Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter XIII - Parish Ministers of Coldstone

OF the Parish Ministers of the district of Cromar in the early times very little seems to be known, though in Mr. Michie's account they occasionally emerge, not always to their credit.

A Mr. Andrew Gray, Minister of Coull, one of the three parishes of Cromar, seems to have been somewhat meddlesome, and brought upon himself reproof from the Synod with the caution "Not to meddle with the exercises of any other minister his charge, or he will be answerable." He is shown up in an epitaph, said to have been written by the first Karl of Aboyne, as follows:—

" • • • Little Mr. Andrew Gray
Though void
of wit, yet full of years.
To paint him forth requires some skill
He knew so little good or ill.
He had a church without a roof
A conscience that was cannon proof
He was prelatic first, and then
Became a Presbyterian.
Episcopal once more he turned
And yet for neither would be burned.
Of whom I have no more to say
But fifty years he preached, and died"

The practice of composing witty and satirical epitaphs continued for long, says Mr. Michie, to be a favourite amusement with clergymen at the presbyterial dinners. In 1818, the minister of Kildrummy was famous for such competions. and roasted a fellow Presbyter who had written a work on the history of Scotland which had not been enthusiastically received by the reading public. The author had lost an arm in early life and the Kildrummy minister would have him thus immortalized:—

Beneath this stane within this knowe
Lies single-handed Sandy Lowe
He wrote a book nae ane could read
And now the creature's wi' the dead".

Another and even less reverent effusion was directed to the Minister of Coldstone known as "Red Rab." which must have been intended for Rev. Robert Farquharson who was minister of Coldstone and a co-presbyter with its author in 1818, in which year the effusion is dated. Unfortunately Mr. Michie gives but the two concluding lines of this extraordinary production, but these after all are probably quite enough. They read as follows :—

"When at the last trump the dead shall rise,
Lie still, Red Rab, if ye be wise."


Up to the year 1695, when the Bank of Scotland was estabIished, there was no bank whatever in Scotland, and it continued to be the only one in the country until the establishment of The Royal Bank in 1727. Indeed so little money was there at the time that it is said that even well into the eighteenth century, the owners of a ten pound note might ransack half a dozen county towns without finding a merchant with sufficient silver to change it. In those early times most business transactions were conducted by barter. Yet even then some men acquired wealth not only of property but of real cash. Such men, among whom were sometimes ministers, became money lenders, and these, with landed proprietors who took monies on deposit and lent money out at interest, took the place of the modern bank.

So little were bank notes, or bills, in evidence even at a date comparatively recent that the common people do not seem to have been acquainted with even their outward appearance. It is told of the landlord of The Cuttie Inn, whose cognomen was "Cuttie," that he became indebted to a neighbour in the large sum of five pounds which, on demand made, he could not at the moment pay. He had by him, however, his hotel license, or whiskey permit, and presuming on the ignorance of his creditor, he presented it as a five pound note in payment of the debt. The creditor in good faith accepted the document as genuine, and quite satisfied went his way. Some time afterwards Cuttie now ready to pay the debt began to wonder why he had heard no complaint about his worthless note. At last his customer called at the inn when Cuttie asked if he had still that five pound note in his possession. "Na Na," replied the customer, "It's Bane gang syne." To this Cuttie, nonchalantly replied: "Never mind, it will come again." So originated an expression still current, no doubt, in the district, "It'll come again, like Cuttie's note."

Through the imposition of a tax, under an act of the Convention of the Scottish Estates, dated 28th July 1630, upon interest received for all monies so lent, information is found as to the financial standing of the first minister of the united parish of Logie Coldstone. His name was James Strauchane, and in the look of Annual rentaris, Aberdeen, compiled under the said Act, it is found that he was a man of considerable wealth. Among his twelve debtors, whose names, with the amount of the indebtedness of each are Riven, are several landed proprietors, one a Burgess of Aberdeen, a few local fanners and four ministers of the gospel while the total amount outstanding to his credit is 5800 merks.

At the time of the Reformation there was a great scarcity of ministers, and therefore from 1560 to 1573 most parishes were served by laymen, who were known as "readers." In 1574, Coldstone had assigned to it its first minister, in the person of James Reid, to whom was given at the same time the charge of Coull, Kincardine O'Neil, Banchory-Trinitie and Birse. In this very wide field he was assisted by readers, but the services of his own readers he paid for out of his own munificent salary of sax score pounds, being the equivalent of ten pounds sterling.

