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Parish Life in the North of Scotland
Chapter XXIV - Second Marriage. Personal Friendships


1826-1827.

THE time of my marriage was now close at hand, and I made preparations accordingly. The first was to provide supplies for the pulpit of Resolis during my absence, which could not be less than a fortnight. The Thurso sacrament was to be administered on the 11th of June, and my marriage to take place nine days afterwards. On my journey to Thurso I stopped at Kincardine manse, on Wednesday,. the 7th of June. Mr. and Mrs. Allan, my kind friends, received me with much cordiality. Mrs. Allan was sister of my co-presbyter, Mr. Stewart of Cromarty. Some years before then I had seen her when a young lady at the manse of Kirkhill. Her marriage with Mr. Allan took place very soon after mine with my departed and beloved Harriet; for on our way north we met Mr. Allan near Pitmachie going south for a similar purpose. Nothing could have conveyed to my mind at the time a more perfect idea of connubial bliss than that presented to my view by this most amiable couple during my stay under their most hospitable roof. [Mr. Hector Allan was ordained missionary-minister of Fort-William in 1819, and translated on 12th April, 1821, to Kincardine in the Presbytery of Tain. He died 9th December, 1853, in the 63rd year of his age and 35th of his ministry.—Ed.] Next day I proceeded on my journey, and after crossing Bonar Bridge, struck across the hill, by Torboll and the Mound, to Golspie. I arrived at Thurso on the evening of Friday, the 9th.

I had resolved, in existing circumstances, to make as few public appearances on that occasion as I possibly could, and, notwithstanding Mr. Mackintosh's pressing solicitations, I declined preaching in English at all. I consented only to preach in Gaelic at the tent on Saturday, and exhort at a few tables in the same language on Sabbath. My venerable friend Mr. Cook of Dirlot preached in English on the Monday, and I engaged his services to solemnise our marriage.

On the 20th June, 1826, our marriage took place as appointed. Mr. Cook performed the nuptial rite. Those present were, Mr. and Mrs. Mackintosh and family. Capt. and Mrs. Sutherland, Mr. George Sinclair, yr. of Ulbster, and Mr. William Smith, minister of Bower. We all dined together at the manse, and my wife and I remained over night. Capt. Sutherland and his wife (who was Mr. Mackintosh's eldest daughter) and Miss Margaret Sutherland, from Dunfermline, the youngest daughter of Mr. William Sutherland, minister of Wick, accompanied us next day as far as Ulbster, Capt. Sutherland's place of residence. Whilst visiting at Wick, in her father's lifetime, I had seen Miss Margaret Sutherland, but had little or no acquaintance with her. She might then be about twenty years of age, and fifteen years had passed since, so that she was now considerably beyond her prime. She accompanied us from Caithness to Resolis, and resided with us for nearly twelve months. It was then that I was able to appreciate the excellence of her Christian character. In respect of meekness I never met with her equal. It was indomitable, and rose above every rude assault made upon it. Nor did this arise from any natural want of perception or sensibility. Her perceptions on all subjects were clear and scriptural, and she was largely endowed with all the finer sensibilities of our common nature. This great equanimity of mind, and temperance in all things, contributed to secure to her uninterrupted health; and, when at last attacked with a deadly disease, the patience with which she bore it helped to defer the final issue.

Arriving at Ulbster in the evening, Captain and Mrs. Sutherland received us with much cordiality. Next day I accompanied Captain Sutherland on an excursion over his farm. It was a sweet, south-lying, sunny, and sequestered spot, sheltered by the hills of Yarrows, and situated on the very edge of dizzy and beetling precipices. Some of them were huge, insular, and detached rocks, presenting to the eye the gigantic fragments of an antedeluvian world. To the far north-east might be seen the bold promontory of Noss Head, on which are situated the castles of Girnigoe and Sinclair, the baronial fortresses of the earls of Caithness when in the zenith of their power to do evil. South of Wick, but still to the north, and nearer Ulbster, were the dusky, weather-beaten walls of the "Auld Man of Wick " (or Auldwick), which had been the chief residence of Count Rognvald Cheyne ; and nearer still was Castle Gunn, or the fortalice of the "Great Gunn of Ulbster," the old Norse lord of the district, situated on an almost entirely insulated rock jutting into the sea. I entered the burying-ground. My attention was first directed to the tomb—a square, low building covered over with a slated pavilion roof. The door was in the centre of its southern wall, the wood of which, once painted, was crumbling into rottenness, spray-pelted by the pitiless blasts of ocean. The Sinclairs came into the possession of the tlbster estate immediately after the Gunns, and this tomb was their last restin'-place. All the lairds were buried here down to, and except, Sir John Sinclair. As I was passing out of the cemetery, I came upon a large mossy slab which bore upon its surface some rude attempts at sculpture. I understood that this marked the grave of a Danish princess whom, as tradition of long standing affirms, one of the great Gunns of Ulbster married, but, after conveying her by see, to her future home, the boat in which she was passing from the ship to the shore was swamped, and the princess drowned.

