Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Robert Dick of Thurso
Chapter XXII. Dick's Friends Fossilising and Moss-Hunting

The Thurso people surrounded Dick with a considerable degree of mystery. But the mystery was very much of their own making. They could not understand what “the man” was about. What could he mean by walking to Morven and Dorery, and bringing home only a few tufts of moss? What could be the reason of his digging with a pickaxe in old quarries, or pounding on the rocks by the sea-shore with a smiddy forehammer? Ordinary people were grinding away for a living, working hard at flagstones, or competing with each other for increased trade, whereas the half-daft baker was wandering about Caithness in his by-hours, gathering stones, ferns, and grasses. The whole thing was a mystery!

The boys no longer dogged him about, as if he had been the local idiot of the place. They rather kept out of his way; for people spoke of him as “uncanny,” and “a wee thocht wrang.” When he came down the middle of the street, on his way home from Dunnet Head or Banniskirk, they merely stood to one side, and looked after him until he turned down Wilson’s Lane. He was often bedrabbled about his feet and trousers.

He had been out since one o’clock in the morning; but his long walk did not seem to have tired him, as he went on his way down the street in his long swinging walk.

He still dressed himself in his antediluvian garments He still wore his swallow-tailed coat and his chimneypot hat. He could not afford much money for clothing The only things he renewed from time to time were his trousers and his hob-nailed boots. Dress was very little to him. And yet he was a handsome man too, though he never thought of that. Dr. Shearer says his appearance reminded him of another of nature’s enthusiasts— Mungo Park. He had the same compact round head and face, with “ambrosial clusters” curled; and the same genial, unaffected, and, to the last, remarkably juvenile expression.

If the Thurso people did not understand Dick’s outer man, they still less understood his inner man. What was he? What occupied his thoughts? What was his belief? What was his religion? That was a great point in a Scotch town, where everybody knows everybody; and where men are judged very much according to the kirk that they attend. The opinions entertained about Dick on the latter subject were very unfavourable. Perhaps they had a great deal to do with the falling-off in his business.

Many a petty inquisition was held about Dick in Thurso. What did he think about the first chapter of Genesis? What did he think about the Flood? Was he “soond” in his scriptural views? Like wiser men, he held his tongue. And, after all, why should the} know anything of his inner thinkings? Why this perpetual inquisitioning into the things that thoughtful and conscientious men think and believe? “Wait till you are of my age, and wearing spectacles, and then I will talk to you,” was his answer to an inquiring young friend. He might have added—“Wait till you have acquired wisdom and experience; wait till you have laboured and searched as I have done, and waited patiently for more light; and then we will talk about the mysteries of the by-past world.”

After all, what do we really know? It is but a mere speck in the infinite of knowledge. “No man can find out the work that God made from the beginning to the end.” To use the words of Dr. Parker—“We live as in a twilight of knowledge, charged with revelations of order and beauty. We stedfastly look for a perfect light, which shall reveal perfect order and perfect beauty.”*

But whatever the Thurso people might think about Dick’s religious belief, there could he no doubt as to his character. He was a kindly, cordial, honest, high-principled man. Everybody acknowledged that. They might call him what names they pleased, hut they could not fail to recognise the dignity and purity of his mind. He did his duty honestly by all men. Hence he enjoyed the friendship of some of the best men in the place. The young students almost worshipped him. He was constantly referred to as an authority on scientific subjects; and no one could be more kind and obliging when consulted, or more lavish in communicating the results of his careful observation and garnered thought of so many studious years.

Men who did not know him, thought him to be a morose man—strange, abstracted, and rather unsociable. But those who did know him, and were admitted to the sanctum of his bakehouse, found him the very reverse. There he was kindly, sociable, humorous, full of information, sometimes full of fancy, and always ready to communicate everything that he knew about the fossil-bearing strata, the botany, and the natural history of Caithness.

