The Myth of Robert Burns

It was some months ago that among the many sermons and talks given by Rev Tom Allan (1916-1965), one entitled ‘The Myth of Robert Burns’ caught my eye (ref. AA6.2.18). While the Kirk and Burns were not exactly best pals, there has been many an Ayrshire minister who would definitely subscribe to the term ‘Burnsian’. The question was, with a title such as this, on which side was the Ayrshire born Tom Allan going to stand?

The talk (definitely not a sermon) opens by observing that the 25th of January, Burns Night, is also ‘the day set aside in the remembrance of St Paul.’ As Allan writes,

“Indeed, if we were to pursue the speculation on these two notable anniversaries, it would not be difficult to argue that there is much in the character of the Scottish people which has emerged through the conflict of the genius which inspired Paul of Tarsus with the genius which inspired Robert Burns. And it is certain that the life of the Poet himself can only be understood in the light of that conflict.”

He goes on to state,

“It is doubtful if there has been any character in Scottish History – or in any other history for that matter – about whom men have so willingly suspended their critical faculties. For a great multitude of otherwise rational people, the cult of Robert Burns is taken as seriously as it is possible for a cult to be taken. He has become a mythical figure in the manner of the ancient gods, and tonight, all over the world, men and women are meeting in their yearly pilgrimage to the holy place.”

First page of Rev Tom Allan's talk 'The Myth of Robert Burns' (ref. AA6/2/18).

First page of Rev Tom Allan’s talk ‘The Myth of Robert Burns’ (ref. AA6/2/18).

Allan certainly seems to be taking the Kirk’s tone something which is underlined in his comments on ‘two old and dusty volumes in the Library of the University’ he consulted while preparing his talk. He goes on to state that the myth he intends to examine is that of ‘Burns the Saint’ and ‘Burns the Poet’ because

“I sincerely believe that we are doing Burns an injustice which he himself would probably have treated as a colossal joke unless we try to see this man as he really was, and try to estimate his poetry as it really is.”

As far as ‘Burns the Saint’ goes, the talk deals with the reality of his morality, the manner in which ‘the popular Burns orator… attempts to clothe this very human man in the robes of sainthood’, and the excuses others make for his behaviour: whether it is to blame him as a child of his time, society or indeed the Church for it. He concludes,

“There is little of nobility in the life of Robert Burns: there is much that is tragic. It is not ours to judge him. Neither is it ours to worship him for qualities he never possessed.”

When he turns to examine the myth of ‘Burns the Poet’, Tom Allan observes that Burns’ writing is at its best when in his native Ayrshire dialect. Interestingly, he questions how many people could truly say that they understood every word of even the best-loved poems such as ‘Tam o’ Shanter’. He takes a swipe at some other poems such as the ‘Ode to General Washington’s Birthday’ for being ‘woefully artificial’ and ‘bombastic, insincere and trivial.’ However, it is when Allan draws to the conclusion of his talk that his genial side, for which he was renowned, makes itself known. He states that it is Burns’ satiric verse, his narrative poems and songs which are the best of his compositions, the last of these being described as ‘incomparable’.

“Here in the Songs I could almost submit myself to the myth of Robert Burns. Here at last is sincerity and tenderness and a great compassion and a bewitching sadness and an irresistible appeal.”

He might have been a man of the Kirk but this is certainly not the conclusion of a man agin the National Bard.

The papers of Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6) are available for consultation in New College Library and the catalogue for the collection can be found here:

Kirsty M. Stewart, New College Collections Curator

Images of The Myth of Robert Burns by Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6/2/18) [PDF – 1.3MB]

Explore Your Archive 2017

The Explore Your Archive Campaign is run in conjunction with the Archives and Records Association, the professional body for archivists in the UK and Ireland. The University of Edinburgh is joining in this campaign, running from 18 to 25 November, led by colleagues in the Centre for Research Collections. Throughout social media you will see archivists promoting their archives, whether they are interesting, intriguing, puzzling or pleasing, using the hashtag #exploreyourarchive.

Here at New College Library we have made a significant step to help you explore your archive. For the first time, the catalogues which have previously only been available in the Library itself are now available online. There are over 530 catalogue entries for New College archives now freely searchable on . You can browse the whole collection, or search by person, organisation, place (in some instances), and limit searches by date.

