Skip to content
You are here: Home | Prisoners of Tolbooth Tower

Prisoners of Tolbooth Tower


The site of the medieval Tollbooth is one of the oldest sites in Inverness and housed a jail as far back as 1436. It was rebuilt in 1691 with adjoining courthouse and prison, built in 1732. A new courthouse and jail were built on the site between 1787 and 1789. The Georgian tollbooth steeple was erected beside the adjoining Old Court House and Jail in 1791 rising 45 metres to where three bronze bells hang in the spire.

The following year, 1792 became known as "Bliadhna nan Caorach" or the “Year of the Sheep”, during which began the Highland clearances. In this year, tenant farmers led a protest against the clearance of land to establish sheep farming, by driving more than 6,000 sheep off the land surrounding Ardross. The "Ross-shire Sheep Riot" was taken very seriously by the government and the Home Secretary Henry Dundas had the Black Watch mobilised to chase down the ringleaders. Five men were found guilty at trial and imprisoned in the Tollbooth Tower.

The men were all set to be shipped off to Australia, but they escaped custody under mysterious circumstances and disappeared. Rumours were that they slipped the guard a bottle of whisky and while he was in a drunken sleep, they managed to make their escape.

The Highland Clearances continued for nearly eighty years, driving local people from their homes with incredible violence and cruelty.

Also imprisoned here was Patrick Sellar, whose trial was commemorated by a plaque on the side of the steeple. The infamous Patrick Sellar was charged with culpable homicide, fire-raising and cruelty during the 1814 Strathnaver clearances. Although he was acquitted by a jury of his peers, the plaque states he will always be guilty in the eyes of the Highlanders.

The artwork depicts the chase and capture of the men and our AR app gives you a peek into the jail cell at the Toll Booth.

More about the Highland Clearances…

© The Highland Council. Apps created by Deuxality. About Highland AR

Hc logoDeuxality Inverness City region dealInverness Common Good Fund