Centenary Book of the First Presbyterian Church Portadown

Chapter III


From the foregoing it will be seen that during the first eighteen years of the congregation's existence it had three ministers. Whether, for a newly-formed congregation, this was an advantage it is difficult to determine, as no statistics are extant. The fourth minister in succession was Mr. Leonard Dobbin Elliott, son of Mr. James Elliott, of the parish of Dromore. Mr. Elliott prosecuted his studies at the Academical Institution, Belfast, and the Glasgow University, where he graduated M.A. He was ordained in Portadown on 20th April, 1841, and for thirty-four years he carried on a successful ministry. He is still affectionately remembered by a good number of the older members of the congregation, most of whom he baptized, as well as by many inhabitants of the town who enjoyed his friendship.

During the early years of Mr. Elliott's ministry the congregation, although small in numbers, undertook monetary responsibilities of considerable magnitude in that they built a manse and a new church. The necessary for the former undertaking was not urgent, as Mr. Elliott was unmarried, and remained so all his life.

From statistics available at the time the manse was built Mr. Elliott's stipend was a matter of £35, which was the minimum sum payable to secure the Regium Donum of £69 4s. 8d. It may have proved all inducement to build the manse that this sum was difficult to secure, as it is on record that when the manse was occupied Mr. Elliott was charged a rent of £10, which was used to make up this £35 of stipend.

Whatever the motives the successors of the Committee of that date must always experience feelings of gratitude that they were prompted to build a house of such generous dimensions and fine workmanship and on such a commanding site. It is singular and unfortunate that there is no reference in the Minute Book to tell the cost. There is one, however, under date of1st September, 1856, which will prove interesting:-- "The Committee sanctioned the appointment of John Harris to collect for the town, Miss Malcomson of Drumnagoon, Miss Priscilla Ruddell (Ballinteggart?), and Mr. Wm. Joyce, Drumlin, for their directions of the country to take up the weekly subscriptions." There is also a resolution to have a special meeting of Session and Committee that day week to consider the subject of ministerial support. It may be stated in passing that this subject under various headings crops up very frequently over a long period of years.

Notwithstanding what is stated above it, is somewhat surprising to read that on 17th December of the same year "At a congregational meeting held in the Presbyterian Church, Portadown, it was proposed by Mr. James Renshaw that this congregation put itself in a position to build a new House and that each member shall come forward and put his name down for the amount he intends giving to the building of the New Church." Then there is this footnote: "The names of each member are entered in a book in possession of Samuel M'Culloch."

Since the building of the new church here referred to many projects have been undertaken by this congregation, two at least of which have entailed an expenditure of larger sums of money. Yet when the membership and financial strength of the congregation of this time are taken into consideration all subsequent efforts, either in importance or expenditure, are very secondary in comparison. Not only did the office-bearers of that day devise great things, but they carried them through with skill and wisdom. Like the manse the church was extremely well planned, graceful and perfect in symmetry, and in acoustic properties.

The names of these worthy men, so loyal to Presbyterianism and so desirous of providing a building in which they could worship with feelings of joy and gladness, deserve to be recorded:

Rev. L.D. Elliott, M.A. Thomas Fraser
Charles Twinem John M'ilveen
William Gilbert R Morrison
William Hunter James Renshaw


Samuel M'Cullough John Fulton
Abraham M'Cullough, Treasurer David Bright, Chairman
Francis Saunderson James Joyce
R Saunderson Richard Gilbert
Samuel M'Ilveen George Kerr
John Pauley, Secretary Thomas Rea
William Forth William Twinem, Jr.
Charles Symington James Renshaw, Jr.
Lodwick C. Wilson


One is struck by the number in the above lists who, to the present membership, are but names, and to what a large extent the personnel of the congregation has changed.

It is natural to assume that the increase in membership is to be attributed to the growth of the town, but one peculiarity in the above list of names is the suggestion that the country membership was then larger then at the present time.

The collectors for the new church seem to have prosecuted their labours with zeal and expedition, for on 15th June, 1857, the Committee met and accepted the tender of Mr. David Bright, but at what sum it is not stated.

The list of subscriptions was entered up in the back pages of the Minute Book, and is an interesting document. There are close on 500 separate subscriptions, ranging from the shilling to thirty pounds -- Samuel M'Cullough and R Morrison both giving this amount. There are four contributions of £20 each, one of these from the minister. When one remembers that his total income was but a little over £100 a year the measure of his generosity can be appreciated. A grant of £200 was received from the Assembly's Church, Manse and School Fund, and the Opening Services collections were £120, the grand total reaching £920. How far this sum was short of the total expenditure it is impossible to say.

The Opening Services on 29th August, 1858, were conducted by Rev. P.S. Henry, D.D., formerly of First Armagh, but then President of Queen's College, Belfast, and the collections amounted to £60. An event of much greater importance followed when the Rev. Doctor Guthrie, then the most noted Divine in Scotland, preached. Great preparations were made for the occasion. Mr. Elliott went over to Edinburgh to present the invitation in person, arrangements for special trains were carried through, a very large number of gentlemen were sent complimentary tickets and invited to collect, while 1,000 tickets at 2/6 each, of which a copy is herewith appended, were printed and put out for sale:--

Presbyterian Church. Portadown.
Of Edinburgh,
Will Preach in the above Church, On Wednesday, 10th September, 1862, at 1 o'clock.
A collection will be taken after the Service to Liquidate the debt incurred by the erection of the Church.

This effort resulted in a further sum of £60 being secured, making the total of £120 previously stated.

For the next ten years there are frequent references to the outstanding debt and the difficulties experienced in having it reduced. The records are not of sufficient volume to enable any explicit extracts to be copied.

No references are to be found in the records in regard to the secession of a number of members and the formation not of one new congregation but of two. It is imperative that some mention be made if the leading events in Presbyterian history are to be placed on record. At a meeting of Presbytery in June, 1885, Rev. Jackson Smyth called attention to the increase of population in Portadown, and asked that a Commission of Presbytery be appointed to confer with Mr. Elliott and his office-bearers as to the state of the Presbyterian cause in the town. This Commission held several meetings, their deliberations extending almost two years. It was discovered at an early period that a section of the people were very anxious to establish a second congregation. While not refusing this request, the Presbytery at first endeavoured to secure temporary assistance for Mr. Elliott through the Board of Missions. Ultimately the Church Extension Committee of the Assembly intervened and sent a licentiate to work in the town with the object of gathering the non-church going people together into a congregation. These met for worship in the Town Hall. The final reference is in the report of the Presbytery to the Assembly of 1867, in which it is stated "that they (the Presbytery) received a memorial signed by 105 persons residing in Portadown praying that memorialists be formed into a Presbyterian congregation in connection with the General Assembly, and promising an annual stipend of £30 6s 6d." The Assembly granted the prayer of the memorial. While these protracted negotiations were in progress a section of those anxious for the formation of a second congregation approached the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland through the Presbytery of Ireland asking their formation into a congregation, urging the need of church extension, and of evangelistic work owing to the great increase of population consequent upon so many factories having been started. The U.P. Synod acceded to the prayer of this memorial, and a congregation was formed in September, 1867, the people meeting in what was then known as Victoria Hall, in David Street. A site for a church building was secured in West Street.

It will thus be seen that whereas in the year 1865 there was but one congregation, in 1867 there were three. The first minister of the Armagh Road Church was Rev. Samuel Andrews, M.A., under whom and his successors the congregation has made very satisfactory progress. The first minister of the West Street Church was a Mr. Cuthbertson, who in a few years was succeeded by a Mr. Murray, who ministered to a declining cause until 1877, when he resIgned and the congregation ceased to exist.

The building in the first instance was secured by Mr David Graham, proprietor of the Spinning Mill, who used it for a meeting place for a United Bible Class and Mission Sabbath School, the latter being very successfully carried on by Mr. David Sampson, then in charge of the Goods Station of the G.N.R., and after his removal to Drogheda, by Mr. John Young, M.A., proprietor of the "Portadown News." Ultimately the building was sold to the Temperance bodies in the town.

The question of Mr. Elliott's retirement is mentioned in a Minute of 24th April, 1875, when it was decided to grant him a sum of £40 out of Stipend, and on this understanding he asked leave from the Assembly to retire, which was granted. Mr. Elliott lived for five years after his retirement, occupying, as was his right, the manse. He outlived by a few months the, ministry of his immediate successor, Mr. Vint, and had the pleasure of welcoming to the congregation Mr. Macaulay, his death taking place a few months after the installation of this gentleman.

In no better way can the life and service of Mr. Elliott be presented to the reader than by reprinting the references to his death from "The Portadown News" as follows:--


It was with feelings of sorrow and sincere regret that the news of the death of Mr. Elliott was received in this town and neighbourhood on Saturday last. Many words of kindly remembrance and unfeigned regard for the deceased gentleman passed from mouth to mouth as friend met friend during that day. On Sunday the usual congregation in First Presbyterian Church was augmented both morning and evening by members of other churches. The gallery and pulpit were very tastefully draped with black, the sombre effect of which was relieved by wreaths and festoons of pure white flowers; fit emblems of the unblemished life of him whose death they represented. When the congregation assembled and the opening psalm was being sung, the pent up sorrow of many hearts found relief in tears, and for some moments there was universal weeping throughout the church. Rev. Mr. Macaulay preached an eloquent sermon from the words "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," and at the close made the following reference to the death of Mr. Elliott:-- "These sable draperies speak of the shadow that has cast itself over every heart, and the sadness that fills every mind because of the loss of the beloved senior pastor of this congregation. He has laid down the standard which he upheld so bravely and so long, and has gone above to join the church triumphant. And the wail of grief that was heard from so many lips in the market yesterday, and the sorrow so legible in the countenances of every member of this congregation, tell how universally he was respected and how deeply his removal is regretted by all who knew him. You mourn to-day the loss of a devoted pastor, a single-minded and self-denying benefactor, and a true-hearted and loving friend. And it would be unnatural and inconsistent with Christian love were you not deeply affected by the death of one who has borne you in his heart through so many years, who has watched over you with the tenderness of a father, and who in your every time of trial and bereavement was so unremitting in his attentions, and so earnest in his endeavours to alleviate your sufferings and to comfort you. Personally, I feel bereaved and saddened by the dispensation which his taken from us our respected friend. During my brief acquaintance with him his acts of kindness to me were manifold, and his counsels wise and good. His ripe experience was a source of strength to me in my work for Christ among you. But now the veteran standard-bearer has fallen at my side, and I am left to lead the battle alone; yet I am not alone, for Christ is with me. Let us cling to the cross for strength and comfort: for Jesus died thereon to give us strength to bear the cross for Him." The scene spoke volumes; and the spontaneous tears shed on Sunday were a more eloquent tribute to the memory of Mr. Elliott than any eulogy from orator or scribe. Yet, while feeling this, we cannot deny ourselves the sorrowful privilege of wrIting a few words in honest admiration of the good, unselfish, and large-minded man, and devoted Christian minister, whose removal by death is a social loss. Mr Elliott was necessarily best known by those to whom he filled the offices of pastor, adviser, and almost father. The famIly joys and sorrows of his people he made his own, and as far as human sympathy could increase the one or alleviate the other, they had his. He was specially the sick man's friend, and in times of illness he often remained night and day by the sick bed, using remedies, cheering loneliness, and by his skIll and treatment alleviating pain. He did not seem to think of personal fatigue; when duty called he was ready. But, outside the circle of his own denomination, Mr. Elliott was well known and respected. In everything good he was ready to take part. His voice was heard from Methodist pulpits and platforms frequently, and he formed some of his most lasting and most intimate friendships with members of the Church of Ireland. From one of the latter, living at a distance, who knew him for a lifetime, we had the following testimony by yesterday's post:-- "I am sure no one will be more missed or regretted in Portadown than Mr. Elliott. Kind and sympathising as a friend, sincerely and unaffectedly religious, he was a help and example to all with whom he came in contact. I do not think he ever forgot a kindness or a friend." Where he found the qualities on which he could base a friendship, he did not question the agreement of creeds, but was able, while warmly attached to the church of his choice, to admire and emulate what was good in the ministers and members of other churches. In politics he was a thorough Conservative, and that because he was convinced Conservative principles were in accordance with his views of truth. He did not flaunt his opinions needlessly, but when a battle was to be fought, as for instance, at the introduction of Mr. Gladstone's Disestablishment Bill, he was ready to go to the front and to use his powerful reasoning and clear arguments in opposition to what he conscientiously believed to be wrong. His charity found countless channels, for its exercise, not always the worthiest, as he was sometimes deceived; but while he has left no fortune behind to go to any charitable object, it is because he gave away continually to the full extent of his income and sometimes even denied himself many things in order to help others. In his character there seemed something at fault here. His very unsuspecting nature could not readily detect wrong, and often when he might have doubted a little he had not the firmness to say no to a request for help. Yet he was happier by far than if he had been of a suspicious nature, and if he ever felt hurt by the ingratitude or improvidence of any who had been assisted by him, he would have been the last to own it. He thought this world not a bad world. He spent a happy life and found many kind friends in it, and above all he knew in whom he had believed, and died as he had lived, a sincere, consistent, and humble-minded Christian.

Mr. Elliott was laid to rest in Seagoe graveyard, and some time latter the Congregation paid its last tribute of respect to his memory by the erection of a memorial of generous dimensions and graceful and attractIve design, one of its four sides bearing the undernoted inscription:--

The Members of the First
Presbyterian Church
And a few other Friends
To the Memory of
For 40 Years the Minister
of the above Congregation,
Who departed this life
2nd April, 1881,
Aged 72 years.
"The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance."

The writer may be pardoned if before parting with Mr. Elliott he relates a little incident at which he was present. In the year 1866 a young Licentiate, Mr. A.J. Wilson, was ordained in Minterburn. In 1867 the writer was sent to reside at the manse in order to study classics and mathematics. Mr. Elliott came in the late autumn to lecture on Temperance. Mr. Wilson had invited an old Quaker gentleman named Edwards to come to tea and preside at the lecture. During tea Mr. Edwards spoke to Mr. Wilson on the subject of marriage, pointing out at length how much more pleasant the manse would be if a lady presided over it. In this task Mr. Elliott cordially supported Mr. Edwards. Mr. Wilson, in reply, said to Mr. Edwards that he had already given him a hint that the lady was forthcoming, and added: "But what do you think of Mr. Elliott who so cordially supports your views and is unmarried?" The old Quaker turned to Mr. Elliott and exclaimed: "Friend, art thou not married?" "No," said Mr. Elliott, "but I know what you say is true." The old man raised both hands above his head, dropping and raising them to emphasise every phrase, and said: "Friend, you know no more about it than a savage does of the advantages of a civilised life."

The old Quaker's criticism may have erred in severity, yet it can hardly be questioned that Mr. Elliott's love of unrestricted freedom, if, indeed, that were the motive that prompted a life of celibacy, injured his usefulness as well as restricted his comforts. He led a somewhat lonely life. When he visited his neighbours his conversational powers reached their climax at midnight, and he was quite delighted to remain until well after that hour. The habit so grew upon him that in his latter days it was a struggle to reach the church fifteen minutes after the canonical hour of twelve o'clock. Indeed it is on record that prudence suggested the propriety of a visit to the manse of some leading dignitary to make sure that this difficult feat should be accomplished.


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