MBHSMontrose Basin Heritage Society

The History of Montrose and its Surrounding Parishes

The History of Rossie Estate near Montrose

Rossie Estate lies on the south side of Montrose Basin and the Southesk River near the town of Montrose in the County of Angus. Owners of the estate have at various times made their mark both locally and nationally.

Down through the centuries Rossie has been a highly prized domain; fertile, with a long stretch of the south bank of the Southesk which was very productive of salmon; but above all close to the town of Montrose where the products of the estate such as salmon and grain could be exported.

In the second half of the 17th century the estate extended to the coast where the cliffs and secluded coves must have been a temptation to the brandy smugglers then so numerous. No doubt the turning of a blind eye to these activities may have led to some profit for the Laird - and convivial evenings!

Early Times

The earliest documented mention of Rossie is a grant of the lands by William the Lion, King of Scots, to Henry, son of Gregory the Clerk, between 1165 and 1174. A Norman family named Malherbe was in possession of the estate in 1211 when Hugh Malherbe granted two oxgangs of land in the territory of Rossie to Arbroath Abbey. This was soon after the establishment of Arbroath Abbey.

A little earlier, Hugh Malherbe's sister had married one Henry of Rossie. Hugh granted him part of the estate on his marriage, and around the same time gave Sir Thomas of Rossie, Henry's brother, the remainder of his lands of Rossie, Milnetun (Milton), Hulysham (Usan), and Balstuth (Balstout).

Thus the Malherbe family appears to have granted away all their holdings in the area at this time, and the Rossie family, originally related to them by marriage, took over the barony. The estate passed down through the Rossie family, with parts being sold off from time to time, for the next 400 years.

Scott Family

The Rossie estate was bought, along with almost the whole of the rest of the parish, in 1650 by Patrick Scott (1), for £10,000. He was a member of a powerful family of Scott in the area claiming descent from Michael Scott the Wizard.

In addition to running his estate, Patrick Scott was a prosperous burgess and merchant in Montrose. He was also proprietor of the Ferry across the Southesk from Ferryden to Montrose, an essential element in both local travel and more extended journeys along the east coast before the construction of the first bridge over the river in 1795.

In 1660, he bought a seventh part of ship called the 'Arms of Zeland' and was active in the export of salmon to London. He was succeeded at Rossie in 1690 by his eldest son, also Patrick, and bequeathed the second son, James, the estate of Usan. The third brother David acquired Dunninald. About 1696 the brothers Patrick and David were among the first proprietors in the area to introduce the spreading of lime on their fields to increase fertility.

The estate passed down by inheritance to Archibald, the son of Patrick (2) in 1731. Archibald was sole proprietor of his own ship, the Helen, and extended the salmon trade by exporting to Venice and other continental ports. The last of the Scotts was Patrick (3) who inherited in 1773. His tenure was more challenging due to a severe decline in salmon exports, and marred by the tragic deaths of no less than six of his children, only one daughter surviving her parents.

Unsurprisingly he sold off the estate in the face of these blows from Fate, and it passed out of the ownership of the Scott family after 135 years.

Hercules Ross

Hercules Ross was born in Johnshaven 1745, the son of an excise officer. The family moved to Port Glasgow when he was a child. Hercules emigrated to Jamaica in about 1760 when he was only 15 to work as a naval clerk. His entrepreneurial skills soon became evident. In fairly short order he appears as the owner of general merchants store and two trading sloops, a captain of militia, ADC to a Major-General, a Justice of the Peace for Kingston, and owner of the 200 acre Bushy Park estate just outside the town. During the War with America from 1775 Ross became Prize Agent for Jamaica, taking a cut of the prize money for captured vessels, and running his own privateers.

He befriended Horatio Nelson, then a young midshipman about 20 years old, and nursed him back to health from a fever at Bushy Park. They became firm friends and exchanged correspondence for the rest of Nelson's life. Twenty years later Hercules Ross named his only son Horatio, and the great naval hero became the boy's godfather. In late August 1805, less than two months before Trafalgar, he wrote to Nelson of his hope that 'there still remains some great action to be achieved ... worthy of his fame' and that one day he would be able to introduce 'my boy Horatio ... as fine a fellow as can be imagined', to his godfather.

Having made his fortune, he returned to Britain in 1783, aged only 38. Looking round for an estate appropriate to his station in life, he lit upon Rossie which had been on the market for two years at an asking price of £40,000. Perhaps attracted by its proximity to his birthplace and the similarity of its name to his own, he bought it for £33,250. The following year, 1784, he married Henrietta Parish of Hamburg on the recommendation, no doubt, of his brother Colin, a physician there.

The original Rossie House being old and dilapidated, the couple decided to build a large and modern castellated mansion. Plans were drawn up by Richard Crichton, and the new and resplendent Rossie Castle was erected, commanding views of Montrose Basin to the north and a wide expanse of open countryside to the south. It was not finished until 1805, although they moved in in 1800.

Hercules Ross continued with 'good works' as he had in Jamaica, being active in local affairs such as the proposal to bridge the Southesk at Montrose, achieved in 1795.

He was also, somewhat surprisingly for a former slave-owner, and the father of six children by a local woman, strongly in favour of the abolition of slavery. William Wilberforce asked him to give evidence before a Parliamentary Enquiry. He later recalled that his testimony in support of abolition had earned him 'a plentiful load of abuse' and cost him all his 'West India connections'. Hercules Ross died in 1816.

