Robertson, James (1803-1860) (DNB00)

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ROBERTSON, JAMES (1803–1860), divine, eldest son of William Robertson, farmer, and Barbara Anderson, his wife, was born at Ardlaw, Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, on 2 Jan. 1803. He was educated at the parish schools of Tyrie and Pitsligo, and afterwards at Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he obtained a mathematical bursary, and graduated at the university as M.A. in 1820. He was described by the professor of moral philosophy and logic as the best scholar who had been in his class for thirty years, and by the professor of mathematics as with one exception the best who had attended the college for forty years. After attending the divinity hall from 1821 to 1824, he was licensed by the presbytery of Deer on 6 July 1825, and was appointed schoolmaster of the town of Pitsligo. He next became tutor and librarian in the Duke of Gordon's family at Gordon Castle, and on 10 July 1829 the governors of Gordon's Hospital in Aberdeen elected him headmaster. Through the duke's influence he was appointed, by the Earl of Aberdeen, to the church of Ellon in June 1832, and ordained on 30 Aug. following.

Taking a great interest in chemistry, Robertson adopted in 1841 Liebig's suggestion to farmers to dissolve bones in sulphuric acid before applying them to the soil as manure; and his experiments in Ellon led to the first application of dissolved bones to the soil of Great Britain. In 1841 he wrote the description and history of his parish for the ‘New Statistical Account of Scotland.’ On 30 May 1842 he was suspended with others by the general assembly from his judicial functions as a member of presbytery for holding communion with the deposed ministers of Strathbogie. Robertson was always an outspoken opponent of ‘Disruption’ principles, and afterwards became leader of the moderate party in the church of Scotland. In 1843 he was appointed a member of the poor-law commission, whose report was issued in 1844.

In October 1843 Robertson became professor of divinity and church history in the university of Edinburgh, as well as secretary to the bible board (or, as the commission reads, ‘Secretary for Her Majesty's sole and only master printers in Scotland’). Before he left the north, Marischal College, on 12 Oct. 1843, conferred on him the degree of D.D. He did not demit his parochial charge till 2 March 1844. This was accepted on 22 Dec., when he was admitted to his chair. He was appointed convener of the committee for endowment of chapels of ease by the assembly on 26 May 1847. It was in this capacity that Robertson was best known, and the ‘Endowment Scheme’ of the church of Scotland is inseparably associated with his name. For this purpose, before his death, he had obtained contributions amounting to about half a million sterling, endowing upwards of sixty-five parishes. On 22 May 1856 he was elected moderator of the general assembly. After a few days' illness, he died on 2 Dec. 1860. His remains were interred in St. Cuthbert's churchyard in Edinburgh. On 25 April 1837 he married Ann Forbes, widow of the preceding incumbent, Robert Douglass; and her three sons he brought up as his own. His wife and one of his stepsons survived him. Robertson was the author of: 1. ‘Free Trade in Corn,’ Edinburgh, 1825, 8vo. 2. ‘The British Constitution and Parliamentary Reform,’ Edinburgh, 1831, 8vo. 3. ‘Exposition of the Principles, Operation, and Prospects of the Church of Scotland's Indian Mission,’ Edinburgh, 1835, 8vo. 4. ‘On the Power of the Civil Magistrate in Matters of Religion,’ Edinburgh, 1835, 12mo. 5. ‘Observations on the Veto Act,’ Edinburgh, 1840, 8vo. 6. ‘Statement for the Presbytery of Strathbogie …,’ London, 1841, 8vo. 7. ‘Answers to the Remonstrance’ (Strathbogie), London, 1841, 8vo. 8. ‘Appeal for the Advancement of Female Education in India,’ Edinburgh, 1846, 8vo. 9. ‘Remarks and Suggestions relative to the Proposed Endowment Scheme,’ Edinburgh, 1846, 8vo. 10. ‘Letters to the Editor of the Northern Standard,’ Edinburgh, 1854, 8vo. 11. ‘Old Truths and Modern Speculations,’ Edinburgh, 1860, 8vo.

[Life, by Dr. A. H. Charteris, 1863 (with portrait); Hew Scott's Fasti, vi. 604–5.]

G. S-h.