The five men shown in the image were Irvine ministers who attended the Disruption Assembly of 1843 in Edinburgh. This is one of the first photographs taken in Scotland – photography was invented only four years earlier in 1839. The Scottish painter and arts archivist David Octavius Hill was present at the Disruption Assembly in 1843 when over 450 ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland General Assembly and down to another assembly hall to found the Free Church of Scotland. He decided to record the dramatic scene with the encouragement of his friend Lord Cockburn and another spectator, the physicist Sir David Brewster, who suggested using the new invention, photography, to get likenesses of all the ministers present. Brewster was himself experimenting with this technology and introduced Hill to another enthusiast, Robert Adamson. Hill and Adamson took a series of photographs of those who had been present and of the setting. The 5 foot x 11 foot painting was eventually completed in 1866.
The Irvine Presbytery group in 1843: (left to right):
Rev Matthew Dickie; Rev David Arthur; Rev Thomas Findlay; Rev David Wilson; Rev David Landsborough.
Rev David Wilson (top right) took most of his congregation with him to the newly-built Fullarton Free Church in 1843, later known as the Wilson Fullarton Church (next to the Mall without the steeple).
The painting of The First General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland signing the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission on 23rd May 1843, by David Octavius Hill, is internationally important as being the first work of art painted with the help of photographic images.
The Irvine ministers can be seen to the right of the right-hand pillar, about 6 people along.
The painting is a commemorative image of the Assembly; Hill depicted 457 people associated with it from a total of 1500 present, 386 of whom signed the Act that day. The painting measures 4′ 8″ x 12′, and took Hill 23 years to complete. It has hung in the Free Presbytery Hall, The Mound, Edinburgh, since 1866.
The Act of Separation and Deed of Demission was the culmination of events where 474 ministers of the Church of Scotland voluntarily gave up their homes and their livings rather than surrender the spiritual independence of their Church. The ministers who had signed it were deemed no longer ministers of the establishment, or entitled to receive a Presentation. They were not, however, deposed.
Hill was qualified for the self-imposed task of depicting the Disruption; being a serious minded Free Churchman, having lived through the Ten Years’ Conflict, and having been an eyewitness of the signing of The Act of Separation and Deed of Demission.
Source: University of Glasgow