Neil Campbell (minister)

Neil Campbell (minister)

Neil Campbell (c1678 - 1761) was a Scottish Minister, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at the start of the Original Secession and Principal of Glasgow University during a flourishing period of the Scottish Enlightenment.



Neil Campbell's origins are obscure, though it is clear he was well connected to the Patronage networks of the Argyle Interest, which was to triumph in the so-called Glorious Revolution.

Some genealogy websites,[1] and others[2] who may have access to private family papers, suggest he was the, possibly illegitimate, son of a John Campbell (and possibly a cadet of the Argyle family[3]). His mother may have been Jean McIver Campbell. Since she married Patrick Campbell, Minister of Glenaray, (in the heart of Campbell territory), she was more likely to have been Neil's grandmother or his aunt. Apparently, Neil was brought up and educated by the Reverend Campbell at Glenaray, beforematriculating at Glasgow University on 1 January 1697[4] to study Divinity.[5] There is no record of him graduating, a not uncommond occurrence.


He was ordained Minister of Kilmallie in Lochaber on 9 September 1702.[6] (This was the largest Parish, in geographical extent, and its rugged terrain was considered missionary territory, as the bulk of the population were Roman Catholic or Episcopalian).

Seven years later, he transferred to Rosneath, on the Firth of Clyde just opposite the traditional Campbell heartlands. He received the call on 13 June 1709 and admitted on 15 July. He served there for another seven years.[7]

Meanwhile, the Church Patronage (Scotland) Act 1711 had come into force, which meant the Crown, and other Patrons, could present Ministers to vacancies in their churches. Neil Campbell was presented to the Kirk at Renfrew by George I - really Argyle - on 15 November 1715. He was called on 26 April, and subsequently translated and admitted on 18 July 1716. He served there until 1728, when through the influence of his Patrons, the Crown appointed him Principal of Glasgow University.[8]


The Principal of Glasgow University was a key appointment in the Patronage networks available to the Crown. He was an important player in the Presbytery of Glasgow which was in turn a major influence on the Town Council, and in Parliamentary elections. There were shifting (and interlocking) allegiances to Montrose, Hamilton and Argyle networks.[9] Neil Campbell was appointed in 1727 at the instigation of the Lord Justice General, Lord Islay and his brother, the Duke of Argyle, largely as a safe pair of hands in a religiously and politically disputed terrain.[10]

The teaching at Glasgow had been reformed by his predecessor, Principal Stirling, and a number of important appointments were made during Campbell's tenure, notably Adam Smith and William Cullen - who turned the Glasgow medical school into a rival to Edinburgh's, which was made possible by major increases in finance, again from Government and other sources of patronage. Another appointment was the scientist and educator John Anderson, whose Anderson's Institution developed into Strathclyde University. Campbell might not be able to take credit for the appointments or for the finance, as he was regarded as a somewhat weak leader, but Glasgow was even more flourishing at the end of his regime than it was at the beginning.[11] Smith recalled his time there as by far the most useful and therefore as by far the happiest and most honourable period of my life.[12]

Campbell helped negotiate a return to Glasgow of copies of important archives of the pre-Reformation Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow, from the Scots College in Paris.[13]

A lot of Campbell's time was taken up in contending with religious divisions among the staff (reflected in student concerns) and in the Glasgow Presbytery.[14] He unsuccessfully tried to defend his colleague, the Professor of Divinity John Simson, from charges of heresy brought by the Presbytery,[15] and ended up having to take over all his classes, without any increase in pay (though some compensation was given much later).[16] Campbell?s own religious philosophy seems to have been hyper-Calvinist,[17] which might explain his quarrels with the philosopher Francis Hutcheson and his opposition to David Hume getting a professorship at Glasgow.[18]

He was in post during challenging times, including the occupation of Glasgow by the Young Pretender. He loyally supported the Government. It is no surprise that he seems to have had a stroke in 1753.[19] He did not resign his post, but lived on, disabled, until his death in 1761.

The University seems not to have awarded the Very Reverend Mr Campbell a Doctorate in Divinity, despite the fact that the Principal was also, ex officio, First Professor of Theology.


1732 General Assembly, the beginnings of Secession

Principal Campbell was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for 1732. The King?s Commissioner brought a message of respect and admiration, along with encouragement to wise, sober debate, from King. In return the Assembly voted a loyal address in return, expressing gratitude, loyalty etc. It expressed particular gratitude for the King's gift of £1000, and it made the customary arrangements for using it to fight Roman Catholicism in the Highlands and Islands. The Assembly also voted to urge all congregations to contribute to the Scottish Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SSPCK), which had similar missionary aims in the Highlands. Both also contributed to the spread of the English language there, along with loyalty to the House of Hanover.[20]

A less routine, and more eventful, decision was taken to regulate the procedures for filling vacant Ministers? posts in Parishes, where the Patron had failed to do so. The Church Patronage (Scotland) Act 1711 was a long standing grievance to the Church of Scotland, and it annually protested against it. The decision that year was meant to bring some order into the few, but fraught, occasions when the Patron, through death, or illness, or oversight, had not presented a candidate to a vacancy within the six-months required. In these cases the right fell to the Presbytery in which the Parish lay, and each proceeded in its own way, some involving the whole congregation of the Parish concerned, most limiting it to a small group of Heritors and Elders. The Assembly enacted that this latter process should be the norm. Some of the Ministers attending objected, claiming that the majority of Presbyteries consulted preferred the involvement of the whole congregation of a Parish. They were further incensed when their objections were not recorded in the final minutes of the debate. (An Act of the 1730 Assembly has abolished the process of recording objections to decisions of all the Courts of the Church.[21]). This decision was later repealed, but the leading protester, Ebenezer Erskine, though an Englishman, went on, three years later, to lead his supporters out of the Church of Scotland to form the Original Secession Church, the first of many splits in Scottish Presbyterianism.[22]

1737 General Assembly

Principal Campbell must have nonetheless been held in high esteem, for he was again elected Moderator for the 1737 Assembly, a less momentous one. The same courtesies were exchanged with the King - who this time urged them to work together for the increase of piety and virtue, the preventing of the growth of Popery, and the suppressing of profaneness and immorality, and earnestly urged them to avoid all disputes and contentions among yourselves, and to proceed upon the business proper for your consideration, with that unanimity and brotherly love, as may justly be expected from so venerable a body.[23] The ??Secession?? mentioned above was meanwhile gathering pace.

