Sannox and the Macmillans

By David Pott

In a secluded spot on the Isle of Arran stands an attractive church which has a strong Macmillan association and which this year celebrates its 200th anniversary. Sannox Congregational Church was built in 1822, but its history prior to the building of the church itself is a particularly fascinating one…

In 1800 the evangelist James Haldane came to preach the Good News in North Glen Sannox. Amongst those who came to hear him were a young brother and sister, Duncan and Janet Macmillan, who lived five miles farther north at Cock Farm. Their father Malcolm was a Church of Scotland elder and was somewhat suspicious of the new ‘spiritual awakening’ that was attracting other young folk in the area! Before Haldane left, a fellowship was established which met in the Sannox open air for the next 16 years: “All the services were conducted in the open air. There was no chapel erected then. We were quite inured to the holding of our meetings for public worship in the field. In very severe weather we found shelter in farm-houses and in corn-mills.”1

Duncan and Janet Macmillan were significant founder members of the church and their marriages to other members of the fellowship were destined to have a profound impact far beyond the confines of Arran itself. Janet married Alexander Mackay who had been sent to take care of the flock in 1803. He was the minister at Sannox until his death in 1856. For most of their life, the Mackays lived at The Manse which adjoins the church. The church and the Manse were built after the Duke of Hamilton agreed in 1821 to the congregation’s request for land to build on. The church cost £400 to build.

Returning to earlier years, Duncan married Katherine Crawford and they settled in the humble croft called Achog, a mile south of Sannox. It was here on September 13th 1813 that Daniel Macmillan was born. Daniel, with his brother Alexander, later founded Macmillan Publishers. He is arguably Arran’s most distinguished and most influential son. When he was only three years old, the family moved to Irvine on the Ayrshire coast, but he never liked Irvine and Arran held a magnetic attraction for him for all of his short life. The attraction of Arran was its magnificent scenery, but also the very close relationship he had with his uncle and aunt, Alex and Janet Mackay. Such was his affection for them that he once wrote to a friend, “I have a whole swarm of uncles and aunts… I shall shake them all off except Uncle and Aunt Mackay.”2

That attraction only increased when first his father Duncan died when Daniel was only 9 years old and then, after his mother died when he was 21, he commented, “Irvine seems to me the most desolate of all places. I have no home there now, no mother’s fireside… I don’t think I’ll ever visit Irvine again.”3

One of Daniel’s most memorable visits to The Manse occurred when he was probably only 11 years old. He had been apprenticed to Maxwell Dick, a bookseller and bookbinder in Irvine and one day Maxwell Dick accused Daniel of stealing a few pence from the till. Daniel was incensed by this accusation, denying it so vehemently that Maxwell struck him for insubordination. Daniel promptly got his cap off a hook and picked up the accounts book and flung it at his master and left the shop. Daniel then walked 6 miles to Saltcoats and got a fishing boat to Arran and then walked on to the Mackays at The Manse. Meanwhile, when Daniel did not arrive home at the usual time, his worried mother sought out Maxwell Dick who was also very anxious and explained he had not made sufficient enquiry about the loss of the money. We can be sure that Daniel received very sound advice from his uncle and aunt. He soon returned to Irvine, where explanations and apologies were given on both sides and loyalty and mutual esteem restored. Daniel got an excellent reference from Maxwell Dick when his apprenticeship ended in 1831.

For much of his life Daniel was ill with TB and it was to Arran that he always returned for healing and recovery as these quotes indicate:

“I went to Arran for a month. That quite restored me. I used to climb the highest hills. My body and mind had a complete rest, and I had time to meditate on many things.”

“I was very feeble when I reached Glen Sannox. My aunt told me today that she really thought I was coming to her house to die when she saw me first. She has locked up my quinine and all other medicines. I drink milk every morning just as I did at home. Aunt milks it with her own hand and brings it foaming to my bedside. I began to bathe yesterday… I did not feel at all well afterwards. Aunt says it is always so after the first few days. I felt better today. I can walk a mile or two without feeling at all tired. Aunt & I have long conversations. I am very fond of her.”

“I am pretty well already and I hope the pure air of this beautiful place will, with the blessing of God do the rest. I even think that I feel myself improving as I write this.”4

When Daniel married Frances Orridge in 1850, it was inevitable that the honeymoon would be spent at The Manse. Their marriage only lasted 7 years and as Daniel lay dying in Cambridge aged only 44 in June 1857, his last reflections and memories brought him back to Arran. He remembered bathing under the Blue Rock, times with Aunt and Uncle Mackay, the lovely weather they had for the honeymoon and of the deep joy they had together.

