The Moray Revivals


This is not a story of one revival, it is the story of four or five within fifteen years, or is it in fact just one revival? The story begins in 1860 during the 1858-64 awakening that I described in the previous chapter. 

God chose a short, weak man to light the fires along the Moray coast, his name was James Turner. He was born in 1818, in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, where he lived, worked and ministered.

Turner gave his life to the Lord in 1840 and by the end of 1853 he had begun evangelising. A passion developed in him to see people saved. Perhaps the urgency in him was to do with the mortality rate in those days. When he was 34 he wrote in his diary that many of the people he had grown up with were already dead. 

In 1854 Turner received the Baptism of Fire and immediately after this his success as an evangelist increased substantially. He led many to the Lord in Peterhead and in the surrounding villages. He had a wonderful reputation and was remembered with love many years after he had left to be with the Lord. 

Someone wrote, “A godlier, earnest, faithful man I have never seen nor one who relied more on God, seeming never for one moment to doubt but that God would fulfil His word. Although very often in his preaching dwelling on the terrors of the Lord and the awful eternity of the lost soul, Mr Turner could speak of the love of Christ in such a manner as to move any audience to tears, and it was when he spoke on the attractions of the cross and the infinite love there displayed that the hearts of his audiences were entirely broken.”

Turner was a cooper and by 1860 he and his brother owned a barrel-making and fish-curing business. However, the fishing in 1859 was very poor, so the business still had lots of empty barrels left. As their job in winter was to make barrels, this meant that there was no need to make more. With his winter free, James, left in December to evangelise the fishing villages along the coast.

I am so grateful to Elizabeth McHardie, who was led by God to follow Turner’s footsteps in 1874 and she interviewed some of those who were touched by God through the ministry of James Turner.  

The start 1860

God was hovering over the nation and so had prepared the people for Turner’s visit. There had also been a few visits along the coast by revivalists such as Reginald Radcliffe and Duncan Matheson, but I have not found any reports of anything breaking out in the villages Turner was to visit. The only account of a move of God at this time was in Deskford in September, which is about seven miles from the coast. 

On the way to Portknockie, Turner stopped at St Combs and ministered for about ten days. There was blessing upon blessing during the time he was there. Many people were awakened and converted. Fifteen years later those who had been touched by Holy Spirit were still walking out their lives close to Jesus and St Combs was a quiet godly town with no pubs at all.

One moving testimony was of a little girl. Turner spoke to her about Jesus and she was very convicted. One night her aunt found her weeping bitterly over the fact that she did not love Jesus. Her aunt spoke to her a little about the Blood washing away her sins and she seemed to have a vision of Jesus and suddenly understood and for several hours sang hymns to Jesus. 

“By-and-bye the summons came for this little lamb, and after taking farewell of her friends, she clapped her hands, as if in an ecstasy of delight; then waving them upwards, as if giving someone the signal that she was coming, her spirit took its triumphant flight.”

Most of the girl’s family came to Jesus powerfully, including her brother who resisted Jesus until he was standing at James Turner’s graveside

Although Turner’s ministry was successful in several towns/villages between Peterhead and Portgordon, the results were deepest in Portknockie, Findochty, Portessie, Buckie, Portgordon and Banff, which are the towns I am going to concentrate on.

The revival was largely among the fishermen and their families in the coastal villages. Here is a description of the state of that area at the time.

“The large fishing villages which stud the south coast of the Moray Firth were inhabited by a hardy, daring, and very enterprising race of fishermen. At that time the population kept apart from the mere ‘landfolk,’ They were strictly clannish; intermarrying, following their own fashions, and exhibiting both vices and virtues peculiar to them. It had a large infusion of the old Norse, or Danish blood in it. The fishermen, in their passionate love of the sea, their stolid, prideful defiance of its dangers, and their withstanding hardship, had much of the spirit of the old Vikings.

Unlike the Scottish in general, they cared nothing for education. To be able to count a dozen haddocks, and read a little, was all the learning that a fisher lad could want. Of course, superstition was rife, and ungodliness and moral degradation prevailed all along the coast. The men, as a class, exhibited a rough independence, were generally reckless and greatly addicted to whisky-drinking, which inevitably led them into debt and misery.”


James Findlay was a Christian man who recognised that he had lost his passion, but he and some friends were grieved at the thought of so many of their friends going to hell that they spent their time praying for their salvation. These private meetings went on for over three months. One day Turner knocked on Findlay’s door asking to take a meeting and 300 gathered. 

His talk stirred up a lot of discussion amongst the people and the next night so many people came that they had to meet in the Free Church. Findlay had to persuade Turner not to go on to Findochty, and that night the power of God came down, and the Banffshire coast was shaken to its very core.

Turner wrote, “Holy Spirit came down with great power on the people. This continued till morning, and many souls were saved. Glory be to God! I went to bed for three hours. Called a meeting after breakfast and from three to four hundred people met with me. The power of God came on man, woman, and child, and many found the Saviour.”

After the evening meeting, those who were anxious about their souls were invited to Findlay’s house to talk with Turner. 

He said, "Dear people, you that want to be saved may be saved now, so we'll all to our knees and seek the power." 

And no sooner had they gone to their knees than the power of God filled the house. Many were struck down to the earth, or rather to hell, under the pressure of their sins. Someone described the scene as people falling like sheep all about.  By 3:00 am most had found peace in Jesus and had left the house. The new converts, instead of going home, went around the town, telling their friends and family what God had done for them that night. This was a characteristic of the revival along the coast. 

When morning dawned, the converts were going up and down the place praising God. As soon as the people had a little food, a prayer meeting was called; which, once begun, lasted all day - and every day and night. 

