Ewen MacQueen was born on the 17th June 1866, in Camustinavaig, Braes, Isle of Skye. He was the fourth son of Alexander MacQueen, a crofter shoemaker, who had a family of six sons and one daughter.
When he was 13 years old Ewan’s father, Alexander, died. Young Ewen subsequently left school in order to support his widowed mother. His first employment was as a carter with Thomas MacFarlane, building contractor, Portree, and his work took him to the building of Flodigarry House, Staffin. After finishing work at 6 p.m. on a Saturday, he used to walk home a distance of twenty miles, attend the church services in Braes School on Sunday, three miles away, and leave home again at 2 a.m. on the Monday morning to be ready for work at half-past six on Monday morning. After some three years at this work, Ewen was appointed shepherd for the Sheep Stock Club of Camustinavaig where he worked for three more years. He subsequently continued his work as a shepherd in Loch Lomondside and Perthshire, and, at the age of twenty-five, he returned to his home.
One night, walking on the road between Sligichan and Sconser ‘the heavens opened before him and there appeared to him a heavenly vision of effulgent splendour which made him call out his complete faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Ewen MacQueen, supported in his mind by the rich promises of the Scriptures, yielded his whole being to the services of his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.’
Ewen subsequently attended school at Portree and Inverness in order to obtain the qualification necessary to train for the ministry. The Free Presbyterian Church was formed in 1893 and Ewen, it is said, ‘was a whole-hearted supporter of the founders, Revs. Donald MacFarlane, Raasay and Donald Macdonald, Shieldaig. He had a great love for Rev. Donald Macdonald and thought it a great honour to carry his bag for miles along country roads. He esteemed it a great privilege to listen to the evangelical sermons of that godly man.’
Ewen MacQueen entered Glasgow University in 1894 spending the next three years there. It is said he ‘refused the offer of financial help to continue studying at the University, and he also spurned the offer of a large sum of money from another church which offered to pay all his educational expenses if he joined with them. The Free Presbyterian Church was in need of ministers, and all the money he required was forthcoming from preaching engagements and kind friends.’
After completing his Theological training at Wick, Ewen was ordained and inducted as the first minister of the Free Presbyterian Church in Tarbert, Harris, in 1900. In November 1902, he married Miss Jessie Campbell of Glenvarigill, Skye. The marriage took place in Glasgow, the ceremony being performed by Prof. J. R. Mackay D.D. (1865-1939), then FP minister in Inverness. ‘Soon after his marriage he was inducted to the joint charges of Bonar Bridge, Dornoch, Rogart and Lairg, where he spent ten years. Here he ‘carried out many of his pastoral duties with pony and trap as his chief means of transport.’
‘In 1912 he was called to Kames, in the Kyles of Bute taking up his post there in August of that year. In August 1914, he was appointed as the F.P. Church deputy to the Royal Naval Reserve at Portsmouth and Chatham. Shortly after the beginning of WW1, in December 1914, he was appointed a Chaplain to His Majesty’s Forces. He served in France and England until the end of the war. On leaving the Army, he was appointed an Honorary Chaplain to His Majesty’s Forces.
In March 1919 he was called to the Free Presbyterian Church, Inverness. He would remain here for thirty years, to within a fortnight of his death on the 27th November 1949. In September 1937 his wife died. She is said to have been a ‘worthy lady like-minded to him and proved to be an ideal partner to him throughout their thirty five years of married life.’
On the outbreak of the war in 1939 Ewen MacQueen preached regularly in Gaelic to the Cameron Highlanders of the Isles stationed at Dochfour near Inverness. Before this detachment left for overseas, they presented him with a beautiful copy of the Protestant Dictionary in which they wrote the following tribute:
Mr. Macqueen, your Gaelic services brought us renewed courage and brought also peace to our oft despondent hearts. Your transparent Christian character has won for you a deep place in the confidence and affection of many in all denominations – 25th October, 1939, Cameron Highlanders of the Isles.
It is said Ewen MacQueen’s preaching was ‘for the most part experimental (his) style of oratory held his audiences spellbound.’ In other words he appealed to the heart and experience – not only to the head. He also visited Canada and America as deputy of the Free Presbyterian Church on three occasions.
