Reverend William Meldrum
Narrated by Lynn Crowe
Spirit Walk at Crown Cemetery
September 17, 2012.
Rev. William Meldrum was the first minister at Duff's church and his life story is intertwined
with the founding of Duff's Church.
In 1830, Puslinch was an almost unbroken forest, the first settlers having arrived just the year
before. There was no church or minister or burial ground and the lack was sorely felt. Thomas
Wardrope was one community leader who led the people in services in peoples homes, barns, or
in the open air As more settlers arrived, the wish for a church grew, and the people petitioned
the Crown Lands Department for land to build a church. About 1837, the Front half of Lot 28,
Concession. 8, 100 acres, was granted to the Presbyterians of Puslinch for a church and
The land secured, people then got together to build a log "meeting house". It was about 10 feet
inside the present memorial gates. Funds were raised by the community. Alexander McLean and
Malcom McNaughton, two of the builders, constructed two of the corners of the building. An
acre of ground around the church was also cleared as a burial ground.
In 1837, the congregation was officially organized, but as yet there was no permanent minister.
Permanent ministers were few and far between in the backwoods of Upper Canada. Many of
them were 'circuit' ministers, looking after several congregations and making their rounds
between them every few weeks. A visiting minister from Guelph conducted the first church
service in 1839, giving Communion to 81 people .
Mr. Gordon of Badenoch had known William Meldrum in Scotland, and put his name forward
as a candidate for this ministry. William Meldrum had just graduated from college. An
invitation was sent off he accepted, and came out to Puslinch in November 1839. This was his
first charge His stipend was 100 pounds a year. He delivered his first sermon in Gaelic, basing
it on 1st Corinthians, Chapter 2: Verse 2, "for I determined not to know any thing among you
save Jesus Christ, and him crucified". The congregation grew, and in 1840, the building was
enlarged to twice its size. Thus, ten years after the arrival of the first settlers, a church had been
built, then enlarged, and a permanent minister engaged.
In 1843 the Great Disruption in the Church of Scotland took place and its effects were felt across
the sea in Puslinch. Puslinch Presbyterian Church was part of the established Church of
Scotland, but in 1844 at a Synod meeting, a motion to cut ties with the Church of Scotland
passed, because: " the Established Church of Scotland hath sold her birth-right, and become so
low and despicable as not to hold Christ as her Head, as her actions do clearly prove". Rev.
Meldrum supported the motion and the Puslinch congregation was also unanimous in its support
of this resolution. Thus the Free Presbyterian Church of Canada was formed.
By its secession from the established Church of Scotland, the Free Presbyterian Church of
Canada forfeited its right to church property, but since there was no one to object, they continued
to use church buildings. As well, the Free Church Synod no longer had a claim to the proceeds
of the Clergy Reserves and was short of funds, so each church had to find the money to pay its
own minister. But the Free Church kept going, thanks to the generosity of its congregations.
William Meldrum was born in 1806 on the family farm in the parish of Abernathy, Morayshire,
Scotland. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1839, and was preparing for a
ministry nearby when he got the invitation from Puslinch. He felt he'd be more useful here, so
he decided to emigrate instead. He arrived in Puslinch in November 1839, and since there was
no manse built yet, boarded at the home of Peter McLean of Badenoch.
One day he was approached by a young man for advice as to whether Anna McLean, Peter's
youngest daughter, would make a good wife. Anna was a pretty and popular member of the
congregation, and Rev. Meldrum assured him that she would indeed make a good wife – but it
was Rev. Meldrum himself who married Anna, on Christmas Day, 1845. He was 39, and Anna
He bought a farm on the east half of Lot 33, Front Concession 8 and they started their family.
They had ten children, the first, Norman, was born in 1847, the last, Alexander, was born in
1869, Anna having then spent twenty-two years bearing children, as many women did at that
In addition to his duties at Duff's Church, Rev. Meldrum also briefly served in Nassagaweya ,
the West Puslinch church, (Crieff) and in Beverley every third Sunday. He used to travel about
dressed in white moleskin overalls that buttoned up the side top to bottom. He was a good judge
of horseflesh and enjoyed a speedy mount.
He was called to Vaughan Township, York County in 1852 and served there for five years. He
had an accident while in Vaughan; his horse fell on him and he had three ribs broken and was
bruised all over. Saying he had never missed a Sabbath, he carried on, though he was forced to
preach sitting down for a while.
He kept "Melbank", the farm which he had bought on Concession 8, but it was several years
before the family returned to Puslinch. From Vaughan, Rev. Meldrum was called to Zorra
Township between Ingersoll and Woodstock, in 1852. He served there until he retired in 1871
at the age of 65 years. Then the family returned to Puslinch and his son George took over the
responsibility of the farm. George Meldrum was on Puslinch Council for four years, Reeve in
1905, then Township Clerk and active in township associations for many years. He later served
as alderman in the city of Guelph.
Reverend Meldrum spoke with a strong North-Eastern Scottish accent. He was fluent in Gaelic
and even his English sermons were influenced by Gaelic ways of thought. He was strongly
conservative even by 1800's Presbyterian standards. He was particularly strict about observing
the Sabbath. On Sundays, only one pitcher of water could be brought into the house from the
spring 100 yards away. In addition to church services, family worship was held three times on
Sunday, and his children had to repeat the shorter Catechism by memory. They were required to
repeat all the Psalms in metre. He would sit with eyes closed, and if anyone faltered,
administered a rap with his cane. Sometimes he paced up and down the room as the children
recited their verses. Yet despite being a strict disciplinarian, he was kind and tender to his family.
Out of the pulpit, he was an affable and genial sort of gentleman.
Under Rev. William as Moderator and Session Clerk, strict adherence to Presbyterian principals
was kept in the community. A man who wanted his baby baptized was told by Rev. Meldrum
that it could not be done, because he did not observe the Sabbath. The man protested that he was
a malt maker which required his attention seven days a week and he was forced to violate the
Sabbath. He was called before the Session and had to confess his guilt as a transgressor,
condemn his former practice and promise to forsake his wicked ways, keep the Lord's Day, or he
would be refused the sacraments.
Reverend Meldrum was very methodical. He always kept his silver coins in one pocket and the
copper ones in another. He washed his hands before his face always. He kept track of every
penny. He read the Old and the New Testaments alternately. He believed strongly in temperance
and observing the fourth Commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy.
Once he consulted his congregation as to whether it preferred that he choose his texts from the
Bible in the usual way, or choose continuous texts from one particular book in the Bible.
When the latter was chosen, he preached for several years from the Book of Isaiah without any
sign of finishing it. He was surprised when people finally objected, saying he was just doing as
they had asked!
He was long remembered for his public prayers in which he quoted Scripture in his slow and
awe-inspiring Gaelic fashion, "Thou magnifiest thyself above all that is written. Thou art a terror
to evil doers and a praise to them that do well".
Reverend Meldrum died in 1889 age 83, of what was described in the 1800's as apoplexy. On
his deathbed he led the family in prayer, with one of his sons conducting the reading and singing.
His wife Anna lived on for another 19 years, and died in 1908. They are both buried here in
Of his ten children one became a farmer and local politician, three became doctors, two became
teachers, one a barrister and magistrate. One child died at the age of one year and one married a
minister. Several of the children and grandchildren of William and Anna Meldrum are buried in
Crown cemetery but today, we know of no Meldrum descendants living in Puslinch.
(information from Puslinch Historical Society archives)
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