One person said, "The very holes and caves in the rocks were full of people crying for mercy - even the very hen houses were filled with the children in like condition."

The Banffshire Journal said. “There is scarcely a family in the village in which there have not been cases of mental or physical prostration. The children, as in all the other villages, were much affected; and could not be tired of praying and singing hymns.”

This continued for six weeks. During that time no fishing boat went to sea. Yet, though a people that had to work every day to feed themselves, they lacked nothing - there were many stories of food and oil not running out.


Findochty, just two miles west, was the next village that received the revival. One praying man came across ‘The Revival’ newspaper and he distributed it in the village. The reports on the revivals in the USA and Ulster stirred their spirits up and they became hungry and expectant for the same. United prayer meetings and a visit from a revivalist also helped, and on hearing about what was going on in Portknockie, they invited Turner to visit. 

Nothing much happened for the first few days, but at an after-meeting, the presence of God fell powerfully and a good many were brought to Christ. 

“Next morning, a solemn awe seemed to pervade the village, and there was evidently something working with the whole community that they could not account for. There was a meeting at 10:00 am and Turner was just opening the proceedings with prayer, when an agonizing cry of distress that could no longer be restrained, was heard from a soul labouring under strong convictions of sin. In a few, minutes the whole assembly were praying and crying for mercy. The place became a Bochim, and tears of penitential sorrow trickled down the cheeks of scores of people. Some in great distress of soul were crying, ‘What must I do to be saved?’”

A visitor arrived at about 1:00 pm, “A scene presented itself that was truly wonderful. Young people were stretched out on forms labouring under strange sensations were seen supported in some cases by weeping parents or distressed brothers.”

Turner wrote, “About three hundred met again in the evening. My voice was completely drowned. I never saw such a scene in all my life. It was heart-rending to hear the cries of the great numbers who felt that their souls were lost. I question if some of the dear people could have cried louder though they had been in hell, but God gave the witness to many souls that evening.”

The impact of the revival was considerable. In 1864, someone wrote, “We were told by two sisters who had visited shortly before, that this village was overshadowed with the Holy Ghost, and we found it so in very deed. We had never seen anything like the power that was here manifested in prayer, and that by illiterate - but pious fishermen. It had a most humbling effect on me.” 

The revival newspaper reported, “At Findochty, I understand that, with but few exceptions, the whole village may be said to have found the truth.”


From Findochty, Turner continued two miles west to Portessie, where the only place to have a meeting was an unfinished house. Being a few yards from the sea and without windows or doors the house was fully exposed to the cold, stormy February weather. The people filled every space, the windows, the rafters and those who could not get in stood outside with deep snow around them. He was only there for a couple of days and then he returned for another two days in December 1861. Even though he was not long in the village someone wrote that she could fill 50 books about his work there.

Turner preached from the foolish virgins. The meeting had not been going very long when several were struck down, and some were crying for mercy. A man stood up and cried, "You that are against the work, come and see if this be chloroform," for whenever James Turner began to speak they tumbled down like sheep round about him, and all through the meeting. A rumour had been going around that Turner carried a cloth soaked in chloroform and that is why people were falling over. It is amazing the different sorts of opposition that revivals attract.

The story of a little boy Johnny is very touching. One day he went to a meeting on his own and stayed all night, much impacted by the presence of God. From that time his Bible was always with him and he would go off regularly to talk to the Lord. He then caught a cold which got worse and worse so that he became bedridden. One of his uncles spent all his time at Johnny’s bedside and led him to the Lord. He knew he was going to die and earnestly spoke to his siblings about them finding Jesus so they could meet again in heaven. One day he asked what time it was and on being told it was 9:15 pm he turned to his mother and told her she could have him until 5:15 am. Later he gave his mother a hug and said, “Yes mother, give me up to the Lord, I am yours no longer, you have had your time with me. Good-bye!” A little later he looked around the room as if looking for someone, then a gleam of light shot across his face. “Jesus is come,” he said. He then held out his hand to his father and died.

A woman and five men from his family were all converted at this time, but in 1864 all of the men, together with another man and a father and son who were all saved under James Turner, were drowned at sea! Theirs was a dangerous profession.

Someone reported that, “About fifty men were so full of faith, and had such clear minds and simple hearts that, for about four years, with them it was only to ask and receive - even three of them were sufficient to obtain the blessing. Three of them have sometimes gone to a corner of the hall where the worst people were, and have had the house filled with power.”

A woman described the change in the town. "I am sure we women have to thank God for the great change wrought since this day twelve months, for the wickedness was come to such a pitch that we were afraid sometimes to go out on the very street for fear of our lives, the place was in such a seethe of sin."

James Riach

Many of James Turner’s converts became revivalists, but none were more powerful than James Riach. The United Presbyterian minister at Buckie said that he was, “one of the most Christ-like men, in humble life, I have ever been privileged to know."

While James Turner held his meetings in the unfinished house in Portessie, Riach, with three companions, went along one evening to scoff. Being a little late, however, they could not get in. Having been prevented from causing annoyance inside, they contented themselves with raising as much disturbance outside as possible. Someone came out of the meeting to deal with them and eventually agreed they could squeeze in. The following day they all went to the meeting and all became anxious about their souls. A day or two later Riach found Jesus in his home.

He often had doubts as the enemy tried to divert him from the call on his life. He would go and see Turner who would encourage him and try to get him to evangelise, which he did. 

Another U.P. minister described him – “James Riach was no ordinary man. He had but few educational advantages and this rendered his power of address all the more remarkable. Endowed with a rich powerful voice, he usually threw into his simple evangelical discourses so much heart and soul that the people could not help being moved. His texts were often remarkably striking and out of the way; and he usually handled them well, carrying home the lessons they contained to the hearts of his auditors most effectually. 

