RAMSAY, Edward Pierson (1842-1916)


RAMSAY, Edward Pierson (1842-1916)
ornithologist
son of David Ramsay, M.D., was born at Sydney on 3 December 1842. He was educated at St Mark's Collegiate School, The King's School, Parramatta, and the university of Sydney. He left the university without taking a degree, and in December 1867 opened the Dobroyd plant and seed nursery. He had been taking an interest in botany, entomology and ornithology for some time. He was treasurer of the Entomological Society of New South Wales in 1863, contributed a paper on the "Oology of Australia" to the Philosophical Society in July 1865, and when this society was merged in the Royal Society of New South Wales, he was made a life member in recognition of the work he had done for the Philosophical Society. In 1868 he joined with his brothers in a sugar-growing plantation in Queensland which, however, was not successful. Ramsay was one of the foundation members of the Linnean Society of New South Wales when it was formed in 1874, and a member of its council from the beginning until 1892. On 22 September 1874 he was appointed curator of the Australian museum and held this position until 31 December 1894. He took great interest in its ethnological collection and built up a remarkable variety of native weapons, dresses, utensils and ornaments illustrating the ethnology of Polynesia and Australia. This collection was lent to the Sydney international exhibition of 1879, was left in the building, and was unfortunately totally destroyed by fire on 22 September 1882. Ramsay set energetically to work to replace the lost specimens, and four years later had got together another fine collection. He was one of the commissioners for New South Wales for the fisheries exhibition held in London in 1883, and prepared A Catalogue of the Exhibits in the New South Wales Court. In 1890 he began the publication of the Records of the Australian Museum and edited some of the early volumes. In 1893 his health began to decline, and he was given extended leave. He resigned his curatorship on 31 December 1894 but became consulting ornithologist to the museum until February 1909. His work as an ornithologist was very important. He compiled a Catalogue of the Australian Birds in the Australian Museum (Parts I to IV, 1876-1894), and during his connexion with the institution about 17,600 skins of birds were added to the collection. Ramsay died at Sydney on 16 December 1916. He married in 1876 a daughter of Captain Fox who survived him with two sons and four daughters. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Geological Society, a corresponding member of the Zoological Society, and a member of the Royal Irish Academy. The university of St Andrews gave him the honorary degree of LL.D. in 1886, and the Italian government made him a knight of the crown of Italy.
Ramsay was a genial man with a keen sense of humour, who though at first inclined to be conservative, was a good director of the Australian Museum. He wrote a large number of papers, the index of the first 10 volumes of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society lists 148 items by him and he also contributed to later volumes. Other papers appeared in the Ibis and the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. Some of his papers were printed as pamphlets. His Hints for the Preservation of Specimens of Natural History went into several editions.
Records of the Australian Museum, vol. XI; The Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, vol. XLII, p. 7; The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 December 1916.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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