Brief Biographies of Irish Presbyterians 1915

Originally published in the
Eighth Annual Report of the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland, 1914-15.

James Arbuckle, M.D.
Rev. Willliam Crawford, D.D.
Rev. Alexander Porter Goudy, D.D.
Samuel Macurdy Greer
Rev. Robert Maxwell Hanna
Francis Hutcheson
Sir Thomas M'Clure, Bart.
James M'Knight, LL.D.
Rev. Richard Smyth, D.D.
Professor James Thomson, LL.D.
David Bailie Warden
Rev. W.T. Latimer, M.A.,D.D.

These Sketches have been supplied by the Revs. Dr. Latimer, David Stewart (Cregagh), and J. B. Woodburn; and Mr. A. Albert Campbell, and the Compiler (J.W.K.).

James Arbuckle, M.D.
DR. JAMES ARBUCKLE, distinguished as a physician, philosopher, and poet, was son of the Rev. James Arbuckle, minister of Usher’s Quay Presbyterian Church, Dublin. Arbuckle was born about 1700, was educated in Glasgow, graduated M.A., M.D., and practised as a physician in Dublin, where he was a member of Wood Street Presbyterian Church. His chief publications were “Glotta”, a poem (Glasgow, 1721), “Letters and Essays” contributed to the Dublin Weekly Journal, and reprinted in two vols. 8vo. (London, 1729). These essays are brilliant and powerful, and in every way worthy to be ranked with other similar essays by Francis Hutcheson that appeared in the same periodical. In fact Arbuckle’s work seems the “natural complement” of Hutcheson’s early investigations.
Dr. Arbuckle died about the end of December, 1746, as his funeral sermon was preached on 4th January, 1747.

W. T. L.

Rev. William Crawford, D.D.
DR. CRAWFORD’S father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather were Presbyterian ministers, and Elizabeth Hamilton, author of “The Cottagers of Glenburnie”, was his cousin. His ministerial life was spent at Strabane, where he taught a school and took a prominent part in the Volunteer movement. His first literary effort was “Remarks on the late Earl of Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son”, which gained him considerable renown as a critic, Oxford and other Colleges! Putting it into the hands of their students as an antidote to Chesterfield’s work. In 1783 he published a two-volume “History of Ireland” which is still of value. One who knew him well writes of him that “his only relaxation was the tea-table and hearing his daughter playing on the pianoforte”. The same writer remarks that “rank could not command nor riches purchase the unsought reverence which everywhere followed the footsteps of this pious and good man, in whose presence neither immorality, indecency, nor even levity dared to show itself. Dr. Johnson was gratified that a gentleman in telling him a story apologised for some light matters that made a part of it, but in the presence of Mr. Crawford no one would have ventured to tell a story that required an apology”.

A. A. C.

Rev. Alexander Porter Goudy, D.D.
WHEN Dr. Goudy came to Strabane his predecessor, Mr. Mulligan, who had accepted a Professorship in Belfast, said to him— “I do not expect to be much happier than I have been among the warm-hearted and generous people of Strabane”. Twenty years later Dr. Goudy was able to adopt as his own Professor Mulligan’s words. Five quiet years passed away before a great occasion called him forth into the public arena. A curate named Archibald Boyd, attached to Derry Cathedral attacked Presbyterianism in a series of sermons which he afterwards published. The controversy thus originated resulted in the publication of “The Plea of Presbytery”, probably the ablest exposition of Presbyterian polity that ever appeared. Dr. Goudy was one of the authors, and his discussion of Anglican rites and ceremonies and the merits of free and liturigical prayer affords most entertaining reading, because of the caustic humour that enlivens many passages of the close and serious argument. Dr. Goudy was probably the keenest wit the Irish Presbyterian Church has ever produced. Great as he was in debate and powerful in the pulpit, it is as a humorist that those who love his memory oftenest think of him. Quip and jest and pun flowed freely from his lips. In the Magee College controversy he was in opposition to Dr. Cooke, and it was conceded on all sides that in dialectical fence and in polished and trenchant oratory the old gladiator had for once met his match. He died in December, 1858.