Accompanied by Miss Margaret Sutherland we left Ulbster ou Friday, the 23rd of June, 1826. On Saturday evening we arrived at the manse of Kincardine, where we received a cordial welcome. On the Sabbath I preached in Gaelic, and Mr. Allan in English. We left Kincardine on Monday after breakfast, but instead of crossing the Struhie, which was the shortest road, we came round by Tain to Invergordon, and arrived at Resolis late in the evening. There we were received by our household servants with all honour and respect. [Mrs. Elizabeth Mackintosh or Sage was born on the 13th Oct., 1807. In the relationships of wife and mother she ever acquitted herself as a true and devoted helper in the Lord. She departed this life on Friday, the 23th Jan., 1889, in the 82nd year of her age.—Ed.]

The Hon. James Sinclair was, with his amiable wife, a resident proprietor in the parish of Resolis in 1826. According to the old regime, Caithness and Bute returned members to the House of Commons alternately. Bute had returned a member to the last Parliament, which was dissolved sometime in the beginning of the summer of this year. The electors' turn of Caithness next came to send their representative. The family of Ulbster, though not the highest in rank, was the most potent in point of territory in the county. Sir John Sinclair, accordingly, for a long series of years, was, alternatively with the representative for Bute, elected M.P. for Caithness. His son Mr. George Sinclair succeeded him; but on the present occasion an opposing candidate was started, supported by Mr. James Horne of Langwell, who got a majority of the proprietors to give him their votes. The opposing candidate was Mr. James Sinclair of Braelangwell. The election took place on the 3rd July, and the Honble. James carried his election by five votes. The vanquished candidate, however, though rejected by the electors, was honoured by the multitude. He was carried in procession in a chair of state, with colours flying and a band of music, mingled up with the loudest plaudits of the populace, whilst his successful opponent and his agent Mr. Horne were saluted with every mark of scorn and contempt.

Mr. Sinclair of Braelangwell was the second son of James, Earl of Caithness. He had been in the army, and had married in 1819 Miss Triton, daughter of George Triton, a porter-brewer in London. I had seen Mr. Sinclair many years before, when he was a mere youth, at the manse of Canisbay. When he first came to Ross-shire he resided at Allan Bank, in the parish of Knockbain. Having purchased the estate of Braelangwell for £12,000 from the heirs of the late Mr. Roderick Kilgour Mackenzie of Flowerburn, he came to reside there. His wife, an amiable and accomplished woman, was in very delicate health. Although intemperate and wasteful in his habits, he was nevertheless, a most expert financier; he was always in need of money, but never seemed at a loss to procure it to clear scores with pressing creditors. At length, however, his estate fell to Mr. Duncan Davidson of Talloch, then a young man, who, having recently succeeded his father—the head of the firm of Davidson, Barclay, & Co.—and being in great affluence himself, had lent money to Captain Sinclair, and entered upon Braelaugwell as being the largest of the creditors.

