Scottish divine and philosopher, was born at Greenock on the 15th of December 1820. In his sixteenth year he entered the office of his father, who was partner and manager of a firm of engineers.
The Caird Family were connected with shipbuilding from early in the nineteenth century, the firm of Caird & Co. having first been established as an engineering concern in Cartsdyke.
John Caird II, the founder, started work in a smithy at the East Breast, and gradually shaped the smithy into a smithy foundry in Hutcheson’s Court, Cartsdyke – shoeing horses and casting anchor chains in the same workshop.
Eventually the smithy foundry became an engineering shop and eventually became a partnership of Anderson, Caird & Co. with new premises in Arthur Street. They specialised in the fitting up of sugar machinery and also to locomotives, building the first locomotive for the Greenock and Glasgow Railway.
Despite the tradition of shipbuilding in the Caird family, Principal John Caird of Glasgow University, like his brother Edward, who was Master of Baliol College, Oxford, chose an academic career. Leaving school at 15, John III, son of the founder of Caird & Co. worked as an apprentice in his father’s workshop for 18 months. He persuaded his father to send him to Glasgow University to continue his studies, and proceeded to win prizes for logic and mathematics. After a year of academic life he tried business again, but in 1840 he gave it up finally and returned to college.
With his father’s death in 1838, he was forced into a position of industrial and commercial responsibility, acting as manager. After guiding the business for a year however, he chose to pursue his studies. In 1845 he entered the ministry of the Church of Scotland, and after holding several livings accepted the chair of divinity at Glasgow in 1862. He quickly gained a high reputation as “perhaps the most eloquent preacher in Britain” and preached before Queen Victoria, Disraeli, Chamberlain, Charles Kingsley and many others. In theology he was a Broad Churchman, seeking always to emphasize the permanent elements in religion, and ignoring technicalities. Having received his doctorate he was made Professor of Divinity. In 1873 he was appointed vice-chancellor and principal of Glasgow University.
His theology was liberal and his sermons popular. He preached a sermon entitled Religion in Common Life to Queen Victoria at Crathie Kirk in 1855, and it was described as the best sermon of the century by the Dean of Westminster.
Caird’s writings included an Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (1880), which was based on the Croall Lectures he had given in 1878-9. His biography of Spinoza (1886) was well received and The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity (published posthumously in 1899) was based on his Gifford Lectures of 1892 – 6 and included a memorial written by his brother.
Caird returned to Greenock often, and died there on 30th July 1898.
The Caird family connection with the local community was further enhanced when Principal Caird’s youngest brother
Stuart bequeathed his art collection to the McLean Museum Committee.
The Caird collection and Trust was founded on 9th December, 1918.