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Hector MacKinnon, A Memoir
Chapter III - Ministry in Tiree

"I will steer my rudder true."

IN 1891 Mr. Mackinnon was licensed, and the following year was unanimously chosen minister of his native island of Tiree, in succession to the Rev. John Campbell. It must have been with a peculiar pleasure that the young minister took up residence in his first manse, which is distant from his father's house less than a mile, the church being midway between.

In the rather irksome matter of choosing furniture he had the kind assistance of the wife of a Glasgow minister, who, not being particularly strong, afterwards declared that there "was not another person in the whole world she would have done it for except himself."

Scarcely had he settled down, when it became necessary to turn his attention to church repairs. The late Duke of Argyll, the proprietor of the island, was most sympathetic and kind towards him always, as indeed were all the members of the ducal household. The Duke, on being consulted with regard to the repairs on the church, replied as follows :-

June 8, 1892.


I shall be very glad to help in your church changes— pulpit, etc.—if you will tell me the total you contemplate expending. I do think the congregation should help themselves a little, and hope that you will get them to do so.

I quite agree with you about pulpits which are straitjackets to the speaker.

"I am sure from all I have heard of you that you will do what you can to support the ordinary moral obligations of Christianity among the people.

"Yours very truly,

Four months later the Duke, writing from Inverary, says:-


"The position you are in seems to be a hard one, and I have had pleasure in directing that a sum of £50 be paid to you in advance.

"I am very glad to hear that you are getting on so well. There was some risk to a 'Prophet in his own country,' but on the other hand there are some advantages where no such prejudice exists. So far as I am personally concerned, I am very glad to have a native of Tiree in your position.

"Yours very truly,

And again in December of the same year the Duke writes :-


I have told Mr. Wyllie to subscribe for me the sum of £20 towards your expenses on the church. I hope you will be easily able to get the rest. The alterations sound very nice. They were certainly much needed, although I judge only from the recollection of some thirty years ago when I attended a service there. . . . It has given me much pleasure to hear of your acceptability with the people.

"Yours very truly,

To one with Mr. Mackinnon's intellectual abilities, and activity of mind and body, the quiet parish of Tiree would offer small enough scope for service. But from the very beginning he does not seem to have allowed the grass to grow beneath his feet, seeing that during this, the first year of his ministry, he preached at the following places, at many of them indeed twice and three times :—Bunessan, Cornaig,* i\Ielness, Farr, Ardnamurchan, Tobermory, Hylipol,* Baugh,* Caoles,* Vaul,* Dervaig, Scarnish,* Ruaig,*
Balevullin,* Miltown, Morvern, Kilfinichen, Carradale, Durness, St. Columba's (Glasgow), and Free Argyll (Glasgow). The manse of Tiree, a large white-washed building close to the sea, and standing out so prominently in the general flatness as to give the impression of being "always there "—a landmark indeed to the stranger—would offer the best of facilities to the earnest student—quietude and immunity from interruption. From its study windows, stretching out, out as far as the eye can reach, nothing can be seen but the boundless rolling sea. Would it be here, we wonder now, that there came to him the first inspiration of the "vision splendid," of which he was afterwards to write; and, like the prisoner of Patmos, in his lonely sea-girt isle, were there given to him also visions of the time when there would be "no more sea"? [Those marked with an asterisk are townships of Tiree.]

He was no recluse, but visited his people faithfully, entering into their joys and sorrows with that largeness of sympathy which so characterised him.

"His was no ordinary common life," wrote one of these early friends; "his great gifts, wonderful personality, and genial big-heartedness set him apart as a man among men. To us who knew him from his early boyhood, and who were so long and closely associated with him, his loss indeed is very great. Outside our own immediate family circle, no friend ever will be so deeply and truly mourned by us all as Hector Mackinnon.

* * * * *

"This seems like a bad dream which I want to forget," said one whose Sunday School teacher he had been; am I never to see him again? What a friend I have lost We mourn for him, and we are proud of him."

He had been greatly influenced by the religious teaching of the Rev. Mr. Macfarlane, Baptist minister in Tiree, with the members of whose family he was on terms of the closest intimacy. The life-long friendship, unbroken and unbeclouded, which existed between himself and one of Mr. Macfarlane's sons, now the minister of Kingussie, is almost too sacred to be commented on. Amongst his books a little while ago, we came across one, The Book of the Kindly Light, on the flyleaf of which is written, "Hector, in memory of October 5-11, 1910, from D." It was their last communion season together.

