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The Scottish Nation

DUNDAS, the surname of an ancient family in Scotland, the origin of which may be traced to Helias, the son of Huttred, a younger son of Cospatrick, prince of Northumberland, the grandfather of Cospatrick, the first earl of Dunbar and March.

      “The Dundases,” says Lord Woodhouselee, in the Transactions of the Royal Society, “were descended of a family to which the historian and the genealogist have assigned an origin of high antiquity and splendour, but which has been still more remarkable for producing a series of men eminently distinguished for their public services in the highest offices in Scotland.”

      Helias, above named, was, in the beginning of the reign of William the Lion, succeeded by his son, Serle de Dundas, whose name is frequently mentioned in the affairs of Scotland of that period. A subsequent Serle de Dundas and Robertus de Dundas, appear as subscribers to the Ragman Roll. James de Dundas, the tenth from Helias, married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Alexander Livingstone of Callander, governor of Scotland in the minority of James the Second, and on his father-in-law’s downfall, he was committed prisoner to the castle of Dumbarton, with his brother Duncan, when his lands were confiscated, but were afterwards restored. He died without male issue in 1450, and was succeeded by his brother Sir Archibald Dundas, who was several times sent on an embassy to England, and was in such high favour with King James the Third that in 1488, he received from his majesty a letter intimating his intention to create him earl of Forth, but this design was frustrated by that monarch’s unfortunate death when fleeing from the battle of Sauchieburn soon after. He obtained, however, from James the Fourth, in 1491, a grant of the island of Inchgarvie, with liberty to build and fortify a castle thereon, and numerous important privileges attached.

      George Dundas, the eighteenth laird of Dundas, was served heir in 1636. He espoused the cause of the parliament in the civil wars, and in 1641, was on the committee for the trial of the gallant marquis of Montrose and his adherents. Subsequently he was one of the colonels in Linlithgowshire for putting the kingdom into a state of defence.

      George Dundas, the twenty-third in a direct male line, a captain in the East India Company’s service, and commander of the Winterton East Indiaman, was lost at the wreck of that ship off the coast of Madagascar, 22d August 1792. His son, James Dundas, Esq. of Dundas, a posthumous child, born 14th January 1793, married 20th July 1813, the Hon. Mary Tufton Duncan, daughter of the celebrated Admiral Lord Duncan, and has a large family.

      The principal branches of the family are Dundas of Blair Castle, Perthshire; Dundas of Arniston, Mid Lothian; Dundas of Duddington, Linlithgowshire; and Dundas of Fingask, Perthshire. There is also Dundas of Barton Court, in Berkshire, England, a branch of the latter.

      The estate of Blair castle was acquired in 1720 by William Dundas, the third laird of Kincavel in Linlithgowshire, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Elphinstone of Calder Hall, by Jean Bruce, heiress of Airth, only daughter of Alexander Bruce, son of Sir John Bruce of Airth, representative of that distinguished branch of the house of Bruce. He joined the Chevalier in the rising of 1715, for which he was imprisoned. He was subsequently obliged to sell the estate of Airth, which his wife possessed in right of her mother, but in the year above mentioned, he purchased the lands of Blair, in the county of Perth, which is now the designation of this branch of the Dundases. His grandson, the present proprietor (1853), Robert Bruce Dundas, Esq., is married, and has a family.

      The family of Duddington are now called Hamilton Dundas. Agnes Dundas, the heiress of Duddington, married, about the middle of the last century, Captain Gabriel Hamilton of Westburn, a cadet of the house of Hamilton of Torrance, and had a son, John Hamilton Dundas, an officer of hussars, James Hamilton Dundas, and other children.

      Charles Dundas, Esq. of Barton Court, Berkshire, second son of Thomas Dundas of Fingask, M.P. for the stewartry of Orkney and Shetland, was for many years representative in parliament for the county of Berks, and on 10th May 1832, was created a peer of the United Kingdom as Baron Amesbury, but enjoyed the honour scarcely two months, as he died on the 30th June of the same year. His lordship was twice married, but had issue only by his first wife, Ann, daughter and sole heiress of Ralph Whitley, Esq. of Aston Hall, Flintshire, namely, a daughter, Janet, who married her cousin Rear-Admiral James Deans, and he inheriting the estates of Barton Court, assumed the additional surnames of Whitley and Dundas.