Daniel’s younger brother Alexander who was born in Irvine in 1818 also had a very strong attachment to Arran, but although he certainly visited the manse, we have no records of his actually staying there. One of the reasons was that he usually came with his extended family. In 1860 we know that Daniel’s widow Frances and her two sons Frederick and Maurice came with him. It seems quite likely that they usually stayed in Lochranza and there is a memorial plaque to Alexander on the south facing wall of Lochranza Church.

Glen Sannox by Archibald Geikie. Source: Haslemere Educational Museum

Alexander Macmillan also had a very deep friendship with the famous geologist Sir Archibald Geikie and in their correspondence, they would describe their respective holidays on Arran. Geikie was also a fine artist as his watercolour of Glen Sannox shows. Alexander’s fondness for Arran is best expressed in a letter to his cousin who was staying in Whiting Bay in August 1866: “I will confess that I could weep with longing after Glen Sannox this very moment, and the great glen over to Lochranza is tender in my memory.”5

Cock Farm

Another person who was influenced by the Sannox and Arran legacy was Daniel Macmillan’s grandson Harold Macmillan who was Prime Minister from 1957-1963. Although he never knew his grandfather, Harold Macmillan was profoundly inspired by the stories of his life. He kept the photograph shown above of the croft at the Cock of Arran on his desk and no 10 Downing Street to remind him of his humble origins.

What is striking in all of the above is that firstly Daniel and Janet Macmillan played a major role in the birthing of the Sannox congregation and then subsequently their descendants were constantly refreshed, renewed and resourced by the rich Sannox legacy – a legacy that included the spiritual heritage of the church and its people, the spectacular landscape and stories to inspire in challenging times. Truly even the global impact of Macmillan Publishers is influenced by this legacy.

Seven years after the church was built, another significant date in the history of Sannox is 1829. That is when the Clearances came to Arran and half the congregation were on the first boat to Canada which sailed that April from Lamlash Bay. They settled in Inverness in Megantic County, Quebec. After a few years, they built a replica of the church at Sannox which survived until 1949. The original settlers included a Neil McMillan from South Sannox and a descendant, Terry Macmillan, still lives in Inverness today. Perhaps there are other Macmillan/Sannox connections yet to be revealed!

The recent history of Sannox begins in 2012 when the site was purchased by the Sannox Christian Centre. In the ten years since then another building on the site, Dundarroch Cottage, the old stable block, was first transformed into an attractive self-catering accommodation for up to 9 people and then the church itself was completely renovated to a high standard with its own kitchen and toilets. It now provides a modern beautiful space for worship and other activities.

The interior of the manse at present

Now to celebrate the 200th anniversary, the Sannox Christian Centre has launched Project 200 with the aim of renovating the Manse which is currently a ruin. A key aim of Project 200 is to raise at least £200,000 with the ambitious target of encouraging 1,000 people on Arran, in the UK and overseas to donate £200 each.

In the light of the fact that the Sannox Christian Centre has been influenced strongly by the legacy of Celtic Christianity, it is interesting to note that the origin of Clan Macmillan also has its roots in the same source. The progenitor of the clan was one Gilchrist An Gille Maolin who belonged to the Culdee order of the Celtic Church. To distinguish themselves from the Roman monks, they shaved their heads in front of a line from ear to ear which was referred to as the St John’s tonsure. Macmillan literally 5 means “son of the tonsured one.” We are very confident that Gilchrist would approve of what is happening at the Sannox Christian Centre today!


A computer generated image of how the manse will look after renovation

The Sannox Christian Centre would be delighted to welcome members of Clan Macmillan to come and visit and if you would like to support Project 200 and find out more please visit

More details of Project 200 can also be found here (PDF)


George Macmillan, the clan chief at the site of Daniel Macmillan’s birth on a visit in 2013. The Sannox Congregational Church was significant for the Arran branch of the clan which came over from Knapdale.

1 Quoted in Scottish Congregational Magazine 1856 p 127
2 Memoir of Daniel Macmillan by Thomas Hughes 1882 Mamillan & Co , p 17
3 Ibid p 54
4 Ibid p 25
5 Letters of Alexander Macmillan by George Macmillan 1908, University Press Glasgow, p 213

With many thanks to David for sending this fascinating article to us at the Voice! Featured image shows Sannox Church, credit: