Life was becoming sad, and
dreary, and full of sorrow, to Robert Dick. He was a victim to rheumatism.
Sometimes he could scarcely move. “I am plagued,” he says, “with rheumatism
in my shoulder-blades; I can scarcely lift my arm.” The rheumatism also
affected his loins and feet. He could not walk ; he could only “hirple.” To
one who had been so full of life and activity, this was a great trouble.
He was also much affected by his business. Competition was ruining half the
bakers in Thurso. One man, who afterwards became a bankrupt, was
underselling everybody, in bread, in tea, in groceries and everything.
“Campbell,” he says, “even sent the bell round forbidding people to drink
milk, and recommending them to patronise his ale and porter. He sells most
things under cost price, to the great injury of his fellow-tradesmen.”
Dick’s business again fell off more rapidly than before. “I am in a state of
galloping ruin,” he says to his brother-in-law. “I have nothing to do, I
have made no loaf-bread for several weeks. My trade is suspended. To tell
the truth, I have worked hard for my living for so very long, that I am
nothing save when I am working regularly ... I was within a hairsbreadth of
being off yesterday by steamer for Leith. Idleness will never do. If a man
like me, after thirty-five years’ hard work, is compelled to work as a day-labourer,
I will try if possible first to get out to Brisbane or New Zealand. . . . My
sister Jane was a good friend to me. But the world runs round; and I was a
fool for not being off in time from this starvation hole. Lord help us!”
But Dick was still the best biscuit-maker in Thurso. Surely he could sell
his biscuits! No; competition again beset him. Campbell planted touters at
the end of Wilson’s Lane, and pressed the Highlanders, when on their way
home from Wick to the Western Islands, to take their biscuits from the
general competitor. “On Saturday,” he says, “the Highlandmen came up from
Wick to go by a steamer from Scrabster; and they continue to come all day,
all yesterday (Sabbath), and kept coming until one or two this morning. I
used to sell them on such occasions some thirty or forty stones of biscuit.
This time I did not sell them more than twenty stones. So I’ll take a run up
to the hills, to complete my number of county ferns.”
In fact, Dick could scarcely earn the wages of a day-labourer by working at
his trade. The men who worked at flag-cutting by the river-side made from
half-a-crown to three shillings a day. But Campbell had lessened Dick’s
earnings by ten and sixpence a week; and that, said he, “ is a very great
deal to take from a poor man like me. However, I must try and starve it out,
hoping duly for a reduce in the price of flour.
His brother-in-law having wished him a “good new year". Dick replied: “So
far as I am concerned, I have not the smallest hope of seeing a good new
year any more in this world. That is all over long ago. You are young, and
hope is strong in you; but you will yet learn that nothing satisfactory
exists here below. The world is turned all over since I first knew it.
Patience is best.” Yet Dick never lost his good temper, his charity, or his
hope. To his brother-in-law, when in trouble, he said: “Never lose heart.
Always look on the bright side of every cloud; and perhaps you may see the
bow of hope beyond.” He still went on collecting grasses, ferns, and
flowering plants,—working, in the evenings, at the completion of his
herbarium. In the meantime he went on collecting mosses.
“Some people,” said he, “talk about Reform. I observe that the Franchise is
to be reduced to £6 and £10. I wish the new voters may derive all the
pleasure they expect. I never dabble in politics. It does not suit my
nature. But other folk must be tickling themselves with straws, or grasping
at shadows, not knowing that they are themselves to blame for the
unhappiness that befalls them.
“Dear Nature is the kindliest"
“By nature I mean plants, flowers, and flowerless mosses. I am still looking
after and prying into these things. I think myself blest if I can find one
moss in the week. By that you will understand that the pursuit of mosses is
quite a new study to me. And yet twenty years ago I was looking at them, and
picking them up, and putting them aside wrapt in paper, with the locality
where found marked upon them.