In an interesting work entitled Outer Isles, by A. Goodrich Freer, published in 1902, the authoress gives a graphic and true picture of some incidents in Tiree life.

Readers will have no difficulty in identifying the portrait so artlessly drawn, in the following extract from the book. Describing the landing from the steamer, and commenting on the fact that there is no pier, the writer proceeds:-

How we were to get to shore was not obvious, but we cared little, so absorbed were we in the novelty of the scene. On the rocks above us some fifty people at least were collected, and with much shouting, laughing and gesticulating, two small boats, apparently already quite full of people, were boarding our little vessel. The tiny mail boat heaved and tossed in the water below—it seemed to us as if the very letters would upset it, but in went the bags. The parcel post, a great institution in the island, followed; could she possibly survive? we wondered; and we modestly declined when courteously asked if we would care to take our places in her, instead of waiting for the cargo boat. Being Glasgow Fair, we were told, the boats were 'rather full.' The cargo boat certainly was. Large baskets, like laundry travelling baskets, full of Glasgow bread, we learned, went in first, then sundry crates for the 'Mairchant,' then some luggage, including ours, then all our fellow-passengers; finally half a dozen sheep. We remained modest and retiring. We knew that the handsome young Minister who had come on board would have to get on shore somehow, and that another boat would surely appear from somewhere. By and by the cargo boat returned, more cargo went in, but few passengers— only the Minister and the men who had come on board. The purser advised us to take our seats; the kindly captain shook hands with us, obviously perplexed as to our business there, since we were no off-shoot from the Glasgow Fair, and we were off. We drew up at a perpendicular rock upon which some scratches were pointed out to us as steps. Many kindly hands were offered to help us to shore. The dog was hauled up, and we found ourselves standing beside our luggage in a wilderness of sand, with not the faintest idea of what to do next. Most of our companions had already climbed into carts and disappeared, and a group of men shouting in Gaelic over the 'cargo' at a little distance, alone remained.

"The Minister had looked at us, paused, looked again, and with true Highland shyness walked rapidly away. It was no time for ceremony. I ran after him, and breathlessly presented a piece of paper on which was written the address of the house where, so we had been told, we might hope for shelter. I had written some days before, I explained—was it likely any one would come to meet us? The polite young Minister smiled at our simplicity. The letter was probably in one of the bags still lying on the rocks, or perhaps, if it arrived last mail, in the post office waiting to be fetched; the farm in question was nine miles off, there was no road for most of the way, there was no vehicle to be had, and being Glasgow Fair they were 'likely full.' We began to feel anxious, not so much for shelter on so glorious an evening as for food. Could we telegraph anywhere? we asked, glancing at a single wire overhead. No, that only went to the mainland; but the minister would send a message for us from the post office, whence it would be taken with the letters, or the bread, and meantime could we not go to the hotel? We looked around at the wilderness of rock and sand and short, scant herbage, at the group of men still shouting in a strange foreign tongue, at the funnel of the little Fingal disappearing in the blue distance, at some tiny huts scarcely distinguishable from the rocks among which they seemed to hide, at the road' a foot deep in loose white sand, at the bare-legged boy driving a herd of cows which clambered awkwardly among the rocks, and found the notion of an hotel somewhat bewildering. He would go with us, this kind young Highlander, and turning back, soon conducted us to a large unenclosed house overlooking the harbour, where a kindly landlady, a quiet sitting- room, a clean bedroom and a welcome tea soon made us feel that home life in Tiree had begun."

On reading the above, we recall at once the story of the lady who was sending her new footman to the station to meet her soldier son returning from abroad. Never having seen the officer, the footman inquired how he would know him. "Oh," replied his mistress, "if you see a gentleman helping some one else, that is he." And surely enough by this sign the stranger was identified. The "kind young Minister" referred to by Miss Goodrich Freer was always helping some one else. It was his joy to be doing so all his life. He was one of God's courtiers. At crowded stations, as elsewhere, we have frequently heard him referred to as "a treasure" by distressed individuals, whose experiences and feelings were similar to those of the old Scotch lady, of whom Dean Stanley tells, who had lost her luggage at Perth station, and would not be consoled. The Dean endeavoured to assure her that it would certainly turn up, to which she replied, "Eh, sir, meenister, I can stand ony pairtins but pairtins wi ma luggage!"

But the young minister was not to be allowed to remain long in his native island, for at the end of about two and a half years of faithful service there he received a unanimous call to the parish of Stornoway, in Lewis. That he was esteemed and loved by all his parishioners in Tiree has ever been shown in the way in which he and his have always been welcomed in their homes.


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