Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “james urquhart ross”

Spiritual heritage

The Ferintosh burn was one of our favourite places of play. To stand where Dr Macdonald stood, to speak from his platform – this was something performed with a superstitious fear and awe. How often we heard people speak of what the great Dr Macdonald said and did, but it was not until childhood had passed and a work of grace was performed in our hearts that we came to appreciate spiritually the doctor’s life and work.

It became “the order of the day” for any who visited our old home, beside the Ferintosh Free Church of Scotland, to be taken on a pilgrimage to the Ferintosh burn. Few resisted the urge to test the acoustics when they found themselves at the preachers stance. Perhaps most often quoted on such occasions was “Ye must be born again.” This was much in keeping with the whole drift of Dr Macdonald’s ministry.

John Walter Ross, Lochcarron, Ross-Shire, Scotland. 1978.
From the Foreword to the 1978 edition of The Apostle of the North, the Life and Labours of the Rev John MacDonald, DD, of Ferintosh. By John Kennedy.

My grandmother believed that her grandfather, James Ross, who came out to Australia in 1866, “lived at Ferintosh opposite Dingwall.” I have not been able to verify that he actually lived there, though it is quite possible, since Ferintosh, on the Black Isle just north of Inverness, is a rich agricultural area and there would likely have been plenty of employment opportunities for young men from the Highlands. Our Ross ancestors did not come from Ferintosh but from Gledfield, some 15 miles to the north, where the father of the family was a blacksmith.

Map Ferintosh 1933

Ferintosh on the Black Isle, 1933 map

James Ross was one of his 13 children but chose to be a carpenter rather than a blacksmith like most of his brothers. Around 1850 I believe he left Scotland for England. He married a Welsh girl, Mary Ann Marston, and they settled in Birkenhead near Liverpool, from where they migrated in 1866.

It is difficult to follow James steps between the 1841 census, when he was a 14 year old living in Gledfield, some 15 miles north of Dingwall, and 1855 when his first child was born in Welshpool in Wales. I have previously hypothesised that he worked in an English house in Great Malvern, because a certain James Ross whose date of birth corresponds with our James turns up there in the 1851 census (and he is not to be found at the family home in Gledfield in that census). But the details of the 1851 census are not enough to be absolutely certain that this was the same person.

And what happened between 1841 and 1851? Here is my theory. Because my grandmother left a note to the effect that James (her grandfather) “lived at Ferintosh” and because the name Ferintosh remains in the family, I believe that after he left home in Gledfield, but before he moved to England and Wales, James may have found work in or around Ferintosh on the Black Isle. But why Ferintosh? Was it simply because a job happened to be available there, or were there other forces that attracted him to the area? He can hardly have been there for more than a few years, yet that time appeared to have been so significant to him that it became in the family’s memory James’ Scottish home, rather than Gledfield across the hills to the north.

Ferintosh is a place of great beauty and it is possible that James remembered it for that reason alone. But I believe that there was more than just the memory of its natural beauty that made Ferintosh so meaningful for James. I believe that it was something to do with The Rev John Macdonald of Ferintosh, a man who had turned the Highlands upside down with his preaching during the years he was the minister in Ferintosh. He died in 1849 about the time that James must have lived there. If James on his sixteenth birthday in 1843 had been in the crowd at Kincardine when Macdonald preached, as I have previously suggested, and if his life had been profoundly affected by that encounter, as seems not unlikely, it may well have been that on leaving his birthplace that Ferintosh, the home of the “apostle of the north,” was the place he sought out as he wondered about the direction his life was to take. He had doubtless been to Ferintosh on many occasions to hear MacDonald preach, or to attend the great communion seasons there. Something about the area drew him back. And something about his time there lived forever in his memory, enough for him to say in later years that Ferintosh had been his “home.”

