[Journal of Jurisprudence, 1876; Scotsman and Glasgow Herald, 20 Oct. 1876; Dickson's Treatise on the Law of Evidence in Scotland.]
on account of the failing health of his wife, he obtained leave of absence, and while in this country in 1868 he was offered by Sheriff Glassford Bell, then sheriff-principal of Lanarkshire, the office of sheriff-substitute in Glasgow. This he accepted, much to the regret of his friends in the Mauritius, by whom his labours were cordially appreciated, and where he was greatly liked, and on Sheriff Bell's death in 1874, he succeeded him as sheriff-depute (or principal sheriff) of the county. He was installed on 21 Jan. 1874, and shortly afterwards (in April 1874) he received from his alma mater the honorary degree of LL.D. He died suddenly on 19 Oct. 1876. In Glasgow as in the Mauritius Dickson made himself a general favourite. His great legal attainments and his extreme industry gained him the respect of the members of his profession. As a judge he was conscientious and painstaking in the highest degree. It is, however, by his legal writings, where his attainments as a scientific jurist had freer scope, that he will always be best known. His work on evidence is distinguished by thorough investigation, comprehensive grasp of the subject, and logical arrangement of its various branches. It rapidly became and still is the standard authority for the practising lawyer in Scotland, and a third edition, which, considering the age of the work, is now much needed, is understood to be at present in course of preparation. Dickson's amiability and geniality made him popular in private life.
DICKSON, WILLIAM STEEL, D.D. (1744–1824), United Irishman, eldest son of John Dickson, tenant farmer of Ballycraigy, parish of Carnmoney, co. Antrim, was born on 25 Dec. 1744, and baptised on 30 Dec. by the name of William. Jane Steel was his mother's maiden name, and on the death (13 May 1747) of his uncle, William Steel, family usage gave the addition to Dickson's name (improperly spelled Steele). In his boyhood Dickson went through the ‘almost useless routine of Irish country schools,’ but was grounded in scholarship and ‘taught to think’ by Robert White, presbyterian minister of Templepatrick. He entered Glasgow College in November 1761, and owns his great obligations to Moorhead, professor of Latin, Adam Smith, John Millar, professor of law, and Principal Leechman. From Leechman he derived his theological, and from Millar his political principles. On leaving college he seems to have been employed for a time in teaching; his adoption of the ministry as a profession was due to the advice of White. In March 1767 he was licensed, but got no call till 1771, in which year he was ordained to the charge of Ballyhalbert (now Glastry), co. Down, by Killeleagh presbytery, on 6 March. His social qualities had ingratiated him during his probationary years with several of the leading county families, and it was probably to the influence of Alexander Stewart, father of the first Lord Londonderry, that he owed his settlement at Ballyhalbert. Till the outbreak of the American war of independence he occupied himself mainly in parochial and domestic duties, having become ‘an husband and a farmer.’ A sermon against cock-fighting (circulated in manuscript) had an appreciable effect in checking that pastime in his neighbourhood. His political career began in 1776, when he spoke and preached against the ‘unnatural, impolitic and unprincipled’ war with the American colonies, denouncing it as a ‘mad crusade.’ On two government fast-days his sermons—on ‘the advantages of national repentance’ (13 Dec. 1776), and on ‘the ruinous effects of civil war’ (27 Feb. 1778)—created considerable excitement when published, and Dickson was reproached as a traitor. Political differences were probably at the root of a secession from his congregation in 1777. The seceders formed a new congregation at Kirkcubbin, in defiance of the authority of the general synod.
Dickson entered with zest into the volunteer movement of 1778, being warmly in favour of the admission of Roman catholics to the ranks. This was resisted ‘through the greater part of Ulster, if not the whole.’ In a sermon to the Echlinville volunteers (28 March 1779) Dickson advocated the enrolment of catholics, and though induced to modify his language in printing the discourse, he offended ‘all the protestant and presbyterian bigots in the country.’ He was accused of being a papist at heart, ‘for the very substantial reason, among others, that the maiden name of the parish priest's mother was Dickson.’
On 1 Feb. 1780 Dickson resigned the charge of Ballyhalbert, having a call to the neighbouring congregation of Portaferry in succession to James Armstrong (1710–1779), whose funeral sermon he had preached. He was installed at Portaferry in March, on a stipend of 100l., supplemented by some 9l. (afterwards increased to 30l.) from the regium donum. He realised another 100l. a year by keeping a boarding-school, and was not without private means. On 27 June