On the 7th of July Mr. Mackintosh of Thurso wrote me % letter in which he expresses the hope that "Miss Sutherland will see her sister, Mrs. Milne, settled in Canisbay before she returns to Dunfermline." He did not. then anticipate any opposition to Mr. Milne's settlement. "The presentation was received," he remarks, "from the patron's own hands. Such a favour, however, whatever the intention might be, could in no way enhance either the honour or the benefit it conferred upon the presentee, when bestowed by such a man as Freswick, as he was supremely indifferent to what a minister's duty, or a congregation's benefit, really was. Freswick, who was an out-spoken, practical atheist, had no other object in view in giving Mr. Milne the presentation to Canisbay than to show forth his own "little brief authority " in the matter. He knew well enough that poor Milne, though naturally a mild, gentle creature, was neither a practical nor a popular preacher. It would therefore please him all the more if the parishioners should oppose his settlement, as an opportunity would be thereby afforded him for the sweeping exercise of his power as patron. But whilst all this was only what might be expected of such a men as William Sinclair of Freswick, it is also true that there were faults on all sides. My much-revered friend, the minister of Thurso, received the intelligence of his brother-in-law's promotion in too much of a secular spirit, and as a happy occurrence in Providence for providing a comfortable home for his wife's sister %nd family. The people of Canisbay were at first entirely passive in the matter. They knew so little of true religion that whatever their parish minister chose to preac,h from the pulpit on Sabbath, whether "orthodox, heterodox, or any dox," they supposed it must surely be what was called the gospel. But they had occasionally met with some who said they felt the power of it on their hearts. Such persons went among them at this time, and persuaded them to resist Mr. Milne's induction as that of one who could not edify the Church of Christ. Two pious men from Thurso were specially active this way, their only call thereto being the unerring accuracy and weight which they attached to their own private judgment. There was also one Alexander Campbell, a preacher, who had joined the separatists, and acted as a sort of missionary to the Highlanders in Dunnet, who busied himself to stir up the people of Canisbay against the presentee. The consequence was that, when the Presbytery met in their church to moderate in the cull, the majority of the parishioners refused to sign it, and, instead, protested against Mr. Milne's induction. Several meetings of Presbytery followed, and in the discussions which ensued only the worthy Mr. Gunn of Watten took the part of the people of Canisbay, joining them in an appeal to the higher courts. Later, however, tie too was led to alter his course. The appeal was fallen from, and Mr. Milne inducted. [One objection made by the parishioners before the Presbytery was to the effect that Mr. Milne was "above the priest's age." He died is 1832, aged 64, after a ministry of 5 years.—Ed.] Freswick was generally present at these meetings, and at one of them, when I was myself there, he indulged in one of his usual ebullitions of passion towards Mr. Gunn because of the opposition to his presentee.

The parish school of Rasolis had at this time a very inefficient teacher, and, in great contrast to it, was a little subscription school at Balblair, in the easter end of the parish. This was taught by a young man named Henry Macleod, who kept it in a high state of efficiency and order. MacLeod's parents were from Sutherlandshire, and had been evicted with many others. I took a special interest in him, inviting him to came to the manse to learn Greek, and afterwards procuring for him the Assembly's school at Jarnimaville. Mr. MacLeod of Cadboll helped him to get the parish school of Kincardine (Ross-shire), where he remained, highly respected by all, till he finished with the college and the hall, and was licensed to preach. He has now been for many years Free Church minister of Ardclach.

