REVEREND ANDREW THOMSON, B.A., D.D.
By Sue Comrie-Thomson (great-great-granddaughter)
The Reverend Andrew Thomson was born 11 February 1814 at
Sanquhar, Dumfries, the son of John Thomson, shopkeeper and later farmer, and
Elizabeth McCall. He was the grandson of the Reverend Andrew Thomson
(1744-1815) from Howgate, near Penicuik, Midlothian and Margaret Comrie
(1750-1811) from Alloa, Clackmannan. The elder Reverend Andrew Thomson was
ordained on the 22 August 1776 and called to the Anti-burgher Congregation of
Sanquhar South as its third minister, after Thomas Ballantyne (1742-1744) and
John Goodlet (1749-1775). He was described by Dr. Edmond as "an excellent
preacher, with a singularly powerful and melodious voice".(1)
The Rev. John Thomson ((father of Rev. Andrew Thomson (1779-1831) minister of St. George's Church Edinburgh)) was minister of Sanquhar parish church from 1769 to 1785. The Parish Manse in those days was close to the river Nith, and was known as "Waterside". Having two Rev. Thomsons in Sanquhar led to the need to distinguish them, as described in "Memorials of Sanquhar Kirkyard":
"When the Rev. Andrew Thomson came to Sanquhar the townspeople, in order to distinguish him from the Reverend John of the Parish Church, were in the habit of speaking of him as "Maister Tamson, Doun-the-Gate", while the parish minister was styled "Maister Tamson o' the Waterside." In "Folk Lore of Uppermost Nithsdale" an amusing story is told of a "hallo-kit" creature named Meg M'Call, who was very solicitous for the bodily and spiritual welfare of her minister, Mr Andrew Thomson of the Anti-Burghers - "When praying for her minister Meg was afraid that a mistake might happen, and the benefit of her supplications go to the wrong man, so she put this caution 'Noo min', Lord, it's no Maister Tamson at the Waterside, but oor ain gude an' Godly Maister Tamson, Doun-the-gate.'" (2)
His wife, Margaret Comrie, was the sister of the Rev. Patrick Comrie, MA., from Alloa (West) (1752-1840), ordained on the 1st. June 1784, first minister of the Burgher congregation at Bridgend, Penicuik.
The younger Rev. Andrew Thomson was educated at the Sanquhar Parish School and Glasgow University (B.A. 1836). He was ordained to the Lothian Road Edinburgh (United Secession) congregation on 5th July 1837. In December of that year he married Margaret Cleland Buchanan (1810-1898), daughter of Alexander Buchanan, manufacturer and Collector of the Poor Rates of Glasgow, and Agnes Cleland.
Their only child was John Comrie Thomson (1839-1898). Educated at the Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University, he was called to the bar in 1861. In 1866 he was appointed Sheriff-Substitute of Aberdeenshire, an office which he held for 17 years. He relinquished it in 1883 in order to become Sheriff-Principal of Ayrshire, and this enabled him to return to the bar, where he speedily acquired an extensive and lucrative practice. His most prominent appearance in the Criminal Court was his successful defence of Monson in the famous Ardlamont trial in 1897.
After five years at Lothian Road, during which time the congregation had increased by 200, on 7th June 1842 the Rev. Andrew Thomson accepted a call to the collegiate charge of Broughton Place Church, Edinburgh, as colleague and successor the the Rev. Dr John Brown. In May 1848 the congregation presented him with a beautiful silver tea service in token of their gratitude for his attention to the young. As reported in The Scotsman of May 13 "This is certainly a well-merited compliment for Mr Thomson's assiduous attention and unremitting exertions in imparting religious knowledge to the young connected with the congregation".
In March 1851, along with his uncle, the Rev. James Thomson, minister of the United Presbyterian Church, Holm of Balfron, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from his alma mater, Glasgow University. At a great meeting in Geneva in 1861 of the Evangelical Alliance, he read a paper on "The Scottish Sabbath", which was printed in French, German, Dutch and Italian, and obtained a circulation of nearly half a million. (3)
At the celebration of the completion of the 25th year of his ministry in 1862 he was presented with a cheque for £500 and an address, in which these words occurred. "Nor do we omit to notice with interest the honourable part you take in the deliberations and discussions in the higher courts of the denomination, and your ready tact and skill in disentangling many an involved debate, neither would we forget your labours in another and important department - that of the Press, where your masterly treatise on the history of the origin, principles, and progress of that branch of our United Church to which we belonged before the Union will be recognised by future generations as that of the hand of an able ecclesiastical historian". (4)
The cheque was used to defray the cost of a trip he made in 1869 to the Holy Land with the German Jewish scholar, Emmanuel Deutsch, and Professor William Milligan of Aberdeen. Emmanuel Deutsch (1829-1873), an official in the Jewish manuscripts department of the British Museum, was the prototype for the fictional character of Mordecai in George Eliot's "Daniel Deronda". He had been invited by the Palestine Exploration Fund to interpret some mysterious signs found on foundation stones in their excavations of the Temple Mount Platform in Jerusalem, which he concluded were Phoenician masons' marks.