The list of Ministers succeeding Mr. Reid so far as I have been able to ascertain, is as follows:—Rev, David Strauton, who continued to 1597; Rev. James Lesh continued till 1601; Rev. James Strachan, already named 1608-1633; Robert Forbes, who departed out of this life Jan. 12th, 1675; John Forbes, 1677 to about 1680; John Shepherd, who, "After he spent his life in love to God and mankind, died Mar. 1st, 1748, aged 74." James Mclnnes, who died 10th Oct., 1777 in the 62nd year of his ministry and the 88th of his age. Rev. Robert Farquharson, from 1777, to 1826. "Rev. Andrew Tawse, for seven years Minister at Grey-Friar's Church of Aberdeen, who, in the eighth year of his Ministry in this parish and 47th of his age, while conducting the solemn service of God's House on Sunday 15th Dec., 1833, was called from the faithful discharge of his pastoral duties, and expired in presence of his sorrowing people.' Rev. John McHardy, born Jan. 1785, from 1833 to 1866. George Davidson, from 1866.

With the exception of Mr. Strachan. whose frugal tendencies have been already noted, little seems to be known of any of the eight ministers who proceeded Rev. Robert Farquharson. Whatever their influence, in their own times, may have been, we cannot doubt that from their labours, good, or bad, was sown the seed, the harvests of which for generations to come, will continue to be reaped.


It is extremely difficult to estimate the spiritual condition of the people in any particular age or country. Not infrequently what is deemed by a contemporary historian worthy of record happens to be something in the estimation of the writer, abnormal or out of the usual. The same is true in even greater degree of unwritten tradition, which usually preserves what to the first narrator, seemed out of the common. Perhaps the kind of evidence most worthy of credence comes from the written meditations of some earnest soul whose ideals as to Christian life are pure and high, and who yet deplores, as he depicts, conditions actually existent around him. Such evidence comes from very early times, through St. Ternan, whose name is perpetuated in the modern name of a town about 17 miles distant from Cold-stone, known as "Banchory Ternan." That good man records that in his time public roups, or sales, of farm stock and other merchandise were held at the Church door on Sunday mornings, just before the commencement of church service. That practice, he observes might be amended. Before the 18th century dawned, that pious wish, so modestly expressed, had found fulfilment. By that time the lowing of the cattle had indeed ceased, but the echoes came into the new century through the advertising of such sales, and other matters of a purely secular nature, which still persisted. Throughout the 18th century not only were newspapers scarce and little seen by the large majority of the people, but many there were who could not read. So it was necessary that some means of advertising should be adopted which was understood by all. Advantage was therefore taken of the weekly assemblies at church for public worship, to whom the bell-man would announce (for a fee, no doubt) the roups, or sales, and all matters of public interest claiming attention during the current week. The echoes of one of the last of such announcements thus declared at the door of the church of Coldstone has come down to modern time. It was delivered by the ground officer of the estate of Invercauld, who, in announcing the letting of a number of farms in that estate, finished up his harangue in the following words, which, and which alone, the echo still repeats "Bogstone and 'Hill o'Bogstone an' the half pleuch o' Knocksoul, an' a' to let, an' a' to let."

The lowing of the oxen is no longer heard, and the bell-man no longer suggests thoughts of their presence to the minds of assembled worshippers, yet few perhaps of the most devout will say that in the hour of most solemn worship the ox does not at times obtrude his unwelcome visage in the sacred tabernacle of mind and heart.


Regarding Rev. Robert Farquharson, a whole chapter might be written. In his contribution to the Old Statistical Account of Scotland, dated 1793, to which more extended reference was made in a previous chapter, he informs us that the parish of Logic Coldstone is a vice-patronage, the crown and Invercauld having the right to present a minister alternately. The annual stipend of the ministry he says is "forty-five pounds, two shillings and one penny and eleven bolls of victual, thirty-two of which were bear (barley) and two glebes."

Added interest would have been given to his contribution had he been pleased to give us his version of the story of his settlement as parish minister. Such a story would have given, as from the inside, a practical illustration of the working of patronage then, and for half a century thereafter, existing as a public scandal and cause of trouble to the church of Scotland.

