Times Of Refreshing

(From Aspects of the Religious History of Lewis by Rev M. Macaulay, pages 116-119.)

"The church of Christ is sustained in the world by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit." Princ. Lindsay says, "From one point of view, and that not the least important, the history of the church flows on from one time of revival to another — and these awakenings have always been the work of men specially gifted with the power of seeing and declaring the secrets of the deepest Christian life, and the effect of this work has always been proportionate to the spiritual receptivity of the generation they have spoken to."

Lewis had not been entirely without good ministers before the revival which seems to have begun in Barvas in 1822, and swept through the whole island, including Harris. It was particularly productive in Uig during the ministry of Rev. Alexander MacLeod.

Rev. Colin Mackenzie of Stornoway, 1798-1815, was said to have been the best of men, and the Rev. Donald MacDonald of Barvas, 1790-1812, and his successor. Rev. William MacRae, are described as exemplary and highly esteemed pastors. Rev. Norman Morison of Uig, seems to have been zealous for the spiritual welfare of his parishioners, as we have seen from his visit to Bernera. Yet the appointed time had not come; and because of the prevailing ignorance due to lack of education, and their inability to read the Scriptures, which so very few possessed, they were left in a state in which they could make but little use of the sermons they heard.

The good Lord, however, took preliminary steps by way of preparation for the work He was to accomplish among them, and the means he chiefly used for a plentiful harvest were mainly the Gaelic Bible, and the Gaelic Schools and Schoolmasters.

Gaelic Bible

Nothing had been printed either in Irish or Scots Gaelic before the Reformation of 1560, a fact which is not a tribute to the Roman Catholic Church's alleged interest in, and concern for the Celtic people before the Reformation. No Gaelic literature existed, except in manuscript form, earlier than 1567, when Carswell's Gaelic version of Knox's Prayer Book was published. Calvin's Catechism was translated in 1631, the Shorter Catechism in 1653, and the first fifty psalms in metre in 1659. The Shorter Catechism contained the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. The whole Psalter was procurable in 1694. In 1690, 2,000 copies of Kirk's Edition of Bedell's Irish Bible in Roman letters were printed, but few could read them. The Confession of Faith was published in 1725.

In 1767, the S.S.P.C.K. printed 10,000 copies of the New Testament in Gaelic, which had been translated by the Rev. James Stewart of Killin. The Old Testament was published in four parts between 1783 and 1801 by Dr. Stuart of Luss and Dr. Smith of Campbeltown, but it was only in 1807 that an adequate supply of the complete Gaelic Bible was available. An amended Gaelic translation of the Old Testament was on sale in 1820, and the complete Gaelic Bible in 1826. It was not until 1828, however, that the sacred volume could be purchased at a price within the reach of all. Thus less than two hundred years ago there existed no translation of the Bible in the Gaelic of Scotland.

Although translations of religious works, such as the Confession of Faith, Baxter's Call, Alleine's Alarm and Guthrie's Christian's Great Interest then existed, their circulation was very limited, because the vast majority of the people could not read. The Reformed Church in Scotland was in no way to blame for this sad state of affairs. In 1596, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland admitted that apart from the churches in Argyll and the Isles there were four hundred parishes without ministers, most of which would be in the Highland area. Knox's national Education Scheme provided for Elementary schools to be set up in every parish; Grammar Schools in every large town, at which clever pupils of the poor class were to be maintained.

By Acts of Parliament in 1616, 1633 and 1646 the Educational Scheme was obligatory, and the cost was placed on the Land-owners. These Acts proved to be ineffective, and another Act was passed in 1696, by which Land-owners had to provide a school and a schoolmaster at a salary of a hundred to two hundred merks, failing which they were to be punished.

The rebellion of 1715 directed the attention of Parliament to the condition of the Highlands. The King recognised that it constituted a menace to his throne, and in 1721 he persuaded Parliament to vote for the support of schools in the Highlands a grant of £20,000 from the sale of Scottish Estates forfeited after the 1715 rebellion. After the 1715 and the 1745 rebellions, Gaelic was identified with Jacobitism.

