Sir John Dick and his mysterious mausoleum

The choice of this beautiful portrait by Gilbert Stuart of Sir John Dick (1721-1804), British Consul at Livorno from 1754 to 1776, was inspired by the strange fact (as some scholars and historians argued) that, in the Old English Cemetery of this place, one cannot find any burial of the several English consuls who lived here since the beginning of the 17th century, until the cemetery was finally closed in 1840 (we will be talking about the New English Cemetery in a specific article sometime later). This “absence” of consular and diplomatic graves is indeed a fact but, as I will show in the next parts of this article, it’s still not entirely true. Sir John Dick himself, or more precisely his grave, is also protagonist of another strange mystery created by the pen of Count Giuseppe Gorani in 1793.

Gorani published his Mémoires secrets et critiques des cours, des gouvernemens, et des moeurs des principaux états de l’Italie in Paris in 1793. At page 152 of the third volume he gives a very interesting description of the different cemeteries of Livorno and, in particular, of “celui qui passe  pour le plus beau“, the English burial ground. After a brief description of the area and the enclosure, Gorani focuses on the monuments, and some of the  ‘mausoleums’ which attracted his attention. The second one, by Gorani’s words,

est celui érigé à la mémoire du Consul Dick et de son épouse. L’architecture est superbe. Le piédestal  est d’ordre corinthien, avec une colonne cannelée et tronquée. Cette colonne est surmontée d’une coupe dans laquelle est posé un vase étrusque, d’où s’élève une flamme délicatement travaillée.

After this admirative and precise description of Sir John Dick tomb, he finally reveals to the reader that he knew very well the one whose ashes were buried under that monument, and he could not avoid having a “foule de réflexions que justifiera l’article suivant“. The description then becomes an excuse for Gorani to trace consul Dick’s character as one “burin imposteur“, to introduce the next chapter where he finally reveals the reason of such a relentless judgment on him. The abduction of the ‘Princess’ Tarakanova through the evil plot by Aleksey Orlov and Consul John Dick was that reason (see a brief summary of this event on the wikipedia page about Princess Tarakanoff).

However our interest in Gorani’s passage was dictated essentially by his description of the grave of Consul Dick, which is the real “mistery”. John Dick, previously a merchant in Rotterdam then British Consul at Genoa, came to Livorno as the new Consul, and successor of Burrington Goldsworthy, in May 1754 until 1776 (one of the longest careers ever recorded in Livorno for this post). He left Italy between 1776 and 1777 and bought the beautiful mansion of Mount Clare (Roehampton) in Surrey, that he remodelled with the help of an italian architect named Placido Columbani. His wife, Ann Bragg, died in January 1781 (*) in London, Harley Street, Cavendish Square and was then buried in East Ham, Essex. Sir Dick survived her 23 years, and died at his mansion on December 2nd, 1804. He was then buried 6 days later together with his wife. The burial register at East Ham reads:

Sir John Dick Bart of Roehampton aged 84 Knt of the Imperial Russia Order of St Anne of the first class buried Dec 8 1804.

A memorial monument was put up on the south wall of the chancel at Putney, with the following inscription:

To the memory of Sir John Dick Bart also Knight of the order of St Anne of Russia which honour was conferred by the Empress Catherine the Second in approbation of his services at Leghorn where as His Britannic Majesty’s Consul during twenty two years with zeal and ability he maintained and promoted the honor and interests of his native country In the year 1781 he was appointed comptroller of army accounts and on the establissiment of the office auditor of public accounts in the discharge of both these important trusts his punctuality assiduity and integrity were eminently conspicuous whilst correctness and elegance of manners characterized and adorned his private life He was humane benevolent and charitable and to the friends of his youth remarkably constant Having long lived with honour to himself and advantage to the public he died in peace with all mankind at his feat Mount Clere Roehampton on the 2d day of Dec 1804 aged 85 years.

There is evidently no doubt that Sir John Dick was buried in East Ham, as was his wife, and it seems to be very improbable that a monument to his memory would have been placed in the Old English Cemetery of Livorno before Count Gorani wrote his account of the tomb in 1793, and well before the own death of Sir Dick … The idea of Gorani using the supposed monument in the cemetery as a poetic license to introduce his opinion on the Tarakanova affair might not be so unrealistic, I believe.

(*) Cfr. Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, to Sir Horace Mann…, London, 1843, vol.II, Letter CCCXLVI, Feb. 11th, 1781.