Correspondence relating to General Robert Melville (1723-1809)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-432
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
      English, and French.
  • Physical Description
      3 manuscript letters or documents
  • Location
      Dc.4.98/1, ff.226-227; Gen. 863/2; Gen. 1875, no.76

Scope and Content

The material consists of a letter to Professor R. Whytt, 1753 or 1754, copies of letters to Monsieur de Valmont, Guadeloupe, 1760, and a letter to C. Griffith, 1772.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Melville was born at Monimail, Fife, on 12 October 1723. He was educated locally at Leven and then he studied at Glasgow University and at Edinburgh University. In 1744 he became an Ensign with the 25th Foot Regiment (King's Own Scottish Borderers) and saw service in Flanders. French colours captured by his regiment in 1747 were carried to the Duke of Cumberland by Melville. He was then given his own company and after recruiting in Scotland he became aide-de-camp to Lord Panmure, who commanded British forces in Scotland. He was promoted to Major and served in Antigua, and saw action at Guadeloupe in 1759. He was appointed Lieutenant-Governor then, in 1760, Governor of Guadeloupe. His brief was extended in 1763 to Governor of Grenada, the Grenadines, Dominca, St. Vincent, and Tobago. When a part of these territories was ceded to France after capture during the American War of Independence, Melville travelled to France to negotiate on behalf of British settlers. He also visited Switzerland and Italy and other parts of the continent. Earlier, in 1759, he invented the carronade - a piece of light ordinance very destructive against timber. The carronade was first produced for the Navy in 1779 - made in Carron, Falkirk - and continued to be in use until the mid-nineteenth century. Apart from an interest in military matters, and in particular an interest in sites of military significance, he became involved in botany and botanical research. Indeed, Melville founded the Botanic Garden on St. Vincent. General Robert Melville was blind in the latter years of his life. At his death he was the oldest general in the British army. He died on 29 August 1809.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 13. Masquerier-Myles. London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1909.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show other references to Robert Melville related material in the Laing Collection (check the Indexes for more details): letter to the Rt. Hon. Earl of Buchan, 7 December 1786, at La.II.588; and, letters to G. J. Thorkelin, Dr. Cuming, and Dr. Brounlie, 1789-1799, at La.III.379/564-586. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: journals, correspondence and papers, 1760-1823, National Archives of Scotland, Ref. GD126 NRA 32024 Balfour-Melville; correspondence, 1786-1800, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MS 9846; letters from Captain Robert Bruce, 1770-1771, London University Library, Ref. MS 882; correspondence with 1st Earl of Liverpool, 1763-1782, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MSS 38201-210, 38304-309; and, letters to the Society of Arts relating to botanical gardens in St Vincent, 1797-1802, Royal Society of Arts, Ref. RSA NRA 35934 RSA.