DUNDAS, Hon. Henry (1801-1876).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 1830
1830 - 28 Mar. 1831

Family and Education

b. 25 Feb. 1801, 1st s. of Robert Saunders Dundas†, 2nd Visct. Melville, and Anne, da. and coh. of Richard Huck Saunders, MD. educ. Harrow 1811. unm. CB 1839; KCB 1849; suc. fa. as 3rd Visct. Melville 10 June 1851; GCB 1865. d. 1 Feb. 1876.

Offices Held

Lt. Coldstream Gds. 1819, capt. 1824; maj. (half-pay) 1826; maj. 83 Ft. 1828, lt.-col. 1829; col. 1841, half-pay 1842; lt.-col. 60 Ft. 1844; maj.-gen. 1854; c.-in-c. Scotland 1854; col. 100 Ft. 1858; lt.-gen. 1860; col. 32 Ft. 1862; col. commdt. 60 Ft. 1863-d.; gen. 1868.

A.d.c. to Queen Victoria 1841-2; gov. Edinburgh Castle 1855-60; pres. R. Co. Archers 1860-d.


Dundas’s grandfather, Henry Dundas†, one of Pitt’s leading ministers and his Scottish manager, was created Viscount Melville in 1802. His eldest son, Robert Saunders Dundas, inherited the title in 1811, and began his long tenure as first lord of the admiralty the following year. This Member, the 1st viscount’s grandson and namesake, entered the Guards as a lieutenant in 1819, and his father was indebted to Sir Robert Dundas of Beechwood for the sum used to purchase his captaincy in 1824.1 Melville controlled many constituencies in Scotland on behalf of the Liverpool administration, but at the general election of 1826 he briefly planned to return Dundas on the admiralty interest for Sandwich, where he in the end endorsed the popular candidacy of Sir Edward Owen*.2 Instead, he used his influence to take advantage of an opening at Rochester, where the sitting ministerialist, Lord Binning, and several other potential candidates withdrew, although Sir John Malcolm* resented not having received the promised admiralty support. At a meeting there, 19 May, Dundas stated that, connected as he was, he obviously supported the government, which had re-established peace and prosperity, while also declaring that, despite his father’s sympathetic attitude, he was opposed to Catholic relief because it would revive civil disturbance.3 On the hustings, 12 June, he indicated that he favoured free trade and would vote for revision of the corn laws, but added that he saw little prospect of lower prices or higher wages; he also supported the gradual abolition of slavery. The appearance of General William Armstrong led to a sharp contest, but he finished at the head of the poll and, on giving thanks for his return, he praised the talent and character of his Whig colleague Ralph Bernal.4 Dundas, who left the Guards in order to secure the unattached rank of major and leave himself free to attend the Commons, and his father were made honorary freemen of Rochester, 31 July 1826.5 A year later Melville was told that his heir would be able to come in ‘without any difficulty’ for his own former seat of Edinburghshire, displacing Sir George Clerk, who supposedly sat on the family’s territorial interest; however, in early 1828 he overruled the idea, foregoing this opportunity of re-confirming his electoral predominance, as his relatives desired, and doing so despite his son’s perceived future vulnerability at Rochester.6

Dundas voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828, and repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828. He may have been the ‘Hon. Dundas’ who divided with ministers in favour of the duke of Clarence’s annuity, 16 Mar. 1827. At the request of the mayor and corporation of Rochester, he presented their petition against the alehouses licensing bill, 30 May 1827, and, having received a deputation of Rochester common councilmen, he brought up another to the same effect, 28 Apr. 1828; later that year he was thanked by them for his efforts to defend their interests.7 In a letter of 28 May, he welcomed the resignations of the Huskissonites, which he thought would strengthen the Wellington government, of which his father was a leading member:

I only hope now we shall go on better in our House; things have not gone on at all well. It has been nothing less than the adoption of every measure of opposition, and weak concession on every point. [The home secretary Robert] Peel has disappointed many people ... He gives way on everything and, of course, the support he meets is proportionally weakened.

He added that he expected to sail for Corfu, and his attendance in Parliament was probably reduced by his return to active service with the 83rd Foot in November 1828.8 Planta, the patronage secretary, listed him as likely to vote ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation in February 1829, but his only recorded vote on the issue was against the order of the day for resuming the debate, 6 Mar. On 25 May he rose to speak on the Scottish tailzies regulation bill, but a division was immediately called, in which he acted as a teller for the minority against receiving the report. It may have been he who, as the ‘Hon. H. A. Dundas’, was listed by Sir Richard Vyvyan*, the Ultra leader, in October 1829 among the ‘present government connections who will be hostile to a new one’. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel in December 1829, he may subsequently have been with his regiment in Ireland, since he made no known speeches or votes in the early part of the following session. However, he voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, divided with ministers against the Galway franchise bill, 25 May (as he probably had the previous day), and paired against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830.

