New College marks its 175th Anniversary with online exhibition 

Screenshot from 175th Anniversary Exhibition


It all began with The Disruption. Not 2020’s lockdown but The Disruption of 1843 when ministers and elders left the Church of Scotland to set up the Free Church of Scotland. They started from scratch creating churches, manses, schools and a place to train and educate the new Free Church ministers: the New College. In June 1846 Rev Dr Thomas Chalmers, one of the leaders of The Disruption and New College’s first Principal laid the foundation stone. 

To celebrate a remarkable 175 years, the School of Divinity planned an array of events including conferences, reunions, re-enactments and an online exhibition, much of which required access to the New College archives. Unfortunately research and planning coincided with the closure of New College Library for essential works so staff facilitated access to the archives at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) instead: that was until the coronavirus lockdown which was quickly dubbed ‘the third Disruption’. 

 Throughout 2020, conversations continued with the School of Divinity team researching, planning and designing the online exhibition, with the Digital Imaging Unit, and with staff physically in the CRC. This allowed items to be selected for digitisation and incorporation into the 21st century telling of New College’s story: how a Capital landmark came to be; mischievous students helpers in the 1890s; one class’s 50 years of reunion memories; records of WWII air raids; changes to the campus; changes in diversity, and more. 

Thanks are due to all the CAHSS, L&UC and USD staff who collaborated so well in such trying times to produce a fascinating exhibition. 

Lose yourself in the online exhibition featuring remarkable historic photographs: 

Follow the celebrations and join in: :: :: #NewCollege175 

Kirsty M Stewart, New College Collections Curator 

Judaism and Jewish Studies: the work of John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan and Adolph Saphir

New College Library holds collections of and about a number of individuals who gathered material and wrote extensively on Judaism and Jewish Studies, motivated by their interest in the conversion of Jews to Christianity.  Two significant figures in this area of interest are John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan and Adolph Saphir.

Duncan was a colourful, intelligent and, at times, tortured soul, one particularly gifted in the study of languages and in missionary work.  Born in 1796, he obtained an MA from the University of Aberdeen in 1814.  When he began his study of theology, he was still an atheist and did not convert to Christianity until 1826.  Even thereafter, he had times of doubt before settling into firm belief.

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan – portrait by Hill & Adamson

In 1840, having spent some years as an ordained minister, Duncan’s interest in Hebrew and his growing interest in the church’s work concerning the conversion of the Jews to Christianity led to his appointment as the Church of Scotland’s first missionary to the Jews.  Stationed in Budapest from 1841-43, Duncan was remarkably successful in his work there converting, among others, the young Adolph Saphir and his family to the Christian faith.

But in 1843, following The Disruption, Duncan’s calling took him back to Edinburgh where he held the chair of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at the newly-founded New College, remaining in post there until his death in 1870.

Until recently, Duncan’s collection was not easily accessible but it can now be searched for online.  Resources by, about or owned by Duncan can be found in DiscoverEd and also via this resource list compiled by Academic Support Librarian, Christine Love-Rodgers.

In 1843, one of Duncan’s converts, 13-year-old Adolph Saphir, came with him to Edinburgh from Budapest, his father being keen that the young Adolph improve his English and train as a minister of the Free Church.  This process took some time and saw Saphir travel to Berlin, Glasgow and Aberdeen, becoming a student of theology at the Free Church College, Edinburgh in 1851.  In 1854, Saphir, himself a Jewish convert, was appointed a missionary to the Jews.  Saphir’s mission took him first to Hamburg and then, in 1856, to South Shields.  Five years later, he moved to London where he remained until his death in 1891.

Adolph Saphir – photograph by T. Roger, Swan Electric Engraving Co.

Despite Duncan’s inner battles of the spirit and his lack of prowess as a formal teacher, his personal piety, linguistic and informal teaching abilities, as well as his success as a missionary, were impressive.  Saphir and he contributed significantly to the collection of items in New College Library, particularly with reference to the Christian mission to the Jews during the 19th century.  Their legacy is to the ongoing benefit of scholars of Judaism and Jewish Studies.

A small exhibition of some of our Duncan and Saphir material will run from                 26th February-31st March 2019 in New College Library.


Mighty in the Scriptures: a memoir of Adolph Saphir, D.D./by Gavin Carlyle. J.F. Shaw and Co.; 1893.


Gina Headden, IS Helpdesk Assistant, New College Library and Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian, School of Divinity, New College.  