I myself heard him deliver very impressive addresses. He had too a most remarkable gift in prayer. Best of all, his life, so far as I have ever seen or heard, corresponded with his religious profession. He was an Israelite, indeed, in whom there was to guile. He not only preached but lived the gospel, and this undoubtedly was the great source of his remarkable influence.”

He would often weep as he addressed the people.

Another report said that no one could challenge his sincerity, or point to any dark spot in his Christian life. He was humble, often preferring others to himself. But at the same time he was bold and valiant for the truth. No matter who the person was, if they warranted a reproof, Riach gave them one. His meat and drink was doing the will of God. Whenever bad weather stopped fishing, he would be out preaching the Gospel. 

Riach was an office holder at the Wesleyan Church in Portessie where he would preach. At one point people noticed that he was far more earnest than usual. On his next fishing trip he went down to the boat loudly singing the hymn, ‘Beautiful Land.’ While at sea he talked to the crew about Kingdom matters and sang hymns, but on the way home the sailing boat tacked and somehow James Riach fell overboard and drowned! It was October 1871. 

What a man! What a loss!


Less than a mile further west is the town of Buckie. The town had a population of about 3,000 and Turner’s first service on February 12th, 1860 had 1,500 attending. God began to move on the second evening. Next evening the meeting was crammed, but there was a huge commotion when some were struck down and carried out of the church. The commotion was so great that they had to move the meeting to the U.P. Church. Turner had his faith challenged there and was worried that God would not bless the meetings in the town after the commotion, so he spent some time in prayer before starting the meeting up again. The meeting was blessed with power from on high!

A young man went to the first meeting out of curiosity, however, he was struck by Turner’s words and felt even more uncomfortable when out at sea the next day. On returning to shore, he and three cousins went to have a private talk with Turner. At length Turner said to them, "Come away, young men, to the meeting with me. I believe this day, by twelve o'clock, God will set your souls at liberty." They all sat together in the church and all were converted before the end of the meeting. Three of the cousins became preachers of the Gospel.

At one meeting a man was praying, but not in the right spirit. While he was praying James Turner came in quietly. After listening for a moment, he knelt down and cried out – "My God, hear and answer me. Shut that man's mouth." That moment the prayer was answered. The man had no power to utter another word but stood immovable for a while - a monument before the people.

At the same meeting sixty people were in the vestry weeping and crying for mercy, which was fairly typical of Turner’s ministry.

Several ministers were changed through Turner’s meetings and several were converted. One U. P. minister said, "Though I do not undervalue the college or the learning to be had in it, yet I have got more good in one meeting here than I did while there.” 


James Turner then went to Portgordon, two miles west of Buckie, known for its wickedness, for its Sabbath-breaking, its lying and drinking.

Nothing happened the first night or the following day. However, at six in the evening the house filled and many could not get in. The Spirit poured out, and many were struck down under the mighty power of God. Those who were nearest the door were carried out, others had to lie until they got power to get up again. People came from the country to scoff and to make sport of the work of God, but painful convictions seized upon many of those also. 

On the third day the schoolhouse was crowded, and from every part of it rose the cry for mercy. There were many cases of prostration, and many also rose to say that they had found Jesus. – "the whole town seemed that night to get a special call."

As usual Turner would speak to those anxious about their souls in the house where he was staying. A great number of people would follow him there and many received salvation. 

A minister wrote after visiting, “Repentance had in many instances been succeeded by peace in God, the most transporting joy and blessed hope. Self-denial had been willingly undergone when called for. Business for a period had been sacrificed; and the house of the publican, but a few days ago the constant scene of dissipation and uproar, had been converted into a house of prayer. Old feuds had been forgotten, wrongs confessed and forgiven, and malice gave place to love… Humility has taken the place of pride and pretension. Singular decision and heroism had been in some instances shown when persecution had exposed young converts to trial; genuine concern for the good of relatives and neighbours had been crowned with success.”

Turner wrote in his diary, "Portgordon has been brought down.”

In 1861 Turner returned and ministered even though he was quite unwell. 

“The Spirit of the Lord was present in an extraordinary manner. There was nothing visible the eye, but there certainly was a mysterious sound - as of a mighty rushing in at one corner of the school - onward it swept over all the school from that one corner to the other. Everyone in that room was conscious of the presence and working of some mysterious power, all were moved by it, simultaneously moved, to decision for God.”

Aunt Bell made an excuse not to go to meetings in Buckie with her six children as she did not think she needed what was on offer. Whilst there her six children all got saved. However, she felt uncomfortable enough to go to the meeting when Turner came to Portgordon. She only got in on the third attempt due to there being no room. To her surprise she was converted by simply listening to the words of the hymn ‘What’s the News’ – she wasn’t the first. Her heart responded to singing each stanza and she had a glorious vision of the risen Christ.

“Everything became new; the whole world became so beautiful. I saw such beauty in every object of nature; the very birds seemed to allow me to come nearer to them. I saw God around me in everything.” 

Then at the time of James Turner's last visit she was blessed again. She was on her knees, and the power of God was on her so strongly that she could not get up from her knees until about 2 am - She felt as if nailed to the earth. She felt that her heart had been emptied and cleaned out. It was the Baptism of Fire/Sanctification. 

From this time she was able to discern an individual’s moral state by seeing it represented physically on them. So, someone who was a gossip, a liar or a swearer, they looked like they had a crooked mouth. She would sometimes get a word from God and she knew she had to go out and deliver it immediately.

Aunt Bell developed into a wonderful Christian woman. 

