DUGALD SINCLAIR, EVANGELIST AND PREACHER

Dugald Sinclair was born in Kilmichael Glassary parish in 1777, and married Christina Sinclair (from Oban) in 1825. He is worth studying because there exists a complete set of his journals describing his labours as an itinerant preacher between 1810 and 1815, throughout western Scotland. The Scotch Itinerant Society published them as a means of publicizing the works of its mission in the Highlands. Christopher Anderson, a lowlander from Edinburgh, and a secretary and founder of that Society, worked closely with Sinclair during these years.

Saturday, 9th June 1810, I was, last night, solemnly set apart for the work of the lord, as an Itinerant, by prayer, in Brother Barclay's meeting house at Kilwinning. Messrs Anderson, Barclay and McFarlane were present, and engaged in the service. Th Season was pecularly solemn and interesting to me indeed. The difficulties, the dangers, the arduousness, and the blessedness of the work before me, moved and overpowered my soul. (Sinclair, 1810; 7)

When the Bellanoch church of Donald McVicar sent Dugald Sinclair in 1808, to train at Bradford Baptist Academy in Yorkshire, there was no Baptist academy in Scotland. England had developed a number of these for dissenting pastors and missionaries because these were not allowed entrance to English universities. England had an "established" religion and this affected education as well as church. Bradford Academy was founded in 1805. The course lasted for 3 years, during which Sinclair preached every Sunday and acquired a mastery of Greek as well as Gaelic and English.

Because there were so few Baptist itinerant evangelists, Sinclair usually travelled alone on his missionary tours. His first tour took him as far as Wester Ross, before proceeding south, via Inverness, where he met up with Christopher Anderson. It was a harsh life: he travelled mainly on foot, and between islands by fishing boats. He faced storms at sea, treacherous roads, bogs and rivers in spate. The Highlands were, indeed, a frontier, undeveloped land. Itinerant evangelists like Sinclair, were not bound by parish borders; they emphasized preaching as opposed to catechism, and appeal to the Bible as the sole ground for their arguments.

The key to Dugald Sinclair's success lay very largely in the nature and health of the local Established Church. Note the Haldane successes overlap the pastorship of Archibald Campbell, North Knapdale's Parish minister between 1780 and 1810. The competition finally awakened the Establishment and in 1824, and Act of Parliament authorized the building of some 40 churches in over large parishes.. One of these was built in Lochgilphead.

The Lochgilphead Years: 1815 to 1831

In 1814, Donald McVicar left his Bellanoch church for Canada, along with several of his congregation. The remaining members of that church moved to Lochgilphead: Bellanoch was dying as the kelp industry declined and the Crinan canal was completed. There was no Established Church in Lochgilphead at the time, and Dugald Sinclair jumped at the opportunity, and purchased land on which his church was built in 1815. At the time, this Baptist Chapel was the only place of worship between Kilmichael and Inverneill. It still boasts an active congregation!

The Canadian Years: 1831 to 1870

In a 1831, the Baptist Home Missionary Society for Scotland noted that, "A considerable emigration from that part of the Country (ie, Lochgilphead) to Upper Canada, has taken place for some years past, and many of the members of the church have moved. They had repeatedly requested Mr. Sinclair to join them, which he declined. Finding, however, that a great part of the church had determined to follow their friends and brethren this year, he saw it his duty to accompany them..."

As soon as he came to Lobo township, Sinclair became the pastor of the Lobo congregation at Poplar Hill. Since there were so few ordained ministers in the area, he was able to exert considerable influence on the development of the Gaelic speaking congregations of Baptists in south west Ontario. He continued to "itinerate", on a circult through Middlesex County and Elgin County. His strong beliefs and imposing personality meant that the churches were known as "Sinclair-Baptist" churches. The final evolution for Sinclair and his parishioners was from Scottish Baptist to the Disciples of Christ. The latter movement was particularly strong in the United States.

These early evangelists presented a real challenge to Scotland's Established Presbyterian Church, and led directly to the Great Disruption in 1843.

The "Great Disruption" was a major earthquake for Scotland's nation.

The next page describes 2 events that led to a debate in the House of Lords and then to the Disruption.

Sources for this page:

"Evangelical Missionaries in the Early Nineteenth-Century Highlands", by Donald E. Meek. Scottish Studies, Journal of the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, vol. 28, pp. 1 to 34.

Dugald Sinclair: The Life and Work of a Highland Itinerant Missionary. Donald E. Meek. Scottish Studies, 1991. vol 30. pp. 59 - 91

Sinclair, Dugald. Journal of Itinerating Exertions in some of the more destitute parts of Scotland. Nos. i (1810) to vi (1815). National Library of Scotland

Life and Letters of Christopher Anderson,available via google books!