A. A. C.

Samuel Macurdy Greer.
SAMUEL MACURDY GREER was a son of the minister of Dunboe, Co. Derry. He was a brilliant student of Glasgow University, and when only nineteen years of age obtained the degree of M.A., with First Honours in Languages, Logic, and Moral Philosophy. He studied law and was called to the Bar in 1835.
He gave himself whole-heartedly to the cause of the farmers, who were harshly treated by the great majority of the landlords. In politics he was a Liberal, and in 1852 stood as a tenant-right candidate for Parliament for County Derry. Those were the days of open voting, and before the polling took place vague but well-under- stood threats were made by the agents of the landlords to the tenants whose votes Were considered doubtful. The latter were told that their leases were nearly up, or that their rent might be raised, with the result that many of the farmers who would have supported Greer conveniently found themselves ill on the day of the election, or were compelled to vote against their convictions. Landlords and their agents kept the tenantry in subjection, and thirty years afterwards farmers were still suffering because they had given their support to Greer.
He was unsuccessful at this time, but he stood again at the dissolution of Parliament in 1857. He had nursed the constituency carefully, and for some years he edited a monthly paper called The Independent Elector, which was published in Coleraine to advocate the cause of tenant-right. His candidature was also greatly helped by an incident which occurred just before the election. The Rev. Robert Gamble, the Presbyterian minister of Castledawson, a strong supporter of Greer’s, was arrested on a false charge of inciting to riot during a bye-election. He was taken to Derry Gaol, but released on bail. This roused to burning heat the spirit of the whole county from the Foyle to the Bann, and Greer was triumphantly returned by a large majority over Sir H. H. Bruce, of Downhill. He was supported in these elections by Roman Catholics as well as by Presbyterians: priests took the platform on his side, and urged his claims at the services in their chapels. The story is told of a Roman Catholic farmer in Cookstown, who said to the agent on the day of the poll, “What’s a man to do these times? If I vote for Greer, I’ll lose my earthly all; but if I vote for Bruce, I’ll lose my soul”.
Greer lost his seat at the next election, the landlords using their utmost endeavours against him. He also contested the city of Derry several times in the Liberal interest, but was never successful.
He was the first Liberal who ever sat in the Imperial Parliament as a representative from an Ulster County. Up to this time the counties had always returned landlords, who were Conservatives. Yet his services to the Liberal cause were unrequited till he was too old to enjoy the reward. Again and again his friends wrote him, “I am given to understand that you will be used, but not advanced”. In spite of this warning, he worked hard for the cause which lay so near his heart. Towards the end of his life he was appointed Recorder of Derry, which was then a post of little value, and fifteen months before his death in 1880, lie was promoted to the County Court Judgeship of Leitrim and Cavan.
To his energy was largely due the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in Castlerock in 1870. Five years after his death the people of County Derry subscribed to erect the tower of the above church as a memorial for his services to the farmers.
When he was a young man he was ordained an elder of the Presbyterian Church, and throughout his long life he always adorned the office. He was upright in his dealings, always affable, kindly, and courteous. He looked on the bright side of things, and the words constantly quoted by him were an index to his life—
“For freedom’s battle once begun,
Bequeathed from bleeding sire to son,
Though baffled oft, is ever won”.

J. B. W.

Rev. Robert Maxwell Hanna.
HOW many Irish Presbyterians of the present day know anything of the Millisle man who became the exponent of Italian thought, the champion of the Waldenses, the scholarly contributor to the North British Review, and the companion of Robert Browning?
All these things Robert Maxwell Hanna became when he was driven by ill-health to reside at Florence in the early fifties. His position as minister to the Presbyterian residents and advisor to the Tuscan converts was one of peculiar delicacy and danger. Though surrounded by spies, he proved himself a tower of strength to the Protestant element in Tuscany, never compromising his own safety, and, on the other hand, never unduly cautious or timorous.
Amid the multifarious and exacting duties of his office he found time to translate the “Pilgrim’s Progress” into Italian, and to contribute frequently to' Evangelical Christendom and the News of the Churches, as well as to the North British Review. With Robert Browning and his gifted wife he spent pleasant intellectual evenings, and when at the early age of thirty-six he passed away, the illustrious poet performed the sad office of chief mourner at his funeral.

