Alone and in complete darkness, Thomas Black died a terrible death on the Fife shoreline, trapped in mud, with the tide slowly creeping in.
The pioneering surgeon had lived an adventurous life but died in heart-rending circumstances, his cries for help ignored, in the early hours of Leap Year’s Day, February 29 1864.
Black’s status as a highly-respected medic saw a portrait painted of him posthumously.
The portrait has been restored and is back on display in Anstruther Town Hall.
It shows Black, who lived between 1819 and 1864, and was a highly-respected surgeon in Anstruther.
Originally from the Wemyss area, he sailed to Greenland twice as a surgeon on whaling ships before setting up a surgery in the East Neuk burgh in 1839.
At the time of his death, gaslights were extinguished at 10pm and in the darkness Black, who was returning late from visiting a patient in Pittenweem, fell into Anstruther harbour.
There, in pitch darkness, he became stuck in the mud and drowned in the incoming tide.
Even more tragically, it was reported that his cries for help were heard for two hours but it seems no one had been willing to go out in the darkness to investigate.
Such was the respect for the medic, who left a widow and four children, that a monument was raised to pay tribute to him at his grave in the cemetery across the road from where his portrait now hangs.
The portrait was painted by the renowned local artist Robert Fowler, who was born in Anstruther in 1853.
He painted many of his works – landscapes, portraits and mythological scenes – while living in Liverpool and his portraits of leading 19th Century politicians Gladstone and Disraeli still hang in the Palace of Westminster.
The Anstruther painting required extensive conservation before it could be displayed.
Glenn Jones, vice chairman of the Kilrenny and Anstruther Burgh Collection, said: “It is important that this portrait of Thomas Black once again hangs in the town whose community he served and that his story is remembered.”
Gavin Grant, the collections team leader of Fife Cultural Trust, said the team was very grateful to the staff of the East Neuk Centre and the burgh collection who raised the alarm the work needed to be conserved.
“Special thanks go to Glenn Jones for his part in the project and for researching the story of Thomas Black,” he added.
The portrait has been transformed as a result of the conservation treatment.
It has been cleaned, the canvas repaired and new glass gives the work additional protection.
It was funded by the burgh collection, common good fund and cultural trust.