That incident surely deserves a place in this story. In Mr. Michie's "Logie-Coldstone," to which I am indebted for much information about the parish, appears a quotation from "Scott's Fasti," in the following words:—"Robert Farquharson A.M. transl. from Kirkmichael, Abernethy Parish 3rd Nov. 1779 (delay arose from a competition regarding the patronage which was claimed also by the Crown and Charles Karl of Aboyne, against whom the Court of Session decided 5th Feb. and 17th of the latter year").

Of this competition or dispute, there was no lack of evidence at the time, and echoes of the fray, as between the two presentees Rev. Robt. Farquharson and Rev. Thos. Gordon had not ceased to vibrate in the district when we left in 1866. Both appointees believed apparently that possession availed not a little in matters ecclesiasical and spiritual as well as in those of civil law, and each determined to secure for himself prior entry into the pulpit. I am not clear as to the mode of procedure under the obnoxious Act of Queen Anne, passed in 1711, by which, in gross violation of the terms of the Union between England and Scotland, solemnly entered into only four years before, patronage was forced by the English majority upon the Scottish church and people. At first it was understood that the consent of the presbytery was necessary to make a legal settlement. Soon it became evident that while an unwilling congregation and the presbytery might debar an unwelcome presentee from ecclesiastical service, they had no power to withhold from him or otherwise dispose of the Stipend attached to the office. It was not long however until the law courts determined that any presentee of the church, unless morally disqualified, must be inducted and Ordained by the presbytery into all the duties and privileges of that Sacred office Then it was that trouble arose. The unwillingness of the people was overcome sometimes by military force. Indeed I have read one minister's story of his own settlement under such extraordinary circumstances. The people in his case had nailed up the church door in the face of the presbytery and a squad of soldiers. The Serjeant proposed to break down the door, but the presentee, afraid that the heritors might not be pleased to be called on to make good the repairs, suggested entry by the window. As the presentee was thus effecting his entrance by the window he was met from within by a scripture quotation delivered in a stentorian voice :—"He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold but climbeth tip some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." A member of presbytery, unable to get near enough to lay his hand on the head of the kneeling presentee, reached his objective with his cane accompanying his action with the remark "timmer tae timmer," which was regarded as anything but kind. The name of the parish as I remember was "Dalmailing." I should have been disposed to say "an enemy bath done this," but that the author goes on to show in detail the progress made from year to year under his ministry.

In the Coldstone case the people took no part. Probably they were too little alive at the time to be aware that a wrong was being done. So far the presbytery had taken no action, and no doubt the service was designed to correspond with what in more spiritual days had been regarded as a trial service, affording the people an opportunity of testing the acceptability of the presentee. Most likely the (late for this trial sermon had been fixed by the presbytery. Both presentees, at any rate, were on hand the same (lay. First came Mr. Gordon's four sturdy men who posted themselves to guard the door. It was a vain precaution. When Farquharson came, "he rode all unarmed and he rode all alone," but hastily dismounting, whip in hand, and wearing the garb of Old Gaul, he brushed aside the quaternian guard, and thus attired, and before the astonished guard had realized the situation, marched straight into the pulpit and preached his first sermon unopposed.

I heard the story from many sources but none of my informants ever mentioned any delay in assuming his Pastoral duties, or any legal process necessary to render his incumbency valid. No doubt can exist as to the accuracy of the report quoted by Mr. Michie which would seem to imply a vacancy of two years ending in a legal settlement. Most likely he had held the Position undisturbed, by virtue of possession, without induction by the Presbytery, pending the decision of the civil courts, of which in Scotland the highest is The Court of Session whose decisions stand, subject only to review by the House of Lords, on appeal. At that time, not only were questions regarding the settlement of ministers in the national church subject to review by the civil courts, but reference was had to them, and decisions by them rendered regarding the discipline of the church itself. There were case, in which ministers, who had been found by the ecclesiastical courts guilty of gross immorality, and therefore deprived of their status as ministers, and of their official position with its emoluments, who yet, on appeal to the Civil Courts, had been restored to their former position and incumbency and emoluments. The position was indeed intolerable, and became the occasion of several secessions from the Established Church, and was what ultimately led to the great Disruption in 1843.