Ferintosh is hardly even marked on modern maps, though it is still there. The Ferintosh Free Church still stands looking out across the Cromarty Firth to Dingwall. And, though there is no signpost, the preaching dell where Dr John MacDonald preached in the first half of the 1800s can still be found at the end of a track which winds through forest and up the slope from the road. It lies in a hollow through which the Ferintosh burn runs, and is surrounded by beautiful fields that slope gently down to the waters of the firth.

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Ferintosh Free Church, looking north toward Dingwall, May 2015

Many years after James had left and Macdonald had died, James’ younger brother Alexander, who had become a teacher, became the schoolmaster at Ferintosh school. Alexander was only five when Macdonald preached in Kincardine that cold winter day in 1843, and only 14 when Macdonald died. So it is less likely that Macdonald’s preaching was as deeply etched on Alexander’s memory as it was on James’. But it is likely that Alexander and his wife were also members of the Ferintosh Free Church of Scotland in the thirty or more years that they lived in the area until Alexander’s death in 1902. John Macdonald was the church’s first minister, from the time it was built in 1843, the year of the Disruption, until he died in 1849. Alexander and his wife Jane came there some twenty years later, possibly within a few years of James’ departure for Australia (1866). I can imagine that correspondence passed between James and his younger brother, thus continuing the connection between James and Ferintosh.

What was it about John MacDonald of Ferintosh that influenced and affected James Ross? What was the spiritual heritage that he took with him, first to England and later to Australia? The first half of the nineteenth century in Scotland was notorious for the Highland Clearances which emptied the glens of much of their populace, scattering them far and wide in Britain and around the globe. But it was also a time of profound spiritual awakening in many places in the north. The Rev Macdonald was one of many catalysts in this awakening.

James Ross, indeed the whole of the Ross family, lived through this period of spiritual revival and change. In 1843 a large group (450 evangelical ministers) broke away from the Established Church in what became known as The Disruption. This resulted in the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. John Macdonald was a leading light in this development, becoming the first minister of the Ferintosh Free Church. In Gledfield, where the Ross family lived, a Free Church was constructed in 1849, and in the 1881 census the family’s address is listed, somewhat mysteriously, as Gledfield Free Church.

Tom Lennie’s recent book, Land of Many Revivals, gives some insight into those years. I have also managed to acquire copies of two books by a contemporary of Macdonald’s, John Kennedy, who was for many years the minister at Dingwall. These books too give a fascinating insight into those times of spiritual as well as social upheaval in the Highlands.

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Days of revival in Scotland, documented in many books

Greenyards

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Greenyards Estate in the Strathcarron

The last clearance in the Strathcarron was at the end of March, 1854.

“… the eviction concerned twenty two families who were the residue of the much greater population which had been cleared in the name of the octogenarian landlord, the notorious Major Robertson of Kindeace… The people’s record was stainless; nor were they a penny in arrears. Some of the menfolk of Greenyards were currently serving in the 93rd regiment at Sebastopol in the Crimean War. The community was under notice of removal to make way for sheep.” (Richards p.345)

The eviction achieved notoriety and was labelled “the massacre of the Rosses” by a contemporary writer, Donald Ross, because of the injuries sustained by a number of people, mostly women, who resisted the authorities who came to turn them out. The Sheriff of Tain and thirty five men arrived at dawn on the 31st of March and were met by a crowd of some 300 people (although Donald Ross’s estimate of the number in the crowd was much lower). The newspaper reports of the Greenyards events created a sensation in Scotland.

“The basic facts of the case:… a body of baton swinging police… ploughed into a crowd of women, and they… inflicted severe, almost fatal, wounds upon them. The police sustained no injury… it was undoubtedly a trial of strength between the peasantry of Ross-Shire and its police force… In the aftermath four of the people [taken into custody] at Greenyards were sentenced at the Circuit Court in Inverness to a long confinement and hard labour in prison. One year later (February 1855) the clearance at Greenyards was completed, to the accompaniment once more of allegations of cruelty, but without resistance.

