New College Library Donations Register, 1843

At the present moment, however, what is of the most urgent nature, is the establishment of a Library. The students of divinity are deprived of a very great privilege when they are shut out from the University and Divinity Hall Libraries.” (1)

Professor David Welsh spoke these words at first General Assembly of the new Free Church in May 1843,  to an audience of former Church of Scotland ministers and Divinity professors who had walked away from their livelihoods and their homes for the principles of the new Free Church. It was the beginning of New College Library, Edinburgh. This speech was soon to be followed by a flood of donations from supporters, which built the library’s earliest collections. The New College Archives holds a fascinating document, the 1843 Donations Register, which shows how new Free Church supporters  passionately supported the new Library.

New College Library Donations Register 1843-44. AA.2.1.25

New College Library Donations Register 1843-44. AA.2.1.25

Many major library collections begin with the gift of a significant individual to form the basis of the collection. New College Library, while it benefited from significant and special donations, was founded upon many small gifts from many individuals, which are recorded in the Donations Register. By the identity of the donors and the nature of the material they gave we can see how they are trying to make their mark on the reforging of cultural and religious identity that was the new Free Church. Listed donations create a metatext of a community’s vision of what the Free Church should be, from the heritors of the covenanters and Scottish presbyterian tradition such as Knox and Erskine, to more modern works engaging with science and the natural world. Through the library, Free Church donors were both asserting their religious history and recreating their religious identity. By looking in to the Donations Register, we can begin to tell their story.

Between 2013-2016, student volunteers have been working at New College Library to transcribe the entries for the 1843-1844 Donations Register. While the work is still to be completed, data available so far is now accessible via Datashare. Downloadable as an Excel file.

A complete digital version of the 1843-1844 Donations Register is now available via Downloadable as a large pdf file.

(1)Welsh, D., Report of the Committee on Education, in Acts of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland : convened at Edinburgh, May 1843 : with the proceedings of that Assembly, F.C.o.S.G. Assembly., Editor. 1843, Edinburgh : Printed for the Free Church of Scotland by John Greig, Lawnmarket. p. 113-118.