Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville

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 (2011-11-21T17:43:52)
Died 28 May 1811 (2011-11-21T17:43:53)
Nationality British
Political party Tory
Spouse(s) (1) Elizabeth Rennie
(2) Lady Jane Hope
(d. 1829)
Alma mater University of Edinburgh

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville PC and Baron Dunira (28 April 1742 – 28 May 1811) was a Scottish lawyer and politician. He was the first Secretary of State for War and the last person to be impeached in the United Kingdom.


Background and education

Dundas was the fourth son of Robert Dundas, Lord 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.[1]

Appointed Minister for War on the outbreak of the Wars of the French Revolution, he was Pitt's closest advisor and planner for Britain's military participation in the First Coalition. He's largely held responsible for the lack of organization and confused planning in the Flanders Campaign, especially the aborted siege of Dunkirk in September 1793. [2] It was said that he was " so profoundly ignorant of war that he was not even conscious of his own ignorance".[3]

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[4] In 1802 he was elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom as Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira. 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.


Lord Melville married firstly 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, while Henry Dundas, as was the law of the time, kept all of the money and property.[5]

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.


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.

Dundas Island was named by Captain George Vancouver in Dundas' honour. Vancouver originally believed it to be one island, Dundas's Island, but it was later determined that it was in fact a small archipelago. Other islands in the group, known as the Dundas Islands, were given the names Melville Island, Baron Island and Dunira Island in respect of Dundas' titles.[6]

A monument to him, modelled loosely on Trajan's Column in Rome, stands in the centre of St Andrew Square, Edinburgh. Raised "by the voluntary contributions of the officers, petty officers, seamen and marines of these united kingdoms",[citation needed] it was designed in 1821 by William Burn, who was advised by Robert Stephenson after residents of the square expressed concern about the adequacy of the foundations to support a column of such height. A statue of Dundas, sculpted by Robert Forrest from a model by Francis Chantrey,[7] was added to the top in 1828. The long-time headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland, directly to the east, is correctly called "Dundas House", and was built in 1771 for his relative Sir Lawrence Dundas.[8]

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

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.[9]

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.[10]

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

Fictional references

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. 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, a fictional reference was made to the former Lord Dundas in L.A. Meyer's sixth book in the Jacky Faber series, 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.[11]

See also

  • Edward Southwell Russell, 26th Baron de Clifford, the last peer ever tried in the House of Lords.


  1. ^ Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade. pp. 549. 
  2. ^ Fortescue p.230
  3. ^ Fulford, Roger Royal Dukes William Collins London 1933
  4. ^ Hague, William William Pitt the Younger Harper Collins 2004
  5. ^ BBC Radio Scotland, Disposable Brides, episode 2, 6 April 2011
  6. ^ Template:BCNIGS
  7. ^ "Melville Monument, Listed Building Report". Historic Scotland. http://hsewsf.sedsh.gov.uk/hslive/portal.hsstart?P_HBNUM=27816. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  8. ^ Buildings of Scotland; Edinburgh, by Colin McWilliam
  9. ^ http://hillstory.com.au/hillstory/articles/Castle_Hill_Coffee.html
  10. ^ http://www.goldfieldskey.com.au/index.php?id=55
  11. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0454776/


  • Fortescue, J. W., Sir (1906) A history of the British Army: Vol 4, From the fall of the Bastille to the Peace of Amiens 1789-1801, 3 pts, London : Macmillan
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • www.thepeerage.com

External links

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Sir Alexander Gilmour
Member of Parliament for Midlothian
Succeeded by
Robert Dundas
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir James Montgomery
Solicitor General for Scotland
1766 – 1775
Succeeded by
Alexander Murray
Preceded by
Sir James Montgomery
Lord Advocate
1775 – 1783
Succeeded by
The Hon. Henry Erskine
Political offices
Preceded by
Isaac Barré
Treasurer of the Navy
1782 – 1783
Succeeded by
Charles Townshend
Preceded by
Charles Townshend
Treasurer of the Navy
1784 – 1800
Succeeded by
Dudley Ryder
Preceded by
The Lord Grenville
Home Secretary
1791 – 1794
Succeeded by
The Duke of Portland
President of the Board of Control
1793 – 1801
Succeeded by
The Viscount Lewisham
New office Secretary of State for War
1794 – 1801
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
1800 – 1811
Succeeded by
The Viscount Melville
Preceded by
The Earl of St Vincent
First Lord of the Admiralty
1804 – 1805
Succeeded by
The Lord Barham
Academic offices
Preceded by
Earl of Lauderdale
Rector of the University of Glasgow
1781 – 1783
Succeeded by
Edmund Burke
Preceded by
The Earl of Kinnoull
Chancellor of the University of St Andrews
1788 – 1811
Succeeded by
The Duke of Cambridge
Honorary titles
Title last held by
The Duke of Northumberland
Custos Rotulorum of Middlesex
1793 – 1794
Succeeded by
Marquess of Titchfield
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Melville
1802 – 1811
Succeeded by
Robert Dundas

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