National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916)

Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916)

Physical chemist and Nobel laureate

William Ramsay studied science at Glasgow and Tübingen. He was appointed professor of chemistry at University College, Bristol in 1880 and elected chair of general chemistry at University College, London in 1887. He and Lord Rayleigh jointly discovered argon, an inert gas, using different methodologies. Realising that there must be a gap in the Periodic Table he searched for other elements in the missing group - krypton, neon and xenon - and studied their properties. For this major achievement he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1904. He received many other honours before his retirement in 1912. He died on 23 July 1916 at his home in Buckinghamshire.

Birth in 1852

William Ramsay was born on 2 October 1852, the son of William Ramsay, engineer and Catherine Robertson. The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Barony shows that he was their first child and that the place of birth was 9 Clifton Street. Witnesses to the baptism were Andrew Crombie Ramsay and John Crombie Ramsay.

Birth entry for William Ramsay

Birth entry for William Ramsay (22 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 622/15, page 1

1861 and 1871 censuses 

In 1861 William Ramsay, 8, was enumerated at 1 Oakvale in Partick with his parents, aunt Eliza and a general servant. The census record is over two pages and gives his father's occupation as civil engineer and his mother's place of birth as Edinburgh.

1861 census return for William Ramsay, page 32

1861 census return for William Ramsay, page 33

1861 census record for William Ramsay (21 and 37 KB jpegs)
National Records of Scotland, 1861/646-2/11, pages 32-33

In 1871 William Ramsay, 18, student of chemistry, was enumerated with his parents at 11 Ashton Terrace in Partick. The census schedule records his father's occupation as engineer and surveyor and shows the household included a cook and a general servant.

1871 census return for William Ramsay

1871 census record for William Ramsay (41 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1871/646-3/18, page 23

Marriage in 1881

William Ramsay, 28, professor of chemistry, married Margaret J M Buchanan on 3 August 1881. The entry in the statutory register of marriages for the district of Kelvin shows the marriage took place at The Grand Hotel in Glasgow according to the forms of the Free Church of Scotland. His address is given as 11 Ashton Terrace - he wasn't enumerated with his family there at the time of the 1881 census.Marriage entry for William Ramsay

Marriage entry for William Ramsay (66 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1881/644-9/369