About mid-way between Inverness and -Nairn, on the southern shores of the Moray Firth, is situated the parish of Croy, which, at the commencement of my ministry, from various associations in my mind connected with it, was to me at least a " Holy Land." In that part of the north I met with a goodly number of men, bearing the name of Christ, who were certainly among the most eminent Christians I ever had the privilege to meet during my life and ministry. Their names are engraved upon my most vivic'and affectionate remembrances of the past. These were, Hugh MacDonald at Campbeltown; his senior in years and in grace, John Macnishie, and his son Donald, who lived at Connage of Petty; John Macllvaine at Milton of Connage; John Munro at Croy; Angus Ross, catechist of Nairn; Hugh Cluness at Ardclach; William Sinclair at Auldearn; John Fraser, catechist, both of Ardersier and Petty, and many others. I was first introduced to this Christian circle in 1822, during the vacancy at Croy, caused by the death of Mr. Hugh Calder. John Munro had obtained permission from the Presbytery of Nairn to get supplies for all the vacant Sabbaths from the neighbouring presbyteries; and having made application to me, I at once agreed, and accompanied him thither. After crossing the Fort-George Ferry, we arrived at Campbeltown, and, in passing, dined at Hugh MacDonald's house. We afterwards proceeded to Culblair, the hospital mansion of Captain Eneas Shaw, who, conjointly with his brother George, leased the farm from the Earl of Moray. Thus then did I first become acquainted with Hugh MacDonald; and from that time until the day of his death, the more we knew of each other the more united we became in the bonds of Christian brotherhood, and the oftener we met the better we understood one another, as travellers to the same country and partakers of the same faith in the one common Lord. We journeyed together in the wilderness of this world for about 33 years. I look back, as on some of the most prosperous periods of my ministerial life, to the many passing hours, both by day and night, spent under his lowly and hospitable roof, on my way to and from the Moray side, when fulfilling my numerous engagements to preach either at sacraments or on special week-day services. When I entered the village, as his honse stood close to the street, my eye was never satisfied until it lighted upon his tall, spare figure standing before his shop-door, clad with a linen apron, eagerly waiting for my arrival, of which he had got previous notice. Both his hand and his countenance bespoke at once how cordially he welcomed our meeting. We entered the house together, and, passing through his small shop or wareroom, ascended a narrow and somewhat steep stair, sat down in the neat little attic above, and eagerly engaged, so far as time permitted, in alternate question and answer on the business of a King and Kingdom which but few, alas! of the age in which we lived either knew or cared for. When we parted, if on my way going, he convoyed me to the top of the brae at the end of the village, or, if returning, he accompanied me from his house to the ferry-boat at Fort-George. He lived at that time in close Christian fellowship with John Macnishie, "an old disciple," then at the extreme limits of his earthly pilgrimage, who a few years afterwards entered into his "everlasting rest." But John Macnishie's son Donald, and John Macllvaine, were Hugh's almost daily and inseparable companions and fellow-travellers to Sion. They were all three brought to the knowledge of Divine truth under the ministry of that eminent man of God, the late Mr. Charles Calder of Feriutosh, the immediate predecessor of Mr. MacDonald. 'I'hey made me ashamed of myself, though it not a little "puffed up" self within me, by bringing my preaching into favourable comparison with that of so great a man and of so highly honoured a servant of Christ Jesus as Mr. Calder. From the similarity of our views of the truth, ever after they heard me at Croy on the occasion already alluded to, they continued to be my hearers at Resolis every Sabbath. [Groups of people also crossed the ferries of Invergordon and Alness from the north on Sabbath mornings, and took their places in the church of Resolis as regular bearers during the ministry there of Mr. Sage.—Ed,]

But the oldest and most venerable of the many eminent Christians whom I found in Resolis was Hugh Ross, or Buidh, so called from the colour of his hair. He was a native of the parish of Alness, but resided afterwards in Rosskeen. At an early age he was led by the Spirit of God to feel deep anxiety about his soul's welfare in view of a world unseen and eternal, under the able and honoured ministry of Mr. James Fraser, minister of Alness, the author of one of the profoundest theological treatises ever written on "Sanctification." Under such ministerial training, Hugh became, in his time, an exceedingly bright example of "a sinner saved by grace." He finally came to reside in Resolis, where I frequently met with him, and lie entertained me with many interesting passages in the life and teaching of his spiritual father in Christ. Though intimately conversant with the Scriptures, yet, strange to say, he could not read. It was justly said of him, however, that though he had not the Bible on his table or in his pocket, he had it in his heart. One anecdote which he told me of Mr. James Fraser is interesting. It was as follows:—Mr. Hector MacPhail, at the beginning of his ministry in Resolis, was very low-spirited. This arose, not from physical but from moral causes. Not having experienced the consolations of the gospel in his own soul, he was greatly straitened in preaching it to others. The impression on his mind, therefore, was that, in the circumstances, it was his duty to resign his office. He, accordingly, invited his beloved brother and neighbour, Mr. Fraser of AIness, to preach at Resolis on a day named, and to intimate his intention to the congregation. Mr. Fraser readily complied with the request to preach, but made no reference whatever to the intended resignation. Such was the fervour, the unction, and the enlargement with which he declared "the whole counsel of God," that the large audience present was deeply moved, and no one so agitated as was the venerable Hector MacPhail himself. The comforts of the gospel, to which he had been so long a stranger, returned with double their former energy and influence. He could no longer contain himself, hut, starting up to his feet, his eyes streaming with tears, and his bands stretched out towards his honoured brother in the pulpit, he exclaimed —"qty father! my father! the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof." This exclamation was instantly followed up by the sobbing of the people. Mr. Fraser paused for some minutes until the emotion had somewhat subsided. Then, addressing his weeping brother, he asked, "Do you still persist in your resolution to resign?" "O no, no, no," he replied, "I adopted that resolution hastily, but, so help me, my Father in Heaven! I resolve, in his name and strength, to devote myself to his service, in soul and body, mind and spirit. From that day Mr. MacPhail continued to be a living and eminently successful preacher of the gospel. "For the period of three years afterwards," said Hugh, "scarcely a Sabbath passed in Resolis without one or more being brought under saving impressions of divine truth." On a Sabbath afternoon, immediately after public worship, when partaking of some dinner with me in the manse, Hugh Buidh expired suddenly, and entered an eternal world as placidly as he had begun his former night's sleep.