The process of creating the online catalogue has revealed the strengths of the collection and the breadth of topics covered. Far from being simply a treasure trove of Scottish church history material, the collections include:

In addition, digital images of some of the archives and special collections, including our copies of the National Covenants can be found on – click on the New College icon.

Should you wish to consult any material you find through the online catalogue you are welcome to visit New College Library or contact All archives and manuscripts are consulted in the Funk Reading Room at New College Library.

The first of the daily hashtags for Explore Your Archive week is #archivecatwalk. The annual class and graduation photographs taken in New College, the earliest of which is from 1857 (ref. AA1.8.2), provide a fascinating timeline of fashions. The students below would look quite at home in today’s hipster cafes, especially those with the extra cachet of having a cane.

Class Photograph, 1860 (ref. AA1.8.2)

Staff and students at New College, Edinburgh, 1860 (ref. AA1.8.2)

Keep an eye on our tweets and those of our colleagues @EdUniLibraries, @CRC_EdUni, @EU_SSSA, and for further archives exploration.

Kirsty M Stewart, New College Collections Curator

International Women’s Day 2017

During my initial survey of the New College Collections, it was immediately evident, although not surprising, that the majority of the archives stemmed from the work of men or their institutions. What it did mean, though, was that those collections which belonged to women stood out all the more.

Leaving aside the archives of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity in which women missionaries play a significant role, there are three collections with a female provenance which immediately spring to mind.

The first of these are the papers of Betty Darling Gibson (1889-1973), who worked on the International Review of Missions with Joe Oldham (ref. GD5: The second would be the papers of Margaret Duncan Campbell (ref. GD 37: ( while the third would be the papers of Rachel Kay or Wilson (c.1750-1815) (ref. MS WIL 3).

With this last collection, what struck me was that the author of the manuscripts was only referred to as “Mrs James Wilson, wife of James Wilson, ship’s captain, Leith”. As with Betty Gibson, whose biographical details were hard to find in the shadow of her friend and colleague Joe Oldham, I was keen to give Mrs Wilson her given name and dates for the record. Her contribution to history is a curious set of journals recording her religious experiences, including her attendance at church, interlaced with family history, notable events in her own family life and what she saw as evidence of God’s influence on her own life and the life of her family past and present.

The papers of Mrs James Wilson aka Rachel Kay or Wilson (c.1750-1815)

The papers of Mrs James Wilson aka Rachel Kay or Wilson (c.1750-1815) ref. MS WIL 3.

The journals run to six notebooks, each of around 50 pages of manuscript, starting around 1771 and finishing in 1812, three years before she died. There are also a couple of loose sheets, which do not appear to belong to any of the extant notebooks.

Accompanying the documents are two letters giving a bit of background to the manuscripts. The first is from April 1947 from Mr J Ritchie, ‘Nethercraigs’, Tighnabruaich, to his cousin Agnes Moncrieff Leys née Sandys. This letter gives a lot of information such as some of the experiences of James Wilson as a ship-captain: including being captured by Americans during the American War of Independence and then being detained in France for 18 months after which he was ‘persuaded to remain at home and join his father-in-law’s business’.

My husband came safely home in the month June in 1780 when being detained Eighteen month. My father proposed to him to drop this line of life in giving over all thoughts in proceeding again to sea and to become Maltster and brewer also from my fathers inability from his years of carring on his business by himself…” (ref. MS WIL 3 notebook no1, page 43 – image below)

Rachel Wilson's account of changing her husband's occupation.

Rachel Wilson’s account of changing her husband’s occupation.

The letter also states that Rachel had about 13 children, ‘of whom she expressly states 9 died in infancy or early youth. This sad mortality was due not to any constitutional weakness, but to small-pox, scarlet fever and measles, which could not then be treated as they can now.’ Ritchie goes on to say that the Wilsons belonged to the Antiburgher section of the Secession Church and were fond of listening to the preacher Rev Adam Gib (1714-1788), and that of the surviving children, David Wilson (1782-), later became minister of the United Secession church in Kilmarnock. Making the personal connection, Ritchie states, ‘I remember being very hospitably entertained by his widow when I was a small boy.’

