Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dick, William

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DICK, Sir WILLIAM (1580?–1655), provost of Edinburgh, was the only son of John Dick, a large proprietor in the Orkneys, who had acquired considerable wealth by trading with Denmark, and becoming a favourite of James VI, had taken up his residence in his later years in Edinburgh. The son in 1618 advanced 6,000l. to defray the household expenses of James VI when he held a parliament in Scotland in 1618. Through his influence with the government he greatly increased his wealth by farming the customs and excise; he extended the trade of the Firth of Forth with the Baltic and Mediterranean ports, and he had a lucrative business in negotiating bills of exchange. Besides his extensive estates in the Orkneys, he acquired several properties in the south of Scotland, including in 1631 the barony of Braid in Midlothian. He was elected lord provost of Edinburgh in the critical years 1638–9, and was a zealous covenanter. His fortune about this time was estimated at 200,000l., and the Scottish estates were chiefly indebted to his advances for the support of the army to maintain the cause of the covenant. For the equipment of the forces of Montrose, despatched to the north of Scotland in 1639, he advanced two hundred thousand merks, and he was equally liberal in his advances for the southern army under Leslie. Sir Walter Scott, in the ‘Heart of Midlothian,’ represents David Deans as affirming that his ‘father saw them toom the sacks of dollars out o' Provost Dick's window intill the carts that carried them to the army at Dunse Law.’ When Charles I visited Scotland in 1641, a hundred thousand merks were borrowed from Dick to defray the expenses, for which he obtained security on the king's revenue. In the following January he received the honour of knighthood, and shortly afterwards he was created a baronet of Nova Scotia. On 19 June 1644 he presented a petition to the estates desiring payment of a portion of the sum of 840,000 merks then due to him, expressing his willingness to take the remainder by instalments (Balfour, Annals, iii. 189), and after the matter had been under consideration for some time by a committee, the parliament assigned him 40,000l. sterling, ‘owing of the brotherly assistance by the parliament of England,’ and ordained him to have real execution upon his bond of two hundred thousand merks, in addition to which they assigned him the excise of Orkney and Shetland, and also of the tobacco (ib. 291). These resolutions seem, however, to have had no practical effect, and in December he again entreated them to ‘take some serious notice of the debts owing to him by the public’ (ib. 329). On 31 Jan. 1646 he was chosen one of the committee of estates as representing Edinburgh. When the lord provost of Edinburgh and several eminent citizens paid a visit to Cromwell at Moray House in October 1645, ‘Old Sir William Dick in name of the rest made a great oration’ (Rushworth, Historical Collection, pt. iv. p. 1295). He advanced 20,000l.. for the service of Charles II in 1650, and he was one of the committee of estates during the war with Cromwell. By the parliamentary party he was therefore treated as a malignant, and subjected to heavy fines, amounting in all to 64,934l. Being reduced almost to indigence, he went to London to obtain payment of the moneys lent by him on government security, the total of which then amounted to 160,854l. (Lamentable State of Sir William Dick). His petition of 1 March 1653 was referred to the Irish and Scotch committee (State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1652–1653, p. 196), and a second petition of 3 July to the committee at Haberdashers' Hall (ib. 376), the result being that all he ever received was 1,000l. in August of that year. Continuing his residence in London to prosecute his claims, he was more than once imprisoned for small debts. The common statement that he was thrown into prison by Cromwell is, however, erroneous, as is also the further assertion that he died in prison. His death took place at his lodgings in Westminster, 19 Dec. 1655, aged 75. Such were the straits to which he had been reduced, that money could not be raised sufficient to give him a decent funeral. The house of Sir William Dick in Edinburgh was situated in High Street, between Byre's and Advocates' Closes, and was subsequently occupied by the Earl of Kintore. By his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Morrison of Preston Grange and Saughton Hall, he had five sons and two daughters. His fourth son, Alexander, was father of James Dick, created a Nova Scotia baronet in 1677, M.P. for Edinburgh 1681–2, provost of Edinburgh 1682–3, and a favourite of the Duke of York. He died in 1728, aged 85. By his wife, Anne Paterson, he had a daughter, Janet, married to Sir William Cunyngham, whose sons assumed the name of Dick [see Dick, Alexander, and Dick, Anne, Lady].

[The Lamentable Estate and Distressed Case of Sir William Dick, published in 1657, contains the petition of his family and other papers, the originals of which are included in the Lauderdale Papers, Addit. MS. 23113. His case is set forth in verse as well as in prose, and is pathetically illustrated by three copperplates, one representing him on horseback superintending the unloading of one of his rich argosies, the second as fettered in prison, and the third as lying in his coffin surrounded by disconsolate friends who do not know how to dispose of the body. The tract, of which there is a copy in the British Museum, is much valued by collectors, and has been sold for 52l. 10s.; Acts of the Parliament of Scotland; Balfour's Annals; Spalding's Memorials; Gordon's Scots Affairs; State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1652-3; Douglas's Baronage of Scotland, i. 269-70; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vi. 457.]

T. F. H.