The History of Leith

July 15, 2011

The Story of Sir william Dick

Sir William Dick of Braid, provost of the city in 1638, whose wealth was so great that he was believed to have discovered the philosophers stone, though his fortune only reached the then astonishing sum of ,£200,000 sterling, and whose chequered history presents one of the most striking examples of the instability of human affairs. He came of Orkney people, and began life by farming the Crown rents of the northern isles at £3,000 sterling, after which he established an active trade with the Baltic and Mediterranean, and made, moreover, a profitable business by the negotiation of bills of exchange with Holland. ” He had ships on every sea, and could ride on his, own lands from North Berwick to near Linlithgow,his wealth centreing in a warehouse in the Luckenbooths, on the site of that now (in 1859) occupied by John Clapperton and Co.”
On becoming provost, he was easily led by his religious persuasion to become a sort of voluntary exchequer for the friends of the National Covenant, and in 1641 he advanced to them 100,000 merks
to save them from the necessity of disbanding their army; and when the Scottish Parliament in the same year levied 10,000 men for the protection of their colony in Ulster, they could not have embarked had they not been provisioned at the expense of Sir William Dick. Scott, in the ” Heart of Midlothian,” alludes to the loans of the Scottish Crcesus thus, when he makes Davie Deans say,
” My father saw them toom the sacks of dollars out o’ Provost Dick’s window intil the carts that carried them to the army at Dunse Law; and if ye winna believe his testimony, there is the window
itself still standing in the Luckenbooths, five doors aboon the Advocates’ Close—I think it is a clait hmerchant’s the day.”
And singular to say, a cloth merchant’s ” booth ”
it continued long to be. In 1642 the Customs were let to Sir William Dick for 202,000 merks, and 5,000 merks of grassum, or ” entrense siller;” but, as he had a horror of Cromwell and the Independents, he advanced £20,000 for the service of King Charles— a step by which he kindled the wrath of the prevailing party; and, after squandering his treasure in a failing cause, he was so heavily mulcted by extortion of ,£65,000 and other merciless penalties, that his vast fortune passed speedily away, and he died in 1655, a prisoner of Cromwell’s, in a gaol at Westminster, under something painfully like a want of the common necessaries of life.

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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