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Life of Robert Machray, Archbishop of Rupert's Land

By His Nephew, Robert Machray

Toronto: Macmillan, 1909.

Chapter I. Early Years (1831-1847)

ROBERT MACHRAY, the future Archbishop of Rupert's Land and the first Primate of All Canada, was born at Aberdeen, May 17, 1831. His father, also named Robert Machray, was a graduate of Marischal College, and a member of the Society of Advocates of Aberdeen, then as now the most important legal organisation in the North of Scotland, with privileges of their own, a hail and fine library, and considerable accumulated funds. The advocate's father, John Machray, held the farm of Caiesmill in the parish of Dyce, Aberdeenshire, but his main business was that of a manufacturer of woollens--blankets and cloths of the homespun description. The farm lay about the mill and stretched up the slopes of the hills at the foot of which ran the stream that drove the wheel. The mother of the advocate was Mary Martin, sister of Theodore Martin, the grandfather of the late Sir Theodore Martin, the biographer of Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria and father of King Edward, and the joint-author of the famous Bon Gaultier Ballads. John Machray was killed suddenly by an accident when driving, his only child being Robert Machray, the advocate.

The name Machray is a variant of the Gaelic word, which is most generally but not perhaps most accurately Anglicised as Macrae. The clan name is spelled in several other ways--M'Rae, M'Crae, M'Crea, M'Crie, Macra, Macray, Makray, Mackray, and so on; some times the prefix disappears, and the appellation becomes Cray, Crie, Craw, Crae, Ray, Rae. The clan originally came from Ireland, and were close friends for centuries of the Mackenzies and Macleans, whose lands in Scotland marched with theirs; they were intimately connected with the Mackenzies of Kintail. These Aberdeenshire members of the sept appear to have spelled themselves Machray for generations; the c/i was pronounced soft like the ch in loch, not hard as k. It is uncertain when they first migrated from the clan country which lies round the shores of Loch Duich, under the shadow of Ben Attow, in the county of Ross, eastward of Skye. They first settled in the neighbourhood of Inverness, and then moved south into Aberdeenshire. They bore the clan arms--the arms are incorporated in the arms of the Archbishop, and may be seen on the right side of the shield shown on the cover of this book.

The widow of John Machray of Caiesmill remarried, her second husband being John Allan, a farmer, by whom she had three sons--John, James, and Theodore. In addition to Caiesmill, the Allans also had the neighbouring farm of Begsley, which a descendant still holds. Mrs. Allan was again unfortunate, for her second husband, like her first, lost his life by an accident. After his death it was found that his affairs were much involved, but the widow, who was a woman of character and marked capacity, managed so well that she paid off all his debts. John Allan, the eldest son of the second marriage, having taken over Caiesmill after his father's death, remained there, while his brother James went to Begsley with his mother; the third son, Theodore, entered Marischal College, from which he graduated with great distinction. It is with this Theodore Allan that the early history of the subject of this biography is intertwined, and in large measure he it was who gave to the boy those ideals of high purpose and noble service that inspired the ma

On his mother's side the Archbishop was also of Highland ancestry. Her maiden name was Christian Macallum, and she had been brought up by her uncle, Major M'Lean, a retired army officer. Major M'Lean's father was a gentleman of the M'Leans who joined Prince Charles in the '45, though the clan, as a whole, was kept from coming out by the management of Duncan Forbes, Lord President of the Court of Session; after Culloden his estate was confiscated and a price was put on his head, but he lay concealed for a long time on Lord Aberdeen's property in either New Deer or Old Deer, and eventually escaped. Dr. M'Lean, Professor of Hebrew in Marischal College, a son of Major M'Lean, made an effort to recover the forfeited estate, but without success. The M'Leans had been Episcopalians; Major M'Lean and his niece, Christian Macallum, attended St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Aberdeen; after the Major's death the M'Leans conformed to the Church of Scotland, as did Christian Macallum on or shortly before her marriage to Robert Machray, the advocate, who was a Presbyterian. The only other member of the M'Lean family that had issue was a daughter who married a Waterloo officer of the name of Wishart he obtained a grant of land in Canada and settled at Dundas, Ontario; descendants of theirs were in Winnipeg in the 'eighties; they were Episcopalians.