With many thanks to Jessica Wilkinson from the School of Divinity who contributed so much to identifying and listing the relevant New College Library collections.

Thomas Chalmers and The West Port Experiment

Those with an interest in Scottish church history are likely to be very familiar with Thomas Chalmers and the role he played in the Disruption of 1843 but how many know much of his West Port experiment? Continue reading

‘The price of blood’ : Frederick Douglass speaks to Scotland

A guest post for Black History Month by Eleanor Rideout, IS Helpdesk Assistant

Frederick Douglass by Samuel J Miller, 1847-52. Wikimedia Commons

Noted African-American anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass had embarked on a tour of Ireland and Great Britain, reaching Scotland in 1846. He was speaking against the evils of slavery generally, but a decision made by the Free Church of Scotland became the focus of his work here.

The separation of the Free Church from the Church of Scotland meant that funding needed to be found. One source was fellow Presbyterian Churches, including those in the American South. Money was accepted from slaveholders, which did not go unnoticed by abolitionists.

Douglass’s reputation as a powerful speaker is confirmed by two anonymous letters from a woman living in Dundee, addressed to Free Church leader Thomas Chalmers, which are held at New College Library, Edinburgh.

Anonymous to Thomas Chalmers, 1 April 1846. MS CHA 4.321.41-42.

The writer’s style is impassioned, swerving between criticism of slaveholders, concern for her own soul, and description of events recently witnessed:

“They would not give the churches and few comparatively speaking gave their ears. Because it was said that the strangers witnessed too hard things against your Church. If the Men tell the Truth you should not be angry.”

“Dear Dr C. What are you going to do in the matter of taking money from the slaveholders in the America about which I heard a great deal last week & meetings – two of which I attended – as I used to be very much interested in the Slave question…”

“Part of my ordinary as Rev. T Boston would say, or rather my extraordinary for in thought word and deed I am of late a Backslidder [Backslider], ah for Grace to grow in grace. You see how I wander –It is the Poor Captive slave I wish now to speak for. I would you would be a tongue to such dumb ones. Then soon soon the Lord will look down and deliver. For to them belongeth Power, Dominion, Strength, Mercy. And then will their tongues become glories to praise, to bless to laud the King of Glory – and they too shall not forget you –as we all have too long forgotten them. Neglect is infliction.

O how much I know of my Masters will yet do it not I wish whiles the Lord would set me and take me.”

She also uses rhetorical flourish herself to try and persuade Chalmers:

“It was sins of ignorance I was reading today 4 Lev. I see there the Lord will not let such pass. It was for such the blessed Jesus prayed when on the cross Father forgive them. Now I believe firmly you did not see at the time that taking money from slaveholders was the price of blood – verily your Church hath been guilty. Do not think I am glad to set aught against you because you have far outstript us in the way of voluntary giving. No I was glad and I myself made crape [crêpe] the year of the disruption that I might give what I had for ribbon, to your Free Church, Free Church what have you to do with the House of Bondage. Hath the Truth made you Free – then Freely give.”

It is interesting to be able to read her words along with the published transcripts of the speeches made by Frederick Douglass, also held at New College Library :

Free Church Alliance with manstealers: send back the money, great anti-slavery meeting in the City Hall, Glasgow. Glasgow: George Gallie, 1846. M.d.9/10.


“All was going on gloriously – triumphantly; the moral and religious sentiment of the country was becoming concentrated against slavery, slaveholders, and the abetters of slaveholders, when, at this period, the Free Church of Scotland sent a deputation to the United States with a doctrine diametrically opposed to the abolitionists, taking up the ground that, instead of no fellowship, they should fellowship the slaveholders. According to them the slaveholding system is a sin, but not the slaveholder a sinner.”

“The deputation had an excellent opportunity of aiming an effectual blow at slavery, but they turned a deaf ear and refused to listen to the friends of freedom. They turned a deaf ear to the groans of the oppressed slave – they neglected the entreaties of his friends- and they went into the slave states, not for the purpose of imparting knowledge to the slave, but to go and strike hands with the slaveholders, in order to get money to build Free Churches and pay Free Church ministers in Scotland. [Cries of “shame” and applause.]”

“I verily believe, that, had I been at the South, and had I been a slave, as I have been a slave – and I am a slave still by the laws of the United States- had I been there, and that deputation had come into my neighbourhood, and my master had sold me on the auction block, and given the produce of my body and soul to them, they would have pocketed it and brought it to Scotland to build their churches and pay their ministers.”

