1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Melville, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount

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18761221911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — Melville, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount

MELVILLE, HENRY DUNDAS, 1st Viscount (1742–1811), British statesman, fourth son of Robert Dundas (1685–1753), lord president of the Scottish court of session, was born at Edinburgh in 1742, and was educated at the high school and university there. Becoming a member of the faculty of advocates in 1763, he soon acquired a leading position at the bar; 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 to 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 business. In 1774 he was returned to parliament for Midlothian, and joined the party of Lord North; and notwithstanding his provincial dialect and ungraceful manner, he soon distinguished himself by his clear and argumentative speeches. After holding subordinate offices under the marquess of Lansdowne and Pitt, he entered the cabinet in 1791 as home secretary. From 1794 to 1801 he was secretary at war under Pitt, who conceived for him a special friendship. In 1802 he was elevated to the peerage 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 Lord Melville 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. An earldom was offered in 1809 but declined; and he died on the 28th of May 1811.

His son Robert, 2nd Viscount Melville (1771–1851), filled various political offices and was first lord of the admiralty from 1812 to 1827 and from 1828 to 1830; his name is perpetuated by that of Melville Sound, because of his interest in Arctic exploration. His eldest son, Henry Dundas, 3rd Viscount (1801–1876), a general in the army, played a distinguished part in the second Sikh War.

See Hon. J. W. Fortescue, History of the British Army, vol. iv. (1907).