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Fri 13 December 2019
Rev. John MacRae was born in 1794 and became a Minister of the Church of Scotland in 1830. In 1843 he became one of the signatories to the Disruption, the members of which marched out of the Annual Assembly to form the Free Church.

He was a big strong man of 6 feet 6 inches and was known as MacRath Mor (Big MacRae). During his ministry in Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis, it is said the he regularly attracted one thousand people to his outdoor meetings and that his voice could be heard clearly from a great distance.

A book entitled “Big MacRae” written by Dr. G.N.M. Collins in 1976 records an occasion when MacRae, while at Stornaway stocking up food for the winter, was visiting the fish curer to purchase a barrel of salt herrings, a popular standby for winter fare in those days. The fish curer told him that he knew that he was regarded as the Samson of Lewis an told him the barrel of herrings was his for nothing if he could carry it away in his arms. The salesman’s challenge cost him more than he bargained for as a second barrel of herring stood by the one John MacRae has wanted to purchase. Encircling each barrel with a powerful arm, he lifted them and made off with them to the amazement and delight of his challenger.

Rev. MacRae’s parish on Lewis was widespread and he did much of his visiting of his flock by boat, sailing from one loch to another. His manse was Stornaway, where he had an assistant by the name of Farquhar. Local stories recall that Rev. Farquhar, on hearing that Big MacRae was to visit a family by the name of McKenzie at Bayble that day, asked if he would be so kind as to put in a word for him to one of the daughters of the McKenzie household, one Penelope. This he subsequently did but the lady showed little interest. Instead, she replied “But what about yersel’, hae ye nothing to say for yersel’. Penelope McKenzie subsequently became Big MacRae’s wife.

Betty Rapson and Molly De Filippi

This article was written jointly by sisters Betty Rapson and Molly De Filippi for the Clan MacRae Society of New Zealand before Betty passed away in September 2007.

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