A minister wrote of her, “She adorns the Gospel. Her equal I know not for gifts and graces in any class of society. She has what no education or any amount of training could give her. She is highly gifted of God physically, mentally, and spiritually.” 


Banff is 22 miles east of Portgordon. Towards the end of 1858 members of different denominations in the town held prayer meetings that were well attended and the people were stirred. Later the great revivalists, Brownlow North and Reginald Radcliffe came to do meetings. 

The revival news from America certainly stirred some of the people. Several young men began to feel concerned about their own souls and the souls of others and began three small prayer meetings. Two lads commenced to pray together, in a wood near the town. They prayed for their friends and one by one they joined the group until there were about 40 praying. The power of prayer!

Several in the town were therefore expectant when Turner arrived at the invitation of the U:P. minister. He was worried about speaking in such a large town, but Holy Spirit was there as He was in the villages.

Soon, crowds flocked together from all parts, and after a few services the church was entirely crowded long before the meeting began. Despite no obvious sign that God was at work, Turner kept on going, believing that God would not allow his work to be in vain. After a while souls began to be awakened and the interest deepened and extended each successive meeting until the 10th of March, when a climax was reached. 

“About one o'clock a spiritual power began to move the dense mass which crowded every part of the large chapel. Nine young men prayed in succession with great power and intensity.  The scene was extremely heart-melting. There was weeping in every part of the house. Sobs and subdued shrieks, with a few prostrations, imposed a fearful solemnity. Men, women, and children prayed in succession, in a manner altogether unusual. Young people wept upon each other's necks, while they clung together in clusters of six or seven in a group. A spiritual power was grappling with saint and sinner, hundreds got saving good to their souls on that night. The faces of the saved beamed with the light of heaven.

Despite people being at services for many, many hours, most did not feel tired. Some of the young converts held meetings of their own before the church meetings.

Since then the young men, numbering about one hundred, conducted crowded prayer meetings, both in the town and surrounding districts, with great results. In the town, which does not contain over four thousand people, there was sometimes from ten to sixteen prayer meetings held all at the same time, in different parts.” 

Fifteen years later some were scattered abroad fulfilling the role of evangelist and despite many conflicts, many of those saved during those meetings still remained faithful to God

Turner stayed in the same house whenever he visited the town. On a later occasion he became very unwell. He was suffering so much that his host came down early one morning and asked his wife to go and see if there was anything she could do for their sick friend. She went up and after she had dressed his blistered chest, Turner insisted that she leave him and go back to bed. 

"To please him, I did so, and the power of God came down upon my spirit to an amazing degree. A perfect tide of blessing passed over my soul, as well as the thought, or the intuition rather, that that dear man was praying for me. Passage after passage crowded into my mind with indescribable power and blessing.” 

Later she asked Turner if he had been praying for her and he replied,  

"Yes, and I know that my Father has been blessing you." 

What an example of the power of prayer he had!

The glory that must have been in that house! On another occasion, one night eleven fishermen came up from Crovie and Gardenstown to speak to him, being anxious about their souls, and they went home saved, and fifteen years later all were standing firm.

The results of Turner’s labours in Banff were great. Elizabeth McHardie reported that when she visited fifteen years later she could not go out without the person accompanying her pointing out from time to time someone as James Turner’s convert.

The meeting mentioned above was held on a Saturday and several people were there from nearby Whitehills. They went home and told their friends and neighbours what God had done for them. By Monday, the whole of the little town was astir. In the evening, a man was on the way to Banff to the meeting when some women asked him if he would open the chapel for them. He turned around, got the key and went to the chapel where he found so many people waiting that the chapel was filled as soon as he opened the door. The women began the meeting by singing a hymn, and then they prayed one after the other, - until 9 o'clock, when the first cry for mercy was heard. The work continued, for six weeks, during which time the boats stood on the shore. Nothing was done except to secure the salvation of their souls. No minister, just the people.

The ‘Revival’ newspaper reported a few years later, “The county town, Banff, has become a wonder in the history of revival, by the amount of conversions on the one hand, and the sanctification and power dwelling in believers' souls on the other. It does one's heart good to visit this town, to be welcomed by bands of young men of one heart and one mind, to hear of the power that attends female prayer meetings of all classes, to see the crowded meetings, listen to the fervent prayers, and observe the shining, happy faces of hundreds, or to enter the homes of the poor, and oft hear the stirring tale of their conversion to God, and enjoy the kindness, and see the wealthiest, in not a few instances, giving all up to the service of Jesus.”

Turner died in 1863 at the age of 44. Although mourned by many, he was also remembered by thousands for as long as they lived. Someone estimated that he led over 8,000 people to Jesus. But it does not end there, because so many experienced powerful revelations of Christ at their salvation that a great number of them went out and brought in the lost themselves. Someone reported on examples of this, “There has been three special times of revival in Whitehills since. One through someone, who, if not one of James Turner's converts, was at least led out to work for the Lord through him. The second and third also through those who had directly or indirectly received their working impetus through the instrumentality of James Turner; but it would be inconveniently long to recount particulars.”  So, goodness knows how many people owe their salvation directly or indirectly to Turner. 

James Turner was a wonderful man who lit a fire that went on for years. Someone wrote of him, “He had a heavenly fragrance about him which spoke of Jesus wherever he went. His holy and humble walk testified to the existence in the heart of a living union to Christ.” I think we would all like that written of us.

In the following pages I describe the several waves of revival that went on for around fifteen years, the source of which were the meetings just described.

The wave of 1866/7

The Free Church minister of Deskford wrote that there were additional waves in 1862 and 1864, but I have no details of them.


