The entry in David Bertie’s book on the Scottish Episcopal clergy for Rev William Robb reads as follows:
of family of Buthlaw, Aberdeenshire. Schoolmaster at Culsalmond. Inc Pittenweem 1787 -89. C St. Andrews 1789 – 91, and Inc. 1791 – 1818. Chap to Lord Elibank. Res. 1818, due to ill health, but continued to draw stipend till 1820. d. 1830. Publ.:- Poems Illustrative of the Genius and Influence of Christianity (1809, Edinburgh). [EA; YB; Christie MSS; Oliphant, 1896; Shepherd, 1925; MacGillivray, 1980]
Here, ‘Inc’ means incumbent, ‘C’ curate, ‘chap’ chaplain and ‘res’ resigned. The abbreviations in square brackets at the end of the entry refer to the sources that the author has drawn on in composing this brief biography.
In a previous post, I proved fairly conclusively that Rev William Robb referred to here is the older brother of my 3 x great grandfather, Charles Edward Stuart Robb (1779/1781 – 1853).
In my quest to find out more about my family’s Aberdeenshire origins, I followed up some of the sources listed by Bertie. One of these was Meiklefolla: the saga of an Episcopalian odyssey by Alex B. MacGillivray, a former Episcopalian priest in Oldmeldrum. The book is a history of St. George’s Episcopal chapel in Meiklefolla, also known as Folla Rule, from the 18th century to the present day. Since this village is only a few miles from Fisherford, I wondered whether it would include baptismal and marriage records for the Robbs, and thus provide further evidence of their Episcopalianism.
I’ve managed to obtain a copy of MacGillivray’s book, which provides some fascinating insights into the religious, social and political history of north-east Scotland. However, although the book contains numerous extracts from parish records, references to Robbs are disappointingly thin on the ground. In the late 19th century I’ve found mention of the death of one Andrew Robb, and to a pauper named Jean Robb receiving help from the parish. But the lists of communicants from the 18th and early 18th century don’t include any of the Robbs of Fisherford.
However, in the priest’s diary for 1784, I found this:
Mr. William Robb, Schoolmaster at Culsalmond is desirous of further instruction in the principles of our Church. He has attended worship in Bishop Skinner’s chapel throughout the winter. As he is dependent on the emoluments of his school prudence requires that he should conceal his views for a while especially from his parish Minister until he is fully resolved as to the part he is to act.
This, presumably, is the part of MacGillivray’s book that provided a source for Bertie’s mini-biography of William. It opens up the possibility that, rather than coming from an Episcopalian family, William was brought up in the Church of Scotland and converted to Episcopalianism and went on to be ordained as a priest.
If the William Robb, son of George Robb, who was born in Logie Newton in 1863, is the same person, then he would have been about 21 years old when this diary entry was written. Furthermore, his path from an expression of interest in Episcopalianism to ordination would have been rapid – he would be the parish priest at Pittenweem three years later, when he was 24 – but not impossible.
Bishop John Skinner was one of the most prominent Episcopalian figures of the 18th century. Like William Robb, he was first a schoolmaster (in Kemnay), and was a poet as well as a priest. The chapel referred to here was in Longside, near Peterhead, some way from Culsalmond, and close to Buthlaw. I understand that Skinner was responsible for the training and formation of priests in Aberdeenshire, so it’s likely that he played an important part in William’s spiritual development (perhaps William is mentioned in the Longside Episcopal records?).
The information that William Robb was a convert from Presbyterianism to Episcopalianism might answer some of the questions that have been concerning me about the Fisherford Robbs. It could explain why their baptisms and marriages are listed in the (Presybterian) Old Parish Records.
On the other hand, it raises other questions. If William was a convert, why is it that the record of the execution of James Robb, grandson of his brother James, mentions that he was brought up in the Scottish Episcopal Church? And why did William’s younger brother Charles, my 3 x great grandfather, baptise his first child, Matilda, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel in Aberdeen? Finally, how can we explain the apparent involvement of William’s father, George Robb, in the 1745 rebellion (and the fact that he named his youngest son after Bonnie Prince Charlie) if the family was Presbyterian, when (as I understand it) the Jacobite army was made up of Catholics and Episcopalians?
Since writing this I’ve realised that I probably got my John Skinners confused. It was the elder John Skinner, priest and poet, who was the incumbent at Longside. His son, also John, was the priest at Ellon before moving to Aberdeen, where he became Coadjutor (or assistant bishop) (1782 -6) and then bishop (1786 – 1816).
Apparently, the Episcopalians of Aberdeen had a meeting-house in Guest Row that was burned down in 1746 (in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion) but was later rebuilt. In 1776 the upper floor of John Skinner’s house in Longacre was fitted up as a meeting-house. St Andrew’s Chapel was opened next to Skinner’s house in Longacre on 13 Sept 1792.
It’s likely, then, that during the winter of 1783-4, William Robb was making the journey from Culsalmond, or wherever in that vicinity he was living, to Aberdeen, to attend services in Skinner’s makeshift chapel.