Skip to Main Content

Highland Theological College Library

A guide for users of Highland Theological College Library

Digitised Historical Resources

HTC library has an ongoing digitisation project to preserve antiquarian volumes of historical interest, links to these will be added here periodically. Please note that this these materials are hosted on sites outside of the university partnership.

The Life and Times of Rev Thomas Simpson of Avoch - by Scott McGowan


The Rev. Thomas Simpson, late minister for the peoples of Avoch, was born in Midlothian in 1718[1], where he enjoyed a happy enough life and managed, blessed among his peers, to find solace in education. He was eventually licenced in his thirtieth year, by the Elgin Presbytery for Moray on the 1st of November 1748. After which, he had residence in Banff, also in Moray, in 1752[2].

Three years later, the attempts of William Urquhart of Meldrum to have Simpson installed in Cromarty were sadly rejected by the local Presbytery. The following year, however, on the 14th of April, Simpson was graciously accepted by the peoples of Avoch to become their ‘shepherd’, as he lovingly titled himself, and was presently and officially ordained.

Possibly founded by some survivors of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Avoch was, at that time, a sleepy village in the Black Isle, on the coast of the Moray firth. The name derives from the Gaelic which means mouth of the stream. Locals reference this to the Killen Burn which runs through Avoch but it is also possible that the sea creature shaped inlet bay that appears to be taking a bit out of Munlochy to the east, which Avoch lies on the north bank of, could be as likely a linguistic source[3]. Many disagree.

Lady Hill sits to the west, where lies Ormond Castle, established and constructed for William the Lion, some time after the year 1200. It was passed over to the Morays of Petty before then being passed over again to Archibald the Grim, then Lord of Galloway. Archibald’s descendants would later take the title Earl of Osmond, in reference to the castle. The Rosehaugh House, built by Avoch native James Fletcher on the estate grounds, was not erected until some twelve years after Simpson’s death.

In the same year that Simpson began his ministerial position in Avoch,  he married his first wife, Isobel Mackenzie of Pitlundie and Culbo[4] where they were blessed with one child, William (born 1757), who would follow his father into the ministry.

Simpson would later marry another Isobel Mackenzie, this time the daughter of George Mackenzie, 2nd of Gruinard[5]. They would go on to have many children, namely, George (born 9th Oct. 1759); John (born 14th April 1761); Alexander (born 3rd April 1763); Jean (born 23rd Dec. 1764); Thomas (born 30th Dec. 1766); Margaret (born 6th Sept. 1768); Mary (born 1769); Roderick (born 16th May 1770); Duncan (born 12th Aug. 1771); and Geddes (born 4th Feb 1775). Their third and youngest daughter, Mary, would become the mother of another Thomas Simpson who would later be known as the great ‘Artic Discoverer’[6].

The stipend Simpson received for his work in Avoch was not great and the manse had fallen into a terrible state. He also found that the chances of his children gaining a reasonable education there was seriously limited. At one point, a possibility of betterment was afforded to him, by transition to another, wealthier parish, but Simpson chose to reject this offer, claiming that his flock, "[…] had accepted him (he said) as their pastor: he had promised to be their spiritual shepherd; and no worldly motives would induce him to break this sacred tie.''[7]

Simpson would later pass away in the latter days of September 1786, two or three years before his seventieth birthday and still residing in his favoured village of Avoch.

The handwritten notebook of sermons[8], graciously afforded to the Highland Theological College in Dingwall by the widow of one of Simpson’s descendants, is the oldest penmanship in the college’s substantial collection of antiquarian texts. This holds many of Simpson’s sermons and brings to light not only his own determination and beliefs but also how the sacred word of God was interpreted at that time.


Thomas Simpson, born 1718 ; licen. 1756 by Presb. of Elgin 1st Nov. 1748 ; resided in Banff in 1752 ; pres. to Cromarty by William Urquhart of Meldrum, but call was rejected by the Assembly 29th May 1755 ; ord. here 14th April 1756 ; died 22nd Sept. 1786. He marr. (1) 6th Dec. 1756, Isobel, daugh. of George Mackenzie of Pitlundie and Culbo, and had issue-- William, min. of Strathconan, born 6th Sept. 1757, died 10th May 1799: (2) 4th Jan. 1759, Isobel, daugh. of George Mackenzie of Gruinard and Elizabeth, natural daugh. of Lord President Duncan Forbes of Culloden, and had issue --George born 9th Oct. 1759 ; John, born 14th April 1761 ; Alexander, born 3rd April 1763 ; Jean, born 23rd Dec. 1764, died at Dingwall 31st Oct. 1835 ; Thomas, born 30th Dec. 1766 ; Margaret, born 6th Sept. 1768 ; Roderick born 16th May 1770 ; Duncan, merchant, London, born 12th Aug. 1771, died at Bellevue 15th June 1854 ; Geddes of Tower Street, London, born 4th Feb 1775


[1] Geni (2022) Reverend Thomas Simpson, Minister of the Gospel at Avoch [online]. Available from [22 February 2023]

[2]  Theological Studies (2023) Rev. Thomas Simpson [1718-1786], Sermons on Natural Unrevealed Religion, Avoch, October 26th 1760 [online]. Available from [22 February 2023]

[3] Google (2023) 57.546734, -4.218088 Moray Firth [online]. Available from  [1 March 2023]

[4] Geni (2022) Isobel Mackenzie, primus [online]. Available from [22 February 2023]

[5] Geni (2022) Isobel Mackenzie, secundus [online]. Vailable from [22 February 2023]

[6]   Simpson, A. (1845) The Life and Travels of Thomas Simpson, the Artic Discoverer. London: Richard Bentley of Burlington Street (Title Page)

[7]    Simpson, A. (1845) The Life and Travels of Thomas Simpson, the Artic Discoverer. London: Richard Bentley of Burlington Street (p3)

[8] Simpson, Rev. T. (1760) Sermons on Natural Unrevealed Religion [online]. Available from [22 February 2023]


The Internet Archive