Christian Ramsay, Countess of Dalhousie


Botanical collector

Christian Ramsay, countess of Dalhousie, hostess and botanical collector, was born on 28 February 1786, in the family seat of Coalstoun or Colstoun, near Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire, the only child and heir of Charles Broun. Her father was an advocate in Edinburgh, the son of Judge George Broun, Lord Coalstoun. On 14 May 1805 she married George Ramsay (1770–1838), who became ninth earl of Dalhousie; they had three sons, the youngest of whom was James Andrew Broun Ramsay, later the first marquess of Dalhousie. The two elder boys died as young men. At first she dedicated herself to furthering her husband's career. He succeeded to the earldom in 1815, and in 1816 was appointed lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia.

While in Halifax Lady Dalhousie indefatigably promoted the foundation of educational institutions, particularly those concerned with science and agriculture, and collected unusual local plants. From 1817 she sent extensive collections of living plants and seeds back to Dalhousie Castle, near Edinburgh, to enrich the gardens. She also livened up tedious civic evenings by drawing caricatures of the Halifax élite, several of which are in the Dalhousie papers at the Nova Scotia Museum. In 1820 Dalhousie was appointed governor-in-chief of British North America and they moved to Quebec. They purchased an estate and leased another called Beauport, where she began arranging a botanical garden and farm. She was very active in organizing the foundation in 1824 of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec and in 1827 she presented a paper on Canadian plants there. Her patronage extended widely, and the first work of fiction published by a native-born Canadian, Julia Catherine Beckwith's St Ursula's Convent (1824), was dedicated to her.

In 1824 the couple left Canada to return to Dalhousie Castle, making elaborate plans for extending the gardens. In 1825 and 1826 they suffered great financial loss through the bankruptcy of their agent. For this reason they made an extended visit to Nova Scotia in 1826 to 1828. Dalhousie's political connections in England subsequently failed and they moved to India in July 1829 for him to take up a position as commander-in-chief of the British army there.

During the voyage out Lady Dalhousie collected plants on Madeira and St Helena and at the Cape of Good Hope. She worked hard collecting in India, including a new genus of tropical shrubs named Dalhousiea after her by Robert Graham. She corresponded with W. J. Hooker at Kew and presented an extensive collection of plants from Simla, and a smaller collection from Penang, made during a tour in Burma in 1831, to the Hooker family herbarium, which J. D. Hooker used in compiling his Flora Indica. She further presented a collection of Indian plants (some 1200 specimens) to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, of which she was made an honorary member in 1837. She sent many interesting rhododendrons to the Dalhousie Gardens. Her husband's command in India lasted three years, after which they travelled on the continent until 1834, when they settled for good at Dalhousie. Lady Dalhousie soon became prominent in Edinburgh society. She died suddenly in Dean Ramsay's house in Edinburgh on 22 January 1839, one year after her husband. 

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Christian Ramsay (1786–1839): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/57840 

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