Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Andrew Mitchell Ramsay (1809–1869)

by F. Maxwell Bradshaw

This article was published:

Andrew Mitchell Ramsay (1809-1869), Presbyterian minister, was born on 5 March 1809 at Shettleston, Scotland, son of Robert Ramsay and his wife Margaret, née Mitchell. With distinctions in classics, philosophy and science at the University of Glasgow in 1825, he entered the Theological Hall of Relief Church in 1828. Licensed by the Relief Presbytery of Glasgow in 1832, he was ordained as minister of Allars Relief Church, Hawick, on 29 May 1833. He resigned on 17 February 1846. Religious revivals had followed services he conducted in 1839 at Denholm near Hawick. In 1840 he married Isabella Milne.

Ramsay reached Melbourne in the Anne Milne on 4 January 1847 with his wife and two children, a son having died on the voyage. Within a month a meeting of Presbyterians asked Ramsay to form a congregation in Melbourne 'unconnected with the state'. He supplied the pulpit of the Scots Church, Melbourne, from March to May but soon began his own services in Little Collins Street, later in the Temperance Hall, Russell Street, and at the end of 1848 in the Protestant Hall in Exhibition Street. On 22 January 1850 with three other ministers he formed the Synod of the United Presbyterian Church of Victoria. He obtained ministers from Scotland and helped to found at least a dozen congregations in the 1850s. St Enoch's was built for his congregation in Collins Street and opened on 30 March 1851. In April 1855 Rev. James Ballantyne was inducted as Ramsay's colleague but by August 1856 disputes between them left Ramsay on his own with a depleted flock. In the ensuing controversy in the United Presbyterian Church two breakaway groups were formed in 1856 and 1857. Ramsay went overseas in April 1858 seeking replacements and returned in February 1859. His synod was again disrupted in April when he and two other ministers refused to be parties to the union that resulted in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. The United Presbyterian Church was received into the united body in 1870.

Ramsay sought to build up a denomination of voluntaries and to combat all forms of state aid. He was the power behind the Society for the Repeal of the Fifty-Third Clause of the New Constitution, launched in November 1855, and was prominent at every voluntary meeting in the mid-1850s. In 1856 he published a pamphlet, How the Money Goes. An able organizer, he was often so occupied that it was 'with the greatest difficulty that he could command sufficient time for study and pulpit preparation'. Short, with a pale and thoughtful face, he was not a 'popular' preacher but could rise to heights of oratory and, according to Garryowen, 'You could not soon forget the speaker, so intense was his earnestness and so thoroughly did he throw himself into his subject'. Though pugnacious, he was also disinterested, and generous and unselfish.

Survived by his wife, his son Robert, another son and a daughter, Ramsay died of a stroke on 31 December 1869 and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Hamilton, A Jubilee History of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria (Melb, 1888)
  • F. M. Bradshaw, Scottish Seceders in Victoria (Melb, 1947)
  • R. I. Cashman, Nonconformists in Victoria in the 1850s (M.A. thesis, Monash University, 1963)
  • A. M. Ramsay diaries and United Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Synod and Melbourne Presbyterian minutes (Presbyterian Church Assembly Hall, Melbourne).

Citation details

F. Maxwell Bradshaw, 'Ramsay, Andrew Mitchell (1809–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 March, 1809
Shettleston, Lanarkshire, Scotland


31 December, 1869 (aged 60)
Victoria, Australia

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