“On one occasion,” says Dr. Shearer, “a point was raised and settled rather dubiously on Mr. Dick’s own ipse dixit. Without giving us any reason to suppose that he suspected any incredulity, he made his appearance at my father’s house in his baker’s dress within a quarter of an hour afterwards, bringing with him an armful of books, from which he proceeded to quote in rapid succession, and then went away, leaving us amazed at his zeal and thoroughness. For it was one of his peculiarities—as it is with most enthusiasts—to believe that every person must be as deeply interested in his subject as he was himself.”

It was not often, however, that Dick went into any person’s house in Thurso. He declined invitations to breakfast with Sir George Sinclair, when he had distinguished men with him; and he declined all other invitations. When a public breakfast was given in honour of Hugh Miller, during one of his short visits tc

Thurso, Dick did not make his appearance. On that occasion it was suggested that a geological museum should be established in Thurso, and Dick, though absent, was suggested as the only person likely to obtain and to classify the specimens. But Dick was unwilling, —perhaps he had not the time necessary to undertake the work; and he declined the offer.

As he did not accept the entertainments of others, neither did he entertain others in his own house. The only exception was in the case of Mr. Peach. The following extract is from Mr. Peach’s diary:—“Rose at 5 A.M. After disposing of many matters, I went to see Dick. What pleasure it is to meet him! This day, for the first time, I ate and drank with him. I asked him for a cup of tea. ‘ By all means/ he said. I was much amazed with him and his housekeeper, Annie Mackay. There was no cloth on the table. The poor body was sadly put about. Dick, manlike, laughed at her dismay. This is the first time that I partook of food with him. He would often have asked me. He was dashed, because the first time I saw him he asked me to take wine; and because I refused (being a teetotaller), he thought I was above eating and drinking with him. He was much mistaken. He did not then know me.”

Throughout his life, Dick was careful and abstemious. He lived frugally, spending very little upon himself. His only extravagance if such it can be called, was books. These he would have of the best editions, beautifully bound. His brother-in-law once offered to send him some prime whisky. “No” said he in reply, “but I thank you all the same. Spirits never enter this house, save when I cannot help it.” His brother-in-law then offered to send him some money. “God grant you more sense!” was his reply. “I want no sovereigns. It is of no use sending anything down here. Nothing is wanted. Delicacies would only injure health. Nothing like hard fare in going through the world. My old woman neither smokes, snuffs, nor drinks. She is just as tough as a rigwoodie, and can almost do without sleep. I must not pamper myself. 'Hardy' is the word with working people. Pampering does no good, but much evil. No, no! no pampering.” We have said that Dick was a solitary man. He delighted in the companionship of books, and enjoyed with them the solitude of his own thoughts. He never married. He had no family enjoyments, nor family cares. His only inmate was his Highland housekeeper, with whom he could have little mental communion. His only companion was his sister, though she was far away. With her he corresponded regularly to the close of his life. He told her his joys and sorrows, his discoveries among the rocks, his finding of ferns at Dunnet Head and among the Reay hills, and all the little events of his daily life.

Here, for instance, is a little bit of one of his letters to her, written on the 26th December 1863 :—

“As the weather wore a fair face, I got up and away off to a spot, nearly five miles off, to gather ferns! What? Perns at the end of December? Yes, ferns. I walked to a rocky precipice, and gathered about a dozen ferns. They must have been Per ? Yes, they were Peri I The longest was about fifteen inches. Three ol them were beautiful and green—finely cut and lobed. In fact, I never saw prettier plants, and I was very proud of them—the more so, as I gathered them at the end of December. I knew that the Sea Spleenwort was green all the year round at the cliffs of Dunnet Head, as I had gathered it there in winter, but I did not know that the inland ferns were green at the end of December.”

Here is another extract from a letter to his sister :—

“I observe that your husband is a rifleman. Tell him that I never fired off a gun in my life, and scarcely ever handled one. There are a great many riflemen here. They have two targets. Hot long since I was nearly shot. I was on the shore, and some green hands had come out to practise. They stood aslant, and not hitting the target, their balls came pinging through the air repeatedly. At length, one ball hit a ledge near me, raising smoke and dust. I thought it time to be off, and got out of the way.”

