The Year of Sheep – Scots Protest against The Highland Clearances


Scotland's sheep industry is worth more than £165m

Scotland’s sheep industry is worth more than £165m

The year of Homecoming is upon us, when expats and people from abroad with Scottish blood return to their homeland to celebrate all things Scottish.


But 217 years ago, the Government were doing quite the opposite, Scots were being banished from their homeland, threatened with execution if they refused. Amid the backdrop of ‘The Highland Clearances’ some inhabitants of Scotland did protest. In a year that was to become known as ‘The Year of Sheep’, there is evidence of a series of organised protests using one of Scotland’s most important exports- sheep.

In 1872 during The Highland Clearances a wedding party declared war on sheep and decided to undertake the ambitious job of driving thousands of sheep from the hills of Easter Ross and Sutherland. The majority of them members of the Ross family of Strathrusdale This escalated to 4 days later becoming a massive riotous group of 400 men. The Ross-shire Sheep Riots had begun.

Prof Jim Hunter, director of the UHI Centre for History said: “Announcements were made outside churches on a particular Sunday. The plan was drive the sheep from Sutherland and Easter Ross south.”
The sheep drivers recruited to their ranks as they pushed south.
By early August, they had rounded up 6,000 sheep and had reached Beauly, near Inverness.

Prof Hunter said: “The government was panicky. The situation was worse from their perspective because of the French Revolution and there was apprehension that the same thing might happen in Britain.
“The government cracked down on public protests.”

The Inverness County Sheriff Court Records reveal the punishments ordered for six men accused of driving sheep away.

They were Hugh Breck MacKenzie, John Aird, Malcolm Ross, Donald Munro, Alexander MacKay and William Cunningham.

MacKenzie and Aird were both ordered to be transported for seven years “beyond seas to such places as His Majesty shall appoint”.

If they returned to Britain in those seven years they were to be sentenced to death.

About Amanda Moffet

I run with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

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9 thoughts on “The Year of Sheep – Scots Protest against The Highland Clearances

  1. Isobella Dow

    My ancestry is from the ross clan, I am happy to learn more about it, It is through my grandfather John Ross-Dow, that I am told I am related. If there is any information linking me to this clan I would be more than happy to read it. Thanks,

  2. Lexi White

    I am trying to learn about the Ross clan for an upcoming wedding. My fiance is from Ullapool and loves his herritage. I would like to know a little bit more about the Ross clan so that I dont look like a fool infront of the inlaws. Hahaha, can anyone help?

  3. David Haggard

    I am trying to learn more about my family history… I have found my family coat of arms and Haggard was, as far as I can tell, a sept of the Ross clan. If anyone can help me please tell me what you can. Thank you.

  4. Thompson

    Trying to locate the Scottish connection of our family. All verbal indicators were that the Campbells came from the Highlands in Scotlands. Jane Campbell (1832) daughter of Samuel Campbell (1813) and Margaret Matthews migrated to Ireland, County Down.

    The Thompsons are also from Scotland but we don’t know their exact location? I have traced back to John Thompson circa 1790.

    Any suggestion to identify heritage in Scotland with such common surnames?

  5. gina sutherland

    I have recently found my Sutherland family from Golspie, Sutherland
    County, Scotland.
    John Sutherland & Catherine ? around 1780’s or so, had son, George Sutherland b. 1803 to Mary Ann Douglas, chilren: John, Barbara, James, Alexander, Mary, Catherine, Marion, Agnes & Elizabeth.
    The family up & left for Aberdeen from at least 1841 that I can track. Haven’t found any records in Golspie earlier.
    Were they “cleared” & when?


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