RAMSAY, THOMAS KENNEDY, judge and author; b. 2 Sept. 1826 at Ayr, Scotland, son of David Ramsay, whose wife was a Miss Kennedy; d. unmarried 22 Dec. 1886 at Saint-Hugues, Que.
Thomas Kennedy Ramsay came from a family belonging to the landed gentry. After studying in his native town, he attended Madras College at St Andrews. In 1847 he emigrated to Canada with his parents, and they settled at Saint-Hugues. He articled in the Montreal office of William Collis Meredith, Strachan Bethune*, and Christopher Dunkin, and was called to the bar of Lower Canada on 4 Oct. 1852. Two years later, while in practice, he founded the Law Reporter, with Louis-Siméon Morin*. In 1857 he was, according to the newspapers of the day, one of the founders of the Lower Canada Jurist (Montreal), to which he subsequently contributed on a number of occasions.
On 10 Feb. 1859 Ramsay accepted appointment as English-speaking secretary to the commission appointed to codify the civil laws of Canada East; Joseph-Ubalde Beaudry* was appointed the French-speaking secretary. René-Édouard Caron* chaired the three-man commission whose other members were Augustin-Norbert Morin* and Charles Dewey Day. The 1857 statute creating this body provided for the appointment of two secretaries, one of whom was to have English as his native tongue but a thorough knowledge of French as well. Having lived in France for a few years, Ramsay had an excellent grasp of French. His task was to identify the articles of the Coutume de Paris that were still in force in Canada East. But on 25 Oct. 1862 Ramsay was removed from office; according to his successor, Thomas McCord, he had been dismissed “in consequence of a quarrel between him and the Ministry of the day, which had originated in political Causes.”
After losing this post, Ramsay taught civil law for a brief period at Morrin College, founded in Quebec City in 1862 by Joseph Morrin*. He published at Montreal in 1863 a legal pamphlet entitled Government commissions of inquiry, in which he maintained that the government could grant to judges alone commissions to inquire into crimes and offences affecting the life or liberty of British subjects. “In politics he was a Conservative to the very core,” said the Montreal Daily Star of Ramsay. A friend of George-Étienne Cartier*, Ramsay ran as a Conservative in Huntingdon in the 1863 elections for the assembly but was defeated by Robert Brown Somerville. In 1867 he stood in Châteauguay in the first federal elections but lost to Luther Hamilton Holton*.
From 1864 to 1868 Ramsay held the office of crown attorney at Montreal. In this capacity he appeared before Francis Godschall Johnson* in Sweetsburg (Cowansville) in 1866 to prosecute the Fenians charged with invading Canada East [see Charles-Joseph Coursol]. According to the Montreal Daily Star, Ramsay “made out his cases in such an able manner that Hon. Justice Johnson sentenced the whole lot to be hanged,” but the death sentences were subsequently commuted.
In 1867 Ramsay was made a qc. He became assistant judge of the Superior Court of the province of Quebec on 5 Sept. 1870, and was elevated to the Court of Queen’s Bench on 30 Oct. 1873. He enjoyed an excellent professional reputation and in 1869 his compatriot Hector Fabre* remarked that “even at Westminster Mr. Ramsay would have attracted attention for the unshakeable firmness of his character and the loftiness of his views . . . , the rigour of his dialectic, [and] his profound erudition.”
Ramsay, who owned part of the Ramezay seigneury, died suddenly at his residence in Saint-Hugues, while still serving on the bench. He was survived by one sister in Montreal and two brothers. His funeral was held in Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal on 24 Dec. 1886. The day before, the Montreal Daily Star had paid tribute to him: “By the sudden death of Mr Justice Ramsay the bench loses one of its ablest lawyers and its most irascible judge. Perhaps we could have better spared a more amiable man. His unfortunate habit of scolding lawyers, jurymen and newspaper men was so conspicuous as to rather obscure what was no less characteristic of the man, his rare legal talent. Judge Ramsay was a bundle of contradictions. A newspaper man himself, the press was his pet aversion. Professing the utmost admiration for the jury system, his presence on the bench added a new terror to jury service. Emphatically an upright judge, he never quite got rid of the prejudice of a Crown prosecutor. Fortunately he was endowed with a keen perception and with a great capacity for taking pains.”
[Thomas Kennedy Ramsay’s work on the Commission appointed to codify the civil laws of Canada East led him to publish Notes sur la Coutume de Paris indiquant les articles encore en force avec tout le texte de la coutume à l’exception des articles relatifs aux fiefs et censives, les titres du retrait lignager et de la garde noble et bourgeoise (Montréal, 1863; 2e éd., 1864). In 1865 he published A digested index to the reported cases in Lower Canada . . . at Quebec. Later, in 1887, Charles Henry Stephens edited Ramsay’s appeal cases with notes and definitions of the civil and criminal law of the province of Quebec . . . (Montreal), a digest of appellate decisions in the years from 1873 to 1886, prepared by Ramsay. A good deal of biographical information on Ramsay can be found in Legal News (Montreal), 10 (1887): 1–2, 15, 23, 31, 33, 89, 169, 330. j.-c.b.]
AC, Montréal, État civil, Anglicans, Christ Church Cathedral (Montreal), 23 Dec. 1886. L’Événement, 23 déc. 1886. Gazette (Montreal), 23 Dec. 1886. La Minerve, 23, 27 déc. 1886. Montreal Daily Star, 22–24, 27, 29 Dec. 1886. Dominion annual register, 1886. P.-G. Roy, Les juges de la prov. de Québec. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Laureau, Hist. de la littérature canadienne, 403. J. E. C. Brierley, “Quebec’s civil law codification; viewed and reviewed,” McGill Law Journal (Montreal), 14 (1968): 521–89.