preacher, pastor, poet, politician, prisoner and public man

     Rev. Matthew Armour, born 12th April, 1820, after a long ministry of 55 years, died 23rd March, 1903, in his 82nd year.  A native of Paisley, he might well be classed among the noteworthy sons of that notable town.  He was a man of determination and perseverance, quiet in his own way, but when he met with opposition his strong nature soon asserted itself.  He was in his day a staunch Free Churchman, a Radical with large Socialistic ideas, a true friend of the crofters seeking for "land reform," an able preacher of the Puritan type, as well as a poet of no mean order. 
     After attending the public school in youth, Mr Armour was engaged in business for a time; but in 1838 he entered Glasgow University, and in 1842 he went to St Andrews for his divinity classes. While there he spent his New Year holidays in Dundee, and had the privilege of seeing and hearing the minister of St Peter's on what proved to be Mr M'Cheyne's last Communion Sabbath.  After the Disruption he finished his theological studies in George Street Hall, under Chalmers, Welsh, and Duncan.  He was licenced by Paisley Presbytery, and after acting as assistant in various places, he was ordained in Sanday in 1848.  Here he spent fully fifty-five years of his life, being before his death the father of the Presbytery and one of the oldest ministers in Orkney.  At different times he was a member of the School Board and of the Parish and County Councils.  His desire was fulfilled—to die at his post and be buried among his people—beside his mother, wife, daughter, and son — in Lady kirkyard.  He left to mourn his loss three daughters, Jane, Jessie, and Agnes, and two sons—the Rev. Matthew Armour, Papa Westray, and the Rev. Wm. Armour, probationer.  He was survived by his sister, Mrs Connell, widow of the late Rev. Mr Connell, of Dreghorn. 
     A reference is here made to some of the exciting incidents in Mr Armour's career.  After ten years' successful ministry, a "split" took place, which resulted in the planting of a preaching station near his church.  On the back of this division there came a wonderful revival in his congregation in 1860 which spread over the island and throughout a large part of Orkney.  There has been nothing like it since.  In 1886 he was tried before the Sheriff for causing a disturbance at a Tory political meeting in Sanday, and to the astonishment and indignation of almost everyone in Orkney, he was, without the option of a fine, sentenced to four days' imprisonment.  But those who thought to put to shame the Radical Free Church minister, only brought disgrace upon themselves, for the Court of Session promptly quashed what Lord Young denounced as a "nimious prosecution."  Mr Armour received his sentence on Saturday afternoon and at ten o'clock at night was fast asleep on his prison bed, when the jailer opened the door for his liberation, having received a telegram direct from Lord M'Laren.  Seldom has our northern capital witnessed such an outburst of joy as on that Saturday night when the minister of the gospel was set free.  In the year of his jubilee 1898—all the denominations of the island joined in doing honour to Mr Armour, and presentations were made to him by the Presbytery and congregation.  Only at the beginning of 1903 did he begin to feel himself unable fully to discharge his ministerial duties, and applied for a colleague and successor.  Creeping paralysis came upon him, and for three Sabbaths he was laid aside before his death.  Only one other Sabbath during all his fifty-five years of ministry was he prevented from officiating through weakness or sickness.  His last text to his people was Isa. 1xv., 1, "I said, Behold me, behold me;"  so he died as he lived—preaching and exalting the Crucified One.  On the anniversary of his death there appeared a most touching "In Memoriam" from some devoted soul—and what minister of the Gospel, I ask, would not covet such a sweet garland to be laid over his memory :—"Oh, honest and lovely man of God, true friend of the poor, how I miss thee, truly, thy love to me, even me, a poor slum sinner, was wonderful, surpassing even the love of woman."

(Text from "Sanday Church History" by Rev. Alexander Goodfellow, publ. Kirkwall 1912)

Rev. Matthew Armour and family

Rev. Matthew Armour and family


(Photograph from 
"Sanday Church History" 
by Rev. Alexander Goodfellow, 
publ. Kirkwall 1912)

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