Dr Thomson's book "In the Holy Land", published in 1874, is a detailed and fascinating account of their travels. From Egypt they sailed to Joppa, and then travelled on horseback throughout Palestine, north to Damascus and Beirut, from where they sailed, via Cyprus and Smyrna, to Constantinople, where their journey ended. Dr. Thomson also produced a number of other interesting books (see "Literature"). His life of Thomas Boston, written after he had passed his 80th year, was nevertheless regarded as not the least interesting of his works.
In May 1874 at the opening meeting of the United Presbyterian Synod in Edinburgh, Dr Thomson was unanimously elected moderator for the ensuing year. He was for several years a Governor of the Heriot Trust and a manager of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
The celebration of his ministerial jubilee on 29th March 1887 received extensive coverage in The Scotsman of the following day. Special services were held in Broughton Place Church at which there was a large attendance. Principal Cairns preached the sermon, which was in the main, a powerful retrospect of the work of the Scottish ministry during the last half century, with special reference to the stand taken by the ministers of this country against the influences of Romanism and the materialistic movement. In the course of his remarks, the preacher pointed to the important results of the great evangelistic movement of thirteen years ago, in which Dr Thomson took so prominent a part, and described the rise and progress of Christian missions.
Alluding to the interest manifested in missionary enterprise by Broughton Place Church, he said, had not Dr Thomson builded ever upwards on the same foundation as his predecessor, and gone into many 'regions beyond'? Had he not for thirty years, with every credit to others, been the mainspring of all the missionary work of that great congregation, till it was surrounded with a band of daughter congregations in widely severed parts of the mission field that rose up to call it blessed? The work had confessedly told, by example and impulse, on the whole denomination.
Referring to duties associated with ministerial functions, he said it would be acknowledged by all who knew Dr Thomson, and especially those who had worked with him in this wide, difficult, and miscellaneous field for many years, that few had more conscientiously realised than he did its obligations and possibilities, had counted pledges more sacred, had prepared more accurately for every audience, and made every speech a genuine personal effort to help the particular institution and the great Christian cause. In conclusion, Dr Cairns touched upon Dr Thomson's services to the literature of their denomination, and his labours in. the Church Courts.
In the evening a meeting was held in the Synod Hall, which was crowded in every part. The Rev. John Smith, Broughton Place Church, occupied the chair. Of Dr Thomson he said "Not only had he been for fifty years a devoted minister and elder in his own denomination, a champion of important causes, bringing him into contact with many notable men and public-spirited citizens, but all through his long career he had taken the very deepest interest in the great mission enterprises of the Church. In honouring Dr Thomson they were honouring the ministerial character, and were declaring that Scotland's heart beat true to the Gospel, as it had ever done. Mr Smith added that, having been associated with Dr Thomson for two years in a relation which many regarded as trying, but which had been only pleasant and profitable to him, he had gained a profound impression of his personal worth, of his thorough devotion, of his sterling conscientiousness, of nis scrupulous honour, which had awakened in him an ever increasing admiration, and made his fellowship and work with him not a trial, but a happiness."
A large number of congratulatory addresses were then presented to Dr Thomson. The address from the congregation was accompanied with a testimonial consisting of a silver salver and 900 sovereigns. All the addresses were of the most eulogistic character, and congratulated Dr Thomson on the auspicious occasion which they were met to celebrate. They spoke with gratitude of his abundant labours in the ministry, his wise counsel and loving pastoral care, and the many acts of kindness and sympathy which had drawn towards him the strong personal affection of his people. The work he had done for the Church, his literary labours, and his connection with various institutions of the city were enumerated, and the hope was expressed that he might yet have a long life of usefulness before him. The addresses, which were illuminated, were bound in a handsome volume.
