Wick St Fergus Church
Wick, Caithness
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The Rev. Charles Thomson who was admitted to the charge of Wick Old Parish Church on the 17th September 1840 was of the Evangelical Party of the church and arrived in turbulent times in the national church, which ended in the Disruption of 1843. In its simplest form, the Heritors of the Kirk, the landed gentry, had the say on who should or should not be the minister and could actually pick a minister without reference to the people, and install him into the charge. The people regarded this as intrusion, and rebelled, saying, no more, we will choose our own ministers, we want out of the established Kirk we want a Free Kirk.
The culmination of this was a huge meeting or Convocation in Edinburgh in November of 1842, where all in favour of "going out" would sign the resolution, they would then return to their Kirks and lead their people out. In the case of Wick it was a wee bit different. The Rev Thomas Brown D.D. in his book, Annals of the Disruption, which was published in 1890, writes;
"There were cases indeed, in which the people went beyond their ministers in their zeal for the cause."

As the crisis approached, he felt considerable perplexity, and, on returning from the Convocation, he gathered his people together on the 28th November in order to explain, which he did at some length, the reasons why he had NOT seen it his duty to sign the resolutions. (To leave the established Church) During his address the congregation sat looking at each other, much astonished, and after the meeting had been dismissed, the people, on the motion of Mr Davidson, Banker, sat still, elected a chairman, and asked Mr Thompson to listen to the proceedings. They went on to express their views, with much personal respect to their pastor, but in direct opposition to the sentiments of his address. It was then proposed that solemn thanks should be offered up to God, for the grace which had been vouchsafed to the 350 members of the convocation who had bound themselves to "go out" and this was done in a most impressive manner by Mr Donald George.
continued below.


Rev Charles Thomson
Rev William Lillie
The graves of William Lillie and Charles Thomson side by side in the Kirkyard
The Reverends Thomson
and Lillie, former ministers of Wick Old Parish Church

At a second meeting held shortly after, they formally adopted the Convocation resolutions, and the result was that Mr Thomson saw it to be his duty to go along with his people, a resolution that was received with much satisfaction,"  So it was, that in the case of Wick Parish Church, it was the people, who led the minister out."
The story is told that at the first meeting after the exit Mr. Thompson said to his church officer "well I'm glad to see that you have come out with us," to which the beadle replied "'deed aye sir an' if ye go back, I'll go wi' ye!"

Rev William Lillie was inducted to this charge on 14th February 1844, a very short vacancy indeed. He came to us from Ellon where he was a licensed preacher, teacher of the parish school and actuary for the Ellon Bank which in his time was the bank with the highest deposits of any rural bank. While there he married a Miss Milne, daughter of a prominent local family. When Wick became vacant there was a large list of applicants but Mr. Lillie was chosen and approved by the patron Sir George Dunbar. The call was signed by only 80 people showing how far the disruption had eroded the congregation. Mr. Lillie immersed himself in the affairs of the town gradually winning people back to the Kirk. He had brought his own Precentor with him to Wick, a Mr. Shepherd who worked as courthouse keeper but was a weaver to trade. The pulpit of the Kirk in those days was a large octagonal affair reached by a set of steep steps, immediately in front of this sat Mr. Shepherd, with the choir in front of him in a square box or Lateran. This gentleman was responsible for introducing the first trained choir into our Kirk. The building itself was unheated, the pews were all straight backed and the light was provided by the windows and oil lamps. During the early years of his ministry he had many fiery debates with his predecessor but as the years went on they became friendly and often working together. In April of 1875 Mr. Lillie was over on the west side of the county in his capacity of school examiner and he received a severe soaking and he caught pneumonia, later that year he felt well enough to move to his daughters house in Lybster with the intention of going on to Strathpeffer to convalesce but it was not to be and he passed away on Friday 1st October 1875 and now he and Mr. Thompson lie side by side in the Old Kirkyard. 

Copyright Harry Gray 2015

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