MILNE, Sir David (1763-1845), of Inveresk, Edinburgh

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



1820 - 3 July 1820

Family and Education

b. 25 May 1763, 1st s. of David Milne of Campie House, Musselburgh, Edinburgh and Susan, da. of Robert Vernor of Musselburgh. educ. Edinburgh h.s.1 m. (1) 16 Apr. 1804, Grace (d. 4 Oct. 1814), da. of Sir Alexander Purves, 5th bt., of Purves Hall, Eccles, Berwick, 2s.; (2) 19 Sept. 1819, Agnes, da. of George Stephen of Grenada, s.p. KCB 20 Sept. 1816; GCB 4 July 1840; suc. fa. 1818. d. 5 May 1845.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1779, paid off 1783; ship’s officer, E.I. Co. (Bombay and Bengal) 1783-93; re-entered RN 1793, lt. 1794, cdr. 1795, capt. 1795, r.-adm. 1814; c.-in-c. N. America 1816-19; v.-adm. 1825, adm. 1841; c.-in-c. Plymouth 1842-5.

Capt. commdt. Firth of Forth sea fencibles c.1803-11.


Milne, whose lifelong motto was res non verba, was born and educated in Edinburgh, where his father was a silk merchant. He entered the navy at the age of 16 on Captain Hugh Dalrymple’s ship Canada, saw action at the siege of Gibraltar and in the West Indies during the American War of Independence and, being paid off, joined the East India Company’s vessel General Elliot. Resuming his naval career at the outbreak of war in 1793, he returned to African and West Indian waters, where he repeatedly distinguished himself, notably in the capture of the Pique (5 Jan. 1795), in which as captain he conducted merchant ships stranded at St. Kitts to Spithead. Attached afterwards to the Channel fleet, he abandoned and burnt the damaged Pique after capturing the 40-gun French frigate Seine, which he commanded in the West Indies and Gulf of Mexico until the peace of 1802. He was exonerated from blame after the Seine was wrecked off the Texel, 21 July 1803, but relegated in 1804 to command the Forth district of sea fencibles for attempting to protect the Seine’s pilots and for his insubordination to the board at their court martial. That year he married the daughter of a Berwickshire baronet, with whom he had two sons, the advocate and founder of the Scottish Meteorological Society David Milne Home (1805-90) and Admiral Sir Alexander Milne (1806-96). From 1811-15 Milne commanded vessels in European and North American waters. He was ordered, as commander designate of the Halifax station, to join the expedition against Algiers as Lord Exmouth’s second-in-command, and his conduct in battle, 27 Aug. 1816, was rewarded with a knighthood, honours from several European powers, the freedom of the City of London and a vote of thanks from Parliament.2 He aspired to a baronetcy, but Exmouth, who in 1817 and 1818 vainly pleaded his case at the admiralty, suggested that the first lord, the 2nd Viscount Melville, might be of more assistance to Milne in his role as the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish election manager.3 Milne returned from Halifax in 1819 via Bermuda, where he received a ‘very flattering address from the merchants’, married for the second time that autumn and took a house in Edinburgh for the winter.

On 4 Feb. 1820 he was requisitioned to stand for the venal and open borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed, where the sitting Tory Alexander Allen was expected to resign.4 He accepted and, confident of success, turned down the lord advocate Sir William Rae’s* offer of government sponsorship against Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton* in Haddington Burghs, assuring Melville at the same time that his conduct in the House would be ‘entirely guided’ by his ‘recommendations’.5 When the late docking of a steamer bringing his London supporters hazarded his return, he contrived to adjourn the poll pending their arrival, and by using the same tactic during the weekend break, he defeated the sitting Tory Henry Heneage St. Paul* to come in with the Whig Lord Ossulston.6 Milne is not known to have voted or contributed to debate before his election was voided on St. Paul’s petition, 3 July 1820. His wife commented:

My dear Sir David, had you gained, I must have written to congratulate you, as it is I most cheerfully congratulate myself as I shall now I hope have you with me, or be with you, which is the same thing, except you go to Berwickshire, then I shall be tempted to retaliate and stay at home, at Inveresk I mean, as I will not acknowledge a Berwickshire home ... Although it may displease you I must acknowledge I feel relieved today to know that this election is over, and you are no longer MP. As to the money, let it go, we can do without it.7