‘During communion seasons, crowds flocked to hear the Word of God from his mouth. Men, women and children of all denominations loved him. In the town of Inverness he was known and respected by almost everybody. He was noted for his attendance at sickbeds in homes and hospitals. Nor did he confine his visits to members of his own congregation. When visiting a hospital, he first made a round of all the beds and usually concluded with public prayer standing in the middle of the ward. Many patients were blessed and greatly encouraged by his earnest prayer and looked forward eagerly to his regular visitations.’
My late mother and her family, as well as a number of my relatives, although living some distance away, were members of MacQueen’s congregation in Inverness. My mother’s sister, my late aunt Margaret and her husband John Adamson were married by Ewen MacQueen in the Columba Hotel, Inverness on the 5th of November 1948. My own mother and father were married on 22nd of July 1955 by Ewen MacQueens successor the Rev. Alexander Donald MacLeod (1910-1993). Due to the very recent death of my grandfather, Alexander MacQueen, Ruthven, the wedding took place in MacLeod’s manse at 30 Broadstone Park,Inverness. At this time the church was known as the MacQueen Memorial Church. Therein, of course, lies another story.
It appears that in the intrigue of FP church politics there arose, in 1938, a certain issue during which, through no fault of his own and simply because he had protested against a decision of the Synod – Ewen MacQueen was considered as having ‘separated himself from the Church by his tabling of a protest against their decision.’ This was even noted by a later FP writer as:
‘A unique occurrence in Presbyterian annals and clearly contrary to the practice and principles of the Church of Scotland since the Reformation, of the Free Church since the Disruption, and of the Free Presbyterian Church as founded in 1893. Not in the pages of Scottish Church history do we find an instance of a minister treated in the same way, though we find cases of hundreds protesting against decisions of Supreme Courts and staying in the Church.’
Sadly, however, MacQueen found himself ejected from his position and livelihood. Many of his congregation were horrified and distressed. Subsequently, ‘Mr. Macqueen and part of his congregation continued to worship apart as Free Presbyterians, and for eleven years he ministered in Inverness and in the surrounding regions, as far afield as Torridon and the Isle of Skye.’
Ewen MacQueen preached his last sermon ‘with great liberty from Zechariah chap. 12, verse 10, at a prayer-meeting on November, 9th, 1949.’ The text reads – ‘And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.’ He died two weeks later in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. It is said the ‘last words on his lips, (were) Peace, peace.’
Following his death, as we have already indicated, his place was taken by Stornoway man the Rev. Alexander Donald MacLeod. Macleod’s first charge had been to the FP congregation at Shieldaig and Lochcarron, where he served between 1939-1945. He left the main body of the FP Church in 1945, apparently over the same issue that had caused Ewen MacQueen such difficulty.
In 1954 MacQueen Memorial Church bought the old Gaelic Church on Church Street Inverness. It was renamed MacQueen Memorial Church until 1958, when the congregation joined the Free Church of Scotland and the building became known as Greyfriars Free Church. In 1994, the building was sold, and is now a second-hand bookshop.
- The bulk of this article is drawn from an obituary to Ewen MacQueen which appeared (unattributed) in the ‘Free Presbyterian Witness’ magazine in March 1950.
- The landscape image used at the head of this post was taken in Sligachan, Isle of Skye, near to the spot where Ewan MacQueen, experienced the vision that was the catalyst for him pursuing full time Christian ministry.
- Although my MacQueen heritage (on my mother’s side) is believed to be rooted in north Skye – as far as I am aware there was no blood relationship between my MacQueen forebears and Ewen MacQueen.
I am very grateful to Adrian Harvey of Scottish Highlander Photo Archive for allowing me to use this portrait of Ewen MacQueen for a family project in 2019. The bulk of the Archive consists of the photographic portraiture lifework of Andrew Paterson (1877-1948) and his son Hector GN Paterson (1904-1988), who operated their Inverness studio from premises in Academy Street, Inverness.
- Ewen and Jessie had the following children – Margaret b.1903 Bonar, Ewen Alister b.1905 Bonar, Catherine b.1906 Bonar, died 3-7-1906 Bonar (17 days), Malcolm Campbell b.1907 Bonar, David Ross b.1909 Dornoch, Catherine Mackintosh b.1910 Knockglass, Dornoch,, Alexandrina J “Alice” b.1912 Dornoch and Annie b.7-12-1913 Kames, Kilfinnan, Argyllshire.
UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE ALMIGHTY (By Norman MacLeod, Harris c2002)