While the Free Church money was not returned the strong impression made on listeners by Frederick Douglass’s words can be seen clearly in these letters. With the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2018 his great contribution to the abolitionist cause is likely to be celebrated more and more.

Eleanor Rideout

With thanks to Alasdair Pettinger whose article ‘The Bloody Gold’ drew attention to this letter:

Jewish Studies Collections at New College Library : nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The British Association for Jewish Studies Conference to Edinburgh at New College today covers a wide range of topics under its theme of ‘Jews on the Move’ including the theme of Jewish-Christian relations. New College Library’s collections from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provide a window into Jewish-Christian relations, particularly through travel writing, and through development of missions to Jews in the Middle East.

Bible Plants, 1887

New College Library’s collections are rich in the area of nineteenth century Christian encounters with Jews, usually in the form of mission to Jewish communities. The New College object collections include objects collected from trips to the Holy Land, including the pressed flower album of ‘Bible Plants’ above, phylacteries, a prayer shawl and a scale model of the Temple of Jerusalem. The book and archive collections include some fascinating materials from the Church of Scotland’s development of missions to Jews in the Middle East, including books, archives and objects relating to Rev. Andrew A. Bonar and Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Bonar and McCheyne were appointed by the Church of Scotland in 1838 as part of a deputation to visit Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East, with a view to future mission activity.

Books from the William Foakes Jackson Collection

The William Fulton Jackson Collection preserves the collection of man who was an enthusiastic armchair traveller to the Holy Land, with a popular, rather than academic interest in Israel and Palestine. His collection also includes many works on Jewish Studies, including encyclopedias and dictionaries, and demonstrates a keen interest in understanding Jews and Judaism.

New College Library’s Pamphlets Collection of over 35,000 items reflects a deliberate policy from the foundation of New College library in 1843 to collect pamphlets and ephemera on historical, religious and current issues. The collection includes these three pamphlets are examples of the publisher Victor Gollancz’s campaign to draw attention to the plight of the Jews in Europe and to demand that the British Government provide rescue and sanctuary for Jewish victims.

Nazi massacres of the Jews & others : some practical proposals for immediate rescue made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Rochester in speeches on March 23rd 1943 in the House of Lords. London, Gollancz, 1943. Z.h.30/24

One of the founders of the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942, Temple was at the forefront of the campaign to draw attention to the plight of the Jews in Europe and to demand that the British Government provide rescue and sanctuary for Jewish victims. His speech urges:

The Jews are being slaughtered at the rate of tens of thousands a day on many days … we cannot rest as long as there is any sense among us that we are not doing all that might be done.”

Sadly no changes to refugee policy were made by the British Government and after William Temple died in 1944, the impetus for rescuing the Jews did not continue.

“Nowhere to lay their heads” : the Jewish tragedy in Europe and its solution. London : Gollancz, 1945. Z.h.30/33

“Let my people go” : some practical proposals for dealing with Hitler’s massacre of the Jews and an appeal to the British public. London : Gollancz, 1943. Z.h. 30/1

Christine Love-Rodgers – Academic Support Librarian, Divinity

The women behind New College Library

If you visit New College Library today, International Women’s Day, women might seem  hard to find amongst the portraits and busts of Thomas Chalmers and John Knox, and the shelves filled with works by or about male authors. Nevertheless, women have left their mark on New College Library from its earliest foundation. Continue reading

‘Edinburgh’s Guilty Avenues’ : horrible histories from the New College Library Archives

A guest post from Eleanor Rideout, New College Library Helpdesk Assistant

The grisly find of a letter written in William Burke’s blood, on show as part of this weekend’s Festival of Museums, reminded me of one of my favourite items in the New College Library manuscript collections.

Letter from George Charles Smith to Thomas Chalmers, 19 August 1835 New College Library CHA 4.243.5

Letter from George Charles Smith to Thomas Chalmers, 19 August 1835 New College Library CHA 4.243.5

CHA 4.243.5 is a letter dated 19 August 1835 containing a contemporary use of the verb ‘burking’ and lurid descriptions of the most deprived areas of Edinburgh:

“Only to look down many of your closes and courts and alleys, is enough to satisfy anyone that more suitable places, for robbery, uncleanness, murder, or Burkings of any kind, cannot be found in the world”.

