This page was last updated on 14 November 2022

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names

Rev Neil Douglas, poet





Rev Niel DouglasNeil Douglas, [pseud. Britannicus] (1750 – 9 January 1823), who used the pseudonym 'Britannicus', was a poet and minister of the Relief church.


He was educated at the University of Glasgow, and married Mary Anne Isabella Millar on 26 August 1787. As minister of the Relief church at Cupar, Fife, he published Sermons on Important Subjects, with some Essays in Poetry in 1789. Among the poems are two extremely loyal odes on the king's illness and recovery, to which their author referred nearly thirty years later when charged with disaffection to the royal family. Under the pseudonym of Britannicus, Douglas next published A Monitory Address to Great Britain in 1792, lamenting the degeneracy of the times and calling upon the king to abolish the anti-Christian practices of the slave trade, duelling, and church patronage. That same year he published The African Slave Trade, and the year after, Thoughts on Modern Politics, also concerned with the slave trade.

By 1793 Douglas had moved to Dundee, where he officiated as a minister of relief charge at Dudhope Crescent. The following year he brought out The Lady's Scull, a sermon in verse upon the text ‘A place called the place of a skull’. Another collection of sermons, Britain's Guilt, Danger, and Duty, appeared in 1795, and Dialogues on the Lord's Supper and The Duty of Pastors in 1796.

In the summer of 1797 Douglas, who was fluent in Gaelic, went on a mission to remote regions of Argyll, after first collecting some funds by preaching at Dundee and Glasgow Messiah's Glorious Rest in the Latter Days, published that year. On his return he described his experiences in a series of letters published as A Journal of a Mission to Part of the Highlands of Scotland in 1799. At this time he issued proposals for publishing the Psalms and New Testament in Gaelic, but abandoned the project through lack of encouragement. After resigning his charge at Dundee, Douglas moved in 1798 to Edinburgh, where he published Lavinia, based on the book of Ruth. He moved afterwards to Greenock, where he published Leonidas and Sign of the Times in 1805. That year Douglas settled in Stockwell Street, Glasgow, and in 1807 he published The Messiah's Proper Deity. About 1809 he seceded from the Relief church to set up on his own account as a ‘preacher of restoration’, or ‘universalist preacher’. As such he published The Royal Penitent in 1811, on the repentance of King David, then King David's Psalms in 1815. His sermons advocated peaceful political reform, and he was a delegate to the Convention of the Friends of the People in Edinburgh.

In 1817, while promulgating his restoration views in Glasgow, Douglas was indicted for sedition in drawing a parallel between George III and Nebuchadnezzar, the prince regent and Belshazzar, and representing the House of Commons as a den of thieves. He appeared before the high court of justiciary, Edinburgh, on 26 May, aged sixty-seven and, in his own words, ‘loaded with infirmities’. Cockburn, one of his four advocates, after referring to him as ‘a poor, old, deaf, obstinate, doited body’, says:
The crown witnesses all gave their evidence in a way that showed they had smelt sedition because they were sent by their superiors to find it. The trial had scarcely begun before it became ridiculous, from the imputations thrown on the regent—and the difficulty with which people refrained from laughing at the prosecutors, who were visibly ashamed of the scandal they had brought on their own master.

A unanimous verdict of acquittal was returned, and Douglas left the court loyally declaring, ‘I have a high regard for his Majesty and for the Royal Family, and I pray that every Briton may have the same’. He had prepared for the worst, as he published soon after the trial An Address to the Judges and Jury in a Case of Alleged Sedition, which was intended to be delivered before sentence was passed.

Douglas was not perceived as belonging to the Scottish establishment, and was described as a ‘wavering nonconformist’. A Catechism with Proofs, published in 1822, gives a statement of the religious views of Douglas and his church. ‘The analogy’, attributed to him, is found in A Collection of Hymns for universalists (1824). He also wrote numerous tracts, such as ‘Causes of our public calamity’, ‘The Baptist’, ‘A word in season’, and others.

Douglas died at Glasgow on 9 January 1823, aged seventy-three. His wife had died before him, and his only surviving son, Neil Douglas, was a constant source of trouble to him and narrowly escaped hanging (see his trial for ‘falsehood, fraud, and wilful imposition’, 12 July 1816, in the Scots Magazine, 78.552–3) .


