Robert Smith Candlish

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Robert S. Candlish.
9 Randolph Crescent, Edinburgh

Robert Smith Candlish (23 March 1806 – 19 October 1873) was a Scottish minister who was a leading figure in the Disruption of 1843.[1] He served for many years in both St. George's Church and St George's Free Church on Charlotte Square in Edinburgh's New Town.


He was born at 11 West Richmond Street[2] in Edinburgh, the son of James Candlish (1760-1806), a lecturer in Medicine who died soon after he was born. He was raised by his mother, Jane Smith (1768-1854).[3] She moved to Glasgow soon after her husband's death and survived by running a boarding house at 49 Virginia Street.[4] The building was then a new building. It survives but is now a little dilapidated.

In 1820 he began studying Divinity at Glasgow University, where he graduated in 1823. During the years 1823–1826 he went through the prescribed course at the divinity hall, then presided over by Rev Dr Stevenson McGill.[5] On leaving, he accompanied a pupil as private tutor to Eton College, where he stayed two years.[6][7]

In 1829 Candlish entered upon his life's work, having been licensed to preach during the summer vacation of the previous year. After short assistant pastorates at St Andrew's Church, Glasgow, and then the parish church of Bonhill in Dunbartonshire, he became assistant minister to Rev James Martin of St George's, Edinburgh.[8] He attracted the attention of his audience by his intellectual keenness, emotional fervour, spiritual insight and power of dramatic representation of character and life. His theology was that of the Scottish Calvinistic school, and he gathered round him one of the largest congregations in the city.[7]

In 1840 he was living at 9 Randolph Crescent in Edinburgh's West End, a huge terraced townhouse.[9]

Candlish took an interest in ecclesiastical questions, and he soon became involved in the struggle which was then agitating Church of Scotland. His first Assembly speech, delivered in 1839, placed him among the leaders of the party that afterwards formed the Free Church, and his influence in bringing about the Disruption of 1843 was inferior only to that of Thomas Chalmers. He took his stand on two principles: the right of the people to choose their ministers, and the independence of the church in things spiritual. On his advice Hugh Miller was appointed editor of the Witness[7] and Miller wrote much of the weekly copy.[10]

Following the Disruption Candlish was one of the Free Churchmen who spoke in England, explaining the reason why so many had left the Established Church.[11] He was actively engaged at one time or other in nearly all the various schemes of the church, but particularly the education committee, of which he was convener from 1846 to 1863, and in the unsuccessful negotiations for union among the non-established Presbyterian denominations of Scotland, which were carried on during the years 1863-1873.[7][12] Candlish was the Free Church Moderator at the Assembly of 1867. He was succeeded in 1868 by Rev William Nixon.[13]

In 1841 the government nominated Candlish to the newly founded chair of Biblical criticism in the University of Edinburgh.[14] However, owing to the opposition of Lord Aberdeen,[15][16] the presentation was cancelled. In 1847 Candlish, who had received the degree of D.D. from Princeton, New Jersey, in 1841, was chosen by the Assembly of the Free Church to succeed Chalmers in the chair of divinity in the New College, Edinburgh. After partially fulfilling the duties of the office for one session, he was led to resume the charge of St George's, the clergyman who had been chosen by the congregation as his successor having died before entering on his work.[7]

In 1851 he established a Gaelic Church on Cambridge Street.[17] In 1862 he succeeded William Cunningham as principal of New College with the understanding that he should still retain his position as minister of St George's.[7]


The grave of Rev Robert Candlish, Old Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh

Candlish died at home, 52 Melville Street[18] in Edinburgh in 1873.

As the Free Church lost the right to burial in the traditional parish burial grounds, Candlish is buried in the non-denominational Old Calton Burial Ground. He lies in the southern extension, just south-east of the Martyr's Monument.


In January 1835 he was married to Jessie Brock (1813-1894) daughter of Walter Brock.[19] Several of their children died in childhood.[20] Their surviving children included:

  • James Smith Candlish (1835-1897) Professor of the Free Church College in Glasgow
  • Jessie Candlish (1837-1893) married William Anderson of Glentarkie
  • Elizabeth Smith Candlish (b.1840) married Rev Dr Archibald Henderson DD of the United Free Church in Crieff


Candlish made a number of contributions to theological literature. In 1842 he published the first volume of his Contributions towards the Exposition of the Book of Genesis, a work which was completed in three volumes several years later. In 1854 he delivered, in Exeter Hall, London, a lecture on the Theological Essays of the Rev. F. D. Maurice, which he afterwards published, along with a fuller examination of the doctrine of the essays. In this he defended the forensic aspect of the gospel. A treatise entitled The Atonement; its Reality, Completeness and Extent (1861) was based upon a smaller work which first appeared in 1845. In 1864 he delivered the first series of Cunningham lectures, taking for his subject The Fatherhood of God. Published immediately afterwards, the lectures excited considerable discussion on account of the peculiar views they represented. Further illustrations of these views were given in two works published about the same time as the lectures, one a treatise On the Sonship and Brotherhood of Believers, and the other an exposition of the first epistle of St John.[7]


  1. ^ Wylie, James Aitken (1881). Disruption worthies : a memorial of 1843, with an historical sketch of the free church of Scotland from 1843 down to the present time. Edinburgh: T. C. Jack. pp. 139–145. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  2. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1805/6
  3. ^ Inscription on grave of Rev Robert Candlish
  4. ^ Glasgow Post Office Directory 1816
  5. ^ Wilson, William, minister of St. Paul's Free Church, Dundee (1880). Memorials of Robert Smith Candlish, D.D. : minister of St. George's Free Church, and principal of the New College, Edinburgh. Edinburgh: A. and C. Black. pp. 11–12. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  6. ^ Bayne, Peter (1893). The Free Church of Scotland : her origin, founders and testimony. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. p. 146. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Chisholm 1911.
  8. ^ Walker, Norman L (1895). Chapters from the history of the Free church of Scotland. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier. p. 21. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  9. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1840-41
  10. ^ Bayne, Peter (1893). The Free Church of Scotland : her origin, founders and testimony. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. p. 136. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  11. ^ Brown, Thomas (1883). Annals of the disruption. Edinburgh: Macniven & Wallace. pp. 525–526. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  12. ^ Walker, Norman L (1895). Chapters from the history of the Free church of Scotland. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier. pp. 226–270. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  13. ^ Ewing, William Annals of the Free Church
  14. ^ Walker, Norman L (1895). Chapters from the history of the Free church of Scotland. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier. pp. 101–102. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  15. ^ Hansard, House of Lords 22 March 1841.
  16. ^ Hansard, House of Lords 29 April 1841.
  17. ^ By The Three Great Roads, ISBN 0-08-036587-6
  18. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1873
  19. ^ Fasti Ecclesiastae Scoticana by Hew Scott
  20. ^ Inscription on grave of Robert Candlish

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