“So I have got great numbers to overhaul. Last winter I turned to them in
good earnest, and tired myself a hundred times over,—putting them to one
side, and then turning to them again. I will get on slowly, slowly; but
perseverance will do it.”
He went out to the hills again. But the rain often stopped him,—ceaseless,
pitiless, pelting rain. “The rain,” he once said, “is killing me.” But so
soon as the weather cleared, he was out again. “I have made a ten hours’
journey,” he said in April 1866, “across the hills, but I got no new mosses.
I sought for sea-shells about nine miles inland. I only got some little
broken bits; but I found an entire half of the shell Astarte borealis. It
was something to find even that so far away from the sea. Many, many changes
have taken place since that shell was deposited. A. wood of trees afterwards
grew there. The wood perished, and peat moss, many feet thick, covers it up.
And underneath that, the shell was found.”
At the beginning of the following month he was again searching for fossils.
“I have got,” he says, “some large and very strong fossil bones from the
rocks. I have seen nothing similar for twenty-three years. The outlines of
the larger bone I have tried to trace out on this leaf” [gives a drawing of
a fossil bone, about twelve inches across].
A fortnight later he says—“ As I cannot be idle, I have turned over again to
break stones. I have nearly killed myself several times by over-exertion;
and after all, I have found nothing new. The days of great things are over
for ever with me. And yet I am ‘ first fiddle/ in all that relates to the
Old Fish. If you look at the latest edition of Hugh Miller’s Footprints of
the Creator, you will see figured there many things of mine, which I never
hope to see again. The sea must -wash down the rocks for five hundred years
first, and by that time we shall all be resolved into dust and ashes.
“Alas for the old days! They are gone for ever. Well, I will return to my
plants. But even there, I fag and limp listlessly. Nothing new! With mosses
I still get up the steam. But they are so comparatively trifling, that I
sometimes weary of them.
“To tell you the truth, I am perfectly tired of this insipid, tasteless,
dull, motionless kind of existence. I would willingly change, if I only knew
where to change for the better. . All is dull and tasteless.
“On going over the old fossil ground again, there is much need for
enthusiastic steam. The dreams of old will not return. All is in vain. Yet I
will try again,— yes, with the aid of spectacles. For my eyesight is not so
sharp as it once was.”
He again went out to the hills, to gather more ferns. But he had exhausted
the subject. “I have overhauled so much of the county before now, that very
likely I may find only a repetition of former things. A county holds
comparatively few of the British Flora; and a Northern county fewer than a
Southern one. For, however vain dreamers may blow and puff, heat is required
for all vegetation. The wise man said, thousands of years ago, that ‘nothing
is hid from the heat of the sun/ and the wise man was right.”
One morning, after he had got his work done, he went out at four o’clock, to
revisit for the last time a selection of boulder clay by the river-side,
about nine miles from Thurso. His object was to ascertain whether the late
rains had exposed some shell or other fossil worthy of being collected. He
had before found shells in the same place. It was moonlight, bright
moonlight; and he had a delightful walk by the river-side. When the moon
became clouded, the stars came out, and they were extremely lovely.
During his walk, he recognised a boulder stone which had been brought by the
ice from Helmsdale, Suther iandshire, on the other side of the Morven hills.
“And dost thou still, thou mass of breathing stone.
Thy giant limbs to night and chaos hurled,
Still sit as on a fragment of a world,
These were the lines of Rogers that floated through his imagination. “Poor
creatures that we are,” he said, “speculating about things that we know so
little of. And look at these stars, so far off in the infinite. What do we
know about them? Are they also suns, each the centre of a planetary system?
Do the beings who live there, enjoy and suffer and die as we do? Alas! how
little we know of the world we live in.”
