William Dick was the son of an Aberdeenshire farrier who had established himself in Edinburgh in the latter part of the eighteenth century. He availed himself of the unparalleled opportunities for education then available in Edinburgh, attending lectures given by John Barclay, a well known and respected anatomist. Dr. Barclay encouraged this intelligent young man, who travelled to London in 1817 to study at the London Veterinary College. Such was Dick's previous education in Edinburgh that, within three months, he "had the confidence to apply for a diploma" - and got it.
Back in Edinburgh, he then faced the frustrating task of establishing his own veterinary school. He repeatedly presented free lectures to small groups of students. Finally, in November 1823 a regular class got underway, supported throughout the entire session by student fees totalling £42 and a grant of £50 from the Highland Society, of which Dr. Barclay was a Director.
The School was to make more or less steady progress, with its finances and the manners and morals of the students watched over by William's redoubtable elder sister Mary! These students were expected to attend classes given by medical lecturers in the University. A system of oral examinations was established and by 1828 there was a final public examination. Successful students received a certificate stating that they were "qualified to practise the veterinary art". In 1833, Dick paid for the erection of improved accommodation on the site of his forge in Clyde Street. This was to serve his school until 1914, when it moved into new buildings at Summerhall that are still in use. In 1839, his school officially became a College and he a Professor. By the time of Dick's death in 1866, the 818 students he had taught were to be found throughout the world. Among them were the founders of veterinary schools in Canada, USA, Australia and Ireland.
The College continued to flourish and its staff have played a major part in the life of the profession and of the Royal College. Among the most famous of its graduates was John McFadyean, who entered the College at its low point in 1874 and later became a member of its staff. He then went as Principal to the London Veterinary School and has been justifiably claimed as the founder of modern veterinary science. Perhaps his most outstanding moment was his courageous, but so polite, public rebuttal, at a conference in Edinburgh in 1901, of Robert Koch's vehemently held conviction that bovine tuberculosis was little hazard to man. Other particularly notable graduates include Thomas Dalling, Alexander Robertson and Robert Coombs.
The college was reconstituted as an integral part of the University of Edinburgh in 1951 and became a full faculty in 1964.