The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge: education, language & governance in the British State and Empire, c.1690–c.1735

Kelly, Jamie J. (2020) The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge: education, language & governance in the British State and Empire, c.1690–c.1735. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.


This is the first dedicated study of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) from its foundation in 1709 down to the outbreak of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. The Society’s founding mission was to set up and maintain schools in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in order to secure the political and ecclesiastical settlement brought about in the wake of the Williamite revolution of 1689–90. In an era when an overwhelming majority of the region’s inhabitants adhered to Catholicism and Episcopalianism, and gave crucial military support to the Jacobite cause, the Society believed that schooling, in English literacy and Presbyterian doctrine, was the means by which hearts and minds would be won for the post-1690 Revolution settlement and, latterly, the British imperial project.

Many scholars have acknowledged the historical importance of the SSPCK. However, present knowledge of the organisation is slanted and partial. The main scholarly treatments in the last generation—by Victor Durkacz and Charles Withers—concentrate upon the SSPCK’s role as an agent of Anglicisation due to its insistence on prioritising English, rather than Gaelic, literacy. This thesis instead approaches the Society from the perspectives of the history of education in Highlands, and governance in the fledgling British state and empire. The aims are twofold – first to come to a better understanding of how the Society operated ‘on the ground’, giving centre stage to its relationship with the Highland communities it sought to affect; second to establish how the SSPCK navigated, and was shaped by, the governing structures of the nascent British state and empire.

It begins by examining the extent and nature of schooling in the Highlands prior to the SSPCK’s intervention, to provide context for how Highland communities would eventually respond to the Society and its schools. It then examines the origins of the Society, tracing developments in the Highlands as well as the Lowlands that led an influential core of Scottish Presbyterians to advocate a national charitable corporation to support Highland education. It then looks closely at the central management and finances of the Society up to 1731, a key juncture that saw the launch of its first American mission and the death of the influential SSPCK secretary John Dundas. Chapters four and five examine the growth and development of Society’s schools from 1709 up to c.1730. Finally, the thesis reconstructs the processes and motivations behind the SSPCK’s earliest missionary endeavours in British North America, gauging its successes and failures, before turning back to the Highlands to consider the perception and impact of the colonial mission on the home front.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Scottish History, British History, Presbyterianism, Education, Schooling, Charity Schools, Gaelic, Governance, Empire, Jacobitism.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D901 Europe (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
L Education > LA History of education
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: MacGregor, Dr. Martin and Spurlock, Dr. R. Scott
Date of Award: 2020
Embargo Date: 11 November 2023
Depositing User: Mr Jamie J Kelly
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81863
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2021 08:34
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2021 08:34
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.81863

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