John Fairbairn (Revd m. WILSON, TURNBULL)1,2,3

(11 Feb 1808 - 3 Apr 1895)
FatherJohn Fairbairn1 (circa 1772 - Jul 1824)
MotherJessie Johnston1 (circa Oct 1781 - Aug 1861)


     John Fairbairn was born on 11 Feb 1808 Greenlaw, Par. of Greenlaw, BEW, SCT.3,4,5 He married Mary Wilson in 1837; ?? the 17 Aug 1837 Glasgow on the igi??1,6 John Fairbairn married Agnes Copland Turnbull, daughter of John Turnbull and Catherine Martin, on 28 Apr 1847 Greenlaw, BEW, SCT.2,3,1
     John Fairbairn died on 3 Apr 1895 Bowmont Villas, Dunbar, ELN, SCT, at age 87;
His dth cert. shows John as Retired Minister of the Free Church (widower, first wife Mary WILSON, second Agnes Turnbull); 87, d. 3:45pm of influenza 14 days, pneumonia 6 days; S/o John FAIRBAIRN farmer and ___ both dec'd; Inf. grddtr J M H Fairbairn (has to be Jessie Mary Wilson FB, but doesn't look like a W), present; Reg. 4th Apr Obit (Free Church Monthly):
Rev John FAIRBAIRN, Greenlaw (Died Apr 3, 1895)
By William ALEXANDER, Esq. Edinburgh
Another of the rapidly-diminishing band of the pre-Disruption ministers has passed away in the person of Mr Fairbairn of Greenlaw. ...
Along with his more distinguished brother, Dr. Patrick Fairbairn, Principal of the Free Church College, Glasgow, he spent his youth at Hallyburton, a farm in the pastoral uplands of Berwickshire, while his two cousins, Dr James Fairbairn of Newhaven and Dr John Purves of Jedburgh, had their homes at farms a few miles further west in the same district.
After attending the parochial school at Greenlaw, he entered the University of Edinburgh in his fourtheenth year, and on completing his arts course, he studied divinity under Drs Ritchie, Lee and Chalmers. During his student days he waited on the ministry of the Rev Dr. Gordon; and if he did not get his first spiritual impluse under the preaching of that eminently godly divine, he at least learned many of the foundation truths of the Christian life on which he was afterwards to be a builder and teacher of others.
The first nine years of Mr Fairbairn's ministry were spent in Canada. The district where he was settled was colonized by operatives from Paisley and Glasgow, who, on account of commercial stagnation at home, had emigrated to the backwoods to earn a livelihood. The district was wide, and there was much difficulty in ministering among such a scattered population. But deep interest in the means of grace began to grow, and in course of time a church and manse were built and elders were ordained. A very warm attachment grew up between minister and people, and much spiritual fruit was gathered while Mr Fairbairn laboured there. In after years his heart was often filled with joy on learning that many of the members of his first flock who claimed him as their spiritual father, "continued to stand fast in the Lord," and that others of them had entered into "the rest that remaineth for the people of God."
When he found it necessary, on account of his wife's health, to contemplate returning to Scotland, a call came to him from the Burgher congregation of Original Seceders at Greenlaw, which had joined the Established Church in 1839. He accepted the call, came home, and was inducted in July 1842. It was a time when ecclesiastical controversy was at its height. On account of his absence during the "ten years conflict", Mr Fairbairn had much to learn as to the state of parties. But his evangelical sympathies were all on the side of spiritual independence, and he had no difficulty in making his choice. His congregation was quite prepared to follow him. At first small in numbers, it soon increased under his earnest ministry, many being attracted from the neighbouring parishes where there was no Free Church. A dead Moderatism had long held sway throughout the