Left to right Andrew MacCormick,  my uncle; Annabel (Campbell MacLachlan) MacCormick, my great-grandmother; Neil Lamont MacCormick my grandfather; Neil Lamont MacCormick Sr., my great-grandfather; John MacCormick, my granduncle.   (Note the characteristic of photographs of the period I have observed – subjects looking away from the camera, perhaps because of the magnesium flare used to illuminate.)


Several years ago, I had the idea and ambition to put together a history of  my father’s family, the MacCormicks.  I contacted several relatives and scoured the internet for information.  Unfortunately or not, I had to put aside the project.. Now,  as time moves on its customary fashion, I feel that I should pass on the material  gathered.  Perhaps another family member will be inspired to add to and complete this rough piece.  Frankly, I presently have no time nor energy to polish up my draft.   I ask your forgiveness and indulgence! NOTE:  two figures are prominent in the MacCormick family collection:  John MacDonald MacCormick and his son, Professor Sir Donald Neil MacCormick.  Because of the huge amount of data on the two available on the internet,, I have chosen to give more space here to other family members whose activities may be less familiar. Here follows the material I have collected.


                                       A  Ross of Mull/Isle of Iona (Scotland) Family.   We write family histories for many reasons: to see how far back in time we can  trace our roots;  to try and understand  where we came from and perhaps who we are; and  to ensure that our descendants will be informed of their past.   In this brief record, I will first concentrate on the more notable accomplishments of my family.I find it intriguing to consider how a mix of genes, circumstances and chance all play a  role in personal outcomes.   This work should have been initiated years ago while older generations with rich stores  of family history  were still with us.  But we were all too busy getting on with our lives  to recognize  the  need to  record.  Anyway, this is a beginning.   The information presented here is from personal knowledge, from family members,  information from my mother ( still going on at age 96),  and data recovered from the internet.     

We have to start somewhere.     I have chosen to begin with my great grandparents on my father’s side because I have substantial  information available for them.  The family can in fact  be traced at least to the 18th century:  NEIL LAMONT MACCORMICK (born Iona 1836, died Fionphort 1925),     ANNABELCAMPBELL MACLACHLAN MACCORMICK  (born Iona 1838,  died  Fionphort    1932 )    As there will be many Neils and Annabels  listed in this brief essay. I have chosen to add, not only the the normal  use of arabic and  Roman numerals to indicate generations but also, where useful,  to clarify identities by adding place names – for example – Neil Tormore, my great grandfather.  (Footnote – I encountered  this problem  at first hand  as a youth when at a dinner table in my home in Glasgow, we had five Neil MacCormicks seated :   me,  my grandfather and  my father, plus a son and grandson of William and Mary MacCormick).   

Neil Tormore  came from an Iona crofting family.  But he built a career at the Tormore granite quarry in Fionphort at the western extremity of the Isle of Mull. .   He became a quarrier in 1871 at the age of 35 and manager of the Tormore Quarry ten years later   This enterprise was the only non-agricultural organization of any size on Mull.  The granite from Tormore was used to build many structures including  Blackfriar’s Bridge and the Embankment in London . Neil Tormore was  a well-known figure on the islands of Mull and Iona.  Among his contributions to island life was his role as conductor of Bunessan church choirs.  It  has been claimed by family members that he composed the well known hymn melody, “Bunessan”.  However . the most recent attempt to have that accomplishment recognized officially was rejected in 2007 by the Church of Scotland Committee established to revise the Church Hymnal.   Recently I have found indications that he may have notated the melody for his  choirs.  One  of his writings is an account of a journey to Egypt.     Because of his knowledge of economic geology, and his expertise in the operation of stone quarries, he had been asked to join an expedition to the Upper Nile (via the Red Sea).  The purpose was to explore ancient Roman porphyry quarries to determine if they could be reopened and exploited.  . As it turned out, the quarries proved unworkable.  However, we are able to benefit from the expedition because of  the insights in a journal he kept (unpublished – original manuscript retained by Annabel MacInnes, Ruanich, Isle of Iona, a great granddaughter of Neil Tormore.)     His obituary read (note the surname spelling, as on the headstone of the grandparents’ grave in the Iona Abbey graveyard)

