Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. I.

The Free Church of Scotland can boast many great men in its history. Like many Churches, it can also point to 'obscure men', and to men who, though well known in their day, are now all but forgotten.
Such was Dr. Donald Fraser of Montreal, Inverness and Marylebone, London. Yet Fraser lived in an important time. Born in 1826, he died in 1892. We feel that we may learn a lot from this man.

Donald Fraser was born in the city of Inverness on 15th January, 1826, son of a wealthy and merchant and ship-owner who was a true Christian and firmly attached to that true Christianity that is often nicknamed Calvinism. His mother, Lillias Fraser, was the daughter of Rev. Donald Fraser, the evangelical Church of Scotland pastor of Kirkhill, near Inverness. While she died when Donald Fraser was quite young, his grandfather Donald Fraser 'Kirkhill', as he was known, was a major influence in his life. Named for 'Kirkhill, young Donald was often exhorted to walk in the footsteps of his eminent grandfather. The thought sometimes overwhelmed him, and he felt in his heart that he would never be a minister.
His father distrusted the public schools and instead hired private tutors for his children, a method that had many advantages, not least allowing the children to learn at their own rates. Donald Fraser was a bright boy. He began Latin at the age of six and Greek at ten. Before the age of twelve he was a student at Aberdeen university, a state of affairs he though 'almost absurd' when he looked back on it.
His father moved to Canada about this time, as Commissioner for the British-American Land Corporation, but Donald Fraser remained in Aberdeen until he gained his M.A. at the age of sixteen. Looking back, Fraser lamanted the time he had wasted at university, though his sins had been limited to those which a well brought-up boy in his early teens is capable of - for example he wasted a lot of time by theatre-going.
At the age of sixteen Donald Fraser was faced with the choice of a profession. His father longed to see him follow in the footteps of his grandfather and namesake 'Kirkhill', but Donald preferred the idea of a legal careet - something his father was set against. So Donald Fraser resolved to go into business, and to this end he set out for his father's home of Canada. In 1842 the colony offered many opportunities for bright British young men, so Fraser's move was sensible.
The journey was not easy. He sailed on the 400 ton brig 'Retrench' with only one other cabin passenger and one steerage passenger. Although the captain was a good man, the first mate was addited to alcohol and the second had not been to sea for years. Fraser once found himself helping the captain to put down an attempted mutiny!
After seven weeks of storms and unrest among the crew, the battered vessel arrived in Quebec. The 'Retrench' never crossed the Atlantic again, she was lost with all hands on the return voyage.
So Donald Fraser found himself in Canada. What he did there we shall see, God willing, next time.



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