“A civil force had been brought in from Tain. The furniture of the evictees was put out into the nearby fields; the fire in the hearth was extinguished and the inmates were ejected like a band of felons. One bedridden woman was placed, in her bed, in the open air, exposed to the piercing cold in intense frost and snowstorm until she was rescued by a neighbour from across the Carron.” (Richards pp.351-352)

This event occurred just a few miles up the valley from Gledfield, where James Ross and his family lived. By 1854 James was around 60 years of age and his sons had taken over the smithy. The twenty two families who were evicted were their near neighbours, even if they lived in the valley and not in the village. James and his family would have known many of them, as the people of the Strathcarron generally passed through Gledfield on their way to the bigger centres of Ardgay, Bonar Bridge, Tain, Dingwall and Inverness. James and his sons were the village blacksmiths and had much contact with the people of the valley.

James had been born in or around the so called Year of the Sheep (1792) when the men of Ross had gathered in Strath Oykel to drive the invading sheep south. He was a young man in 1820 when the Strath Oykel Clearance took place after a confrontation at Culrain, just up the road from his home. In 1845 he watched as the people of Glencalvie left the Strathcarron, driven away by the above named Major Robertson, who owned the land. Finally in 1855 he saw his neighbours from Greenyards pushed out by the same laird. James had raised a family of 13 children. By that time his son James had already left Scotland and was married and living in Wales. Two years later, in 1857, two others of his children, Andrew and Helen, would leave Scotland and migrate to Australia, where both would marry and raise families in the beautiful Bellinger Valley of New South Wales. Eleven years after Andrew and Helen left, his son James, who had moved to Birkenhead, near Liverpool in the intervening years, would also leave for Australia with his wife and children. The youngest daughter, Jane, 22 at the time, sailed with them. James senior died in Gledfield later that same year, 1866. He had seen the departure of many people from his beloved valley, the Strathcarron. Some had been driven away, evicted from the land by apparently heartless landlords. Others, including four of his own children, had left of their own freewill. His son James settled in Sydney, Australia, and his granddaughter, Winifred Ross, was my grandmother.

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Carron River near Greenyards

Quotes taken from Eric Richards’ book, The Highland Clearances. 2013

Gledfield

North of Inverness on the east coast of Scotland there are three deep inlets from the North Sea: the Moray Firth, the Cromarty Firth and the Dornoch Firth. Between the Moray and Cromarty firths is the so called Black Isle and between the Cromarty and Dornoch firths is another land mass which is rather hilly, almost mountainous on the inland side. Driving north from Inverness nowadays there are long bridges crossing each of these firths but in the old days before they were built travellers heading north had to make their way inland to where the waterways were narrow enough to cross, adding many miles to the journey. The towns which grew up at the various crossing points were much more important in those days than they are now and in some cases they have shrunk considerably. At the head of the Moray Firth is Beauly (the higher reaches of the Moray Firth are called the Beauly Firth), while at the head of the Cromarty Firth is Dingwall, though the water is crossed even further up at Conon Bridge (over the Conon River). Beside the headwaters of Dornoch Firth is the village of Kincardine, near Bonar Bridge where the Kyle of Sutherland (which flows into Dornoch Firth) is crossed. But these are bypassed now by the bridge that crosses the firth from near Tain to near Dornoch.

Ross and Cromarty Map, 1957

Ross and Cromarty Map, 1957

The Ross family from which I am descended lived in Gledfield, which is near Kincardine. Between Kincardine and Gledfield these days there is a village called Ardgay, which isn’t even marked on maps from the early 1800s, and which is now bigger than either of the two older villages. Ardgay is about halfway between Bonar Bridge and Kincardine and there is a railway station there, which may be the reason it has grown so much. The Highland railway didn’t reach the area until 1864, so it did not feature in the early life of James Urquhart Ross, who migrated to Australia in 1866, following his younger brother Andrew and sister Helen. Bonar Bridge, on the other hand, was built in 1819, and would have been the main crossing of the Kyle of Sutherland-Dornoch Firth waterway.