To Robert and Christian Machray were born three children, two sons and a daughter. Their elder son, Robert, was baptized in the East Parish Church of Aberdeen, and the names of the witnesses on the baptismal certificate are those of Sheriff Falconer--in whose office, prior to the Sheriff's promotion to the bench, the child's father had received his legal training--and Dr. M'Lean, the mother's cousin above mentioned. Sir Theodore Martin, then a lad of sixteen, was amongst those present at the ceremony. A younger son, William Forsyth, was born three years later. Both boys had scarlet fever, but William did not take it till after Robert had recovered. The Archbishop used to tell with much amusement a story of this time. The family physician was a Dr. Fraser, and he must have been a surgeon too, of a rough-and-ready sort. After he was better Robert, boy-like, made a practice of waylaying the doctor to tell him how William was getting on--till one day the doctor, observing a small wart on the end of Robert's nose, took it out with his nails: "After which, well, I avoided him," said the Archbishop with a smile. Robert, when a very small child, learned the letters of the alphabet from a large Family Bible.

Shortly after the Dr. Fraser episode he went to the City English School, where, or rather in its vicinity, an accident befell him which might have been fatal. Coming out of Drum's Lane, where the school was situated, into the Upper Kirkgate, he was run over by a carriage, the second wheels of which were stopped when one of them was about to go over his head. When picked up, his first exclamation was for his school-books. He was taken home, examined by a number of doctors and the parish minister, who had hastened to the house on hearing of the accident, and was pronounced uninjured. It was marvellous that neither the horses nor the first wheels of the carriage, which had passed over him, had done him any harm. He did not remain long at this school, for his father broke down in his circumstances and went to America, where he died. Relatives and friends rallied to his mother's assistance, and she made a successful struggle against adversity. The boy went to live with his uncle, Theodore Allan, to whom he became as a son.

Theodore Allan was now a probationer of the Church of Scotland, that is, he was licensed but not ordained. He had been tutor in several families of position, and had seen a good deal of society. For some years he had been Rector of the Academy at Nairn, which had long been a flourishing institution. Very amiable in disposition, he was a universal favourite. A man of wide scholarship, he was also an excellent schoolmaster; many of the sons of the county gentry boarded with him in his house, and attended the Academy. To him, then, the boy went when he was not quite six years old, travelling from Aberdeen to Nairn, a distance of about a hundred miles, by the "Defiance" coach. Though he was exceedingly healthy, he was easily upset by any motion--a disability that remained more or less with him to the end of his life; he could not travel inside a carriage without being made ill; he could not at first bear even the gentle movement of a canal boat; and to the last he was a bad sailor, and never enjoyed his voyages across the Atlantic. So the little fellow rode all the way to Nairn on the top of the coach. He spent two years in that town with his uncle Theodore, with whom, as it happened, these two years were a critical time, for during it fever broke out in the school, and several of the boys died; the Academy had to be closed, and when it was reopened the attendance was meagre, few of the boarders coming back.. Mr.. Allan thought the outlook so discouraging that when he was offered the parish school of Coull in Aberdeenshire, he deemed it wise to accept it.

In his later years the Archbishop did not retain many recollections of his stay at Nairn. He recalled a visit paid with his uncle to Sir James and Lady Dunbar of Boath, two of whose sons died when boarders at the Academy. What was perhaps his most distinct remembrance of that time was curious enough, and how it was impressed on his memory is easily understood. Dr. Bayne, one of the physicians in the town, had charge of an Aberdeenshire lady who was deranged but quite harmless; she had the fixed idea that all the persons she met were people of past ages come to life again, and she generally selected roles for them with whimsical inappropriateness--sometimes, no doubt, the effect being hardly satisfactory to her victims. The boy saw her more than once at Dr. Bayne's house, and on one of these occasions she said to him--this small boy of seven years--with solemn conviction, "You are Job returned to life!" He never forgot the grotesque announcement of the poor mad lady. While at Nairn he was rather young for the usual games of boys; one of his favourite amusements was to erect a pulpit and preach, and another, caused by the presence in the school of sons of officers in the army, was to play at soldiers.

Coull is a parish of Western Aberdeenshire, some thirty miles from the capital of the county; it lies in a rich and fertile valley surrounded by bleak hills, with Morven well in view; through a rent in these hills there can be seen far off the glories of the almost perpendicular rocks of Lochnagar, the "dark Loch nagar" of Byron, who also spoke of it as "the most sublime and picturesque of the Scottish Alps." In the autumn of 1838 Theodore Allan and the boy moved to Coull, and one or two of the Nairn schoolboys accompanied them, amongst them being James Farrel Pennycuick, a son of Colonel Pennycuick of the 17th Regiment.