His sister was then lying on her deathbed, but he continued to write to her, endeavouring to cheer her up. He sent to her husband a long account of his digging up a fossil, at the end of 1863. He said, "Tell my sister that I have written all this, hoping that it may amuse her.” His sister died about two months later. It need not be said how much he lamented her. She was the last of his family—his nearest, dearest friend.

And he was soon to follow her. When informed of her death, he wrote to her husband :—

“My sister’s death affects me much. I miss her now, and feel a want. I’ll feel it more by and by. I know that all must die ; hut we have the hope that, though we die, yet we will live for ever. Yes ! we hope to meet again.” Three months later, he again wrote: “I have not lifted a hammer since Jane died. I think of her every day. . . They venerate the dead the most, who live as they desired.”

Amongst those who sought the acquaintance of Dick in later years was a young gentleman connected with a bank in Thurso. He knew of Dick’s solitariness, and of his dislike for new acquaintanceships. He wished much to meet him, but feared a repulse. At length he determined to make the attempt. After Dick’s day’s work was over, he looked in at the window, and then he entered the baker’s shop. The scene he saw was characteristic. The only light in the house proceeded from a candle placed on a chair in the side room, where Robert Dick was deeply engaged in reading a book. He was in his working clothes; his shirt sleeves were tucked up; and his appearance indicated that he had been at his baking bench only a few moments before. What first filled the spectator’s eye was the shadow of his massive head thrown upon the wall. The particular way in which he happened to he sitting caused the shadow to he very large, and, being well defined, and showing some of his features, it looked a striking object, Dick, hearing the sound of footsteps, rose up with the candle, and taking it with him entered the shop by the hack way. The visitor, scarcely knowing what tc say, asked for some of his biscuits. He said that, being a stranger, he had heard that Mr. Dick’s biscuits were the best in town. The biscuits were given, and still the stranger hung about. He entered into conversation with Dick, and he asked whether he could not see some of his specimens. Dick said that he had at that time little that was worth seeing—in fact, he had already sold his fossils to Mr. Miller—but, if he would call again, he would with pleasure show him all that he had. Dick fixed the hour, stating that his visitor must be punctual to the minute. He explained that he had to stick to rigorous rules in that way, as he had to support himself by his business, and also because he was at times interrupted by persons calling for their own pleasure while he was engaged at his work.

The introduction being thus successfully accomplished, the visitor again called on Robert Dick to inspect his treasures. He was taken upstairs to the museum—a little bedroom or parlour—of which Dick carefully kept the key. Its appearance indicated that no duster or broom was plied there without his special permission. The chairs were laden with books, or specimens of plants or fossils. In a corner was laid his herbarium—consisting of numerous books in which his dried plants had been preserved. One part of the room might be likened to a quarry bed, because of the specimens of rocks lying there.

Pointing to a board laid across a chair, and bearing a considerable number of stone slabs, cut and polished to an equal size, he said, “Now, that’s Caithness.” “How is that?” said the visitor. “These are the specimens of all the rocks of the county, from the most ancient, the most recent, and they are arranged accordingly.” The localities were indicated from which the rocks had been taken, from Portskerra to Duncansby, from Morven to Dunnet Head. Dick then proceeded to show his collection of ferns, and a beautiful sight they were.

Dick was most careful in preparing his herbarium. Not a single imperfect specimen was admitted. The way in which they were attached to the leaves of his books showed the artistic turn of his mind. The fine natural curves of the plants, grasses, and ferns, were carefully preserved. The very hairs about the stalks and leaves were spread out at the correct angle; and the whole presented, as much as possible, the living character of the plants. All indicated an immense amount of labour, care, and observation. He wished to preserve them as he found them, in a state of nature. All their habitats were carefully attached to the Caithness plants.

To resume the visits of his friend.—On one occasion, when he passed through the shop and entered the bakehouse behind, he found the occupant merrily singing “The Soldier’s Return.” He immediately joined in the song. “Ah,” said Dick, suddenly looking up from his dough, “you’ve caught me.” “I did not know you could sing, Mr. Dick.” “Sing! ” said he, “I believe I was born singing.”

