Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Robert Balmer - One of Berwick's Most Esteemed Ministers

Family Search lists Robert Balmer's birth on 22nd November 1787 and christening, 8 days later, at Eckford, Roxburghshire, Scotland.

According to his Academical lectures and pulpit discourses which includes a memoir of his life, his father was Thomas Balmer and his mother, Margaret Biggar and they lived at Ormiston Mains.

Thomas was probably a farmer; he had been offered a farm by the Duke of Buccleuch but he preferred to be a land-steward, first at Ormiston and later at Crailinghall. He was a member of the congregation at Morebattle, connected with the General Associate (Antiburgher) Synod.

Margaret was a granddaughter of the James Biggar mentioned in the autobiography of the venerable Boston of Ettrick. She adhered to the congregation at Jedburgh, connected with the Associate (Burgher) Synod. Family Search lists Thomas Balmer and Margaret Biggar's marriage on 6th January 1786.

They had 2 other sons, Walter (probably born 30 January 1790; later emigrated to USA) and James (probably born 14th March 1794) and a daughter, Helen, (probably born 22nd April 1796). The memoir doesn’t mention Stephen (christened 19th October 1788 in the same place as the others) or Nelly  (christened 5th August 1792 at Hobkirk).

At the age of 9, Robert went to a school at Crailing Mill, taught by Richard Scott, later one of the elders of Golden Square congregation, Berwick. Thomas died about a year later and Mrs Balmer opened a shop at Eckford-moss. Robert moved to Eckford parish school and attended Morebattle parish school to learn Latin.

At age 14, he went to Kelso Grammar School, stating during the week with his aunt at Maxwellheugh.
He went to Edinburgh University at the beginning of the session 1802-3.
In the autumn of the year 1806, after undergoing an examination by the Associate Presbytery of Selkirk, he was admitted to the study of Divinity under the Rev. Dr George Lawson, supporting himself by teaching.

He was licensed to preach the Gospel on 4th August 1812. He was offered posts by congregations in Lochwinnoch, Leslie, Ecclefechan, and Berwick, and in autumn 1813 picked Berwick (perhaps because his mother and his brother, James, lived in Berwick).

He said in a letter to a friend “My ordination took place on Wednesday, the 23rd of last month (March 1814). The person who preached first, and who ordained (presided at the ordination), was Mr Lee of Horndean, a most intimate acquaintance, and one of the best men, I believe, in the Burgher Synod. A friend and relation not less dear, Mr Paterson of Alnwick, preached after him. Mr Peddie from Edinburgh was present, and introduced me on the following Sabbath.”
He was clearly prized by his Berwick congregation; the Caledonian Mercury reported:
“on 13th July 1819, an elegant silver cup and ….. a beautiful set of table plate, value 50 guineas (£52.50) were presented by the principal members of the Burgher Associate Congregation of Berwick, ….. at the Red Lion Inn, as a token of the high esteem they entertain for him.”

On 18th July 1826, Robert married Jane Scott, daughter of Alexander Scott of Aberdeen. One of Jane’s sisters was a landlady in Slateford, Edinburgh, her brother, John wrote ‘Visits to Paris’.
No children are mentioned in the memoir.

 In 1833, he was appointed Professor of Systematic Theology to the United Secession Church.

Robert’s mother, Margaret Biggar, died in 1839.

In 1840, the University of St Andrews conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor in Divinity. He preached in many places including London, Glasgow and Edinburgh and was an active participant in the controversy that, ultimately, led to the disruption of the churches.

He died on the morning of Monday, July 1, 1844 after several weeks with a severe and painful illness and was buried on 9th July. His death was reported in many newspapers in England and Scotland. Apart from a volume of sermons in 1819, he published little during his lifetime, except in newspapers.

There's a photograph of an imposing column and its inscription in Holy Trinity churchyard, Berwick, on the Find A Grave website.

Are you related to one of Robert Balmer's brothers or sisters ?

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