[Memoir of Dr. Dick, by his son, Andrew Coventry Dick, prefixed to Lectures in Theology; McKerrow's Hist. of the Secession Church; Funeral Sermons by Rev. Andrew Marshall and Rev. Professor Mitchell, D.D.; Memoir by Rev. W. Peddie, United Secession Mag. May 1833.]
DICK, ROBERT (1811–1866), a self-taught geologist and botanist, son of an exciseman, was born at Tulliboddy in Clackmannanshire in January 1811, according to his tombstone, in 1810 according to his half-sister. Though an apt scholar he was not sent to college, but at the age of thirteen was apprenticed to a baker, mainly through the influence of his stepmother, who made his life miserable. Despite hard work he read largely, and acquired a knowledge of botany, and made a collection of plants while yet an apprentice. After serving as a journeyman in Leith, Glasgow, and Greenock, he went to Thurso in Caithness in 1830, where his father was then supervisor of excise, and set up as a baker, there being then only three bakers' shops in the county. While gradually making a business he began to study geology, and widened his knowledge of natural history, making large collections of rocks, insects, and plants. He ultimately accumulated an almost perfect collection of the British flora by collection and exchange. About 1834 he re-discovered the Hierochloë borealis, or northern holy-grass, an interesting plant which had been dropped out of the British flora; of this he contributed a brief account to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh (Ann. Nat. Hist. October 1854). In 1841 the appearance of Hugh Miller's ‘Old Red Sandstone’ led Dick to make further searches for fossils, and ultimately to commence a correspondence with the author, greatly to the advantage of the latter, who received from the poor baker fine specimens of holoptychius and many other remarkable fishes, besides much information possessed by no other man. The facts which Dick furnished led to considerable modifications in the ‘Old Red Sandstone,’ and were of great assistance in building up the arguments of ‘Footprints of the Creator.’ ‘He has robbed himself to do me service,’ wrote Miller.
Dick's extreme modesty and bluff independence prevented him from writing for publication, but he became a recognised authority on the geology and natural history of his county, and materially aided Sir Roderick Murchison and other scientific men in their researches. Among his intimate friends was Charles Peach [q. v.], a self-made naturalist and geologist like himself. His studies show a record of indefatigable perseverance under poverty, pain, illness, and fatigue not easily surpassed. He often walked fifty to eighty miles between one baking and another, eating nothing but a few pieces of biscuit. Competition and a loss of flour by shipwreck at length practically ruined him, and his last years were passed in great privation. He died on 24 Dec. 1866, prematurely old at fifty-five. A public funeral testified that his fellow-townsmen recognised his merits, if somewhat tardily.
Dick was never married, and was very solitary in his habits. His character is best revealed by his letters, which show him to have had a deep love of nature, both its history and its beauties, and a stern resolve to get at facts at first hand. He would labour for weeks, at every possible moment, to chisel out a single important specimen from the hardest rock, or when crippled with rheumatism would spend hours in emptying ponds on the sea shore to disinter fossils he could not otherwise obtain. ‘I have nearly killed myself several times with over-exertion,’ he says. He had considerable culture, derived from both religious and general literature. His biographer says: ‘To those who knew him best he was cheerful and social. He had a vein of innocent fun and satire about him, and he often turned his thoughts into rhyme.’ His moral character was blameless; indeed his integrity was sternly scrupulous. It was with the greatest difficulty that he was persuaded to sell his fossils when in great privation; but he lavishly gave them away to those whom he conceived entitled to them by their scientific eminence. Strange to say, all reference to Dick was omitted in Hugh Miller's life. A portrait of Dick etched by Rajon forms the frontispiece to his life.[Smiles's Life of Robert Dick, 1878.] Sir ROBERT HENRY (1785?–1846), major-general, was the son of Dr. Dick of Tullimet, Perthshire, and, if a romantic story be true, must have been born in India about 1785. It is said (Gent. Mag. for May 1846) that when Henry Dundas and Edmund Burke were staying with the Duke of Athole at Dunkeld, they accidentally met a farmer's daughter, who gave them refreshment during a walk. Upon hearing their names she asked Dundas if he could help a young doctor (Dick) to whom she was betrothed, and who was too poor to marry. Dundas, hearing a good report of Dick, gave him an assistant-surgeoncy in the East India Company's service. Dick at once married and went to India, where he soon made a large fortune, with which he retired and pur-