The visitor proceeded to inspect the walls of the bakehouse. Like many others, he was struck by the firm, correct drawing of the figures on the walls. Though Dick had never studied drawing, he had a great love for the fine arts. He cultivated his taste, and was able not only to delineate plants with delicacy and neatness, but to draw in spirited outline the figures of men, and animals, and gods. He thus converted his bakehouse into a chamber of imagery.

The smooth plaster was his canvas, and on it he portrayed the creations of his fancy. At one time the walls would be resplendent with Cherubim and Seraphim and the angelic host. At another—for he often varied his drawings—they would exhibit the strange and weird-like forms of the animals that inhabited the ancient world. Sometimes there was a medley of figures—Egyptian kings and hieroglyphics— winged bulls and Assyrian gods from the sculptures of Nineveh—and in the midst of them, happy children “disporting nude.”

Dick was intensely interested in Egypt and the old Eamesian period. He read every book he could find on the subject. In one of his letters, he says—“I am much delighted and fairly lost in Egypt—wandering in imagination amongst those

“Temples, palaces, and tombs stupendous,
Of which the very ruins are tremendous.’

“It was a rainy morning, and I had to be content with staying at home. I turned to and sketched in an outline of one of the gods of Egypt. It had a ram’s head on a human body. I worked away from eight o’clock in the morning until two o’clock in the afternoon, when I got it finished. I passed the rest of the evening in reading. In the midst of this evil weather, I have been reading a number of hooks. I have read a volume on the Polar Seas and regions, another on Africa, another on Egypt, another on Nubia and Abyssinia, and I propose to go on with Palestine, Arabia, Persia, India, and New Zealand.”

But amidst all his multifarious reading, ancient Egypt stood first in point of interest. “It seems,” he said, “that these old people are not yet properly understood by our wisest men, and we fall into many mistakes, and put many constructions on their ancient works. They seemed to have recognised an Evil One or principle, which they named Typhon—a god, Osiris—a goddess Isis, and a whole multitude of ‘ gods many and lords many ’—

“Every garden was o’errun with gods,

One, or rather two of the figures which I have stuck up on the wall, exhibit a representation of the union of the Brute and the Human—that is, a cat’s head on a human body. Cats were venerated in Egypt long ago. There may have been something satirical in this god. Very probably cat-witted people loved then as well as now. Then again, they had their ram-headed gods, and their hawk-headed gods; and, by your leave, we have all those sort of living people yet.”

The visitor to Dick’s bakehouse saw the numerous figures occupying the walls. Amongst them was a spirited and well-executed figure of the beautiful Greek boy drawing the thorn from his foot. This was over the fireplace. Beside it were two figures of Egyptian idols. On the side of one of the windows there was the figure of an ape, excellently drawn. What Dick thought of the development hypothesis may be understood from his figures of the Greek boy and the ape. They could be seen at the same glance from the door of the apartment, and presented a striking contrast, quite irreconcilable with the idea of even a remote identity. When questioned on the subject, Dick humorously indicated the presence of the two drawings. He pointed to them, but said nothing.

With respect to the Egyptian idols, he said of a friend who had called upon him and looked at them, “Perhaps he did not understand my Egyptian mythological divinities. Strange figures are these gods of Egypt, and yet they had a hidden meaning which no one nowadays rightly understands. Egypt was once the first of the nations, but the glory of its palaces has gone for ever. And all must perish but Truth. That alone is eternal! ”

When the weather was fine, Dick again went to the fields or to the sea-shore. He was still anxious to find his whole big fish. Hence he continued to dig away at the rocks. Towards the end of 1864, Mr. George Henslow, son of the late Professor of Botany in Cam* bridge, wrote a letter to Dick, asking if he could send him some specimens of fossil fish in exchange for botanical specimens. To gratify his request, Dick searched along the shore; and, after an hour’s labour with his heavy hammer, his wedges, and his chisels, he found a good fossil fish quite whole. Whether this was sent to Mr. Henslow we know not, as no further reference is made to the subject.

