Robert Wardlaw Ramsay

Robert Wardlaw Ramsay was one of the leaders of a small but influential group in Edinburgh's religious history, Scottish Episcopalian Evangelicals. Perhaps he felt especially blessed: from modest military origins, he married into aristocracy and inherited land all around Britain. Unlike many Church of Scotland evangelicals such as Sir Harry Moncrieff-Wellwood, who championed liberal causes such as abolition of the slave trade and Catholic emancipation, Ramsay was politically and socially conservative. He regarded Popery as a threat, and drunkennness as a greater social evil than slavery. Yet, after being in the front-line of humiliating Tory defeat in 1832, he adopted the methods of radical popular politics. In the 1830s this popular, pious conservatism was a new ideology, and appears to have been unique amongst the congregation of Charlotte Chapel; yet Robert Wardlaw Ramsay was helping to develop an ideological paradigm of great importance in later British Imperial history, and in the evolution of the modern religious right.

11 May 1774 - 1837
William Wardlaw, Commander in the Royal Navy 1775. 'This family is descended from the very ancient House of Wardlaw Barns of Tarrie, which made a distinguished figure in the early history of Scotland' (4)
Elizabeth Balfour (Betty)
He is only known to have had an address in Edinburgh from 1828 when he lived at 11 Moray Place
Balcurvie, Leven, Fife; Tillicoultry and Whitehill, Dalkeith.
Political views
Tory. In 1832 he inaudibly proposed the Tory candidate for Clackmannan and Kinross-shire at a nomination overtaken by a wave of Reform enthusiasm conveyed vividly in the excited newspaper report:
The nomination for these combined counties took place at Dollar on the 20th, and a more glorious triumph for the great cause of reform has not been witnessed in Scotland ... Admiral Adam, the reform candidate, was escorted to the hustings by a splendid retinue of carriages, a grand cavalcade of horsemen, and a numerous body of people on foot, all from Kinross-shire, and was received with the most deafening cheers by the various Clackmannanshire processions... We were particularly pleased with a beautiful boat, slung on a carriage, which formed part of the Alloa procession ... Almost every person had a placard on his had, inscribed 'Adam and Reform', and the numbers present could not be less than nine or ten thousand. The sight was truly exhilarating. A little afterwards, Mr Bruce, the Tory candidate, made his appearance, with a single band of music, and a small knot of his Conservative friends. He was received with groans and hisses, and very speedily made his way to the rear of the hustings ... Mr Bruce was then proposed by Robert Wardlaw Ramsay, Esq. of Tillicoultry, but from the unwillingness to hear Mr Bruce proposed, we were unable to catch many sentences of his speech ... There is no doubt that the victory at the poll will be equally triumphant with that at the nomination. Alas, poor Tories, is it come to this?' (5).
Religious views
He was in the forefront of many early Evangelical enterprises in Edinburgh. In 1818 he helped establish the Edinburgh branch of the Church Missionary Society (6). In 1819 he gave a speech at the third anniversary meeting of the Sabbath School Union for Scotland (5). In 1834 he chaired the inaugural meeting of 'the Scottish Ladies Society for promoting the religious instruction of the negroes and people of colour in the West Indies, which was 'so numerously attended that it beame necessary to move into the large saloon of the hotel'. In 1835 he helped found the anti-Catholic Protestant Association, and in 1836 chaired 'a very numerous public meeting of the friends and members of the Edinburgh Temperance Society' at which it was said that temperance should 'take precedence even of negro emancipation, inasmuch as the wide-spread slavery of intemperance was voluntary, and therefore more degrading' (5).
      The breach made by Evangelical preaching in the Scottish Episcopal Church can be dated from the sermons preached in Charlotte Chapel by Gerard Noel in 1818 (7). Bishop Daniel Sandford, who appears initially to have welcomed evangelicalism's fervent, spiritual religion, became its firm opponent when its divisive tendencies became clear. These were made vividly clear in 1826 when another evangelical preacher, Edward Craig, conducted a fierce, personal and public pamphet war with Sandford's respected and argumentative colleague, Rev James Walker (subsequently Bishop of Edinburgh). However, actual schism was avoided until after Sandford's death, when in the 1840s, a group of Evangelical congregations split from the Scottish Episcopal Church, led by Rev D.T.K.Drummond (8). The names of Noel (at the Edinburgh Church Missionary Society), Craig (at the Sabbath School Union) and Drummond (at the Protestant Association) are all found alongside Robert Wardlaw Ramsay's at these meetings. The names of non-Evangelical clergymen such as Sandford and Walker are absent at all these events, with the exception of Charles Hughes Terrot, a younger clergyman who appears to have attempted to counter this trend towards ecclesiastical partisanship.
He was a Captain in the army before his marriage. In 1832 he was created Deputy Lieutenant of Midlothian. (10)
Wealth at death
£65,000, not including land held in England. (9)
In 1822 Cape Wardlaw in Greenland was named after him by William Scoresby in his survey of the coast (3).
Chapel connection
1813, baptism
Married on
21 March 1811 at Haigh Hall
Anne Lindsay
William (1813), Robert Balfour (1815)
Related to
John Wardlaw, brother
Further Research
Family papers, National Archives of Scotland


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. William Scoresby Junior, Journal of a voyage to the Northern Whale-Fishery; including researches and discoveries on the eastern coast of West Greenland, made in the summer of 1822, in the ship Baffin of Liverpool (Constable, Edinburgh, 1823) p.295.
  4. Lothian's Annual Register for the County of Clackmannan (J. Lothian, Alloa, 1877)
  5. Caledonian Mercury 5 June 1819, 22 December 1832, 29 November 1834, 24 December 1835, 2 May 1836
  6. The Missionary Register (1818) p.229
  7. Gerard Noel, The nature and objects of Christian Charity: : a sermon, delivered at Charlotte Episcopal Chapel, on December 12, 1817, The gospel a revelation of mercy to the guilty: a sermon delivered in Charlotte Episcopal Chapel, on January 22, 1818, and The counsel of God the only true wisdom: a sermon, preached in Charlotte Episcopal Chapel, on February 19, 1818 (Oliphant, Waugh and Innes, Edinburgh, 1818)
  8. See Patricia Meldrum, Conscience and compromise: forgotten evangelicals of nineteenth-century Scotland (Paternoster, Cumbria, 2006)
  9. Robert Wardlaw Ramsay's Will, National Archives of Scotland
  10. Morning Post, 23 June 1832

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