      Sir John Dundas, of Fingask, in Perthshire, who flourished about the middle of the seventeenth century, as descended from Alexander, eldest son, by a second marriage, of James Dundas of Dundas, eleventh from Earl Cospatrick, with Christian Stewart, daughter of John, lord of Innermeath and Lorn, and aunt of the Black Knight of Lorn. The family having lost the estate in Perthshire, acquired property in Stirlingshire, which they also styled Fingask.

      A daughter of Thomas Dundas, Esq. of Fingask, became, in 1776, the wife of James Bruce of Kinnaird, the celebrated Abyssinian traveller.

      The Dundases of Arniston, several of whom acquired distinction and honours by their legal attainments and political services, are descended directly from the parent stock of Dundas of Dundas. The first of the Arniston branch was Sir James Dundas, governor of Berwick in the reign of James the Sixth, who bestowed on him the honour of knighthood. He was the third son of George Dundas of Dundas, the sixteenth in descent from Cospatrick, earl of Dunbar, by his second wife, Catherine Oliphant, daughter of Lawrence, Lord Oliphant.

      His eldest son, Sir James Dundas of Arniston, for a short time one of the judges of the court of session, was knighted by Charles the First on 16th November 1641, and sat as one of the members for Mid-Lothian in the Scottish parliament. Though distinguished for his loyalty, he disapproved of Laud’s attempt to introduce episcopacy into Scotland, and was one of those who subscribed the national covenant. On 16th May 1662, although not professionally educated, he was appointed a lord of session, when he assumed the title of Lord Arniston; but when the test declaring all covenants unlawful was presented to the court on 18th November 1663, to be subscribed by the judges, he absented himself, and resigned his seat on the bench rather than sign it. His place, however, was not filled up for eighteen months, in the vain hope that he would be induced to subscribe the declaration. This, on being solicited, he refused to do, unless with a clause subjoined, importing his abjuration of the national and solemn league and covenant, “in so far as it led to deeds of actual rebellion.” It was then proposed that although, for the sake of example, he should subscribe without such clause, he should be allowed, in a private conversation with the king, to explain the sense in which he understood it, but this he would not consent to, making answer that he acted from conscience, and would never subscribe that declaration unless allowed to qualify it, “and if,” he added, “my subscription is to be public, I cannot be satisfied that the salvo should be latent.” He died at Arniston in 1679.

      His eldest son, Robert Dundas of Arniston, was also a judge of the court of session. In 1689 he was elevated to the bench, when, like his father, he took his seat as Lord Arniston. He represented Mid Lothian in several of the Scottish parliaments. He died in 1727. Of his eldest son, the first Lord-president Dundas, a notice is subjoined, as well as of his eldest son, the second Lord-president Dundas, and of Henry, Viscount Melville, who belonged to the same family. The latter took his title from the estate of Melville in Mid Lothian, which he possessed in right of his wife, the daughter of Captain David Rennie.

      Philip, 4th son of the 2d Lord-president Dundas, had, with other children, Robert Adam, born in 1804, married in 1828, Lady Mary Bruce, eldest daughter of 6th earl of Elgin. He assumed the name of Christopher in lieu of Dundas, in compliance with the will of George Manners, Esq. of Bloxholm Hall, Lincolnshire, and took the names of Hamilton-Nisbet on Lady Mary, his wife, succeeding to the maternal Belhaven and Dirleton estates, on the death of Mrs. Ferguson, in 1855. Mr. Hamilton-Nisbet, then Mr. Christopher, was sworn a privy councillor in March 1852, on being appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, an office which he retained till December of the same year. He was for some years an M.P.


      Lawrence Dundas, Esq. of Kerse, of the Fingask branch, was in 1762 created a baronet of Great Britain, and in 1794 Sir Thomas Dundas, his son, was created a peer under the title of Lord Dundas of Aske in Yorkshire. In 1838, Lawrence, 2d baron, was created earl of Zetland, having much property in Orkney. See ZETLAND, Earl of.


      A baronetcy of the United Kingdom was conferred in 1815 on Sir David Dundas, one of the medical attendants of George III. The 3d baronet was a major-general E.I.C.S. The 4th baronet, Sir John Burnet Dundas, born in 1794, 3d son of 1st baronet, entered the navy young, and was at the capture of Copenhagen in 1807. Became a rear-admiral in 1855.