With Theodore Allan there also went to Coull his high reputation as a schoolmaster, and it was no long time, before he was again in prosperous circumstances. Coull is a small parish, with a small school, but he attracted many pupils from outside, not a few of them gentlemen's sons who boarded with him. "Alick" Pennycuick joined his brother James; the two Pennycuicks and Robert Machray became warm friends; the three boys were together until Robert was about twelve, when the Pennycuicks left--a great grief to him, partly mitigated, however, by the gift from Alick of a lock of hair which he long cherished. Soon after wards James Pennycuick entered Woolwich, and in due course became an officer in the Royal Horse Artillery while Alick, later, went to Sandhurst and obtained a commission in the z into which his father had exchanged from the 17th Regiment. A dark fate rested over the younger of these two young men, for he and his father, then Brigadier-General, were both killed in one and the same battle, Chillianwalla. Among the other boarders of note were J. Lamond, son of the Laird of Pitmarchie in Lumphanan, an adjoining valley parish set among the hills; and John Forbes Watson, who afterwards, as Dr. Forbes Watson, rose to great distinction in the Indian Medical Service. Robert was much attached to Forbes Watson, and spent a vacation with him at his father's place, Coiquhonny, in Strathdon.

The excellence of the school at Coull was proved in a marked manner. At this period the parish school masters of Aberdeenshire were very superior to those of the rest of Scotland. They were almost all University graduates, and commonly probationers of the Church of Scotland. Besides their stipends, they had a house and a glebe sufficient for a garden and the keep of a horse and a cow, as had many other Scottish school masters. But the Aberdeenshire schoolmasters, with those of Banif and Moray, were entitled to a share in the Dick Bequest, the amount, if any, depending on the scholarship shown in an examination of the school by the Agent of the Trust, who at that time was Mr. Menzies, Writer to the Signet, Edinburgh, and Agent for the Church of Scotland. Theodore Allan passed with great distinction, and his school received the highest praise, with the gratif result that he was awarded the largest grant which could be given from the Bequest. He also obtained a grant from the Mime Bequest, a Trust somewhat similar to the Dick Bequest, but confined to Aberdeenshire schoolmasters. It was in this fine school, under its notable, talented, much- loved master, that the boy remained, until his uncle's death in 1847. His holidays were generally spent with either his mother in Aberdeen or his grandmother at Begsley.

In all Scottish parishes the manse plays an important part. The Minister of Coull in those days was the Rev. W. Campbell, who had been "first bursar," that is, the student who had gained the first bursary of his year, at King's College, Aberdeen. He was able, scholarly, genial, and refined. His wife, one of the sweetest of women, had been the widow of a Dr. Mackenzie, and her three children by the first marriage lived at the manse with three children she had by her second. It was a very amiable family, and there was much inter course between the manse and the school. The eldest son, William Mackenzie, attended the school, and became a great playmate of Robert's. After a time William went to the University, but when he came home for his vacations the two boys used to go fishing and shooting together. Once they had a fight--a rather one-sided affair. James Pennycuick, towards the close of 1845, came from Woolwich to spend the Christmas holidays at the old school, and he contrived to make a "match" between the two. William was a stout, strong-built lad, while Robert was tall, thin, and weedy. The former struck the latter a blow in the abdomen, cut off his breath, and laid him low, thus bringing the fight to an "untimely end." But they were none the worse friends after that, and had some happy times with Pennycuick. One evening they joined a party spearing trout in the Tarland by torch light. But Pennycuick was full of his military studies, and he set the, others to erecting forts, and planned both their attack and defence. One day they spent in exploring the great Hill of Morven; they had a gun with them, but it would not work. This gun, which had been lent to Pennycuick by a merchant in the village of Tarland, burst a day or two later, but without injuring any one. The boys went to the merchant and bought the gun, but took care not to inform him of the catastrophe. James Pennycuick soon returned to Woolwich. His career in the army was distinguished; he served in the Crimea and elsewhere, and died a Lieutenant-General in 1888.