district, and the advent of a zealous and faithful minister like Mr Fairbairn, coincident with the stirring era of the Disruption, produced an effect somewhat like the dawn of spring after a long and dreary winter. Mr Fairbairn's preaching was plain and simple but direct. He did not labour after elegance of style or literary grace of language, but he made a diligent study of the choicest words by which he could reach the consciences of his hearers. It was his highest aim to preach Christ, and his greatest reward was seen in the special seasons of grace which followed first in 1861, and again in 1869 when many souls were led into the kingdom.
While ever holding his pulpit and pastoral work as most important, he sought to influence the whole district in various other ways. The power of the press for good or evil deeply exercised him, and he put into circulation by colportage and other means the best religious books and tracts of the time, so as to create a taste for good reading. Seeing the inadequacy of the parish school system to meet the wants of the population, Mr Fairbairn took advantage of the encouragement given to education by the Government in their minute of 1846, got a school built, and had it supplied with teachers for a period of thirty years.
It was given to Mr Fairairn to see during his lifetime many of the results of his labours. Being relieved of the full discharge of his ministerial work by the appointment of the Rev Alexander Cameron as colleague in 1875, and in a few years thereafter retiring altogether from pulpit duty, he enjoyed a long period of rest , during which he had many tokens of God's goodness, and had come to rejoice in the witness borne to him of the blessed effects of his ministry. At his jubilee, in 1883, friends assembled from far and near to do honour to him, and warm and glowing tributes were paid to the labours of his long and useful life.
Removing to Edinburgh about four years ago on account of failing sight and the growing infirmities of age, he continued in the possession of all his mental faculties, and took an active interest in the religious movements of the time. He was keenly opposed to the advanced views on Biblical and kindred subjects, but was always ready to give weighty and intelligent reasons for the positions which he held. His love for the simple word was so great that he learned Moon's system of reading for the blind, and in his later years he might be seen patiently spelling out the sacred text. No wonder that he was repugnant to any encroachment on its authority.
His end was in keeping with his life. He took ill of influenza at Dunbar, where he had been spending the winter. On the day he died , when it was said to him, "We are afraid you are going to be taken from us," he replied, "Ah! but it is to the glory."
Thus, are his spirit quitted its earthly tabernacle, he was eagerly anticipating the celestial vision that was soon to burst upon his view.
Mr Fairbairn was twice married, and leaves only one son, who with his family resides in Queensland.1,3,7,8,9,10 He was buried with Agnes Copland Turnbull Greenlaw, Par. of Greenlaw, BEW, H/stone #198: IMO Agnes Copland TURNBULL wife of the Rev. John Fairbairn Greenlaw died 29.7.1887 aged 76 years also the said Rev. John FAIRBAIRN Minister of the Free Church Greenlaw born 11.2.1808 died 3.4.1895.5
From An Old Berwickshire Town: History of the Town and Parish of Greenlaw, from ... (1905) p196 ff:
Mr Inglis was succeeded by Mr James Young, who was ordained in 1834. During his pastorate — in December 1839 — the congregation joined the Established Church.
Mr Young's stipend was £6o. He resigned his charge in 1841, and shortly afterwards was appointed to a station in Berbicia Demerara. He subsequently returned to Scotland.