The manuscripts were eventually passed to New College Library in 1952 by a Miss G Woodward, librarian, who received them from Mrs Hilda Brochet Abercromby, sister of Agnes Leys who by then had passed away. It is clear from annotations made in the manuscripts that family members had read them with a good deal of interest.

At the end of the first notebook, Rachel writes

By this time I was with Child of twains and although subject to many threatning complaints yet my Shepherd who carries the lambs in his armes and Gently leads thos that are with young suffered no evil to befall he brought me in safety forward to the full time when in the 15 of March 1783 I was safely delivered of two living sons.” [William Wilson and John Frazer Wilson] (ref. MS WIL 3 notebook no 1, page 48 – see image below)

Rachel Wilson's account of having twins.

Rachel Wilson’s account of having twins.

Perhaps Mrs Wilson’s manuscripts are not the most valuable or beautiful of those which we hold but they do give a clear and striking voice to a woman of both the 18th and 19th centuries.

Kirsty M Stewart
New College Collections Curator

Archives catalogues come online

Since I started working with the New College Collections, one of my main aims has been to get the archives catalogues, which sit in a papery, five binder splendour in Library Hall, online. Up until now, with a few exceptions, it has only been possible to consult these catalogues in New College Library itself.

Created sometime in the 1990s, the archives catalogues and attendant indexes are a useful finding aid, however they do not meet archival descriptive standards and could not be added into the catalogue without a lot of extra work.

Bearing this in mind and the resources available, I have created PDF files of the catalogues, divided them by collection, added cover sheets with outline information and then created skeleton catalogue entries online containing a link to the appropriate PDF.

So far, I am probably about half way, with c.250 catalogue entries now available through the University’s Archives Online website: . The additions run alphabetically by collection reference (which in most cases is directly related to the collection provenance) from MS ADE (Adelpho-Theological Society) to MS BOW (Rev Archibald Bowie) and through from MS BOX 1.1 (Associate Burgher Theological Hall) to MS BOX 54 (Papers of James Fraser of Brea). There are also the more recently catalogued collections in AA4 to AA7 (Very Rev Prof John McIntyre, Very Rev Prof James Whyte, Rev Tom Allan and Rev Prof Alec C Cheyne), the Chalmers Papers (MS CHA), and those allocated a GD reference number some years ago such as the Oldham papers (MS OLD or GD2), papers of Rev Robert Murray McCheyne (MS MACCH or GD16), the Martin Papers (MS MAR or GD14), and the Denney Papers (MS DEN or GD27).

The covenant of Katherine Brown, wife of Rev. Thomas Boston, Covenanter, Ettrick. c.1713-c.1732

The covenant of Katherine Brown, wife of Rev. Thomas Boston, Covenanter, Ettrick. c.1713-c.1732

It should be noted that the MS BOX series is a miscellany, which seems to have come almost entirely from the Library of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In an attempt to make its contents more visible to users, it has been divided up into c.190 separate entries, highlighting where possible names of people, organisations and places, relevant dates and in some instances topics.

Admittedly, this solution is imperfect but it is most definitely a step forward. Only another 300 or so entries to go!

Kirsty M Stewart
New College Collections Curator

New College Collections: The Expected and the Unexpected (I)

On Saturday 22 October, I was delighted to be able to present a paper to the Scottish Church History Society at their one day conference in the Edinburgh Theological Seminary. With very few of the catalogues for New College manuscripts online, it seemed like the ideal time to draw attention to some of our valuable holdings.

For those of you unable to attend what was a fascinating conference here are my top ten of the “expected” collections that are available to researchers in New College Library. I shall blog my “unexpected” list another time.

1. The papers of Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) and his family (ref. MS CHA). Thomas Chalmers is regarded as the leader of The Disruption, which saw the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. A major figure in his lifetime, the collection contains, about 15,000 letters to and from leaders in society as well as ordinary parishioners. There are family papers, sermons and files on large bodies of work such as Church Extension, Irish Famine, The Convocation, within this extensive collection.

2. The records of New College itself (c.1700-present) (ref. AA) including Senate minutes and committees, annual photographs of staff and students; the records relating to New College Library and the records of many student associations.

Staff and students at New College, Edinburgh, 1874

Staff and students at New College, Edinburgh, 1874

3. The papers of Joseph H. Oldham (1874-1967), regarded by many as the father of modern ecumenism. Included are papers relating to The Moot, a Christian think-tank which met regularly to discuss issues of post-war reconstructions. Individuals involved included John Baillie and T S Eliot. (ref. MS OLD).