Mr. Farquharson belonged to that branch of the clan who owned a small estate known as "Alergue," if not himself the owner of that property. There was no blood-relationship between him and our branch of the family so far as I know, but it so happened that my grandfather's farm, and the manse with the glebe-farm were side by side, with only the public road between them, and relations between the two families were close and exceedingly cordial.

For some reason Mr. Farquharson had been made a Justice of the Peace, a distinction probably accorded him out of respect to his connection with the Alegrue family and estate, not less than for his fitness in other respects. Altogether he was a man under authority, and not slow to put all his powers in active exercise when occasion seemed to demand it. He was referred to by his people as 'prophet, priest and king.'

One of his reported sayings, surviving through the intervening century, gives some indication of his character, "I remember a good turn seven vicars, but an ill turn, I remember fourteen." Another, to the same effect which I had from an old lady who knew him well, was "I'm a good friend but a damnable enemy."


Up to the middle of the eighteenth century the common drink of the people of Scotland was ale, which was brewed in every farm house, and under the name of "twopenny," publicly sold at the price of two pence a Scotch pint (which, I believe, was much larger than the English pint). It was made from malt, but was not usually of alcoholic strength sufficient to product intoxication.

In 1725 there was passed an Act imposing on each bushel of malt a tax of sixpence. Of course the purpose of the Act was clearly the raising of revenue, which of necesity must ever be a burden upon the public. At first sight the choice of malt as a subject for excise purposes would seem quite unobjectionable. Malt was in no sense a necessity, and a decrease of its consumption in the form of ale in the several households of the nation could hardly of itself be regarded as hardship or injury to the health, morals or prosperity of the people of Scotland. And yet, innocent as the Act seemed, it is said to be seen the cause indirectly of the flood of drunkenness and inebriety that for generations was to be the curse of Scotland. When the large quantity of malt required for each family is considered, it is not surprising that the new tax was found to be a burden too heavy to bear, unless the people were prepared to content themselves with a much less copious use of their favourite beverage. The new tax, in a country so poor as Scotland then was, so raised the price that the use of ale in any considerable quantity, among the common people at least, became an impossibility. It was therefore deemed necessary to find a substitute at Iess expense, and this was not far to seek. Though then almost unknown in the Lowlands, whiskey from an early period had been manufactured and used in the Highlands of Scotland, and stills were there already in all the glens prepared to evade the tax, and pour forth streams of so called "Aqua Vitae" upon the thirsty land, at reasonable price. The new beverage seemed to meet abundantly the craving for alcohol, whether created by the old "twopenny" variety or not, but the satisfaction was only seeming, for the name "Aqua Vitae," as applied to it was soon found to be a misnomer. True of it, with terrible emphasis, was the saying of Our Lord, "He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again." More vain are its promises than those of the briny deep under a tropical sun to slake the thirst of the sailor perishing on its bosom for want of but a cup of water fresh and pure, distilled from the clouds of heaven.

The supply of the new beverage was abundant. Not only was it carried from the highlands, but fleets of vessels began to smuggle into the country ardent spirits from all the countries of Europe. With Highland producers and foreign smugglers, the whole of Scotland was in sympathy. They regarded all attempts to control or suppress the traffic as an English invasion of the liberties of their country, and consequently few seizures seem to have been effected. The spirit of the time is reflected in the old Jacobite song, already quoted in another connection:--

"We daurna brew a peck o' Maut
But Geordie, he maun fin' a faut,
And tae oor kale we scarce get saut
For want o' Royal Charlie."

On his advent in 1777 Mr. Farquharson found the illicit manufacture of whiskey almost universal in Coldstone. My impression from what I have heard is that a thorough search would have disclosed the fact that almost every farmer in his parish, had on his farm or in some secret place in the hills an illicit still in which he was either directly or indirectly interested. Agricultural methods were exceedingly primitive, laborious and unremunerative, and the intelligence that was yet to visualize the possibilities of soil and climate and to devise and adopt means and methods for their enlightened exploitation had not yet been Awakened. The barbaric instincts of a ruder period, under which the hand of power or of cunning had been wont to appropriate, without pretence of remuneration, the hard-earned fruits of a neighbour's industry, had happily passed. But not yet had come the realization that participation in a traffic that in no case is of real value to the ultimate consumer, adds nothing to his comfort, health, wealth, happiness or well-being, or to that of his family, but on the contrary tends ever to debase and destroy what is noblest and best in himself, and to rob his family of the means of subsistence, was and must ever be, in its very nature and essence, a sin scarcely less heinous, and in its effects on society little less destructive and disastrous, than were the sword and dagger of the semi-savages of a former generation.

In Mr. Farquharsons day, the terrible evil of strong drink was not realized, and on the part of the people there was no consciousness of wrong-doing when they took part in the manufacture and use of intoxicating liquors. Unchecked, therefore, by moral considerations or consciousness of wrong-doing it is little wonder that the poverty-stricken community should have availed themselves of the opportunity, now as it seemed, providentally afforded them, for a more remunerative disposal of the produce of their farms. It is true that the partial abandonment of ale and the substitution therefor of whiskey as the national beverage had not the effect immediately of advancing the price of the latter. An increased demand for the produce of their stills was, however, immediate, and most of the farmers were therefore directly engaged in that industry. If there were any not so engaged there were none who did not participate in the advantages arising from the traffic, inasmuch as the many stills in operation made an insatiable demand for barley, which naturally rose to prices otherwise unattainable. In itself, the traffic was highly demoralizing. The very fact that it could not be openly prosecuted, but must needs be carried on stealthily and in secret, while outwardly a pretended compliance with the law had to be maintained, could not fail to be destructive of all that was true and honourable in the character of the offenders. Indeed, so sternly does Nature, and that means Nature's God, demand obedience to her royal law of truth and honour, that the Stamp of her approval is withdrawn from the brow of the offender who, under whatever temptation, persistently continues the pretence of being other than what he knows himself to be.

There were other aspects of the traffic not less deplorable. The business, necessarily secret, was not always safe in daylight, and was therefore carried on largely at night. Around the still met young men, and, as I have heard, voting women too, In such an atmosphere, the conversation and conduct, uncontrolled by any recognized authority, can be imagined. Idle and drunken habits were contracted by some, a disregard of human law, was fostered in all, and other immoralities indulged in, in the darkness, soon became manifest in the light.


Violators of the law were tried by Justices of the Peace, and Mr. Farquharson the new minister, was seemingly always one of the two locally employed for that purpose. His sympathy was invariably with the accused, and any poor person could always depend on him for the most lenient treatment possible under the law. One poor woman to whom the payment of the usual fine of six-pence was no light matter, was frequently before the Court. For her, her minister had special sympathy which he habitually manifested by himself paying her fine. In dismissing her he was accustomed to say, "My good woman, here's your sixpence, go away home." The time came, however, when the fine was raised to twenty pounds sterling, and once again this "good woman" was at the bar of Justice. As the case opened, Mr. Farquharson's colleague on the bench said sarcastically "Let off your wifie for a sixpence, today, Mr. Farquharson, if you dare." Mr. Farquharson scored with the reply "It's the first request that you have made and it shall be granted." Then, turning to the culprit he dismissed her with the usual formula, plus the usual sixpence but with the warning never to try the like again.

In Mr. Farquharson's day, and probably still, most of the people in the parish depended for fuel almost exclusively, on turf and peat from the hill. The turf was cut with what was known locally as a "flachter" spade, in thin flat slices, perhaps about 10 x 15 and about 3 inches thick. The non-English name of this "spade" indicates its early origin, and therefore some description of its construction and use may be of interest. In cutting turf, the terrain was usually lined and rutted or cut perpendicularly to a depth equal to the required thickness of the turf by an ordinary spade into rectangular sections corresponding with the superficial dimensions of the turf, the cutting of the under part of the several turfs being left to be performed by the use of the flachter spade, which therefore required considerable force. Its cutting part was about the width of the turf, its handle long, with a cross piece about two feet or more in length attached to its upper end. In operation, the cross piece was not only convenient for the use of both hands but also for the application of the superior strength of the thighs in urging forward the cutting edge as it disengaged the turfs successively from the subsoil, and also made easy the work of tilting them out of the way as each succeeding turf was negotiated.

Peats were dug from banks composed entirely of decomposed vegetation, with a depth in various localities from two or three feet in sonic, to five or a-ix feet, or in a few places such as "The Roar Moss" on the shoulder of Hyron's Cuiblean, to a depth said to be ten or fifteen feet. Where drainage by gravitation was practicable, as it always was in the hill, operations were commenced at the lowest part of the hank where the depth of the pent soil would perhaps be little more than sufficient for turf. The combustible material was taken out and economically converted into fuel in its appropriate form until a bank sufficiently deep for peat production was reached. The peat was cut horizontally the face of the bank in front of the operator being perpendicular. The spade was perhaps about five inches in width, with a wing, or tusk as it was called, on the right-hand side, projecting perpendicularly from the cutting edge, giving the tool the effect of a square chisel, the main part in operation cutting the under, and the tusk the right hand side, of the peat. Proceeding from left to right along the front of the bank, one motion thus made a complete peat. In appearance and consistency it was not unlike a liar of soap, though in colour a dark brown. At its far end it was broken from the bank, and the first operation was complete. The peats so dug were delivered from the spade to a wheel-barrow specially constructed for the purpose, two or more of which, operated by at least one extra worker, were successively wheeled off as filled, and their contents, gently dumped on the ground. In this condition the peats were allowed to lie till partially dried and fit for handling without breakage, when they were separated into little piles and upended somewhat like grain stooks, to be thoroughly dried.

It must be remembered that all over the surface of the hill a great growth of heather which unless burned off, retards the drying process greatly, and in wet seasons might render it impossible. For the purpose of preparing "blair," (as heather-cleared ground was called) for drying fuel, it was allowable to bum the heather over a limited area actually necessary therefore in fall or winter, but such bunting in spring or summer, while the game birds would be nesting, was absolutely forbidden, and was properly, punishable by law.

One year, Mr. Farquharson's hands had neglected to make the necessary preparation in proper time, and deemed it necessary, therefore, to do the burning out of the proper season, for which, of course, there was no justification. Possibly the fire had spread beyond reasonable bounds. At any rate the eagle eye of Mr. Roy the estate "factor" was upon the offender, in rage and with all sorts of threatening. But he reckoned without his host. Mr. Farquharson coolly told him that he might do his worst. "You can fine me." he said, "half a crown under law for the offence, and if you want that amount, here it is (presenting the coin), but remember, if you take it, I shall see whether I can get as many men between Dee and Don as will, for love or money, make it unnecessary for me to burn blair for my peats out of season next year." For once the mighty factor had met his match. His reply was, "For heaven's sake, say no more about it."


Mr. Farquharson had several of a family, one of whom became a medical doctor, and another a minister. What became of them I do not know, further than that the latter obtained a church through the patronage system then existing. Besides his sons of whom he had, at least three, he had daughters, one of whom afterwards became Mrs. Black. Mrs. Black, when a young girl seems to have been exceedingly kind to my father when a little motherless boy. With great glee, he used to tell us a story in illustration of her kindness. He and his two sisters Jane and Margaret had made a visit to a wooded knoll near the manse, in search of babies, who, as they had been led by some one to believe, were to be found in hollow tree stumps. By accident, he had stubbed his toe and determined to return home, leaving the others to pursue alone their hopeful but fruitless search. As he approached the Manse, he observed for the first time that his toe was bleeding. It had been giving him no pain or inconvenience, but the blood suggested the thought that its wounded condition might be the means of enlisting the sympathy of the ladies of the Manse, which in his childish troubles he had never known to fail. Accordingly he began to cry as if something was seriously wrong. The future Mrs. Black heard the pitiful waiI and hurried to his aid. Greeting him with the question "What's the matter Charlie:" she got the reply, "My tae's rinnin oot." With words of sympathy and kindness, supplemented by something good to eat, she was able soon to dispel from his face the gloom and disappointment of the morning, and the little fugitive from the field of scientific research went home rejoicing and triumphant.

My father never forgot his old friend, and as long as he stayed in Scotland, faithfully made her a call on his every visit to the city. Once, and that on the occasion of our first visit to Aberdeen, my brother James and I had the pleasure of accompanying him and of being received most kindly by the stately old lady of whom we had heard so much. She was still alive in 1873, when I returned on a visit. Then, in obedience to my father's instructions, I called at her residence, accompanied by Grandfather Stewart, but she was from home and I failed to see her. Though then a woman of eighty or more, she took the trouble to walk through the city, over a mile to see me. Unfortunately, that day myself and my future wife were both absent, but she left for us her counsel, "Tell the young folks to begin laich" (low). It was counsel kindly, timely and wise, and which I hesitate not to pass on to those who may come after me.


