Colin MacKenzie

Colin MacKenzie and William Forbes were probably Daniel Sandford's two most important lay allies in Edinburgh. MacKenzie gave strong support not only to the congregation of Charlotte Chapel and then St John's, where he is commemorated in stained glass, but also, remembering his northern roots, to the wider Scottish Episcopal Church. He was also a good personal friend of the Bishop who often stayed at his house near Peebles: one such visit occasioned a poem, below, which gives a glimpse into the lighter, literary side of the life in Episcopalian Edinburgh.

1770- 16 September 1830
Alexander MacKenzie
Anne MacKenzie, daughter of Colin MacKenzie of Kilcoy
186 Princes Street until 1812 when they moved to 12 Shandwick Place
Portmore, Peebleshire. William Chambers wrote,
By Colin Mackenzie... the estate was improved by planting and other costly operations. He also enlarged it by acquiring Whitebarony and other lands in the neighbourhood; but the higher district remaind, for the greater part, in a dreary backward condition -- a circumstance ascribed to the perniciously long leases at rents which offered no stimulus to improvement. That the leases on this property, protracted till about 1834, should have been attended with consequences so different from what ensued in regard to the Neidpath estate, is a fact not unworthy of notice... For many years, the family of the proprietor resided in a small house at Harcus. (3)
The Neidpath estate was let by the Earl of March about 1788 on 57-year leases at a small rent in exchange for large entry fines. This resulted in a sense of ownership amongst the tenants who 'in point of husbandry, took the lead in the country.' (3 p.236)
Political views
Tory. Along with Walter Scott, William Forbes' brother John Hay Forbes, and other beleagured Tories, he was a secret backer of the scurrilous Beacon which attempted to counter the fire of whigs, but which was merely offensive and was closed after a few months following a fatal duel. (13)
Religious views
Colin was 24 when the congregation was founded and he appears to have kept close links with it from its inception until his death a few months before the first Rector Daniel Sandford, who described Colin as 'my excellent friend', and whose son called Colin his 'an intimate and most valued friend' (5, 6). His father was one of the first trustees, a post which Colin inherited at his father's death in September 1805, the year Colin's first son was born, unfortunately during a gap in the baptism register. His children born after 1811 are registered, however, usually baptised at Harcus Cottage where Sandford enjoyed hospitality (see his poem, below). The summer after St John's chapel had opened, Sandford wrote to MacKenzie to ask him to,
use your influence to obtain from me from Mr Skene [a legal collegue, with extensive knowledge of gothic design] a mere sketch of a small Gothic armed chair. I have occasion now & then (and this year I shall have nmore than one occasion) to use a chair within the rails -- it must be Gothic or it would be inconsistent with the rest of our beautiful Chapel; it must be small, for it is to stand in the front of the altar on the stage, when used. I have no other remark to make, but that the Episcopal Mitre must form one of the ornaments. [new para] I cannot presume to ask this favour of Mr Skene -- but I think you will not refuse to do it for me (15).
Colin MacKenzie might be held as an example of an Anglicised Scot, enjoying Prayer Book services in the English Gothic St John's he helped to build. Yet the Episcopalian connections of the MacKenzies of Inverness go back to 1691 when Rev Hector MacKenzie and his congregation were extruded from the Parish church and founded St John the Evangelist (8). Colin certainly demonstrated a sense of obligation to promote the Episcopal Church in Scotland. He was one of the founders of the Episcopal Fund, which aimed to improve the parlous financial circumstances of many Episcopal clergy in Scotland. In 1813 MacKenzie wrote a report to the Primus John Skinner on the progress of the fund, optimistic of finding it support from the British Treasury, and commenting,
I know few events that will give me purer gratification than to be enabled to congratulate the members of our church on the extension of the assisting, & protecting hand of government to our venerable Bishops & primitive Clergy.' (9)
MacKenzie liaised with Sandford's old friend John Bowdler to facilitate the latter's wish to build chapels where Episcopalians had none: in 1815 Alyth, Meigle and Strathtay were under discussion (10). He may have been involved in a chapel-building project of his own near Portmore. St Peter's, Peebles, was not built until a few years after his death, but the same architect who designed St John's, William Burn, was used, and according to St John's historian Balfour-Melville,
The organ of the old chapel was sold for a nominal sum to St Peter's Church, Peebles, in 1832, in recognition of all that Mr Mackenzie of Portmore, one of the founders of that church, had done for St John's. (11)
For MacKenzie, bringing the Scottish Episcopal Church out of the shadows and into mainstream British culture was not selling out, but rather protecting its ancient traditions. It is the ecclesiastical parallel to the efforts of other members of this group to give the Scottish elite the financial and educational basis required to bring them into the British ruling class, as the only way to ensure their Scottish heritage.
Writer to the Signet. Inheriting his father's business, he maintained connections with his Inverness-shire roots, administering land transactions and handling cases of desertion from Ross-shire regiments (14) He was appointed Principal Clerk of Session in 1804 and Deputy Keeper of the Signet in 1828. He was a collegue of Walter Scott who joined him as a Clerk of Session in 1806. When Colin was seriously ill in 1807 Scott wrote,
His absence is a terrible blank to me in this place (our court house). I am now writing beside his empty chair & deprived of all the little intercourse & amusement with [which] we used to amuse our hours of official attendance (12 vol.1 p.399)
Colin and Elizabeth stayed at Scott's house Ashestiel in 1811. (12 vol.2 p.5)
Wealth at death
around £3,000
Assessed taxes 1811
His house in Princes Street had 36 windows and a rental value of £110, one of the largest properties in the assessment belonging to this group (only his brother-in-law William Forbes and colleague David Hume had larger townhouses, both in George Street)
Chapel connection
Chapel Trustee, baptism (1811)
Married on
13 May 1803
Elizabeth Forbes
Alexander (1804-1804), Alexander (1805-1822), William Forbes (1807-1862), Colin 1808-1870), Elizabeth (1811-), John (1812-), Anne (1813-), Catherine (1814-), Jane (1816-), Sutherland (1818-), George (1819-), Louisa (1820-), Alice (1823-), Charles Frederick (1825-62, the first Bishop of Central Africa)
Related to
William MacKenzie and John MacKenzie, brothers.

Memorial window
in St John's


This poem by Bishop Daniel Sandford was written while visiting Colin MacKenzie and his family at Harcus Cottage in 1814. 'Jaspar' is Sir Jaspar Herrington, a character in The Wanderer, Fanny Burney's last novel published the same year. Sir Jaspar, described in the Critical Review as 'an ancient and gouty Strephon' who 'possesses a claim to originality' (7), spins an extended metaphor about imps pinching his conscience over his wealth and the heroine's poverty, in an attempt to persuade her to accept his financial assistance. In his charming parody, it is Bishop Sandford who is pinched by the sprites, reminding him that he owes the fair ladies of the house an Episcopal blessing in return for their hospitality.

It seems a strange novel for Sandford to cite: reviewers disliked its portrayal of feminist views and its criticism of British society. He had a moral suspicious of novels in general: he had written in his Sermons for Young Persons of 1802,

Those are dangerous books, for youth, and therefore bad books, which, by filling the imagination with romantic and unreal pictures of life, pervert the judgement, abuse those feelings which were given to us to excite, not to lessen our activity ... Far be it from me to condemn those many works of genius and taste, which have done credit to the understanding and hearts of their authors ... But I must bear an honest and unequivocal testimony against that pernicious class of books, called Novels; ome few of these, perhaps, may not be found liable to much objection; but this is by no means the case with them in general.

Yet fiction which appeared in the ensuing years seems to have caused him to revise this judgement: he certainly enjoyed the Waverley Novels. He might well have considered a novel which brought to the public's attention the way in which the thoughtless irresponsibility of the rich was oppressing the poor to have been one which 'did credit to the understanding and heart of its author'.

I scarce had laid me down to rest
When Jaspar's Sprites my couch infest;
One twitched my ear, one pulled my arm --
"Nay, my good sir, we mean no harm;
We wish but gently to remind you
Of certain claims that fairly bind you."

"And what are these?" I straight replied,
To one who had just pinched my side.
"But look about," the spirits said,
"And see what stands beside your bed.
Pray who has thus adorned your room?
Where got you all that rich perfume?
While all is chilled with this East wind,
And scarce a floweret we can find,
Your table shows a sight as gay
As can be seen on summer day."

"Those flowers to kindest friends I owe, --
(I wish you would not plague me so,)
And straightway I shall let them hear,
Their gift how sweet to me, how dear."

"You must do more," said fairy voice,
"Or else be pinched, so take your choice."
"Do what?" said I. "Why court the muse
She will not sure her help refuse;
But aid you with an humble lay,
The kindly present to repay."

"The muse, -- alas! these ladies nine
Are slight acquaintances of mine;
They seldom deign to call my way;
And when they do, they will not stay,
They give no time to ask a boon,--
I bow, they courtesy -- and are gone."

"Come, come, good sir, we part not so,
You must obey, and that you know;
So pray sit up, get pen and ink,
And write before you sleep a wink.
You're dull, we see, so for this time,
We'll find the subject, you find rhyme.

"You've often read, we must presume,
The story's told by David Hume
How the Pope sent to English John,
Four rings of gold with precious stone;
The sapphire, em'rald, ruby there,
And topaz bright of yellow glare;
And by the story you're apprized,
Of what these stones emblematized.
Now prithee, Sir, these flowers behold,
And surely you need not be told,
That you may learn as well from them,
Whate'er was taught by precious gem;
For here the ruby's lively red,
Shows the geranium's beauteous head;
Here is the ray of em'rald sheen
Matched by the myrtle's vivid green;
And seems the violet's lovely blue,
Like sapphre of celestial hue;
While the gay jonquil's yellow bright,
Beams with the topaz' golden light."

"Stop, stop, good sprites, I need no more,
Nor call the Muses to my door,
I am not quite so dull of head,
As not to know that what you've said
Is not of gems, or flowerets meant,
But qualities they represent.
You bid me thus in grateful verse,
The praises of my friends rehearse;
Those emblematic tints display,
The proper subjects of my lay;
And the bright blossoms seem to tell,
The virtues which at Harcus dwell.

"But my dear fairies, much I fear,
Such tribute would offend their ear;
For merit true we always find
To its own praises disinclined.
So to obtain release from you,
And satisfy my feelings too,
We'll change this language, if you please,
Into good wishes, such as these.

"May these bright powers which quaint monks view,
In em'rald gem, in sapphire blue,
O'er my kind friends exert their force,
And guide them in their earthly course;
And may they, when transplanted hence,
Meet Faith and Hope's glad recompense!
The ruby's lively hues, they say,
Do gracious Charity portray;
The topaz doth an emblem prove,
Of the kind deeds of peace and love.
Long, long may these their choicest store,
Of blessings upon Harcus pour;
And give its inmates long to know,
The truest bliss of men below,
Health, friends, tranquillity, content,
And conscience of their lives well spent,
May," -- "Hold, enough," the spirits said,
"For this night you have saved your head." (6)


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. William Chambers, History of Peeblesshire (Chambers, Edinburgh, 1864) p.356-7
  4. Colin MacKenzie's Will, National Archives of Scotland SC70/1/43/551
  5. Daniel Sandford to Patrick Torry, 4 October 1819, National Archives of Scotland CH12/12/2361
  6. John Sandford, Remains of the late Right Reverend Daniel Sandford (Waugh and Innes, Edinburgh, 1830) vol.1 p.248
  7. Critical Review, 4th ser. 5 (Apr 1814): 405–24 (Online accessed 10 August 2011)
  8. 'St John the Evangelist, Inverness' in Diocese of Moray Churches Directory (Online accessed 10 August 2011)
  9. Reported in a letter from John Skinner to Patrick Torry 14 October 1813, National Archives of Scotland CH12/12/2338
  10. John Bowdler to Patrick Torry, 3 April 1815, National Archives of Scotland CH12/12/2342; Torry's reply 2 October 1815 CH12/12/2344
  11. E.W.M.Balfour-Melville, A short history of the Church of St John the Evangelist (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd 1959) p.13
  12. H.J.C. Grierson, Letters of Sir Walter Scott (London, Constable and Co. 1932)
  13. John Sutherland, The life of Walter Scott, a critical biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995) p.245
  14. Caledonian Mercury advertisements, 1793-1803
  15. Letters of James Skene, National Library of Scotland Acc 12092/19

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