David Landsborough (1779 – 1854) Balmaclellan-born minister who preached to the people of Saltcoats.
David was born in August 1779 in the parish of Balmaclellan, Kirkcudbrightshire. He was a talented musician, botanist, author and a devoted minister to the people of Stevenston and Saltcoats.
His birth entry states that he was born to John McLamroch and Isabel Hughan. He was educated at the local village school before moving to Dumfries Academy. He attended Edinburgh University in 1798 – sending his boxes by carrier and walking to Edinburgh from Galloway.
David was a talented musician and one tutor suggested he make music his career. It is fortunate for the inhabitants of Stevenston, Saltcoats and Arran, the Church of Scotland (Established and Free) and the scientific study of the natural world that he ignored this advice and continued with his religious studies – though he could always be found with a flute in his pocket ready to play.
After receiving his licence, he preached at St. Andrew’s in Edinburgh. He kept his appointment as resident tutor in the household of Lord Glenlee, a position he had held for over 6 years. For a short period of time he was assistant to Rev. Dr Auld of the Old Church, Ayr before being appointed to the Church in Stevenston, where he was ordained on 26 September 1811. At the time of his appointment Stevenston Parish had a population of around 3,000 and stretched from the Harbour at Saltcoats to Irvine Bar – a distance of some 5 miles.
He married Margaret McLeish of Port Glasgow in 1817 and they had 7 children – 4 sons and 3 daughters. He was devoted to his wife, but she was in poor health, and died in 1934. His son David became minister of the Free Henderson Church in Kilmarnock whilst his other sons emigrated to Australia. One of them was the famous explorer William Landsborough.
David ministered not only to his parishioner’s religious needs but set about improving the conditions in the area. In May 1833 a new church was opened where he taught evening classes himself. He also carried out a census of the parish in 1819, 1822 and 1836 – the same year he assisted the Gaelic congregation to raise funds for a Church in Saltcoats, now North Parish Church. In 1837 he furnished the account of his parish in Stevenston to the “Statistical Account of Scotland” and in 1842 the statistical account of Saltcoats.
At the time of the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843, some 474 Ministers left the Church, with David being the leader of the Ayrshire Disruption Ministers.
Unable to find land to build a Free Church in Stevenston, the Church was built in Saltcoats on land donated free by Dr Dow, the son of the Rev Robert Dow parish minister of Ardrossan 1739 to 1787. The church stood beside the Mission Coast Home, now the site of the Labour Club.
He kept a daily journal recording amongst other events the weather, plant and bird life in the locality. This interest in the natural history of his parish extended to the neighbouring island of Arran and in 1828 his poem in six cantos about Arran was published. This led to the Irvine Burns Club offering him honorary membership which he gladly accepted. His other publications included articles for the “Christian Herald” and “Christian Treasury”; “Excursions to Arran” with reference to the natural history of the island (original selling price 3d); “Ayrshire Sketches”, a little volume of religious biographies; a “Popular history of British Sea-weeds” and a “Popular history of British Zoophytes.” He discovered 70 species of animals and plants new to Scotland and several species were named after him by other eminent naturalists of his time.
David’s ministry included several fund-raising trips in 1832 to Fifeshire to plead the cause of the Scottish Missionary Society; in 1835 to the North and East of Ireland on a similar mission and in 1837 to Galloway to plead the cause of Church extension. In 1852 he was appointed by the General Assembly to the Presbyterian Church in Gibraltar where he served for 4 months, during which time he was also chaplain to the 26th or Cameronian Regiment stationed there. He visited Spain and Tangiers and on his return through Europe arrived in London to witness the funeral in November 1852 of the Duke of Wellington, the Iron Duke.
David was honoured with a DD by an American University. He was a member of the Philosophical and Natural History Societies of Glasgow; a member of the Linnean Society, elected an associate in 1849; a member of the Wernerian and Royal Physical societies of Edinburgh.
He ministered to his parishioners during the epidemics of cholera in Stevenston and Saltcoats, visiting the sick and dying. In the 1854 epidemic the disease entered the Manse killing 2 other members of the household before David caught the disease and, after a short illness he died on 12 September 1854 in his 76th year and 43rd year of his ministry. The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald in October 1854 reported that “hundreds attended the funeral and the shops were shut” and describes him thus: “He was a model of a faithful Minister. Kind to a fault, conciliatory in deposition, anxious to do good, ever ready to stand by the bed of death, universally respected”. A fitting tribute to an exceptional man. The Free Church in Saltcoats stills bears his name “Landsborough & Trinity”.