Oban Times  21 November 1925                                 

 A Noted Highlander  Deep regret was felt throughout the Ross of Mull and in Iona at the death of Mr. Neil McCormick, Achadh Ban, Fionphort, Ross of Mull, who was held in the greatest esteem and respect by all who knew him.  His long life almost spanned three generations in Mull and Iona, and that, coupled with his position as Manager of the Mull Granite Quarries for many years, made him a familiar figure in a wide district.  Mr. McCormick was born at Culbhuirg, Iona, about the year 1836 so that he passed away in his 90th year.  Mr. McCormick was therefore probably among the eldest of the readers of the “Oban Times”.  During his long life Mr. McCormick witnessed many interesting phases in the social growth and development of his native parish.  He was only an infant when the croft in Iona was exchanged for the croft in the Ross of Mull, just across the Sound of Iona, and there he was reared, though during the whole course of his life, he was in close touch with his native Iona, where the majority of the people are his near relatives.  When Mr. McCormick was a youth, the principal industry in the Ross of Mull was quarrying.  The building of Skerryvore Lighthouse had already opened up the place and given a name to what was afterwards known among the quarry masters of the period as “Mull Granite”.  Mr. McCormick entered the trade as a young man and by his grit and perseverance rose to the position of manager of the Mull quarries.  For nearly 40 years he was sole manager, and on account of his great technical skill, his expert knowledge was often sought, and several times it took him far afield in connection with questions of arbitration.  A Visit to Egypt At one time his services as an expert were given in Egypt.  Differences arose between a firm of sculptors in London, and the government of Egypt over the question of transport in connection with a large porphyry quarry which the London firm leased from the Egyptian Government.  It was mutually agreed to settle the matter by arbitration, and Mr. McCormick was accepted as referee.  Mr. McCormick’s interest in antiquarian matters prompted him to undertake a task which for his years had certain risks, for the sun-baked Egyptian desert had to be negotiated to its very centre.  Besides climatic hardships, the Sudan War was in progress, and the Government of Egypt equipped the expedition with an armed guard.  Mr. McCormick had many reminiscences of this trek through the hot desert, and loved to relate interesting incidents connected with the journey, such as the manner in which his guard could ascertain the approach of danger by listening through the sand over a large area at camping time each night.When Mr. McCormick was a young man, the manager of the quarries was an Englishman named Spence.  He was a civil engineer, and is still remembered as the builder of the Suspension Bridge across the Clyde.  Mr. Spence, while in Mull, laid the rails leading from the quarries to the shipping quay, but owing to the steepness of the gradient, which is 1 in 9, there was continual trouble.  Something had to be done for the safety of life and property.  Mr. McCormick evolved the idea of a ‘rail brake’, applied by a lever.  For more than fifty years his invention gave every satisfaction, and during that period it was known as the only ‘rail brake’ in the world, and strangers visiting the quarries were puzzled as to the way in which the machine was worked.  Many years afterwards the Corporation of Glasgow employed a similar brake applied by electricity for their tram cars.  In the course of Mr. McCormick’s management of the Mull Quarries, some of the biggest quarrying contracts in the country passed through his hands, and today in many parts of Europe and America the polished “Red Granite of Mull” still proclaims the superiority in defying climaticonslaught.                                Interesting Reminiscences Although he was always a busy man, Mr. McCormick took a deep interest in the social and religious welfare of the community.  He remembered the Disruption, and though only seven years of age at the time he had interesting reminiscences of the great ecclesiastical upheaval.  He used to tell how, cuddled at the fireside, he would listen to his father, who afterwards became a Free Church Elder, Catechist and Schoolmaster, reading the ‘Witness’, then edited by Hugh Miller, and discussing the points at issue in the great conflict to many earnest men and women who took a pious interest in the memorable struggle.  Like his father, Mr. McCormick was an ardent Free Churchman all his days, and in the course of his active life he contributed to its welfare.  He often acted as precentor, and for many years conducted a psalmody class, the members being drawn from all the denominations in the parish. Tangible proof of the earnest spirit in which Mr. McCormick’s voluntary services were looked upon by all and sundry in a wide area came when he was presented with a handsome marble timepiece – ‘from the people of both Churches’ in the Ross and Iona.  To Mr. McCormick the work he undertook as choir conductor was a labour of love, but of the gift he received by the spontaneous act of his friends and neighbours he was always proud: and today his family cherish it as a token of the respect and esteem in which their father was held among his people.  Notwithstanding his ripe old age, Mr. McCormick enjoyed excellent health up to the day on which his illness began.  He leaves a widow and nine of a family – seven sons and two daughters – to mourn his loss.  It is a remarkable record that with the exception of a child who died in infancy, there was no break in his family of eleven until a son, William, an engineer in the Navy, was killed during the War.  Mrs. McCormick and her family have the sympathy of all who know them in the great loss they have sustained and they have received letters of condolence from far and near.”  ————————-

Neil Tormore and his wife  Annabel had eleven children as noted

JOHN  Gaelic scholar, teacher, author

MARGARET b. 2 April 1862, d. 19 December 192

DONALD      Sea captain, shipping superintendent

WILLIAM (died in infancy) 

NEIL LAMONT   For most of his working life, he was Superintendent of a large working men’s hostel in Glasgow. 

