Papers relating to Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742-1811)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-430
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      6 letters, 1 manuscript document
  • Location
      Gen. 1732 Melville; Gen. 1790, no.79; Gen. 1875, no.75; Dc.1.15/1, 3-4; Dk.8.4/3 Melville

Scope and Content

The papers are composed of: a letter to an unnamed correspondent mentioning Sir Joseph Banks, 1791; letters to Lt. Governor Wentworth regarding the militia in Nova Scotia, 1793-1794; a letter to W. A. Jackson, Wimbledon, 1800; a letter of Dundas, 1811; and, a document signed by Dundas and King George III, granting a military post to T. Brisbane, 1791.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Dundas was born on 28 April 1742. He was educated at the Royal High School and at Edinburgh University. He was admitted to the Scottish Bar (became a member of the Faculty of Advocates) in 1762, and became Solicitor-General for Scotland at the age of twenty-four. In 1774, Dundas was elected MP for Midlothian which he represented until 1790, apart from a brief period in 1782 when he represented Newtown, Isle of Wight. From 1790 until 1802 he was MP for Edinburgh. Dundas was appointed Lord Advocate in 1775, Keeper of the Signet in 1782, and Keeper of the Privy Seal in 1800. He was also Treasurer for the Navy, 1782-1783, and 1784-1800, and also held posts at the Home Office and the War Office. From the power base that he had been able to build up, he wielded great power at Westminster and even in Imperial affairs, for example in 1784 securing from the East India Company the government of India for Westminster. Also in 1784, Dundas brought in a Bill for the restoration of forfeited Jacobite estates in Scotland - a move regarded with popularity. His energy and planning behind the Egyptian campaign of 1801 was also applauded. In 1802, he successfully managed the general election in Scotland on behalf of Henry Addington, Lord Sidmouth (1759-1844) winning forty-three of the then forty-five Scottish seats for the Tories. The same year, Dundas accepted a peerage and became Viscount Melville of Melville and Baron Dunira. He became First Lord of the Admiralty in May 1804. The downfall of Dundas - to some, Henry the Ninth, the uncrowned King of Scotland - came with his impeachment for 'high crimes and misdemeanours' in 1806. This rose out of a report into the office of Treasurer for the Navy and the suspicions that had fallen on him while holding the post. Although he was acquitted, and it was clear he had not embezzled any money, he was guilty of considerable negligence. Dundas had in effect been defeated by his own Bill that had been carried through in 1785 for better regulation of the office of navy treasurer and preventing misappropriation of funds. In 1809 he declined an earldom. Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, died in Edinburgh on 28 May 1811. He was buried at Lasswade, Midlothian. There is a columnar monument to Dundas in St. Andrews Square, Edinburgh.

Access Information

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

Acquisition Information

Document signed by Dundas and George III, purchased 1964, Accession no. E64.6. Letter mentioning Banks, acquired November 1970, Accession no. E70.49. Letter of 1811, purchased June 1971, Accession no. E71.17.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Keay, John. and Keay, Julia (eds.). Collins encyclopaedia of Scotland. London: Harper Collins publishers, 1994. (2) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.6. Drant-Finan. London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1908.

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 various references to Dundas related material in the Laing Collection (check the Indexes for more details): letter to an unnamed correspondet, at La.II.499/650; letters to Charles Gordon of Cluny, 1775-1806, at La.II.49/155, 540, 573-575, 577, 593-596; letter to Sir R. Gordon, 1775, at La.II.498; letters, 1780-1802, at La.II.295; letters including to Lumsdaine, 1788, and H. Warrender, 1795, at La.II.509 (Dundas); copy of letter to Sir P. Warrender and J. Loch, 1793, at La.II.509; letters to Robert Dundas, Lord Advocate of Scotland, 1793-1812 and undated, including opinion on the extent and nature of the defence of Scotland, 1798, at La.II.500; correspondence on claims of Sir T. Livingstone and the Earl of Errol to the Keepership of Linlithgow Palace, 1799, La.II.94; letter to Robert Dundas, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, 1802, La.II.488 (Morrison).

