Today we begin with a new regular feature in Devotional Treasures; the serialisation of an old manuscript I wrote twenty-five years ago. It is the story of a man who I refer to as a hero of the Christian faith. He certainly is one of my heroes. This week we begin with an introduction, historical and spiritual. Dear reader, I hope you find this interesting and fruitful as I begin the story of Robert Annan.
In 1995 I was studying Business Administration at Dundee College, to gain the necessary qualifications for Abertay University. During my studies I was asked to write a dissertation on subject of historical significance to Dundonians, which was a challenge to this non-Dundonian. It was while researching for this in the local history department of Dundee Central Library that a small dusty book caught my attention: “The Christian Hero” by Rev. John MacPherson. In its’ pages I found the story of Robert Annan, a Dundee “worthy’ and evangelist of the 19th Century.
Robert Annan (1834-1867) was a tough working class man who was from a good Christian home, from which he rebelled. His early years were marked by hard drinking and fighting, but in 1860 his life was turned around by the power of the gospel. He only lived a further seven years , but they were spent in sharing the Good News of Jesus in Dundee and the surrounding regions. His short ministry was marked by the urgency of his message and his compassion for the poor. It was this remarkable story that grabbed my attention and excited me as I researched it further.
Dundee is a port city on the River Tay, on the East coast of Scotland. It has a rich industrial history mainly within what are fondly named as “Jute, Jam and, Journalism.” At its’ height Dundee laid claim to being the Jute manufacturing capital of the world, with many mills in and around the city. Dundee became renowned for putting jam and marmalade on breakfast tables throughout the British Empire and beyond. Dundee is also the home of the publishers D.C. Thomson who produce many well known periodicals and newspapers for the UK and world market. As industry grew so did the population of Dundee, rising steeply from 30,000 in 1821 to 120,000 in 1872. The rapid population rise produced a need for housing, which was built with little thought to living standards and proper sanitation.
The growth of Dundee proved to be fruitful for spiritual growth as well as industrial growth. Revivals were prevalent across the whole country at this time, one being at Kilsyth (1836, Lanarkshire) by the work of evangelists from St. Peters’ Church in Dundee. In 1839 revival came to St.Peters’ in Dundee, the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne reported that with thirty-nine services a week in church that approximately seven hundred converts were recorded in the Autumn of 1839. Many new churches sprang up to meet the new spiritual demand in the city, one of these churches was Hilltown Free Church the future church of the Annan family.
In next weeks’ instalment we will meet the Annan family from Fife, as they set out on their new life in Dundee.