Scottish Society for the Propagaton of Christian Knowledge

In 1701 a small number of pious and public-spirited gentlemen from Edinburgh met to form themselves into a society for the reformation of manners, especially in the Northern regions. Its object was to disseminate knowledge of the Scriptures throughout the Highlands, but for a long time, until 1767, the teaching of Gaelic was forbidden. The Society received its letters-patent from Queen Anne in 1709, for, "Promoting Christian Knowledge, especially in the Highlands, Islands and remote corners of Scotland." Its teachers had to be examined and approved by the Presbytery within whose bounds they resided, and the Society received open support from the Church of Scotland.

By 1711 five schools were established, including one in St. Kilda. In 1739 the Society printed a Gaelic and English vocabulary, and in 1758 the Mother's Catechism in Gaelic. The first reference to an S.S.P.C.K. school in Lewis is in 1737. In 1749 there were four schools in Lewis: Barvas, Keose, Ness and Carloway. With the help of the Royal Bounty the Society maintained a school alternately at Ness and Barvas. The number attending was small, seldom being more than twenty, and in 1750 to '59 the school did not meet at all. The teacher was "ex officio" the Catechist of the district, and at Ness in 1790 he read to the people every Lord's day, when the minister was not there. He was also often the Precentor, and taught Psalmody. Later he became a highly respected member of the Lewis society whose duties involved visiting children in their homes in the evenings, and teaching the Commandments and the Catechism. On Sabbath evenings he catechized in the church the young people of the parish, and prepared the people for the annual ministerial catechizing, and the parents for the Sacrament of Baptism.

The S.S.P.C.K. schools were spoken of as "Charity Schools", because they provided Education which was in the main free. Previous to 1828, the Society had two schools in Lewis, one in Stornoway and one in Shawbost. In 1828 a school was established in Loch Shell, and in 1832 one in Valtos and one in Callanish. In 1865 Sheriff Nicolson said of the S.S.P.C.K. schools, "Efficiency, on the whole, cannot be considered satisfactory." A former Inspector said of them that "The education is of a very low character indeed." The teachers stayed only one to three years in one place, or until such time as scholars could read the Bible in English. The curriculum was confined to teaching the principles of religion, reading, writing, arithmetic and psalm tunes.

In 1738, the S.S.P.C.K. was allowed to give instruction in Agriculture trades, manufacture and house-keeping, including spinning, sewing and knitting. In 1762 a plan was prepared for the introduction of flax-growing and spinning into Lewis, and a Spinning-school was set up in Stornoway in 1763, with a Fife lady as mistress. Sixty pounds a year was to be expended on reels and wheels, which would be distributed among the scholars and poor families, after they had been instructed in the art of using them. Provision was also made for supplying with a wheel, reel and a crown every girl who could teach herself to spin well without attending the Spinning-school. By 1765 more than 400 girls, equipped with a reel and a wheel, had passed successfully through the Spinning school. This school was still maintained with the help of the S.S.P.C.K. in 1797, and was greatly encouraged by Mrs MacKenzie of Seaforth, who offered prizes in proficiency in knitting and spinning. Mrs MacKenzie had thus rescued many poor girls from, "habits of idleness and vice, and had trained them in industry and virtue." Each of the four parishes had at least two Spinning schools.

In 1763 it was difficult to persuade the women to attend, as it had been rumoured that it was part of a scheme to send them to the plantations in America, but on reassurance it was soon filled, and the school became a great success. Proficiency, normally expected to take three years, was accomplished in one year, and the school flourished until the substitution of a cheaper cotton for linen sounded its death knell. By 1845 Spinning schools were discontinued.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century Sir James and Lady Matheson maintained a female industrial school in Stornoway. The building is still to be seen on the corner of Keith Street and Scotland Street with the inscription on its front as, "Female Industrial School, erected by Mrs Jane Matheson, 1848." The name was later changed to "Lady Matheson's Seminary for Young Ladies." It was originally intended that the school should consist of three Departments, one for ordinary branches of learning, one for Laundry and Housework, and the third for Ayrshire Needlework or Embroidery. The school was ahead of its time, in that it concerned itself with Music, Physical Training, Deportment and Needlework, besides a rigorous training in the three Rs, reading 'writing' and 'arithmetic'.

Gaelic Schools...