4. Church of Scotland papers (1638- ) (ref. CHU). Many of the manuscripts were originally part of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Library, which was donated to New College in 1958. The records are largely committee papers such as those looking at baptism or elements of doctrine. Most Kirk records are held by the National Records of Scotland.

5. Papers of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1830) (ref. MS). These are manuscript copies of proceedings at the Westminster Assembly of the Divines between 1643 and 1653. There are also signed copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith (ref. MS WES 3.1).

Signed copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith showing the signature of Duncan Forbes of Culloden, amongst others (ref. MS WES 3.1).

Signed copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith showing the signature of Duncan Forbes of Culloden, amongst others (ref. MS WES 3.1).

6. New College Library holds five copies of the National Covenant (1638- ), a number of which used to be displayed on the walls of New College. They are distinguished by provenance: one bequeathed by Dr Thomas Guthrie; one signed by Edinburgh hammermen; one signed only by nobles; one signed by people in Kinneil and Bo’ness; and one signed by the inhabitants of North Leith (ref. MS BOX 52.2.2 & 3, et al).

7. Manuscript sermon notebooks (c1648-c1819) (ref. MS SER). It should be no surprise that divinity students would want to see examples of sermons and sermons by well-known figures such as Thomas Boston, Samuel Rutherford, James Renwick or Robert Wodrow. This series of over 40 notebooks is complemented throughout the collection by other sermon notebooks, the earliest being around c.1648 up to the 20th century.

8. Returns for the Annals of the Free Church of Scotland and for Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae (MS BRO and MS SCO). It should be noted that these rarely provide much more information than that which is contained in the published volumes.

9. Papers of the Very Reverend Professors. New College has collections for many eminent preachers and theologians, some of whom held the office of Moderator. Some of the individuals include: Alexander Whyte (1836-1921) (ref. MS WHY); James Denney (1856-1917) (ref. MS DEN); Alexander Martin (1857-1946) (ref. MS MAR); John White (1867-1951) (ref. MS WHI); Archibald C. Craig (1888-1985) (ref. MS CRA or GD 30); William Manson (1882-1958) (ref. MAN); James S Stewart (1896-1990) (ref. MS STE); John McIntyre (1916-2005) (ref. AA4); James Whyte (1920-2005) (ref. AA5); and Alec C. Cheyne (1924-2006) (ref. AA7).

10. The papers of Rev Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) (ref. MS MACCH). Although he died tragically young, McCheyne was a well-respected and gifted minister. His collection contains personal letters, poems, diaries and sketches including those from his time in Palestine when he participated in the Church of Scotland’s Mission of Inquiry to the Condition of the Jews.

Robert Murray McCheyne’s diary from his trip to Palestine, 1838 (ref. MS MACCH1.8)

Robert Murray McCheyne’s diary from his trip to Palestine, 1838 (ref. MS MACCH1.8)

Copies of the current catalogue are in the process of being added to the University of Edinburgh’s online catalogue Archives Online but until the preparation and upload of these catalogues has been completed please refer all enquiries regarding New College Collections to

Kirsty M Stewart, New College Collections Curator

“Sorry, Foakes Jackson, I am for real”*


Our colleague, Patrick Murray, has begun work cataloguing the W. F. Jackson collection, initially, as part of the Funk Cataloguing Project. This collection has been at New College for many decades but with the need to fill in accurate data about the material, it was soon apparent that no one knew very much about William Foakes Jackson or W. J. Jackson as he had carefully and clearly inscribed in each book.

The closest match that could be found was a Frederick John Foakes-Jackson, who was an eminent scholar of Judaism, something which connected with the first tranche of books. However, after that the trail went cold and, as the archivist, I was asked if I could give any advice on where to look next.

Away from the office, searches on Google, ScotlandsPeople and all drew a blank on proffering a sibling or son to Frederick John Foakes Jackson, who might have owned and donated these books.

In the New College Library Archives, there are boxes of library correspondence from throughout the 20th century some of which relate to the deposit of collections (ref. AA.2.1). As these records are in varying states of arrangement I decided to look at some of W. F. Jackson’s books for any other clues before delving into the correspondence.