      A baronetcy of Great Britain is borne by the family of Dundas of Beechwood, Mid Lothian, conferred in 1821. The first baronet was Sir Robert Dundas, one of the principal clerks of the court of session, and deputy to the lord privy seal of Scotland, born 30th July 1761, eldest son of the Rev. Robert Dundas, minister of Humbie, Haddingtonshire, whose father was a merchant in Edinburgh, ans whose next brother was General Sir David Dundas, a memoir of whom is given below. Sir Robert was created a baronet 24th July, 1821. His son Sir David, 2d baronet, succeeded him on his death, 28th December 1835. Born in 1803, he was admitted advocate in 1840, and was twice married; issue, by first wife.

DUNDAS, ROBERT, of Arniston, lord president of the court of session, son of the second Lord Arniston above mentioned, was born December 9, 1685. He passed advocate in 1709, and in 1717 was appointed solicitor-general for Scotland. In 1720 he became lord advocate, and in 1722 was elected member of parliament for the county of Edinburgh. In 1725, when Sir Robert Walpole and the duke of Argyle came into power, he resigned the lord advocate’s gown. On the 9th December 1721 he had been elected deal of the faculty of advocates. In 1728 he had the opportunity of displaying his argumentative powers to the greatest advantage, in his defence of Mr. Carnegie of Finhaven, who was indicted before the high court of justiciary for the murder of the earl of Strathmore. At a convivial meeting in the country, where the company had drank to excess, Carnegie having received the most abusive language from Lyon of Bridgeton, drew his sword, and, staggering forward to make a pass at him, unfortunately killed the earl of Strathmore, who had interposed between him and his antagonist with the view of separating them. In this memorable trial, Mr. Dundas had not only the merit of obtaining a verdict of not guilty for his client, and thereby saving the life of the prisoner, but of establishing, according to ancient practice, the power of a jury, which at that time was questioned in Scotland, of returning a general verdict on the guilt or innocence of the person accused, and not merely of determining whether the facts in the indictment were proved or not. In June 1737 Mr. Dundas was raised to the bench, when he took the title of Lord Arniston; and on 10th Sept. 1748 he succeeded Duncan Forbes of Culloden as lord president of the court of session. He died August 26, 1753. He was twice married, first to Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Watson, Esq. of Murihouse, and had, with two daughters, a son, the second lord president Dundas, and secondly to Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Gordon of Invergordon, by whom he had Henry Viscount Melville. He is described as having been “a thorough bon vivant of the old claret-drinking school of lawyers,” and in a note to Guy Mannering, on the “Convivial habits of the Scottish bar,” an interesting anecdotes is recorded of him.

DUNDAS, ROBERT, of Arniston, second lord president of the court of session of that name and family, the eldest son of the preceding, and half brother of Henry Viscount Melville, was born July 18, 1713. He received the earlier part of his education under a domestic tutor, and afterwards pursued the usual course of academical studies in the university of Edinburgh. In the end of 1733 he went to the University of Utrecht to study the Roman law; and, having visited Paris and several of the towns of France and the Netherlands, he returned to Scotland in 1737. In the following year he was admitted advocate, when he early afforded proof that he inherited, to the fullest extent, the peculiar genius and abilities of his family. In August 1742, at the age of 29, he was appointed solicitor-general for Scotland. In 1746, on a change of ministry, he was obliged to resign his office, when he was elected dean of the faculty of advocates. In the beginning of 1754 he was chosen member of parliament for the county of Edinburgh, and in the following August became lord advocate. On June 14, 1760, he was appointed lord president of the court of session, a situation which he filled, for twenty-seven years, with consummate wisdom and ability, and the highest rectitude. He died, after a short illness, December 13, 1787, in the 75th year of his age. President Dundas, like his father, was twice married, first, to Henrietta, daughter of Sir James Carmichael Baillie of Lamington, baronet, and, secondly, in September 1756, to Jane, daughter of William Grant of Prestongrange, one of the lords of session. By his first marriage he had four daughters, and by his second four sons and two daughters. Subjoined is a woodcut from a portrait of the second Lord President Dundas, engraved by Beugo, in the Scots Magazine, vol. lxiii. for August 1801.