In 1842, the congregation called the Rev. John Fairbairn, from Ramsay, Canada West, on the faith of hearing his brother Patrick, then of Salton, afterwards Principal of Glasgow Free Church College, He was inducted in the July of the same year.

The congregation with their minister came out at the Disruption, and joining the denomination which was formed, became the Free Church congregation of the place. Under Mr Fairbairn's ministry the present church and manse were built. The Free Church School was also established, all these being in great measure owing to his liberality and exertions.

In 1883 Mr Fairbairn attained his jubilee, which was celebrated by special services. He removed to Edinburgh in 1891, and he died at Dunbar (to which place he had gone to spend the winter), on the 3rd of April 1895, aged 87 years. He was buried in Greenlaw churchyard. A marble tablet to his memory was placed in the vestibule of the church, by present and past members of the congregation and friends.

Mr Fairbairn was born at Halyburton, parish of Greenlaw, in 1808, being the second son of John Fairbairn, farmer, and of Jessie Johnston, of the Johnstons, farmers, Middlestots. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Cupar, in whose bounds he was at the time residing. He went to Canada in 1833, soon after receiving license, and was settled at Ramsay, from which place he was called to Greenlaw.

Mr Fairbairn was twice married, first to Mary Wilson, daughter of Mr Wilson of Campbell Field, Glasgow, and secondly to Agnes Turnbll, sister of the Rev. John Turnbull, Free Church minister of Eyemouth.
He had one son by his first marriage, John, who emigrated to Queensland, and was in business at Rockhampton.

Rev. Alexander Cameron, M.A. — In November 1875, Rev. Alexander Cameron, M.A., was ordained colleague and successor to Mr Fairbairn, succeeding to the sole charge on the death of Mr Fairbairn.11
The Admin history of the Greenlaw Kirk Session papers held in the NAS (CH2/183 1833-1978) is given as:
"Before the reformation the Church of Greenlaw, sited in the Presbytery of Duns and the Synod of Merse and Teviotdale, belonged to the Abbey of Kelso and was dedicated by David be Bernham in 1242. Ministry at Greenlaw is recorded from 1567 in the person of Charles Home. The old church was almost completely rebuilt in the final years of the 17th cent and a tower was added in 1712, the original purpose of which was to serve as a jail. Greenlaw was united with Greenlaw Fairbairn Memorial on 21 July 1952 , the former Fairbairn Memorial Church was sold in 1973."12


     John Fairbairn was shown as the head of the household in the census of 1851 Free Ch Manse, Greenlaw, BEW, SCT, with Agnes enumerated as FAIRBAIRN: John 43 Minster of Greenlaw Free Ch b Greenlaw; wife Agnes 39 b Ayton, BEW; Children: John 11 scholar b Canada; Nephews: John 10 scholar b Ayton CAN (sic as transcr, not s/o James, Patrick or George - who is he!); John WALKER 8 scholar b Glasgow; Boarder: Francis S BRUCE (M) 15 scholar b East Indies; Servant: LEITCH; MARSHALL.13
     John Fairbairn was shown as the head of the household in the census of 1861 Greenlaw, BEW, with Agnes enumerated as FAIRBAIRN: John 53 Minister of Greenlaw F Ch b Greenlaw; wife Agnes Copland F. 48 ; Sister-n-law Fanny Hoza TURNBULL, 43 b Eyemouth, BEW; Brother-in-law (sic) Patrick FAIRBAIRN 56 Professor fo Divinity at Glasgow F College, b Greenlaw; Servant Jane CRAIG 20 b Eyemouth.14
     John Fairbairn was shown as the head of the household in the census of 1871 Greenlaw, BEW, with Agnes enumerated as FAIRBAIRN: John 63 Minster of Church b Greenlaw; wife Agnes C 59 b Eyemouth; Visitors: James R BAIN, Student of theology Fsp Edin b Montrose, Forfarshire; Alison JOHNSONT 55 55 "interest of money" b Stichill, ROX; Servants: WADDELL; JEFFREY.15
     Rev John Fairbairn was shown as the head of the household in the census of 1881 1 Edinburgh Road (Broomhill Villa), Greenlaw, BEW, SCT, with Agnes enumerated as FAIRBAIRN: John F, 73, Minister of Free Church, b Greenlaw, wife Agnes, 69 b Eyemouth. Cook (Janet PURVES) and housemaid (Agnes PURVES) both b Coldingham.4
     John Fairbairn appeared on the census of 1891 30 Findhorn Pl, Edinburgh St Cuthberts, Dist of Newington, MLN, SCT, enumerated as FAIRBAIRN: Joh 83, Service Minister of Greenlaw Free Ch, b Greenlaw, BEW; Servants: Mary MERCER, ho keeper; Agnes "Sbracken" (assumed to be Strachan), 30 b Swinton BEW.16


Mary Wilson (circa 1813 - Jul 1843)
ChartsLineage 1a2: John & Magdalen (BO) FAIRBAIRN
Last Edited25 Mar 2012


