Burroughs had the reputation of one of the most brutal of all Orkney landlords and, in a time of great economic change, the harshness of his
actions made that change particularly traumatic.
When the Royal Commission whose findings were to lead to the Crofters Act arrived, Burroughs acted in character. He evicted any tenant who
gave evidence to the Commission. As tension mounted a gunboat arrived off Rousay to keep the peace. As Burroughs' tyranny mounted it
became clear his intention was to drive every tenant off the estate and he was only prevented by the belated passing of the Crofters' Act and
even a special Act of Parliament directed specifically against him.
But both Burroughs and his tenants were rather unusual. Burroughs acted entirely out of principle, often proving unyielding where a more
flexible approach would have yielded profit. Out of a sense of honour he even withheld information regarding the minister, one of his
main enemies, which he could have used to destroy him. His tenants too were unusual, for the Orkney farmer was a far richer and more
independent individual than the downtrodden crofters of the west coast. It is an extraordinary and dramatic story told brilliantly by the author,
a story full of great characters and incident, a story set against the dark gales of economic change which were to sweep away both landlords
and the communities they claimed to control. At the end of the book Burroughs, once a national hero, now reviled, emerges as a much more
complex and human figure than history has painted him.
William P. L. Thomson was the author of a number of books on Scottish history. He was Rector of Kirkwall Grammar School, in Orkney, from 1971 to 1991, previously having been Principal Teacher of History and Geography at the Anderson High School, Shetland. He died in 2016.