A Caledonian Family – The Dickies

Every now and then I let you see a glimpse into one of my specialist subjects. Well, as it’s Easter weekend, and I’ve been finishing off a piece of genealogical research for a client, I thought I’d share a post from my genealogical website (caithnessroots.co.uk). This wasn’t research carried out for a client, the work for my clients is confidential, but done for fun using one of my collection of old photographs.

I hope you enjoy reading it…

Watson Dickie

This article shows just how interesting a photograph with a name can prove to be, if you are lucky enough to come across one.

I have in my possession a number of photos taken from the same old Scottish album. Most of the photographs seem to be from around the 1870s to 1890s, and there is one of a rather lovely looking chap.

His name was Watson Dickie and he died at the tender age of 19 in Stratford on Avon, in March 1878.

 Caithnessroots.co.uk Watson Dickie

Armed with this information I went straight to the old newspaper collections and sure enough, there he was:

Leamington Spa Courier 30th March 1878

Mr and Mrs J Todd Dickie. Death of 2nd son

Watson Dickie, an amiable and promising young man expired yesterday (Friday) at noon, after a brief illness of only six days. He was at Chapel on Sunday morning, and complained of a substance being in this throat. Mr Nason, the family surgeon, ordered him to bed, as he was suffering from Diptheria. He never left his bed again. The young man was of a most obliging and courteous disposition, qualifications by which he gained many friends, and large numbers will hear the sad news with regret, as he took part in all the athletic ports prevalent in the town.

A week later the newspaper related his funeral information, the service being held at the Baptist Chapel, with Mr Dickie’s body being enveloped in a plain oak coffin. It mentioned that he was on the staff at the Old Bank, and family members and friends were noted, among those being WH Dickie of Edinburgh and Mr Thomas Watson of Glasgow, his uncles.

In July an article showed that his friends had raised, by subscription, a beautiful memorial for his grave.

Watson’s father John Tod (or Todd) died, according to the same newspaper, on the 2nd January 1880, aged only 51.

By following his family in the census I was able to recreate a very detailed family tree, too large to note in such as short article, however Watson appears to have been the second son in a family of twelve children. He was baptised in Renfrew in 1858 to John Tod Dickie and Catherine Watson. At the time of Watson’s death his father was a partner in Flower & Son’s brewery in Stratford, but at the time of his son’s birth John Tod was a corn factor. His fairly mundane sounding job description belies his rather illustrious background, for JT Dickie was from a very interesting family.

 Caithnessroots.co.uk Watson Dickie reverse of photograph

The Glasgow Post Office Directory of 1857 notes JT’s work and home address:

Dickie, John Tod, corn and flour factor, agent for the Caledonian Fire and Life Insurance Co., 30 Hope street; house, 173 St. George’s road.

John Tod Dickie, was actually working in the family firm. The Caledonian Insurance Company began life in 1805 at 7 Hunter Square, Edinburgh, with Mr William Braidwood as Manager and Mr. William Dickie as Secretary. Dickie continued as Secretary until his death in 1812, and in the same year was succeeded by his son Henry David Dickie, who went on to become the second manager of the company in 1830. He was John Tod’s father and Watson’s grandfather. The Caledonian Insurance Company is one of the oldest insurance companies in Scotland, and is now part of the Royal London Group.

A couple of interesting stories came about from searching for this family:

An Outlaw

Henry David Dickie (Watson’s grandfather) died in 1863, leaving four unmarried daughters and his son also named Henry David, to fend for themselves. Henry seems to have taken it upon himself to become the head of the household, as a Member of the Edinburgh Stock Exchange he must have felt in the position to do so. However, things turned bleak for Henry. Thirty years later in 1893, at the age of 68 and still living with his sisters, he was declared bankrupt, and in 1894 he was charged with embezzlement of £1000. He failed to turn up at court on 6th October, and again on the 22nd October, after which he was declared an outlaw. He was noted as a bankrupt again in 1896 and he turns up in 1901 in Hampstead, London with three of his sisters, the older of whom was now a widow and head of the household. He died in 1906.

Lunatic at Large

Watson Dickie’s brother, also named Henry David Dickie moved to Birkenhead, Liverpool. He was living there by 1891, with his sister Emily, as an East Indian Produce Merchant. He must have been living a comfortable middle-class life, having a cook and a housemaid in his service. However he appeared in local newspapers in 1916 after a ‘Chinaman’ turned lunatic in his house.

The Liverpool Echo of Sept 1916 noted how Dickie’s two domestic servants were alone in the house at night when a ‘Chinaman named Li Gun’, subsequently charged as a ‘lunatic wondering at large’ broke into the house and stole a pair of dumbbells and three earthernware dishes. The women had just gone to bed at the top of the house, around 11pm, when a noise alerted them to the intruder, who knocked at their door and tried to get into their room. The intruder then proceeded to ransack an adjoining room and fall asleep on the bed, until around 5am when he again tried to burst into their room. In fright they ran to the window with the intention of jumping out, but then saw the man slide down the roof towards them. The housemaid bolted from the room and ran across the road to a Mr. Stewarts house. Stewart telephoned for the police then ran across the road and caught the prisoner. The Chinaman was a seaman on board the S.S. Cyclops, joining the ship in Hong Kong, and after being declared of unsound mind was remanded to the workhouse for seven days under observation.