The first couple of books seemed devoid of any details about the owner but, unexpectedly, out of the fourth book I looked at fell a scrap of an envelope on which was written: ‘[-] F Jackson, Suffolk House, 18 Suffolk Road, Edinburgh’ and postmarked 1929. The key to it all.

Scrap of an envelope found in the W. F. Jackson collection of books.

Scrap of an envelope found in the W. F. Jackson collection of books.

A quick visit to ScotlandsPeople searching for the death certificate for a W. F. Jackson after 1929 and there was William Fulton Jackson, in 1931, passing away at Suffolk House, 18, Suffolk Road, Edinburgh. That narrowed down the correspondence search nicely and quite quickly I found a note from his niece, Janet Cameron, depositing the records at New College Library (ref. AA.2.1.104a).

Suffolk House, 18 Suffolk Road, Edinburgh. 6th June 1934 Dear Dr Mitchell Hunter, It was the desire of my uncle, the late Mr W. F. Jackson, that should I wish to dispose of any of his books, his “Eastern Collection” be gifted to the Library of the Church of Scotland. As I understand these books will be acceptable, I hereby formally make the Gift, and I trust it will be convenient to keep them together as one collection, to be called the “W. F. Jackson” collection, and that they will be found useful by many students of our own Church. I am, Yours faithfully, Janet Inglis Cameron Dr, Mitchell Hunter, Librarian Church of Scotland.

Letter from Janet Inglis Cameron, niece of W. F. Jackson, to Dr Mitchell Hunter, Librarian, New College, making a gift of his “Eastern Collection” of books.

Transcript of letter:

Suffolk House,
18 Suffolk Road,

6th June 1934

Dear Dr Mitchell Hunter,
It was the desire of my uncle, the late Mr W. F. Jackson, that should I wish to dispose of any of his books, his “Eastern Collection” be gifted to the Library of the Church of Scotland.

As I understand these books will be acceptable, I hereby formally make the Gift, and I trust it will be convenient to keep them together as one collection, to be called the “W. F. Jackson” collection, and that they will be found useful by many students of our own Church.

I am,
Yours faithfully,
Janet Inglis Cameron

Dr, Mitchell Hunter,
Church of Scotland.

To the railway historian, the name William Fulton Jackson will be familiar. He was born in 1855 to John Jackson, a grain merchant, and Mary Fulton, in 73, South Wellington Street, Glasgow. In 1883 he married Maggie McJannet Lattimer, at her home in 14, St James Street, Glasgow. In 1891 he was listed as a railway clerk living in Coltbridge Avenue, Edinburgh and by the 1901 census, he had become the General Manager of the North British Railway Company, living at 24, Royal Terrace, Edinburgh. It appears that Jackson was appointed as General Manager in 1899, after his predecessor, John Conacher, stepped down in the wake of a boardroom scandal.

Further internet searches revealed that some of his photograph albums had been deposited at Glasgow University Archives, and that he was an active member of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

The 1911 census provides us with a mystery, outwith our remit, in that on the night the census was taken he and many others were staying in the same place as Arthur Conan Doyle and his family: “Rothsay” in Bournemouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England. Is this a connection or a coincidence?

Whatever the answer, after many years of this valuable collection of books being known as the “Foakes Jackson Collection” and thanks to an envelope scrap, finally we are able to give the real W. F. Jackson – William Fulton Jackson, Esq., the credit he is due.

Kirsty M. Stewart, New College Collections Curator

As the books in the W.F. Jackson collection are catalogued their entries will become available on the University of Edinburgh’s discovery service:

University of Glasgow material:

*With apologies to hip-hop duo, “OutKast”.

You in your small corner

The New College Library has a marvellous series of manuscript sermon notebooks dating as far back as the 1640s (ref. MS SER). It is quite common within manuscript holdings to have collections made of document type (maps, photographs, postcards etc) although that approach to archives is largely defunct now with the emphasis being on record creators and context. The provenance of the sermon notebooks varies widely and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are sermon notebooks scattered throughout the New College archives. Some notebooks are the work of the preacher, some are copies of those who were there listening and some are copies of sermons or lectures written down by someone else.

