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Robert Saunders Dundas, second Viscount Melville (1771-1851)

This article was written by Henry Morse Stephens and was published in 1888

Robert Saunders Dundas, second Viscount Melville, statesman, was the only son of Henry Dundas, first viscount Melville, the friend of Pitt. Melville was born on 14 March 1771. He was educated at the Edinburgh High School, and entered parliament when aged twenty-three, in 1794, as M.P. for Hastings. He received his initiation into political life by acting as private secretary to his father, who was from 1794 to 1801 both secretary of state for war and the colonies and president of the board of control for the affairs of India.

In 1796 he was elected M.P. for Rye, and in the same year he married an heiress, Anne Saunders, great niece of Admiral Sir Charles Saunders, K.B., whose name he took in addition to his own, and in May 1800 he received his first official appointment as one of the keepers of the signet for Scotland. In 1801 he was elected M.P. for Midlothian, and in 1805 and 1806 he first made his mark in the House of Commons by his speeches in favour of his father when attacked and finally impeached for malversation in his office as treasurer of the navy.

In March 1807 he was sworn of the privy council, and in April accepted a seat in the cabinet of the Duke of Portland as president of the board of control, a seat offered him rather on account of his father's great merits as an administrator and services to the tory party than for anything he had himself done. Sir Walter Scott, whom he visited about this time at Ashiestiel, Selkirkshire, says of him to John Murray: ‘Though no literary man he is judicious, clairvoyant, and uncommonly sound-headed, like his father, Lord Melville.’

In 1809 he filled the office of Irish secretary from April to October, but in November returned to his old post of president of the board of control under the Perceval administration. On his father's death, in May 1811, he became second lord Melville.

When Lord Liverpool reconstituted the ministry in the following year, Melville was appointed first lord of the admiralty, an office which he held for no less than fifteen years. In this office he showed great administrative talent, kept his department in good order, and took particular interest in Arctic expeditions, an interest which was acknowledged by Melville Sound being called after him. He held many other offices in Scotland, was made lord privy seal there in 1811, appointed a governor of the Bank of Scotland, elected chancellor of the university of St. Andrews in 1814, and made a knight of the Thistle in 1821.

After the death of Lord Liverpool, Lord Melville was one of the tory leaders who refused to serve under Canning, and he therefore resigned office; but he was reappointed to the admiralty by the Duke of Wellington in 1828, and occupied it till the fall of the Wellington administration in 1830, when he retired from political life. He took up his residence at Melville Castle, near Edinburgh, where he died at the age of eighty on 10 June 1851, and was succeeded as third viscount by his eldest son, Henry.

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