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Robert Rennie, the only Scotsman who has made peat moss his special study, was a native of the parish of Kilsyth. He was wont to boast of the number of his relations in his own parish. He studied at the University of Glasgow, and was a diligent and painstaking student. In 1786 the university awarded him a silver medal for the best Latin disquisition on the miracles of our Lord as confirmatory of our faith in Him. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Paisley, the 26th September, 1787. To his native parish he was presented by George III., on the 4th July, 1789, and ordained on the 3rd September of that year. He was deservedly popular, and the exception which proves the rule, that a prophet is not without honour saving in his own country and amongst his own kindred. He was a man of a gentle nature and of a retiring studious habit. He loved to spend his leisure in his study, and amongst his books, or in his garden, carrying on his little experiments with soils and peats. A square, stoutly-built man, of average height, he loved a gaine at quoits with his friends, but this was his only active recreation. On the 22nd October, 1793, he married Barbara Black, the fourth daughter of Sir John Stirling of Glorat, the grandfather of the present baronet, Sir Charles G. F. Stirling. She was born in 1777. Barbara must consequently have been married at the early age of sixteen years. In the seven years of their married life there was the following family :-Margaret; then Alexander Howe and Glorosna, twin children; and, lastly, Maria Jane. Mrs. Rennie died the 23rd July, 1800. The only son by this marriage, Alexander Howe Rennie, became a physician of very considerable distinction. He attended William Wilberforce, the Rev. Edward Irving, and George Canning in their last illnesses. He married Mary Helen, third daughter of John Anderson of Glads.
wood. In 1834 he removed from Hartford Street, Mayfair, to Alresford, Hants. Having been thrown from his horse, he died, in consequence of the injuries received, on the roth February, 1838. Maria, the last surviving member of this family, died at Glorat Cottage, Campsie, in 1885. On the 30th December, 1802, Dr. Rennie married again Isabella Auchinloss or Mathie, a widow with a large family, some of whom were married. By this · marriage there were born a son and daughter; the latter was born in 1806, and became the wife of Thomas Alexander, manufacturer, Dunfermline.
There are many evidences which go to prove that Dr. Rennie was an exceedingly faithful pastor, that his ministry was energetic and successful, and that the parishioners of Kilsyth had good reason for holding him, as they did, in the very highest regard. In the course of his ministry there came two seasons of great destitution, and in both Dr. Rennie laboured with the utmost zeal for the alleviation of the distress. During the first, which took place in 1801, a society was formed for the purpose of providing seed and necessaries to the destitute at a cheap rate. The intromissions of this society amounted to the respectable sum of £ 1007 6s. 4fd. In 1820, the second time of distress, Dr. Rennie established a soup kitchen, which was continued as long as was necessary. The sum expended was £168 145. 2d., and the ingredients of the soup are preserved with as much care as if it had been a chemical preparation. Irregular marriages were greatly prevalent during Dr. Rennie's incumbency: Hardly a session meeting took place without some cases appearing in the minutes. The parties appear to have been fined in small sums: The outbreak of irregular marriages was not confined to Kilsyth. They were so numerous in other parishes that the Assembly had to issue instructions to sessions as to how they were to be dealt with. In the days of Robe there were 200 communicants in the parish: During the ministry of Dr. Rennie this number had risen to 515. But the pastorate of Dr. Rennie not only bridged over the 18th and 19th centuries, but also united the old church in the graveyard with the new parish church in the town. Towards the close of the last century the pressure on the space of the old building became exceedingly great. On Sabbath, the 3rd March, 1799, just before public worship, two parishioners fought for the possession of a pew. The heritors regarded the state of matters with indifference. Dr. Rennie called a meeting. None of the old heritors appeared, only one or two feuars. But the minister was not to be baffled by the policy of non-appearance. He took the matter to the presbytery, and the present parish church so deservedly admired for the exterior propriety of its architectural proportion is a standing memorial of faithfulness to trust, and the fearless discharge of duty in the face of surrounding difficulties. I cannot say what became of the old bell. There is a tradition that it was transferred to Colzium. If this was so, it could not have swung long in the belfry of the old church, as the Colzium bell bears upon it the following inscription :-“GEORGE III. REX. KILSYTH, 1794. PROCUL ESTO PROFANI.” Of the work of the Holy Spirit during the ministry of Robe, Dr. Rennie left a brief, but most carefully written and sympathetic account.
Dr. Rennie's great work, “Essays on the Natural History of Peat Moss,” was published at Edinburgh, by Archibald Constable. It is in three volumes. The first was published in 1807, and is dedicated to "The President and other Members of the Board of Agriculture, as a humble testimony of the high sense the author entertains of their patriotic exertions in promoting the interests of agriculture and the improvement of the British Empire.” The second was published in 1810, and is dedicated "To His Grace the Duke of Athole, the President and the other Members of the Highland Society of Scotland, as a small tribute of the author's esteem and gratitude, and a humble testimony that they were the first in Britain to call the attention of the public to the natural history and origin of peat moss, and the important economical purposes to which it may be made subservient.” This work has now become exceedingly rare, but both these volumes are lying before me as I write these pages ; also an epitome of the third, from which a fairly just view of its contents may be obtained.
The first volume contains a spirited introduction to the work, and two essays on the ligneous and aquatic plants from which moss is formed. When we recollect that in Ireland alone one-seventh of the whole island, or 2,830,000 acres, is moss, we at once recognise the importance of the problem with which Dr. Rennie attempts to grapple. But whilst Ireland is an outstanding illustration, in the various countries of Europe there are enormous deposits of peat moss. Hatfield Moss, in England, contains 180,000 acres. In France the moss at the inouth of the Loire is 50 leagues in circumference. The moss of Bremerford, near Bremen, is 60 miles long by 15 miles broad. In Holland, Germany, Poland, Prussia, Sweden, and Russia, there are mosses double and treble the size of that near Bremen. Nor is it to be supposed that these mosses are like the alluvial deposits on the surface of the earth, merely a foot or two in thickness; so far from that being the case, they are for the most part from 20 to 50 feet in depth. When the Forth and Clyde Canal was made, the engineer found the
thickness of the mossy strata of Dullatur Bog to be 53 feet. The associations of the boy often colour and give direction to the thoughts of the man. This being the case, may it not have been that the wonder excited in his mind by this moss, when he played about its margin as a boy, directed the speculations and peculiar studies of Dr. Rennie's manhood ? Flanders Moss, through which the Forth flows, and which extends to the east of Gartmore for several miles, is the only other moss in the neighbourhood which, from its extent, might be calculated to stir the awakening faculties of a young natural philosopher. That Dr. Rennie's mind was deeply moved by the subject is evident from the long years he bestowed on its study, and from such a passage as this, which we find in the introduction to his work :-"Is it not then astonishing, and is it not to be lamented, that a subject of such national importance has hitherto been so shamefully neglected ? Is it not a reproach to every nation in Europe? And ought not every potentate of these vast dominions to blush at the recollection? Shall they spend the treasure and blood of their subjects in the wild schemes of ambition, in seeking to extend their dominions and aggrandise their nation and their name by new conquests, while kingdoms lie uncultivated in their own empires, and millions of acres of their richest valleys lie as a useless waste? If but one ten thousandth part of the treasures wasted in one campaign were devoted to the improvement of these uncultivated regions, then might the wilderness be made to smile, and the desert to bud forth and blossom as the rose.”
The second volume consists of seven essays. In the first he gives account of the changes through which vegetable matter passes in the process of conversion into peat moss, and in the second he describes the sub