Among the many notable results of this wave of revival in the north of Scotland were the famed Huntly gatherings, held successively in the summers of 1860, 1861, and 1862. The idea, doubtless, originated with the Duchess of Gordon; and the meetings were held in a park forming part of her own lovely home at Huntly. I conclude this chapter with an account of the gatherings of 1860 from the graphic pen of Mr. Gordon Forlong:—
"Early on Wednesday, 25th July 1860, long and heavily-laden railway-trains were rolling towards Huntly, room the north, but more from the south. The banks of the railways resounded that morning with songs of praise—you could seldom hear the railway-guard's whistle, so loud was the sound of praise. It must have been a new thing to any unconverted railway officials to find a multitude of the Lord's people, rich and poor, turning the railway carriages into churches. Arrived at the spot, we found that the Duchess of Gordon had set apart for the meetings a large park in the Huntly grounds, with five or six tents on it. One tent was very large, capable, should the weather be unsuitable, of containing a thousand people; but it was not required. The Lord heard and answered many prayers, and both Wednesday and Thursday were beautiful days.
"About a thousand were seated together in the base of a large natural amphitheatre; and as the inhabitants of Aberdeen and smaller towns, and the peasantry of the surrounding country, poured in, they encircled the children, and formed large groups, seated each one higher than the others, whilst hundreds of those who arrived later in the day stood along the circular ridge, and easily heard every word uttered by the preachers from the platform beneath. It rejoiced one's heart to see about four thousand souls gathered to hear God's glad tidings; and God's own truth was preached by all.
"Spiritual power and faithfulness marked the addresses of Reginald Radcliffe, George Campbell of Aberdeen, James Smith of Greyfriars, Captain Trotter, Moody Stuart, and others also, some of whom I did not hear. The large tent received inquirers all Tuesday and part of Wednesday; and the work there on Thursday was a glorious labour of love— the Spirit's ministration of glad tidings to numbers who came seeking rest for their wounded souls. About forty believers, men and women, were there, ministering to the anxious all day; Gardner of New Deer, Macdonald of Rossie, North, Radcliffe, Fisher of New Leeds, Moody Stuart, Dr. David Brown, Mudie of Montrose, Johnstone of Fettercairn, Reid of The British Messenger and others, whose names I do not remember. Here and there you would see a young man earnestly pleading with two others; three women on their knees, one of them pleading with God; a mere boy trying to lead another boy to Jesus; ten or twelve men gathered round some Christian, who is struggling to make Jesus' work clear to them as a finished work for the hungry; and others with anxious eyes waiting to be spoken to. One or two of the churches in Huntly were opened when the meeting broke up in the evening, and I am told there was good work done in them also.
"On Thursday evening, at seven o'clock, the railway station was densely packed on both sides; and I could not help contrasting the crowd with ordinary crowds. There was a large proportion of God's salt amongst the people; and as they waited for the train, hundreds opened up their Bibles, and about a thousand or fifteen hundred voices were engaged in singing our metrical Scotch psalms. The young men from Aberdeen were not far away from me, and their bright, joyous faces, as they sang, told the tale of the new heart. The singing was not melodious; but the Lord, I am sure, heard much praise there, and I question whether any other railway station ever so rang with heartfelt praise. A long line of carriages came up, but they were immediately filled to overflowing. A train of cattle trucks then turned out, and they also filled. As our engine moved slowly away with its long, heavy load, songs of praise again rose from the various carriages. I found many Christians in the compartment I was in, and I am convinced that this great gathering included a large proportion of saints."