As a rule, Robert did not take much part in the usual school games, for he was a studious boy, fond of books, but during that winter he was nearly killed while at play. One of the favourite diversions of the bigger scholars at Coull in the winter was hockey, or "shinty" rather, a less scientific form of the sport, played with clubs and a ball. In the course of the game a club flew out of the hands of a lad called Skene, a son of the Tarland merchant from whom the gun was bought, and hit Robert on the head, causing a long and deep wound, and making him nearly insensible. Mr. Allan was immediately summoned to the playground, and not knowing who had done the deed, he asked Skene, who was an athletic youth, to run to Tarland for a doctor. Skene went with a will, anxious to make what amends he could, succeeded in finding a doctor, and returned with him post-haste. The wound was sewed up and Robert put to bed. The wound, how ever, healed quickly, but left a life-mark. Probably this accident discouraged Robert's never very strong liking for school sports. For the most part his hours out of school were spent in reading, or in writing fanciful stories and essays. His uncle had a splendid library, and he made excellent use of it.

He had read a great variety of works before he was sixteen. He had a marked predilection for history; he devoured Gibbon's large work, Robertson's History, Buchanan's History of Scotland in English, D'Aubigné's Reformation, and Josephus. He was particularly fond of Scott's Tales of a Grandfather--the library contained all the series, Scottish and French, and the boy revelled in them. There were no novels in the library, not even Scott's! On. the other hand, he read very serious books indeed, such as Hill's Lectures on Divinity. In truth, he made, himself acquainted with most of the books which his uncle possessed: he was an omnivorous reader. Theodore Allan was most kind to the boy, and helped him to understand what he read, discussing with him the points-and questions raised from time to time. This in itself was an education.

It was during this time of reading and discussion that he came to have a secret longing for the Church of England, and to prefer its form of government and its Service especially as far better than that of the Presbyterians. It will be remembered that it was at this period that the great event in Scottish ecclesiastical history known as the Disruption took place; the actual date was I 843, when hundreds of the ministers of the Established Church gave up their livings and formed the Free Church of Scotland, taking most of their congregations with them. All the ministers of Aberdeen seceded, with 10,000 adherents. Feeling ran very high in those days in Scotland; families were divided, brother from brother and sister from sister; the nation was disrupted as well as the Church. Theodore Allan was a Liberal in politics, and rather sympathised with the views of those who founded the Free Church. These views included the right of each congregation to select its own minister, instead of having one "intruded" upon it by a patron, and the right of the Church, as a whole, to rule and regulate its own affairs in accordance with its Standards, instead of being subject to the State. Theodore's brothers at Begsley and Caiesmill joined the Free Church, but he and his sister-in-law, the lad's mother, remained members of the Church of Scotland.

In spite of his uncle's Liberalism, Robert chose to adopt the principles and opinions of his mother and her family, who were Tories, and to favour very decidedly what was called the "Moderate" side of Presbyterianism, which was satisfied with State control and had no extreme views on mysterious and controverted dogmas. His attitude was so notorious in his own small circle that one evening in the manse of Coull, when the young people were having their fortunes told from eggs dropped into a glass, the fortune predicted for him was that he was to be a Moderate minister, with a church but no congregation--a fate that was not without illustration in some parts of the country, or perhaps it may have been suggested by a Free Kirk couplet of the time:

The walls are thick, the folk are thin;
The Lord's gone out, the Deil's gone in!

When his mother and he were visiting at Begsley they did not attend the Free Church with the Allans, which was near at hand, but went to the parish church of Dyce, four miles distant.

While reading and thinking much on these high matters, he did not neglect his lessons. In 1845 the school received a gift of prizes from the Edinburgh Aberdeenshire Society; and the Committee of Presbytery, who examined, awarded him the first prizes for Latin, Greek, and Arithmetic. Then there came a check. It may have been that his place in the school as head boy begat a spirit of over-confidence; but when, in October 1846, he went to Aberdeen and tried for a bursary at King's College, he failed. He was the first to get through the exercise, hand in his paper, and leave the hall--not a very hopeful sign. In the following year he was to receive another disappointment of a similar kind. Yet he was a good scholar, as was shown in a striking way. In the spring of 1847 his uncle Theodore paid a visit to his relatives at Begsley. The weather on the journey was wet and stormy, and Mr. Allan, drenched through with rain, caught a chill, which caused a serious illness destined to terminate fatally. He was brought back to Coull, became no better, and was never afterwards able to teach in the school.

