The church now known as Westburn Parish Church in Nelson Street, Greenock was opened for public worship in 1841. The first man to preach there was Patrick Macfarlan (1781-1849).
|Dr Patrick Macfarlan|
He was the son of John Warden (family name later changed to Macfarlan due to a marriage) and Helen McDowal . His father was minister of the Cannongate Kirk in Edinburgh and one of the founders of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1783). Patrick studied at the University of Edinburgh and was licenced by the Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1803. His first charge was at Kippen and he later served at Polmont, St John’s Parish Glasgow and St Enoch’s Parish in Glasgow. He was presented to what is now the Old West Kirk by Sir Michael Shaw Stewart in 1832. In 1834 he was Moderator of the General Assembly.
At that time the Old West Kirk church building, at the north end of Nicolson Street down by the river, was in a very bad state of repair, and was not large enough to accommodate those who wished to worship there. It was condemned by the Presbytery in 1837 and, at the urging of Patrick Macfarlan, it was agreed to build a new church in Nelson Street to be known as the West Kirk (now Westburn Parish Church).
On its completion in 1841 Patrick Macfarlan and his congregation locked the door of their old church and moved to the new premises in Nelson Street.
At this time, there was discontent within the Church of Scotland about the subject of patronage. Many thought that congregations should be permitted to chose their own minister rather than have the local landowner decide who that would be (in many cases their own relatives). Dr Patrick Macfarlan was one of those who agreed that congregations should be free to chose. He wrote many pamphlets on this subject and other church matters. He also wrote the article on Greenock in the New Statistical Account of Scotland.
Like the church, the old manse near the church down by the river, had not fared well over the years. When Patrick Macfarlan came to Greenock he and his family first lived at Ardgowan Square at what is now the Tontine Hotel. Later they moved to the beautiful Greenbank House in Kelly Street. Forsyth Street was his next home then finally he moved to a house on the south west corner of West Stewart Street and Jamaica Street.
|Greenbank House, @The Watt Institution|
Dr Patrick Macfarlan, joined the Free Church in 1843 and “walked out” at the Disruption, taking many of his elders and congregation with him to start the Free West Church. At the time, the West Kirk in Greenock was described as “the richest living in the Church of Scotland” and many admired him for leaving a beautiful, wealthy church to face the uncertainty of what life in the “Free Church” might offer. But, like many ministers of his day, his faith and scruples overcame thoughts of an easy life. It was not an simple decision either for elders and members of the congregation.
|Former Methodist Church, Ardgowan Street, Greenock|
Having moved from the West Kirk, his new Free Church congregation needed a place of worship. Land was bought and the foundation stone of their new church which was to be built in Ardgowan Street (where the former Methodist Church now stands) was laid later that year in August 1843. The church was opened for worship in 1844. In 1845 Dr Patrick Macfarlan was chosen as Moderator of the Free Church General Assembly.
In the following years his health declined and he himself paid for an assistant and missionary for the area. In 1849 he caught a bad cold as a result of attending the funeral of an old gentleman, a member of his church before the Disruption. He died shortly afterwards.
|Patrick Macfarlan was the first to sign the Deed of Demission|
Family In 1808 Patrick Macfarlan married Catherine Clason (1784-1815), the daughter of Robert Clason, minister of Logie, Dunblane. Children – Ann (1810-1831), Helen (1811-?) Catherine (1813-1866) married Alexander Melville, minister of Falkirk in 1836. He had previously been her father’s assistant in Greenock. Their son, Andrew was born in 1839. Alexander Melville died in 1839. Catherine died in Paris (Rue de Balzac) in 1866. John (1815-1891) – became minister of Middle Free Church, Greenock.
Dr Macfarlane was described thus – “His head and face would have attracted observation in any assembly – suggesting the idea of culture and refinement, of mental acuteness and moral elevation. His voice was clear and ringing rather than strong. His speaking, both from the pulpit and in debate, was characterised above everything by clearness and precision.”
He became known as a "father of the Free Church". His enthusiasm and dedication to his faith earned him a following not just in Greenock, but all over Scotland. If you would like to know more about the history of Westburn Parish Church, then click here.