The Rev. Dr Thomson, in acknowledging the various gifts, was warmly received. He said he was not using any word of exaggeration when he said that there had been no occasion in his public life in which he had been so pressed, and almost overwhelmed, with a sense of gratitude for kindess as the present - especially when he looked around him on that vast assemblage of friends, to be counted not by hundreds but by thousands, who had come that night to testify their respect and regard, and when the words of these numerous addresses of congratulation and benediction, coming from so many institutions and so many lands, had just fallen upon his ear and gone into his heart. To echo back such utterances of affection as these in appropriate language he felt to be an impossibility.
He next alluded to a sense of personal unworthiness which had recently filled his mind. He said here that he could state that during the past half-century of his pastorate he had never been two Sabbaths in succession out of his pulpit through sickness. He had never ceased, also, to regard it as one eminent token of Divine goodness that during the first fourteen years of his labours amongst them he was associated in the work with Dr Brown. During the long period of his subsequent solitary ministry the session knew nothing of parties or of party spirit, and they rallied with increased attachment round their young minister when they beheld him with increased responsibility and work.
He proceeded to say it would be out of place to specify those acts of individual generosity which had never ceased to flow upon him, but he could not omit to advert to that united act of munificence which sent him to fallow a three months' visit to Palestine and other Bible lands.
He alluded also to the increasing interest of the congregation in missions, and to their erection of the churches at Canongate and Broughton Place. When the congregation, he continued, took measures at his own request to provide him with a colleague in the ministry, they not only made such generous provision for his future maintenance as to set a shining light before the other Churches, but they gave him a colleague who was proving himself a true son in the gospel, and who by his richly varied gifts, his burning zeal, and great capacity of work, as well as by his kindly spirit, if God spared him, and if he spared himself, would maintain the honourable traditions of the congregation. The magnificent gift which they had now handed to him would be regarded by him as a sum set apart, and it would be devoted to uses of which, he was sure, the kind donors would approve. Having also thanked the Presbytery for their assurances of regard, Dr Thomson closed by saying that it was with him evidently far on in the afternoon of life, and the sun was so near its setting that it seemed already to be dipping in the western wave. Yet he would not push this figure beyond its scriptural limits, but remember that in the case of the Christian death was the entrance into life, and that their golden age was not past but coming.
The Chairman then, on behalf of the ladies of the congregation, presented Mrs. Thomson with a diamond brooch, which he handed to her son, Sheriff Comrie Thomson, remarking that they would not have had Dr Andrew Thomson there that day so strong in body and so fit for all the work of the ministry, but for the sedulous care of his loving wife. She had long graced the congregation by her presence and her work, and it was but fit that they should grace her as much as it was in their power. Sheriff Comrie Thomson, in accepting the gift on behalf of his mother, said "she looked upon it as a recognition on their part that during the past fifty years she had been to their minister a helpful wife, and that her own work and influence in the congregation had always been in the direction of what was useful and prudent and good."
In 1897 Dr Thomson celebrated his diamond jubilee and resigned from the pulpit and other work of the pastorate. In the space of a month in 1898 he suffered the twin blows of the deaths of his son and then of his wife. He died at his home on 8th February 1901, three days short of his 87th birthday. An obituary in The Scotsman on 9th February noted that since his retirement the infirmities of age had crowded upon him, and he had seldom or never since been seen in public: "Of a tall and rather handsome figure, Dr Thomson's manner had a certain hauteur and stately dignity, not uncommon with ministers of the old school in Edinburgh; but those who knew him always declared that in private he was simple and unaffected in his tastes and disposition. He has now been gathered to his rest, like a shock of corn fully ripe, leaving behind him a memory for work well done, which will not soon be forgotten by those who came under his sway".
The Scotsman of llth February 1901 reported his memorial services: "At the forenoon service in Broughton Place United Free Church yesterday, and in presence of one of the largest congregations that ever assembled in the building, the Rev. John Smith alluded as follows to the death of the Rev. Dr Thomson:- We meet today under a real sense of bereavement. God has been pleased, after a short illness at the end, to call our father, Dr Thomson, home. For several years he has been unable to occupy this pulpit or even to join with us in the worship of the sanctuary. But he lives in the heart of this people. His ministry is a cherished memory. He has put his mould upon many lives that for counsel and action are living forces in our midst. His noble figure and expressive countenance will retain their freshness on the tablets of our remembrance when many another image has been erased. His career was so prolonged, extending to two generations of the lives of men; he filled so large a place in our congregational activities, and touched at so many points the history of our Church and current evangelical movements, that we cannot hurriedly or in short space adequately illustrate the various sides of his character, or read the lessons of his finished life.
