Duncan Matheson has been described as Scotland’s forgotten evangelist, the little known, but very powerful lay preacher/evangelist of the 1859 Revival.
He was born in Huntly in the region of Aberdeenshire in 1824, one of five children raised by humble parents. His family were regular churchgoers at the Church of Scotland but a church that in those days was somewhat affected by apathy and cold formality. After attending Robert McCheyne’s church in Dundee for a while and also listening to a message by Andrew Bonar he came to Christ in October 1846 at the age of twenty two. He immediately engaged in a lifelong ministry of making the Gospel known to others through preaching and the distribution of Gospel literature. He became a Scripture Reader with the British Army in the Crimean War in order to offer spiritual support to the troops out there. He also preached and handed out thousands of Bibles and tracts to the soldiers of the French and Sardinian armies. During the war he handed out 52,000 tract, 622 Bibles and 1,477 New Testaments in English and thousands more in French.
After the Crimean War he went to Sardinia where he distributed thousands more Bibles and New Testaments as well as other books and tracts in Italian. He then returned to Scotland to produce a monthly Gospel magazine entitled "Herald of Mercy" which had a circulation of 32,000.
He was greatly moved by the Aberdeen Revival in 1859 and began to preach to multitudes of people around the coast of north eastern Scotland. Under his ministry, early in 1860, the town of Cullen was moved "as by an earthquake." In Huntley he preached to great crowds of 10,000 people. The Duchess of Gordon, a great friend of Matheson, invited him to use the Castle Park at Huntley and for four years great crowds of many thousands gathered for two successive summer days to hear the Gospel and there were many converts. He had a great flair for open-air preaching and used to go on tour preaching twice a day in barns, under trees on village greens, or in churches.
After years of gruelling ministry he wore himself out and when his health failed he had cards printed to pass out to pedestrians on the streets and highways. His passion for the Gospel and his concern for men without Christ continued to be the drive behind his ministry right up to the final week of his life. He once said, "I do not know if ten minutes of my life ever pass without thinking of the salvation of souls. He died in September 1869 at the young age of 45 years.
In January 2009 a church in Aberdeenshire held a special service to remember Scotland’s forgotten evangelist.