Porter, Josiah Leslie (1823–89), presbyterian minister, professor, and president of QCB, was born 4 October 1823 at Carrowan, Burt, Co. Donegal, youngest son of William Porter and Margaret Porter (née Leslie); both parents were from farming backgrounds, and his father was tenant of several hundred acres. His maternal grandfather was Andrew Leslie. The family was probably related to Andrew Porter, a general in the war of American independence. William Porter had received the thanks of parliament for services to public order in Burt in 1798. Josiah was educated by the Rev. Samuel Craig, a seceding minister and father of Samuel Craig (qv). Porter entered Glasgow University (1839) and graduated BA (1841) and MA (1842). He attended theology lectures in New College in the university of Edinburgh from 1842, and in 1844 was licensed to preach by Derry presbytery. On 25 February 1846 he was ordained minister of a presbyterian congregation near Newcastle upon Tyne. The Irish presbyterian board of missions nominated him (27 August 1849) to go as a missionary to Damascus, to preach to the Jews. He married (9 October 1849) Margaret Rainey Cooke, youngest daughter among the thirteen children of Henry Cooke (qv); Porter's connection with the redoubtable Henry Cooke proved advantageous to his career, and he wrote a biography (1875) of his late father-in-law, which went into four editions.
The newly married couple arrived in Syria in December 1849; Mrs Porter's health broke down after five years, but Porter continued his work in Syria until 1859. He travelled widely in the region, often experiencing hardships as well as dangers from hostile tribesmen, and in his books Five years in Damascus (1855) and Handbook for travellers in Syria and Palestine (1858) revealed his knowledge of local history, conditions, and customs. In July 1860 Porter was chosen professor of biblical criticism in the Presbyterian College, Belfast; in 1864 he published The pentateuch and the gospels; in 1865 he was awarded the degrees of LLD by Glasgow University and DD by Edinburgh; and two years later, on the death of William Gibson (qv), he became secretary of the faculty of the college. Porter was a conscientious teacher, but his main contributions were to the administration and to the building programme of the college. In 1872 Mrs Henry Gamble discussed with Porter the provision of funds for the college library, and her gift of £1,500 was spent by Porter on books and fittings. In 1875 Porter was elected moderator of the general assembly. During his tenure of office he established an important fund to provide manses for congregations throughout the country. In 1878 he persuaded Adam Findlater (qv) to give £10,000 for buildings for the Presbyterian College, on the condition that £5,000 was raised from other sources. When all the donations were received, the college was able to build professors’ houses, student rooms, and a chapel, and faculty salaries were increased. Mrs Porter and her sister raised almost £850 for railings to replace a disreputable wooden fence.
Later that same year, Porter resigned his professorship and moved to Dublin, where as one of the first two assistant commissioners for intermediate education he was largely responsible for laying down the framework of the new educational system. In 1879 he was appointed president of QCB. The Queen's University, of which QCB was a constituent college, ceased to exist in 1882, to be replaced as an examining body by the newly founded RUI. During Porter's time as president, he was obliged to deal with difficulties of funding and planning, as well as threats to the status of QCB, which emanated from the new arrangements and from the tense and confrontational politics of the time. In response, Porter drew up a plan for a queen's university in Belfast, which would be autonomous and more responsive to conditions in Ulster, while providing non-sectarian education. Nothing at the time came from his ideas, and his attempts to wrest more money from government for badly needed extra accommodation were also relatively unsuccessful. He was much in the public eye and prepared to speak out on controversial educational topics. Most of his numerous publications were on historical and geographical aspects of the lands of the Bible; he published in 1876 an annotated Pew and study Bible. On 16 March 1889 Porter died suddenly in Belfast, of congestion of the brain. His funeral to Henry Cooke's grave plot in Malone cemetery (17 March) was very large and impressive. His wife, two daughters, and two of their three sons survived him.