Next Lord's Day I hope to be able to at least cover the ground and furnish food for meditation and thanksgiving. Today, however, we may give a moment's play to natural feeling. For thirty years past there was no more generally esteemed citizen in Edinburgh than Dr Andrew Thomson. And yet those who knew him by public repute saw but a part of his worth. He was a true man, of simple tastes, happy in his home, discovering the genuine goodness of an unsuspicious kindly nature, in free converse and happy reminiscence. As he grew older the fact became more apparent than ever that he was utterly unspoiled by the world. The eagerness and ambitions bred in the strain and stress of life were only surface traits, and the natural piety which bound him to his boyhood's past, and the spiritual piety which linked him to Heaven and God, formed the living core of his being.
And when, after the two great strokes of his life, the death of his gifted son and then in swift succession of his wife, clouds began to gather, and he was withdrawn from active usefulness to the calm waiting of age and the narrow compass of his room, the graciousness of his manner, the kind note of appreciation in his speech took on a finer beauty. I never heard from him a querulous tone or saw a sign of irritation. The last time I visited him before the end I was touched with the tenderness of his spirit. He was so grateful for a small service, and when prayer was suggested he spoke out of a depth of desire which made my heart glad.
For sixteen years I served with him as a son in the Gospel. We were in many respects different men. Our convictions on some points did not coalesce. But he exercised toleration and I reverence, and it is a great joy to me that no harsh or unpleasant word on either side disturbed our friendship, that our trust and love one for the other only grew, and that at the end I was by to watch the laboured breathing quiet down, faintly come and go, and then without a sigh simply cease. Life's turmoil was over, its weariness at an end, and almost within sight of his eighty-seventh birthday he passed from out the circle of our earth-bound life to 'where beyond those voices there is peace'."
His funeral was held on 12th February 1901 and he was laid to rest in the Dean Cemetery. A service for the relatives at his residence, 63 Northumberland Street, was followed by a service at Broughton Place Church, which was filled, and was attended by a large number of his ministerial colleagues. At the conclusion of the service a procession was formed, headed by members of the Presbytery followed by other ministers then came the session of Lothian Road Church and other representative bodies, while immediately in front of the hearse marched the session and managers of Broughton Place Church. After the hearse, which was drawn by four horses, came a long line of carriages containing the relatives and others, while the rear was made up of the members of the congregation and the general public. On its way to the cemetery the procession attracted much respectful attention. (5)
In January 1903 a mural tablet was erected in the north wall of the entrance to Broughton Place Church to the memory of the late Rev. Dr Thomson, and unveiled by the Rev. Dr John Smith: "Dr Thomson, he said, was a remover of limitations, a widener of the Kingdom of God, and therefore it was most meet that they should place a memorial to his name in that church. For those of them who knew him it would revive memories of the past that were very dear, recall many words of wisdom that dropped from his lips, and bring up before them many kindly acts that endeared him to his people." The inscription reads: "Sacred to the memory of the Rev. Andrew Thomson, D.D., for fifty-nine years the honoured and beloved minister of this church, who died on the 8th February 1901, in the eighty-seventh year of his age and the sixty-fourth of his ministry. 'The memory of the just is blessed!." (6)
The Broughton Place Church was designed by Archibald J Elliot in 1820-21, with a massive tetrastyle Greek Doric portico and imposing facade facing Broughton Street. It appeared in the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire" as the "Presbyterian Church Paris" where the runner and missionary Eric Liddell preached on the Sabbath during the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. No longer used for worship, it now houses the old and respected firm of Lyon & Turnbull Auctioneers and Valuers, but the memorial tablet to Dr Andrew Thomson is still in place and in excellent condition.
1. Small, Rev. Robert, D.D.s History of the Congregations of the United Presbyterian Church from 1733 to 1900, Edinburgh, 1904.
2. Wilson, Tom: Memorials of Sanquhar Kirkyard, Dumfries, 1912.
3. Who Was Who, Vol. 1, 1897-1916.
4. The Scotsman, 9 February 1901.
5. The Scotsman, 13 February 1901.
6. The Scotsman, 29 January 1903.
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