Melville Papers

Scope and Content

Correspondence and papers of Henry Dundas (1742-1811), 1st Viscount Melville, Home Secretary, 1791-4, and Secretary of War, 1794-1801, and his son Robert Saunders Dundas (1771-1851), 2nd Viscount Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, 1812-27. They mainly concern India and the East India Company, Indian administration, finance, commerce and army matters, lists of applications and appointments, and papers concerning the mutiny of officers in the Madras army in 1809.

The collection comprises English MSS 523, 670-699, 926 and 927.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Dundas (1742-1811), first Viscount Melville, politician, was born on 28 April 1742 at Arniston House, Scotland, fourth son of Robert Dundas, Lord Arniston (1685-1753). Dundas attended the University of Edinburgh and was called to the bar in 1763. He married Elizabeth Rannie in 1765, and they inherited her father's seat of Melville Castle, Edinburghshire (they were later divorced, and Dundas remarried in 1793). In 1766 he was appointed Solicitor-General for Scotland. He also entered Parliament and gained the seat of Edinburghshire (Midlothian), a seat of which his family held the patronage.

In May 1775 Dundas became Lord Advocate in succession to Sir James Montgomery, thus becoming the chief minister in Scotland. By 1784 Dundas had firmly allied himself with William Pitt the younger, and in that year they formed a government together. Dundas's loyalty was rewarded in 1791 when he was appointed Home Secretary, in place of William Grenville. He became Secretary of State for War in July 1794 and remained in the cabinet until the government fell in 1801. He was elevated to the peerage at the end of 1802 as Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira. In May 1804 he returned to government as First Lord of the Admiralty, and set about strengthening the Navy against the French threat. But by the time of Trafalgar, Melville had been forced to resign, having been impeached for financial impropriety. Although he was eventually acquitted of nearly all the charges, he never returned to government. He died on 27 May 1811.

Source: Michael Fry, 'Dundas, Henry, first Viscount Melville (1742-1811)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Robert Saunders Dundas (1771-1851), second Viscount Melville (1771-1851), politician, was born in Edinburgh on 14 March 1771, the son of Henry Dundas. In 1796 he married an heiress, Anne Saunders (who died in 1841). Dundas was appointed keeper of the signet and elected MP for Midlothian (Edinburghshire) in 1801. He was given the presidency of the Board of Control for India, his main task being to frustrate any possibility that Napoleon might exploit his alliance with Russia to make some attempt on British India.

Dundas's Indian administration was interrupted for six months in 1809 when he served as chief secretary for Ireland. He succeeded as Viscount Melville on his father's death on 27 May 1811. The next year, under Lord Liverpool, he was promoted to First Lord of the Admiralty. He sent expeditions to the Arctic and northern Australia, where he is commemorated respectively by the Melville Sound and Melville Island. Melville resigned in 1830, never to hold office again. But he made himself useful in good works, most notably chairing the royal commission which in 1845 proposed reform of the Scots poor law. He died on 10 June 1851 at Melville Castle.

Source: Michael Fry, 'Dundas, Robert Saunders, second Viscount Melville (1771-1851)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

English MS 523 was purchased by the John Rylands Library from the bookseller G.H. Last of Bromley, Kent, in May 1930.

English MSS 670-699 were purchased at auction at Hodgson's on 10 December 1930 (Lot 595), via the bookseller R. Jashke.

English MSS 926-927 were purchased from the bookseller Bernard Halliday (Catalogue 230, item 336), in September 1938.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Klett, project archivists, with reference to:

Other Finding Aids

English MSS 523 and 670-699 are catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928-35.

English MSS 926 and 927 are catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937-1951.

Related Material

The Pitt Collection in the JRUL includes almost sixty letters from Henry Dundas to William Pitt the younger, 1793-1805 (ref.: GB 133 Eng MS 907 ). The JRUL also holds a copy of John Pringle's survey of roads in the Carnatic, which was formerly in the possession of the Melville family (ref.: GB 133 Eng MS 198 ).

The papers of Henry Dundas and Robert Saunders Dundas are very widely dispersed: see the National Register of Archives at

Corporate Names

Geographical Names