Alexander Ramsay VIII was born in Hong Kong on January 12th 1909. His mother was sent there from Peking where her husband was the Editor of the only English language newspaper in China; his parents felt that it was important for his birth to occur in a British colony; he was the eldest of four boys.
He attended Nautical College on board the HMS Worcester, a ship anchored in the mouth of the Thames River; he started his training in 1926 where he obtained his Foreign Going Masters Certificate.
Captain Ramsay was appointed Master of the very prestigious company line “Jardine Matheson”, there being two very well known and respected lines, the other being “Blue Funnel” Line.
Captain Ramsay’s wife, Marina Ramsay was the daughter of a former Russian Consul to Harbin when the Communists took power; he stayed in China and practiced law, he knew ten (10) languages! Captain Ramsay’s wife was sent to an English language school and thus knew Russian, Chinese and English.
During the Second World War, Captain Ramsay along with his wife were sailing in the Far East and Captain Ramsay was diagnosed with a possible perforated ulcer and was taken ashore in Hong Kong and put in the hospital; his wife stayed with him and when the Japanese overran Hong Kong they were both taken prisoners and put in the Stanley civilian internment camp in December 1941. They were held there until August of 1945. Their son Alexander Ramsay IX was born there in March of 1944.
When Mrs Ramsay was captured she was very brave and she smuggled her jewelry in her clothes, the Japanese had conscripted the “Sikhs” to search the prisoners, when the guard felt the jewels she had hidden, he looked her in the eyes and let her pass. The jewels were later exchanged for milk powder to keep their son alive in the camp. They did receive a Red Cross package once in three and a half years. In the package was a can of tomatoes and Captain Ramsay strained the seeds and successfully grew some plants, he always planted tomatoes every year thereafter. During the internment he was put in charge of heating a 45 gallon drum of water and have it boiling by using grass pulled by other prisoners, they had to start at 05:00 hours every morning. Each prisoner was given a cup (6oz) of rice and 3 spoons of squash every day for his stay along with hundreds of prisoners for three years and ten months before the Americans finally freed them.
After the war when they were released, Captain Ramsay told me that they flipped a coin as to which way they would go, either Australia or Canada and so they came to Canada. At this time they had a daughter he called “Nancy”.
As Captain Ramsay came to Ontario he was employed by the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority and later he piloted ships on the Great Lakes.
After retiring from this, Captain Ramsay and family moved to Nova Scotia, finally finding a lovely spot in Foleaze Park high up on Blomidon overlooking the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.
After building his home there, he heard about a shipping company “Gypsum Transportation Ltd” out of Hantsport, Nova Scotia, this was in 1976.
The Gypsum Company had just built two new 20,000 ton vessels in Collingwood Ontario, the S/S Gypsum King under the command of Captain J.A. Blinn which sailed December 6th 1975 and the new S/S Gypsum Baron on June 6th 1976, under command of Captain R.C. Riley. On arrival at Little Narrows, Nova Scotia, Captain Ramsay joined us as Chief Officer on our maiden voyage to New York.
Captain Ramsay sailed with us on numerous voyages, he was a very interesting man and we had many hours on watch together where he would tell me some of his adventures. For passing time he would show how he could do fancy rope work, splices and knots. He was excellent at making mariners Wheels and Ball Ropes, not many could do that.
This beautiful “Ball Rope” and “Mariners Wheel” were made by Captain Alexander Ramsey VIII while in a Hong Kong prisoner of war camp held by the Japanese during the Second World War.
Captain Ramsay was at home in 1982 when he had a fatal heart attack and is now resting high up on Cape Blomidon which he loved so much.
In Captain Ramsay’s will, he left me his beautiful sextant which he had used so often over many oceans during his travels. I believe it is only fitting that his sextant should be on display in Hantsport’s new McDade Heritage Centre for all to view, along with the “Mariners Wheel” and “Ball Rope” he also had given me.
This sextant belonged to Captain Alexander Ramsay VIII, he sailed with Jardine Matheson Shipping Company, mainly in the Far East. On December 25th, 1941, the Japanese captured Hong Kong. As he was there in hospital, the Japanese put Capt. Ramsay and his wife in a prison camp. One of the few items he was allowed to keep was this sextant.
Captain Ray C. Riley (Ret’d) 6 Sept. 2019