Person:Robert Turfus (1)

Robert Turfus
d.bef 1860
  1. Thomas Turfice1779 - 1860
  2. Margaret Turfusabt 1781 - 1857
  3. Robert Turfus1782 - bef 1841
  4. John Turfus1784 -
  5. David Turfus1787 - 1870
  6. Peter Turfus1788 - bef 1851
  7. Magdalene Turfus1791 -
  8. May Turfusabt 1795 -
Facts and Events
Name Robert Turfus
Gender Male
Birth? abt 1755 Cruesbreck, North Ronaldshay, Orkney, Scotland
Death? bef 1860

Robert Turfus was a tenant farmer (so called "crofter") who lived on the remote island of North Ronaldsay, in the Orkney Islands off Scotland in the late 18th century. His eviction by a corrupt landlord from the croft that had been in his family for centuries was an example of the injustice suffered by crofters in that time. Following the extension of the vote in the 19th century, a number of MPs were elected for the "Crofters Party" and the British government passed the Crofters Act, which provided security of tenure and rent control. Hundreds of Robert Turfus' descendants live on today in Orkney and as far away as the United States, Canada and Australia.


Turfus family background

Robert Turfus was born in the mid 1700s on the farm "Cruesbreck", on North Ronaldsay. The farm had been in the same family's hands since at least 1693, when it was held by a Magnus Turfisone. Given the pattern of land inheritence in this period, it is likely that Robert is a descendent of Magnus Turfisone, possibly the great-great grandson of Magnus' eldest son, Thomas Turfisone.

Surname analysis of the island in 1693 indicate that at that time is was split roughly equally between descendants of Scottish settlers, with distinctive Scottish names, and the Norse inhabitants who lived there prior to the start of Scottish rule in 1468. The surname Turfus is derived from "Thorfinn's son", indicating probable Norse origins.[1]

The Norse practice of dividing inheritance between children had meant that the number of farms on the island nearly doubled between 1693 and 1851, increasing from 33 to 65. However, it appears that Cruesbreck had remained intact and by 1851 had become one of the largest farms on the island, the only larger ones being Holland, the farm of the proprietor, Howar, the farm of his resident "baillie" and Kirbest, one of the other tenant farms. This appears to have been linked to the Turfus family: whilst the population of the island had more than doubled from 220 to around 500, there was only one Turfus family on the island in 1800, the same as in 1693.

Two new neighbouring farms had been built - Cavan to the north, between Cruesbreck and Howatoft and Breckan to the east, between Cruesbreck and Greenwall. The analysis of the sheep apportionment of 1902 and the farm sizes in 1851 indicate that is may be more likely that these new farms were carved out of Howatoft and Greenwall respectively.

The farm operated under the run-rig system until 1832.

Family life

[to be completed]


According to local history, in around 1807 the factor - the landlord's local agent - started to pursue Mrs Turfus "with dishonourable intentions". Robert Turfus objected, and the factor retaliated by evicting him from Cruesbreck, moving him to "North Gravity", a house near the centre of the Island with poor soil.

The factor continued his harassment, moving his attention now to Robert's sister. Robert objected again; going after him with a "sae-tree", knocking him down and "knee poostied" him. He gathered all his possessions, his wife, six sons and two daughters into his boat and rowed over to the neighbouring island of Sanday. The inhabitants of Sellabist, on Sanday, took the family in. [2]

Settlement on Sanday

[to be completed]

Croft reform

[to be completed]


[to be completed]

  1. Surnames of Orkney
  2. Old Memories, Peter Fotheringhame, quoted at