Milne, who spent almost £5,000 on Berwick elections, 1820-3, assisted the 8th earl of Lauderdale’s son-in-law James Balfour* at the July and November 1820 by-elections and purchased the Berwickshire estate of Milne Graden in 1821, notwithstanding his second wife’s wishes.8 He refrained from opposing the Tory Sir John Poo Beresford* at Berwick in 1823, and from 10 May-20 June 1824 canvassed Berwickshire, where Sir John Marjoribanks was expected to stand down and he could depend on the support of Sir William Purves Hume Campbell and the Homes of Paxton. However, he deferred there to his fellow sailor, Lauderdale’s son Captain Anthony Maitland*, whom Melville endorsed, and in 1825 he was promoted to vice-admiral.9 Milne supported the wealthy Liverpool merchant John Gladstone at Berwick in 1826-7 and was nominated there after Gladstone was unseated, with a view to coming in on petition and restricting the borough’s franchise, but the scheme foundered.10 He applied to the duke of Wellington as premier for a baronetcy in 1828, but the honour (conferred on his son Alexander in 1871) eluded him.11 He campaigned on behalf of the Berwick out-voters and strenuously supported the Berwickshire anti-reformers, 1831-2.12 Thwarted there when the Liberal Charles Marjoribanks’s death in December 1833 created a vacancy, he confided to his friend, the inspector-general of marines Sir James Cockburn:

As for our Scottish politics, I am quite disgusted with them. Sir Hugh Campbell is standing for the county. His politics are he says a moderate Conservative, that is to vote with ministers when convenient, but there is a complete collusion with the Tories and Whigs. I meant to oppose Sir Hugh myself if he had come forward as a Whig, which I had reason to suspect (and still suspect), but the word moderate is attached, and I called a few days ago on the lord lieutenant to know his sentiments about so young a man (not yet of age) coming forward and of suspected politics. I found he had his lordship’s support of course, and the support of all that party. His Lordship said it was thought necessary now to support ministers to hinder them being turned out by the radicals in the House of Commons. This is the politics of Scotland at present. I cannot admire it, but I have seen for two years past what has been going on. The Buccleuchs, Lauderdales, Dundases and all their connections are thus linked together.13

Milne was soundly defeated as the Conservative candidate for the Leith district of burghs at the 1835 by-election, and subsequently concentrated on promoting the careers of his sons.14 Assisting Alexander, whom he made his flag-captain, he applied successfully for promotion to admiral and hoisted his flag on the Caledonia, 27 Apr. 1842.15 He died in May 1845 on board the steamer Clarence, which was carrying him home in poor health to Scotland after paying off his crew, and was buried in the kirkyard at Inveresk. Contemporaries recalled him as a ‘handy seaman’ with a remarkable memory for detail. He provided for his widow (d. 1862) and left Inveresk to Alexander and Milne Graden to David, whose namesake son represented Berwick as a Conservative, 1874-85.16

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Margaret Escott / Robin Healey


  • 1. NMM MLN/41/1/3, Biog. Sketch of Sir David Milne (Extracted from the Edinburgh Post and Record, 1845), 1-3.
  • 2. Ibid. 5-16; W.R. O’Byrne, Naval Biog. ii. 763; Oxford DNB sub Milne, David Milne Home and Sir Alexander Milne.
  • 3. NMM MLN/36/1, Exmouth to Milne, 9 Mar. 1817, Milne to Exmouth, 30 July 1819.
  • 4. Oxford DNB; Berwick Advertiser, 5 Feb. 1820.
  • 5. Berwick Advertiser, 12 Feb. 1820; NAS GD51/1/200/43; NLS mss 11, f. 25. See HADDINGTON BURGHS.
  • 6. Berwick Advertiser, 19 Feb.; Newcastle Courant, 18 Mar. 1820; G. Milne Home, Biog. Sketch of David Milne Holme, 15-16.
  • 7. NAS GD267/23/9, Lady Milne to Milne, 6 July 1820.
  • 8. Ibid.; GD267/23/8A/13,14; Berwick Advertiser, 8, 15 July, 9 Dec. 1820.
  • 9. Edinburgh Advertiser, 18 Feb. 1823; NAS GD267/23/8A/1-12, 19-22. See also BERWICK-UPON-TWEED and BERWICKSHIRE.
  • 10. Berwick Advertiser, 10, 17 June 1826; NAS GD267/23/9, letters to Milne, 19 Mar.-9 May 1827.
  • 11. Wellington mss WP1/920/73; Oxford DNB sub Sir Alexander Milne.
  • 12. Edinburgh Evening Courant, 21, 26 Mar. 1831; NAS GD267/23/8/8-48. See BERWICKSHIRE.
  • 13. NMM MLN36/10, Milne to Cockburn [n.d.].
  • 14. Biog. Sketch, 29-30; The Times, 6 May 1835.
  • 15. Biog. Sketch, 22.
  • 16. Ibid. 25-27; Oxford DNB.