Malcolm MacColl

Malcolm MacColl (27 March 1831 – 5 April 1907),[1] British clergyman and publicist, was the son of a poor Scottish crofter or labourer in Glenfinnan who died when his son was still a boy. Despite this difficult beginning, MacColl's intellectual exertions enabled himself - and his younger brother Hugh (see below) - to succeed in obtaining an education of sorts. MacColl claimed Jacobite descent and seems to have espoused High Anglican theological beliefs from a very early age. His native language was Scots Gaelic.

MacColl won a place at Trinity College, Glenalmond, for the Scottish Episcopal ministry. He was ordained a priest of the Episcopal Church in 1857. In May 1858 he approached William Ewart Gladstone in a letter warning him about measures against High Church bishops in the Scottish Episcopal Church, but also alluded to his own extremely precarious financial circumstances.**

MacColl tenaciously refused to let this correspondence die and eventually managed to meet Gladstone. From this slender beginning there developed a lifelong friendship and political alliance. Throughout the rest of MacColl's life, Gladstone secured preferment, most of it fairly modest, for his protégé. However MacColl never rose very high in the Anglican Church, mainly, no doubt, because of his refusal to compromise his Anglo-Catholic theological views. Gladstone's first piece of assistance was to facilitate the young MacColl's transfer from Scotland to London and the Church of England. MacColl was received as a priest of the Church of England in 1859, and then entered on a succession of curacies in the Church of England, in London and at Addington, Bucks. He also served between 1864 and 1867 as the Chaplain of the British Embassy in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Naples.

After his arrival in London, MacColl began to publish articles immediately, writing with increasing proficiency. His earliest writings were almost entirely on ecclesiastical and theological matters. In 1875, he published a blockbuster on disputes within his church entitled "Lawlessness, Sacerdotalism and Ritualism". It was an extremely skilful attack on the Protestant establishment in the Church of England and made his name.

Most of MacColl's writings centre on the question of the "Real Presence" of the Blessed Sacrament and the related issue of Apostolic succession of clergy. Despite limited knowledge of foreign languages, he also maintained contact with continental Roman Catholic dissidents after the First Vatican Council, such as the Croatian, Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer of Diakova, and Dr Ignaz von Döllinger in Munich, acting as a discreet intermediary between them and Gladstone.

Both Strossmayer and Dollinger were strongly interested in the "Eastern Question" and the ending of Turkish rule in the Balkans. This, as well as similar currents of opinion in the Liberal Party, may have been responsible for MacColl's own interest in combatting Turkish political power during the last three decades of his life. From 1876 onwards, MacColl was an active defender of the Christian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire, writing a series of vitriolic attacks on Turkey and its friends in Britain in letters to newspapers, articles in reviews, and publishing several books. All of these productions were closely researched, usually relying on British "Blue Book" collections of consular despatches, though always written with an eye to making a case for the prosecution.

In August 1876, soon after the exposure of the killings of up to 15,000 Bulgarians the previous spring by Circassian irregulars in the Ottoman army, MacColl and Canon Liddon of St. Paul's travelled to Vienna and Serbia on a fact-finding tour. During a boatride on the River Sava, then the frontier between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire, the two clergymen claimed to have seen an impaled human corpse. Though their testimony could not be independently confirmed, and was challenged by the local British Consul who suggested that the object in question might have been only a bag of beans, MacColl and Liddon used this sighting as proof of the iniquity of Turkish rule in the Balkans. This fitted in with a theme in their sermons that those in Britain (such as Gladstone's arch-opponent Benjamin Disraeli) who did not actively oppose Turkish rule were themselves guilty of its sins.

In his private correspondent with Gladstone after the Bulgarian atrocities, MacColl urged the Liberal leader to denounce the Ottomans and is perhaps partly responsible for the powerful speeches Gladstone made on the issue in the last months of 1876 and early 1877.

MacColl published two major works during these years on the issue himself. "The Eastern Question: Its Facts and Fallacies" appeared in the spring of 1877 and ran through five editions. "Three Years of the Eastern Question" followed in the early autumn of 1878 immediately after the Congress of Berlin had ended.

After returning to power Gladstone rewarded MacColl with the living of St. Georges, Botolph Lane, in 1871, and with a canonry of Ripon in 1884. The latter posting aroused the active opposition of Queen Victoria who had not forgotten or forgiven MacColl's virulent campaign against the Ottoman Empire in 1876-78 after the 'Bulgarian Agitation'.

The living at Ripon was practically a sinecure. MacColl maintained a large house at Kirby Overblow, south of Harrogate, and continued to devote himself to political pamphleteering and newspaper correspondence, the result of extensive European travel, a wide acquaintance with the leading personages of the day, strong views on ecclesiastical subjects from a high-church standpoint, and particularly on the politics of the Eastern Question, the uprising in Crete, then still an Ottoman province, the cause of the Armenians and Islam.

In the first years of the twentieth century, MacColl was an active opponent of Muslim spokesmen such as Syed Ameer Ali and the Turkish writer Halil Halid and sometimes admonished them on doctrinal points of their religion, arguing for instance that the Sultan of Turkey was not the Caliph of all Muslims. He was on close terms with the King of Greece, George I, and leaders of the Armenian movement and during the Turkish-Greek War of April 1897, he visited Athens to confer with the King, conveying the monarch's private views both to Gladstone and also to the Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury.

In 1904 MacColl married Consuelo Albinia Crompton-Stansfield. He died in London on 5 April 1907. In his will, MacColl left his library to the Gladstone collection at Hawarden.

MacColl had a younger brother, Hugh MacColl. Early on in their friendship, he had tried to persuade Gladstone to pay for Hugh to be educated at Oxford. However this project was frustrated when Hugh refused to agree to become an Anglican priest as Gladstone insisted and so went without a university education. Despite this setback, Hugh MacColl nevertheless became one of the most significant figures in the history of symbolic logic before Gottlob Frege.


  1. ^ Lee, Sidney, ed. (1912). "MacColl, Malcolm" . Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). 2. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 508.

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