Most of the people born again in the 1860 revival joined the United Presbyterian Church, but nine young men and two women preferred the Methodists, so they met together to pray. Numbers grew because the power of God was there and over time they got good minister and raised enough money to build a chapel, although there would be a mortgage. 

For two years and three months 40 of them met to pray weekly for salvations. The prayer meetings multiplied with six or even ten taking place in a week. The common cry was, “Wilt Thou not revive us again?” At the beginning of December 1866 those praying felt Holy Spirit stirring. 

On Sunday, 23rd December people came from all over to the opening of the chapel full of expectancy as people were already showing signs of being anxious and of conviction. The morning service was very powerful and this was followed by an experience meeting at 2:00 pm. The people gave their testimony to the power of salvation, almost everyone attributing their conversion to the revival that had taken place six years previously. These testimonies made the unsaved uncomfortable and one after another they began to cry for mercy and soon from all parts of the chapel arose the cry of anxious souls. The meeting changed into one of leading people to Christ. The evening meeting was much of the same, going on to a late hour.

The next day there was a tea meeting where leaders of different denominations came to congratulate them on their new building, but the meeting became another one where the salvation of souls predominated. Many were converted that afternoon and many more, who had only come for tea, found themselves seized by Holy Spirit’s mighty power. Several officeholders from neighbouring churches found themselves crying out for mercy.

For nearly three weeks men forgot their work and attended to that of saving their souls. Meetings were held day and night with only three or four hours in between. People directly opposed to the revival were saved and many drunkards came to Jesus. 

The revival softened the villager's hearts as to giving towards the debt of the chapel. In order to avoid offence they called at every house in the village for a donation and of nine hundred people, there was only one refusal and the whole debt was paid off. Soon afterwards the minister became sick and had to give up his ministry, but he left rejoicing in the change in the people.

This wave spread to Findochty and other villages.

The wave of 1871


The 1871 wave seems to have come about purely through Holy Spirit stirring the people. Night after night, the meetings in the village were crowded; addresses were delivered, and many prayed that every soul in the village would receive the blessing. At the end of the meetings the anxious were taken to private houses where they were talked to and helped towards salvation. One of the more unusual manifestations was ‘dance.’ Its first appearance was among the children and then spread across ages. 

The following report eloquently describes the revival, “I must tell you something about the Lord's work in this locality, but how to do it I know not. It is very difficult to find words to describe it, for the same features or manifestations of revival work were never known here before. It seems to me as if a cloud of glory were hanging down, hovering over the whole village - the whole of it I may say is blessed. But Oh, my brother, there are new manifestations of God's love and power, yes, every day we have to gaze upon them with wonder and solemn awe. Nothing is attended to but praising God, which never ceases night nor day. I can see groups of men, women, and children, through every part of the village, dancing before the Lord for whole days. I never thought there could be so much love on earth! hundreds have the blessing of perfect love! I have seen strong powerful men, of great experience, laid powerless with the love of God - yes, I have seen it today! One has been filled these three days, and marvellous to relate her deafness is all gone. And many other cases, which have been confined to their beds for a considerable time can now be seen on the streets, every day and at any hour, dancing before the Lord and shouting His glorious praise with all their might, from a heart filled ready to burst with the love of God.”

Someone reported that he had been out at sea for two days and nights, but singing and prayer was the most work that was done. 


Like in Findochty there does not seem to be anything that particularly started this revival. The people began prayer meetings day and night. For two weeks there was stormy weather, so no fishing, so the whole town, men, women and children went to the prayer meetings. The prayers were very intense and there was a feeling of awe at the proceedings. Strong men were seen weeping while they struggled with their sinful condition and some of the more sinful men began to think about religious matters.

One night there was great power in the meeting, about twelve were praying at one time, and just all at once, as with a clap, Holy Spirit came, and every soul in that place was filled with mighty power, except one man who was passed over.

The door of a public house was never darkened, because the people were anxious to avoid temptation. People scrupulously paid the last farthing of any debt they had, also, there was a brotherly love manifested among the fishermen, for, while during bad weather it was impossible to go to sea, a system of visitation was instituted, and money and other relief was given when necessary. Scarcely a fisherman sailed without his Bible, and very often the sound of them singing hymns floated over the waves long after they left the harbour. Reading ‘light’ literature was also abandoned,

Portessie was subdued almost to a man.


Some people of Portessie were inspired by Holy Spirit to organise a march to Findochty. The people in Findochty turned out in great numbers to meet them. When they met they embraced each other most lovingly, and without stopping, the crowd set out for Portknockie; and when they arrived there, they preached the gospel to every person they could get their hands on. And such was the powerful effect of this march that almost the whole village was awakened, and for several days many were convicted of sin, and many sought the way of salvation - and praise God, many found it, and almost all who spoke of their experience at that time, testified to the power that accompanied the march.

In a very short time these people were to be seen in great numbers passing through the villages, singing, shouting, and dancing; telling all they came in contact with of the love of God, and how happy they were, that it seemed as everything around them was changed - as if old things had passed away, and all things had become new - and certainly new and striking events were occurring every day. 


James Riach wrote about what was happening in Buckie in 1871. “I do not know how to begin telling you about God's marvellous workings in this place, but amidst all the reproach and ridicule of men and ministers, He is still working in great power… There are three or four meetings in different places every night; the mission hall crowded to overflowing, and many outside.”

There was a powerful meeting on Sunday afternoon, but in the evening, Riach had hardly begun when two people started crying for mercy and a visiting minister from the Established Church tried to disrupt the meeting because he objected to people crying out; believing it to not be of the Lord. A chorus was sung to drown the man’s protests and he left, but not before the whole atmosphere had changed in the building.

