Robert Dick - Encyclopedia

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ROBERT DICK (1811-1866), Scottish geologist and botanist, was born at Tullibody, in Clackmannanshire, in January 1811. His father was an officer of excise. At the age of thirteen, after receiving a good elementary education at the parish school, Robert Dick was apprenticed to a baker, and served for three years. In these early days he became interested in wild flowers - he made a collection of plants and gradually acquired some knowledge of their names from ,an old encyclopaedia. When his time was out he left Tullibody and gained employment as a journeyman baker at Leith, Glasgow and Greenock. Meanwhile his father, who in 1826 had been removed to Thurso, as supervisor of excise, advised his son to set up a baker's shop in that town. Thither Robert Dick went in 1830, he started in business as a baker and worked laboriously until he died on the 24th of December 1866. Throughout this period he zealously devoted himself to studying and collecting the plants, mollusca and insects of a wide area of Caithness, and his attention was directed soon after he settled in Thurso to the rocks and fossils. In 1835 he first found remains of fossil fishes; but it was not till some years later that his interest became greatly stirred. Then he obtained a copy of Hugh Miller's Old Red Sandstone (published in 1841), and he began systematically to collect with hammer and chisel the fossils from the Caithness flags. In 1845 he found remains of Holoptychius and forwarded specimens to Hugh Miller, and he continued to send the best of his fossil fishes to that geologist, and to others after the death of Miller. In this way he largely contributed to the progress of geological knowledge, although he himself published nothing and was ever averse from publicity. His herbarium, which consisted of about 200 folios of mosses, ferns and flowering plants "almost unique in its completeness," is now stored, with many of his fossils, in the museum at Thurso. Dick had a hard struggle for existence, especially through competition during his late years, when he was reduced almost to beggary: but of this few, if any, of his friends were aware until it was too late. A monument erected in the new cemetery at Thurso testifies to the respect which his life-work created, when the merits of this enthusiastic naturalist came to be appreciated.

See Robert Dick, Baker of Thurso, Geologist and Botanist, by Samuel Smiles (1878).

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