Memorial for General Sir Robert Dick
Madras (Chennai) Cathedral
Dick’s military career lasted 46 years and embraced the battles of the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain, the epic conflicts of Quatre Bras and Waterloo in Belgium and finally the Sikh wars of the 1840s. His death at Sobraon in 1846 is described in the 1888 edition of DNB.
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Perhaps second only to St Thomas Cathedral in Bombay (Mumbai), Madras (Chennai) Cathedral has a superbly preserved collection of memorial plaques and monuments. To the left of the entrance is the sculpture to General Sir Robert Dick of the 42nd Highland Regiment (Black Watch) who fell mortally wounded in the Sikh-War battle of Sobraon. The artist was Edward Richardson (marked ED Richardson SCT 1850).
According to Roscoe, Hardy and Sullivan “Edward Richardson was a sculptor and archaeologist who specialised in the restoration of medieval tombs. He is thought to have been born in London but nothing is known of his parents and early life. In 1832 he entered the Royal Academy Schools on the recommendation of Sir Francis Chantrey....Richardson developed an extensive practice as a sculptor of funerary monuments, executing a large number of military memorials. In 1848 he carved two for Canterbury Cathedral, commemorating the officers and men of the 16th Lancers and the 31st Regiment, killed during the First Sikh War. Though the Builder [magazine] considered them ‘ably executed’ it nevertheless felt ‘bound to say the designs ought, in our opinion, to have been very different in character for the proposed situation’ His monument to Major-General Sir Robert Dick, who died during the same conflict, has a relief portrait of the General in the uniform of the 42nd Royal Highlanders, with a Sikh shield and helmet at his feet. The Gentleman’s Magazine thought it ‘in one sense but a costume figure’ but noted that it was treated ‘with a chaste and classic feeling’ and that the overall effect was ‘pleasing and picturesque.”
Left: The Sikh helmet on Dick's memorial. Right: Madras Cathedral. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
It appears that the authors were describing the memorial in Madras (or possibly a similar one at Dunkeld Abbey). A separate memorial erected in his local church of Tullymet, Perthshire, by his brother officers, is, according to a brother officer, “of white marble; the main features being a sculptured representation of the veteran soldier, who has just received the deadly shot, whilst animating, by his dauntless example, Her Majesty's 80th Regiment. In the upper portion of the monument is a group of war trophies; and, surrounded by laurel, are inscribed the names of the several battles in which this gallant officer had participated”.
Dick’s military career lasted 46 years and embraced the battles of the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain, the epic conflicts of Quatre Bras and Waterloo in Belgium and finally the Sikh wars of the 1840s. His death at Sobraon in 1846 is described in the 1888 edition of DNB as follows:“On the morning of 10th February 1846 Sir Hugh Gough determined to attack the strong entrenchments of the Khalsa [Sikh] army, and Dick's division was ordered to head the assault. At 4am his men advanced to a ravine about a thousand yards from the Sikh entrenchments, and lay down while the English artillery played upon the enemy over their heads. By 9am sufficient damage had been done for the infantry to charge, and Dick led his first brigade into the Sikh entrenchments. When it had effected a lodgment he returned to lead his second brigade, headed by the 80th regiment. While leading this brigade from battery to battery, taking them in flank, Dick was struck down by one of the last shots fired during the day, and only survived until 6 o'clock on the same evening. His funeral the next day at Ferozepore was attended by the whole army.”
The Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel praised Dick in the House of Commons on 2nd April 1846 as follows; “On this occasion I have to deplore the loss of several officers of the highest reputation, and the first I shall name is Sir Robert Dick I am confident that the House will permit me shortly to recite what is the extent of national gratitude due for the former services of this gallant officer. He entered the service in 1800. He embarked with the 78th regiment for Sicily in 1806, and was wounded in battle. He accompanied the expedition to Egypt, and was present at the taking of Alexandria. He embarked with the 42nd regiment in 1809, and was again wounded at Fuentes d'Onor. He commanded the second battalion of the 42nd regiment at Ciudad Rodrigo. He was at the battle of Salamanca, at the storming of St. Michel, and was present during the siege of Burgos. In 1815 he was severely wounded, and, after a life of honour, he at last fell in the battle, for the happy result of which we are about to make our grateful acknowledgments.”
Humbly, William. Journal of a cavalry officer: including the memorable Sikh campaign of 1845-46. London; Longman, 1854.
Peel, Sir Robert. The speeches of Sir Robert Peel. Volume 4. London: George Routledge, 1853.
Roscoe, Ingrid with Hardy, Emma and Sullivan, MG. A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851. Yale University Press, 2009.
Stephens, Henry Morse. Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900
Last modified 3 January 2017