Robert Annan was born in Hilltown, Dundee, on the October 5, 1834. As a young man, he became an accomplished swimmer, nicknamed by his friends, “The Water-dog,” for his skill and courage. His reputation on land, however, was less glorious. He became the ringleader in drinking, swearing, fighting, and numerous other sins, and was eventually thrown into prison. While there, he resolved to change his ways if ever released. Three months later he was set free, but his resolutions disappeared like morning dew. He continued his reckless lifestyle on a trip to the US and Canada. Eventually, he joined the Army, where he met Christian friends who took a deep interest in his salvation. He once more resolved to reform and soon took pride in his new morality and sobriety. He scorned the need of a new birth and felt he was now as good as anyone else. This morality and pride vanished when, once more, he become drunk. After a wild night, he found himself wondering whether he was a doomed soul past all hope of redemption. He went to a gospel meeting in Dundee’s Kinnaird Hall where Duncan Matheson was preaching and was deeply spoken to by what he heard. Afterward, as he stood on the steps, another young man said goodnight to him and added, “We shall meet at the judgment seat.” The words went deeply into his soul. As he turned to enter the enquiry room, the hall door was closed in his face. Reeling down the steps, he said, “Great God, am I shut out of salvation forever?” He went to the home of a preacher and, greatly upset, asked him, “What must I do to be saved?” The preacher told him about the Lamb of God, but Robert left, still in darkness. He went home and climbed to the hayloft, where, for 13 hours, he cried to God for mercy. Later, the preacher visited him again and told him, “Robert, you are looking for a sign from heaven. You think if you heard a voice assuring you of salvation, or felt some strange thing within you, you would then believe and rest on Jesus. God gives you His Word; why will you not rest on that? The Gospel of Christ ‘is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.’ Believe, and it will be the power of God unto salvation to you. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.’ Jesus says, ‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.’” Those were the words which, at the end of three days, Robert Annan grasped: “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
For seven years, Robert Annan labored for Christ and for souls, particularly among the drunkards and street people who were experiencing the misery of sin he had once known. He was also able to save 11 people from drowning. He died saving an 11-year-old boy on July 31, 1867. Here is how Ira Sankey described it: “Robert Annan, of Dundee, Scotland, was one of the worst men who ever lived in that town, but after having been converted became one of the most useful missionaries of the place.
“On leaving his little cottage home one morning to go to his mission work, he took a piece of chalk from his pocket and wrote on the flagstone of the walk which led to his house the single word ‘Eternity.’ A few minutes later he saw a child fall from one of the vessels in the harbor. Being a bold, strong swimmer, he threw off his coat and shoes, and plunged into the bay. He saved the child, but at the cost of his own life. His body was carried home over the word ‘Eternity,’ which he had written a few hours before. On my last visit to Scotland, about five years ago, I went to see his widow, and found that the writing had been cut into the stone by direction of the Honorable James Gordon, the Earl of Aberdeen. Thousands go to see it every year.”