Rev. Dr Thomas Chalmers, [1843?]. Calotypes Collection, University of Edinburgh.

The letter is titled ‘Edinburgh’s Guilty Avenues’ and was sent to Thomas Chalmers, the first Principal of New College. His papers are one of the most significant collections held by New College Library. Chalmers had a wide range of interests and a considerable number of correspondents but as a public figure he also attracted much unsolicited mail from those seeking support for their own ideas. 

The sender, George Charles Smith, was not a regular correspondent, but was clearly a very zealous evangelist. According to his DNB entry, he was known as Boatswain Smith due to his involvement with maritime missions and he was also passionate about improving the morals of port cities.

Interestingly, the DNB does not mention his time in Edinburgh but this letter shows he spent some time here.He writes to Chalmers to:

entreat that you will kindly devote your attention to the state of the poorest, the meanest, and vilest of the population of Edinburgh…I have considered that their Habitations are disgusting, unhealthy, and horrible. Your national custom of so many Families occupying one House cut up into Floors or “Flats”, as you term them, is to an Englishman surpassing strange.”

Sadly no response is recorded. Given Chalmers’ evangelical beliefs and published schemes for poor relief, perhaps he would not have been pleased to have it suggested that he had not gone nearly far enough. However, in his last years he did establish a campaign for social reform and religious instruction in the West Port area of Edinburgh. Hopefully Smith was pleased to hear of it.

Eleanor Rideout, New College Library Helpdesk Assistant

Tackling a Library time capsule : The Longforgan Free Church Ministers Library

Longforgan LibraryRegular visitors to New College Library have probably walked past the Longforgan Free Church Ministers Library many times. It sits in custom made glazed bookcases, which are sited on the landing of the entrance to the Library Hall and in the David Welsh Reading Room. The cataloguing of this collection is in progress as part of the Funk Projects, and we’ve recently been pleased to welcome Patrick Murray as our cataloguer, replacing Finlay West who has moved on to new projects.

The Longforgan Library is an attractive part of the New College Library environment, but it’s probably true to say that for many years it has been just that – the books themselves have rarely been consulted. This may have been so from the very beginning – we’ve noticed that books being catalogued recently are in mint condition, some with pages uncut, as though they have never been read.  This may fit with the Longforgan Library’s provenance as a gift to the Free Church at Longforgan, Dundee by Mr David Watson, owner of Bullionfield Paperworks at Invergowrie. Part of the Longforgan Library could have begun life as a showpiece collection for David Watson to illustrate his skills in printing and binding to clients.

Longforgan2All this is changing with the benefits of online cataloguing. The Longforgan Library contains many volumes of the Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from the seventeenth century onwards and the reports of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in the nineteenth century. For the first time these are being requested by readers, with telltale paper slips the evidence that the volumes are in use.

More than that, online cataloguing has revealed the richness of this collection of patristic and theological books, the earliest text printed in 1618. The works of Eusebius of Caesarea and Irenaeus of Lyon sit alongside those of Jean Calvin and John Foxe in  a microcosm of New College Library’s historic collections as a whole. And it’s held surprises for us – one of them being that we discovered additional books hidden in concealed compartments in the back of the bookcases.

Castori romanorum cosmographi : tabula quae dicitur Peutingeriana / recognovit Conrad Miller. Ravensburg : Otto Maier, 1888 New College Library LON. 416

Castori romanorum cosmographi : tabula quae dicitur Peutingeriana / recognovit Conrad Miller. Ravensburg : Otto Maier, 1888
New College Library LON. 416


This included this fantastic facsimile of the Tabula Peutingeriana or Peutinger’s Tabula. Based on an early fourth or fifth century original, the map covers the area roughly from southeast England to present day Sri Lanka and shows the Roman road network. When we unfolded the map it stretched the length of the office!



The Longforgan Free Church Ministers Library still has treasures to discover. There are cupboards yet to unlock which have books stacked back to back in them, plus there is a further sequence of Longforgan books in a more secure location which includes three early editions of the Babylonian Talmud. Watch this space.

Christine Love-Rodgers – Academic Support Librarian, Divinity


Cataloguing Christ’s Second Coming

The life of Edward Irving, minister of the National Scotch Church, London .../ Oliphant, Margaret, 1865. New College Library SPecial Collections SHAW 3

The life of Edward Irving, minister of the National Scotch Church, London …/ Oliphant, Margaret, 1865. New College Library Special Collections SHAW 3

We’re delighted that the cataloguing of nearly 500 items held in the Shaw Collection on the Catholic Apostolic Church at New College Library, is now complete.

