Donald Ross and the Highland Clearances
'Yet still the Blood is Strong'
- Andrew Ross
15th June 2023
The Highland Clearances was a dark episode in Scottish history when many thousands of people were forced off lands that they and their kin had lived on for generations. Some boarded ships destined for the colonies of America and Australia, others ended up on small barren plots by the coast or in city slums. A few men were outspoken against the atrocities, and one of them was Donald Ross.
Donald Ross was a Highlander, born in Sutherland in 1813. His father was the miller on the Skibo Castle Estate and Donald took over the mill when his father died. He and his family were subsequently evicted, fighting against their eviction in the Supreme Court but losing the case. Donald moved to Glasgow and within two years, as Agent for the Poor, helped over 1,500 people receive poor-relief payments, which were being withheld by local parish boards. In the 1850s Donald became the most outspoken critic of the Highland Clearances and wrote many detailed newspaper articles and pamphlets about mass evictions on Barra, Knoydart and Skye. His most famous publication was The Massacre of the Rosses, in which he graphically described the women of Strathcarron being brutally beaten by policemen for refusing to accept eviction notices. Donald supplied over 8,000 books and pamphlets for emigrants on the ill-fated Hercules. He also raised a lot of money to help poor people in the Hebrides, particularly during the infamous Potato Famine. However, Donald’s efforts were cut short by a scandal that saw him and his family emigrate to Nova Scotia.
Donald’s inspirational story makes him an unsung hero of the poor.