By the early nineteenth-century,
the old system of parish poor relief could no longer cope with the population
growth and bitter poverty in the cities. A large social underclass emerged with
little or no ties to the conventional church networks. When rural preacher
Thomas Chalmers arrived in Glasgow in 1815 he was shocked. He designed a social experiment in
St John’s parish, which aimed to recreate the community spirit of a rural
parish community within a large industrial city. Chalmers made charity a
neighbourly responsibility and encouraged the poor to become independent by
working hard. Despite achieving some success, many remained poor. Not long
after, the new Scottish Poor Law of 1845 introduced a system whereby local
taxes could be raised to fund poor relief.
As a young parish priest Thomas Chalmers pursued an academic rather than a church career. After a serious illness he returned to preaching with a fervour and intensity that soon won him national fame. When he moved from rural Kilmany to industrial Glasgow in 1815 he was shocked by the appalling poverty he encountered, which he strongly believed was caused by the breakdown of communal responsibility. In a social experiment he denied paupers in his parish institutional poor relief and instead revived traditional community spirit and a duty of care for the poor, whom he encouraged to regain their independence through ‘labour, thrift and temperance’. After this experiment Chalmers quit parish preaching and, in 1843, he led the breakaway group that formed the Free Church.
Born in Perthshire, Thomas Duncan studied law before entering the Trustees' Academy, Edinburgh in 1827 where he trained under William Allan. Primarily a portrait and history painter, many of his subjects were taken from Scottish history, particularly romantic, Jacobite incidents. He was appointed Director of the Trustees' Academy in 1844, after heading up the School of Colour since 1838. Considered to be one of the best painters of his generation, and a particularly fine colourist, his early death from a brain tumour cut short a successful career.