Haldane, Robert

(1772-1854), Church of Scotland minister and university teacher

by Peter Bell

© Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved

Haldane, Robert (1772-1854), Church of Scotland minister and university teacher, was born on 27 January 1772 at Overton ('the big farm') in the parish of Lecropt, Perthshire, the eldest son of John Haldane, farmer, and his wife, Margaret Kinross. He was educated at a school in Dunblane and at Glasgow University, where he matriculated in 1787, before studying divinity at Edinburgh University. After a conventional period as a private tutor (first with the Robinson family of Leddriegreen House, Strathblane, and then with the household of Colonel Charles Moray of Abercairney, Perthshire), he was licensed by the presbytery of Auchterarder on 5 December 1797, but was not ordained to his first charge, Drumelzier in Peeblesshire, until 19 March 1807 (Fasti Scot., 1.269). This he resigned on 2 October 1809 on his appointment to the chair of mathematics at United College, St Andrews University, made vacant by the death of Nicolas Vilant.

Haldane was a competent mathematician, 'little if anything inferior to Chalmers', according to a nineteenth-century biographer, who also observed that 'it was well known that his mathematical drilling was the most successful ever exhibited in any of our Scottish colleges' (Conolly, 210). With the death of Professor George Hill, the leader of the moderate party in the Church of Scotland, Haldane was made principal of St Mary's College, St Andrews, and primarius professor of theology on 21 September 1820 (Fasti Scot., 7.243), holding the parish church of St Andrews in conjunction, as was usual, because of the poor endowments of the chair (ibid., 5.236). His last years at St Andrews were clouded by conflicts with the reforming (and Free Church) principal of United College, Sir David Brewster, whose vendetta against Haldane, and Haldane's own sturdy defence of his administration and financial management of his college, is documented at length in the Report of the St. Andrews' University Commissioners (1845).

'The busy Principal Haldane, who in his day occupied many situations, and displayed a singular aptitude for each' (J. W. Taylor, Some Historical Antiquities, Chiefly Ecclesiastical, Connected with St. Andrews, 1859, 87), was described as one of the best of men and very kind, 'of unceasing charity ..., his heart was entirely in the well-being of his students' (Conolly, 210); 'a most faithful and thorough teacher; it was almost impossible to attend his classes without getting a thorough knowledge of systematic theology' (Gray, 54). On 17 May 1827 Haldane was elected moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland (where he was the first to invite ladies to his official breakfasts); while at the Disruption of May 1843, it was he who was called to take the chair ad interim when Dr Welsh, the moderator, walked out. Though ranked as a moderate, his preaching was evangelical enough to retain most of his parishioners within the established kirk at the Disruption.

Haldane was made DD at St Andrews on 14 June 1815, and was elected FRSE on 24 January 1820. His only publication was one pamphlet, on poverty in St Andrews, written in 1841. A bachelor and (at least latterly) 'not very methodical or tidy in his habits' (Gray, 54), he died at St Mary's College on 9 March 1854, aged eighty-two. He was buried in the cathedral cemetery there on 15 March, the funeral sermon being given by his colleague the Very Revd George Buist, the professor of church history; the whole town suspended business for two hours as a mark of respect.

PETER BELL

Sources  
DNB
M. F. Conolly, Eminent men of Fife (1866)
Fasti Scot., new edn
'Report of the St Andrews University commissioners, Scotland', Parl. papers (1846), 23.119, no. 717
University of St. Andrews (1837), vol. 3 of Evidence, oral and documentary, taken and received by the commissioners ... for visiting the universities of Scotland
W. H. Gray, Jottings by the way (1908)
parish register (baptism), Lecropt, Perthshire, 9/2/1772
matriculation album, U. Glas., Archives and Business Records Centre

Archives  
U. St Andr., special collections department, letters |  NL Scot., corresp. with John Lee
U. Edin., New Coll. L., letters to Thomas Chalmers

Likenesses  
J. W. Gordon, oils, 1841, U. St Andr.
J. Caw, oils, U. St Andr.
D. O. Hill and R. Adamson, photograph, NPG [see illus.]
D. O. Hill and R. Adamson, photographs, repro. in S. Stevenson, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson: catalogue of their calotypes taken between 1843 and 1847 in the collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (1981)
eight photographs, U. St Andr., special collections department, photographic collections


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