  1. [S1961] Www FAIRBAIRN searches and miscellaneous correspondence by LornaHen (1) GenForum Apr 2001 ex Daniel Felix GOONAN.
  2. [S888] FAIRBAIRN, International Genealogical Index (IGI), Marr. 28 Apr 1847 John FAIRBAIRN & Agnes Copland TURNBULL, batch M17435, Greenlaw, BEW, extracted Feb 1999.
  3. [S1956] Robert S.McCutcheon, "EM Borders/CAI Corres:McCUTCHEON," e-mail to (1), ex Greenlaw MIs Apr 2001.
  4. [S210] 1881 Census transcripts, UK, via Family Search/LDS CDs, Greenlaw, BEW, FHL Film 0224031 GRO Ref Volume 743 EnumDist 2 Page 12, hsehold of John & Agnes FAIRBAIRN, extracted Jan 2000.
  5. [S2849] Elspeth Ewan, MIs: BEW Greenlaw, H/stone #198 Rev John and Agnes Copland (TURNBULL) FAIRBAIRN, extracted May 2009.
  6. [S1960] Sanna F Ross (Gaffney), "EM FAIRBAIRN: Borders ex Sanna G," e-mail to Lorna & GenForum FAIRBAIRN, Marr. 1837 John FAIRBAIRN & Mary WILSON, rcvd Jan 2003.
  7. [S1960] Sanna F Ross (Gaffney), "EM FAIRBAIRN: Borders ex Sanna G," e-mail to Lorna & GenForum FAIRBAIRN, John FAIRBAIRN Free Church Ministers, file rcvd Jan 2003, , extracted Dec 2007.
  8. [S1961] Www FAIRBAIRN searches and miscellaneous correspondence by LornaHen (1) Dth 3 Apr 1895 Rev John FAIRBAIRN of Greenlaw, Dunbar, ELN, from An Old Berwickshire Town: History of the Town and Parish of Greenlaw, from ... (1905), online at, extracted Dec 2009.
  9. [S56] Scottish BMDB entries (from 1855),, Dth 3 Apr 1895 John FAIRBAIRN, Dunbar, ELN 706/00 0025, copy d/loaded Feb 2011.
  10. [S1918] Newspaper clippings, Obit 1 Jun 1895 Rev John FAIRBAIRN, Greenlaw, from "The Free Chrch of Scotland Monthly" (Edinburgh, Scotland) pg 143 "Empire", copy d/loaded Sep 2010.
  11. [S1961] Www FAIRBAIRN searches and miscellaneous correspondence by LornaHen (1) Rev John FAIRBAIRN of Greenlaw, from An Old Berwickshire Town: History of the Town and Parish of Greenlaw, from ... (1905), online at, extracted Dec 2009.
  12. [S2892] National Records of Scotland online at was, 1833-1978 Greenlaw Kirk Session records - FAIRBAIRN Memorial Church, CH2/183, catalogue searched Dec 2009.
  13. [S203] 1851 Census transcripts, Scotland, via, Greenlaw, BEW Par. 743 ED 1 Pg 16 Sched 75, hsehold of John & Agnes FAIRBAIRN, extracted Dec 2007.
  14. [S205] 1861 Census transcripts, Scotland, via, Greenlaw, BEW Reg 743 ED 2 Pg 5 Sched 26, hsehold of John & Agnes Copland FAIRBAIRN, extracted Nov 2007.
  15. [S207] 1871 Census transcripts, Scotland, via, Greenlaw, BEW Reg 743 ED 2 Pg 12 Sched 70, hsehold of John & Agnes C FAIRBAIRN, extracted Dec 2007.
  16. [S212] 1891 Census transcripts, Scotland, via, Edinburgh St Cuthberts, Dist of Newington MLN REg 685/5 ED 98 Pg 3 Sched 15, hsehold of John FAIRBAIRN, extracted Dec 2007.
  17. [S1960] Sanna F Ross (Gaffney), "EM FAIRBAIRN: Borders ex Sanna G," e-mail to Lorna & GenForum FAIRBAIRN, Birth 25 Aug 1837 John s/o Rev John FAIRBAIRN, rcvd Jan 2003.
  18. [S5] online at, Dth 1 Jan 1903 John s/o John FAIRBAIRN & Mary WILSON, reg. QLD 4196 Pg 7873, from Australia Death Index, 1787-1985, extracted Sep 2010.
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