Reverend John Brechin’s Appeal Part 1



This case came before the Assembly [that is, the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland] in the shape of two protests and appeals – the first being one of a preliminary nature by the Presbytery of Dumbarton against the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr reading certain extract minutes of Presbytery; and the second one arising out of a libel raised by Mr W MacLellan and two other members and elders of the Free Church of Scotland against Mr John Brechin, the minister of that Church, accusing him of intoxication on various occasions. The libel was raised on 6th October last, and proof was led in the months of November and December. After proof the prosecutors asked for a conviction upon the first, second, third, fifth and eighth counts. The Presbytery acquitted Mr Brechin of the whole charges contained in the libel, and the prosecutors appealed to the Synod against that judgement so far as the third and eighth counts of the libel were concerned. The Synod adhered to the Presbytery’s judgement, and the appeal to the Assembly was then taken.

In the libel Mr Brechin was charged with having been in a state of intoxication, and so much under the influence of drugs or drinks that it was manifested from his speech, gait, and demeanor (1) on 1st April, 1877, in Clyde Street, Helensburgh; (2) on 3rd December, 1877, in the same street; (3) on 30th April, 1879, in the manse at Shandon; (4) on 30th September, 1879, on the public road east of the manse; (5) on 8th November, 1879, on the road between Helensburgh and Garelochhead; (6) on 28th December, 1879, at the Bible class in the Church; (7) on 3rd January, 1880, at Helensburgh Railway Station; and (8) on 30th March, 1880, at the manse.

Parties having been called, Dr Adam, Mr Howie, Mr MacAulay, Mr Wilson, and Mr Walter MacLellan (elder), appeared as dissentients from the finding of the Synod; and Mr Clugston, Stewarton; Mr Sturrock, Paisley; Mr Watson, Cardross; and Mr Sutherland appeared in support of the finding of the Synod, acquitting Mr Brechin on the charges of intoxication made against him. Mr Brechin appeared for himself.

Mr Watson, who, along with Mr Sutherland, appeared in support of the appeal by the Presbytery against the Synod reading certain extract minutes of Presbytery, intimated withdrawal of that appeal. The appellants, he said, were as persuaded as ever that amongst the Shandon case papers there were many documents which were irregular, and against the publication of these it was their duty to protest. However, since the Arrangements Committee had taken the responsibility of printing and circulating these papers amongst the members of the Assembly they had no more to say.

The Assembly then took up the protest and appeal against the decision of the Synod acquitting Mr Brechin.

Mr Walter MacLellan (elder), in the course of a long review of the case, said that before the Synod considerable stress was laid upon the fact that out of eight charges in the libel only two were then insisted upon. As to the fourth, sixth, and seventh charges, owing mainly to the rules of the Church, which prevented the prosecutors appealing to the Law Courts to force the attendance of witnesses, they were unable to support these charges by conclusive evidence, but he thought it right for himself and his co-prosecutors to say that they did not dispense with an appeal upon the first, second, and fifth counts from any doubt in their own minds that the proof of these charges was sufficient, but because it seemed to them desirable, to limit their appeal to two charges where, as they though beyond a doubt, the proof was conclusive. If, however, Mr Brechin, or those who maintained the judgements of the Presbytery and the Synod, were to found upon their not having appealed these further counts, then they at least said this, that they would be very glad that the Assembly should consider, as they had the right to do, the evidence with regard to them, and say whether or not that evidence afforded Mr Brechin ground for taking up the position that the charges were made without reasonable evidence in support of them. It humbly seemed to himself and his co-prosecutors, on the contrary, that a perusal of the evidence on those counts would tend to impress the Court very unfavourably with Mr Brechin’s character when they came to consider the evidence upon the third and eighth counts. He submitted, with reference to the two counts with which alone he would deal, the third and eighth counts, the judgements of the Presbytery and the Synod were clearly contrary to evidence. The third count set forth that on or about the 30th April, 1879, Mr Brechin was within his manse in a state of intoxication, and so much under the influence of drugs or drinks that it was manifest in his speech and demeanour; and in the eighth count the charge was that on 30th March, 1880, at or near the manse, he was unduly under the influence of drugs or drinks.

Mr Howie, Govan also supported the appeal.

Mr Watson spoke in support of the Synod’s decision, giving a summary of the evidence given by members of the congregation, residents in the neighbourhood, friends of Mr Brechin, and medical men to show that the charge of intoxication was unfounded.


Dear blog readers

I shall leave you there hanging in suspense until next week when the next part shall be published starting with Mr Brechin’s defence in his own words.

I do hope you find this as fascinating as I do.

Best wishes


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