AT EDINBURGH, ON THE 26th May 1817

Lord Justice Clerk.—Niel Douglas,—Attend to the Indictment against you, which is now to be read.
"Niel Douglas, Universalist Preacher, residing in Stockwell Street of the city of Glasgow, you are Indicted and Accused, at the instance of Alexander Maconochie of Meadowbank, his Majesty's Advocate for his Majesty's interest: That Albeit, by the laws of this and of every other well-governed realm, Sedition, more especially when committed by a minister or by a person exercising the functions of a minister, in the performance of divine worship, is a crime of a heinous nature, and severely punishable: Yet True It Is And Of Verity, that you the said Niel Douglas are guilty of the said crime, aggravated as aforesaid, actor, or art and part:

In So Far As, on the 9th day of March 1817, or on one or other of the days of that month, or of the months of February or January immediately preceding, in a house, hall or room, called the Andersonian Institution Class-Room, situated in John Street of the said city of Glasgow, you the said Niel Douglas, being a minister, pr exercising the functions of a minister, did, in the course of divine worship, wickedly, slanderously, falsely and seditiously utter, before crowded congregations, chiefly of the lower orders of the people, prayers, sermons or declamations, containing wicked, slanderous, false and seditious assertions and remarks, to the disdain, reproach, and contempt of his Majesty, and of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, in their persons as well as in their offices; and also to the disdain, reproach and contempt of the House of Commons, and of the administration of justice within the kingdom; all which wicked, slanderous, false and seditious assertions and remarks, were calculated and intended to the hurt, prejudice and dishonour of his Majesty, and of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, both in their persons and offices; to withdraw from the Government and Legislature the confidence and affections of the people; and, by engendering discord between the King and the people, to inflame the people with jealousy and hatred against the Government, and to fill the realm with trouble and dissension. More ParTicularly, time and place foresaid, you the said Niel Douglas did wickedly, slanderously, falsely and seditiously, in the course of the prayers, sermons or declamations uttered by you, assert and draw a parallel between his Majesty and Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, remarking and insinuating that, like the said King of Babylon, his Majesty was driven from the society of men for infidelity and corruption: And you, then and there, did further wickedly, slanderously, falsely and seditiously assert, that his Royal Highness the Prince Regent was a poor infatuated wretch, or a poor infatuated devotee of Bacchus, or use expressions of similar import: And you, then and there, did wickedly, slanderously, falsely and seditiously assert and draw a parallel between his Royal Highness the Prince Regent and Belshazzar King of Babylon; remarking and insinuating that his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, like the said King of Babylon, had not taken warning from the example of his father; and that a fate similar to that of the said King of Babylon awaited his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, if he did not amend his ways, and listen to the voice of his people: And Further, time and place foresaid, you did wickedly, slanderously, falsely and seditiously assert that the House of Commons was corrupt, and that the members thereof were thieves and robbers; that seats in the said House of Parliament were sold like bullocks in a market, or use expressions of similar import: And FurTher, time and place foresaid, you did wickedly, slanderously, falsely and seditiously assert, that the laws were not justly administered within this kingdom j and that the subjects of his Majesty were condemned without trial, and without evidence, or use expressions of similar import. And you the said Niel Douglas having been apprehended and taken be/ore Robert Hamilton, Esquire, Sheriff-depute of the county of Lanark, did, in his presence, at Glasgow, emit three several declarations, dated the 15th, 17th and 18th days of March 1817: Which declarations being to be used in evidence against you, will be lodged in due time in the hands of the Clerk of the High Court of Justiciary, before which you are to be tried, that you may have an opportunity of seeing the same. At Least, time and place foresaid, in the course of divine worship, prayers, sermons or declamations were wickedly, slanderously, falsely and seditiously uttered, containing the foresaid wicked, slanderous, false and seditious assertiohs, remarks and insinuations, by a person who was a minister, or who exercised the functions of a minister; and you the said Niel Douglas are guilty thereof, actor, or art and part. All Which, or part thereof, being found proven by the verdict of an Assize, before the Lord Justice-General, the Lord JusticeClerk, and Lords Commissioners of Justiciary, you the said Niel Douglas Ought to be punished with the pains of law, to deter others from committing the- like crimes in all time coming. James Wedderburn, A. D."






Any contributions will be gratefully accepted



Errors and Omissions

The Forum

What's new?

We are looking for your help to improve the accuracy of The Douglas Archives.

If you spot errors, or omissions, then please do let us know


Many articles are stubs which would benefit from re-writing. Can you help?


You are not authorized to add this page or any images from this page to (or its subsidiaries) or other fee-paying sites without our express permission and then, if given, only by including our copyright and a URL link to the web site.


If you have met a brick wall with your research, then posting a notice in the Douglas Archives Forum may be the answer. Or, it may help you find the answer!

You may also be able to help others answer their queries.

Visit the Douglas Archives Forum.


2 Minute Survey

To provide feedback on the website, please take a couple of minutes to complete our survey.


We try to keep everyone up to date with new entries, via our What's New section on the home page.

We also use the Community Network to keep researchers abreast of developments in the Douglas Archives.

Help with costs

Maintaining the three sections of the site has its costs.  Any contribution the defray them is very welcome



If you would like to receive a very occasional newsletter - Sign up!



Back to top


The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

Contact Us

Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024