches—the Rev. Mr. Hyslop had one on the Sabbath evenings at eight o’clock, when the Churches came out. Much- was done also in Mr. Whyte’s, by himself and others, and with the co-operation of Mr. M‘Culloch and Mr. Maxwell of the "Established Church, and also by revival meeings in the links, at which stranger ministers from all places were present, and took part to keep alive the good work. Mr. Nixon, too, had tent-preaching in the links on Sabbath evenings. At the same time, a great revival of religion took place in Ferryden, which was thought to be so genuine and universal on the part of those who sat down at the Lord’s Table, that the Rev. Mr. Foote of Brechin, on dispensing the Sacrament there, said he should not think it necessary to fence the tables.

Recurring to the state of matters in former days, it was: wonderful to see the unanimity that prevailed among churchmen and dissenters, and their co-operation in Missionary and’ Bible Societies. I remember a meeting being held in the ' Old. Church—perhaps it was the first to form an auxiliary to the British and Foreign Bible Society—at which the Rev. George Cowie, and likely other dissenting ministers, were present, when Dr. Paterson said in his address:—“ Shall we not unite together in sending the Bible to those brave soldiers and sailors who have fought our battles V and on many other occasions, as I see by several volumes of the Evangelical Magazine I have by me for 1823-4-5, how they joined together to support benevolent societies, so that although they differed in name they united in object. There is nothing fairer, perhaps, than this, that the amount of service rendered to the State in its defence, should be the measure of reward to those who defend it; and this consideration has more to do with liberty of conscience, than may at first sight be observed; for in high quarters this has often been the rule of conduct. George III., in his domestic arrangements, favoured Methodists and Churchmen alike; and when we reflect how much the Queen was indebted to Havelock for the safety of her Indian Empire, it shows that the State can not do without the services of all rightly disposed persons, and the question is not asked to what denomination they belong. And perhaps there is no instance on record, where so much self-denial and zeal were shown, as % when to quell the mutiny in India, and to uphold the Queen’s sovereignty there, General Outram, at the siege of Lucknow, resigned his superior command in favour of Havelock, and acted under his authority. If all would act in like manner, on the maxim “detur dignissimo,” or “palmam qui meruit ferat,” Britain would still more than she is be the best governed country in the world,—as it is, the same result is reached, when the ablest men are raised by the force of public opinion, to sway the councils of the nation. Indeed, a worthy example was shown in the case of two rival journals in Montrose, when the Standard ascribed the credit of raising the Volunteer Corps to Mr. Taylor the editor of the Review. It is well that our lot is cast in such peaceful times, when all ranks and classes are animated with zeal in the service of her Majesty the Queen, who reigns in the hearts of her subjects, and sets before all, of every rank and degree, such a worthy example, both in her regal and in her private state—as witness her deeds of charity in every public calamity, as the Hartley Colliery, and other cases, too numerous to mention. Her acts of private munificence are also widely known. In her reign, more is done to consolidate than to extend her large and wide dominions, and to cement all classes of society together; and in this worthy object, the great and the noble of the land lend their aid, to whatsoever party in the state they belong. It was not exactly so when the American war broke out. Opinion was divided as to the justice of it, but it did not go farther than opinion. At this time, Mr. Nesbit was one of the ministers of the Old Church, and he thought they had no right to be taxed without being represented in Parliament, and spoke very freely about it even from the pulpit. At one time in his discourse, waxing warmer and warmer upon it, and perhaps bringing forward cases in the Old Testament to bear him out, the Magistrates, sitting opposite to him, could stand it no longer, but rose up and dropped away one after another, when with a pointed allusion to them he said, “The wicked flee when no man persueth.”