DUGALD  He was a sailor, master mariner and captain in the Australian army. He settled in Australia where he was a grazier of sheep.  Here is a rather bedraggled photo of Granduncle Dugald, I am certain on his return voyage from Australia (with unidentified companions).


 He composed verse in Gaelic and English as well as tunes for pipes and songs.  See this site for a remarkable collection of 56 stories and songs narrated  or sung in his native Gaelic by Granduncle Dugald.     Upon his return to Scotland, he was much in demand as a Gaelic raconteur at The Highlanders Institute in  Glasgow.   In 1948 his book written about his son, Iain, was published:

 (A personal note.  Granduncle Dugald was the kindest of the siblings to me and my immediate family.)

Here is a letter of interest with his view of the MacCormick family origins which  he sent to my late youngest sister, Fiona Campbell MacCormick.  You can get a clear impression of his  sense of fun (which did not always sit well in his brother’s home at 25 Elmbank Crescent, Glasgow).  Uncle Dugald Letter0001
WILLIAM   Naval engineer

ROBERT   Shipping Superintendent


COLIN COLL MCDONALD    Lighthouse keeper, Islay  

As  far as I have been able to ascertain, , only LACHLAN remained on Mull, the other siblings seeking livelihoods in  Glasgow and elsewhere, John  however returning to Mull.    A question to be asked is why so?   The most likely answer may be  found in the combination of two major and catastrophic events: the Mull Clearances carried out on behalf of the Duke of Argyll  and the Potato Famine, both of  which occurred a few years after  NEIL TORMORE’s birth on Iona in 1836. See e.g.,   (The Tormore Quarry closed in 1910.)  I can only speculate that there may also have been a paucity of suitable arable land to support eleven new MacCormicks in their adulthood.  Another possibility is that Neil TORMORE, a community leader and sage, may have  encouraged his offspring to seek their fortunes off the Island.  This matter is one which intrigues me and I will investigate it further.)

JOHN MACCORMICK, their first born,  and my most admired family member (I will explain this  later) was a  well known Gaelic writer and poet.  He was crowned Bard at the 1925 Mod in Greenock, I  calculate, just before his father died.  . He was also author of a still-quoted book, The Isle of Mull,  out of print since 1934He was co-founder of The Iona Press.  A recent research paper sets forth his remarkable career and is highly recommended reading – “The Forgotten First John MacCormick” –  (This is  currently a non-working link.  I am checking it out.) It is noteworthy that his son John was the sole member of the family to remain in crofting and  on Iona.  Today, his great great  grandson farms Culbuirg on Iona while his granddaughter, ANNABEL and her spouse, John MacInnes, retired from active crofting to ANNABEL’S  Iona family home, Ruanich. _

We now turn to the  next  (or third?) generation to see further accomplishments.    
  JOHN MACDONALD MACCORMICK (BORN 1904 –  DIED 1961) ,third child of DONALD and  Marion , practiced law in Glasgow.  He  came to public attention in    the 1930s    for his leading role in the formation of the Scottish Nationalist Party.   In his 1955 book, Flag In the Wind, reissued in 2008, he predicted correctly that a Scottish Parliament would emerge by the end of the 20th Century.   He was elected Rector of Glasgow University. He famously brought suit to protest the use of QE II mottoes on postal boxes in Scotland.  He argued accurately that the first Queen Elizabeth did not rule Scotland.    The suit was unsuccessful but brought continuing attention to Scottish concerns.      In the 2008 film, Stone of Destiny, Robert Carlisle plays his role in the removal of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey.   
MARGARET HARPER-NELSON (born1910, died 2003) was the first child of ANNABEL AND JOHN HARPER-NELSON.   Her father was a medical officer  in the Indian Army.  Lieutenant Colonel Harper-Nelson  served from 1930-35 as Principal of the second-oldest educational  institution in the Indian sub-continent, King Edward Medical College.   MARGARET’S  parents retired to “Achaban” the home which they had maintained at Fionphort, a hamlet west of Bunessan, and the terminus of the Iona ferry.   {I have not had time to properly research the ownership history of Achaban.  I know that it was originally a manse and later became the home of the Manager of the Tormore Quarry.)  Neil Tormore died while living there.  Like most property on the Ross of Mull, Achaban was owned by the Duke of Argyll.  ln any event, John and ANNABEL Harper-Nelson subsequently took ownership of Achaban and the adjacent Loch Poit-Na-Hi.  The house later  passed out of the family and is now a hotel.) 