The birth of our first child in the end of July brought me many congratulatory letters, but I shall only notice the writers of three of these. One was from Mr. John Sutherland of Dunfermline. This gentleman was the eldest son of Mr. William Sutherland, minister of Wick, and he was thus the brother of Airs. Mackintosh of Thurso. His father was descended from a long line of ministers of the Episcopalian and Presbyterian Churches of Scotland, who had, besides John, a throng family of at least fifteen sons and daughters. Mr. John Sutherland had been for a time a linen manufacturer in Dunfermline, but at this period he had retired into private life. He was unmarried, and his sisters Mary and Margaret lived with him till his death some years after.

Mr. John Fraser, banker and merchant, Inverness, was another of our friends who, on this occasion, sent his hearty congratulations. This gentleman was the son of Air. William Fraser, a wealthy burgess of Inverness, who, for reasons which I never could ascertain, was, by his fellow-townsmen, called Buchtie. His only son John succeeded his father in business. His mother was the daughter of a Air. Munro, tenant of the farm of Delnies, on the estate of Cadboll. Mr. John Fraser bad several sisters who were married respectively to Mr. Hugh MacBean, minister of Ardclach; Mr. James Russel, minister of Gairloch; and Mr. MacBean, a merchant in Florence, Italy. Some years before, Air Fraser had married Miss Lilias Fraser, eldest daughter of my near and very dear relative, Air. Donald Fraser, minister of Kirkhill. [Mr. William Fraser was proprietor of Buchtie, a small estate near Inverness. Mr. John Fraser finally removed to Canada, where he became a banker at London, Ontario. While there, he was the faithful friend and adviser of Highland Scotch emigrants, whom he directed to settlements in the surrounding forest-lands, which by industry they soon converted into fertile and fruitful fields. His third son William became minister of the Free Church of Scotland, first, at Gourock, then in Edinburgh, and lastly in the Presbyterian Church, Brighton, where he died suddenly in 1887, when preaching a special sermon to soldiers. Dr. Donald Fraser, the distinguished and talented minister of Marylebone Church, London, is Mr. John Fraser's second son.—Ed,] In this same letter he intimates the birth of his third son William, which took place on 27th July, 1827.

A third letter was from my early acquaintance and next neighbour, Mr. 'MacDonald of Ferintosh. He always sympathised with us both in our joys and sorrows, and often visited us. He and I lived on terms of closest intimacy, interrupted only by his many engagements from home. These were entered into so much and so frequently that nothing but a more than ordinary, and perhaps more than human, zeal for the success of the gospel could justify. In the north or in the south, and especially in the Highlands of Perth, Argyll, and Inverness-shires he occupied himself in evangelistic work, almost uninterruptedly for at least two-thirds of the whole year. It is true that, at stated intervals, he returned and preached at home, but it as often happened that, on his way from the south to fulfil an engagement in the far north, he passed his own house, and remained within a mile of it until Such time as a change of raiment could be sent to him. This was surely carrying matters to an extreme, the consequence of which was the neglect of his own people; so much so, that even after the close of Mr. Calder's ministry, and during the whole of his own, piety and pious men rapidly declined, and finally almost died out among them.

