The lost Scottish castle built on slave money and sold for £1

The only trace that once remained of Rossie Castle were the faint outlines of the grand pile that appeared after harvest in the field where it stood.

Rossie Castle on the outskirts of Montrose, Angus, former home of Hercules Ross. PIC: Creative Commons.
Rossie Castle on the outskirts of Montrose, Angus, former home of Hercules Ross. PIC: Creative Commons.

Rossie Castle, on the outskirts of Montrose, was once one of the finest houses around. The 12-bedroom mansion set in 80-acres was built by Hercules Ross who amassed his fortune partly on his vast sugar plantation at Bushy Park, Jamaica.

It was here that Ross lived with his mistress, Elizabeth Foord, who was of mixed heritage, and their seven children.

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Ross is recorded as a slave dealer but later became an influential voice in the abolition movement.

He also acquired part of his riches in the high seas. He ran three ships and was later appointed Prize Agent for Jamaica during taking a cut of the prize money for captured vessels, and running his own privateers.

But Scotland called and after paying off Ms Foord, he returned home in 1782.

By 1800, he was living in Rossie Castle, around 15 miles from Johnshaven, the village where he was born to an impoverished exciseman. Ross left for Port Glasgow when he was a young boy and then Jamaica in 1761.

Fiona Scharlau, in a publication for Dundee and Abertay Historical Society, described Ross as "a supreme example of the poor boy who worked hard in a foreign country, creating a life of opportunities that lead to fulfillment of the rags-to-riches dream of the sojourner.”

The Scots Magazine in 1807 wrote of the property, which has views out across Montrose Basin, the Angus Glens and then over the North Sea to the east: “The grandeur and extent of the castle itself entirely corresponds to the beauty of its situation.”

Ross married Henrietta Parish and their son, Horatio, who was once hailed as the best shot in Scotland and was a much-admired photographer of his time, was named after his godfather Admiral Nelson, a close friend of his father's.

While back in Scotland and after disposing of most of his assets in Jamaica, Ross turned a lens on the trade that had led to his wealth.

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His parliamentary contribution to the debate in 1790 called the trade in slaves was “contrary to sound policy….and the laws of God and nature”.

It is said Ross lost most of his friends in Jamaica as a result but earned him an honorary membership of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

Ross died at Rossie on Christmas Day, 1816, with Horatio inheriting the estate when he was just 15.

Thus began the long demise of Rossie Castle. By 1882, it was in the hands of Montrose timber merchant Edward Miller but was unoccupied from 1914.

In 1931, the rapidly deteriorating building – by now with its roof removed to avoid payment of taxes – was bought by ex-Montrose footballer Willie Henderson for £1.

In 1952, under the ownership of neighbouring landowner George Ogilive, the remains of the castle were blown up in 30 seconds by the army using 500lbs of plastic explosives.

Some of the stone was later used for paving at nearby Manse of Craig. Later still, the castle stone, bought with plantation riches, was used to widen the road between Montrose and Arbroath.

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