From 'Recollections of Reginald Radcliffe,' p87-9
The Huntly meetings were, through the blessing of God, all that could be desired; if possible, more remarkable than those of last year, for the numbers attending, the solemnity, and the results. The first day (Wednesday) was rainy almost all through. It was at first a trial of faith when we awoke in the morning, and saw the earth all wet and the heavens dark and lowering. But I for one was enabled on the instant to say in my heart, this also shall work for good; and on comparing notes with others, I found that their experience had been the same. And so it proved. We had a very large marquee, holding 1600, ready pitched. It belonged to the late Duke of Richmond, who was a paternal landlord and was accustomed yearly to gather his numerous tenantry under its roof and hold friendly fellowship. His son walks in his footsteps and kindly gave the use of it. The people crowded into it and stood with their umbrellas round the outside. Then the Duchess's schools close by were filled and at last the church. There was deep impression during the day, and many true awakenings and finding of peace in Jesus. The next day (Thursday) was a glorious day, bright and unclouded all through. The crowds gathered in from all the north, from Aberdeen on the one hand and Inverness on the other, and even from regions beyond. It was a magnificent sight, for I think a crowd of our fellow Creatures is the most solemn and interesting of all spectacles. The military men, of whom there were several with us, such as General Anderson, the Chairman, Colonel Davidson, Colonel Ramsay, Major Gibson, and others, reckoned the numbers in the assemblage round the platform, forming a natural amphitheatre, at the very least 10,000; but there were more at different parts of the day. The addresses were most solemn, earnest, and powerful, and soon the marquee was crowded with the anxious and inquiring. After two or three brief addresses they were separated, and spoken within small groups or individually. At night, as the multitudinous railway trains left the station, going north and south, it was quite overpowering to hear the outbursts of sacred melody, like the sound of many waters, accompany their progress as they moved on. I believe the whole north will be benefited by these blessed gatherings.
From The 'Revival' Newspaper Volume v p13.
Fourteen years have now swept along the course of time since open-air religious gatherings were inaugurated at Huntly. The proposal to hold such meetings emanated from the fertile mind of our deceased townsman Mr Duncan Matheson and was most cordially entertained by the good Duchess of Gordon to whom the suggestion was first made and warmly supported by Rev Mr Williamson, the then minister of Huntly Free Church, now of Fisherwick Place Church, Belfast. So heartily did the Duchess enter into the matter, that, she not only took on herself the whole of the expenses connected with the meetings but also undertook the no little share of the burden of correspondence connected with the securing a supply of suitable speakers for the occasion.
The place of meeting fixed upon was the Castle Park in the rear of the Gordon Schools and no more suitable ono more or appropriate spot could have been found. The platform was erected, as it has been at all the meetings since in front of a gently rising ground, on which the thousands took their seats. The two days meetings held in July 1860, were a great success, and but few would venture to deny that a mighty tidal wave of revival was sent over the North, and especially among the many parishes forming the extensive and important district of which Huntly is the capital and centre. The meetings were continued in 1861, 1862, and 1863, with increasing interest every year. People flocked from far and near and the annual gatherings in the Castle Park were looked forward to with much interest and came to be in many quarters recognized as one of the standing institutions in the North, numbers attending generally being estimated at 7000. On the 31st of January 1863, Elizabeth Brodie, Duchess of Gordon, was taken to a better world, and, to the regret of multitudes, the annual Huntly meetings ceased to exist.
In 1872, after a lapse of nine years, the meetings were revived, under the management of some of the ministers in the town, and a number of office-bearers and laymen, who had agreed that circumstances seemed to warrant a resuscitation of the annual gatherings.
The attendance in 1872 and last year, though far from being so great as in former times, was nevertheless encouraging, and it can scarcely be called in question that, from the many excellent and telling addresses which were delivered on these occasions, by some of the most eminent, faithful, and pious ministers in the North, there were some good results- more than will be known until the time when all things shall be revealed.
We have deemed it proper to preface our report of this year’s meetings with the above outline of the origin and history of the evangelistic meetings formerly held at Huntly, as it would appear that hopes are being entertained – and which, we trust, may be fully realised-that from the recent gathering, we may date the commencement of a new era in the history of evangelistic work in Huntly.
As soon as it became known that the services of the distinguished American evangelists had been by a concurrency of influence secured, a largely increased attendance from anything ever seen in Huntly before was everywhere confidently expected. Nor was the expectation disappointed. Some parties actually arrived of Saturday, worshipped in our churches on the Sabbath and attended the preparatory meetings. At an early hour on Monday, the people from neighbouring parishes came flocking in from all directions. All sorts of vehicles brought their living freights of both sexes, and the number of pedestrians from neighbouring localities was altogether unprecedented. The village of Aberchirder almost emptied itself, and we understand the same can be said of many of the fishing villages along the coast, the exodus from which was so great that the powers and resources of the “innocent railway” were most severely tasked and on the return journey the train had to be cut in two; the half of the passengers being left to enjoy (TO FINISH)
“The Christian” July 16th, 1874.
The Gatherings took place in this field which is in front of the Castle ruin.