Walkout splits the Church and divides Divinity Faculty

On May 18th 1843 Reverend David Welsh led a walk out of c. 200 ministers from the opening session of the Church of Scotland’ General Assembly. This major event saw a third of ministers leave the Church of Scotland in protest against perceived state interference in spiritual affairs. Octavius Hill’s painting records the scene five days later when the members of the new Free Church signed their Act of Separation and Deed of Demission.


Disruption Painting by David Octavius Hill, ©Free Church of Scotland

This split was replicated in the University’s Divinity Faculty. The Disruption and its impact is referenced in the minute book of the University’s Theological Faculty for the period 1837-1884 when explaining the absence of entries over 1843: ‘There was no quorum of the Faculty. Drs. Chalmers & Welsh had left the Church & the Principal was, during this Session doing the duty of both – In that he was received by the Senatus as professor of Theology’.

The Reverend Professor Thomas Chalmers set about establishing a new educational home for those called to ministry in the Free Church. While New College’s foundation stone was not laid until 1846, in November 1843 168 students began their theological education with Chalmers as their Principal on George Street.