[portrait of Lord President Dundas]

DUNDAS, ROBERT, of Arniston, lord chief baron of the court of exchequer in Scotland, eldest son of the preceding by his second wife, was born June 6, 1758, and admitted advocate in 1779. At an early age he succeeded Sir Ilay Campbell as solicitor-general, and in 1789, when only 31, was appointed lord advocate. though he filled that responsible office at a period of great political excitement, and was the public prosecutor in the trials of Muir of Huntershill, Skirving, and Palmer, in 1793, for sedition, from his moderation and urbanity, he enjoyed, during the twelve years that he held the situation, a high degree of popularity. In 1801, on the resignation of chief baron Montgomery, Mr. Dundas was appointed his successor, and sat as chief baron of exchequer until within a short period of his death, which took place at Arniston, June 17, 1819. He was succeeded by the late Sir Samuel Shepherd. Subjoined is his portrait, from an etching by Kay, vol. i. part 1:

[portrait of Robert Dundas, lord chief baron of the court of exchequer]

      He married in 1787 the Hon. Elizabeth Dundas, eldest daughter of Henry first Viscount Melville, and had issue.

DUNDAS, SIR DAVID, a distinguished British general, third son of Robert Dundas, merchant in Edinburgh, a scion of the family of Dundas of Dundas, was born in that city in 1735. His mother was Margaret, daughter of Robert Watson of Muirhouse. He was first intended for the medical profession, but in 1752 he entered the army under the auspices of his uncle, General David Watson, being appointed to the quarter-master-general’s department. In January 1756 he received his commission as lieutenant in the engineers, and in 1759 was appointed to a troop in the first light dragoons, raised by Colonel Elliot, afterwards Lord Heathfield, with whom he served in Germany. In 1762 he accompanied that illustrious commander as his aide-de-camp, in the expedition sent out against the Spanish settlements in the West Indies, under the command of the earl of Albermarle, and was present at the reduction of the island of Cuba. He became major of the 15th dragoons, May 28, 1770, and subsequently lieutenant-colonel of the 15th dragoon guards. In February 1781 he was promoted to the rank of colonel, at which time he held the appointment of adjutant-general. Shortly after the peace of 1783, Frederick the Great having ordered a grand review of the Prussian army on the plains of Potsdam, Colonel Dundas obtained permission to be present on the occasion; when he laid the foundation of his system of military tactics, which was published in 1788, under the title of ‘Principles of Military Movements, chiefly applicable to Infantry.’ This work was dedicated to George the Third, who directed it to be arranged and adopted for the use of the army, in June 1792. He soon after planned the ‘Rules and Regulations for the Cavalry,’ which also became a standard work regarding the discipline of the army. In 1790 he was promoted to the rank of major-general, and in the autumn of 1793 he commanded a body of troops at Tonlon. He distinguished himself in the brilliant action of the 10th of May 1794, at Tournay; and in the succeeding disastrous retreat through Holland he bore an active part. With the remains of the British army under his command, he returned to England in the end of April 1795. In 1797 General Dundas was nominated quarter-master-general, and served with great distinction in the subsequent expedition to Holland under the duke of York. In 1804 he was appointed governor of Chelsea Hospital, and June 1st of that year was installed a knight of the order of the Bath. On the temporary resignation of the duke of York in March 1809, he was created commander-in-chief, which situation he held two years. About the same time he became a member of the privy council, and colonel of the 95th regiment. He was also governor of Fort George and Fort Augustus. He married Charlotte, daughter of Lieut. General De Lancey, but had no issue. He died February 18, 1820.

