The Rev Thomas Chalmers is best known for leading the Disruption on 18 May 1843, when 450 ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland General Assembly to form the Free Church of Scotland. The issue was control. The tradition of the Church of Scotland had been that ultimate decisions on the placement and discipline of Ministers rested with the Church. However, there had been growing pressure from the State that, in return for subsidies for the Church’s maintenance, the State should have the last word on these matters. The dissenting ministers totally rejected this.
Thomas Chalmers was born in Anstruther on 17 March 1780. His father, John Chalmers was a merchant, ship owner and Provost of Anstruther. His mother, Elizabeth Hall, was the daughter of a Crail wine merchant. He was a gifted pupil who went to St Andrews University at the age of twelve, where he studied mathematics. He also trained for the ministry and was ordained minister of Kilmany in Fife in 1803.
He married Grace Pratt (1792-1850), the daughter of Captain Pratt of the 1st Royal Veteran Battalion, in 1812. They had six daughters. In 1815 he was transferred to Glasgow. He was famous throughout Scotland for his sermons and scientific lectures. He was minister at Kilmany 1803 – 1815. In 1819 he was transferred to a new parish in Glasgow (St John’s), specially created for him, so that he could put in place his ideas of parochial organisation. This included preaching to the poor and destitute and establishing schools for their children.
In November 1823, his health having suffered in Glasgow, he accepted the chair of moral philosophy at St Andrews University. He moved to Edinburgh in 1827, where he became Professor of Divinity.
After the Disruption, he became the first Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, but died in his sleep four years later, on 28 May 1847.
Grace died three years later and is commemorated on his headstone, which is surrounded by headstones to other members of his family. Three of his daughters Grace (1819-1851), Helen (1826-1887) and Frances (1827-1863) were unmarried.
Anne Simpson Chalmers (1813-1891) married William Hanna D.D., LL.D. (1808-1882), son of the Belfast Presbyterian minister, Samuel Hanna. William Hanna studied under Chalmers, and wrote his biography after Chalmers died. Three of his children, William (died 1849 aged 10 months), Matilda (1857-1930) and Thomas Chalmers (1837-1910) are remembered on the headstone to the right. Matilda married Alexander Watt Blackie, and her two-year-old daughter Annis (died 1888) is mentioned. Thomas Chalmers Hanna CA married Mary Quigley (1843-1920), and their daughter Jeannette Mary Hanna (1867-1956) is also commemorated.
Thomas Chalmers’ daughter Elizabeth Chalmers (1816-1892) also married a clergyman, the Rev John Mackenzie (1813-1878). They are remembered on the monument, as is the third daughter, Margaret (1823-1902), her husband William Wood CA (1812-1892) and daughter Grace Chalmers Wood (1854-1939).
Also commemorated are Thomas Chalmers’ sister Helen (1786-1854) who married Rev John McClellan, and Catherine Forbes (1784-1860) “for 42 years a faithful and beloved servant in the family of the Rev Dr Chalmers”.
- “Historic South Edinburgh”, Volume 3, Charles J Smith, 1986, ISBN 0 284 98739 5
- The Popular Encyclopedia, Blackie & Son, 1883, http://www.newble.co.uk/chalmers/biography.html