There is also correspondence to Dundas in Laing and elsewhere, namely: fragment of a bill for Cabinet expenses, 1794, at Gen. 863/8/16; letter from E. Macpherson about enlisting Highland troops to reduce emigration, 1804, at Gen. 1995/51; letters from A. Lindsay, 6th Earl of Balcarres, 1788-1798, at Dk.7.63, nos.1-5; letter from David Donaldson, 1792, at La.II.295, no.8; letter from Sir W. Nairne, Lord Dunsinnan, 1780, at La.II.509 (Nairne); letter from W. Richardson, 1792, at La.II.509; letter from daughter, Anne Strange, 1802, at La.II.295, no.12; and, letters from J. Davidson and H. Warrender on financial matters, 1787-1804, at La.II.509 (Dundas)

Dundas is mentioned in some correspondence: in a letter from J. Logan to A. Carlyle, 1786, at La.II.419/8; letter from H. Guthrie to J. Newbigging, 1797, at La.II.509; and, in a letter of Francis Horner, 1805, at Phot.1717.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes the following collections in Scotland, and those in private hands: correspondence and papers, National Archives of Scotland, Ref. GD51 NRA 10188 Dundas, and family correspondence, 1783-1811, Ref. GD235/10 NRA 34965 Bonar Mackenzie, and correspondence with Lord Buccleuch, 1759-1810, Ref. GD224/30, 689, etc NRA 34806 Buccleuch, and correspondence with Sir John Gordon, letters to his mother, 1768-1792, Ref. GD235/8, 9/7 NRA 34965 Bonar Mackenzie, and letters to Sir James Grant, 1790-1798, Ref. GD248/99 NRA 32594 Ogilvie-Grant, and correspondence with Sir Alexander Hope, 1799-1811, Ref. GD364 NRA 10172 Hope, see NRA(S)1021, and letters to William Macdowall, 1790, Ref. GD237/12/46 NRA 32483 Tods; correspondence and papers, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, see HMC Papers of British cabinet ministers 1782-1900, 1982, and additional correspondence, 1794-1809, Ref. Acc 11612, and letters received, circa 1794-1812, and prosecution case papers relating to his impeachment, 1806, Ref. Acc 11974, and correspondence with Sir Alexander Cochrane, 1792-1811, Ref. MSS 2568-73 passim, and letters to Sir William Forbes, 1782-1804, Ref. Acc 4796 NRA 29136 Stuart-Forbes, letters from Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, circa 1798-1811, and correspondence with Lord Keith, 1797-1806, Ref. MS 9733, and correspondence with Lord Lynedoch, 1792-1801, Ref. MSS 3594-604 passim, and correspondence with Lord Minto, 1782-1809, Ref. MSS 11139-40 NRA 10476 Minto, and correspondence with Donald Robertson, 1791-1805, Ref. MSS 3944-53 passim, and letters to Sir William Young, 1804, Ref. Acc 6305, and miscellaneous correspondence, 1777-1811, Ref. MSS 9657-9819, 10225-10324, 10954 Passim; correspondence as Governor of the Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland Archives, Ref. BS 20/32 NRA 41517 Dundas; correspondence and papers relating to St Andrews, St Andrews University Library, NRA 14799 Dundas; correspondence with Balfour family, 1792-1796, Orkney Archives, Ref. NRA(S)0627 NRA 16075 Balfour; letters to Forbes family, 1791-1811, Falkirk Museums History Research Centre (Falkirk Archives), NRA 15476 Forbes; letters from William Petrie, 1790-1801, National War Museum of Scotland, NRA 27982 Baird; correspondence relating to Highland military affairs, West Highland Museum, Ref. NRA(S)0451 NRA 13685 W Highland Mus; letters and papers relating to Isle of Man, 1797-1807, Aberdeen University, Special Libraries and Archives, Aberdeen University, Special Libraries and Archives, Ref. MSS 2009-11, 2013, 2015-6, 2023, 2027 NRA 16080 Dundas; letters to William Adam, Private, Ref. NRA(S)0063 NRA 9954 Adam; letters to Sir Adam Fergusson, 1773-1884, Private, Ref. 3572/2 NRA 41047 Fergusson; correspondence with Spencer Perceval, 1808-1812, Private, NRA 8587 Holland; letters to Lord Shelburne, 1782-1883, Private, Ref. MSS Film dep 961-1005 NRA 37645 Petty; letters to Sir John Sinclair, 1799-1811, Private, Ref. NRA(S)0189/vol 4 NRA 10552 Sinclair; and letters to Stewart family, 1800-1803, Private, Ref. NRA(S)0630 NRA 15460 Stewart.