Reverend John Brechin’s Appeal Part 2

Dear blog reader

This is part 2 of a series started last week on the appeal regarding Reverend John Brechin’s intoxication heard at the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in 1881.

Last week we heard up to Reverend John Brechin’s evidence and so we will continue from Reverend John Brechin’s evidence this week.

Best wishes





Mr Brechin, on being called upon to speak, said he little expected to find himself in the position he now occupied. He could not speak, and begged that the Assembly would excuse him from making any remarks. He was perfectly satisfied with the pleadings on his behalf.

Dr Adam supported the appeal.

In answer to a question as to how much opium and morphia he had been in the habit of taking, Mr Brechin said a little too much had been made of the taking of drugs on his part. He first mentioned the taking of morphia to Mr McLellan when that gentleman came to him and said that three gentlemen had found him (Mr Brechin) under the influence of drink in his manse. He did not state who the gentlemen were, and he (Mr Brechin), thinking the question was asked for his own good, said “Mr McLellan, there must be some mistake. Sometimes I have to take a dose of morphia on account of severe pain in my head”. And he added that the taking of morphia might account for any seeming strangeness in his conduct. As showing how the taking of morphia affected his appearance, he said his own mother told him on one occasion that his eyes were very heavy. That was the whole story of the morphia. He would not take more than one dose of morphia in five or six months. The dose consisted of 25 or 30 drops.

Parties having been removed, Principal Rainy spoke. He said the case, so far as he could judge from a perusal of the evidence, and from the pleadings, was one that – whatever view they might take of the result – it was perfectly natural and reasonable, perhaps necessary, to proceed by libel, with regard to, and he did not concur in any imputation or censure, direct or indirect, on those who had had to do with the originating of the case or the bringing it before the Assembly. The first charge was, that on one occasion three gentlemen visited the manse, and they formed the impression that Mr Brechin was intoxicated. He was prepared to believe, although the time of their visit was late and the light not very good, that they saw in Mr Brechin what were indistinguishable from ordinary signs of intoxication. At the same time, it must be recollected, as had been brought out in the evidence, that Mr Brechin was suffering from an injury to his head and another to his hand, and he had taken a dose of morphia just before he was said to have been intoxicated, and he was not able to come to the conclusion that these circumstances might not be sufficient to produce the appearances exhibited by Mr Brechin, even if he had not been taking drink. With regard to the other count, he would be very unwilling to convict on a single case. The evidence in support of the second charge was very strong. Still, the case was that of a man of whom it had been sworn by the medical witnesses that, on account of the state of his health and the taking of morphia, it was not unlikely that he might be supposed to be intoxicated at times when he was not so. Abuse might be made of an allegation like this, and he regarded such an allegation with suspicion. Still there were very specific grounds for it in this case. He must say, however in regard to the use of narcotics, that it was safer to be doctored by one of the Faculty than to doctor one’s self.

Dr Benjamin Bell, Edinburgh (elder), supported the contention of Principal Rainy.

Mr Guthrie, the Assembly’s legal adviser, took the same view of the matter, and moved that the appeal be dismissed. They were dealing, he pointed out, with a man of unblemished character, against whom no accusation had ever been made, except that contained in the present libel, and he thought the charge of intoxication had been satisfactorily explained away.

After a few remarks in the same line from Professor Thomas Smith, Edinburgh, and Sir Henry Moncrieff, the latter pointing out the necessity of Mr Brechin being very careful indeed in the future, the motion for the dismissal of the appeal was adopted.

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