Introduction

A picture of Rev. Hector Cameron The names of most ministers fall quickly into oblivion after their departure from this life, unless they have left something in writing to remind us of their character and preaching. A hundred years have now passed since Mr Hector Cameron became the minister of Back. Consequently there are only a very small number left who either knew him or felt the power of his preaching. Perhaps with exception of his own ideal minister, the Rev. John MacRae, MacRath Mor, no one else of all the ministers in the island of Lewis left such an indelible impression on the Christian people of this island as Mr Cameron did, and the impact of his character was not solely confined to them.

Our reason for adding a stone to his cairn is not merely to applaud his great work for the Free Church in Lewis, but to try and gather together aspects of his life and character, which, if not recorded now, will soon be lost forever.

Mr Cameron was born in 1836, at Guiseachan, a lonely farmhouse on the south-side of Lochshiel, about five miles from Glenfinnan. His father, who was called Red Donald, was a sheepfarmer, and, like so many in that locality, he was by birth a Roman Catholic. In the years before the Disruption an able S.P.C.K. (Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge) schoolmaster, named Neil MacLean, laboured at Corriebeg, and he was the instrument used by God for the conversion of Donald Cameron. This was when Hector was about seven years old, and he had thus been baptized in the Church of Rome. Mr Neil MacLean, a son of the teacher referred to above, and who later became the Provost of Govan, recalls:

"Among the earliest incidents in my memory are the visits made by Donald Cameron at the Schoolhouse, on his way between his home in western Lochaber and Corpach and Fort William. He rode a fine grey horse, and well do I recollect the long periods it had to stand with the bridle tied to the outer door, while a strenuous religious controversy was engaged in within; my father on the one side, trying to convince this devout Catholic of the errors of his Church, and the latter in all sincerity defending it. Several times did Mr Cameron take his departure, as he declared, for the last time, feeling offended at the exposures of his cherished beliefs. But he returned again and again, being drawn by that invisible and all-powerful cord of love and truth. Finally, he was enabled to break away from the Church of Rome, much to their consternation, as well as to the bitter grief of his brother Paul. then a devout believer in the doctrines of Rome, but soon afterwards brought from darkness to light. Some years afterwards, my father then gone to his reward. I met Paul Cameron, who on learning who I was, took my hand in both his and wept, no doubt calling to remembrance his own blindness and God's wondrous grace in giving him spiritual eyesight. Let me add that these two brothers were married to Protestant sisters, so that the Rev. Hector Cameron had all along the inestimable benefit of a godly mother. I remember the warmest of welcomes he gave me the first time I met him at Back, and the touching reference he made to the subject here dwelt upon. Who can calculate the results of the labours of godly Schoolmasters, Catechists and other Laymen throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, in an age when the pulpit ministry in general was anything but efficient or effective."

It is interesting to note that another son of Neil MacLean, the teacher referred to above, also had connections with Lewis. The Rev. John MacLean, ordained at Muckairn in 1856, became the first Free Church minister at Carloway in 1858, was translated to Stratherrick in 1863, to Back in 1877, to Shiskine in 1880 and to Tarbert, Harris, in 1885. A silver fruit-basket, beautifully inscribed, which was gifted to the Rev. John MacLean by the Stratherrick Congregation in 1877, on the occasion of his translation to Back, is still to be seen in a Free Church manse on the west-side of Lewis. Mr MacLean was also the immediate predecessor of Mr Cameron at Back. It is also interesting to note that Neil MacLean, the teacher at Corriebeg, was succeeded by Kenneth Ross of Crobeg, Lochs, who later became the Catechist at Carloway, and who was probably the most noted among the "Men" of his day.

When Donald Cameron left the Church of Rome he was cursed from the altar, but of this curse we can say with Moses, "Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee".

Mr Cameron was thus brought up in a home which from his early years bore the stamp of his father's godliness. Principal MacLeod says of his father, Red Donald, that when he was awakened, "He set about the task of winning the favour of God with repentings and good works. It was in the burn in Ferintosh, as he listened to the clear and scriptural teaching of the Apostle of the North, that he learned to cease from setting up his own righteousness, and to submit to the righteousness of God. This was about 1842." The Cameron family travelled many miles over the hills of Sunart to hear the Gospel at Strontian. A lively state of religion was at that time experienced in the Lochaber and Sunart area where the labours of the Rev. Alexander Macintyre, who later went to Australia, were richly blessed.