MARGARET played a significant role in the heyday of the British film industry in the 1950s as an imaginative and dedicated casting agent.   Yet you will seek in vain for her name in the credits of such films as The Lavender Hill Mob and Whisky Galore.   Ealing Studios decision  not to identify her role in their most outstanding films is one of those corporate mysteries.   But it was so.  (Nowadays, you will be informed of the name of the standby tea-boy!)    Rather than summarize her accomplishments, I thought it would be more informative  to  insert (without permission thus far) an appreciation of her life which appeared in The Times of London  on June 25, 2003: The Times obituaryJune 25, 2003

“Margaret Harper-Nelson Respected Ealing Studios casting agent who discovered Audrey Hepburn on a chorus line

“As a casting director in the heyday of the Ealing Studios, Margaret Harper-Nelson holds a unique place in the annals of British cinema.With her keen eye for talent and shrewd judgment of scripts, she was personally responsible for casting some of the best-loved British film comedies made in postwar Britain.  In 1949 alone she cast all the leading actors and supporting cast in Passport to Pimlico, Whisky Galore! and Kind Hearts and Coronets. In the last named it was Harper-Nelson’s suggestion that Alec Guinness playall eight of the doomed d’Ascoyne family.:She worked closely with Sir Michael Balcon who, as head of EalingStudios, left a distinctive mark on British cinema and on the representation of”Britishness”. He produced quiet comedies of English character whichusually featured a downtrodden group which rebelled against authority. The comedies were noted for their quirky freshness and originality and the studiosemployed a repertory of known and unknown players.“Harper-Nelson always encouraged new talent. She saw the potential forthe young Peter Sellers and cast him as the Teddy Boy, Harry, in TheLadykillers (1955). One of her favourite stage comedians was Frankie Howerd andshe cast him in the same film as a harassed barrow boy. In Whisky Galore!(1949) she found a small role for an unknown Stanley Baker. She regularlyattended theatres throughout the country and the West End in search of newactors.

“But her new finds were not always appreciated by the studios. Smitten by the charm of one young chorus girl, Harper-Nelson cast her as a cigarette girl in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). When she suggested a long-term contract she was told that Audrey Hepburn “would not go far”.

“Although Ealing Studios were run very much as a family affair,Margaret was one of the few women working behind the scenes. She was, however, highly respected, not least by directors such as Robert Hamer, Charles Frend and Alexander Mackendrick and by the scriptwriter T. E. B. Clarke.  Intelligent and witty, she was popular with actors and she numbered among her many close friends Alec Guinness and Jill Balcon. She was a close friend of Audrey Hepburn until the star’s death in 1993. Harper-Nelson, a heavy smokerfor many years, always offered others a cigarette as well. She claimed that she did so to put people at their ease, but on retiring from the film world she gave up overnight.

“As well as casting comedies such as The Titfield Thunderbolt (1952) and The Ladykillers, she also turned her hand to several dramas. In 1953 she worked on the wartime naval classic, The Cruel Sea, starring Donald Sinden,and the same year Mandy, the weepie starring Phyllis Calvert and Jack Hawkins. She also liked to cast against type, or as she called it “misplacing people”,  such as Majorie Fielding as The Lavender Hill Mob’s elderly hotel resident hooked on crime thrillers and Danny Green as the sentimental gangster, One Round, in The Ladykillers.  “Harper-Nelson worked at the studios for ten years from 1946, yearsmthat she described as “the happiest of her life”. When the studios were bought by the  BBC in 1955 she attended a ceremony with Sir Michael Balcon, who unveiled a plaque that read “Here during a quarter of a century were made many films projecting Britain and the British character”.

“Margaret Harper-Nelson was born in Stepps, North Lanarkshire, and was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College.   During the Second World War she worked for Basil Dean at ENSA, the Forces entertainment organization known by the troops as “Every Night Something Awful”. She worked at the headquarters at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and also as a continuity announcer for Geraldo and his Band at the Fortune Theatre and at munitions factories throughout the country.“In 1946 she obtained a post as an assistant at Ealing Studios and within months became a leading casting agent. In 1957 she worked for a period at the Rank Organisation, promoting new starlets such as Jill Ireland, Susan Shaw, Susan Beaumont and others. Two years later, Harper-Nelson joined the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson as a headhunter for television commercials for the newly formed ATV. Among her most memorable successes was Mary Holland who would play “Katie” in the long-running Oxo commercials.

“At the age of 51, Harper-Nelson suddenly retired and went to look after her mother at the family home in a remote village on the Isle of Mull.

