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Robert Ramsay (1842–1882)

by N. G. Curry

This article was published:

Robert Ramsay (1842-1882), by unknown engraver, 1882

Robert Ramsay (1842-1882), by unknown engraver, 1882

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, A/S03/06/82/169

Robert Ramsay (1842-1882), solicitor and politician, was born on 16 February 1842 at Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland, eldest son of Andrew Mitchell Ramsay and his wife Isabella, née Milne. Ramsay came to Victoria in 1847 with his parents and was educated at Robert Campbell and John Macgregor's school in St Kilda and at Scotch College. Articled in 1859 to John Macgregor junior, later M.L.A., he studied law at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1861 with second-class honours. Admitted as a solicitor in 1862, he helped to found the firm of Macgregor, Ramsay and Brahe in 1866. As a young man he wrote about the beauties of the Australian bush for the Argus.

In 1870-82 Ramsay represented East Bourke in the Legislative Assembly. In 1872-74 he was a member, without office, of the Francis ministry, postmaster-general in the Kerferd ministry in 1874-75, minister of public instruction and postmaster-general in the McCulloch ministry in 1875-77 and chief secretary and minister of education, without salary, in the Service ministry in 1880. He represented Victoria at the telegraph cable conference in Sydney in 1877, was a prominent member of the Law Institute and of Chalmers Presbyterian Church, East Melbourne, vice-president of the Board of Management of the Melbourne Hospital, and founder of the Old Scotch Collegians' Society in 1879.

Ramsay had a firm belief in National education and the separation of church and state. He was a moderate free trader and though conservative, opposed the ratepayers' roll and plural voting. An efficient minister, as postmaster-general he saved money by replacing annual with long-term contracts; as chief secretary he contributed to the capture of the Kelly gang; and as minister of public instruction he coped with problems of country schools, appointment of teachers and the compulsory clause of the 1872 Education Act. He also laid a firm foundation of adherence to the secular provisions of the Act and in 1876 insisted on a special Victorian edition of the Nelson series of school readers which omitted any reference to the name of Christ.

On 16 April 1868 at Yangery, near Warrnambool, Ramsay had married Isabella Catherine Urquhart; they had two sons and two daughters. Always subject to severe bronchitis, he died of pleurisy at his home in Gipps Street, East Melbourne, on 23 May 1882 and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery. He left an estate worth some £40,000, including shares in Nanjee station, New South Wales, and an interest in Mount Margaret station in the Warrego District of Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia, Victorian series, 1st ed (Melb, 1878)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 May 1882
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 May 1882
  • S. M. Ingham, Some aspects of Victorian Liberalism 1880-1900 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1950).

Citation details

N. G. Curry, 'Ramsay, Robert (1842–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 15 July 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

Robert Ramsay (1842-1882), by unknown engraver, 1882

Robert Ramsay (1842-1882), by unknown engraver, 1882

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, A/S03/06/82/169

Life Summary [details]


16 February, 1842
Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland


23 May, 1882 (aged 40)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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