Kincardine - Ardgay - Bonar Bridge - Gledfield. Map 1925

Kincardine – Ardgay – Bonar Bridge – Gledfield. Map 1925

In the middle of Ardgay a smaller road branches off and heads inland up the valley of the Carron River. The houses end, giving way to fields, but only a few hundred metres further on there is another scattering of houses. This was once the village of Gledfield, but there is no sign to say so, and on current maps it appears as Lower Gledfield. The village today is just a few lines of houses on either side of the road.

Lower Gledfield today, across the fields from Binar Bridge

Lower Gledfield today, seen across the fields from Bonar Bridge

Entering Gledfield village from Ardgay, the first building on the right is the Church of Scotland, set back from the road along a dirt track, on a slight rise. A little further along the road, on the right, is Gledfield Public School, and still further along on the left is another church, without a sign, which on closer inspection appears to have been converted into some kind of residential dwelling. It is the old Gledfield Free Church. Just past the church there is a fork in the road. The right fork leads across farmland to the Carron River bridge, an arched stone structure. Across the bridge the road divides again, either heading north to Culrain and the Gledfield Estate, or west along the northern side of the Strathcarron. The left fork in Gledfield village heads westward along the southern side of the Carron River, climbing gradually into the hills.

Bridge across the Carron River, near Gledfield

Bridge across the Carron River, near Gledfield

At the fork in the road, on the right and almost at the end of Gledfield village, there is a ruined roofless building built onto the end of an old, derelict house. Built onto the other end of the house, closest to the village, is a newer dwelling which looks lived in, though there was no-one around the day we were there. All three of the buildings are of grey stone. The roofless ruin is the old blacksmith’s shop and the derelict house, I presume, was once the home of the Ross family of Gledfield. It was here that James and Catherine lived and raised their twelve children between the 1820s when they married and the 1860s when James died. James Ross was the Gledfield blacksmith, and several of his sons followed in the same trade. James Ross junior, my ancestor, was the exception to this rule, becoming a journeyman joiner.

Ruins of the Gledfield blacksmith shop, and the Ross home beyond.

Ruins of the Gledfield blacksmith shop, and the Ross home beyond.

Although the Ross family lived in the blacksmith’s house at least until James Ross senior died in 1866, records indicate that his wife Catherine moved after his death. The 1871 census indicates that she lived with her unmarried sons Malcolm and Hector at Upper Gledfield, though exactly where Upper Gledfield was I have not been able to work out. By 1881 Catherine’s address is Gledfield Free Church, still with Malcolm and Hector, though by then Malcolm had married Jane Munro. Malcolm and Jane appear never to have had children. Malcolm is listed as Master Blacksmith And Farmer (Of 11 Acres, All Arable, Employing 2 Man 1 Girl). He died in 1897, 57 years old. Malcolm’s younger brother Hector lived with them. Hector never married and was the last of the Ross children to die, in 1921.

Gledfield Free Church

Gledfield Free Church

James Ross’s sixteenth birthday

James Ross was born in Gledfield, Ross-Shire, in the winter of 1827, the fourth child of the village blacksmith and his wife. James’ birthday was the 31st of January, but there were a lot of children (12 in all) in the Ross family and it is unlikely that there was much fuss around the celebrations of birthdays. However, James’ sixteenth birthday, 31 January 1843, was memorable, because on that day the famous evangelist from Urquhart, the Rev John Macdonald, preached at Kincardine Church, the Ross family’s parish church. It was not a Sunday service, but was in fact a Tuesday, in the middle of a cold, wet, squally winter. The Thursday before the Rev Macdonald had stopped briefly at Kincardine southbound for home. He had been preaching up in the Golspie region, on the east coast of Sutherland Shire, James’ mother Catherine’s home town. On his brief stop at Kincardine he had announced that he would be back the following week, and would preach again on Tuesday, before travelling northwest into the mountains and onwards to the West Coast.

