Rev. William Leishman

From: A History of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, St. Gabriel Street, Montreal
     by Robert Campbell M.A. (the last pastor), published by W. Drysdale & Co., Montreal 1887

On the 26th Nov., 1845, a call from the St. Gabriel Street Church was addressed to Rev. W. Leishman. He was a native of Edinburgh, and had received his education at the famous university of that city, sitting at the feet of Dr. Chalmers in his divinity course. He had made his mark at college, and among other prizes had carried off the medal in the moral philosophy class, then taught by the famous " Christopher North." Casting in his lot with the Free Church, he was sent out to the Presbytery of Montreal as a missionary, by the Colonial Committee of that Church, in response to an earnest appeal for ministerial help sent to Scotland by the Presbytery. 

He brought with him the highest testimonials as to character and scholarship from leading men in Scotland, and he was cordially welcomed on his arrival here. The congregation worshipping in the old church being disappointed in either getting a minister from Scotland, although they had petitioned the Colonial Committee to send them one, or sharing in the services of the deputies that visited the city, sought to secure Mr. Leishman for supply, while looking out for a minister ; but the Presbytery wanted his services in the country districts, and kept him at work mostly outside the city. 

He first received a call to Huntingdon, on the 14th May, 1845, and seemed inclined to accept it, but on the 6th of June he declined it; for, by this time, overtures were made to him by the St. Gabriel Street congregation, which resulted in his ordination and induction to the charge on the 4th of March, 1846. A protest was served, 4th March, 1846, by Messrs. Lappare and Crawford, notaries public, on James Leslie, James McFarlane, William Cormack, George Johnston, William Murray, Alexander Urquhart, Archibald McFarlane, Adam Ferrie, David Rae, James Turner, D. Gorrie and A. Handyside, at the request of John Fisher, David Handyside and Walter M. Peddie, acting on behalf of Andrew Shaw, William Skakel, Donald P. Ross, Robert Esdaile, John Speirs, Kenneth Walker, William Suter, James Logan, Daniel Gorrie, Charles Tait, John Blackwood, Colin McDonald, Thomas Ross and others, members and proprietors of the said church, adherents to the Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Established Church of Scotland, " calling upon them to desist from the proceedings," and from " installing or procuring to be installed or ordained any person as minister of the said church," other than one in connection with the Church of Scotland. It is not a little interesting to note that Dr. James Begg preached the sermon on the occasion, and on the following Sabbath introduced the young minister to his congregation. Mr. Leishman was chosen Presbytery clerk, 25th November, 1846. 

He was a man of fine taste as well as scholarship, but he was also very high strung. Of a nervous, excitable temperament, he was capable of splendid efforts at oratory ; but, like all men of an enthusiastic turn, the re-action after such flights of eloquence was quite distressing. He was fond of poetry, and had been brought up in the old school, which did not embrace active pastoral work, but only preaching, in its programme, and was not averse to the social glass. 

Mr. Leishman did not quite meet the hopes of the enthusiastic members of his congregation. The strain of the position was at all events too heavy for the comparatively inexperienced preacher. When it is remembered that Cote Street Church, hard by, was supplied by a succession of tried preachers from Scotland—men of eminence, like Rev. William Arnot and Rev. A. N. Somerville and Rev. R. Bremner, of Glasgow ; J. McGillivray, of Aberdeen ; John Buchanan, of Bothwell ; J. MacNaughton, afterwards of Belfast ; Gilbert Johnston ; J. Alexander, of Kirkcaldy ; J. C. Burns, of Kirkliston ; James Lewis, of Leith, and J. C. Fairbairn, of Allanton, it will be seen what a heavy draught was made on the nervous force of the young minister of the St. Gabriel Street Church, when placed in competition with them ; and it is not to be wondered at that he broke down under the weight of his cares and efforts, and that he was constrained to ask to be relieved of' his duties, as he did, in March, 1849. 

His first thought was merely to obtain leave of absence for a few months, to visit Scotland and recruit his shattered health ; but he found it impossible to get supply for his pulpit during the time he proposed to be away, and so there was nothing for it but to table his resignation, which he did on the 16th of August, 1849. The grounds on which he placed it were : (1) Want of financial support ; (2) the want of sympathy and co-operation on the part of the Cote Street congregation ; and (3) the recognition of the fact that a minister is justified in seeking a new field, when he finds his usefulness hindered in his sphere of work. 

As there was not Christian fellowship between the two congregations, nor Ministerial fellowship between him and the brethren officiating in Cote Street, his health, he said, could bear the strain no longer. The Presbytery " resolved unanimously to place upon record a strong expression of their sympathy with their revered and much loved brother, in the extraordinary discouragements under which he has suffered throughout his ministry in St. Gabriel Street Church ; and after solemn prayer, &c., agreed to accept of Mr. Leishman's resignation as pastor of the said church, and to loose him from his charge, with the deepest regret that his health had been injured in consequence of the discouragements referred to.

After resting some time in Edinburgh, Mr. Leishman was induced by Rev. Dr. Mackay, of Dunoon, to accept an appointment in Australia. He was settled in two charges in Victoria, and finally in Sidney, New South Wales, where he died 18th November, 1870. During his residence in Australia, the degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him. " He was," said a Sydney news-paper, " a faithful and laborious minister of the Gospel, and died as he had lived, trusting in his Redeemer. Amid the intense sufferings of his last days, he was enabled to express his calm and joyful confidence in the Lord whom he had served." 

He had married Miss Gibb, a niece of Dr. W. P. Smith. He left her a widow ; but they had no children. She is now the wife of Dr. Webster, dentist, Montreal.

One very pleasant gleam of sunshine fell along Mr. Leishman's otherwise dark path in Montreal, and that was the brotherly fellowship that existed between the St. Gabriel Street congregation and that of Dr. Taylor, as revealed in the following correspondence and memoranda. The U. P. congregation had first made advances towards Cote Street Church, but they were not responded to. Learning of this the temporal committee of the Church in St. Gabriel Street sent the following letter to Dr. Taylor :

MONTREAL, 5th April, 1847

Rev. Dear Sir, — Understanding that at an early day you intend commencing to alter your present place of worship, thereby rendering it necessary that you should have temporary accommodation until the same is completed, the temporal committee of the St. Gabriel Street Church will have much pleasure in offering the use of said church to your congregation on Sabbath evenings. Of course, your congregation defraying the expenses of lighting, &c., until your own church is completed.

I remain, &c.,

The following arrangement was finally made :

" During the forenoon service, when the pulpit shall be occupied by the Rev. W. Leishman, it shall be recommended to the congregation of St. Gabriel Street Church to give every accommodation in their power to Mr. Taylor's congregation, — the collection belonging to the funds of St. Gabriel Street Church. During the afternoon service when the pulpit shall be occupied by the Rev. W. Taylor, it shall be recommended to Mr. Taylor's congregation to afford every accommodation to the people of St. Gabriel Street the collection belonging to the funds of Mr. Taylor's church. During the evening service, when the pulpit shall be occupied alternate Sabbaths by the respective pastors, both congregations shall assemble indiscriminately, the collections going to defray the expense of lighting, &c., and the overplus to belong to the funds of St. Gabriel Street Church."

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