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Alexander Dick (1799–1843)

by John Wade

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Alexander Dick (1799-1843), silversmith, was born in Edinburgh on 17 July 1799, youngest of seven children of John Dick, wright, and his wife Janet, née Wilson.  He was possibly related to an Edinburgh silversmith with the firms Dick & Robertson or Dick & McPherson. Alexander arrived as a free settler in Sydney from Leith on 16 October 1824 in the Portland. At first he may have worked for James Robertson, who had come from Scotland in 1822, but by April 1826 Dick was advertising his already-established business at 104 Pitt Street. He married Charlotte, daughter of Abraham Hutchinson, on 2 June at the Scots Church.

Business prospered, the 1828 census showing that he employed two silversmiths, two jewellers and a servant girl. He soon moved to new premises at 6 Williams Place, George Street, where he employed up to six other craftsmen. In January 1829, smarting from a flogging of twenty-five lashes instigated by Dick, his assigned convict Alexander Robertson accused him of receiving twelve silver dessertspoons stolen from the home of Alexander McLeay, the colonial secretary. Charged with receiving stolen goods, Dick was tried on 26 May, found guilty and sentenced to seven years imprisonment on Norfolk Island. The merchant Samuel Terry, watchmaker James Robertson and engraver Samuel Clayton were among those who testified to his good character. Forty leading citizens, including a reluctant McLeay, signed a memorial to Governor Darling on behalf of Mrs Dick. On 1 February 1833 Governor Bourke pardoned Dick, stating that 'some favourable circumstances have been represented to me on his behalf'.

The pardon described Dick: 'Height 5 ft 7 ins [170 cm]—Complexion fair ruddy and a little pock pitted—Hair sandy brown—Eyes grey—Remarks less a front tooth in Upper Jaw, Mole right side of Chin, Nose broad and broken'. Returning to Sydney, he resumed business. He was praised as the maker of the eighty-four ounce (2381 g) silver Sydney Subscription Cup (now lost), ornamented with a gold horse finial and gold horse-heads, for a race-meeting in 1834. That year, the Polish explorer John Lhotsky claimed to have found the first gold in Australia on the Monaro Plains and took it to Dick, who heated the samples in a crucible and poured out a small button of molten gold.

In February 1835 and October 1836 Dick advertised for more craftsmen, moving in February 1837 to bigger premises in the most fashionable area, opposite the barracks gate on the eastern side of George Street. The Charlotte, arriving in January 1840, brought from Scotland sixteen bounty immigrants sponsored by Dick, including two jewellers, a silversmith-clockmaker and a watchmaker. He bought land, built The Hermitage at Vaucluse and went on family picnics around the harbour. He and Charlotte had four sons and four daughters.

His works were spare, Classical Revival in style, and derivative, often with elaborate and florid embossed scenes. Extant silver pieces include communion plate for the Scots Church, Sydney; a dog collar presented in 1834 to the publican Michael Farrell's dog Tiger for killing twenty rats in two minutes two seconds; the forty-four-ounce (1247 g) bell-shaped Cavan Challenge Cup won by Lieutenant Waddy's horse Frederick at the Yass plains races in 1836; a foundation trowel for the Royal Exchange, Sydney, 1840; the Anniversary Day Regatta Cup 1840 (held by the Art Gallery of South Australia); tankards, pap boats, christening mugs and many pieces of cutlery. The 1835 silver snuff box (held by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney) presented to Captain T. B. Daniel, with a crudely-embossed view of Sydney Harbour, emu, kangaroo and Aborigine under a palm tree, has been attributed to his workman Joseph Forrester. Imported clocks, watches, plate and jewellery rather than his local manufactures, however, were the backbone of his business.

Dick announced in the Australian in August 1841 that he intended to retire due to ill health; in September he lost two sons from scarlet fever. His firm continued to trade until his death, after a long illness, on 15 February 1843 at his George Street residence; he was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Devonshire Street cemetery and left an estate of nearly £9000. His wife and six children survived him. In 1846 his widow sold up and in 1848 married her neighbour Francis Ellard, the music-shop-owner, singer and composer, with her eldest son Alexander (1827-1867) as witness.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Hawkins, Nineteenth Century Australian Silver, vol 1 (Suffolk, Eng, 1990)
  • Australiana, 9, no 4, Nov 1987, p 110, 23, no 4, Nov 2001, p 111
  • Australian, 21 Oct 1824, p 3, 6 June 1827, p 3, 30 May 1829, p 3, 25 April 1834, p 3, 28 Jan 1840, p 2, 26 June 1841, p 2, 21 Aug 1841, p 3
  • Sydney Gazette, 15 Apr 1826, p 3, 28 May 1829, p 2, 17 Feb 1835, p 1, 14 Nov 1835, p 2, 1 Dec 1835, p 2, 7 June 1936
  • Sydney Herald, 21 Dec 1835, p 2, 24 Dec 1835, p 2.

Citation details

John Wade, 'Dick, Alexander (1799–1843)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 July, 1799


15 February, 1843 (aged 43)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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