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Famous Scots - Duncan Macfarlan

Macfarlan was born on 27 September 1771, at Drymen where his father was minister from 1743 to 1791. He studied at Glasgow College and was ordained in 1792. In 1797 he married Ann Allan, and by the time she died in 1814 they had had nine children.

Macfarlan graduated in divinity at the University of Glasgow in 1806, and in 1810 was appointed Dean of Faculties. In 1815 he became one of the King's Chaplains for Scotland, and in 1819 was elected Moderator of the General Assembly. In April 1823 he became principal of the University of Glasgow, whereupon he resigned his charge at Drymen. He was then appointed minister of Glasgow High Church amid strong opposition from within the presbytery.

He retired in 1840, but was persuaded to return on being elected Moderator for a second time in 1842. He died on 25 November 1857.

DUNCAN MACFARLAN, who became D.D. and Principal of the University of Glasgow, was born at the Manse of Drymen in Stirlingshire, on 27th September, 1771. His father was minister of that parish for nearly fifty years (1743 to 1791). Duncan became a student in Glasgow College in November, 1783, when only twelve years of age, and he continued to attend the classes there through eight consecutive sessions. In 1791, as his father's health had begun to decline rapidly, he was, perhaps prematurely, admitted, probationer by the Presbytery of Dumbarton. In 1792 he received the Crown presentation to his native parish, and was ordained on the 23rd of February in that year. In 1806 he received the degree of D.D. from the University of Glasgow, and in 1810 he was appointed Dean of Faculties. In 1815 he received the appointment of one of the King's Chaplains for Scotland, an office which he continued to hold under four successive sovereigns. In 1819 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly, and during his tenure of that office he headed a deputation sent to congratulate George IV. on his accession to the throne.

In April, 1823, he was, on the death of Dr. Taylor, appointed to the high office of Principal of the University of Glasgow. In this position he commanded general respect, and was able to render substantial service to the University on various important occasions. Shortly after his appointment the question of University reform came prominently to the front, and in this he took an active part. Many of the suggestions made by the "Royal Visitation" appeared to him to be injurious, and they met with his strenuous opposition.

On his appointment to the office of Principal in 1823, Dr. Macfarlan resigned his charge at Drymen, and in the same year he was appointed to succeed Dr. Taylor as minister of the High Church. But to this there was a very strong opposition by the Presbytery of Glasgow, on the ground that such a plurality of offices was opposed to the principles of the Church of Scotland. The opposition was eventually overcome, but he was not inducted till upwards of a year afterwards.

The Principal sat for many years as a member of the General Assembly. He retired in 1840, being then in his seventieth year; but in 1843 he was induced to return, when he received the high honour of being a second time elected Moderator. On the 23rd of February, 1842, he completed the fiftieth year of his ministry, on which occasion he was entertained at a public dinner in the Assembly Rooms, at which three hundred gentlemen, including men of rank and influence, and the elite of the citizens, were present. He retired in 1843 from all active Church duties, but he continued to take an interest in all questions relating to the Church, and in important ecclesiastical matters, involving considerations of difficulty or delicacy, he was uniformly consulted.

Few men have been more prominently before the Church and the people of Scotland during the first half of the century than Principal Macfarlan, and few have been regarded with greater respect and esteem. He was a faithful parish minister, and as Principal all he did was characterized by sagacity and good sense. He was liked by the professors, and indeed by all who came in contact with him. In private life he was social and hospitable. His manner was considered by some to be stiff and formal, but it would be more correctly described as that of old-fashioned dignity and reserve. His good temper and cheerfulness, and conversational powers, made him welcome at every table. He had lived through a remarkable time, and had seen many remarkable men. He was a link indeed between two very markedly defined epochs in our social history. In his youth the Highlands of Scotland, on the borders of which he spent his earlier years, were less known and less accessible to the citizens of Glasgow than places far remote on the Continent are now. On one occasion when he was on a visit to Mr. Buchanan of Ardenconnell, and was walking with his host on the banks of the Gareloch between Row and what is now Helensburgh, Mr. Buchanan pointed out some land near the shore regarding the ownership of which he said there was a dispute between him and the laird of Ardencaple. Young Macfarlan expressed his surprise that Mr. Buchanan should think it worth his while to concern himself with a few acres of land which, in a district so remote, could be of only nominal value. But Mr. Buchanan, who seemed to have a presentiment of great changes coming, said to him, "My young friend, you may live to see this same land of such value as to be sold rather by the square yard than by the acre." When Dr. Macfarlan went to college in 1783 the population of Glasgow was little over 43,000; he lived to see it upwards of 350,000. Of the changes in the Clyde which occurred within his lifetime - from the time when the first steamer, the tiny "Comet," could not come up the river even at high water without her crew being obliged occasionally to step over her side to push her over the shoals, to the time when large ocean-going steamers and ships of the largest burden came up to the Broomielaw - we need not speak.

In his teaching the Principal was always sound in doctrine, but he was large-minded and liberal, and, in toleration, in advance of many of his brethren, and notably of some of his own session, who held the narrow and intolerant views of the old Puritans. The late Mr. W. L. Leitch, the celebrated landscape painter, used to relate an incident in his domestic life which illustrates this. Mr. Leitch, then a very young man, had gone to London, leaving his wife to follow after the baptism of a child which had been born after he left Glasgow. It was a custom in the High Church that no child could get baptism till the parents had presented themselves before one of the elders for examination, and only on their obtaining a line from the elder was the child baptized. So to the elder Mrs. Leitch went, but on learning that her husband was an artist, and that he was then employed painting scenes in London, he refused to give her the certificate. "Gracious!" he exclaimed, "a scene painter in a theatre! what depravity!" He hated theatres, he said, and all connected with them. And so he dismissed her. But she was a bold little woman, and refusing to believe that her husband was so very bad she went straight to the Principal himself. He received her with great kindness, and on hearing her story said to her, "Do not trouble yourself about the elder's scruples. Bring your baby to church at the usual time. Farewell, and God bless you, and I trust your husband will be successful in his profession."

Dr. Macfarlan died on the 25th of November, 1857, in the eighty-seventh year of his age. He was married in 1797 to Ann Allan, daughter of Dr. John Allan, minister of the parish of Row

Headstone Photograph

Further Information

Title: Rev D.D.

Firstname: Duncan

LastName: Macfarlan

Date of Death: 25th Nov 1857

Age at Death: 86

Cemetery: Glasgow Necropolis

  50 Cathedral Square

Town: Glasgow

PostCode: G4 0UZ

Region: Glasgow and Clyde Valley

Country: Scotland


Please Note, the marker on this map indicates the Cemetery location, not the location of a particular grave. is a privately owned website with no affiliation to any Local Councils.