Towards the end of his life, Dick read Colenso’s Pentateuch, and the book of
Joshua. It was the work of a bishop of the Church of England, who must
surely know something about the Bible and its origin. Dick was very much
struck by its cleverness and its mockery. He likened the book to Samson
pulling down the temple of the Philistines. “It is very clever,” he said;
“but what do we gain by it? Nothing whatever! Rather we have lost. A little
more unhappiness is all the immediate result. Some of our dreams have fled,
and left us groping in uncertainty. Is there nothing sure? And yet there
must be such a thing as truth. But who is to decide, and tell us what truth
is? The books of the Bible may be full of errors, but what would become of
mankind without it?”
Dick’s letters show that his mind was much depressed about this time. He
seems to have had fewer friends than ever. He sometimes speaks severely
about the Thurso merchants; “but,” he adds, “it all arises from a want of
business. Indeed there is only one merchant in Thurso who has anything like
full employment.” Dick may possibly have become embittered through his own
want of success in life.
“I have got,” he said to his brother-in-law, “Mr. Carlyle’s fine oration at
Edinburgh. Many thanks. I have seen the same gentleman, and have talked to
him. Sir George Sinclair brought him to me, so that I might see him, and he
could look on me. Mr. Carlyle said in his speech that labour was a cure for
every human malady. He was right so far; and if Thurso folks had more and
better-paying employment, there would be less spite and malice among them.
And yet, mark you, they are about the most religious and professing people
on the face of the earth.
“You have been speaking of our railway projects. Just as usual—a barking and
bickering affair. Thurso and Wick cannot agree. Very lately they were
burning here an effigy of a man of straw, which they named the editor of the
Northern Ensign. And the Wick folk burnt our John George Sinclair, son of
Sir George Sinclair,—all because they differed in their notions of what was
His brother-in-law having sent him his photograph, Dick said: “Of course, I
ought in return to send you ‘mysel,’ but there is no one here but a
watchmaker who does anything that way; and some people have got themselves
made so very unlike life, that I prefer not trusting to be made a mock of.
“Yet you may some time or another see me; and in the meantime, to assist
your imagination, you can just fancy a round-faced, grey-whiskered, laughing
fellow. Indeed, so much is that my character, that a young man, now in New
Zealand, used to say of me that I was always laughing. In fact, that young
man often came to me sad and sad enough, and I always sent him away laughing
too. He still remembers me, and sends me the New Zealand papers.”
Dick was still working at his grasses in order to complete his herbarium
:—“I am anxious,” he said, “to complete my British grasses—no very easy
matter, as botanists generally despise grasses. Why they should do so is a
mystery to me, for grasses are very interest* ing plants.
“A gentleman in Aberdeen wrote to me about the Holy Grass. I put in a word
for two grasses I wanted. He sent me those two, and in return for them I
sent him fifty specimens of Caithness grass.
“Another gentleman in London has asked me for shells from our shores, and I
have supplied him as far as I could—on condition of receiving grass for
grass.” Again he says (20th August 1866):—
“I have not got many rambles this summer, and I blame that as the cause of
the weakness in my stomach. I used to be such a great walker, and the change
is telling on me.”
Nine days after this letter was written, Dick took his last walk. He had for
some time been complaining of his health. At first he thought that it was
indigestion that troubled him. “If I eat I choke,” he says. Then he
complained of his want of breath. Indeed, few constitutions could have stood
the amount of toil, labour, and privation, which he had endured during his
long course of inquiry into the fossils, plants, grasses, and mosses, over
the length and breadth of Caithness. He had often walked from fifty to
eighty miles between one baking and another, with little more in his scrip
than a few pieces of biscuit. Youth can endure many privations, but when a
man becomes comparatively old—and Dick was now fifty-five—he cannot evade
with impunity the requirements of nature.
Dick took his last journey on the 29th of August 1866. He thus describes
“A week ago I went to a quarry at noon to search for a fossil, if I could
possibly find such a thing.
“I felt a burning pain under my breast-bone, in my stomach ... I was not
well at all. Scorning to yield. I pushed on, but only grew worse.