The Assembly responded loyally, though it did express a hope that the King would relieve them of the Patronage grievance they had been protesting about annually. They promised to put the King's Bounty to good use in the more remote and less civilised parts of (his) British dominions ... to counteract the Popish emissaries trafficking in these parts.

Some Presbyteries had complained that a decision of the previous year meant the Assembly was approving some heretical opinions. It passed a special Act declaring this was not so. Some other Presbyteries had complained that some Elders attending the Assembly were not properly qualified (either not residing in their Parishes, or harbouring dubious opinions). A special Act was passed urging Presbyteries only to send properly qualified representatives in future. There seemed to have been an over-supply of divinity students, so the Assembly enacted that there was no longer any need for Presbyteries and Synods to provide Bursaries for new students.


Neil Campbell published his intention to marry Henrietta Campbell, daughter of Patrick Campbell of Kilduskland, on 17 June 1705, and he subsequently had four daughters and seven sons by her. One of his sons, Rev Colin Campbell, followed his father as Minister at Renfrew.[24] Another, Duncan Campbell, took charge of managing the prison hulks, which transported the first prisoners to Botany Bay and another of which was sold off and became the famous HMAV Bounty, formerly known as The Bethia..[25] His daughter Mary " Mally " married William Richard Betham in 1817 and they were parents to Elizabeth " Betsy " who married Capt William Bligh, famous for the Mutiny on the Bounty. Neil Campbell seems to have inherited an estate - and minor title - near Inverary, called variously Clenary/Clenarie/Clonary/Clunary/Claonairigh.[26] In 1744, he was appointed a Chaplain to the King, with joint share in the emoluments of the Dean, etc. of the Chapel Royal in Scotland.[27]

Campbell had a stroke in 1753. Though incapable, he remained in post, in a crumbling Principal?s House,[28] until his death on 25 June 1761. He was buried in Blackfriar?s Kirkyard, Glasgow (which was cleared in the 19th Century along with the Old College Buildings).


  • Annals of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland ... Church of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1838 [1]
  • Principal Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Church Law Society, Edinburgh 1843 (Online at [2])
  • Innes, Cosmo Registrum episcopatus glasguensis: munimenta Ecclesie metropolitane glasguensis a sede restaurata seculo ineunte XII ad reformatam religionem Maitland Club, Ballantyne & Hughes, Edinburgh, 1843 [3]
  • Chambers, W & R Chambers' encyclopaedia: a dictionary of universal knowledge London, 1868 [4]
  • Campbell, P C Account of the Clan Iver Edinburgh, 1873 [5]
  • Scott, Hew Fasti ecclesiae scoticanae; the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the reformation New Edition, Vol III Synod of Glasgow [6] and Vol IV Synods of Argyle and of Perth and Stirling, [7] Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1925 []
  • Clan Campbell Society Journal of the Clan Campbell Society (United States of America). Vol 17 -19, 1971.[]
  • Campbell, R H & Skinner, A S Adam Smith Routledge, London, 1985 [8]
  • Skoczylas, Anne Mr. Simson's Knotty Case: divinity, politics, and due process in early eighteenth-century Scotland McGill-Queen?s Press, Canada, 2001 [9]
  • Emerson, Roger L Academic Patronage in the Scottish Enlightenment: Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities. Edinburgh University Press, 2007 [10]
  • Ross, I A The Life of Adam Smith Oxford University Press 2010 [11]
  • Glasgow University The University of Glasgow Story (updated website [12])
  • GASHE (Gateway to the Archives of Scottish Higher Education - updated website) [13]
  • - a genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe. (updated website [14])


  1. ^ Blackheath
  2. ^ Campbell, P. C. page 89
  3. ^ thePeerage
  4. ^ Blackheath
  5. ^ Glasgow University
  6. ^ Scott, IV page 134
  7. ^ Scott III page 363
  8. ^ Scott, III page 187
  9. ^ Skoczylas, pages 7-8
  10. ^ Emerson, pages 90-91
  11. ^ GASHE
  12. ^ Ross page 164
  13. ^ Innes page iii
  14. ^ Ross, page 39
  15. ^ Skoczylas, pages 306, 312
  16. ^ Campbell & Skinner, page 19
  17. ^ Glasgow University Story
  18. ^ Ross, page 112
  19. ^ Glasgow University Story
  20. ^ Principal Acts ... 1732
  21. ^ Principal Acts ... 1730
  22. ^ Chambers, Vol IX page 645
  23. ^ Principal Acts ... 1737
  24. ^ Scott, III page 187
  25. ^ thePeerage
  26. ^ Clan Campbell page 28
  27. ^ Annals, page 304
  28. ^ Ross page 152

See also

Church of Scotland titles
Preceded by
James Smith
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Succeeded by
John Gowdie
Preceded by
Alexander Anderson
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Succeeded by
James Ramsay
Academic offices
Preceded by
John Stirling
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
of the University of Glasgow

1727 to 1761
Succeeded by
William Leechman

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