A Caledonian Family

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 

7 thoughts on “A Caledonian Family

  1. Hi Sara. I emailed you recently. Its a long shot but do you know the whereabouts of any photos of William Dickie,Henry david Dickie?

    1. Hi Mark, sorry for the long delay, I’ve been on holiday.
      There was apparently a portrait of William Dickie, painted by Raeburn, that hung in the Caledonian offices in Edunburgh. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track it down… this book gives you more information on the company and the family (just search for Dickie within the text) https://archive.org/stream/historyahundred01compgoog/historyahundred01compgoog_djvu.txt

      Hope that helps 🙂

      1. My grandmother Ethel ( Dickie) Leather youngest sister of the said Henry Dickie (Birkenhead) inherited the family portraits from her brother and they are I believe around with various members of the family.
        As for the Raeburn, I think that there may have been two copies. One of them used to hang in the London Head Office of the Guardian Royal Exchange Group (GRE) at the Royal Exchange in London.
        AXA took over GRE and I do not know where the portrait went.
        As you may know, Raeburn and William Dickie married sisters.

  2. Hi Sara, Watsons’ grandmother, Margaret Ann Allen (wife of first HD Dickie), was the sister of my 3G-grandmother Eleanor Allen (who married Thomas Doak in Irvine). So I would be really interested to find out more about the photos in the album you got Watson’s image from. Do you still have it?
    Margaret Ann & Eleanor’s mother was Margaret Tod, daughter of Robert Tod who was a banker in Irvine & Glasgow in 18th century.

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