A. A. C.

Francis Hutcheson.
FRANCIS HUTCHESON, the most celebrated Irish philosopher of modern times, was born on the 8th of August, 1694, the son of the Rev. John Hutcheson, minister of Downpatrick, who in 1697 became pastor of Armagh. Francis was the second son of his father’s first wife, who was a Miss Trail.
In 1711 he entered Glasgow University, where lie studied for the ministry, and his licensure was in 1719 reported to the Synod. Soon afterwards he had a call from Magherally, a large country congregation near Banbridge; but at the same time he received and accepted an invitation from some influential Presbyterian clergymen to open an Academy in Dublin. This invitation he accepted, and soon his academy attained a very high position among Irish educational establishments.
In 1725 lie married Miss Mary Wilson, daughter of Captain Francis Wilson, a ruling elder in Corboy Presbyterian Church, and probably a relative of his stepmother, who was a Miss Wilson, from Co. Longford.
The same year he published “An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue”, which went through several editions, and was translated into French and German. This was followed by his “Essay on the Passions”.
In 1729 he was elected Professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow University, where he lectured in English, acquired great distinction as a teacher, and obtained a place in the very highest rank of British philosophers. The fundamental principle of his philosophy is benevolence, and it was he who discovered the formula— “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”.
In 1746 he paid a visit to Ireland, where he died on the 8th of August, aged fifty-three. His “System of Moral Philosophy” was not printed till after his death.

W. T. L.

Sir Thomas M’Clure, Bart.
SPECTEMUR AGENDO. This, the motto of Sir Thomas M'Clure, admirably sums up his career—distinction, not by publicity, but by unobtrusive, practical service for his kind. His life falls naturally into three divisions—commercial, social or religious, and political.
Born in Donegall Street, Belfast, in 1806, he was enabled to follow educational pursuits beyond the usual period, and had passed the age of twenty before entering his father’s business. By enterprise and application to work Sir Thomas had amassed sufficient wealth to purchase the Belmont estate when he was fifty, before it became a pleasant suburb of Belfast. His commercial career was marked by strict honesty and integrity; his moral strength outshone his intellectual gifts.
The subject of our sketch was no less whole-hearted in devotion to the Church of his fathers. He was proud to claim that there was a minister in his family for one hundred and fifty years. His grandfather was the Rev. John Thomson, of Carnmoney, whose wife was a daughter of the Rev. William Laird, minister of Third Rosemary Street Church, and son of the minister of Donoughmore, near Strabane. In the ancestral line was David Cairns, of Derry Siege fame. Socially then he was connected with the Thomsons and Finlays (his cousins), and other worthies of the Fisherwick Place Church circle. A consistent Presbyterian, but not bigoted, lie proved his devotion to the Church in many ways—by association with its principal schemes, by liberality to Belmont Church, and by bequeathing half his property to the Church.
His real public life began at an age when most men prepare to retire. He broke Belfast electoral traditions by carrying the 1868 election in the Liberal interest. And though defeated six years later in Belfast, M'Clure was member for Derry County from 1878 to 1885. He was able to render immense service during the passing of the Church Act and the Land Act. Mr. Gladstone conferred on him a baronetcy partly as a token of gratitude to a portion of the" people' of the North of Ireland. It was with poignant regret he refused to follow his old chief in his Home Rule policy. A resolution of the time speaks of “the unstained personal honour with which he passed through the trying ordeal of political life”.
There are pen pictures of his personal appearance on record:—“He has all a boy’s frankness of manner, buoyancy of gait, animation of spirits, and a joyous ringing laugh. Having an open and expressive countenance, with the education and manners of a gentleman, he dresses as becomes one—plainly, but neatly the very antipodes of a political fop attempting to solve the profound problems of social economy by displaying ins person in silk-velvet garments”.
His remains rest in the family burying-ground, now fenced round by the din and smoke of the city, a short distance from his birthplace.

J. W. K.

James M'Knight, LL.D.
JAMES M'KNIGHT, the son of a farmer, was born on the 27th of February, 1801, near Rathfriland. He studied Latin and Greek with Mr. David Henderson, of Newry, and in November, 1825, entered the collegiate department of the Royal Academical Institution, where lie became distinguished as a linguist and metaphysician.
At first he studied the course necessary for a Presbyterian clergyman, but in 1827 he became editor of the Belfast News-Letter in succession to Dr. Stuart, the historian of Armagh. The Proprietor of this paper was however Conservative, while M'Knight was Liberal, and about 1846 he resigned his position to become editor of the Londonderry Standard. In 1848 he removed to Belfast, becoming editor of the Banner of Ulster, but in 1853 he resumed the editorship of the Londonderry Standard, which he continued to hold until his death.
It was soon after M'Knight first became editor of the Standard that he began the great Tenant-right agitation, to obtain for farmers “fair rents, free sale, and fixity of tenure”. This movement was a most important factor in producing the legislative results that the agricultural tenantry of Ireland are now enjoying. Then Landlords fixed the rents to be paid by their Tenants, now these rents are fixed by impartial courts, which have greatly reduced them. Besides this a large proportion of the farmers have become owners of their own holdings.
In the agitation which helped to produce these results M‘Knight joined the Southern leaders on a Tenant-right platform; but he always insisted that the idea of Repeal of the Union should be excluded. For a time both parties acted together. Afterwards some of the Southern leaders, who desired Repeal more than Tenant-right, were a means of breaking up the union, but not until the foundations of legislative reform had been laid securely on the principles lie had advocated publicly, and had laid before Mr. Gladstone privately.
As editor of the Standard Dr. M'Knight occupied the foremost position in Ulster journalism. In languages — he was proficient in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German, French, and Irish, which last he spoke fluently. In other subjects—he was distinguished in Logic, Metaphysics, Antiquities, History, Theology, and Political controversy. In fact the Rev. Dr. Croskery believed him to be the “greatest lay scholar” in Ireland. His vast knowledge, the logical tendency of his mind, and the ease with which he arranged and expressed his thoughts, caused his “leaders” and his reviews of books to occupy a distinguished place in Irish journalism, and to produce a very great effect upon the public lie addressed.
Above all, he was a firm Presbyterian, and “orthodox in his theology, although he was opposed to unqualified subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith, but he was always ready to defend his Church from every attack of her enemies.
Dr. M‘Knight died on the 8th of June, 1876. His widow, who was a sister of Mr. James M’Pherson, proprietor of the Standard, survived him for many years. Even Thomas Carlyle was struck by her attractive qualities, and described her as “kind, orderly, and polite”.
Besides his editorials, Dr. M’Knight was author of several pamphlets, the most important being “The Ulster Tenants’ Claim of Right”, issued in 1848, which for sound argument and historical research has no equal among other publications on the subject in question.

W. T. L.

Rev. Richard Smyth, D.D.
image - Rev. Richard SmythIN the seventies Professor Smyth, of Derry, was the best known politician in Ulster. He filled the Moderator’s chair for two successive years at the critical time of the Disendowment. The big fight of 1868, in which Dowse wrested the representation of Derry City from the Abercorn family, brought Smyth to the front in politics, and in 1874 he was returned as one of the members for the County. The Derry Professor was a success at St. Stephen’s. Judge Rentoul ranks him with Lord Rosebery as a Parliamentary orator. Mainly through his efforts the Irish Sunday Closing Act passed into law. He was a power in the pulpit. “There goes Smyth, the lame preacher,’’ said a Derry woman to her gossip in his hearing, as he passed along the street. “No, madame”, said he, say—“There goes lame Smyth, the preacher”. As a lecturer he was in great demand, the easy graceful flow of his eloquence and his inexhaustible fund of humour delighted everyone. At the age of 52 he died, to the great grief of all who knew him, and to the irreparable loss of the Church he loved so well.

A. A. C.

Professor James Thomson, LL.D.
The townland of Ballykine, a short distance from Ballynahinch, was better known a century ago than it is to-day. It was there that the Rev. Samuel Edgar conducted a seminary to which the talented youth of the neighbourhood, and many even from distant places, repaired for edification. We have neither a picture nor a description of the “Academy”, as it was called, but no doubt it was an edifice with humble pretensions, and ill-lighted, ill-furnished, and ill-ventilated, as the schools of that period generally were. But as a set-off against these drawbacks, the master was capable and painstaking, while the pupils were the pick of the country young men aiming at a pulpit. From this humble and isolated abode of' learning many scholars sallied forth to make their mark in the world, and quite a number of them achieved their object. Perhaps the most eminent of those who were successful was the subject of this sketch.
James Thomson was born near Ballynahinch, in November, 1786. The son of a peasant, and consequently brought up in very straitened circumstances, he is an outstanding example of that invincible assiduity and perseverance that are usually attributed to the Ulster Scot. He went to no school in his boyhood—probably there was none in the immediate neighbourhood to go to—but learned from his father the art of reading and writing. With these elementary accomplishments he entered upon the arduous work of educating himself during the intervals when he was free from farm work, and, while still a boy, managed to acquire a remarkable proficiency in scientific subjects. His progress attracted the notice of his father, who found a way to send him to his first and only school, the Ballykine Academy. His purpose was to prepare for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church, but even when he had acquired sufficient knowledge to enter the University, he was unable, through pecuniary difficulties, to issue forth on the accomplishment of his ambition.
Instead, he became an usher in the school, and he was twenty-four years of age before he found the means to enter Glasgow University in 1810. Like many another talented and economic student of that period, he studied hard in winter, and then taught in summer to acquire the money requisite for the coming winter session. He graduated in 1812, and two years later, when the Belfast Academical Institution was opened, was appointed Headmaster of the School of “Arithmetic, Book-keeping, and Geography”. The following year he was elected Professor of Mathematics in the Collegiate Department, an office which he held for eighteen years, when he was appointed to a similar chair in Glasgow University. But it was while in Belfast that he did his greatest service to the subject that he professed, and published those mathematical works which were so effective in making their subjects popular with the youth of Ireland. Prior to his time mathematical works were generally written in a style fitted to repress rather than inspire enthusiasm. But Thompson’s works were compiled with such care, and the definitions expressed so lucidly that they met with universal acceptance. His “Arithmetic”, published in 1819, was the popular text-book on this subject with three generations of Irish school children, and went through upwards of seventy editions. In subsequent years he published at least half-a-dozen other works of an educational nature which if not so phenomenally successful as his “Arithmetic”, yet were eminently useful to students of the higher branches of mathematics.
While in Belfast, Thomson was a devoted member of the Presbyterian Church, and was among the founders of Fisherwick Place Church, which stood on the site now occupied by the Church House. He resided close to the Church, in College Square East, and here his sons James and William were born. In his case genius proved hereditary, as the former became a distinguished Professor of Engineering, first in Queen’s College, Belfast, and afterwards in Glasgow University. William became the great Lord Kelvin whose eminence as a scientist is known throughout the world. His native city has honoured him with a statue in Botanic Park.
James Thomson received the degree of LL.D. from Glasgow University in 1829, a well-merited honour. He died in Glasgow on 12th January, 1849, aged 63 years.
One of his students who himself became a distinguished Professor, and was acknowledged to have a very discriminating faculty and a judicious mind, says of him, “He was a model teacher. His learning was profound, his capacity for communicating knowledge was singular, and he took a deep interest in the fortunes of his students”.

D. S.

David Bailie Warden.
DAVID BAILIE WARDEN, the son of a farmer who lived near Greyabbey, Co. Down, was born in 1772. When twenty-five years of age he graduated Master of Arts in Glasgow University, and soon afterwards was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Bangor.
Warden was not only distinguished as a preacher, but was an “advanced” politician, and held a Colonel’s commission in the United Irishmen. In 1798 he was arrested on suspicion, and confined in a prison ship stationed in Belfast Lough, one of his fellow-prisoners
being the Rev. Dr. William S. Dickson, who gives a touching account of the sufferings they endured in the “Lower deck”, which was only “four feet eight inches high”.
Warden’s request for a trial being refused, he accepted leave to emigrate, and having first issued in pamphlet form a Farewell Address to the Presbytery of Bangor, directed his course to the United States of America. This Address was reproduced in 1907 by the Ulster Journal of Archaeology.
In 1806 Warden became Secretary of the American Legation in Paris, and afterwards was Consul-General of the United States in that city.
A change of Government in America deprived him of his office, but he continued to live in Paris, and devoted himself to literature. He still kept up a connection with Ireland, being a corresponding member of the Belfast Literary Society, to which he contributed papers.
In 1813 he published a work on “The Origin, Nature, and Influence of Consular Establishments”, which was translated into several languages. In 1819 he published in Edinburgh a Statistical, Historical, and Political description of the United State of America, in three volumes, a French edition of which was issued next year in Paris. This work procured his election as a member of the Institute of France (French Academy), thus becoming one of the “Forty Immortals”, probably the only Irishman who received that honour. The works I have mentioned are only a few of his many publications.
Warden never married; and he never returned to his native land. His death took place on the 9th of October, 1845, in Paris, where he had lived for the previous thirty-eight years.

W. T. L.

Rev. W.T. Latimer, M.A., D.D.
image - W T LatimerOF those associated with the formation of the Presbyterian Historical Society, a prominent place must be assigned to Dr. Latimer, whose portrait accompanies this Report. Dr. Latimer has been minister of Eglish Presbyterian Church since 1872 where lie attended faithfully to all the duties of the pastorate. But m the quiet of a country district he was able to devote a considerable portion of his leisure hours to the study of history, especially that of his own Church. He was Moderator of the Synod of Armagh and Monaghan for the year 1887-88; and in April of the present year he had conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity by the Theological Faculty of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. A few years earlier he received the M.A. degree from the Queen’s University in recognition of his historical studies and research He has been a prolific writer, and it is desirable to have a list of his works and some contributions to journals: “Doctrines of the Plymouth Brethren”, 1882 (seventh edition, 1908); “Life and Times of Rev. Henry Cooke” (new edition 1899); “History of the Irish Presbyterians, 1893 (second edition, 1902); “Popular History of the Irish Presbyterians”, Guild edition, 1897; “The Actions of the Inniskillen Men”, by Capt. William M’Carmick, with notes, 1896; “Ulster Biographies, chiefly relating to the Rebellion of 1798”.
His historical articles and reviews in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland included “The Battle of Benburb”, “The BattIe of the Yellow Ford”, “Ulster Emigration to America”, “The Old Session Book of Templepatrick”, “The McCracken Correspondence”, “The Minutes of the Presbytery of Laggan”; while in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology contains contributions from his pen on “The Church of the Volunteers”, “The Old Session Book of Dundonald”, “Life of D. B. Warden”. Articles in The Northern Whig and Witness include “The Church Under Cromwell”, “Adair’s True Narrative”, “The Rev. George Walker”, “The Rev. James Bryce”, “The Decline of Poetry”, “The British Colonies”, and other theological, biographical, and historical papers. Dr. Latimer has also published and given much help in the preparation of congregational histories. It is understood, too, that he has in manuscript a continuation of his History, which is hoped, may soon be ready for publication.