About the same time Dick discovered another singular object. “A recent spate,” he says, “laid bare part of the skeleton of a whale, which apparently had been buried many hundreds of years. It was very much decayed. It lay near the mouth of the river. Most probably some of the old Caithness cannibals feasted on the monster.”

A Society for the study of Natural History was established in Thurso in 1865. Dick refers to it in the following terms:—

“Macculloch said that an uglier country than Caithness was hardly to be seen. God save the mark! is that true? A fine natural history society has been got up here, and in their wisdom they have thought proper to dub me an 'honorary member.’ They go to-day on an excursion to Dunnet Hills. I wish they may not drown themselves.”

On the following day he says:—“I am very glad that I did not consent to go a-gowking to Dunnet Hills. The party went off in gigs, single and double; and what they saw, in crossing the sands, I know not. Certes, no one ever heard of objects in natural history being collected in gigs ! The Society went to the inn and had dinner, and they did not rise until it was late. In coming back across the sands, they drove their gigs into the sea! . . . One lady was heard to lament that Mr. Dick was not with them, were it only to keep them in order. Depend upon it, if Dick the baker had been there, the Society would have returned home before midnight! A fine 'honour’ indeed!

“A countra lad is my degree,
An’ few there be that ken me."

“Thurso had its museum party once before, but it went to smoke chiefly through a want of funds, and also through a total want of zeal amongst the people for things of that sort. A love for those studies cannot be forced, hardly even nursed into existence. But this attempt at a Museum bids fair to prosper.”

Dick seems to have had a dislike for men who went out geologising or botanising in gigs! After a hard morning’s work, and a long ramble round the coast, with hammer and chisel, he returned, and entered the following remarks:—“On arriving at home, I found Dr. Hunt, from London, had called. I met him on the road, in a gig of course. I did not know him, nor he me.”

Dick continued to have many correspondents. They addressed him from far and near, asking him for fossil fish, and specimens of the Holy Grass. He provided the Bev. Mr. Brodie, geologist, with some fossils, and through his introduction several other geologists asked for the same. Mr. George Roberts, secretary to the London Geological Society, asked him to send some typical specimens of the oil-bearing shales for analysation. “Some influential city people,” he said, “are quite willing to take the matter up, if the yield of bituminous oil promises to be a paying one.” Mr. Boy, of Aberdeen, wrote to him stating that he would propose him as a member of the Aberdeen Natural History Society, provided he would supply him with a paper on the natural history of Caithness. Mr. Alfred Bell, of London, wrote him asking for a paper on the Hierochloe borealis, for insertion in his Natural History Circular.

Another of his correspondents was Mr. Jamieson of Ellon, who sent him an abstract of his paper on the geology of Caithness. “I make mention,” he said, “on your authority, of the gravel hillocks near Dirlot, as being the only ones that I had heard of. With regard to the valley gravel, it seemed to me to be less developedi even in proportion to the size of the rivers, than it is in other districts. There is some of it, however ; and I agree with you in saying, as I do in my paper, that what does occur, appears to he the product of the rivers and streams cutting through the drift.

“I wish you would take a run, some time, along the northern seaboard of Sutherlandshire, and note the appearances presented by the valleys of the various mountain streams that join the sea. It would be desirable to ascertain whether any moraine-like heaps present themselves in such places, where you approach the mountains. On going along the east side of Sutherland, I noticed that the features of the county differed from those of Caithness. Great piles of gravel, arranged in mounds and abrupt hillocks, present themselves at the entrance of the valleys, and come down close upon the sea,—as is well seen at Brora. Now, it would be interesting to know if similar phenomena also occur along the north coast.