In order to avoid a serious challenge at Rochester, Dundas declined to stand there at the general election of 1830, though, in a parting address, he promised the city his future assistance. He was instead returned by Lord Cleveland for Winchelsea, after a token contest caused by the attempted rebellion of local independents. A petition was lodged, 12 Nov., but was withdrawn after it became clear that the constituency would be disfranchised by the Grey ministry’s reform bill, and he and his colleague, John Williams, were subsequently confirmed in their seats.9 Dundas was, of course, listed by ministers among their ‘friends’ in September 1830, but he was absent from the division on the civil list, 15 Nov. Peel wrote bitterly, though inaccurately, 24 Nov., that of four cabinet ministers’ sons, including Dundas, not one

ever opened his lips and they could only serve us by attendance and a silent vote. But on the night which determined the fate of the government and terminated the official existence of their fathers, not one of those sons, though they all were in town, voted on that night.10

He was given a month’s leave of absence on urgent business, 19 Nov. 1830, and again, 25 Feb. 1831. He asked the chancellor, Lord Althorp, to delay reducing the duty on foreign barilla until it could be abolished at the same time as that on glass, 16 Mar., as thereby ‘the kelp manufacturers will be stimulated and great relief will be afforded to the unfortunate peasantry who prepare it’. His last known vote was against the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. 1831. Cleveland, who supported the ministry in order to advance his own ambitions for a dukedom, promptly turned him out for Stephen Lushington.11

Dundas never sat in the House again, but pursued a distinguished career in the army. He commanded the 83rd Foot during the suppression of the Canadian rebellion in 1837, and he prevented the landing of American brigands near Prescott in 1838 with such vigour that he was rewarded with a commandership of the bath the following year. On his return to England he was promoted colonel and briefly served as aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria, but he was dismissed and placed on half-pay after having unguardedly spoken disrespectfully about her. He exchanged into the 60th Rifles in 1844 and served in India, where he led the Bombay column of the army during the second Sikh war, 1848-9. He was present at the siege of Multan, and after his division’s leading part in the siege of Gujerat he was mentioned in despatches and received a knighthood for his ‘indefatigable zeal and exertions’. He left India in 1850 and the following year succeeded to his father’s title and estates. He was promoted to major-general and commander-in-chief in Scotland in 1854. After brief spells with two other regiments, he returned to the 60th Rifles as its commanding officer in 1863.12 He inherited the family estates of Admiral Sir Charles Saunders† on the death of his first cousin Henry Sutton Fane* in 1857. He died in February 1876, being succeeded by his brother Robert (1803-86), storekeeper general of the navy.13

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. C. Matheson, Life of 1st Visct. Melville, 408.
  • 2. Keele Univ. Lib. North mss N111/1-5.
  • 3. Maidstone Jnl. 6 Sept. 1825, 6 June; Kentish Gazette, 2 June 1826; Add. 41963, ff. 302-4.
  • 4. Kentish Chron. 9, 13, 16, 20, 23 June; Maidstone Jnl. 20 June 1826.
  • 5. Northumb. RO, Middleton mss ZMI/S76/52/7; Medway Archives and Local Stud. Cent. Rochester city recs. RCA/A1/6, 439.
  • 6. Canning’s Ministry, 349; Arniston Mems. 334, 339-43.
  • 7. Rochester city recs. A1/6, 512, 534, 539-41; A5/2, 89-90, 100-1; The Times, 31 May 1827, 28 Apr. 1828.
  • 8. Arniston Mems. 346-7.
  • 9. Rochester Gazette, 6 July 1830; NLS mss 2272, f. 165; W.D. Cooper, Parl. Hist. Suss. 52.
  • 10. Add. 40401, f. 292.
  • 11. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 29 Mar. 1831.
  • 12. Add. 40511, ff. 167-9; 40515, f. 113; M. Fry, Dundas Despotism, 1; DNB; Oxford DNB.
  • 13. The Times, 4 Feb.; Illustrated London News, 12 Feb. 1876; Ann. Reg. (1876), Chron. p. 135.