They tried to get the meeting going again, but it was not the same so they decided to close it. 

“The blessing was pronounced just about twelve o'clock at night, and the parting hymn being sung, when the mighty power of God came down, as a mighty rushing wind; never shall I forget it, nor do I wish to forget.

I saw about forty men and women all at once, at the pitch of their voices, weeping, as they cried for mercy; the men, strong men, bowed down, or rather bent back, for their hands were outstretched upwards, with their faces, full of agony, looking heavenwards, and their backs bending backwards… Talk of an after-meeting, this was one led by the Holy Ghost; no need for other workers, although there were eight or nine of us there, willing to work. The Lord seemed to say, ‘Stand aside and behold My glory’. For a considerable time this went on without the slightest intermission, and without interruption, for none of us dared put a hand to it to guide it the one way or the other.” 

The meeting went on until 4:00 am.

Another account, “Many persons from Buckie have caught the flame of revival at Portgordon and Portessie, and the fire has broken out among them at home. In the house of the Methodist class-leader at Buckie, many scores have during these last few days found pardon. So deep was the anxiety for salvation throughout the town, that the Presbyterian churches were constrained to throw open their doors, and the unwonted sound of sinners in distress crying loudly for mercy have been heard there.”

Some people were led by Holy Spirit to go to various nearby villages. So they arranged a march, starting in Findochty, stopping in Portessie and then proceeding to Buckie. Onlookers were very much affected, and they discovered afterwards that Holy Spirit impacted the people very powerfully. On the return journey they praised the Lord the whole way; and as they did so, the power of God became stronger and stronger amongst them. Many were overcome by the mighty power of God and exhibited such manifestations as they had never seen before. 

Many men and women along the route were to be seen to be acting as if they were under the influence of drink. As soon as they reached Portessie, the people of God in that place caught the flame and came under the same power. All along the route men and women preached the gospel; both warning the sinner and inviting them to Jesus.


There was a girl from Portgordon who was working in Portessie as a servant. During a powerful meeting she was laid down by the mighty power of God in a state of complete prostration. While in that state she received a message direct from God to go to Portgordon. As soon as she recovered consciousness she was led to Portgordon by her sister and another young woman - led by them literally, for she was blind and it was not until she had delivered her message that her vision was restored. 

There was a meeting in the school at the time, and the place was full. The people were expecting the revival that was taking place in Portessie to come to their village. The Free Church minister was preaching, and the service was about half-way through when the girl came in and sat down quietly. Patiently she waited until the service was over, then rose and asked modestly if she would be allowed to address the meeting, as she had a message from God to Portgordon.

"No, No!" said the minister hurriedly, then he ran out as fast as possible. Only a very few of the people followed him. 

The girl then asked if she might speak to them. 

She invited them all to come and "see Jesus, whom I saw in Portessie, and who sent me here direct to tell you in Portgordon to come to Him. I was a great sinner, and went to scoff at the work. When spoken to about my soul, I resisted the mighty power of God, and was laid down. Then Jesus came and spoke to me, and gave me to drink of the living water, and bade me come to Portgordon with this message to the people there, that they were to come to Him."

And praise the Lord, through that message, and that weak instrument, He shook Portgordon that night. The meeting place was crowded with people anxiously enquiring how they could come to Jesus, and many found the way to Him. Many backsliders also were restored, and the believers also were stirred up to more active service in the mighty harvest field.

In about a week the whole place was aflame, and drunkards had not only become new men in Christ Jesus but were out preaching the good news to others. The ungodly had to hide, because if they appeared some new convert would be asking them about their soul’s condition.

The revival went on but enemies of the Lord were gathering and they were banned from their building. This caused division in the Body and it meant that the Methodists had to meet in a garret. The meetings were blessed and after a year a minister was appointed. In time people were drawn back to the meetings due to the power of God in them and the division was healed.

The wave of 1873/4


This wave was lit by the opening of a chapel

The Methodists were led well at that time by Rev Purves who left to go to Nova Scotia before the opening of the chapel (see below). The Methodists received many blessings in that garret.

There is a remarkable story of ‘Little Susan.’ She came to the Lord when she was nine years old and she set about praying for her unsaved father and several close relatives. One day she hurt her leg and got sciatica, so she was pushed around in a wheelchair. When being pushed around Little Susan took every opportunity to reprove sin or speak to people about Jesus. Then she was confined to bed for two years, but this did not deter her from her mission.

She would go to the Methodists in the garret for services because they set her soul on fire. She was carried to the meetings and would often pray there, bringing heaven down to earth. She wanted to give money towards the building of the chapel, so she saved a pound from her pocket money and then asked her father to give her another pound without telling him why, which he did. She then gave the two pounds to the church and news of what she did encouraged many more to do the same. Her father was moved by what she did and began to think seriously about his soul (he went to the Established church).

She prayed tirelessly for a rich blessing to fall on the new church with many coming to Christ there. On the opening day of the church she asked her father and five others who were near and dear to her to come to the service and all five were saved! 

She was so excited and said, "I was the only Methodist in this house, and I have prayed to God to convert you all and make you all Methodists. I have lived to see you all converted to God, and I can die now." 

She called them all to her bedside and had the joy of hearing her father and the others pray. A change then came over her and they all realised that she was dying. But with a face radiant with joy she said, 

"Weep not for me, I am going home to die no more, and I will meet you on the banks of the river - goodbye - dear - friends - I - am - going - home." 

And so little Susan fell asleep in the arms of Jesus.                          