DUNDAS, HENRY, first Viscount Melville, an eminent statesman, son of the first Robert Dundas of Arniston, lord president of the court of session, and Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Gordon of Invergordon, Bart., was born April 28, 1742, in Bishop’s Land, Bishop’s Close, High Street, Edinburgh. He studies at the university of Edinburgh, and in 1763 was admitted a member of the faculty of advocates. In 1773 he was appointed solicitor-general, and in 1774 was returned to parliament as member for the county of Edinburgh, for which he sat till 1787, when he was elected for the city, and remained its representative till 1802. In 1775 he became lord advocate, and in 1777 joint keeper of the signet for Scotland. IN 1782 he was appointed treasurer of the navy, and sworn a member of the privy council; but the coalition formed between Lord North and Mr. Fox having, in the course of a few months, forced Mr. Pitt to resign, Mr. Dundas also retired from office. On the downfall of the coalition administration, he resumed, under Mr. Pitt, his office of treasurer of the navy; and from that period took a leading part in all the measures of the Pitt administration. On the passing of the act for the better regulation of the affairs of the East India Company, having, on all occasions, displayed a thorough knowledge of Indian matters, he was nominated president of the board of control. In 1791 he was appointed secretary of state for the home department, an office which he filled with peculiar vigour and resolution, at a crisis when the democratical spirit diffused among the people, after the outbreak of the French Revolution, alarmed the friends of the constitution, and rendered energetic measures, on the part of government, necessary for the salvation of the empire. The plans for the formation of the fencible regiments, the supplementary militia, the volunteer companies, the provisional cavalry, and all that internal military force, which was levied and maintained for the defence of the country against invasion or insurrection, either originated with Mr. Dundas, or were promoted and organised under his direction.

      On the accession of the duke of Portland to office, Mr. Dundas was, in 1794, appointed secretary at war, which he remained till 1801, when he resigned along with Mr. Pitt. On December 21st, 1802, the Addington administration raised him to the peerage by the titles of Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira. In 1804, on Mr. Pitt’s return to power, Lord Melville succeeded Lord St. Vincent as first lord of the admiralty. While treasurer of the navy, he had, in 1785, introduced a bill for the regulation of the money voted for the naval department, prohibiting the treasurer from appropriating any part of it to his own private use. By the tenth report of the commissioners for naval inquiry, instituted under the auspices of the earl of St. Vincent, it appeared that large sums of the public money, in the hands of the treasurer of the navy, had been employed in direct contravention of the act. The matter was taken up very warmly by the opposition, and after keen debates in the house of commons, certain resolutions, moved by Mr. Whitbread, for an impeachment against his lordship, were carried, April 8, 1805, by the casting vote of the Speaker. On the 10th, Lord Melville resigned his office of first lord of the admiralty, and on the 6th of May he was struck from the list of privy councillors by his majesty. On the 26th of June Mr. Whitbread, with several other members, appeared at the bar of the House of Lords, and solemnly impeached his lordship of high crimes and misdemeanours. On July 9th he presented the articles of impeachment, the charges being ten in number; and on April 29, 1806, Lord Melville’s trial took place, before the House of Lords, at Westminster Hall, when the evidence adduced not directly implicating him in the alleged malversation, but tending rather to involve his deputy, Mr. Trotter, his lordship was, by large majorities, declared not guilty on all the charges. On the fourth, which concerned a sum of £10,000, stated to have been applied by his lordship to his own individual use, the lords were unanimous in their acquittal. He was immediately restored to his place in the privy council, but did not thereafter hold any other public situation. He died at Edinburgh, May 27, 1811. He was twice married; first, to Elizabeth, daughter of David Rennie, Esq. of Melville castle, by whom he had a son, Robert Saunders Dundas, who succeeded him in his titles and estates, and three daughters; and, secondly, in 1793, to Lady Jane Hope, sister to James earl of Hopetoun, by whom he had no issue. In Edinburgh are two monuments to his memory, the one, a marble statue by Sir Francis Chantrey, in the outer house of the court of session, and the other, a column surmounted by a statue in the centre of St. Andrew’s square.

      Lord Melville possessed excellent business habits, and had great powers of application. “His eloquence,” says one of his eulogists, “was manly and vigorous; it rose superior to ornament, and was always more intent on convincing the understanding than pleasing the fancy. Unravelling with ease the most intricate details, and seizing with intuitive rapidity the strongholds of his subject, he could either convey it to his audience with the simplicity of statement, or impress it on their conviction with uncommon powers of argument and great dignity of language and address. His speeches in debate bore the stamp of a mind rich in common sense, in political sagacity, and in the perfect knowledge of life and of affairs. In the affairs of his own department Lord Melville was always prepared to supply the fullest information, when the prudence of office permitted the disclosure; and in the bills which it belonged to his duty to propose, he was never anticipated by the suggestions of others; but whenever he chose to adopt them he always improved by making them his own.”

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