At the time he wrote me this good man had set his heart upon entering on a mission to Ireland. The state of that country was such as would have awakened the sympathies of Paul the Apostle. It also arrested the attention of "the apostle of the North." He decided to go thither and preach the gospel, believing it to be the only moral, spiritual, and even political panacea for all the evils which lay so heavily on the poor Irish. He, therefore, made the necessary preparations, asking me, in common with other of his brethren, to supply his pulpit, and fulfil his other pastoral duties during his absence. On the 6th of August, 1827, therefore, he set out for the Emerald Isle. He met with a most favourable reception from the Irish people, both Popish and Protestant. The strain of his preaching was calculated to gain him a hearing from all parties. It was purely and thoroughly scriptural, and all controverted points, so frequently and fiercely debated between ultra-Protestants and Papists, were carefully excluded. He preached the doctrines of the Cross in their divine and majestic simplicity, and this secured for them a reception into the hearts and consciences of men of every grade, class, age, and religious opinion. But as even in the apostolic age, so honoured by the presence of the Holy Ghost, was found an "Apollos, an eloquent man," so in his age was Mr. Macdonald. He had a natural eloquence not surpassed, or even equalled, by his ablest contemporaries. Like the gospel itself, it was powerfully and irresistibly persuasive. The impression it made on the minds of his audience was not altogether that conviction of sin which they might be led to feel by mere logical power of reasoning, so much as a sense of contrition and self-accusation for what they found and felt themselves to be under the rich manifestations of the superabounding grace of the gospel.

To Mr. Macdonald, therefore, the Irish, without distinction of denomination, listened with profound attention. Addressing them as he did, if not in their own dialect of the Celtic, yet in a kindred one which they understood nearly as well, he was gladly heard, even by the Papists, for the sake of the language in which he spoke. They neither knew nor cared to enquire whether this extraordinary preacher was a Protestant or a Papist, an Episcopalian or a Presbyterian. These distinctions were swept aside by the flood of precious gospel truth poured so copiously from his lips upon their minds, and they received him as a preacher of righteousness, giving to the doctrines which he set forth a reception similar to that so readily accorded to those of his Divine Master by the mixed multitude when they acknowledged that "He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes." Through the whole of his itinerancy in Ireland his fame always preceded him; wherever he went he was never without a crowd and a welcome, and whether he travelled by day or by night he was equally safe. The wildest and most lawless of the Popish mob in Ireland, be they "White-boys" or " Peep-of-Day-boys," however much in use and wont to fight with others or among themselves, were under a law of amity and good behaviour towards the Irish-speaking, Scottish preacher. So far were they from injuring or annoying him that, if any difficulty arose to his onward progress from the state of the road, or any danger to his person were threatened by those who did not know him, they were ready to come to his rescue. Not so, however, did it fare with other preachers travelling through these same districts for similar purposes. Notwithstanding their good intentions, they unfortunately met with a very different reception. These zealous ministers (dissenters from the south of Scotland), fell unwittingly at the very outset into two blunders. In preaching to the native Irish, they used the language of the Saxon, the medium of all others the most abhorrent to the Irish people. This error, perhaps, they could not avoid, but they made a greater mistake when they decided to substitute, as the leading subject of their sermons, the Popish controversy for the gospel. This was the torch applied to light up a general conflagration. The preacher spoke and waxed hot on the abuses, delusions, and errors of Popery; the Popish audience heard and waxed hotter still at the public insult thus thrown out against the religion of their country. The speaker was often obliged to stop, and even to flee for his Iife to find shelter from an enraged hand of fanatical devotees.

It was in the end of this year that I received a letter from Mr. Hugh Davidson of Wick, conveying the melancholy intelligence of the death of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Davidson of Latheron. Maria Serena Robertson, wife of Mr. George Davidson, minister of Latheron, died most peacefully on the 1st of November, 1827, in the 25th year of her age. She was the younger sister of my dearly beloved Harriet, and was a meek, gentle, loving woman, on whose face was never seen a frown, and from whose lips was never heard a rude or angry word. I fully believe her to have been one of Christ's beloved disciples, and that when she gently glided from this earthly scene, it was to take her place in an infinitely better world.


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