Eventually, they were able to build a chapel that held about 400. Every stone was brought by the boats and each one was blessed as it was put in place. The church was opened in February 1873. The godly minister had such expectations for the first service in the chapel, but nothing happened. He wept with disappointment,

In the afternoon there was a love feast, where people testified powerfully. The evening service began at 6.30 pm, in which the Lord came to save, every soul seemed as if face-to-face with God, each seemed seeking after God.

“One woman (a spiritual child of James Turner, and converted when quite young) I saw go very gently up to a stout weather-beaten captain; she shook hands with him and whispered something into his ear. She stood by his side, with her face towards heaven still retaining his hand in hers, and there she prayed with such eloquence and living power as I never heard coming from the lips of male or female, it was truly pleading in the Holy Ghost. It was much too powerful for the anxious soul at her feet, and up he got in the middle of her prayer and cried for mercy, weeping like a child.”

Souls were seeking God in every corner throughout the chapel until around 12:30 am.

“A great many were added to the church - people more powerful in prayer it would be most difficult to find in any church. A united loving people they are.”

By the end of the week, such a wonderful revival had broken out that it was thought advisable to leave the chapel open night and day, and the place was continuously filled with those seeking Jesus, four or six being brought to the feet of Jesus every night.

Before Turner visited in 1860 there were ten public houses in Portgordon, but by 1875 they had all gone, although four more had started up, but they were doing poorly. 

The local paper reported at the end of 1874 “that Portgordon had grown into one of the most thriving and prosperous villages on the coast… the remarkable improvement of the fishermen and seamen of Portgordon, within the last twenty years affords abundant and most undoubted proof.”

As mentioned, Rev Purves, who experienced a little of one of the revivals, emigrated to Cape Breton, Novia Scotia. It must have been a huge change for him, because there was only one recognisable Christian in the area. The people he was pastor to lived in little wooden huts, scattered around the area. Someone from Portgordon wrote to him, giving details of the recent revival and the faithful praying pastor passed the letter around the families in the huts. The Spirit of God was in the words in that letter and a wonderful revival began. 

The pastor wrote to his friend, “Pen cannot describe the wondrous change that has come over this place since New Year's Day. There are very few souls in the seven or eight miles of settlement, but have either found the Lord or are under conviction of sin. Only the manner of the Lord's working has been altogether different to His way in Portgordon.” 

The power of Testimony!


The people here were infected by the revival going on in Portgordon that began in February 1873 with the opening of the new Methodist chapel, as were those in Findochty. Then they heard of the big revival taking place in Edinburgh through D L Moody (see the next chapter) at the end of the year. This stirred the people to pray harder for another revival.

In March 1874 the Methodist recorder reports, 

“The wonderful work of grace at Portessie and the adjoining villages still continues and spreads. Almost every day there have been new and clear cases of conversion. Many who have been railing at the work, are now unwillingly compelled to own that it is of God and not of man. I could fill pages with further accounts of the glorious movement.

Ever since the opening of the new chapel at Portgordon the revival steadily grew. Almost every day there were new cases of conversion. Yesterday (March 15), - will never be forgotten at Portessie. Even at the morning service, the church rang with cries, and rejoicings, and hallelujahs. Such widespread and profound anxiety for salvation, I never saw before.”

Mr Lowther, one of the ministers, was in great distress as he saw no fruit of his labours, and was travailing in prayer, as if in birth for souls before going into the Chapel. One night he preached with great power, and the service was turned into a prayer meeting. One woman prayed, and then another was so burdened that she could not help crying out, "Lord, save my dear daughter’s soul!' In a little while she heard a voice behind her - it was her daughter's voice crying for mercy, and also her daughter-in-law, and both soon found salvation. Then three others began to cry aloud. The minister had never seen such work in the church and did not know what to do. Many more were saved at that time.


The fishermen of Buckie heard about the big revival going on in Edinburgh through D L Moody and, according to the minister at Deskford; “The hearts of believers were stirred, the work of prayer went on, and the power of the Lord was present to heal. It appears to have been greatest in the town of Buckie… At first, there were great fears that the town was to be passed over. On either side, at Portessie and Portgordon, the work of revival had begun and been apparently completed, before any spiritual movement could be discerned.”

Suddenly, Holy Spirit was poured out upon believers, and then the fire came down from heaven. Many of those who had opposed the revivals before were now entirely consumed by the mighty power of God. As soon as the meetings became overcrowded, the different churches were opened, and the Free, Established, and United Presbyterian churches were in succession occupied on different evenings, and their ministers took an active part in conducting the meetings. These meetings were continued almost daily until the men left for the fishing.”

What an extraordinary 15 years these coastal towns had. Four different revivals all starting in different ways, but even in 1875, many of the mature believers attributed the lighting of each of these fires directly or indirectly to James Turner.

I have read that in the next fifteen years there were three more special times of revival, each one beginning through men influenced by James Turner. I assume that they would have received blessings from the villages in the west in the waves of 1864, 1871 and 1874, but I have found nothing written about them.

These multiple, powerful waves of revival, gives me more evidence for my theory that God was hovering over the nation from 1858 to 1885. That is to say that the revivals described in chapters 4-7 were in fact one huge awakening! 


The power of testimony is so great. News of other revivals really stirred up the fishermen and made them expectant, so it took little to light the fire. Just relating what God was doing was enough to fill a house with Glory.

“A man came into our house one day and began speaking about the work that was going on, and said that it was astonishing to see those who could not read a word in the Book, how the Spirit wrought on them and taught them, and made them speak and pray in an amazing manner. The things he said touched a young woman at once, for she was one of the unlearned. The blessed Spirit by that simple means opened up her heart, and her distress was soon so great that I had to go for Mr Turner. Before I came back, the house was full of people, and every one of them crying for mercy. By some incomprehensible power, all these people were suddenly brought to feel that God, eternity, sin, death, heaven, and hell were terrible realities.”