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Kincardine Church, Ross-Shire

That Tuesday and the days following are described in the journal of one of the Rev Macdonald’s travelling companions, a certain Rev H Allan, and extracts of his journal can be found in John Kennedy’s book, The Apostle of the North. The words evoke the severity of the winter, and offer a unique glimpse into the day James Ross turned 16, when two thousand gathered to hear one man preach.

Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843 - 1848) Rev Dr John Macdonald, 1843 - 1847, Salted paper print from a Calotype negative 20.2 x 14.6 cm (7 15/16 x 5 3/4 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Rev Dr John Macdonald, 1843 (see reference below)

Tuesday 31st. Rev McDonald arrived… at Kincardine about 12 noon and preached in the tent in the churchyard of Kincardine to about two thousand people… Prevented from proceeding to Assynt that evening as intended, owing to the very boisterous state of the weather. After going a short distance were obliged to put back.

Wed 1st Feb. Left Kincardine manse at half past seven. Breakfasted at Inveran, Captain Clarke’s, and proceeded by Oikel Bridge to Assynt Manse [across the mountains to the western side of Sutherland Shire], where we arrived about five o’clock, being a distance from Kincardine manse of forty miles. Encountered almost the whole way severe storms of wind, rain and sleet.

Thursday 2nd Feb. A dreadful day with drift and snow…

It was awful weather. Assynt, up in the central highlands of Sutherland Shire, is not exactly close to Kincardine, and yet they had intended to travel there from Kincardine in the evening. They were hardy men, so if they were forced to turn around the storm must have been severe. So the Rev Macdonald and his band of missionaries stayed overnight in Kincardine, just a few miles down the road from the Ross home in Gledfield. The next day they set out into the storm again, and this time succeeded in reaching their goal by nightfall, their whole journey through wind, rain and sleet, which later turned to snow.

As I read this account I have found myself wondering about that Tuesday in the churchyard of Kincardine. If two thousand assembled then surely the Ross family were among them. The whole of the Strathcarron could hardly have contained so many; people must have come from villages all round. It was James’ birthday and must have seemed special to him. He stood there in the cold and rain and wind, with the crowds, listening to the great evangelist. Macdonald preached in Gaelic, the native tongue of most of the people in the area. His journal contains a list of the texts he preached on during those days. At Kincardine it says simply that his text was Isaiah 55:3 – “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” How Macdonald expounded these words is not recorded, but he was a powerful speaker, and I suspect that what he said made a profound impact on the young man from Gledfield. It may have been the first time James had heard Macdonald preach. As he stood there in the wind and rain of the Kincardine Churchyard the words James heard spoke to a deep longing in his heart, a longing for life, for hope, for meaning. God spoke to him that day, in Gaelic, James’ native tongue: “come to me; listen, that you might live.” I believe that James responded in heart and mind with a resounding, “Yes, I come!” It may well have been this sermon that prompted him to attend the great communion meetings at Ferintosh (see my previous blog). This commitment, this agreement with God, would become his anchor in life, his firm foundation, the source of the faith and strength needed to carry him through all the trials and adventures that lay ahead.

Kincardine Church is no longer a place of worship but seems now to have become the meeting place of the local historical society. I was there with Hamish a few weeks ago, on a hunt for my ancestors. In the same churchyard where Macdonald preached are the headstones of a good many Rosses. They must have been proud to be laid to rest in what for them was holy ground, a place of spiritual awakening, of revival. James (senior) and his wife Catherine are there, as well as John, Malcolm, Catherine, Hector, and Alexander. There may be more, but I only found these. There is a Celtic Cross marking the family grave of the blacksmith’s granddaughter, Hughina Aird, who married the schoolmaster at the Gledfield School, a certain George McLeod. James Ross junior, my grandmother’s grandfather, along with his brother Andrew and two sisters Helen and Jane, are buried in Australia, migrants to the colonies of the far flung British Empire, a world away from the Scottish Highlands. The Ross family are divided in death, though they were very much together that winter day in Kincardine in 1843.