Robert, then a boy of sixteen, took his place temporarily. As things turned out, he was in charge of the school for three months, when a new master was appointed. During the evenings he amused himself by translating Book xxi. of Livy, and by writing an essay on the renderings of the English Infinitive into Latin. While he conducted the school, it was examined both by Mr. Menzies, Agent for the Dick Bequest, and by Dr. Cruickshank, Professor of Mathematics in Marischal College, who represented the Trustees of the Mime Bequest. Through this severe ordeal he and the school passed triumphantly; both examiners assured Theodore Allan that they were fully satisfied, and they reported to that effect to their principals. Every allowance being made for a natural desire on their part to tranquillise the mind of a man upon whom rested the shadow of death, their testimony is abundant evidence of the lad's scholarship and ability.

It was now determined that Robert was to go up to the University, and Marischal College was selected, the College of which both his father and uncle were graduates. In those days Marischal College was an independent University, as was also King's College the former is in New Aberdeen, the latter in Old Aberdeen, the two towns then being some distance apart; at present, as for nearly fifty years, the two Colleges are joined in one University, and since 1891 New and Old Aberdeen form one city of Aberdeen. By way of special preparation, the lad was sent to the Grammar School of Aberdeen, of which the celebrated Dr. Melvin was then Rector. So great was his fame as a teacher of Latin that almost all the students who intended entering either Marischal or King's endeavoured to spend under him the three months preceding the Universities' Bursary Competitions. Dr. Mehrin had about two hundred youths in two classes, known as the Fourth and Fifth, whom he kept in perfect order, absolute silence being the rule, save, of course, when he or the student addressed spoke. Robert was put in the Fifth, the highest class in the school. Here he found a friend in a Mr. George Mills, who during the previous year had come over from Lumphanan, where he was a teacher, to Theodore Allan for lessons in Latin, which Robert also took. While attending the Grammar School they both did additional exercises with the Rev. W. Duncan, a minister of the Free Church and a fine Latinist.

Once, when conversing with Mr. Duncan about the choice of a profession, Robert said to him that his aim was to be a schoolmaster like his uncle Theodore, but that he had quite made up his mind not to enter the Presbyterian ministry. In the background lay the thought of becoming a clergyman of the Church of England or of the Scottish Episcopal Church, but he did not give it expression--if this hope proved vain, then he was resolved to be a schoolmaster. For the profession of teaching, as for education, he ever cherished the deepest regard; to him there was only one profession which was higher, and that was the ministry of the Church. It was his happy lot to combine both. As his biography will show, he was afterwards a school master, though not a schoolmaster only, for many years--till, in fact, within a short period of the close of his life. Theodore Allan builded better than he knew.

When Robert left the Grammar School he was given a certificate by Dr. Melvin which set forth that he had "conducted himself with the utmost propriety," had been "attentive, diligent, and steady," and had made "highly respectable progress in his studies"--swelling words perhaps, but doubtless comforting to Uncle Theodore, who lay dying at Coull. And the words of praise were accompanied by the conquest of a much-coveted Latin prize. This success encouraged the lad to go up for the Bursary Competition at Marischal College, but he failed. His friend Mills gained a bursary, though he did not get a prize at the Grammar School. Robert's failure seems strange, but the Bursary Competition of those days was a very unreliable test of scholarship. Dr. Melvin's most promising Latin scholar of the year only obtained a small bursary at the foot of the list, while the men who won the two highest bursaries in this particular examination took afterwards no pre-eminent position, even in Latin, in the University. With his hopes dashed by this misfortune, he was still further depressed by his uncle's death, which occurred at this juncture, making his prospects uncertain and gloomy. How ever, he passed the entrance examination at Marischal College, and his friends used their influence to secure a presentation bursary for him.

At the funeral of Theodore Allan he met their old friend, Mr. Campbell, the Minister of Coull, who had driven thirty miles to pay a last tribute of love and respect to the dead. With this clergyman he had a long and serious conversation; and he was advised not to wait for a bursary at Marischal, but to enter King's at once, where Mr. Campbell could assist him. As there appeared small hope of a bursary at the former, this conversation decided him, though the change in his plans was not pleasing to his relatives, some of whom tried to dissuade him from carrying it out. Dr. M'Lean, his mother's cousin, who was a Professor of Marischal, was especially bitter about it. But he persisted in his determination, though not without fears of the propriety of the step. He entered King's College in November 1847, but with a desolating sense of inferiority to many of his fellows, because of his double failure to win a bursary; he was to leave it as the foremost man of his year, and afterwards to be enrolled in the list of its most distinguished sons.

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