Thomas Ramsay

After beginning as a younger son and making his way in the West Indies, Ramsay married and settled in Princes Street, where he lived for the next 35 years, an active citizen of Edinburgh and member of Charlotte Chapel and St John's.

1757 - 1 July 1833
Sir James Ramsay of Bamff (5), d.1782, 'a man remarkable for his piety, honesty and integrity' (4) He was his second son: his elder brother was Sir George Ramsay of Bamff. (See (6) for more history of the Ramsay family who still live at Bamff)
Elizabeth Rait, daughter of George Rait of Annistoun.
From his marriage in 1797 until his death in 1833 he lived at 133 Princes Street (numbered 91 before 1811)
In 1785 Ramsay had recently come back from being an overseer in Jamaica: a friend felt that he had 'had all the management and drudgery of the estate [of John Kinloch] for some years, without the Salary that he justly merited and which I hope he will soon have now.' (3)
Over his long residence on Princes Street Ramsay is glimpsed engaging with the changing social order around him. In autumn 1812 he subscribed two guineas to the Edinburgh subscription 'for affording relief to the poor, during the present scarcity of grain'. Four months later he was appointed to the Committee of the Society for the Suppression of Begging' along with the Duke of Buccleuch, William Forbes, Colin MacKenzie, Bishop Sandford, James Clerk Rattray, Thomas Hamilton Miller, Adam Duff (in its second year) and others. Despite its authoritarian-sounding name it operated on similar principles to modern homelessness charities, distributing organised relief and discouraging casual giving:
It would no doubt be unjust and unfeeling, to stigmatise every common beggar as an imposter. Hard necessity may compel some to have recourse to this shift for a miserable subsistence. But it is on the other hand a deplorable fact, that when habits of idleness and dependence are once formed, the precarious resource of common begging ... is often preferred ... Against this fraud, it becomes necessary to protect society, and to teach those who have fallen into such habits, that though they are still objects of compassion, and, to a certain extent, of relief, they are also objects of correction; to be most circumspectly dealt with, -- relieved, when upon inquiry the case requires it, but in all cases compelled, when that is practicable, to depend on their own industry for a livelihood. There is one trick practised by this description of persons, which is quite revolting to humanity ... We allude to the practice of exposing children, on the most frequented streets and roads, during the coldest nights of this inclement season, that their helpless situation, and frequently their piteous cries, may work upon the feelings of passengers, and extort their charity. This is so perfectly barbarous, that we are surprised the practice has not been prevented before this time. For the laudable purpose ... a Society was instituted ... to distribute, in place of a casual and indiscriminate bounty to street beggars, a regular supply to those who ... are found to be really necessitous, while those of a different description are to be compelled to do something for their subsistence. (7)
Henry Cockburn, while not on the board of the charity, later commended it as one of 'three useful associations' founded in 1812,
The "Society for the Suppression of Public Begging" was the first modern systematic attempt that had been made in Scotland to check public mendicity, and to avert charity from supporting it. The disclosures made, and the attention excited, by this early step in the philosophy of pauperism, materially promoted the subsequent institutions of Houses of Industry, Houses of Refuge, Savings Banks, and many others or preventing, methodising, and relieving necessary destitution. We owed it to two causes -- the dangerous extent to which public begging had reached, and the judicious benevolence of John Forbes, advocate, now Lord Medwyn [brother of William Forbes, and member of the Cowgate Episcopal Chapel]. Let those who despair of eradicating mendicity from a spot on which it has fastened study the facts of this Edinburgh case, and be comforted. The swarm disappeared... its settling or not settling just depended on the vigilance with which the flowers of bad charity it fed upon were crushed or fostered.
The Society was an example of enlightened paternalism. Despite this gracious commendation of Cockburn the Whig several decades later, most of its leaders (with the possible exception of Thomas Hamilton Miller) were Tories. It is perhaps significant therefore to discover Ramsay ten years later fiercely opposing plans for tackling some of Edinburgh's social exclusion issues in a civic rather than a paternalist manner. In 1825 he was, along with fellow Tory paternalists John Cay and David Gillespie, appointed to a committee to organise a counter-lobby of parliament, against proposals by the City Council to levy a tax to improve the degraded Lawnmarket area. In this they detected not social improvement, but cynical profiteering by the Council and local landlords: 'under the pretence of ornament and improvement of the Lawnmarket ... to augment the value of property of parties who are to contribute little or nothing towards the assessment', and taxing the New Town,
for adorning and upholding the fabric of St Giles, while it is understood that the Magistrates draw an annual income of £4000 from the seat rents of the four churches in that building. That sum is not put to any ecclesiastical purpose, the stipends of the clergy being paid by a separate assessment levied from the inhabitants. (7)
Their objections appear to have been successful: the Bill to enact the proposals for a straight street up the Mound leading to a large levelled square on the Lawnmarket with picturesque elevated routes to the south and west was rejected by the Commons. The replacement plans involved separate western and southern routes which could be built in two phases and without major earthworks on the narrow High Street ridge. The western, Johnston Terrace and the picturesque Kings Bridge, was built with great success in 1827, and the southern, George IV Bridge, was built after considerable financial and planning difficulties in the 1830s. (8)
Chapel connection
1813, baptism. The family are buried at St John's.
Married on
28 August 1797
Margaret Maxtone, his second cousin
Margery (1798-1841), James (1802-1821), Elizabeth (1800-1829), Catherine Graeme (1801-1832), John Wedderburn (1804-1869), Margaret Murray (1804-1844), Thomas (1807-1836), George (1809-1887), Mary Maxtone (1811-1868 at St John's), Lilias Helen
Related to
James Clerk Rattray and Mary Mansfield: his father's cousin married their great uncle.


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. E. Maxtone Graham, The Maxtones of Cultoquhey (Moray Press, Edinburgh, 1935) p.122
  4. Complete Baronetage, vol.4 1665-1707 (William Pollard, Exeter 1904) p.259
  5. Clan MacFarlane and Associated Clans Genealogy (Online accessed 12 November 2011)
  6. Bamff Estate website (accessed 15 November 2011)
  7. Caledonian Mercury, 30 January 1830, 31 March 1825
  8. Matthew Williams, 'Planning for the Picturesque: Thomas Hamilton's New Roads to the Old Town, 1817-1858', Architectural Heritage vol.20 (2009) pp.33-54

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