“I reached the quarry, but only to become conscious that I might as soon
think of dancing on my crown as to look among the stones for the dead or the
“After sitting down a little, I felt that my wisest way was just to go home
again—if I could, I was hardly able to get out of the quarry; I had become
“I got out though, and staggered up a hill, and sat down. I then became
terribly sick. ‘Ha! ha!’ said I, ‘ surely I must be better now.’ Ho; I tried
to rise up, but was so giddy that I could scarcely stand; I could not
balance myself. But I got up and went a little, and sat down. Up again, went
on, sat down. I got up and sat down nearly a dozen times in succession; all
the while the burning pain in my breast was cruel.
“After I had battled on for two miles I got sick again. ‘This won’t do,’
said I; ‘I don’t fancy dying amongst the heather.’ So I tried to run. I got
on a bit, in a zigzag way, and then threw myself down. I got up and off
again, and at length found myself on the public road. I moved on in a
drunken sort of fashion —half-blind too—and threw myself down on a dyke
beside the river.
“After resting a little, I got up and made a dash for the river Thurso,
through which I waded, just as I was, bran deep. There’s a bleaching-green
by our river, and many old wives were there. I grew sick again in the midst
of them—dreadfully! No doubt they wondered, as Dick the baker never drank
“At length I got home and went to bed. I have slept none for nearly a week,
but the terrible burning pain has left me. My head is still so giddy that I
can hardly go up stairs. ”
This was the beginning of the end. Although he was, he continued to go on
with his daily work. His legs began to swell, until, as he said, they were
like to burst. And then his breath was so bad that he added, “I am like a
broken-winded horse.” This was extraordinary to him, as he used to pride
himself on his “long wind.”
He slept very little, but when he slept at all, he woke “gasping for
breath.” Then he got up and sat on a chair, sometimes all night—occasionally
with his head on a table. He tried hunger and cold water. Indeed, he had no
appetite. And yet he did his day’s work, though with much difficulty.
One night he prepared his work for the following morning. He wished to have
four hours’ sleep, but he soon got up, gasping. He took hold of the bed-post
“to blaw.” He tried to sleep again. It was of no use. “Nothing but
suffering.” Then he got up and went down to the kitchen fire, laid his head
on a table, and tried to sleep, but he could not. He accordingly got up at
one in the morning and began his day’s work. “Though want of breath and want
of strength were hard on me,” he says, “I battled away, and ultimately
filled my oven with capital bread, and my breathing got a little easier. And
there it stands. I am not at all well, hut Hope—
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.’
“I have sent you,” he said to his brother-in-law, "a Thurso paper full of
holes—holes out of which I have cut words such as ‘ Thurso/ Caithness/ ‘
Dunnet/ etc., for my plants.” For he was still working away at intervals on
He got no better. Sometimes he was relieved, and then he grew worse again.
He thought it was an internal fever burning him up, and causing an enormous
drinking of cold water. “I do not say I will go this time,” he says, “but my
symptoms are much the same as Jane’s, my father’s, and Ann’s.” In fact, it
was disease of the heart under which he laboured, and perhaps of the liver.
Hence his dropsical symptoms.
He still continued his correspondence, though his writing became weak and
shaky—like that of a sick man. He also continued his daily work. On the 1st
of October he writes:—
“See the wretch, who long has tossed
On the thorny bed of pain,
Kecruit his health and vigour lost,
And live and walk again.
The blooming earth, the sun, the skies,
To him are opening paradise.’ ”
“A solemn truth; and none but those who have been in some measure afflicted,
and tossed, and racked, and wearied out of all patience, can know anything
of the blessedness of the relief one feels when the disease from which he
has been suffering is passing away.
“The fever has got a check, and from this time forth a new life will dawn
upon me. I have got relief in my gasping for breath, and I can now lie in my
bed at night until I choose to rise. I still moan and complain a great deal
in my sleep, but I don’t get outrageous and wild, frightening the old woman,
puir body! Indeed, I am a good deal better, and though quite impatient under
this dire affliction, and at times almost hopeless, I still, upon the whole,
cherish the hope of ultimate recovery.”
But he hoped against hope. Death had laid hold of him. Dr. Shearer says the
disease of which he died was aneurism, leading to cardiac complication and
dropsy— a disease to which his laborious calling and extraordinary exertions
in travelling and climbing rocks and mountains would particularly predispose
His housekeeper pressed him to send for the doctor. “Ho,” said he, “no
doctor. If I am to die, then I must die.” In fact, he did not care very much
for doctors. He thought their “cures” were very much the result of happy
guessing. “If it has taken me,” he said, “a lifetime to ascertain the nature
of plants and animals, is it likely that a four years’ curriculum can fit
any man to comprehend the mysterious processes of the living human body?”
Besides, there was the expense of calling in a doctor!
At length, after he had been seriously ill for about two months, his friend,
Mr. John Miller of London, came down to Thurso and called upon Dick. He was
amazed to find the great change that disease had made in his appearance; and
he insisted upon Dr. Mill being sent for. As for the expense, he would
cheerfully pay the doctor’s bill. Dick expostulated, but it was of no use.
The doctor was sent for. He put Dick under a course of treatment for the
purpose of reducing the swelling in his limbs. Writing to his brother-in-law
on the subject, he said: “A good deal depends on the way in which we take
these things. I keep up my heart, and struggle bravely against all my
When the doctor urged him to give up work and engage a journeyman, he said:
“All buff! my only chance is to continue at my daily work.” He therefore
continued at his work, although his legs were fit to burst. Indeed, they did
burst. But he still kept at his work. About a fortnight before his death,
his brother-in-law, knowing the hard straits to which he was reduced,
offered to send him some money. Dick answered: “I am no better. The swelling
is steadily moving upward. You offer to send me a present? Ho, no! But I
will take a present from you of a pair of spectacles. My present ones are
too weak.” His friend, nevertheless, sent him four sovereigns and a pair of
He was scarcely able to write when he received his brother’s kindly gift.
But he did write, with a very straggling restless hand. He was now in bed,
and never got up again. He said: “Your kind favour of £4 came duly, and not
the spectacles as I had expected, for which I return you many thousand
thanks. I am no better. My legs are running water, and very disagreeable.”
In a postscript, written the day after, he said : “The spectacles are here
this morning, but I am no better. Many thousand thanks. Long life to you.
He had still one more letter to write. It was to his dear friend Charles
Peach. Mr. Peach did not know of Dick’s illness, but a few days before his
death he wrote him a long letter. “Dear fellow,” says Mr. Peach, “that could
he do more to show the respect that he bore for me, than by writing in his
agony the subjoined letter? Oh! how it cut me to know that we were so soon
to part. Although the most mournful letter that I ever received, it is
comforting to me to find that I was not forgotten by him, even in his
entrance to the dark valley.” Dick’s last letter was as follows:—“Thurso,
15th December 1866.—My dear Sir—Instead of sending you a long letter in
return for your kind one, I fear that I cannot write to you at all. I have
been for four months unable to do anything by swollen limbs—water on the
chest in fact; and lest I should die, I only notice you. I am very poorly,
so you will excuse me. I am not able. No rest night or day.—Believe me ever
yours very truly, Robert Dick.”
Mr. John Miller continued his kindness to Dick to the end of his days. He
sent his housekeeper, Mrs. Harold, to nurse him. She attended carefully to
his wants. When she first dressed his legs, he felt much relief. He
ejaculated, “That’s a blessing. It’s just like an angel sent from heaven.”
He knew that he was dying. Mrs. Harold said to him, “You may yet get
better.” “No!” said he; “the days of miracles are past.” His mind
occasionally wandered. Once, in his agony, he exclaimed, “Oh mother!
mother!” He thought he was grasping her hand.
One night he thought that a batch was in the oven. He was convinced that it
was there, and that the bread must be taken out. He insisted on being
carried into the bakehouse to see it. He was taken to the front of the oven.
The door was opened, and it was all black inside. The bread was not there.
The oven was never more to be lighted. He looked round the walls, and
recognised his old drawings. He was now ready to faint, and was taken back
to his bed.
Amongst those who visited Dick towards the end of his illness were his
excellent friends Mr. John Miller, Sir George Sinclair, Mr. Wallace the
coast missionary, Mr. Brims, procurator-fiscal, and Mr. Miller the respected
minister of the parish. Mr. Miller prayed with him, and read to him the
fourteenth chapter of St. John. Christ’s words were a great consolation to
Dick on his bed of death. Mr. Miller says of him that “he was the most
humble believer that he ever met.”
Dick was ready to depart. He was wearied of life. It was better that he
should die. He had been oppressed with poverty, and now he was oppressed
with agony. Why should he remain a little longer? He had done his appointed
work, and was now more than resigned to leave it. He longed to be at rest.
In the morning of the 24th of December, Robert Dick’s spirit returned to Him
who gave it. Towards the end, his sufferings left him, and he died quietly
and peacefully. He was left in the hands of the Wise and Loving.
Towards the end of his life, much sympathy was expressed for Dick and his
condition. The few people who continued to deal with him, had long known of
his illness. Four months elapsed between the time when he was struck by
death in the quarry, and the day of his death. His customers saw him growing
feebler and feebler, panting for breath, and yet continuing at his daily
work. It was only during the last fortnight of his life, that he finally
dropped from their sight. Then they heard of his intense sufferings, and of
the unwearied resignation and indomitable fortitude with which he bore them.
The sympathy which his illness excited was almost intense. The Thurso people
felt that a great though comparatively unknown man was about to pass away.
At his death there was an almost universal sob throughout the town.
He was also mourned by others who had known him intimately, and valued him
for his kindliness, his nobleness, and his love of science. Amongst these
was Charles Peach, of Edinburgh. “After many years of close friendship for
him,” he said to Sir Roderick Murchison, “I had come to love him. He was
such a cheerful and intelligent companion. At the same time, he was as fond
of my pursuits as I was myself; and thus a bond of brotherhood existed
Sir Roderick was then issuing the fourth edition of his Siluria to the
public. He there says—"Alas! whilst these pages are printing, I have to
record the death of this remarkable man. Robert Dick was unquestionably
gifted with genius, and possessed of great original strength of mind. That
he had a strong poetic verve was proved by his having purchased fine
editions of the works of Burns, Scott, Byron, and other poets, out of his
scanty earnings; for he was a baker, ever much engaged in hard manual labour.
On one of my visits to Thurso, when we were lamenting over the want of a map
of Caithness, he prepared for my instruction a model in flour, which he
manipulated into hills, valleys, and watercourses, and thus brought into
relief all the surrounding country. He was as well acquainted with every
living British plant as he was with all the Caithness fossils Admiring, as I
did, such energy and ability in a modest working man, I rejoice to know that
it has been resolved to erect a monument to his memory at Thurso.”
On the day of his death, Mr. James Mill, chief magistrate of Thurso, issued
the following announcement:—“Mr. Robert Dick died at his house here this
morning at half-past six o’clock. Through his vigorous and energetic study
of the Geology and Botany of Caithness, he has been instrumental in
developing the natural history of our county, and in attracting the
attention of the Scientific World to its resources in no ordinary degree;
and when we look back on his labours in the field for the last thirty years,
we feel that Robert Dick merits from the people of Caithness a Public
Funeral, as the most suitable way in which they can express their gratitude
for what he has done, and their sorrow for his removal from amongst us. We
accordingly invite all who wish to testify their respect for our departed
friend to assemble at his house in Thurso on Thursday, the 27th current, at
one o’clock p.m., to accompany his remains to the New Burial Ground of
Of all the things that Robert Dick could have desired, the very last would
have been a public funeral. He was so modest in all that he did, so
unwilling to be talked or written about, so retired and self-sacrificing in
everything —that carrying his remains to the grave amidst the sound of drums
and trumpets would have been altogether revolting to him. But all this by
the Thurso people in respect for his memory, and that it might be known that
a great though modest man had gone out from amongst them.
