George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie

General George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie, GCB (23 October 1770 – 21 March 1838), styled Lord Ramsay until 1787, was a Scottish soldier and colonial administrator. He was Governor of Nova Scotia from 1816 to 1820, Governor General of British North America from 1820 to 1828 and later Commander-in-Chief in India.

The Earl of Dalhousie

Governor of Nova Scotia
In office
MonarchGeorge III
Preceded byGeorge Stracey Smith
Succeeded bySir James Kempt
Governor General of British North America
In office
MonarchGeorge IV
Preceded byThe Duke of Richmond
Succeeded bySir James Kempt
Commander-in-Chief of India
In office
MonarchWilliam IV
Preceded byThe Viscount Combermere
Succeeded bySir Edward Barnes
Personal details
Born(1770-10-23)23 October 1770
Dalhousie Castle, Midlothian, Scotland
Died21 March 1838(1838-03-21) (aged 67)
Dalhousie Castle, Midlothian, Scotland
Spouse(s)Christian Ramsay
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh

Background and education

Dalhousie was born at Dalhousie Castle, Midlothian, the son of George Ramsay, 8th Earl of Dalhousie, and Elizabeth, daughter of Andrew Glen. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and the University of Edinburgh.

Military career

After his father's death in 1787, Dalhousie joined the British Army in July 1788 by purchasing a cornetcy in the 3rd Dragoons, and was later appointed to the captaincy of an independent company he himself had raised. He joined the 2nd battalion of the 1st Foot in January 1791, and purchased the rank of major in the 2nd Foot in June 1792. He travelled with the regiment to Martinique, as its commander, and succeeded to the lieutenant-colonelcy in August 1794. He was severely wounded in 1795 and returned to Britain. In 1798 he served in the Irish Rebellion, and in 1799 throughout the Flanders campaign. He received the brevet rank of colonel in January 1800, and fought in the later stages of the Egyptian campaign under Ralph Abercromby, capturing Rosetta without a fight and successfully investing the nearby Fort Julien in April 1801. In 1803 he served as a brigadier-general on the staff in Scotland, and was appointed Major-General in April 1805.

During the later stages of the Peninsular War Dalhousie commanded the 7th Division under the Duke of Wellington. Wellington was sometimes critical of his performance, as during the retreat from Burgos, because of his tardy arrival at Vitoria, and for his misinformation about French intentions shortly before the Battle of Roncesvalles.[1]

With Henry Clinton (or Oswald) and William Stewart he displayed insubordination during the retreat from Burgos. Wellington ordered them down a certain road, but they decided it "was too long and too wet and chose another. This brought them to a bridge which was blocked so that they could not cross. Here, eventually, Wellington found them, waiting. What, Wellington was asked, did he say to them? ‘Oh by God, it was too serious to say anything.’ ‘What a situation is mine!’ he complained to London later. ‘It is impossible to prevent incapable men from being sent to the army.’".[2]

At Vitoria he was delayed because he "had found difficulty in marching through the broken country", though Thomas Picton arrived early enough and attacked in his stead when the 7th Division failed to appear [3]

He was nevertheless voted the thanks of Parliament for his services at Vitoria where he commanded the Left Center Column, consisting of the 3rd and 7th Divisions. He was appointed lieutenant-general, and colonel of the 13th Foot in 1813. He led his division in the Battle of the Pyrenees where it was lightly engaged, then went home to England in October. After the previous commander was wounded at the Battle of Orthez in February 1814, Dalhousie briefly led the 7th Division again. He occupied the city of Bordeaux and thus missed the final Battle of Toulouse.

William Kemley was said to have saved the life of Ramsay in battle, by holding a flag over his body. In doing so he suffered a wound from a musket ball that left him with a permanent hole in the palm of his hand. His grandson, Peter Gordon Kemley, used to tell how he could put his finger through the palm of his grandfather's hand. For his actions, William Kemley was given a house on the Dalhousie Estate at Brechin Castle, rent-free for life. His daughter, Caroline Kemley, was born under a gun carriage the evening before the Battle of Quatre Bras. Her mother was one of six wives per regiment permitted to accompany their husbands.

Later career

In 1815 he was created Baron Dalhousie, of Dalhousie Castle in the County of Edinburgh, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, to allow him to sit in the House of Lords by right (until that point he had sat as a Scottish representative peer).[4]

Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia

According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Ramsay sought a position in colonial administration to pay debts he incurred expanding his estate.[4] He replaced Sir John Coape Sherbrooke as Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia in 1816. He is known to have employed an official draughtsman, John Elliott Woolford, known for many surviving drawings and paintings.

Ramsay created Dalhousie College, Nova Scotia's first college, which grew into Dalhousie University.[5]

In 2018 professors at Dalhousie convinced its President to form a panel to report on statements and action Ramsay made that gave the strong appearance of racism.[5] Thousands of black refugees, who had been held in slavery in the USA, had been guaranteed freedom, by the British, if they ran away from their masters, during the American Revolution. Most of these former slaves settled in Nova Scotia. Ramsay had tried to induce them to (1) return to their US masters; (2) return to Africa; (3) Leave Nova Scotia for the British colony of Trinidad.

Governor-General of Canada

He was appointed, Governor General of British North America in 1820 and held that position until 1828.[4]

Commander in Chief of India

Ramsay was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army in 1828.[4] India taxed his health, and he resigned in 1832.


Ramsay suffered a "fainting fit" in February 1833.[4] His health continued to deteriorate, and he returned to his estate, in 1834, where his health continued to deteriorate until his death 4 years later. He went both blind and senile in his final years.


Lord Dalhousie married Christian, daughter of Charles Broun, of Colstoun in East Lothian, Scotland, a lady of gentle extraction and distinguished gifts, in 1805.[7][8] She was recognized as a "zealous botanist", by leading scientists of her day.

Ramsay and Christian had three sons, the two elder of whom died early. He died at Dalhousie Castle in March 1838, aged 67, and was succeeded by his youngest son, James, who was later created Marquess of Dalhousie. Lady Dalhousie died in January 1839.


While serving as Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia he founded Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The town of Dalhousie, New Brunswick was named after him when he visited there in 1826, although his diary entry for the day stated that he disapproved of changing the original French and Mi'kmaq location names. The villages of East and West Dalhousie in Nova Scotia are named after him, as are Earltown and Port Dalhousie, a community in St. Catharines, Ontario, Dalhousie Station and an adjacent square in Montreal.[9]

See also


  1. Chandler, David. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. New York: Macmillan, 1979. ISBN 0-02-523670-9 p.113
  2. Chandler p.203
  3. Parkinson The Peninsular War p.179
  4. Halpenny, Francess G, ed. (1988). "RAMSAY, GEORGE, 9th Earl of DALHOUSIE". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. VII (1836–1850) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  5. Kayla Hounsell (18 February 2018). "Dalhousie University probes founder's record on slavery and race as it marks bicentennial: Lord Dalhousie called black refugees 'slaves by habit and education'". CBC News. Retrieved 5 November 2019. Lord Dalhousie's feelings about black refugees went well beyond words. As Nova Scotia's governor, he called on the British government to return the refugees to the U.S. or send them to Sierra Leone. According to the Nova Scotia Archives, he dropped the idea after visiting them and discovering that 'none of them are willing to return to their masters, or to America.'
  6. Glenn Turner (2015). The Toronto Carrying Place: Rediscovering Toronto's Most Ancient Trail. Dundurn Press. ISBN 9781459730472.
  7. Catherine Horwood (2012). Women and Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781613743409. While they were there, between 1823 [sic] and 1828 [sic], the countess did some serious plant collecting in and around Simla, and on their final return to Britain she presented her complete Indian herbarium of some 1,200 speciment to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh. This gesture resulted in William Hooker dedicating a volume of Curtis's Botanical Magazine to her, and Robert Graham, Professor of Botany at Edinburgh, then named the genus Dalhousiea for her, although one feels she deserved better than this not particularly interesting leguminous plant.
  8. Trevor H. Levere; Trevor Harvey Levere (2004). Science and the Canadian Arctic: A Century of Exploration, 1818-1918. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521524919. Lady Dalhousie offered to send me everything in her power from Canada & she is a very zealous Botanist.
  9. "Square Dalhousie". Vieux-Montréal (in French). City of Montreal. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
Masonic offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Aboyne
Grand Master of the
Grand Lodge of Scotland

Succeeded by
The Duke of Rothesay
Government offices
Preceded by
George Stracey Smith
Governor of Nova Scotia
Succeeded by
Sir James Kempt
Preceded by
The Duke of Richmond
Governor General of British North America
Succeeded by
Sir James Kempt
Military offices
Preceded by
The Lord Elphinstone
Colonel of the 26th (Cameronian) Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
Sir John Colborne
Preceded by
The Viscount Combermere
Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Barnes
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
George Ramsay
Earl of Dalhousie
Succeeded by
James Broun-Ramsay
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