Dundas, Henry / Dundas, Robert Saunders

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises 10 letters to Henry Dundas (1792-1799) and 132 to and from Robert Saunders Dundas (1807-1812), the majority of which are concerned with the appointment and behaviour of officers serving in India alongside the East India Company.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Dundas was born 28 April 1742. He was educated at Edinburgh High School and Edinburgh University and was admitted as a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1763. His family connections and skills as a public orator ensured him a thriving business as a barrister and at the age of twenty-four he was appointed Solicitor General for Scotland. From October 1774-1790 Henry Dundas served as a member of the House of Commons and in 1775 he was appointed Lord Advocate, a post he held until 1783.

Henry Dundas' links with India began in April 1781 when he was appointed chairman of a secret committee on the war in the Carnatic and British possessions in India. The following year Dundas was appointed Minister Treasurer of the Navy, entered the Privy Council and took the office of the Keeper of the Scotch Signet. Although Dundas lost his job as Minister Treasurer of the Navy in 1783 he was made a member of the Board of Control for India in 1784 and became its President from 1793-1802. During this period he held a number of other political appointments most notably from 1791-1794 as Home Secretary, during which he defended the East India Company as Secretary of War in 1794 and as Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland in 1800. He was created Viscount Melville in 1802 and was First Lord of the Admiralty from May 1804- 1805. It was following this appointment that he was accused of using monies for purposes other than the Navy. In June 1805 he was called upon to defend himself in the House of Commons and there was some debate over whether he should stand trial or face impeachment. The impeachment before the House of Lords took place in April 1806 and eventually Dundas was acquitted of all charges. He never again held public office and died on 28 May 1811.

Robert Saunders Dundas (1771-1851) was the only son of Henry Dundas. He too was educated at Edinburgh High School and entered Parliament in 1797 as MP for Hastings. He then acted as private secretary to his father until 1801. In 1807 he was appointed to the Privy Council and in April of that year, following in his father's footsteps, he became the President of the Board of Control. From 1812-1827 he was first Lord of the Admiralty, and again from 1828-1830. Like his father Robert Dundas also held a number of important appointments in Scotland, including Governor of the Bank of Scotland. From 1814 he was Chancellor of the University of St. Andrews and in 1821 became a Knight of the Thistle. He died on 10 June 1851.


The material is arranged in chronological order.

Conditions Governing Access


Acquisition Information

The private papers of Henry Dundas were broken up and sold at Sotheby's in 1924. The School purchased this collection of papers in 1926.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist

Separated Material

Associated Material held elsewhere: There is a large volume of political papers including correspondence held in local, national and international repositories. Please see HMC Papers of British Colonial Governors 1782-1900, (1986) for further details. Those with direct associations with the material held at SOAS are listed below: Family correspondence including letters to his mother (1768-1811) [Reference GD235/8, 10] National Archives of Scotland; Correspondence and papers relating to India [Reference Eng MSS 523, 670-99, 926- 7] Manchester University: John Rylands Library; Correspondence and papers (1793-1796) [Reference MSS Eur C 436] British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections; Papers relating to East India Company (1783-1810) [Reference MSS Eng misc a 25, b 345-46] Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Department of Western Manuscripts.

Conditions Governing Use

No publication without written permission. Apply to archivist in the first instance

Geographical Names