From The Scotsman, 1 August 1878, Thursday – page 3, Letters to the Editor.
The Manse, Harray, Orkney, July 29, 1878.
SIR, -As there have lately appeared in your columns several paragraphs with reference to the recent death of the venerable minister of Weem, and the consequent substitution of some other name than his at the top of the list of the ministers of the Church of Scotland, it may be interesting to some of your readers to know that, though not in seniority of ministerial standing, yet undoubtedly in age, the oldest acting minister of the Church of Scotland is resident in the island of Flotta, Orkney – the inhabitants of which island adhere unanimously to the Church of Scotland.
Mr Sinclair, missionary minister there though not ordained till 1847, was licensed by the Presbytery of Dunfermline in or about 1817; and so long ago as 1814 he published a translation of the Satires of Juvenal, with some interesting notes appended. He is the author of some other publications also, on classical and mathematical subjects. More than seventy years ago he studied in the University of Edinburgh under Professors Hill and Dalziel, and Dugald Stewart; and he was acquainted with the late Professor Alexander Christison, who revised the proof-sheets of his translation of Juvenal.
About forty-five years ago he was assistant at Marykirk; but much of his life was spent in teaching the classics and mathematics in Bristol, Hereford, the London Naval School or Academy, and elsewhere. But for his having been resident in England in 1843, he would most likely have been then presented to a parish in Scotland.
Flotta – separated by a sea often stormy from the neighbouring parish of Walls – is parochially united to Walls, so that Mr Sinclair’s position is merely that of a missionary, maintained either by the Home Mission Committee, or by the Society for Propagating the Gospel. For above thirty years he has laboured assiduously in the subordinate sphere assigned to him, having regularly supplied the pulpit of Flotta Parish Church with very few interruptions during all that time. And now (certainly not one moment too soon), strenuous efforts are being made by his parishioners and other friends to get Flotta, with the neighbouring isle of Pharay, endowed and erected into a separate parish quoad sacra, as a well deserved tribute to the venerable missionary, who is still able, even though about midway between ninety and a hundred years of age, to minister to his attached people, conducting public worship among them weekly. Though his eyesight is impaired, his mental faculties have been preserved, so that he can speak of olden times with the freshness of yesterday.
One of the last letters written by the late lamented convener of the Endowment Committee intimated a grant of £1500, and about £300 have been contributed from other sources. As much more is still needed. The endowment of Flotta is being prosecuted in the earnest hope that Mr Sinclair, notwithstanding his great age, may be spared to see it crowned with success, and thereafter to enjoy what he is well entitled to, but what, till the completion of the endowment is scarcely attainable, the help of an assistant and successor.
The minister of Bower, who was himself a pupil of Mr Sinclair, writes as follows: – “The endowment of his church is a fitting tribute of respect to the aged minister who has long laboured there. I have often been surprised that a person of Mr Sinclair’s attainments, both classical and mathematical, has never received greater promotion in the course of his life. His want of professional success is a striking confirmation of the old saying, that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” – I am, &c.
By kind permission of Scotsman Publications Ltd