Taken from-
Issue Number 5
June 1979


Naomi Mitchison.

My great-grandfather, James Haldane, and his elder brother, Robert, came to Kintyre in the beautiful summer of 1800 to preach to the heathen Highlanders. They were in their early thirties and tough, as they had need to be. They had both been in the Navy, behaved with gallantry and good sense, then briefly settled down as landed proprietors, married and duly started begetting a suitable number of children. But several things happened to them; one was the French Revolution. The elder brother, writing later, tells how "a sense of melioration and improvement in the affairs of mankind seemed to open itself to my mind, which, I trusted, would speedily take place in the world, such as the universal abolition of slavery, of war and of many other miseries...I rejoiced in the experiment that was making in France... " How many of us have felt exactly the same about later revolutions!

But the brothers gave up politics for religion; the two are very near and both brothers spoke of their mission work as campaigns. James was perhaps the quicker of the two brothers, with deep and generous affection. The two who had sympathised with the cause of the poor and dispossessed in the French Revolution, now saw it in a rather different way in India. They proposed a mission to India, with headquarters in Benares; all was to be paid for by the Haldanes and Robert sold his estate at Airthrey which he had loved and planted skillfully with trees round a winding artificial loch of his own making. This is now the focal point of the grounds of Stirling University. All was set to go, but, fortunately, the Directors of the East India Company refused to allow them in.

But by that time the life of a country gentleman held nothing for either of the brothers, and about this time they fell in with little Mr. Campbell, iron-monger, city missionary in Edinburgh, tract distributor. From then on the brothers were constantly in touch with, and influenced by one or other fervent preacher, seldom in the Church of Scotland since no respectable institution could adequately cater for the spiritual demands of the Saved. It must all have been utterly satisfying for those who, not necessarily all the time, but at least for a great part of it, knew themselves to be in a state of Grace. But others may have found it quite simply, too, too much.

During the next several years, the two Haldanes and their companions, usually Mr. Campbell and also John Aikman, an educated and well-read young man who had spent part of his life in Jamaica, preached the Word according to their idea of it throughout northern and western Scotland. Sometimes they rode, sometimes travelled in a light gig, piled with tracts, and often enough walked; when I was a child I was much impressed with their large, knobbly walking sticks, kept in a glass case at home. And wherever they went they started Sunday schools or small churches - tabernacles - doubtless with the proceeds of the sale of Airthrey.

Clearly they had not originally intended to come to Kintyre, in fact they hardly knew it existed, but when they were preaching in Arran they observed a long neck of land. "On enquiry" Mr. Campbell notes in his journal, "we found it was Kintyre, towards the south end of which was Campbeltown, hearing that there was not one Gospel preacher in the whole range of seventy miles, except in the chief town, we determined to pay it a visit." No sooner said than done; they found a boat and crossed, finding "a little inn" which must in all probability have been Dippen, marked in all old maps as an inn. The landlord was woken, made a light and cooked them ham and eggs; there was no great interest there the next morning, though a sermon was on offer, but Campbeltown was different. Here they stayed several days, preaching morning and evening "on the green slope of a hill" with congregations of over a thousand. The villages round Campbeltown were visited during the day and then they sent a messenger up Kintyre intimating that they would preach four sermons a day at different places, a labour of faith indeed!

They had the lowest opinion of all the local Ministers who were "deeply immersed in farming, fishing or trading in sheep or cattle." But it was the land-owners who finally showed up, one of them sitting on his horse during James Haldane's sermon "in a scarlet hunting-coat" - did they practise fox hunting in those days? There were threats of arrest, but James and Robert were not to be scared by a few Highlanders, though it meant that the audiences hardly dared to come close. Mr. Campbell, courageous but rather small, was ordered back to Whitehouse - it sounds as if the population of Kintyre was considerably larger in those days - where James found a sealed warrant to take them to the Sheriff of Argyll. They set out in a leisurely way for Lochgilphead, preaching at the inn where they stayed the night. The Sheriff, an elderly man, was clearly embarrassed, wanted them to take the oath of loyalty to the Government but could not find the wording, finally released them.

This was a great victory for field preaching. Whether it would have been won had the preachers been other than class equals or superiors of those who wanted to arrest them, is something else. But everyone in the "town of Whitehouse" turned out. Only the weather was unwelcoming; they arrived, soaking, at a very small inn, with only one fire where they could dry their clothes while ham and eggs were cooking in the kitchen. James was delighted, saying "What a fine subject for a caricature - field-preachers refreshing themselves after a shower!"

All this was followed up by a young Campbeltonian, Mr. MacCallum, who had studied at the seminary which the Haldanes had set up in Glasgow. Because the respectable Minister at Whitehouse had taken a different side from the landlord at a local election, the newcomer was given an acre of land for house and chapel. All went swimmingly. Mr. Campbell, coming back to Kintyre again two years later, found a great change. The fiddler for wedding dances had seen the light, so had the members of a whisky-toddy meeting which had filled their evenings, up to the coming of the Word.

And now I ask myself how does this fit in with the young sympathisers with the French Revolution, the young Midshipman who insisted that the helmsman should teach him to steer (at that time no part of an officer's training), the Lieutenant who, being the only one on the Foudroyant who could speak French, took the unwilling surrender of the Commander of the Pègase, or the other young Midshipman staying steadily aloft during a gale? Obviously they were still on the side of the under-dog, though they saw him in terms of ignorance of those doctrines which had given them such courage and confidence. They had seen through the world of getting on, being a social success, which meant that, in the path they had chosen, they were immensely successful. Their particular theological convictions seem oddly unimportant now, but not the strength of character which carried them on, nor yet the easy comradeship with all who shared their ideals and hopes. I like to think of my great-grandfather wet through and laughing ready for the next bout in his campaign, whatever theological verbiage and unreality he chose to wrap it up in.

Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.

The Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society was founded in 1921 and exists to promote the history, archaeology and natural history of the peninsula.
It organises monthly lectures in Campbeltown - from October to April, annually - and has published its journal, 'The Kintyre Magazine', twice a year since 1977, in addition to a range of books on diverse subjects relating to Kintyre.

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