Clan Dundas Places & People

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742 – 1811)

Henry Dundas

Scottish lawyer and politician, born at Dalkeith in 1742. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and the University of Edinburgh.

Becoming a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1763, he soon acquired a leading position in the Scottish legal system. 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. In 1774 be was returned to the Parliament of Great Britain for Midlothian. 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.

From 1794 to 1801 he was War Secretary under Pitt, his great friend. 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. 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, he never again held office. Another reason for his retreat could have been Pitts death in 1806. An earldom was offered in 1809 but declined.

A monument to him, modelled on Trajan’s Column in Rome, stands in the centre of St Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh. Raised “by the voluntary contributions of the officers, petty officers, seamen and marines of these united kingdoms”, it was designed in 1821 by William Burn. A statue of Dundas was added to the top in 1828.