In Mr. Farquharson's day, spiritual life in Scotland generally, and in Aberdeenshire perhaps more particularly, had sunk to a very low ebb, and it would not be fair to expect either minister or people to measure up to the standards of a less worldly age. The Sabbath, however, :so far as abstinence from labour and due attendance at the services and ordinances of the church were concerned, was, I believe, generally well observed. Most of the parishioners were therefore surprised to discover by and bye that even in a matter so central in their religious consciousness as was the Sabbath, their minister had ideas of his own.

It was a harvest season of a kind not uncommon in Scotland, in which the securing of the ripened grain was attended by special difficulty by reason of inclement weather. The oats had been cut and stood in the stook soaked with rain which poured down with little intermission day after day for many days at a time, threatening the irretrievable ruin of the whole crop. Toward the end of the work in question, a pause occurred in the seemingly interminable down-pour, and busy hands occupied the favouring light hours in spreading out the sheaves in the morning, and rebinding and reshocking them at night. Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and the smiling orb seemed to invite to co-operation in his beneficent work the many willing hands which the sanctity of the day and the traditions of the fathers, as well as a personal sense of duty, restrained from labour. Perhaps the thoughts of many of the parishioners were elsewhere that beautiful Sunday morning, but their physical selves, as in duty bound under highest obligation, were found in their pews at church. Promptly on time the minister took his place, and immediately called his hearers' attention to what, in his view, was the duty of the hour. Providence, he said, had at last bestowed an opportunity for securing their crops, and it was their plain duty to see that the opportunity bestowed should not be neglected. He therefore would pronounce the benediction, and allow them to go home to their waiting fie!ds. The congregation as dismissed accordingly, some eagerly, some with compunction, to accept their minister's advice and some to rest the sabbath day according to the Commandment.

My father was, a little boy, and as soon as he got home the day looking somewhat like an ordinary day he began to whistle. His father reproved him, telling him that the minister's advice did not make it right to break the Sabbath law. I suppose that the tune which my father had started had been a secular one, for never till I came to Canada, had I heard that whistling on Sunday was, per se, considered in Scotland to be wrong. I had, however, heard the name "Whistling Sunday" applied to "fast days," either ecclesiastical or legal, but had never imagined that the prohibition applied to other than secular tunes. Be that as it may, my father, I am sure, whistled more on Sunday-than on any other day of the week, though the tune was always appropriate to, or associated with a psalm or hymn.

On the Sunday in question, the wisdom of the minister's advice was not justified by results. Monday was bright and fair, and the work of securing the crops ~vent merrily on. Those who refrained from labour the previous day, succeeded in securing their crops in prime condition, while many who yielded to the minister's law of necessity, were compelled to turn over their heated stacks, or, worse still, to haul their stuff out again to the field to dry.

In Mr. Farquharson's congregation was a man whose chief distinction was sheer laziness. For him, his minister had for admonition, by way of a goad:—"Saunners, it would be a het (hot) day that would gaur you prick." His reference was to the behaviour of cattle in Scotland, under the cruel attacks, on a very hot day, of a biting insect or fly known as the "Gleg." It gave no trouble except on hot, sunny days, but when such occurred, as they sometimes did, these pests would become so irritating that the poor beasts would become frantic, and in sheer agony, with tails in air, would madly rush, at their hardest, through the field regardless of direction or of consequence. However derived, the word used to describe this conduct was "Pricking."

Solomon-like Mr. Farqulhar:on had one day been observing the garden or field of this or another sluggard of the same name, which he found full of rammacks, a kind of grass in habit or character not unlike Canadian couch-grass. Unlike its Canadian fellow-troubler, however, it consisted, under ground of a mass of knotty roots, each knot being about the size of a bean. This weed was exceedingly hard to exterminate or control as each knot left in the ground became the root of a new plant, and not only that, but, unless burned or taken off the field, it could not be killed. Such a process was too laborious for poor Saunners, and the Minister, to him administered this hit of sarcasm, "Saunners, the thole will never trouble your field. She would be hanged by rammocks."