It was an incredible period, quite unique. As mentioned, the revival spread to many places where the fishermen visited, but it is disappointing that the revival did not spread further west than Portgordon or inland unless there are reports I have not seen. I assume it was the tendency of fishermen to keep away from ‘landfolk.’  

The process of people coming to Jesus was the same as it had been for over two hundred years – anxiousness about the state of their souls, conviction of sin, repentance, a period of crying out to God for mercy and then accepting Jesus by faith and being filled with joy during an encounter with Christ. Many of the testimonies report that they saw Jesus either on the Cross or not, with bleeding wounds. Also, over and over again people reported that once they had accepted Christ, they ran around the village, knocking on the doors of friends and family to tell them what God had done for them. This must have had an enormous impact on the community, with many going to the meetings as a result. This is something we need to think about today. Where is our community; how can one spread the news and ‘infect’ the group like a virus?

The converts, particularly those brought to Christ through James Turner, were conspicuous for their passion. One observation was that, “In them burned a fire that had to seize upon everything that came within its reach. They carried the fire with them wherever they went, and set hearts all around them in a blaze. If they crossed the sea it went with them. If they ministered in other villages, towns, or even crowded cities, the fire went with them and made them burning and shining lights.” 

Someone wrote of his experience, “For a long time I felt a great power upon me constraining me to speak to others, I had not only a great power of feeling given me, but new thoughts and fresh ideas, and I had also the ability given to pour them out in suitable language - indeed, many times I could not but do it - for it would rush on me with a force too overwhelming to be resisted, to tell my perishing fellow-creatures about the great and glorious salvation.” 

It is remarkable how many of the converts became revivalists themselves. Holy Spirit indeed went very deep in people. It is also noticeable from the work of Elizabeth McHardie, that the deep faith caught at the time of their salvation, remained with many for the rest of their lives. Ministers always seemed to measure the quality of the revival by how many stayed the course. By that measure this was a very, very good revival.

It is interesting to note that all the revivals took place in the winter, January to March. Most revivals take place in the summer when there can be large outdoor meetings, but these happened during the worse weather of the year. It was of course because the fishermen were often grounded in the winter time due to the bad weather and in the summer they were chasing the fish around the UK. The same happened in the 1921 revival which I write about in the penultimate chapter. 

Undoubtedly, there was a greater interest in religion in these villages, because, not only was the incidence of death in those days much higher than it is today, but they were in a very dangerous profession. This can be emphasised by the remarkable statistic that James Turner used to minister at a deathbed over 500 times a year!

Prayer, as it always is, was key to the revivals. People prayed before, to birth it, and during to birth salvations. When they were saved, the new believers had such a passion to pray. A lot of the prayer went on at sea: 

“In this state I continued for three days. I was born again on the mighty deep. The whole boat's crew sat round me, and when the change passed, I began to pray. And the prayer meeting went round from 10:00 am until six in the morning, and before that time three of them gave evidence of being born to God.” 

There were several testimonies about how powerfully people prayed and the speed at which prayers were answered.

As usual in revivals, there was considerable unity, which I believe is a necessity for Holy Spirit to work effectively. There were reports of a couple of ministers causing trouble. One in the Free Church, and one in Deskford, who used to be in the centre of the work, seemed to suddenly come against people falling over. Time and again the reports mention scoffers coming to the meetings in each town, but most of them were taken over by Holy Spirit. 

Falling over, as with every revival, was a very controversial subject. Ministers would come and visit the meetings to make judgement on the acceptability of people falling over (the prostrations). Most decided that they were of the Lord. One person gave his general approval after observing different cases, 

“In this quarter some were struck down in their workshops, others in their own houses when alone, as well as, in other cases, in crowded assemblies and more private prayer meetings. Some have remained for hours, others for a shorter period, speechless and motionless. Some were conscious all the time, others were unconscious. Some underwent the great change during the time of prostration, they being conscious of the spiritual change taking place all the while; others have not given evidence of a new life although they had been struck down. In the great majority of cases, the subject, however, gives indications of being renewed by grace, either at the time or subsequently.” 

Ministers just love to have everything ‘in order’ and crying out and falling over do not come under that category.

Songs were once again an important part of the movement. In the wider revival of 1858-64 hymns were important, with those of Richard Weaver particularly so. I have read a couple of accounts of how his hymns led people to the Lord. Similarly, Turner frequently led with the hymn ‘What’s the News,’ and as mentioned above someone was saved through the words of that hymn. When singing in those days, you were often singing the salvation story in the words, not something we often do today.

Sacrifice was quite common. Sometimes no fishing boats would go out for weeks, because people were dealing with their souls. Businesses would close for a period as well. Alcohol was a curse on the communities, as it was on the whole nation. Businesses would even offer drink while people decided what to buy. However, during the revivals many gave up drinking, resulting in most pubs permanently closing. As an indicator of how Findochty was changed in 1875 there was not a young man, religious or non-religious, in the village that would go into a public house to take a drink. Old grudges were forgotten, feuds healed and there was a great outpouring of love in all the villages. 

God used a frail, small, humble man, James Turner, to begin this amazing sequence of events, a man who was to die less than three years later. What a legacy he left behind him!

Of all the revivals mentioned in this book, these are the ones that move me the most. The sheer breadth and depth of the impact of Holy Spirit on the communities was wonderful. 

Love was the main fruit of these revivals, oh, how we need that today!


Taken from, “James Turner or how to reach the masses,” by Elizabeth McHardie and “Life and Labours of James Turner,” by William Robbie.