RAMSAY, Sir Alexander, 2nd bt. (1785-1852), of Balmain, Fasque, Kincardine

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1820 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 14 Feb. 1785, 1st s. of Alexander Burnett (afterwards Ramsay), adv., of Crathes Castle and Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir Alexander Bannerman, 4th bt., of Elsick. m. (1) 1 Aug. 1811, Jane (d. Aug. 1819), da. and coh. of Francis Russell of Blackhall, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da.; (2) 26 Dec. 1822, Elizabeth, da. of William Maule*, 4s. 3da. suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 17 May 1810. d. 26 Apr. 1852.

Offices Held


Ramsay was descended from a cadet branch of an old Kincardineshire family, the Burnetts of Leys. His father Alexander, the second son of Sir Thomas Burnett, 6th baronet (d. 1783), was born in 1757 and called to the Scottish bar in 1779. He was sheriff of Kincardineshire from 1783 until 1806, when he succeeded as the younger brother of the heir of line to the Balmain estates of his cousin, Sir Alexander Ramsay Irvine, 6th baronet, Member for the county, 1765-8. He took the name of Ramsay in March 1806 and on 13 May received a baronetcy from the Grenville ministry, who regarded him as a political ally. He settled at Fasque, where he built a grandiose house at a cost of £30,000.1 At the general election in October 1806 he offered for the county on the independent interest, unaware of the intention of the Foxite party manager William Adam†, who had a stake there, to stand in a bid to strengthen the ministry. It was with great reluctance that Ramsay eventually yielded to pressure from Adam, the prime minister and the prince of Wales to leave the way clear.2 On his death in 1810 he was succeeded in the baronetcy by his 25-year-old eldest son and namesake, the subject of this biography, who was soon seen as the head of the county’s independent interest; but their lack of stomach for a contest deterred him from challenging the wealthy Melvillite newcomer George Drummond in 1812 and 1818.3 When Drummond announced his retirement at the 1820 dissolution Ramsay (who had lost his wife only six months previously) declared his candidature ‘without pledging myself to support any particular party in Parliament’. He had two ministerialist rivals, James Farquhar*, former Member for Aberdeen Burghs, and Colonel Hugh Arbuthnott*, brother of the lord lieutenant, the 8th Viscount Arbuthnott.4 As Lord Arbuthnott (on behalf of his brother, who was detained in France by illness) and Farquhar vied for the support of ministers, who initially stayed neutral, Ramsay was in a strong position, especially as Arbuthnott made it plain that he would rather see him returned than Farquhar.5 At the end of the first week of March Arbuthnott withdrew his brother, but insisted on supporting Ramsay against Farquhar. On the 6th Ramsay went from Edinburgh to Granton to see Charles Hope†, lord president of the court of session (whom he did not know personally) and, as Hope reported to Lord Melville, the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager, assured him

that his political principles had been much misrepresented; that when a very young man, he had been induced to preside at one of Fox’s dinners here, which he regretted, as he was far from wishing to go with his adherents in this country; that under present circumstances at least, he certainly should support government in every measure necessary for preserving the country from the attempts of the seditious and disaffected ... In short, if you do not get a determined partisan, you will get at least a supporter in this time of need. But from his whole conversation, and from his volunteering to come down to me to explain himself, I have little doubt that he only requires to be courted a little, and when he goes up to Parliament, if you and the ministers show him proper attention ... you will secure him.6

Melville was angry with Arbuthnott and felt that Farquhar must now be openly supported, but he told the lord advocate Sir William Rae* that if Ramsay acted up to his professions in the House the affair would not end too badly, and advised him, if Ramsay seemed sure of success, ‘not ... to carry our hostility to such an extent as to leave him scarcely any other alternative than throwing himself into the ranks of the enemy’. Rae, who believed and convinced Melville that Arbuthnott and Ramsay had been in cahoots from the outset, remained ‘very doubtful of ... Ramsay’s politics’, but went along with this.7 In the event Ramsay defeated Farquhar by 12 votes in a poll of 52.8

Although he never joined Brooks’s, he voted with the Whig opposition in the House, but he was a virtual cipher there after Easter 1821. He divided against Wilberforce’s compromise resolution on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June, and the appointment of the green bag committee on her conduct, 26 June 1820. He was in the minorities for economies in revenue collection, 4 July, and against the aliens bill, 7 July 1820. His only known vote in the parliamentary campaign on behalf of the queen in early 1821 was to deplore the omission of her name from the liturgy, 23 Jan. He voted to condemn the Allies’ suppression of liberalism in Naples, 28 Feb., for repeal of the tax on husbandry horses, 5 Mar., and of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., and for inquiry into the revenue, 6 Mar. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He was given six weeks’ leave on urgent private business, 12 Apr. 1821. His only other known votes were for the remission of Henry Hunt’s* gaol sentence, 24 Apr., parliamentary reform, 25 Apr., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May 1822, and repeal of the assessed taxes, 10 May 1824. He was granted three weeks’ leave on private business, 17 Feb. 1825. He is not known to have spoken in debate, but he presented a Kincardineshire landowners’ petition calling for ‘economy and retrenchment in the expenditure of government’ to relieve agricultural distress, 12 Mar. 1822.9 He announced his ‘determination of retiring’ in December 1824 and duly did so at the 1826 dissolution, when Colonel Arbuthnott replaced him.10

Ramsay, who married as his second wife in 1822 a daughter of the zealous Foxite William Maule, died in Baker Street, London in April 1852. He was succeeded by his eldest son Alexander (1813-75), Conservative Member for Rochdale, 1857-9.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Fam. of Burnett of Leys ed. J. Allardyce (New Spalding Club), 96-97, 101-2.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 547.
  • 3. Ibid. ii. 548-9.
  • 4. Aberdeen Jnl. 9, 16, 23 Feb. 1820.
  • 5. NLS mss 11, ff. 6, 11, 17, 22, 28.
  • 6. NLS mss 11, f. 32.
  • 7. NLS mss 11, ff. 39, 44, 55, 62, 79.
  • 8. Aberdeen Jnl. 5 Apr. 1820.
  • 9. The Times, 13 Mar. 1822.
  • 10. NAS GD51/1/198/12/38.