Census 1841-1911

Scotland Birth, Marriage, Death records

Glasgow PO directory 1857


Leamington Spa Courier 30th March 1878. Edinburgh: Constable, 1905

Caledonian Insurance Company: History of a hundred years 1805 to 1905

Edinburgh Evening News 21 October 1893

Liverpool Echo  04 September 1916 

6 Comments on “A Caledonian Family – The Dickies

  1. Absolutely fascinating, Sara! My grandmother was born in Stratford actually, in 1904 I think. I still have cousins in Rugby, where the family was eventually headquartered. I love these genealogy stories and can guess why you like all that stuff. Grandma’s maiden name Pritchard if you ever feel like playing with that one….:)

    • Glad you like it Joanne…sometimes the photos are really difficult to research though. One other thing (well two really) that I found out were that JT seems to have been on the Shakespeare Tercentenary committee…at least he was one who people had to go to to get tickets…and his will is housed with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

      • Hi took part in geneaolgy since 1992 and just found out William Dickie was my 6th Gt Grandfather ( I think ) through my Grandmothers side.
        really good stuff.
        Mar Jones.

  2. Hi, I read this post with interest.

    I am researching the history of St Bernard’s Crescent Edinburgh. Do you have any further information about John Dickie who was Henry Raeburn’s personal lawyer? He must be related to William. Raeburn, the celebrated portrait painter, was one of the first directors of Caledonian Insurance Company. He was forced to resign as a consequence of his insolvency but his son also Henry later became a director, a post which he held for many years. John Dickie built at least three townhouses at 25 ,27 and 29 but received the land without any capital payment but payment of feuduty (ground rent) in 1827. There seems to have been a strong connection between the two families but what was his relationship to William?

    This is what I know:
    Henry Raeburn, the owner of both the Deanhaugh estate and the St Bernard’s estate which he acquired on the death of his brother was responsible for the development of the St Bernard’s estate, part of the extensive grounds of St Bernard’s House which he occupied from around 1809. The layout and plans for the development were prepared by his architect, John Milne. Henry Raeburn junior however did not sell the ground off but utilised the feudal system of conveyancing. The lot on which 27 St Bernard’s Crecsent was erected was feued to John Dickie, designed as writer who lived locally. There was no grassum or capital sum and the only return which Raeburn received was the annual feuduty. “Writer” of course meant writer to the signet, a solicitor who was entitled to initiate proceedings in the Court of Session. The feu was granted in 1827, four years after the death of Henry Raeburn who was succeeded by his son, also Henry, who was the granter of the feu disposition. This discloses that Dickie was also the proprietor of the adjacent lots at 25 and 29. It is clear that Dickie was a man of some means to embark on the building of three townhouses simultaneously.

    John Dickie was born in 1783 to William Dickie and his wife Margaret Walker. On his admission to the Society of Writers to the Signet on 5th July 1814 John’s father was designed as merchant in Dundee and afterwards in Edinburgh. It appears that William and Henry Raeburn senior were well known to one another.

    In 1805 the Caledonian Insurance Company was formed with an initial capital of £15,000 divided into shares of £100, with shareholders restricted to holding a maximum of 10 shares. This was only the second insurance company in Scotland and was soon followed by a number of others. Initially it wrote only fire insurance but from 1833 also undertook life insurance business. Its original address was within the premises of an ironmonger who was one of the first directors by 1811 it had premises in Bank Street but as the business prospered it relocated to 9-13 George Street, Edinburgh, now occupied by the George Hotel. The company no longer exists and was taken over by Guardian Insurance. One of the original directors of the company was Henry Raeburn and the first secretary of the company was William Dickie. Raeburn resigned as director a year later as a result of impending insolvency but was later commissioned by the company to paint a portrait of William Dickie. William was succeeded as secretary by his son Henry, who went on to become a founder of the Faculty of Actuaries.

    So John Dickie would have been well known to Raeburn which may explain the absence of any grassum. He appears to have been Raeburn’s personal lawyer and saw to the winding up of his estate. John continued his practice as a lawyer until his death on 13th December 1839.
    In 1824 he was one of a number of writers who signed a memorandum of support for a Mr Hatton, a printer who lived in Stock Bridge who distributed stamps and stamped paper, essential for the preparation of legal documents and who it appears kept longer hours than the Stamp Office. In 1831 he was one of the lawyers who was consulted as having knowledge in the case of the Succession of the Earl of Stirling and also in that year (1831) 10 S 220 Dickie sued a Mrs Brash or Dalgleish for unpaid fees, successfully. The circumstances were unusual as Mrs Brash was her grandfather’s representative after his death. The grandfather’s debts were guaranteed by a third party and when a writ was served on Mrs Brash she passed to the third parties who guaranteed the debt. They instructed a Glasgow solicitor who instructed Dickie. In these tangled circumstances Dickie was held entitled to recover fees from Mrs Brash on implied agency. It might be thought that a good lawyer would confirm instructions direct.
    As was common at the time lawyers undertook other areas of business activity and Dickie was no exception, building at least three of the town houses in St Bernard’s Crescent.

    • Hi Ken, I’ll have a look in my records and see what I have. If you’d like to email me I can send you anything I have.

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