Ross graves - from left to right: John and Elizabeth, James and Catherine, Alexander and Jane, Malcolm and Jane. Behind on the right is Hughina Aird.

Ross graves – from left to right: John and Elizabeth (fallen down), James and Catherine, Alexander and Jane, Malcolm and Jane. The Celtic cross behind on the right is Hughina Aird.

I believe that, thanks in part to the dynamic ministry of the Rev John Macdonald, the Ross family had a hope that transcended life on earth, a hope of heaven. The words on the base of Hughina Aird’s gravestone bear witness to this, a reminder that this life is not all there is: “Is mise an aiseirigh agusa bheatha.” Although I do not understand this language of my forefathers, the translation as far as I can work out are the familiar words of Jesus: I am the resurrection and the life.

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Digital image of Dr Macdonald courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843 – 1848)
Rev Dr John Macdonald, 1843 – 1847, Salted paper print from a Calotype negative
20.2 x 14.6 cm (7 15/16 x 5 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Communion season in nineteenth century Ross-Shire

It seems likely that James Ross carried the name Ferintosh to Australia with him because of a profound spiritual experience that he had at Ferintosh Burn in the 1840s when the Reverend Dr John McDonald was the minister at Urquhart, the parish which contained the area known as Ferintosh. Actually, Dr McDonald had ceased being the minister at Urquhart in 1843 when the Free Church of Scotland broke away from the Church of Scotland; he became one of the first Moderators of the Free Church in 1844. He had to move out of the manse at Urquhart and became the minister of the newly built Free Church of Ferintosh. According to Kennedy in his book, The Apostle of the North,

He flitted again to a larger but not more comfortable house, and a third time time to the Free Church manse, where he spent the home share of the last three year years of his life. During the erection of new church, he preached in “the burn,” long celebrated as the place of the great communion gatherings. it was there he preached on the first Sabbath after his return from the Disruption Assembly. His Gaelic text on that day was Gal v.1, from which he preached a most stimulating and cheering sermon. (Kennedy J, The Apostle of the North, p310)

Galatians 5:1 says the following:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

The Free Church of Ferintosh still stands, with a spectacular view out over the Cromarty Firth to Dingwall. Hamish and I wandered around the churchyard but the doors were locked so we couldn’t look inside.

Hamish outside Ferintosh Free Church. Beyond lies Cromarty Firth and Dingwall.

Hamish outside Ferintosh Free Church. Beyond lies Cromarty Firth and Dingwall.

But it is the Ferintosh Burn that fascinates me, because I suspect that it was there that James Ross’s spirit was brought to life when he was a young man. The communion seasons that are spoken of so often in the literature of the time and which are still a feature of the Free Church of Scotland even today, were the Christian mega-gatherings of the day, like the Billy Graham crusades of the 1950s and 60s and the Christian conferences and conventions of today. Such gathering had many critics in those days but there was much to be said in their defence, as Kennedy observes in his writings:

Great crowds were accustomed to assemble on such occasions. As many as 10,000 people have met on a communion Sabbath, and nearly 2000 communicants have sat at the table of the Lord…

There were two great advantages attending these “public communions,” as they were called. An opportunity of fellowship was given by them to Christians from all parts of the country, who would not else have met or known each other on the earth; and the gospel was preached to a great multitude of sinners, by a variety of ministers, amidst the prayers of a great many of God’s people…

But the opportunity which was afforded, on a communion occasion, of hearing all the good ministers of the district, the proofs given of the Lord’s presence with each of them, the effect of a community of profit and enjoyment under their preaching, and the loving fellowship of such seasons, tended in a great degree to bring all these sections more closely together, and to expand their sympathies and hopes.
(Kennedy J,The Days of the Fathers in Ross Shire)

But what happened at the communion season? Here is Kennedy’s description:

A communion season is approaching. It has been timeously announced, that it may be known “far and wide,” and that the praying people may be bearing it on their spirits before the throne of grace. The minister preaches a suitable course of sermons on several preceding Sabbaths. The Lord’s people are stirred up to seek a special manifestation of His power and glory. A few, who propose to seek admission to the Lord’s table, are deeply exercised about the solemn step they contemplate, and faithfully and tenderly are they dealt with by both minister and elders. As the appointed time draws nigh, special meetings for prayer are held, and, with holy solicitude, all the preparatory arrangements are made.