Horatio Ross

Horatio Ross, the only son of Hercules, was born in 1801. He was certainly by far the most distinguished and best known native of Rossie Estate. He grew up to be one of the most accomplished sportsmen Scotland has ever produced and excelled at a bewildering variety of sporting pursuits.


For a man who was later to be described as the best shot in the United Kingdom, he had a very inauspicious introduction to his acquaintance with firearms. When Horatio was six, his father got him to present colours to the Rossie regiment of yeomanry, but when they fired a salute over his head, the boy fled in terror. His mortified father ordered the butler to fire a musket several times over his head daily. This, unsurprisingly, made the boy even more frightened; but one day the servant had him fire the gun at a sparrow, which he hit and killed. In that moment he found his vocation.

It was as a shot that Horatio Ross first attracted universal attention, his skill as his with any form of sporting weapon being exceptional. He was unmatched as a deerstalker; he was equally successful on the rifle ranges, where he won numerous prizes, among them being the Wimbledon Cup. His son Edward also won the Queen's Prize at Wimbledon in 1860, the year of its initiation.

Horatio Ross and his sons - Hercules, Colin, and Edward - were four of the Scottish eight who contested with the English eight for the inter- national trophy 'the Elcho Shield' the oldest and most prestigious long range rifle contest in the world

His practice in the 1820s and 1830s was to spend the winter in Melton Mowbray where he had a good stud of horses; the summer in his Parliamentary duties; the autumn in the Highlands stalking and shooting deer. These activities did not leave much time to attend to his estate at Rossie nor did it result in the income which was necessary to keep up his lifestyle.In 1833 he married Justine Henrietta Frederique Ross, daughter of the Chief of the Clan Macrae. They had a family of five sons.

In 1850, Queen Victoria described Mrs Ross as 'a very ladylike person and an excellent shot herself but without any pretension. Her husband though no longer a young man (he was 49) is considered the best deer stalker and the best shot in Scotland'. As if to emphasise the fact that age had not impaired his ability, on 12 Aug 1883 he shot 83 grouse with 83 shots at the age of 82.


In 1829 Horatio Ross bought Clinker, described as 'the largest thoroughbred ever known', for 1200 gns and won the first recorded steeplechase riding him against Captain Douglas (of Brigton, near Forfar) on Radical, for a wager of £525. The race was held in Leicestershire. Riding to hounds was an abiding passion for much of his life.


In Victorian times the word 'pedestrianism' described long-distance competitive cross-country walking. Ross was renowned for his endurance of bodily exertion without fatigue, and on many occasions outlasted his opponents. Once, despite having just finished a full day's shooting, he set off at 9.00pm to walk nearly 100 miles from Banchory, Kincardineshire, to Inverness. He walked through the night, the following day and the next night, arriving at Inverness at 6am. His boots having disintegrated, he completed the last 25 miles or so barefoot.

He was also a fine cricketer, a sculling champion and a prize-winning yachtsman. He won a sculling match over the seven mile course between Vauxhall Bridge and Hammersmith.

Parliamentary career

Horatio Ross, as befitted his social position, and at the request of some of his fellow landowners in the area, stood for Parliament as a Whig, and was elected in 1831 as member for the Aberdeen boroughs, which included Montrose; and after the recasting of constituencies caused by the Reform Bill, from December 1832 to December 1834 he sat for Montrose itself. However, he was reluctant to engage too deeply in any activity that might distract him from his primary and abiding passion for field sports, and thereafter he did not seek re-election.


An early pioneer of photography, Ross became Vice President of the Photographic Society of Scotland in 1856. He produced Daguerreotypes - a difficult process for an amateur - and also used the collodion process. His views on the pursuit of photography were forthright - 'The proper field for the Amateur's labour is in the open air. Portraiture he should leave in the hands of the professional gentlemen.'

He sold Rossie in 1856 (it was rumoured there was no game left) and moved to Netherley near Stonehaven, where he had a 1400 yard rifle range installed on his estate. He later moved to a mansion on the outskirts of Inverness which he named Rossie Lodge, where he died in 1886.

The Daily Telegraph published an obituary in fulsome terms... 'He was perhaps the grandest, manliest and most high-minded all-round sportsman that any country ever produced. As a cross-country rider, an athlete, a yachtsman, a deer-stalker, a wielder of the gun and rifle, a pedestrian, he had no equal...'

Col Macdonald

The next proprietor of Rossie certainly had the advantage of the Rosses in length of name.

Col William Macdonald Farquharson Colquhoun Macdonald, of St. Martin's Abbey at Burrelton near Perth, bought the estate in 1856 for £64,000. He was Lieutenant-Colonel of the Perthshire Highland Rifle Volunteers, and Archer of Her Majesty's Scottish Body Guard.

He made some improvements to the house and planted exotic trees in the garden. Continuing the 'good works' of his predecessor, he founded Rossie Reformatory School, as it was originally known, in 1857.

He sold the estate in 1882. The final proprietors were the Millar family, timber merchants in Montrose. When Edward Millar died in 1911, death duties forced the family to put the estate on the market in 1913, although they retained Craig House as their home. The eight farms were sold, but the Castle failed to find a buyer and fell into disrepair; the roof was removed in 1928 to avoid paying rates; and finally, after an existence of just over 150 years, it was demolished in 1957 by the army as a training exercise.

Thus after about 800 years, the Rossie Estate ceased to exist as an entity. The name still lives on in farm names and in the memory of those who, as youngsters, played in the grounds of Rossie Castle on a Sunday afternoon.

Duncan Macdonald
With grateful thanks to Amanda Briant-Evans

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