The man who brought the Free Church to Oban

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This month we look at the life of Duncan Macarthur who was instrumental in bringing the Free Church to Oban.

Duncan Macarthur was well-known in Oban in the 19th century as he was instrumental in the establishment of the Free Church in the town following the Disruption.

Macarthur had been born at Kenmore in Perthshire. He was educated at Perth Grammar School then went on to the University of St Andrews where he studied divinity with the intention of becoming a minister in the established church.

His circumstances changed, however, and he moved to Oban where he became a steamship agent for Hutcheson and Co. He was also involved in another transportation scheme, being instrumental in establishing a coach service between Glasgow, Inveraray and Oban.

In 1843, Thomas Chalmers walked out of the established church in Edinburgh and set up the Free Church of Scotland. Macarthur followed suit and became an elder representative in the church for the Presbytery of Lorn.

Using his influence, he managed to secure a site in Oban for the Free Church.

On several occasions, Macarthur was elected Chief Magistrate and was a Justice of the Peace, but he was also known as an advocate for emigration to New Zealand. He, along with his wife, three sons and four daughters, decided to make the move to Otago.

In November 1860, he was presented with a rifle in a case and a gold watch by his friends and fellow townsfolk as tokens of their esteem.

Soon after their arrival at Port Chalmers in 1861, gold was found, and Macarthur was one of the first miners at Gabriel’s Gully in the Tuapeka goldfield.

The family settled in Southland, where Macarthur became a founding member of the Southland Caledonian Society. He was elected to the provincial government of Otago and, for a time, was a member of the executive government.

He died at Dunedin on May 25, 1888, aged 82.

  • Valerie Forsyth is an author and is passionate about the history of the Highlands and Islands.