While further research is required to verify the history of this collection, it may have been put together by P.E. Shaw, author of The Catholic Apostolic Church, sometimes called Irvingite (A Historical Study); New York, 1946.

The Catholic Apostolic Church movement was inspired by Edward Irving, who began his career as a Church of Scotland minister who worked with Thomas Chalmers on his urban ministry projects. Irving moved to London where he became a strikingly popular preacher, predicting that the world was irredeemably evil and that the return of Christ and the end of the world was at hand. His charismatic services included controversial spiritual phenomena such as speaking in tongues.

The collection covers the liturgy, doctrines and government of the Catholic Apostolic Church movement, along with sermons and addresses by prominent figures in the church. This includes items written by eight of the ‘twelve apostles’ who were appointed after Irving’s death in 1835 – Henry Drummond John Bate Cardale, Nicholas Armstrong, Francis Valentine Woodhouse, Henry Dalton, Thomas Carlyle, Francis Sitwell and William Dow.

The Catholic Apostolic Church believed in the imminent second coming of Christ, and the necessity of the restoration of a ‘perfect’ church in preparation for this event.  Missionary activity took the movement to mainland Europe, Canada, and the USA, and the Church claimed 6,000 members in 30 congregations in 1851. In the twentieth century the movement dwindled and eventually fell silent.

The testimony of the Apostles to the ecclesiastical and temporal heads of Christianity : composed in the year 1836. Chicago, Ill. : New Apostolic Church of North America, 1932. New College Library Special Collections Shaw 27.
The testimony of the Apostles to the ecclesiastical and temporal heads of Christianity : composed in the year 1836. Chicago, Ill. : New Apostolic Church of North America, 1932. New College Library Special Collections SHAW 27.

The cataloguing of this collection was made possible by the generous donation of Rev. Dr. Robert Funk.


Oxford Companion to British History

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide : The Catholic Apostolic Church Collection

Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian, Divinity, with thanks to Janice Gailani, Funk Projects Cataloguer.

Hymnology Collections : Ravenscroft’s Book of Psalms

A guest post from Oreste de Tommasso, one of the Funk Project Cataloguers at New College Library.

A reprint of the tunes in Ravenscroft's Book of Psalms :  With introductory remarks. London, 1845. New College Library, Hymn 345.

A reprint of the tunes in Ravenscroft’s Book of Psalms : With introductory remarks. London, 1845. New College Library, Hymn 345.

This item, an edition of the Whole Book of Psalmes, was recently catalogued as part of the Hymnology Collections Project. It’s typical of the many nineteenth century items in the Hymnology Collection, much of which was originally collected by the Edinburgh bookseller James Thin.  The pages in the volume are laid within a red line frame border, with an initial capital letter decorated in red ink. The cover title is within a rounded decorated lozenge in a golden colour.

The Whole Booke of Psalmes is one of the most important psalters of the period, though it contains much music from earlier publications. This collection includes national hymns (such as Dumferline, Dundee, and Glasgow) whose authorship remains uncertain, while the harmonizers into four parts are some of the most celebrated musicians of the Tudor era. Names such as Thomas Tallis, John Dowland, Thomas Morley, Giles Farnaby, Thomas Tomkins, all feature here. Thomas Ravescroft himself contributed fifty-five of its 105 settings.

Hymn 345 tpRavenscroft was not only a good musician, but a man of considerable learning in his faculty. By 1598 he was chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral and graduated MusB from Cambridge at the age of fourteen.

The tunes are simple in their conception, as having a syllable for a note, thus easy to sing. It is the Sternhold and Hopkins metrical version of the psalms. Following the customs of the period, the tune was sung in the Tenor part by male voices, while the bass provided a simple foundation while the treble voices were often learnedly ornate in counterpoint style. Through the events of Civil War and Restoration, this multi-part style of singing was silenced and quickly fell into oblivion, in spite of some genuine attempts to revive it. Nonetheless, Ravenscroft’ Booke of Psalmes is the fount of Psalmody across all Great Britain, and this reprint provides a compendium-model of genuine psalmody.


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, v. 46

Havergal. W.H.; A reprint of the tunes in Ravenscroft’s Book of psalms : With introductory remarks. London, 1845.