“The meeting of the Caithness plains with the high hills of Morven, the Pap, and the Scarabens, should also be investigated, in order to see whether any drift from north or north-west overlaps their base, or whether, on the other hand, the debris of these mountains protrudes in the form of moraine-like ridges. Foreign boulders should also be searched for on these hills. Peach tells me he saw hardly any. I walked along the Berridale glen from the base of the Scarabens to the sea, but did not manage to get round the northern base. I will send you a copy of my paper when it is printed, which will probably be some time this year.

“The valves of the Leda I got from you are pronounced by Mr. Gwynn Jeffreys to be Leda bnccata of Steenstrup, which he seems to consider a variety of Leda parmula.”

Here was a large stroke of work cut out for Robert Dick. But he was too poor, too rheumatic, too much overborne by troubles, to undertake it.

Nevertheless he continued his walks to within a reasonable distance of Thurso. He preferred walking along the shore. Sandside Bay was one of his favourite resorts. There he found old fishes in store, but none of them were of the best kind. In passing thither, he crossed the Forss Water by the bridge; and in the lower grounds he found a specimen of the Hierochlos borealis growing. He sought for it again, but he never found another. Besides, there were plenty along the Thurso banks,—quite enough to satisfy his numerous correspondents. Forss Water was one of his favourite spots. It rises in Shurery Loch, and comes tumbling down from rock to rock until it reaches the sea. The last fall is at Forss Mill, near where he found the specimen of the Holy Grass.

Robert Dick continued his correspondence with Charles Peach to the end of his life. The two had a hearty, cordial, fellow-feeling. They communicated to each other everything that they found which was new. There was never the slightest feeling of jealousy between them. The last verses that Dick wrote to Peach were as follows:—

“Ye lang hae toddled roun’ the land,
An’ hammer’d far and near ;
But feint a fossil ye hae fand
Your drooping heart to cheer !

“A broken wee bit fish or twa,
A doubtfu’ bit o’ stane,
Ye carried south, wi’ muckle blaw,
To chiels, wha skeel had nane.

“A puff they whispered in your lug,
And ye came laughin’ hame,
Weel drooked wi’ the Hieland fog,
And fand the whole a dream.”

But Mr. Peach did find more fossils. In 1863, while working at Sarclet, on the Wick side of the county, he found part of a fossil crustacean in the Red Sandstone, rising from beneath the flag-beds. Sir Roderick Murchison, on the authority of Professor Huxley, stated it to he part of a Pterygotus—or lobsterlike crustacean. Mr. Peach also discovered some specimens of the Tristichopterus alatus at John o’ Groat’s, which threw much light on the previously unknown points of its structure as well as on its affinities.

It would, indeed, be difficult to tell how much Mr. Peach found during his residence in Caithness. Among his other findings, he discovered a sea-snake. It was cast ashore in Sinclair’s Bay, a few miles north of Wick. The length of the snake was fifteen feet six inches; its width about three and a half inches. Its head displayed a sort of mane or pendulous tuft. Its skin was of a beautiful silvery colour, with fine dark bands passing from the head to the tail. It was found to be a large specimen of the Gymnetrus,—better known by the name of riband-lath or deal-fish. A similar sea-snake has since been found by Mr. Trail at Dunnet Bay, near Thurso.

In 1863 Mr. Peach obtained from the rocks in the neighbourhood of John o’ Groat’s a fragment of a small Pterichthys. As this genus had not before been found in Caithness, he resolved,—although the locality was more than eighteen miles from his residence at Wick,— to follow up the discovery; and he succeeded in finding, at different times, four or five pretty good specimens. At -the meeting of the British Association at Dundee, in 1868, Mr. Peach read a short description of it to the Geological Section, and named it after his valued friend, Pterichthys Dicki. But we anticipate.

We return to Charles Peach’s history. We have already stated that he was stationed at Wick as Comptroller of Excise. Part of his business was to inspect the coast of Caithness—from Wick round Noss Head, Duncansby Head, John o’ Groat’s, and Dunnet Head, to Thurso, and from thence to Cape Wrath and Rhu-Stoir in Sutherlandshire. The east coast, from Dornoch Pirth north to Wick, was also within his beat.

