Henry Duncan (minister) bigraphy, stories - Geologists

Henry Duncan (minister) : biography

8 October 1774 - 12 February 1846

Henry Duncan FRSE (8 October 1774 – 12 February 1846) was a Scottish minister, geologist and social reformer. The minister of Ruthwell parish church in Dumfriesshire, he founded the world's first commercial savings bank. He was also an author, publisher and philanthropist.



  • Endnotes:
    • Scott's Fasti, part ii. 626–7
    • Disruption Worthies
    • Life of Henry Duncan, D.D., by his son, Rev. G. J. C. Duncan
    • Pratt's Hist. of Savings Banks
    • Lewin's Hist. of Savings Banks
    • Notice of Dr. Duncan in Savings Bank Magazine, by John Maitland, esq., with note by Dr. Chalmers
    • private information.


Duncan's second wife was Mary Grey, daughter of George Grey of West Ord, sister of John Grey of Dilston, a well-known Northumbrian gentleman (see Memoir by his daughter, Mrs. Josephine Butler), and widow of the Rev. R. Lundie of Kelso. She was a lady of considerable accomplishments and force of character, and author of several books:

  1. "Memoir of the Rev. M. Bruen".
  2. Memoir of Mary Lundie Duncan (her daughter, author of several well-known hymns for children).
  3. Missionary Life in Samoa, being the Life of George Archibald Lundie (her son).
  4. Children of the Manse.
  5. "America as I found it".

Early life

Duncan was born in 1774 at Lochrutton, Kirkcudbrightshire, where his father, George Duncan, was minister. As a boy he met the poet Robert Burns, who visited Lochrutton Manse. Duncan was educated in Dumfries at the Academy. After studying for two sessions at St. Andrews University he was sent to Liverpool to begin commercial life, and under the patronage of his relative, Dr. Currie, the biographer of Burns, his prospects of success were very fair; but his heart was not in business, and he soon left Liverpool to study at Edinburgh and Glasgow for the ministry of the church of Scotland. At Edinburgh he joined the Speculative Society, and became intimate with Francis Horner and Henry Brougham.


The following is a full list of Duncan's publications:

  1. Pamphlet on Socinian controversy, Liverpool, 1791.
  2. Three sermons.
  3. "Essay on Nature and Advantages of Parish Banks", 1815.
  4. Letter to John H. Forbes, esq. [on parish banks, and in answer to his letter to editor of Quarterly Review], 1817.
  5. "Letter to W. R. K. Douglas, Esquire, M.P., on Bill in Parliament for Savings Banks", 1819.
  6. Letter to same advocating abolition of commercial restrictions, 1820.
  7. Letter to Managers of Banks for Savings in Scotland.
  8. The Cottage Fireside.
  9. The Young South Country Weaver.
  10. "William Douglas, or the Scottish Exiles", 3 vols., 1826.
  11. Letter to Parishioners of Ruthwell on Roman Catholic Emancipation, 1829.
  12. 'Presbyter's Letters on the West India Question', 1830.
  13. "Account of the remarkable Runic Monument preserved at Ruthwell Manse", 1833.
  14. "Letters to Rev. Dr. George Cook on Patronage and Calls", 1834.
  15. Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons, 4 vols., 1835–6.
  16. Letter to his flock on the resolutions of the convocation, 1842.
  17. Articles in "Edinburgh Encyclopædia"—"Blair", "Blacklock", "Currie".
  18. Account of tracks and footmarks of animals found in Corncockle Muir ('Transactions Royal Society of Edinburgh', xi.).
  19. Many articles in Edinburgh Christian Instructor.

Ministry and works

In 1798 he was ordained as minister of Ruthwell in Dumfriesshire, where he spent the rest of his life. Duncan from the first was remarkable for the breadth of his views, especially in what concerned the welfare of the people, and the courage and ardour with which he promoted measures not usually thought to be embraced in the minister's rôle. In a time of scarcity he brought Indian corn from Liverpool. At the time when a French invasion was dreaded he raised a company of volunteers, of which he was the captain. He published a series of cheap popular tracts, contributing to the series some that were much prized, afterwards collected under the title The Cottage Fireside. He originated a newspaper, The Dumfries and Galloway Courier, of which he was editor for seven years.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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