The Fast-day is come. Eminent ministers have arrived to take part in the solemn services. Many of the Lord’s people are gathering. From as many as forty parishes they come; but lodgings they will easily procure, as the parish people are striving for the pleasure of entertaining them. Suitable discourses are preached in Gaelic, on the open field, and to a small English congregation, in the church, and in the evening, prayer meetings are held in the various districts of the parish.

On Friday, the day of self-examination, the only public service is in the open air. A large crowd is gathered. “In the tent” there are several godly ministers. The service is that of a fellowship meeting, such as has already been described, but now with special reference to the solemn duties of a communion Sabbath. There are two questions proposed successively to secure variety. Strangers only are called to speak, and even of these only “the flower,” for there are so many. Not fewer than thirty will have spoken before the service is over. Blessed indeed to many souls have these “Friday meetings” been.

The services on Saturday, the day of preparation, are conducted as on Thursday, but, owing to the gathering influx of strangers, the congregation outside is greatly larger than on the Fast-day. At the close of the service, tokens are distributed. Prayer meetings are held throughout the parish in the evening; and while the ministers are preparing for the solemn work of the Sabbath, many are the petitions that ascend in their behalf, to Him who hath “the treasure” to dispense, and of whom is “the excellency of the power.” In many instances, these prayer meetings have been protracted all night. So sensible were the people of the presence of the Lord, that they could not forsake the place where they enjoyed it; and they found “the joy of the Lord” a sweet substitute for sleep.

On Sabbath, the day of Communion, an immense crowd is gathered before the tent. As many as eight thousand are there. The “Beauty of the Lord,” is on the assembly of His people; and before the service is over, many a soul has had reason to say, “it is good to be here.”

On Monday, the day of thanks-giving, a crowd almost as large as that on Sabbath is assembled and often has “the last” been found to be the “great day of the feast.” The closing service of the communion season is now over, and then comes the solemn parting! How affecting do the Lord’s servants and people feel the scene before them to be, as that multitude disperses, never to meet all together again, till the vast congregation of “the last day” has assembled! What touching farewells are now exchanged between the Christians who enjoyed with each other, and together with the Lord, such sweet communion since they met a few days before! There are few tearless eyes, but the weeping is expressive of gratitude as surely as of sorrow. Such was a communion season in the good days of the Fathers in Ross-shire.

Such communion seasons were probably held at Ferintosh only once a year, probably in the summer – July or August. James Ross was 16 in the year that the Free Church was formed. The five years that followed probably laid the spiritual foundation for his life. I believe he left Scotland in 1848 or 1849. He would live in England, Wales and finally Australia. But he would take the name of Ferintosh and the memory of those days with him wherever he went. How it showed itself in the rest of his life is hard to know. I have no descriptions (nor photos) of James Ross. My grandmother, Winifred Ross was born in 1901, 9 years after James died in 1892. She knew of him only what her father told her. I don’t remember her ever speaking of him.

I tried to imagine James and his family among the immense crowds gathering at the Ferintosh Burn when I was wandering those pleasant fields with Hamish a few weeks back. It is quiet and peaceful there now. But how would it have been with thousands of others there? What effect would the preaching of the great “fathers” have had on me, I wonder?

The fields around Ferintosh Burn, where crowds of up to ten thousand gathered for the Communion season.

The fields around Ferintosh Burn, where crowds of up to ten thousand gathered for the Communion season.

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