When he travelled by land, he went by mail-coach, mail-gigs, or carts, whichever was most convenient. Sometimes he went by boats along the coast. He was often very much exposed, especially in winter, to wind, frost, and snow—always bitter cold. When he heard of a week having taken place, he was off at once; his object being to save the ship and the crew, and to reward those who had been instrumental in saving life. He communicated with the Wreck Department of the Board of Trade, and recommended those who had acted gallantly. “I proposed,” he said, “that medals and money should be publicly given, and I am proud and happy to say that the Board almost always attended to my recommendations. I always pushed hard for decorations; and many a man has been made proud of his bravery for life.” Amid such harassing, distressing, and dangerous scenes, did Charles Peach carry on his researches into the Geology and Natural History of the northernmost counties of Scotland.

Peach was now getting an old man—not old in spirits, but old in years. He was constantly subject to attacks of cold and bronchitis. Indeed, he was often very ill. Dick wrote in one of his letters that he scarcely expected that he would recover. Nevertheless, he cheered him up as usual: “I am glad to hear you are in spirits at least, if not in health. So many people are going that I began to get apprehensive that you were seriously ill. Hope on for ever, dear Charlie.” Peach had also many troubles connected with death and illness in his own family.

At length, in 1861, he was under the necessity of retiring from the service. He was now sixty-one. He had worked long and hard for his retiring allowance. Besides, a change was about to be made. The office of Comptroller, with a view to economy in the Customs, was to be done away with in all the ports of the United Kingdom. “Mr. Gladstone’s long range,” he said, “is about to ruin me.” The older men were to be placed on the redundant list, and the younger ones were to be reduced to subordinate offices. Though Peach was at the top of the list for promotion to 200 a year, he refused to be reduced, and he therefore retired upon a comparatively small amount, which lasts only during his lifetime, and leaves nothing for his widow. His hopes were thus dashed. The change had such a depressing effect upon him that he fell seriously ill, and for weeks was expected to die. But in course of time he recovered, and set to work again upon his favourite studies.

Mr. Peach accompanied Mr. Gwynn Jeffreys in his dredging expeditions along the shores of the Shetland Islands, and he there made a collection of British corals (Polyzoa), which would otherwise have been thrown away as waste. He never forgot what his keen eyes had detected, and he never threw away what he considered might be turned to some future account. The last time we saw Mr. Peach he was engaged in preparing a paper on these waste objects, to be read before the Linnean Society. The paper was entitled “On Cellepora cervicomis of the British Seas.”

Mr. Peach left Wick in May 1865, and took up his residence at a house in Leith Walk, where he still lives.t He says, “I must work; I should soon die if idle. Work is life to me.” He has consequently sent many papers to the Linnean and other scientific societies. One of these was on the British Polyzoa; another (read at the Royal Institution of Cornwall) on Zoophytes from the Cornish coast.

Among his various honours he was elected President of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh, and in his opening address he discoursed of the history of the Fossil Flora of the Old Red Sandstone of the North of Scotland. He was also presented by the Royal Society of Edinburgh with the Neill prize for the period 1871-74, in acknowledgment of his extensive contributions to geological science. In fact, so long as Mr. Peach lives —he is now seventy-nine—his name will be heard of. And yet he says he is not “an old man.” He is still an “old boy.” That is what his wife calls him. For he is cheerful, communicative, bright, and lively as ever.

In May 1866 Mr. Peach sent Dick a photograph of himself, which had been taken at Edinburgh. Dick replied to his letter as follows:—

“I scarcely needed such a memento of you. I would always have remembered you. And indeed, should my memory have proved fallacious, still your plants would have unceasingly suggested an idea of you. I was amongst the Reay hills in March last, and was pleased to see the fern (Scolopendrium) growing beautifully, and both there and at Dunnet Hills the plant will endure and astonish some lonely wanderer, long after we are both out of time. Charles! you have thus reared an undying memento, and it was no vain thought which prompted you to bring to me so lovely an object.

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever!"

It will be a joy to some who will remain ignorant of its history.”

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus