Shetlands (1799)

Mr Aikman stopped at Kirkwall, being invalided by inflam­mation in his eyes, and Mr J. A. Haldane and, and Innes proceeded towards the Shetlands, preaching at several islands on their way. On the 10th of July, they reached Fair Island, the first of the Shetlands, and the people heard, with thankfulness, the only sermon that had been preached there for six years. From the Fair Island they embarked in an open boat, and were out all night, "most of the time in heavy rain." On such occasions, and in all his tours, James Haldane's boat-cloak was through life a constant companion. He used to say that it had been with him three voyages to India, and often proved a friend in need, although, in his maritime career, he had then little dreamed of the nature of the services in which it was to be afterwards employed. They were hospitably received on the mainland of Shetland by a gentleman of the name of Ogilvy and commenced their labours by preaching in a barn. Thence they proceeded to Lerwick, the principal town in the Shetlands, where they spent the Lord's-day. The people had then little connexion with Scotland, and a respectable woman inquired if Edinburgh was as large as Lerwick. Having next preached in Nesting, they visited the islands of Whalsay, Skerries, Tettar, Unst, and North Yell. The Rev. Mr Mill, a venerable clergy­man, of eighty-eight years of age, gave Mr James Haldane his church to preach in; and after the service stood up and, in a commanding tone, warned the people to take heed to the words they had heard, more especially as this visit was a new and unheard-of occurrence in their history. At UnstMr they found that the minister had been captured on his voyage from Leith and carried to Bergen. Having next gone to Mid and South Yell, and crossed over to North-Maven, preaching especially to the fishermen, who were very eager to hear, Mr J. A. Haldane and Mr Innes separated, in order that they might take in a wider circuit. James Haldane himself went to Foulah, or Fulah, which is supposed by some to be the Ultima Thule of the Romans. It is twenty miles from the &c, contained about 200 inhabitants, and had no resident minister. On this island he preached four times, as well as in the parishes of Sandness and Walls; after which he joined his excellent colleague at Scalloway, and returned to Lerwick, where they spent five days, preaching each day, both in the town and neighbouring country. At Lerwick one of them heard the Gospel faithfully preached in the parish church. In the account of the tour they mentioned the great kindness they received from a gentleman to whom they had no introduction, and who insisted on their making his house their home. This was the more worthy of notice, as Mr Hay was not himself, at that time, much interested in the truths of the Gospel, but he appreciated their motives and enjoyed their society. Mr J. A. Haldane, speaking in his own name and that of Mr Innes, says, "They (the itinerants) express the highest sense of grati­tude for the hospitality they uniformly received from Shetland." "They laid their account," he adds, "with no other accommo­dation than the cottages afforded, instead of which they were kindly received, and frequently urged to accept the best accommodation in the gentlemen and ministers' houses. There was one, and but one exception, which, they believe, arose from misapprehension of their intentions, and which they would never have mentioned had they not imagined prejudiced persons might have misinterpreted their silence."

The exceptional case alluded to was one of which both the tourists were wont to speak with much good humour as a little incident in their travels which, so far as they were personally concerned, only afforded matter of mirthful recollection. They had landed one afternoon, weary and famished, at an island where there was but one respectable house, which was near the beach, and where they had hoped to have found a stranger's, if not a prophet's, welcome. Here they were very coldly received, with a strong intimation that the people had no need of more than the occasional preaching which was already provided. Leaving Mr. Innes in the house, Mr. James Haldane had gone down to disembark from their boat a large package of tracts for distribution, but, on returning and observing the same frozen, repulsive manner, he took Antiburgher Innes aside, told him that it was time to have, and, briefly apologizing to the inhospitable group for the intrusion, left the house with his friend. Soon after he preached on the sea-shore, when some of the party, who were themselves visitors, added to their incivility by sending for their own boatmen, who were listening to the sermon. When it was over, it was too late to think of again putting to sea, but, having obtained shelter in a fisherman's hut, they procured some salted-herrings and oat-cake for their supper and a dry floor for their bed. This affair occasioned great indignation amongst the upper, as well as the lower, classes in Shetland, and not only brought much reproach on the ungracious family, but induced others to redouble their kindness towards the missionaries, in order to wipe off the stain which had been, in their estimation, cast on the hospitality of the Shetlands.

James Haldane preached his last sermon at Lerwick, on the 7th of August, to "a large and attentive congregation," when the people expressed much gratitude and a strong desire for another visit. "It is to be hoped," he says, "that the seed sown here, as well as in more distant parts of the country, will not be in vain." Having left Lerwick, they came to Dunrossness, preaching on the way at Coningsburgh, Sandwick, and Bigton, and were again received with much affection by their patriarchal friend, Mr. Mill. On Friday and Saturday they had large congrega­tions, and on Sunday, the 11th, one went to Sandwick and the other remained at Dunrossness. The Bull of the General Assembly was powerless in this distant region, and the parish church, as well as the rocky beach, became temples both to the itinerants and the inhabitants of this district. They were now only waiting for a fair wind to return to the Orkneys, but were detained by thick and rainy weather until the Saturday, when they could not resist the invitation to spend the Lord's-day in a place where their preaching was so much prized. The 18th of August saw the conclusion of their labours in Shetland. They had spent nearly six weeks there, but still regretted that they could afford so little time to those who cause in crowds to hear and were such earnest listeners. "The people were often much affected, and it is to be hoped," says the J. A. Haldane, "that lasting impressions have, in some instances, . The Lord's word cannot return to Him void; and surely He did not send it in this unusual way to these distant islands, without having purposes of mercy to some." This hope was not to be disappointed. In going to the Shetlands, James Haldane had but fulfilled the wish expressed by his venerable friend, John Newton, that the Norsemen, belonging to these remote and neglected isles, might not be forgotten, whilst we were sending Missions to the South Seas. At that time the Shetlands contained a population of 26,000, occupying thirty scattered parishes, placed under the care of twelve ministers, of whom not more than two or three preached the Gospel. Soon after this tour and down to the close of his own life there were joyful tidings of the blessings that rested on these labours in Shetland.

The religious state of the people had been previously deplorable, and much of the revival of religion which then took place may be distinctly traced to the Mission of himself and Mr. Innes. To adopt the words of a recent writer, " their earnest and rousing addresses broke in upon the dangerous repose of the people, exciting a spirit of inquiry there before unknown, when, by the blessing of God, not a few were turned to righteousness."

Many years afterwards one of Mr. James A. Haldane's sons was travelling to Dundee on the outside of a stage-coach, when a respectable, but weather-beaten seaman, having heard his name, mentioned that he had been piloting a Greenlander from Shetland to Leith, and very respectfully inquired if his fellow-traveller was related to the celebrated Captain Haldane. On being told that he was addressing a son of that gentleman, the pilot said, with much feeling, "Then, Sir, it was from your father that I first heard the Gospel, more than thirty years ago, in the Shetlands." He added some interesting details as to the sensation produced amongst the people, the alarm felt by the Moderate ministers, and the good results that followed.

From 'The Lives of Robert and James Haldane,' by Alexander Haldane, p266

Additional Information

James Haldane preached in many of the Shetland Islands, mainly outside.

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