Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dundas, Robert (1713-1787)

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DUNDAS, ROBERT, of Arniston, the younger (1713–1787), judge, eldest son of Robert Dundas, lord president of the court of session [q. v.], by Elizabeth Watson, his first wife, was born on 18 July 1713. He was educated first at home and at school, and then at the university of Edinburgh. In 1733 he proceeded to Utrecht, then celebrated for the teaching of Roman law, and also visited Paris. Returning to Scotland in 1737 he was admitted an advocate in 1738. He was quick, ingenious, and eloquent, and had a retentive memory. Like his father, he was convivial and shirked drudgery. He is said, though a good scholar, never to have read through a book after leaving college, and being solely ambitious of attaining to the bench, he refused many cases, especially those which involved writing papers, and took only such work as seemed to lead to advancement. For his first five years his fees only averaged 280l. per annum. Through the favour of the Carteret administration he was appointed solicitor-general on 11 Aug. 1742, and, no change occurring in the Scotch department on Lord Wilmington's death, held that post through the arduous and responsible times of the Jacobite plots and the rising of 1745. Being, however, unable to act easily with Lord Milton, the lord justice clerk, in 1746 he resigned upon the change of ministry, but was at once elected dean of the faculty. On 16 Aug. 1754 he was appointed lord advocate, having fortunately been returned for Midlothian unopposed on 25 April at the general election. While in parliament he opposed the establishment of a militia in Scotland, and, as lord advocate, was largely occupied in settling the new conditions of the highlands, and in disposing of his great patronage so as to enhance the family influence. But one speech of his in parliament is recorded, viz. in 1755 (Parl. Hist. xv. 562). He was appointed a commissioner of fisheries on 17 June 1755, and on the death of Robert Craigie he became lord president of the court of session, 14 June 1760. He found upwards of two years' arrears of cases undecided, and having by great efforts disposed of them, he never allowed his cause-list to fall into arrear again. He was the best lord president who had filled the office, short but weighty in his judgments, thorough in his grasp of the cases, indignant at chicane, a punctilious guardian of the dignity of the court, a chief who called forth all the faculties of his colleagues. Having, on 7 July 1767, given the casting vote against the claimant, Archibald Stewart, in the Douglas peerage case, he became very unpopular, and during the tumultuous rejoicings at Edinburgh, after the House of Lords had reversed that decision on 2 March 1769, the mob insulted him and attacked his house. In his latter years his eyesight failed, and after a short illness he died at his house in Adam's Square on 13 Dec. 1787, and was buried with great pomp at Borthwick on 18 Dec. (see Scots Mag. 1787, p. 622). He married, first, on 17 Oct. 1741, Henrietta Baillie, daughter of Sir James Carmichael Baillie of Lamington and Bonnytoun, who died on 3 May 1755; and, secondly, in September 1756, Jean, daughter of William Grant, lord Prestongrange. By his first wife he had four daughters, of whom Elizabeth, the eldest, married Sir John Lockhart Ross, bart., of Balnagowan; and by his second four sons, of whom Robert, the eldest, became lord advocate (see below), and two daughters. Two younger sons, Francis and William, are separately noticed. His portrait, by Raeburn, is preserved at Arniston, and is engraved in the ‘Arniston Memoirs’

Robert Dundas of Arniston (1758–1819), the eldest son, born 6 June 1758, was admitted advocate in 1779; succeeded Alan Wright as solicitor-general for Scotland in 1784; became lord advocate in 1789, and from 1790 to 1801 was M.P. for Edinburghshire. He appeared for the crown in the great prosecutions for sedition at Edinburgh in 1793. He was joint-clerk and keeper of the general registers for seisins and other writs in Scotland from 1799 until on 1 June 1801 he was appointed chief baron of the exchequer in Scotland. He died 17 June 1819. His portrait appears in Kay's ‘Edinburgh Portraits.’ He married in May 1787 Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Dundas, first viscount Melville; she died 18 March 1852. By her he had three sons and two daughters. Robert, his heir, died in 1838. Henry, the second son, was vice-admiral in the navy, and died 11 Sept. 1863.

[Omond's Arniston Memoirs, 1887; Omond's Lord Advocates of Scotland; Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice; Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, ii. 37; Drummond's History of Noble British Families; Douglas's Peerage; Scots Mag. 1787; Foster's Members of Parliament (Scotland), 1357–1882; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Kay's Edinburgh Portraits.]

J. A. H.