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Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville

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Title: Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville  
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Subject: Robert Dundas, 2nd Viscount Melville, John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent, Viscount Melville, Alexander Murray, Lord Henderland, Isaac Barré
Collection: 1742 Births, 1811 Deaths, 18Th-Century Politicians, 18Th-Century Scottish People, 19Th-Century British Politicians, 19Th-Century Scottish People, Alumni of the University of Edinburgh, British Mps 1774–80, British Mps 1780–84, British Mps 1784–90, British Secretaries of State, Chancellors of the University of St Andrews, Dundas Family, Founder Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Governors of the Bank of Scotland, Impeached British Officials, Lords Advocate, Lords of the Admiralty, Members of the Faculty of Advocates, Members of the Parliament of Great Britain for Scottish Constituencies, Members of the Privy Council of Great Britain, People Associated with Edinburgh, People Educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, People from Dalkeith, People of the Scottish Enlightenment, Political Scandals in Scotland, Rectors of the University of Glasgow, Secretaries of State for the Home Department, Secretaries of State for War (Uk), Solicitors General for Scotland, Viscounts in the Peerage of the United Kingdom
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Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville

The Right Honourable
The Viscount Melville
Home Secretary
In office
8 June 1791 – 11 July 1794
Monarch George III
Prime Minister Hon. William Pitt the Younger
Preceded by The Lord Grenville
Succeeded by The Duke of Portland
Personal details
Born 28 April 1742 (2016-06-30T07:36:08)
Arniston, Midlothian, Scotland
Died 28 May 1811(1811-05-28) (aged 69)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Citizenship Great Britain
Nationality Scottish
Political party Tory
Spouse(s) (1) Elizabeth Rennie
(2) Lady Jane Hope
(d. 1829)
Alma mater University of Edinburgh

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, Baron Dunira PC FRSE (28 April 1742, Arniston, Midlothian – 28 May 1811, Edinburgh) was a Scottish advocate and Tory politician. He was the first Secretary of State for War and became, in 1806, the last person to be impeached in the United Kingdom, for misappropriation of public money. Although acquitted, he never held public office again.[1]

Dundas was a key actor in the encouragement of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the prosecution of the war against France, in opposing the abolition of slavery, and in the expansion of British influence in India, dominating the affairs of the East India Company. An accomplished machine politician and scourge of the Radicals, his deft and almost total control of Scottish politics during a long period when no monarch visited the country, led to him being pejoratively nicknamed King Harry the Ninth, the "Grand Manager of Scotland" (a play on the masonic office of Grand Master of Scotland), the "Great Tyrant" and "The Uncrowned King of Scotland".[1]

He is commemorated by one of the most prominent memorials in Edinburgh, the 150-foot high, Category A listed Melville Monument at St Andrew Square, in the heart of the New Town he helped to establish.


  • Background and education 1
  • Legal career 2
  • Political career 3
  • Family 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Fictional references 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Background and education

Dundas was the fourth son of Robert Dundas, of Arniston, the elder (1685–1753), Lord President of the Court of Session, and was born at Dalkeith in 1742. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and the University of Edinburgh.

Legal career

Becoming a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1763, he soon acquired a leading position in the Scottish legal system; and he had the advantage of the success of his half-brother Robert (1713–1787), who had become Lord President of the Court of Session in 1760. He became Solicitor General for Scotland in 1766; but after his appointment as Lord Advocate in 1775, he gradually relinquished his legal practice to devote his attention more exclusively to public affairs.

Political career

In 1774 he was returned to the Parliament of Great Britain for Midlothian, and joined the party of Frederick North, Lord North; he was a proud Scots speaker and he soon distinguished himself by his clear and argumentative speeches. His name appears in the 1776 minute book of the Poker Club. After holding subordinate offices under William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne and William Pitt the Younger, he entered the cabinet in 1791 as Secretary of State for the Home Department. It was during this period that Dundas, without whose "skillful obstructions the slave trade would have been abolished in 1796, if not 1792", was influential in obstructing the abolition of the Slave Trade.[2]

Appointed Minister for War on the outbreak of the Flanders Campaign, especially the aborted siege of Dunkirk in September 1793.[3] It was said that he was " so profoundly ignorant of war that he was not even conscious of his own ignorance".[4] Yet he was still responsible for approving the implementation of the three-deep line which, barring Wellington, was used by British commanders through 1815. [5]

From 1794 to 1801 he was War Secretary under Pitt, his great friend. From about 1798 on he pleaded frequently to be allowed to resign on health grounds, but Pitt, who relied on him greatly, refused even to consider it.[6] In 1802 he was elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom as Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira, of Dunira in Perthshire. Under Pitt in 1804 he again entered office as First Lord of the Admiralty, when he introduced numerous improvements in the details of the department. Suspicion had arisen, however, as to the financial management of the Admiralty, of which Dundas had been treasurer between 1782 and 1800; in 1802 a commission of inquiry was appointed, which reported in 1805. The result was the impeachment of Dundas in 1806, on the initiative of Samuel Whitbread, for the misappropriation of public money; and though it ended in an acquittal, and nothing more than formal negligence lay against him, he never again held office. This was the last impeachment trial ever held in the House of Lords. Another reason for his retreat could have been Pitt's death in 1806. An earldom was offered in 1809 but declined.


The simple stone to Henry Dundas, in the family vault. Old Lasswade Kirkyard
The Dundas Vault in old Lasswade Kirkyard, containing the first five Viscounts Melville

Lord Melville's first marriage was to Elizabeth, daughter of David Rannie, of Melville Castle, in 1765. Almost all of his wealth (£10,000), as well as the castle, came to him through this marriage but, after leaving Elizabeth in the country residence while he remained in Edinburgh, she committed adultery with a Captain Faukener in 1778. Within days she had confessed by letter to her husband, and approximately a month later they were divorced. She never saw her children again, dying in 1847, aged 97. Henry Dundas, as was the law of the time, kept all of the money and property.[7]

After this divorce he married again, to Lady Jane Hope, daughter of John Hope, 2nd Earl of Hopetoun, in 1793. He died in May 1811, aged 69, and was succeeded in his titles by his son from his first marriage, Robert. The Viscountess Melville later remarried and died in June 1829.

He is buried in a specially built, but very simple, vault, in Old Lasswade Kirkyard, with most of his descendants.


Melville Monument in St Andrew Square, Edinburgh.

He was friends with John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe named the town of Dundas, Ontario, in southern Ontario after him. Owing to the town's short-lived prominence in Upper Canada, many important streets which align with historically important highways leading to Dundas are called "Dundas Street"; these include Dundas Street, Toronto (now Highway 5), and many other streets along Highway 2 and Highway 8. Dundas Street, Hong Kong, was also named for him. In 1792 Dundas County, Ontario, was named in his honour.

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Sir Alexander Gilmour
Member of Parliament for Midlothian
Succeeded by
Robert Dundas
Preceded by
Sir Adam Fergusson
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Charles Hope
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir James Montgomery
Solicitor General for Scotland
Succeeded by
Alexander Murray
Lord Advocate
Succeeded by
The Hon. Henry Erskine
Political offices
Preceded by
Isaac Barré
Treasurer of the Navy
Succeeded by
Charles Townshend
Preceded by
Charles Townshend
Treasurer of the Navy
Succeeded by
Dudley Ryder
Preceded by
The Lord Grenville
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
The Duke of Portland
President of the Board of Control
Succeeded by
The Viscount Lewisham
New office Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by
Lord Hobart
as Secretary of State
for War and the Colonies
Preceded by
James Stuart-Mackenzie
Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland
Succeeded by
The 2nd Viscount Melville
Preceded by
The Earl of St Vincent
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Lord Barham
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Lauderdale
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Edmund Burke
Preceded by
The Earl of Kinnoull
Chancellor of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
The Duke of Cambridge
Honorary titles
Title last held by
The Duke of Northumberland
Custos Rotulorum of Middlesex
Succeeded by
Marquess of Titchfield
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Melville
Succeeded by
Robert Dundas
  • Finding aid to the Henry Dundas papers at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by the Viscount Melville
  • Archival material relating to Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville listed at the UK National Archives

External links

  1. ^ a b "Henry Dundas' private papers bought for Scots archive". Glasgow: BBC News Scotland. 3 July 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  2. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade. p. 549. 
  3. ^ Fortescue, J. W., Sir (1906). A history of the British Army: From the fall of the Bastille to the Peace of Amiens 1789-1801 4. London: Macmillan. p. 230. 
  4. ^ Fulford, Roger (1933). Royal Dukes. London: William Collins. 
  5. ^ Rothenberg, Gunter (1978). Art of Warfare in the age of Napoleon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 21. 
  6. ^ Hague, William (2004). William Pitt the Younger. Harper Collins. 
  7. ^ BBC Radio Scotland, Disposable Brides, episode 2, 6 April 2011
  8. ^ "Dundas Island". BC Geographical Names. The Province of British Columbia. Retrieved 15 July 2015. 
  9. ^ a b "Melville Monument". The Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 15 July 2015. 
  10. ^ Scadding, Henry (January 1878). "Yonge Street and Dundas Street: The Men after whom they were named". The Canadian journal of science, literature and history 15 (8): 640. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  11. ^ "Melville Monument, Listed Building Report".  
  12. ^ McWilliam, Colin; Walker, David; Gifford, John (1984). Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh (Revised ed.). Pevsner Architectural Guides.  
  13. ^ Ferguson, Brian (6 May 2012). "RBS plan to share historic Edinburgh HQ". The Scotsman. Retrieved 15 July 2015. 
  14. ^ Patrick, Trevor. "Castle Hill Coffee". Sydney, Australia: Hillstory. Retrieved 15 July 2015. 
  15. ^ "Norseman".  
  16. ^ Amazing Grace at the Internet Movie Database


See also

He is also a supporting character in the legal drama Garrow's Law. As a leading figure of the establishment, he is a bitter enemy of the radical hero, William Garrow. He is played by Stephen Boxer. Also, fictional references were made to Sir Henry Dundas in Chapter 24 of L.A. Meyer's third book in the Jacky Faber series, which was titled "Under the Jolly Roger" as well as the former Lord Dundas in Meyer's sixth book, which was titled, "My Bonny Light Horseman". He was portrayed as 'bookish', although a sweet and sincere man otherwise. A reference was made to Henry Dundas and his role in the frustration of the abolition of the Slave Trade in the motion picture Amazing Grace (2006) where he was played by Bill Paterson.[16]

Lord Melville, as First Lord of the Admiralty, is present or a background character in several of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels. As a major official favourably disposed to Jack Aubrey, Lord Melville's political interest is often helpful to the captain. O'Brian casts Melville's impeachment for malversation of public monies as a political attack using naval intelligence spending, the details of which cannot be disclosed for security and the safety of intelligence agents—such as Stephen Maturin.

Fictional references

There is also a monument to him overlooking the scenic village of Comrie in Perthshire, Scotland.

In 1848, John Septimus Roe, the government surveyor (in the then colony of Western Australia), was searching for pastoral land and discovered the area around Norseman which he named Dundas Hills, after the colonial secretary. Gold was discovered there in 1893, the Dundas Field was proclaimed, and the town of Dundas established (ca. 40 km south of Norseman, later abandoned), which eventually led to the present Shire of Dundas.[15]

The District of Dundas in New South Wales was named after the Colonial Secretary, Henry Dundas. The District of Dundas was abolished in 1889 although the name still survives in the Sydney suburb of Dundas.[14]

A statue (1818) of Dundas stands inside Parliament Hall in Edinburgh against the north wall. This is by Sir Francis Chantrey.

A monument to him, modelled loosely on Trajan's Column in Rome, stands in the centre of St Andrew Square, Edinburgh. The cost of the Melville Monument was "met by contributions from officers and men of the Royal Navy."[9] It was designed in 1821 by William Burn, who was advised by Robert Stevenson after residents of the square expressed concern about the adequacy of the foundations to support a column of such height. It cost £8,000.[10] The garden surrounding the Melville Monument was open to the public in 2008.[9] A statue of Dundas, sculpted by Robert Forrest from a model by Francis Chantrey,[11] was added to the top in 1828. The long-time headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland, directly to the east, is Dundas House; construction was completed in 1774 for Sir Lawrence Dundas, a relative.[12][13]


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