Whether the pulpit was the proper place to discuss politics, I don’t say, or whether w hat is politically wrong can be morally right, I just give the story as I find it in his life. The Magistrates of the day were so ultra-loyal, that they wrote up to Government about him, and so represented the case, that he was lodged in durance until he got two gentlemen to bail him out, and the desk, containing his sermons and papers was ordered to be sealed up; but Mr. Japp unscrewed the boards behind and took them out without breaking the seals. The Magistrates and he had never been on the most friendly terms, for on one occasion, as he was coming into town on horseback, they met him, and said, “Oh, Mr. N., you are on a high horse to-day—your Master rode on an ass.” Mr. N., who was always very witty, replied, “Yes, but all the asses were made into town councillors yesterday !” Mr. Nesbit withal was a good and very able man, as may be seen by reading his life; and his society and correspondence ere courted by some of the greatest noblemen and the most pious and gifted ministers, as well as by ladies of high rank in the land. However favouring Republicanism, he went to America, and became President of the College of Carlisle. But it is said that his salary was but indifferently made up, and after he had been some years in America, he seems to have regretted that he had left this country. Another witty story is told of him, that when some of the heads of the town, together with Mrs Carnegie of Charleton, were laying the plans of the Lunatic Asylum, the question came to be how far the walls about it should extend, “Oh,” Mr. Nesbit said, “you had better make them round the whole town /” Those, be it observed, were the days ot self-elected Town Councils, when the old Council elected the new, and did not always choose the fittest men. Some of them, too, were not so well grounded in the Latin as they should have been, for hen they had occasion to allude to some one who was defunct, one of the Council said, “We'had better call the ‘defunct’ to answer for himself.” No such abuse of authority as sometimes then prevailed can exist now, for it may be said we are self-governed, having as a community the appointment of our own municipal rulers, and in this respect, we may enjoy the best privileges of a Republic, together with the protection afforded by our connection with a well ordered monarchy. It is well also to have noblemen of high rank, and oi lofty attainments to adorn that rank to look up to; and not as in America, where there is too much of a dead level, and where there is little public opinion. We have also amongst us, and in our immediate neighbourhood, gentlemen of solid worth and of exemplary conduct, giving encouragement to the prosecution of science and literature, by presiding over our winter course of lectures, as well as occupying the most honourable place in the Volunteer Corps—need I mention Mr. Macdonald of Rossie and St. Martins, and Colonel Renny Tailyour of Newmans walls and Borrowfield—a worthy scion of a noble stock, for I remember the inhabitants shut their shops and places of business on the day of his father’s funeral. His father also, I was told, contributed liberally to the erection of the Trades’ Schools, and paid for the education of at least one young man at these schools. How much better are we to have men of this kind to look up to, than many in that boasted land, -where the almighty dollar bears rule, and many are to be found who have nothing but their money to recommend them. That alone, without more solid claims to favour, will not recommend them, for I remember of a countryman, whose family fell heirs to a fortune, each of them having 1000. Of course the old people could not alter their way of life much—the man continued to wear his broad divot of a bonnet, and to work at his usual occupation; and the sons were sent to the parish school to learn Latin ; but Jock could make nothing of it, and said Latin was a curse to the country, and it was either a feast or a famine with them. Now, it requires breeding and culture to give a man a superior standing in society, corresponding to his wealth; and this standing is sometimes only reached after a long line of noble and illustrious ancestors, whose sons emulate their sires, flftd neither is it always acquired by descent.

Such a dignified and proper bearing is soonest acquired in the Army or Navy: for whether a voyage round the Cape to India and back, improves the flavour of wine or not, I don’t know, but this I do know, that the service of Her Majesty, either on sea or hnd, gives a man an air of nobility such as thing <dse can do; and I have known the son of a humble mechanic in Montrose return from his ship on the coast of Africa, so brushed up and polished, as to be a fit companion for the best gentleman in Montrose— indeed, fit to take his place in any society. This is to be accounted for, perhaps, from their having no choice but to do as the office civil life they can choose their own society, or shun it altogether.

After Mr. Nesbit went to America, Mr. Mollison succeeded him in the fir cha ge in this way : Lord Ethie or Northesk gave leave to the town to quarry stones from the Redhead to build that part of the quay between the lazy-hole and the old shore-dues office, and in process of time, when the second minister’s charge had to be filled up, his lordship, reminding them of the favour, put in a word to appoint his tutor to the office, and as one good turn deserves another, they at once complied.

Many stories are told of Mr. Mollison’s good fellowship at marriages, christenings, &c. Coming from the Nbrth-water from marrying a couple, a farmer asked him where he had been. The minister said he had been marrying a couple, but he did not see the bride. The man asked in astonishment how that could be. “Ow,” said Mr. M., “I saw an ’uman yonder, but the bride was in the kist-neuk,” that was, the man had married her for her money. He went to call upon a Mrs Sievewright at the Lochside, who was in bed very ill, and going to see her about six weeks afterwards, he found her going about again, and said, “ Mrs Sievewright, I’m very glad to see you so well again.’* She stood still looking at him, and said nothing; but a neighbour being at hand said “Tuts, that’s his new wife: he’s married again—he’s married again. He was in the habit of visiting ah old woman at the head of Bridgd Street, in a garret near Stewart the cutler. Dr. Smith afterwards visited the same woman; and somebody remarked that he was an able divine, and came a great way to see her. “That’s all vety true,” she said, “but oh, he’s far fr&e like my ain Mr. Mollison, for as sune as his prayer was ower, there was a shillin’ shot in a mi’ lufe." Mr. M. met an old woman at the head of the town, who, after the ordinary salutation, asked him “if that old woman that he so often prayed for was livin’ yet.” “What woman do you mean ?”    “Ou, Annie Christie,” said she.

The minister had prayed for the downfall of antichrist. Mr. Mitchell succeeded Mr. Mollison in the second charge. He had before that been tutor to Sir "Walter Scott, who afterwards visited him at Montrose, to get materials for his ghost stories. He was afterwards minister at Wooler in Northumberland, lived there to a good old age, and had Mr. Bryce as his assistant, who was afterwards minister of Gilcomston Church, Aberdeen. Mr. Mitchell, by all accounts, had not that hardy constitution—that “stomach,” as the old writers say, to enable him to bear the rubs of the world.


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