William Dick

Pioneer of veterinary science and education, founder of the Royal Dick Veterinary School.


Dick plaque

William Dick was born in Edinburgh on 6 May 1793.

After completing his school education, William trained as a farrier at his father's forge in the stable courtyard close to the family home in the New Town.

In 1816 he began attending lectures at Dr John Barclay’s extramural school of anatomy and was quickly spotted by the comparative anatomist as the brightest among his many students.

He received his diploma in 1818 after a three-month period of study at the Veterinary College in London.

Starting the Vet School

[his] short sojourn in London had little if any effect on him professionally...what he did gain...was an insight into the working of an established veterinary college

Charnock BradleyPrincipal of the School, 1911

Back in Edinburgh, he set about establishing his own veterinary school. His initial offer of lectures at the School of Arts in 1818 initially attracted no students but, by 1922, he was lecturing large classes.

In 1823 the Directors of the Highland Society of Scotland at Edinburgh approved funds to promote "public instruction in the veterinary art and the diseases of livestock".

William rented the side room of the Calton Convening rooms in Edinburgh, and delivered a series of lectures covering the anatomy and diseases of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and dogs. The range of topics was far wider than that covered by the London School, and one that better fitted the requirements of the Scottish economy. He gave practical instruction at his father’s forge in Clyde Street.

The Edinburgh Veterinary College made steady progress over the coming years. By 1863 more than 1,600 men had attended, 740 of whom received Highland Society diplomas.

Distinguished career

William was an outstanding practitioner. In 1842 he was appointed Veterinary Surgeon in Scotland to Queen Victoria, with his professional opinion being sought in many lawsuits throughout the UK.

In addition to establishing the first veterinary college in Scotland, lecturing, and running an extensive practice, Dick was editor of The Veterinarian for 12 years and wrote many papers on clinical subjects.

He was also public-spirited. For 15 years he was honorary treasurer of the Royal Physical Society. He was also Justice of the Peace, Moderator of the High Constables, Dean of Guild, Deacon of the Hammermen Guild, and Deacon Convenor of the Trades, which entitled him to sit on the Town Council.


William Dick died on 4 April 1866 and is buried in the family plot in New Calton Cemetery.

In his will he left his estate in trust, the interest to be used to maintain his college.

By Act of Parliament in 1906, the college was renamed the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College. It became a constituent part of the University of Edinburgh in 1951 and a full faculty in 1964.

It continues in be world leader in veterinary education, providing a high quality and innovative learning experience within a "family" setting, as did William Dick 175 years ago.

The plaque

Dick's plaque is at the Easter Bush Veterinary Centre at Roslin.


In honour of William Dick


Pioneer of veterinary science and education, founder of the Royal Dick Veterinary School

Image credit

The image on this page comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. 

Wellcome Images

Creative Commons 4.0 licence

Related links

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies - William Dick biography

Dick's entry in the Gazetteer for Scotland