Boy's Own Paper,  2 (1879–80), 684–86.

Some Boys Who Became Famous. Robert Dick, The Baker-Geologist



Regular Feature, Essay


Scientific Practitioners, Geology, Botany, Endeavour, Piety, Collecting, Design, Palaeontology, Natural Theology, Reading, Periodicals

Publications cited:

Smiles 1878

    Begins by noting how Roderick I Murchison, during his address to the 1858 meeting of the British Association, praised Dick's industry and the fact that 'this baker knew infinitely more of botanical science [...] than I did'. Proceeds to describe Dick's early life in Scotland which was apparently 'sad and very lonely', owing to the death of his mother when he was young. During his time at school, he showed an enthusiasm for reading and the natural world of the mountain-side near his home, although he had to endure a tyrannical step-mother. He was then apprenticed to a baker, a gruelling existence in spite of which time he managed to observe 'regularly and closely the changes on the face of nature', learn the names of plants from the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, and collect botanical specimens. Later he moved with his father to Thurso where, despite a continued lonely existence, he amassed a large number of entomological specimens. Notes how he sent fossil specimens to Hugh Miller whose Old Red Sandstone he 'took great delight' in reading but which he thought contained theories that were challenged by some of his fossil finds. Describes the close correspondence between Dick and Miller, and Dick's humility, modesty, retiring nature, and reluctance to publish. Goes on to describe the decline of his bakery business (caused partly by shipwrecked flour)—circumstances forcing Dick to sell his fossil collection and to read 'geological news' in 'papers like the Athenaeum' rather than purchasing books. The author admires Dick's 'sturdy' refusal of the gift of whisky from his brother-in-law, and laments the way in which Dick's health finally broke down owing to overwork. (685) Describes how in 1866 Dick took his 'last walk' in a quarry to search for fossils, and died shortly afterwards. Emphasises that the clergyman attending him on his deathbed described him as 'the most humble believer he ever met' and someone 'who had learned to look from Nature up to Nature's God'. (686)

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

Printed from Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: An Electronic Index, v. 4.0, The Digital Humanities Institute <> [accessed ]