One such notebook comes from the records of Robert Wodrow (1679-1734) (ref. MS WOD 3). Wodrow was part of a famous family of ministers, was for a time librarian at the University of Glasgow, and is an ancestor of the former President of America, Thomas Woodrow Wilson. In 1721-22, Wodrow published an important work entitled The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution. Dealing with the persecution of the Covenanters after the Restoration, he coined the phrase “The Killing Time”, a phrase which persists to this day.

Part of the sermon notebook of Rev Robert Wodrow, ref. MS WOD 3.1.

Part of the sermon notebook of Rev Robert Wodrow, ref. MS WOD 3.1.

As you can see from the above image, taken from one of Robert Wodrow’s notebooks (ref. MS WOD 3.1), he has a neat hand and, as he did for many of his sermons, he has noted the date and place of preaching. However, the part which stood out was the short, personal note: ‘This night I was licensed’. Ministers of the Church of Scotland are given a license to preach before they can be ordained so that this must have been quite an occasion for him and of importance enough to record it in a small corner of his notebook. Working with archives, it is easy to become blasé about how old the material is or how famous or significant the person who created the document was, but moments like his make documents personal again. Not only do they remind you how special and valuable the archives are but that the famous and important of long ago were human too. Had it been today, might this have constituted Wodrow’s Facebook status?

Kirsty M Stewart, New College Collections Curator

Lastly let us live by faith, in a constant
need & dependence on C[hrist] and walk up out of the
wilderness leaning on our beloved. nou unto
him that is of pouer to stablish us to god only
wise be glory through, Jesus Christ for ever.
popular sermon
befor the Presbitry in
the Laigh Church
Jan. 6. 1703.

The Laigh Church was a name for the Tron Kirk, Glasgow.
Laigh or laich is Scots for low.

Keeping in with the old

One of the delights of the New College Library archives is that it contains information on an array of subjects not just theological or religious topics. This is thanks in part to the original composition of New College Library from donations of libraries, which were given more often than not without worrying too much about content.

There are several places where records relating to the study and understanding of languages other than English can be found. This image is from a volume of polyglot vocabulary (ref.BIN5) written by Robert Blair Munro Binning ( According to the catalogue the languages represented are English, Arabic, French, Hebrew, Persian, Greek, Sanskrit, Latin, Turkish, Telugu, Gaelic and Hindi.

Page from Polyglot Vocabulary by Robert Blair Munro Binning ref. MSS BIN5

Aside from being a useful tome, I thought that the mix of scripts gave it a certain beauty. The page I have chosen, struck me as appropriate for this time of year, containing as it does the words ‘year’ and ‘yawn’.

Happy New Year! Bliadhna Mhath Ùr! A Guid New Year! Bonne Année! etc etc…

Kirsty M Stewart, New College Collections Curator
Further information: catalogue of items in the Binning collection.Catalogue entry for MSS BIN , records created by or belonging to Robert Blair Munro Binning

Cut it out!

I have been making my way through the manuscripts collection in an effort to identify material, see what conservation needs there are and generally acquaint myself with the collections. This week I have been struck by the quantity of material from the 1600s, which has, of course, come about as a result of the Covenanters. While a good proportion of the manuscripts are sermons there are a few which are copies of letters or the last words of Presbyterian martyrs.

My heart was in my mouth when I opened one such volume (ref. MSS NOT) and found that in several places pages had been cut out. As I went through the notebook in search of the name of the person who had carefully copied down sermons by Laurence Charteris and James Good, Latin tracts and proclamations, my heart resumed its usual position when, quite unusually, I found an explanation for the missing pages:

“Nota: I lent this book to Mr Samuel Nairne when he was passing his tryalls for the Ministrie which he keept four years & some more; & when removed from the parish of Moonzie and went to Arroll, he tooke the booke with him; And all the thankes I got was the cutting out of thir leaves as is to be seen in the following part hereof Which was neither done lyke a Gentleman nor a Minister. Whereupon I ame resolved here after to take heed to whom I lend the use of my booke, especially of a manuscript.”

Author's explanation for missing notebook pages.

Author’s explanation for missing notebook pages.

While the notebook’s author is as yet unknown, the reference to Samuel Nairne dates it to around 1690 and one can assume that the author was living in the parish of Moonzie or nearby.

