Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ramsay, Robert (1818–1910)

by D. B. Waterson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Robert Ramsay (1818-1910), pastoralist and politician, was born in London on 19 March 1818, eldest son of Captain Robert Ramsay (1787-1846), 14th Regiment, and his wife Margaret, née Cruikshank. Educated in Edinburgh and at Harrow, he reached Sydney probably in the Indus on 13 February 1839. After pastoral experience in New South Wales and Queensland he took up Rosalie Plains on the Darling Downs in April 1848. In July he was joined by Louis Hope and they acquired Cooyar, Lagoon Creek Downs, Kilcoy and other stations in the Burnett District. The partnership was dissolved in 1866 when Ramsay bought a share in Hodgson's Eton Vale run near Toowoomba. In 1897 this property, now freehold, was divided, Ramsay renaming his 35,000 acres (14,164 ha) Harrow. In London on 18 April 1855 he married Susan, daughter of William Fullerton Lindsay Carnegie of Spynie, Forfar, Scotland, and his wife Lady Jane, daughter of the 7th earl of Northesk.

Ramsay again visited England in 1858-61. On his return from another trip in 1864-65 Eton Vale was secured against selection by use of the pre-emptive right and provisions of the Leasing Act of 1866. He entered parliament in 1867 as member for Western Downs seeking 'the utmost security of tenure possible for Crown lessees', massive auction sales of land, restricted small selection and state aid for religious instruction. In the debates on the 1867-68 land bill, he 'did not agree that Crown Lands should be handed down to posterity when there was such an immense debt to be redeemed'. He always deplored 'the growth of class against class feeling' and blamed it on towns that 'produced nothing, even in the shape of manufactures'. Ramsay was colonial treasurer in the Palmer government from 3 May 1870 to 28 March 1871 and minister without portfolio until January 1874. He had resigned as M.L.A. on 6 November 1873 and was appointed to the Legislative Council on 2 January 1874, but till he retired on 14 June 1877 he was mostly in England, supervising the education of his sons and living the life of a country gentleman.

Though conservative Ramsay never provoked personal animosity. Invariably courteous, kind to his inferiors, generous and fair, his calm and cultivated mien disarmed opposition. Many liberals considered him 'not an extremist but a considerate and moderate representative' who was 'almost a political necessity at these times'. He opposed new principles of land tenure but provided some protection for struggling farmers. His political career was facilitated by weak opposition rather than by his own merits.

In 1883 Ramsay retired to Howletts near Canterbury, England, where he died on 5 July 1910 leaving an estate of £65,211. Five of his six sons and three of his five daughters survived him. A parish and school near Toowoomba are named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Russell, The Genesis of Queensland (Syd, 1888)
  • Toowoomba Chronicle, 5 June 1867
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Oct 1910
  • newspaper indexes (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Crown land commissioners, Itineraries (State Records New South Wales)
  • run registers (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

D. B. Waterson, 'Ramsay, Robert (1818–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ramsay-robert-4447/text7239, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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