Henry Dundas ~ Lawyer and Politician

“Henry Dundas was the complete 18th Century politician. he had few original ideas, even fewer ideals, but was an expert in the art of political manipulation. For over thirty years his powers in Scotland were almost complete and through the control of patronage he was able to deliver the votes of all the 45 Scottish MPs. he was known as King harry, the 9th of Scotland, but there were others who referred to his period of power rather less fulsomely as Dundas Despotism while to Burns he was slee Dundas. In 1784 he bought the estate of Dunira between Comrie and Loch Earn and spent much time improving it. He visited Dunira whenever possible and was personally popular in the district. After his death in May 1811 an obelisk of Glelednock granite was erected on Dunmore Hill, ‘by his personal friends in the county of Perth in grateful recollection of his public services and of his private virtues’.”

“Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (April 28, 1742 – May 28, 1811) was a Scottish lawyer and politician. He was the last person to be impeached in the United Kingdom.

He was the fourth son of Robert Dundas, Lord Arniston, the elder (1685–1753), Lord President of the Court of Session, and was 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; and he had the advantage of the success of his half-brother Robert (1713–1787), who had become Lord President of the Court of Session in 1760.

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 he was returned to the Parliament of Great Britain for Midlothian, and joined the party of Frederick North, Lord North; and notwithstanding his speaking Scots and ungraceful manner, he soon distinguished himself by his clear and argumentative speeches. His name appears in the 1776 minute book of the Poker Club.

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, when he introduced numerous improvements in the details of the department. 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, and nothing more than formal negligence lay against him, he never again held office. This was the last impeachment trial ever held in the House of Lords. Another reason for his retreat could have been Pitt’s death in 1806. An earldom was offered in 1809 but declined.

He was friends with John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe named Dundas Street, Toronto, after him (now Ontario Provincial Highway 2 in southern Ontario), and the town of Dundas, Ontario, is also named after him. In 1792 Dundas County, Ontario, was named in his honour.

A monument to him, modelled on Trajan’s Column in Rome, stands in the centre of St Andrew 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, who was advised by Robert Stephenson after residents of the square expressed concern about the adequacy of the foundations to support a column of such height. A statue of Dundas was added to the top in 1828. The column intentionally faces away from the palace, in response to having been offended by the King during the Viscount’s lifetime.”

Hon. JW Fortescue, History of the British Army, vol. iv (1907).