Rev, John MacQueen, a native of Uig, Skye, was ordained at Strontian in 1853, and he also experienced in the first decade of his ministry a similar season of blessing. In those post-Disruption days the ministries of Peter MacLean, Tobermory, John MacRae of Knockbain, and Francis MacBean of Fort Augustus were blessed to an eminent degree, and it was among such a crop of noteworthy believers that Mr Cameron began his Christian profession, and later felt called to the ministry of the Word of God. He studied at the University and Free Church College in Glasgow, where he seems to have experienced deep spiritual affliction. But he could say with the apostle, "Blessed be God . . . the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." This forms part of the training of evangelical ministers, which enables them to console other mourners in Zion who pass through similar trials. Some pass through special trials of their own, and he was no exception. He was deeply disturbed because he had been baptized in the Church of Rome, and wondered whether he ought to be baptized a second time. The problem was solved for him after reading Dr Charles Hodge's discussion of the subject, and for the rest of his life he was an ardent admirer of the great American theologian. Indeed when Dr Hodge's Systematic Theology was published some years later he eagerly read the three volumes, and continued to do so till the end of his ministry, and it may well be questioned if any of the Princeton School knew his Hodge better than Cameron did. His love for Hodge became a standing joke among his brethren in the Lewis Presbytery. Whenever one of them dropped in to see him he was sure to find Mr Cameron poring over one of the volumes of Hodge. One who knew him well says: "Hodge actually won him to novel-reading. He told a party of us once when he joined us at the Laxdale crossroads that he had been up till 2 a.m. reading lvanhoe. When we expressed surprise, he said that Hodge always read Scott's novels after a spell of hard intellectual work."

On another occasion Professor Salmond of Aberdeen, with other members of the Presbytery, was at tea in the Back manse. As usual Mr Cameron had his Hodge on the sideboard. Dr Salmond noticing this told Mr Cameron that he always used Hodge's Systematic Theology in his class. At this Mr Cameron got up and stretching out his large hand across the table said "My dear friend let me shake hands with you", which accordingly was done amidst a burst of Presbyterial laughter. Prof. Salmond had studied under both Dr Charles Hodge and under his son — A. A. Hodge in Princeton, and was the author of Princetoniana in which he gives us his impressions of these gifted theologians and of their teachings.

Such perusal of the work of a great theologian was bound to be reflected in his pulpit work, and we are told that his preaching was of a powerful, instructive and systematic character. Among the ministers whose influence left its mark most on Mr Cameron two were outstanding; Dr Kennedy, and even more Rev. John MacRae. His admiration for them was unbounded, and he was so attached to "Big MacRae" that when he was a Student he requested to be under his preaching during his vacation, and so became a Schoolmaster at Lochs. At a presentation given to Mr Cameron in Stornoway when retiring in 1907, he told the audience that he and the late Rev. John MacMillan of Ullapool, when in College together, applied to Miss Abercrombie of the Lewis Association in Edinburgh, to get a School each for them at Lochs, their object being to be under the preaching of "Big MacRae". Mr MacMillan was appointed to Balallan, and Mr Cameron to Gravir. MacRae went to Carloway in 1864, and Cameron later became his assistant there.

After finishing his course at the University and Free Church College in Glasgow, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Lorn and Mull on the 3rd of August 1869. He laboured first at Strathconan, which was a Preaching Station until 1873, and was ordained at Kilfinnan in 1871. Kilfinnan is called Tighnabruaich in the Synod Records. Tighnabruaich was created into a separate Charge from Kilfinnan in 1877, a year after Mr Cameron left it for Lochs. On account of the Declaratory Act of 1892 a number of members seceded from the Free Church there to form the Free Presbyterian Congregation of Kames, of which Rev. John MacLeod, later Principal MacLeod of the Free Church College, became pastor in 1901.

Ministry at Lochs...