The inside cover of the notebook tells us that it was later owned by a James MacGregor. However, at another point in the notebook, where Samuel Nairne had been busy with a blade, James wrote the following:

 “Fhuair Seumas McGriogair an leabhar so am Peairt am Bliadhna ar Tighearna 1778 ar son 2sc[illin]”
Translation: “James MacGregor bought this book in Perth in the Year of our Lord 1778 for 2 pence.”

Not only does this give us more about the provenance of the book but also shows that James MacGregor was literate in Gaelic.

James MacGregor notes when and where he bought the notebook (ref. MSS NOT)

James MacGregor notes when and where he bought the notebook (ref. MSS NOT)

Missing pages can be frustrating and sometimes even heartbreaking but for our unknown Fife scribe their absence was clearly just plain annoying: annoying enough to write about it.

Kirsty M Stewart, New College Collection Curator

Information on Samuel Nairn from Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae , vol 5, p 169: SAMUEL NAIRNE, M.A. ; ord. before 22nd July 1690 ; trans, to Errol 12th Jan. 1692.


“You’ll never guess who I met today…”

At the beginning of August I took on the role of New College Collections Curator looking after the archives held at New College Library and in the Centre for Studies in World Christianity (CSWC). As the CSWC archives rooms were essentially out of action during the festival, the Rainy Hall being a Festival Fringe venue, I spent my first month concentrating on acquainting myself with the archives in New College Library (NCL).
As inevitably happens with archives, almost as soon as you are trying to establish the facts around your collections you find yourself with questions. So it was in my third week of work.

Archives stacks August 2015

The Rev Thomas Chalmers (1780 – 1847) is a mighty figure in Presbyterian Church history and his collection of papers is no less substantial than the man himself. The first Principal of New College, his papers (ref GB238 CHA) contain correspondence with many individuals, including notable figures of the era; family papers dating back to the 18th century; sermons and lectures. There are also several boxes marked as an Appendix to the collection. Within one of these boxes are photocopies noted as having been taken from records belonging to a descendant of Thomas Chalmers. Intent on finding out who this descendant was and where the originals of these documents might be now, I set about searching the records of New College Library itself (ref. GB238 AA2) to see if there was any mention in minute books or correspondence about making and receiving these photocopies.

This proved to be a useful exercise in itself as I was able to get a sense of how the Library operated, key points in the history of the collections, and the sort of cataloguing work that had been done on the manuscripts during the twentieth century. Gleaning the names of different members of staff over the years – Mrs Margot Butt seems to have become the expert on Thomas Chalmers – I was quickly able to start scanning documents for them, which was why I gave a start when my own grandfather’s signature, as bold as the man himself, jumped out at me from some correspondence. The second surprise came when I realised that he had written to the Library on behalf of my father (ref. GB238 AA.2.1.108).

Letter of enquiry from W M Macartney to New College Librarian, 1969 (GB238 AA2.1.108).Letter from The British and Foreign Bible Society to Dr Moir, 1969 (ref. GB238 AA2.1.108).Letter from W M Macartney to New College Librarian, 1969 (GB238 AA2.1.108).

As the images above show, it transpired that in the late 1960s when my father was a missionary in Kenya, he had a colleague, called Simon, who used a particular book to help him while evangelising. He had noticed that the book was falling apart, pages were missing and the covers torn and so he wanted to get him a new copy but all he had to go on was part of the title page. He sent this fragment to my grandfather (incidentally a New College graduate) to see if he could find out what the full title was and if a new copy could be purchased. My grandfather duly wrote to the New College Librarian and the enquiry resulted in success with contacts in London being able to identify the book: The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, by Samuel Bagster. From a note on the first letter it seems that the Librarian actually visited my grandfather but whether they were friends or he just happened to be in the vicinity I’ll never know. My father has no recollection of the matter although he does remember Simon. For me it was quite touching to encounter my late grandfather and be reminded of my own father’s characteristic thoughtfulness amidst a completely different quest altogether.

As for the Thomas Chalmers photocopies and originals, I eventually discovered records of the Thomas Chalmers Bicentenary Exhibition, which Margot Butt had prepared in 1980, along with the name of not one but twenty-one descendants and discussion on the disputed inheritance of his papers (ref. GB238 CHA Appendix 5). A blog for another day.

Kirsty M Stewart, New College Collections Curator