David Ramsay was the son of John Ramsay and Elisabeth Pearson. Born on the 16th March 1794, he was brought up in Perth, Scotland, in a wealthy, staunchly Presbyterian
household. In October 1817, at the age of 25, David made and wrote a Covenant with God. Later in life he was to encourage
Sarah Ann Lord to do the same.
His father John Ramsay was a Corn Merchant, and property owner, the rents for which provided a large part of his income.
When David left home he did not hesitate to ask his father for monetary assistance, which was given either as a gift or a
loan in amounts which these days would be considered extremely generous. David was the 3rd of seven children. Of
these three died young. The first-born John died age 21 in 1811. Isabella, born in 1798, died aged 1, and William born in
1803 died in 1806. Davids brother James, two years older, seems to have been one of his closest friends, and he shows a great
attachment to his two sisters Eliza and Mary in his letters. These two also died quite young, Eliza aged 33 and Mary aged
30, both unmarried. James married late in life, at aged 49, his wife Jane Livingstone dying shortly after the birth of their
daughter, also named Jane. This left David to carry on the Ramsay name, which he did by marrying and fathering eleven children,
ten of whom grew to adulthood.
John Ramsay was born in Fowlis Wester in Perthshire, his father, also John, was a tenant farmer. The house in which
he lived, and where David was born, can still be seen in Methven Street, Perth, Scotland.
David studied Medicine in Edinburgh, and graduated in 1817. Documents pertaining to his Medical Degree have been preserved
in the Mitchell Library, and include the Diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Diploma of Obstetrics, a General
Diploma, a thesis in Latin entitled Angina Pectoris, and the Regulations for Candidates of the Royal College of Surgeons,
Edinburgh. Several books bearing the inscription D. Ramsay, 40 Nicholson Street, Edinburgh, show his keen interest in Natural
history and entomology, which he shared with his father. The voyages subsequently embarked upon afforded him ample opportunity
to pursue this interest. In letters to and from James they discuss the condition of his collection, comprising birds and insects
collected on his voyages, most of which James was later authorised to donate to the Perth Museum. David also returned with
live parrots as presents for family and friends.
After completing his Medical Degree, David traveled to London in the Fife packet to seek work. There he found lodgings
at 3, Little St.Thomas Apostle, and proceeded to see some of the sights of the city as well as catching up with various Perth
friends. The only vacancies in the Medical profession were for those who did not have the training of a medical degree, and
David was not inclined to accept a position where his skills were not utilised. He decided on advice to take a position as
a ship's surgeon. Here he had the opportunity for trading to supplement his wage. He wrote to James on accepting a position
on Marchioness of Exeter: "I have £5 a month, a private cabin, and the Captains table, with liberty to trade a little."
David was to get a taste of mercantile life, and seemed not only suited to it but to enjoy it. It was at this time that David
wrote to his brother James, giving his plans for trade and requesting a loan of £500 from his father, which John Ramsay later
sent as part of Davids portion of his inheritance. He also asked James to send various personal items including clothes and
This voyage took David to the ports of Madeira Bay, Bencoolen and Padang on the west coast of Sumatra, and Batavia
(now Jakarta), Semarang and Surabaya on Java.
From Madeira Bay, David wrote of the voyage, an attempt at mutiny by some of the men, and the resultant court martial
and flogging, and his first night in the town at the house of a family friend, Mr. Keir. He described the living conditions
of the merchants and traders, in stark contrast to those of the natives. From Madeira they sailed to Bencoolen, with the ship
being dogged by a privateer, who fortunately decided against attack. After several days in Bencoolen, they made a trip to
Padang and then to Batavia after a short return to Bencoolen. David described the heavy traffic in Batavia roads, with ships
from around the globe trading in the port. His gruesome details of the crocodiles that fed on dead animals and people alike
must have fascinated his family at home. David mentions in this letter they would soon leave port for Samarang and Soura Bay,
and then return to Batavia before heading for England, touching at the Cape and St.Helena.
On his return to London, David wrote to James of the success of his voyage, having made a profit overall. He made
a short visit home, returning to London on the Smack, Perth. David contemplated
spending some time at further study in Paris, and setting up practice in Perth, but this was not to be. After visiting the
family, David returned to London to seek employment. He finally decided to take up a position on the ship Surry in
On this voyage David sailed to Madeira, Rio de Janeiro, and around the Cape to Fremantle and Hobart. From here they
sailed to Sydney, and then on a trading voyage to the Auckland Islands, Valparaiso in Chile, Easter Island, Ducie Island,
Pitcairn Island, Otaheite, and back to Sydney. After a short voyage to Macquarie Island, blubber-hunting, the Surry returned
to England. Davids letters at this time describe his impressions of the ports of Hobart and Sydney, and the native people
of the area.
On the return journey to England, the Surry carried Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his wife. Macquarie was renowned
for encouraging the emancipists in their business endeavours in the colony, including Simeon Lord, Davids future father-in-law.
For a detailed account of this voyage, go to Journeys in Time.
This voyage lasted two years, and by the time David returned to London, he had decided to set up in business with the
ships Captain, Thomas Raine, and to make a new life for himself in Australia. Together they established the House of Agency
to be called Raine and Ramsay.
After visiting his family in Perth for a short time, and a frustrating time in London setting up the business
and trying to obtain capital to back the venture, well described in the letters of this time, David again sailed for Sydney,
this time on Thalia arriving back in Sydney in 1824.
In 1824, an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette refers to Raine and Ramsay at the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets,
ship owners and agents, general merchants and woolbrokers. The House of Raine
and Ramsay flourished early, dealing in pork, tea, sugar, wine and whale oil. However, due to differences in business practices,
David felt obliged to sever his business ties with Raine, and the partnership was dissolved in 1827.
David did not return to the practice of medicine in the Colony, but after the dissolution of Raine and Ramsay concentrated
on his Dobroyde Plant Nursery, his farm and other properties, and the raising of his children.
During his time in the Colony, David was active in the erection of Scots Presbyterian Church, being a signatory
to the constitution of the Church in 1824, and holding the positions of Treasure in 1823, Mediator between the Synod and Presbytery
in 1838, and Trustee for the Congregation in 1841. He was elected a member of the Council of the Australian College, a project
of Dr. Dunmore Lang.
David had possibly met Sarah Ann Lord on his first visit to Sydney, and lost no time in wooing her on his return to
the colony. Simeon Lord wrote out his permission for the two to marry on 28 March 1825, and the wedding took place on the
31st March at St Philips Church of England on Church Hill.
Sarah Ann was the daughter of emancipist merchant Simeon Lord. Reference to his father-in-laws situation was only made in one of the letters home, but by this time David
was married and the blessing of the family had been given.
Simeon Lord gave the couple the farm Dobroyde as a dowry (with accompanying mortgage!) and it was here that the couple
settled. Renovations were done to the house, and David set up an orchard and plant nursery in the grounds. The boundaries
of the current Sydney suburb of Haberfield define the boundaries of the farm. The Ramsays added rooms and verandahs to the
original Sunning Hill farmhouse, which had been begun by Nicholas Bayley and completed by Simeon Lord.
In 1826, David went to Tasmania to conduct some business for Simeon Lord, and left Sarah to the running of the farm,
and raising the children. She wrote to him telling of the childrens health, and her problems with the hired staff, one of
whom was constantly drunk. Whilst there, David collected seeds and plant stock, including orange trees, for his nursery, and
had them sent home.
David, although successful in his chosen career in Australia, went through some difficult times as well. The depression
of the 1840s was particularly hard, but David along with many others was saved by the gold rush in the early 1850s, when land
and property values rose and money began flowing again in the Colony. David relied on convict labour, and in several letters
from home introductions were made to him of convicts considered to be worthy of being given a chance at rehabilitation in
David's employ. Rarely do we see an acknowledgement, or any referral by David to convict labour. Being married to the daughter
of one of the wealthiest emancipists in the country would have made him sympathetic to their plight.
Always with an eye to business and investment, towards the end of the 1820s, David had an inn constructed on the Parramatta
Road, at its junction with the Liverpool Road. The inn was known officially as Speed the Plough, but was referred to
locally as the Plough. The inn remained as a landmark for the next 80 years. In Speed the Plough, Ashfield 1788-1988,
S and R Coupe describe it as a substantial two-storey sandstock building with a shingle roof and with a wide verandah on
the street abutted at each end by a single-storeyed wing. In front on either side of the pole bearing its sign stand two horse
troughs carved out of huge logs. David Ramsay did not run the inn, but leased it firstly to Charles Jordan, then to John
Ireland, whose wife took over after his death until 1849. From this time the inn was leased to a variety of proprietors until
John Burrage became the last licensee in 1906.
David died on 10th June 1860, leaving Sarah to carry out their plans for a School, Church and Private Burial
Ground on part of the Dobroyde estate. He was buried on the farm, but his coffin was removed to the family vault after it
was completed. Sarah saw to the building of the School and Church, the setting aside of an area for the Graveyard and the
construction of the Vault. She died at Dobroyde on the 28th January, 1889, her coffin being placed in the vault
1831, Dr David Ramsay purchased 85 acres for £314 from John Piper, which had been part of Hugh Pipers grant. At the same time Piper sold 92 acres of adjoining land to Prosper de Mestre, which he called Helsarmel.
The western border of the land lay along the shores of Iron Cove. This land lies in the present day suburb of Leichardt. The
adjoining Elswick Estate was subdivided and sold in lots between 1868 and 1874. David Ramsay Jnr purchased 5 blocks over this
time, with a total of approximately 63 acres.
David Ramsay had kept the land
for cultivation, and it was not subdivided until 1878. The subdivision was carried out by Sarah Ramsay after his death, with
44 allotments.The land was bought by dairymen and a bone boiling works, which operated until the early 1900s. With the closure
of the boiling works, and the subsequent removal of its noxious smell, subdivision into residential blocks went ahead.