Being an Account of his Life
in Islay and including the Diary of his trip to Canada in 1870.
Rarely have I been
privileged to read a story as impressive and touching as that recorded
in the diary of John Ramsay, Esq., depicting the incidents of his
journeyings in Canada in the year 1870, at which time he visited the new
homes of those who had been his tenants on the Island of Islay,
Argyllshire, and had later emigrated to the Province of Ontario where
they settled and prospered in the counties of Ontario, Victoria, Simcoe,
Grey and Bruce.
Several years earlier Mr.
Ramsay, realizing that the land on the Island of Islay could not sustain
its ever- increasing population, had the practical vision to see that
those courageous and determined Scots, if given an opportunity in the
New World, had the capacity, industry and determination for success to a
degree which they themselves did not visualize. In order to facilitate
their emigration he arranged with the steamship company for
substantially reduced fares and in some cases paid the fares himself. In
the years 1862-63 about four hundred Islay people settled in Canada.
History does not record,
to the best of my knowledge, any other Scottish landlord who, in
addition to following the course of adventure of his tenants in the New
World, actually crossed the Atlantic to learn for himself the state of
their progress. Happily he found that they, as a result of their
unfaltering faith, invincible courage and unremitting toil, had built
for themselves pleasant and comfortable homes, cleared much land which
yielded bountiful crops, and were, on the whole, a happy and contented
people. The warm welcome cordially given him by those who at one time
were his tenants testifies to the ingratiating qualities which
characterized this intrepid humanitarian.
Mr. Ramsay's concern for
the welfare of Scottish emigrants generally is further evidenced in the
early pages of his diary by his visit to those Highlanders from the
island of Lewis who had settled in the vicinity of Stornoway and Lake
Megantic in the Eastern Townships of the Province of Quebec.
Mrs. lain Ramsay, whose
late husband was a grandson of the author of this diary, has written in
concise and dignified style. With the hand of a master she portrays the
privations and hardships which the tenants endured in Islay and the
contribution made for their relief and eventual prosperity by John
Ramsay, a man who added to his humanitarian interests those of an
eminent scholar, a wise counsellor, an outstanding parliamentarian and a
Mrs. Ramsay is now
engaged in extensive historical research for the University of Glasgow
in relation to the worldwide emigration from Scotland during the past
centuries. Moreover, she is lending her fine literary talent to the
publication of a history of Islay during the eighteenth and nineteenth
Mrs. Ramsay's daughter
Janna, Mrs. Henry Best of Moffat, Ontario, is the fifth generation of
the Ramsay family to come to Canada.
Those of Scottish birth
or extraction, indeed all who are interested in Highland Scottish
colonization in Canada, should be deeply indebted to Mrs. Ramsay for
making this record available.
J. Keiller Mackay
December. 14, 1968