A Blupete Biography Page

Earl of Dalhousie

The Ramsay family, who took the name Dalhousie in the 18th century, was a noble one of Scotland. After a high school education at Edinburgh, Dalhousie joined the British army. His rise to the top led him to be with Wellington in the Spanish campaign during the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1805, Dalhousie married Christina Broun (1786-1839), described as an heiress. The couple had three boys all born before Dalhousie came to Nova Scotia in 1816. The two older boys, Ramsay and Charles, were left behind at a boarding school (quite typical of the aristocratic class). The youngest, Jim, went with his parents to Halifax.1 As for the boys' mother, Christina: she was described by Sir Walter Scott (Dalhousie and Scott went to school together) as being "amiable, intelligent and lively."2 While in Nova Scotia she exhibited an interest in mineralogy and was quite a passionate rock-hound. She also kept a journal in which she carefully recorded, daily: the temperature and barometric pressure.

One is obliged to understand the times, as is usually the case, before an appreciation might be had of a particular person's life. This is certainly so for Dalhousie; in his time, everywhere the people were raising the banners to freedom and democracy. Dalhousie was still very much imbued with the notion, if not vocalized too openly -- wink, wink -- that certain people were better to be in charge of affairs. At the same time, Dalhousie was quite progressive in his thinking as may be exhibited in his contribution to the agriculture of the province during his stay in Nova Scotia. He was a critical man, and penned out his view of just about any person he met; only a few did he like. However, it would appear, he hardly ever made his opinions of others, public.

Dalhousie came to Nova Scotia to replace Sherbrooke, who, earlier in the year, June 27th, had embarked for Canada as commander and the country's Governor-general. It was on October 24th, that the Earl of Dalhousie and his family arrived at Halifax. That autumn he was sworn in as Lieutenant-governor.

Dalhousie's concern for the people of his province showed itself clearly in 1817. He proposed the establishment of a "seminary for higher branches of education" which Dalhousie thought was "much wanted in Halifax, the seat of the legislature -- of justice -- of the military and mercantile. ... [It is to be] open to all sects, -- to strangers passing a few weeks there, -- to the military, -- to students of law."3 The money needed to set up this new college (the beginnings of Dalhousie University) came from the "Castine Fund."4 Three thousand pounds went into the building of a stone building at one end of the grand parade5 with the remainder being sunk for the continuing "support of the professorships."

Having been appointed the Governor-general of British North America, on June 5th, 1820, Lord Dalhousie left Halifax for Quebec. It was not however the last time that Dalhousie was in Halifax. He returned for short stays both in 1823 and then again in 1826. In 1823, July 24th, a ball was held at Province House (the building in which the members of the legislature sit). He had come earlier that month in the government brig, 13 days from Quebec. The ball was a festive conclusion to Dalhousie's visit: "The council chamber was used as a ball room, and the supper was laid out in the assembly room. ... A military band was stationed in an elevated orchestra, placed over the central doors. ... At midnight the supper began ... dances were renewed afterwards."6 In 1826, Dalhousie gave a speech7 on the occasion of the work being started on the Shubenacadie Canal. During this last visit, Dalhousie did not neglect his duty to look up certain of his old friends including paying a visit, he and his Lady, to Gorsebrook, the home of Enos Collins.

Joseph Howe wrote of the Dalhousies:

"Nothing could be more correct and refining than the tone given to society by Lady Dalhousie who, without being handsome was remarkable for the plainness of her dress and the elegant simplicity of her manners. The Earl was a square built, good looking man, with hair rather grey when I last saw him. He took great interest in Agriculture, and was the patron of "Agricola" [John Young] whose letters were in the Recorder when I was in the Printing office."8
Dalhousie's career at Quebec ran into difficulties, especially on account of his views of those in the elected legislature. The authorities in London were increasingly perplexed by the difficulties in Canada and determined that Dalhousie must be a part of the problem. Thus, Dalhousie was appointed commander-in-chief of the army in India. Before going out to India, he spent the winter (1828-9) trying to put things right in respect to the reports of how he handled things in Quebec. Dalhousie left for India in July 1829 without obtaining the vindication he had sought.

The climate of India did not suit Dalhousie9, he resigned his command (he had been promoted general in 1830) and returned to Britain in 1832. His health slipped and he retired to his Scottish castle in 1834. He spent his last years in bad health and died on 21st March, 1838, there at Dalhousie Castle.


[1] Within a year or so, news came of the death of Charles, their second son. Ramsay within months joined his parents and his surviving brother, Jim. Incidentally, it was Jim, having survived his father and his brothers, who became the Tenth Earl and the Governor-general of India.

[2]Whitelaw quoted Scott in her Introduction to The Dalhousie Journals, (Oberon Press; 1978, 1981, & 1982), 1st vol., p. 7.

[3]Murdoch, vol. 3, p. 401-2.

[4]All of the funds (£12,000) were eventually expended on Dalhousie University, except for a £1,000 which was used to set up the "Garrison Library." The "Castine Fund" arose as a result of the War of 1812 against the Americans. A British force issuing out of Halifax captured and held, for a period of time, the community of Castine (Maine). While there, the British collected harbour duties from the many ships that came in and out of the place. At the end of the war, the British gave up Castine but brought back to Halifax, and then kept it aside, a sizable sum of money which had been collected during the British occupation of Castine.

[5]In December, 1818, Dalhousie College was granted lands on the northern part of the Grand Parade, and during May of 1820 the corner stone to the new building was laid by Dalhousie. (Murdoch, vol. 3, p. 455.)

[6]Murdoch, vol. 3, p. 499-500.

[7]See Murdock, vol. 3, p. 553, for part of Dalhousie's address.

[8]"Notes on Several Governors and Their Influence," NSHS, Vol #17 (1913), p. 197. Whitelaw, The Dalhousie Journals, quoted Howe in her Introduction, 1st vol., p. 7.

[9]Whitelaw, in her short and sad epilogue (The Dalhousie Journals, Vol. 1, p. 199) points out that all the Dalhousies (Lord, Lady and their son Ramsay) returned from India to Britain as "invalids." The son, Ramsay died before his age thirty. The son James (1819-60), who had stayed in England to attend Oxford, eventually went out to India to follow in his father's footsteps and became its Governor-general (1847-56); his health also suffered from the Indian climate and he died a relatively young man.


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Peter Landry