Any estimate of Mr. Farquharson's character as a man or a minister, in order to be fair, must take into account not only the uncultured condition of his people, but also the spiritual deadness of his time through the country generally, and perhaps more especially in Aberdeenshire. That county is said to have had the misfortune of being shepherded during the Covenanting Period by ministers, many of whom were so void of character or conviction as to be able to accommodate themselves to all the changes of Government policy of persecution or favour, from Presbyterianism to prelacy and back again, without qualm of conscience, interruption of pastorate, or failure of stipend. Out of material so accommodating, no stand for truth and righteousness is made, or crown of martyrdom attained. Here, I think, must be the reason that, in Western Aberdeenshire, as far as I know, no part of the soil became enriched with a martyr's blood, or can boast the proud honour of a martyr's grave.

Here, not without regret, we part with a character, in many respects kind and loveable, whose hand sprinkled the water of baptism on the heads of all my grandfather's household, and over the prostrate forms of most of them, so early gathered to their fathers, spoke to sorrowing survivors of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.


On the decease of Mr. Farquharson in 1826, he was succeeded by Rev. Andrew Tawse. who appears to have been a man of culture and refinement, though little seems to have been locally preserved of his memory, beyond that obtainable from his tombstone already quoted. My Mother was present in the church on that memorable fifteenth day of December when he suddenly expired in the pulpit while preaching, and was much impressed, as all present must have been, by the occurrence.

His successor. Rev, John McHardy whom I well remember was a quiet man of simple, unassuming habits. Of the type, known in his day, as "Moderate," he was little calculated to arouse religious fervour in his parish or to introduce any new effort or method for the moral or intellectual betterment of his people. He was a bachelor and seldom left his home. From my father's door, we could see his familiar figure busied with pitchfork and wheel-barrow, maintaining his manure pile in perfect order or with appropriate tool, attending to the docks and thistles that, in spite of his vigilance from year to year found place on his farm. He was in his undemonstrative way a kind neighbour, and to us as children showed many little kindnesses, such as treating us to fruit from his splendid garden. To him, indeed, my mother used to say that I owe my survival from the days of infancv. When about two years old, I had become the victim of some childish disorder for which the doctor had prescribed leeches, then a favourite remedy with the medical fraternity. Either these had been too voracious, or the blood-flow had persisted after their removal, and I had, for once in my life, fainted. My poor mother was all alone, the rest of the household having all gone to see the Queen, who that day was to pass at a distance of about four miles on her way for the first time to her Castle at Balmoral. A niece of Mr. McHardy's then residing at the Manse, Annie Dawson, who had volunteered to stay at home and see that mother and her charge should have proper attention, happened just then to call. Taking in the situation at a glance, she hurried back to her uncle, who in a few minutes was on the scene with a handful of cob-webs gathered from his stable. With his assistance animation was soon restored, and to his kindly ministry on that occasion, my mother at least attributed my survival. His kindness and ready attention was all the more appreciated for the reason that my parents had ceased since the Disruption, five years before, to be members of his church.

In the parish, prior to 1843, vital religion seemed to have almost died out. Religious ordinances, it is true, in form, at least, had all along been maintained, so far as one weekly Sunday service and the annual observance of the Communion were concerned, and no doubt many devout souls had continued to be fed and nourished, even by such services as were maintained, but there was no such thing as a Sunday School, nor was afternoon or evening service ever thought of. So far as I know, a lamp or night light of any description had never been lighted for a religious service of any kind. The only thing that was done by the minister, other than what has been stated or implied above, was an annual round of catechising in selected homes of his parishioners, to one or other of which all church members and their households were invited and expected to come. He also visited, with more or less diligence the sick, and of course, conducted all funerals.

This community was free from the abuses and excesses that accompanied and characterized the huge assemblies wont to meet in the several parishes in other parts of Scotland as they successively celebrated the Sacrament of the Supper, but the sacred enthusiasm which, with all their faults underlay these gatherings, found no expression in Coldstone. Every Communicant, which meant practically all in the parish come to years of discretion and physically fit, it is true embraced eagerly every opportunity of observance, but in the case of many the solemn rite had manifestly become a mere matter of form.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus