James Esdaile (minister)

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James Esdaile (1775–1854) was a Scottish minister and writer who spent his working life mainly at the East Church, Perth, Scotland.


Esdaile began as a tutor in the family of James Christie of Durie. He then studied at the University of St Andrews. He was licensed by the presbytery of Kirkcaldy on 15 June 1803; and was ordained to Montrose, on 14 August 1805. He was admitted as minister in Perth in November 1810.[1]

Esdaile was awarded the degree of D.D. by the University of Edinburgh, 4 January 1838.[2] He resigned his position 15 June 1844; and died 8 January 1854.[1]


Esdaile wrote the prominent article "Logic" in the Edinburgh Encyclopædia, divided as Part I pneumatology, part II dialectics.[3] Here "pneumatology" is what now would be called psychology, and was handled in line with the natural theology of the Enlightenment.[4] It proved a source of controversy[5] with Thomas Brown, whom Esdaile accused of plagiarism, based largely on the use of the term "Relationist".[6] It also gave the author's opinion that Francis Bacon's influence on the advances of two centuries in natural philosophy was largely restricted to chemistry.[7] Esdaile was considered a candidate for the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh in 1820, on Brown's death, at least in the eyes of some supporters of the Church of Scotland.[8] In the event John Wilson was elected over the claims of Sir William Hamilton.

Esdaile's theological works were:

  • Christian Theology: Or, A Connected View of the Scheme of Christianity (Edinburgh, 1823)
  • Apocrypha (Perthshire Bible Society, Perth, 1826);
  • Lectures on the Shorter Catechism (Perth, 1829).

Two local controversies generated pamphlet wars:

  • A Letter to the Rev. W. A. Thomson: In Answer to His "Reply," &c." (1826). Against William Aird Thomson (1773–1863) of the Middle Parish, Perth.
    • Dr. Thomson's two last letters to the editor of the Perthshire Courier, exposing the inconsistencies of Mr. Esdaile, and his doctrine of two standards of the Bible: with remarks on the conduct of the editor, and the notes of "a correspondent", respecting two standards of the pound weight and of the word of God (1829).
  • Debate with David Young of Perth, who was the junior minister in the North Church,[9] in which Esdaile maintained the orthodox position in the Voluntary Controversy which ran in Scotland from 1829 to the Disruption of 1843:[10][11][12]
    • Ecclesiastical establishments opposed alike to political equity and Christian law (1833, Young);
    • Civil and Religious Institutions necessarily and inseparably connected (Perth, 1833, Esdaile);
    • Reply to the Rev. James Esdaile's examination of the Rev. D. Young's pamphlet on ecclesiastical establishments (1833, Young);
    • The Voluntary Church Scheme without Foundation in Scripture, Reason, or Common Sense (Perth, 1834, Esdaile);
    • A vindication of scripture, reason and common sense in reply to the Rev. James Esdaile's second pamphlet on establishment (Young);
    • The Spirit, Principles, and Reasoning of the Voluntaries Exposed (Perth, 1834, Esdaile).[1]


Esdaile married on 3 December 1805, Margaret Blair (died at Rescobie, Angus, Scotland, 24 May 1843), daughter of David Blair of Borgue. Their children were:[13]

  • James Esdaile M.D., Presidency Surgeon, Calcutta and author of 'Mesmerism in India and Its Practical Application in Surgery and Medicine (Ed. by D. Esdaile); born 8 February 1808; first wife, whom he married 1830, died on the passage to India; second wife, Mary Ann Christie, whom he married 6 June 1838, died in India; he then married, 03 Feb. 1851, Eliza Morton or Weatherhead and died at Sydenham, Oxfordshire 10 January 1859;[13]
  • David, D.D., minister of Rescobie, Angus, Scotland, born 6 February 1811, who, with his brother James, founded the Ministers' Daughters' College, in Edinburgh, which closed in 1972; he died 10 June 1880 [13]
  • John, born 9 December 1813; married Mary Ann Fairbanks (1826-aft.1871) and died in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada 1877.[13]
  • Robert, born 21 November 1816, who emigrated to Canada, and was in business there with his brother John.;[14] married Nancy Fisher Mackenzie; died 5 July 1882 [13]
  • Janet (1818–1819).[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Hew Scott, Donald Farquhar Macdonald, Fasti ecclesiæ scoticanæ; the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation vol. 4 (1915) archive.org.
  2. ^ A Catalogue of the Graduates in the Faculties of Arts, Divinity, and Law, Of the University of Edinburgh, Since Its Foundation (1858), p. 251; archive.org.
  3. ^ The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia. W. Blackwood. 1 January 1830. p. 118 – via Google Books. 
  4. ^ http://fds.oup.com/www.oup.com/pdf/13/9780198122838.pdf
  5. ^ The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany. Archibald Constable. 1 January 1820. p. 538 – via Google Books. 
  6. ^ Remarks on Dr. Brown's Physiology of the Mind (1820)
  7. ^ Hans Aarsleff (1983). The Study of Language in England, 1780-1860. University of Minnesota Press. p. 92 note. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  8. ^ "The life and times of the Rev. Robert Burns, D.D., F.A.S., F.R.S.E. Toronto : including an unfinished autobiography". archive.org. 
  9. ^ The United Presbyterian magazine. 1857. p. 89. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  10. ^ Church of Scotland. Presbytery of Perth (1860). The Presbytery of Perth: or, Memoirs of the members, ministers of the several parishes within the bounds, from the Reformation to the present time. Mrs. C. Paton. p. 224. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  11. ^ George Penny (1836). Traditions of Perth, containing sketches of the manners and customs of the inhabitants, and notices of public occurrences, during the last century: interesting extracts from old records; notices of the neighbouring localities of historical interest ... Dewar, Sidey, Morison, Peat, and Drummond. p. 185. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  12. ^ John C. Johnston (1887). Treasury of the Scottish Covenant. Andrew Elliot. p. 182. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Esdaile Family History per Janet White, descendant
  14. ^ "A history of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, St. Gabriel Street, Montreal [microform]". archive.org.