The History of Leith

April 13, 2005

The Robertson Memorial. (South Leith Parish Church)

(On Wall of South Aisle.)
The inscription is in the following ternis
“Erected by his attached and sorrowing Parishioners to record the worth and Piety of the
Rev. JAMES ROBERTSON, Dl).
And the affectionate fidelity and zeal, with which for nearly 28 years he discharged among them the ditties of a Christian Pastor.
O.B. 1832. Aetat 75.”
I seems impossible now to trace the birthplace of James Robertson, but we know that he must have been born in the year 1757, as he died in 1832 when in his 75th year. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, and after the usual course was licensed by the Presbytery there in May 1781.. He was ordained as assistant at St. Ninian’s, near Stirling, in August 1783. In the year 1787 he was presented and called to Gargunnock, between Stirling and Kippen. Alter a ministry of about 17 years in that quiet and beautiful parish, he was presented by the Magistrates and Masters of the Incorporations of Leitli to the Second Charge of South Leith in December 1804. Dr. Robert Dickson, who had previously been in the Second Charge, was by this time minister of the First Charge. The portrait of Dr. Dickson, by the celebrated Raeburn, hangs in the ministers vestry of the church, and with the exception of the church itself and our very ancient Communion Plate, is our greatest treasure. About a year after Mr Robertson came to Leith. he was made a D.D. by the University of Edinburgh. In 1787 he married Ann Walker, who died in October 1806. She left two Sons, one of whom, Campbell, died at the age of 19, a year after herself. The other, John Thomas, became a merchant in Leith, and died in April 1865 in his 72nd year. About two years after the death of his first wile, Dr. Robertson married Alison, daughter of William Jamieson of Portobello, and had a daughter, Christian, who died in infancy. Dr. Robertson, like most of the ministers of South Leith, wrote and published little. While minister of Gargunnock, he contributed to Sinclair’s “ Statistical Account of Scotland an account of the Parish. In 1811 he put out a sermon entitled “ The_Duty of the Contending Earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the Saints.”
His portrait was painted for the Session, but not, unfortunately, by Raeburn, and a replica of it was presented to his family. The first or original hangs in the minister’s vestry opposite to that of Dr. Dickson. The replica also came into the church’s possession, and hangs in the Session House at the church Halls.
Dr. Robertson was evidently a popular man and a strong advocate of the rights of Leith against the tyranny of Edinburgh. At a local banquet, while pleading earnestly for the privileges of the Port, he perpetrated all unconsciously, in word and action combined, a pun which has been handed down to us. Holding his glass (filled with port wine) in his extended hand he eloquently exclaimed, “We must defend our Port rights.” The rest of the sentence was drowned in applause. An aged member of the church, long since dead, told me shortly after I came to South Leith that Dr Robertson had come from Gargunnock, and that when cholera broke out in 1882, he fled, like many others, from the town. He had, however, contracted the fell disease And he died at Balloan, in Perthshire, not far away from his first parish, on the 25th of August in that. year. his remains were taken in a cart to Gargunnock Churchyard, where the minister, when I was assisting him at Communion some years ago, showed me the enclosure, in which is a stone with a detailed inscription.
South Leith Records 1922

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