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John Thomson of Duddingston, Pastor and Painter


JOHN THOMSON’S progenitors resided at Weddersbie, and appear ai proprietors of the lands of Newton of Collessie, in Fife. James Thomson, of Newton of Collessie, on the 27th June 1618, being then on the point of death, constituted Bessie Stirk, his lawful spouse, tutrix to their children William, James, Robert, George, John, and three daughters, and ‘commends his saull to the protectioun of Almightie God, and the revenge of his innocent blood, committit be malicious persons, in the handes of God and his deai and loving friends.’ He died on the following day (Confirmed Testaments, St. Andrews). James Thomson, his great-grandson, after the Revolution, became minister of Colinton, near Edinburgh, and was translated to Elgin, 21st June 1696. His wife, Elizabeth Paterson, a daughter of Thomas Paterson, minister of Borthwick, and widow of George Turnbull of Currie, died in 1698; but he again married, as on the 12th February 1718 he had a Charter of Confirmation to himself (as son of the late William Thomson of Newton of Collessie), to Janet Brodie, his spouse, in conjunct fee, of the said lands, formerly held of James, Earl of Southesk, as superior. He died at Elgin, 1st June 1726, and bequeathed 600 merks to buy Bibles for the poor of the parish (Shaw’s History of Moray, p. 241). The eldest son, James Thomson, M.D., Elgin, sold the lands of Newton in 1760, and died unmarried. He was the translator of the Commentaries of the Emperor Antoninus (London, 1747, 8vo). The second son, Thomas Thomson, was admitted minister of Auchtermuchty, in 1701. He married, in 1715, Margaret, daughter of Hugh Craig, minister of Galashiels, by whom he had a numerous family, and died 1st January 1733 at the age of 56. His sixth son, of the same name, was for some time previous to 1753 tutor in the family of Sir James Ferguson of Kilkerran, by whom he was presented to the parish of Daily. He became minister of Dailly in 1756, and was the father of a large family. He died, 19th February 1799, at the age of 70. By his first wife, Peggy Hope, daughter of the Hon. Sir Alexander Hope of Carse, he had one daughter, Margaret, who was married to her cousin, Rev. James Thomson, minister of Girvan, afterwards of Prestonkirk. By his second wife, Mary Hay of Lochside, widow of Mr. Lockhart, he had four sons and four daughters, of whom Thomas Thomson was the eldest, and John Thomson the fourth son, the other sons being Francis and Adam. These were born as follows :—Thomas Thomson, 10th November 1768; Francis, 10th February 1770; Adam, 28th October 1776; and John, 1st September 1778. The daughters were Christian, born 1771; Mary, 1773; Agnes, 1775; and Helen in 1780. The youngest of these, Miss Helen Thomson, became the wife of Professor James Pillans, of Edinburgh University, being married to him 9th August 1811. Mrs. Thomson, their mother, died at Edinburgh, 21st January 1822, aged 76.


There are several good portraits of the artist-minister extant, of which two are to be found in the SCOTTISH NATIONAL GALLERY.

1. PORTRAIT BY ROBERT Scorr LAUDER, R.S.A., his son-in-law, is a half-length front view, of small size, 25 inches by 20 inches. Thomson is here represented standing at a table fully robed in black Geneva gown and bands, with his left hand resting easily on a large open Bible, while his right is thrust into his side and is partly shaded by the folds of the gown. His easel is introduced in the background with a large framed canvas upon it, his palette being suspended on the wall above, indicative, we presume, of the day of rest.

The execution of the details is characterised by Lauder’s carefulness of finish and tasteful colouring, the hands being specially Morthy of notice for their delicacy and refinement of drawing.

The picture is the property of the Royal Scottish Academy, through whose courtesy it has been reproduced in photogravure, and forms the frontispiece to this volume.

2. PORTRAIT BY WILLIAM WALLACE, an artist who practised in Edinburgh as a portrait painter for ten or fifteen years, and about 1833 settled in Glasgow. He followed out the same line of Art there with some success, and died in 1866.

On a canvas 33 inches by 26 inches, upright, a full-length portrait of Thomson is given. He is represented seated at his easel, on which there is a large framed canvas, with a partly finished woody landscape. His left hand holds the painter’s palette and maistick, while his elbow rests on the rail of the low circular-backed armchair. The right hand hangs easily by his side, while the right leg is crossed over the knee.

Thomson, in this picture, is dressed in the usual clerical garb of the period, black coat and trousers, with deep black scarf round the throat, over which his collar is barely visible. He appears to be about the age of fifty-two, so that it was probably painted in 1830. It represents him with a high, bald forehead, with a tinge of grey on the whiskers and side locks. There is a bright sparkle in his eye, and a smile plays round his lips.

The portrait was bequeathed to the National Gallery by Thomson’s brother-in-law, Professor Pillans.

Two replicas of it by the same artist were in the possession of the late Mr. Lockhart Thomson, one of which has been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh for some years on loan.

PORTRAIT BY SIR HENRY RAEBURN, RA. 25 inches by 30 inches. This fine portrait of Thomson by his friend Sir Henry, now in the possession of Archibald Stirling, Esq. of Keir, Bridge of Allan, is a head and bust; representing him at the age of forty-five, while still in his manly vigour, and before his waving raven locks had become grey or had left his massive forehead. The eyes are keen and searching, the lips full and expressive, as if ‘the deep, tremulous emotions were ready to break down in a flood of tears.’ The broad collar of the coat and vest are thrown well back, exposing to view a spotless white cravat. The flesh tints are in Raeburn’s best style, being clear, fresh, and healthy.

This picture has been engraved by Alexander Hay, but the plate hardly does justice to the original: impressions of it are scarce.

The portrait was long the property of the Raeburn family, and was lent by them to the Raeburn Exhibition in Edinburgh in 1876. It was afterwards acquired by the late William Stirling, Esq. of Keir.

PORTRAIT BY YELLOWLEES. 15k inches by 12 1/2 inches. In the possession of Ralph Dundas, Esq., Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh.

Thomson is represented in half-length sitting before an easel, upon which is a canvas with a mountain landscape. He appears as a comparatively young man—certainly not more than forty—the side view of his face exhibiting a slightly protruding under lip. He wears a pair of spectacles, and the brown dressing-gown is handsomely trimmed with fur on the collar and sleeves. The portrait, if not bearing a close resemblance to the others mentioned, is very pleasingly composed, and daintily painted.

It was exhibited in the Loan Exhibition of National Portraits in 1884.

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