Tracing a document's journey from Scotland to Lawrence

By Yvonne Wilkie

The Presbyterian Church’s Archives hold several unusual and unexpected documents that originated in Scotland. Dating from the 17th century, with a facsimile copy of the National Covenant of Scotland (1638), through to the end of the 19th century and the Illuminated Address from the General Assembly of the United Free Church (1898), they reflect the strong ties between an evolving New Zealand Presbyterian Church and its Scottish Presbyterian heritage.

The Royal Declaration of Appointment (pictured on the right) is one such document. Attached with the personal Seal of Queen Victoria, it gives approval for the appointment and ordination of William Gilchrist as minister to Dalmellington Parish, Ayreshire in 1844.

The parchment Declaration was prepared in Edinburgh on 7 June 1844, by Aeneas MacBean, Writer to the Signet, a person authorised to supervise the use of the private seal of the Kings and Queens of Scotland. The Declaration was gazetted at Whitehall on 12 June 1844 and finally sealed on 20 June 1844 under the signature of John Dean.

A one pound fifteen shillings tax duty stamp is attached on the top left hand corner. To discourage its reuse, a tin alloy tab is placed in the centre and behind it on the back of the document is the Royal Cypher Seal, 2 cm square, which has on it the initials of Queen Victoria and a crown, also intended to prevent illegal reuse. The Tax Stamp is dated 16 January 1844.

Queen Victoria’s personal seal, 10 cm in diameter, shows the Coat of Arms of Scotland. The seal has been placed in a tin to protect it and is attached to the Declaration with a strip of parchment.

The church of Dalmellington became a collegiate church to the chapel-royal of Stirling Castle in the 16th century and therefore the patronage belonged to the Crown. Although its relationship with the chapel-royal diminished over the centuries, the Crown continued its right to appoint a resident minister. The means of appointing ministers in the Church of Scotland under patronage was complex and fractious, eventually leading to the Disruption in 1843 and the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. William Gilchrist’s appointment at Dalmellington coincided with this Presbyterian schism. He ministered there for 12 years and died in office in 1856.

In identifying the provenance of this document, a tale emerges that reveals strong Presbyterian roots, Catherine Gilchrist, a niece of William Gilchrist who had lived with him at Dalmellington, arrived in New Zealand in the mid-1860s. She married Archibald McKinlay in August 1868. Archibald, who arrived in Lawrence in 1861, gave his support to the building of the first small church house in 1864.

The Lawrence Session was authorised by the Clutha Presbytery on 22 April 1867 and the formal Communion Roll established from December 1867. Catherine and Archibald McKinlay were added to the Roll in February 1869. They had four sons and three daughters. Archibald died in 1910 and Catherine in 1932.

Delving into the Lawrence parish records reveals the involvement of a committed Presbyterian family who participated at all levels of congregational life: as office-bearers, Sunday School teachers and mission supporters over several generations. In memory of their parents, the McKinlay family donated a new organ to the Church in early 1933. Sometime later they offered their family home, “the Sycamores”, to the board of managers at a generous price to become the manse.

Two generations later, two grandchildren have become Presbyterian ministers, another served a term as a medical missionary and others continue a deep involvement in Church life.

Through these links it is confirmed that the “Royal Declaration” brought to New Zealand by Catherine was donated to the Presbyterian Church in the mid-1960s by Jim McKinlay. The story behind this valuable and significant treasure is now able to be told.

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