“Six years later she was joined by her sister, the novelist ANNABEL   CAROTHERS.   Harper-Nelson acted as a typist for her sister, notably on Kilcaraig, an epic romantic saga set on the Isle of Mull. Tragically, after a long illness, during which she was nursed by her sister, Annabel died on the day  that her book was published. It became a bestseller.   

“For the rest of her life Harper-Nelson lived alone but enjoyed a huge correspondence with friends all over the world. She kept numerous diaries and notebooks; a typically modest entry read: “Tuesday. Had lunch with the Attenboroughs  Went shopping.” Always fascinated by   people, she was acutely interested in current affairs, new films and up-and-coming actors.  ‘I   may be alone,’ she said recently to a friend, ‘but I am not lonely.’    “Margaret Harper-Nelson, casting agent, was born on October 17, 1910.    She died on June 6, 2003, aged 92 in Bunessan..

Not cited in the obituary was her role in casting The Maggie, my favorite Ealing film.  (The captain  was played by Alex MacKenzie who sang with my father in a quartet of the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association.)  Margaret once told me she recommended a Mull lad (a MacMillan?) for the part of the wee boy in the film but was overruled by the director.
In the years before she died, Margaret moved from Achaban to Earobus,  Bunessan.  She later  had a new house built in Bunessan and named it “Kilcaraig”.  
ANNABEL CAROTHERS, Margaret’s younger sister, I was told, began writing her bestseller novel, Kilcaraig,in the 1940s (?).  However following the death of her husband in action in World War II, she stopped work on it for decades.   He book was finally published in 1982 sadly on the day that she died.    [I have recently discovered the existence of another volume listed by one source as Kilcaraig: Part 1 1913-1946, The Breeze In the Barley published in 1985 in a large print edition.  I have not located other editions  thus far.)     For those who have not had the pleasure. Kilcaraig is a good read about quite a grand family on Mull. Annabel’s daughter, Fionna Eden-Bushell, recently found a manuscript by her mother and had it published in 2011:  Four Ducks On a Pond, by Nicholas the Cat, and Annabel Carothers is of interest to this history because it portrays life at Achaban in the 1940s..   Fionna has her own web site: and she has just sent me the  following news.  “I wonder if you know that I, as Fionna Carothers, had a sequel to Four Ducks published last year?  A Grass Bank Beyond – Memories of Mull – extends the period through the 40s and 50s and is found on the Birlinn website and, of course, Amazon where the version has a couple of excellent (unsolicited!) reviews.”
JOHN HARPER-NELSON. the youngest of the three. served in the military reaching the rank of major, and was a successful radio and television broadcaster, author and promoter of aboriginal art  in Australia. You can see a sprightly looking  John four years ago at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Perth (Australia) ABC television programming here   I will later add links to other sites relevant to John’s life.
At this writing (January 2 2015) JOHN HARPER NELSON is the oldest living member of the MACCORMICKS.


  1. Wonderful Neil! I found this quite by chance after googling my name – as Fionna Carothers – in an idle moment – and looked at the images which came up. Wish I had seen it before writing A Grass Bank Beyond – but I think we agree on the facts. Curiously, The Times obituary of MH-N was the result of a mysterious phone call I received soon after her death when I was sitting by the River Leven outside Balloch House Hotel, while a group of tourists had gone on a boat trip on Loch Lomond. I never did discover how the reporter tracked me down.

  2. What a fascination read!!
    I am actually the youngest of three sisters, who are the daughters of Fiona Eden-Bushell. – so we are Grand daughters of Annabel Carothers, and Great Grand daughter’s og Annabella and John MacCormick.
    – All three of us sister are actually read this while on Mull for a short and sad pilgrimage. Our Mum passed away last month after an extremely short illness and we came to scattter her ashes.
    Next we move on to clearing out the Glasgow house, including many diaries and manuscripts mentioned above.
    Please feel free to contact us.

    Lucetta Grout.

  3. The young lad offered the part of the gaelic speaking boy was indeed from mull It was my father Alistair MacDougall but the school not the director would not him do as he wpuld have to miss school

    1. Calum, delighted to receive your fascinating comment. Too bad your father was kept out of the film. Was this a local school? Perhaps in telling the story to me, Margaret did not want to offend.
      Thanks again.

  4. This is Janet, the oldest daughter of Prof. Sir Donald Neil, the second son of John MacDonald. Really enjoyed reading this history. Had not realized how the names I knew from childhood were connected. I feel the need to know so I can pass it on to my kids. By the way, thank you for reaching out many years ago, I suspect. Im sorry for the late response.

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