Papers of Thomas Guthrie, D.D. (1803-1873)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-351
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      7 letters, 2 drawings, 1 photograph, 1 etching, 1 note, 1 printed article, 1 autograph.
  • Location
      Gen. 863/7, f.37; Gen. 1731 Guthrie; Gen. 1790, nos. 39, 40-43, 284; Gen. 1981/135; Gen. 1801/5/16; Dc.3.87, p.17; Dk.8.4/3 p.17

Scope and Content

The collection is composed of correspondence in the form of: a letter to Mr. Marshall, including a photo; letter about articles for a magazine; letter thanking a donation to the Original Ragged Schools; letter to Christopherson; letter to Mr. Cleghorn; an obituary; an engraving of Guthrie; and other miscellaneous letters.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Guthrie was born in Brechin, Angus, on 12 July 1803. He was the son of a trader and banker in the town. Guthrie was educated in Brechin and then studied at Edinburgh University between 1815 and 1825 following arts and linguistics courses, philosophy and mathematics, divinity and biblical criticism, church history, Hebrew, and medical and scientific studies. In 1825 he was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Brechin but was not ordained until 1830. Meanwhile, in 1826 he went to Paris and studied natural philosophy, chemistry and comparative anatomy at the Sorbonne. In 1830 Guthrie was ordained as Minister of Arbirlot, near Arbroath. While there he took a strong interest in the farming and weaving community and established a savings bank, parish library and Sunday school. In 1837 he was ordained as a Minister of Old Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh and in 1840 he was appointed to St. John's parish. His sermons and preaching in the city attracted large congregations at a time of great disruption in the Church of Scotland.

During the Disruption which came to a head on 18 May 1843, Guthrie supported the theologian Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) in his opposition to intrusion by the civil authority into church government and was among over four hundred ministers who seceded from the Church of Scotland to set up the Free Church of Scotland. In 1843, Guthrie became Minister of the Free St. John's Church in the city and set about raising money to build manses (residences) for other Free Church ministers who obviously had to leave their Church of Scotland manses. In one year, he managed to raise one hundred and sixteen thousand pounds.

Apart from his support of Chalmers and his role in church politics, he was an advocate of compulsory education and took a leading part in the call for a national system of education which eventually led to the Scottish Education Act 1872. From his earliest work in Edinburgh among the poorest people living in the city's wynds and closes, Guthrie realised that effort would have to be invested into setting up 'ragged schools'. His Plea for ragged schools (1847) led to their establishment.

Another of Guthrie's causes was that of abstinence, becoming himself a total abstainer in 1844. Through sermons, speeches and pamphlets, a prolonged fight led to the Forbes Mackenzie Act, 1853, which brought Sunday closing to public-houses in Scotland. Guthrie was made Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in 1862. He retired from active work in the Church in 1864 Thomas Guthrie died in Edinburgh on 24 February 1873.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Letter to Mr. Marshall 1858, purchased 1972, Accession no. E72.35. Letters 1866 and 1869, purchased 1970, Accession no. E70.3.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 8. Glover-Harriott. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes also show a reference to a photographic portrait of Guthrie at Gen. 863/7, f.37 (check the Indexes for more details). In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: letters (copies) to Duchess of Argyll, 1850-1873, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MS 3007, also notes, correspondence with A. and C. Black, 1855-1856, letters to J.S. Blackie, 1851-1872, and letters to Lady Emma Campbell, 1849-1856, Ref. Acc 8508 NRA 29218 Campbell; letters (33) to Fox Maule, 1842-1869, National Archives of Scotland, Ref. GD45 NRA 17164 Ramsay see NRA(S)0805, also letters to Elizabeth Sprott, 1844-1849, Ref. GD483 NRA 21901 NAS misc; and letters (c. 25) to Sir George Sinclair, 1851-1858, Private, Ref. NRA(S)0189 NRA 10552 Sinclair.