The funeral was largely attended. Men came from Wick and Castlehill, and
from the country far and near, to be present. All the shops and places of
business in the town were closed during the funeral. The procession was led
by the bands of the Thurso rifles and artillery playing the Dead March in
Saul. After them were the Volunteer Rifle Corps and the Volunteer Artillery
Corps. Then came the coffin carried shoulder-high; pall-bearers, Sir George
Sinclair, Bart., James Mill, Esq., Chief Magistrate, and William Bremner,
Esq. The Clergy; the office-bearers of the Thurso Scientific Society; the
various trades,—including the bakers, masons, tailors, seamen and fishermen,
shoemakers, merchants, pavement-cutters, and the general public; followed
the remains to the cemetery. It was one of the largest, most impressive, and
remarkable funerals, that had ever been seen in Thurso.
The new cemetery, in which Robert Dick’s remains were laid, is about a mile
from the town. It overlooks the banks of boulder clay on which the geologist
had spent so much of his time. The place where he had discovered the
Hierochloe borealis is near at hand, on the sward by the river-side. Far off
is seen the entrance to the river Thurso, the ships in the offing, Dunnet
Head, and in the distance the island of Hoy in the Orkneys. He was laid in
the midst of the scenes which he knew so well, and where he had spent so
many nights of patient and toilful plodding, while so many others were
enjoying their peaceful repose.
After the funeral came the winding up of Dick’s affairs. We have said that
he was a poor man. At his death he owed a considerable sum—over £72—to his
flour-merchant in Leith. His mind was much troubled before he died about how
this amount was to be paid. There were, however, the flour in his bakehouse,
the books in his library, and his furniture, such as it was, as security. He
was never able to repay his sister the sum of money which he had borrowed
from her on the shipwreck of his flour; but he had the sum in his
clothes-chest, in sovereigns of many coinages, which his brother-in-law
thinks he intended to repay. But he never found himself in circumstances
sufficient to enable him to return the amount,
If he had been able to leave anything to anybody, he would have done so to
his housekeeper, Annie Mackay, a worthy, independent-minded woman, who had
served him faithfully for thirty years. But he died without making any will,
as he had nothing to leave.
The flour, the books, and the furniture were sold by “public roup,” and they
realised sufficient to pay his ordinary debts. The furniture of one room was
given to Annie Mackay, who still lives, to laud, amidst tears, her kind and
good “maister.” How she contrives to live is a mystery.
Dick’s library was extensive. It consisted of twenty-seven volumes on
Geology, eighteen volumes on Botany, eight volumes on Conchology, nineteen
volumes on Entomology, thirty-three volumes of the Naturalist's Library,
twenty-seven volumes of the Penny Cyclopedia, thirty-eight volumes of the
Edinburgh Cabinet Library, and two hundred and twenty-nine volumes on
miscellaneous subjects, many of which were of a scientific character,—in
all, three hundred and eighty-nine volumes. The whole of these were sold for
£32 :12s., or at less than two shillings a volume. But second-hand books
never sell well, even when they are the property of a genius; and especially
when they are of a scientific character.
While Dick lay ill, his kind friend Mr. Miller asked his consent to apply to
the Queen for a pension for his geological discoveries. Mr. Miller’s
intention was to ask Sir Roderick Murchison to use his influence with
scientific men in London, to sign and support the necessary memorial to her
Majesty with that object. Dick, when writing to his step-sister on the 7th
November, said:— “I am not so sanguine on that point as Mr. Miller is; but I
gave my consent to allow him to get a pension little or muckle; it will be a
great matter to me.”
But it was too late. Before the Queen’s mercy could be appealed to, a
pension was no longer needed. Dick’s spirit had left its frail tenement of