Robert Dundas, MP 1803

"Robert Dundas, MP for Midlothian, 1803"


Eunice Shanahan

Entire letter dated 6th May 1803 addressed to Rob‘t Dundas Esq. W.S. St. James Square Edinburgh. From Hon‘ble Rob‘t Dundas who was then a Member of Parliament for Midlothian.

Postal markings:- Two poorly applied and somewhat indistinct marks in red ink, first a circled FREE May 6 1803 of type in use in London 1801-07. This was a Free Frank for the Member of Parliament. Also a very poor and faint Bishop Mark applied in Edinburgh. with MY 1803 9 in 3 lines in a circle. Three days was the normal time taken for a letter to be transported from London to Edinburgh at that time.

The letter was opened very carefully, leaving the wax seal unbroken,as illustrated below

This is a letter concerning family finances, and I think it is odd that a letter from one Robert Dundas to another would be addressed as My Dear Sir.

The writer of the letter was the son of the first Viscount Melville, and the seal of the letter has a lion and the family motto of “ESSAYEZ”. I checked up on the internet and the full family motto is “ QUOD, POTUI, PERFECI” which translates as “I have done what I could do”.

This seems to be a really good motto for a man who had such a public life. Some information about him from the Wikipedia entry is this :-

Robert Dundas, 2nd Viscount Melville KT, PC, FRS (14 March 1771 – 10 June 1851) was a British statesman, (the son of Henry Dundas, the 1st Viscount Dundas.) was the Member of Parliament for Hastings in 1794, Rye in 1796 and Midlothian in 1801. He was also Keeper of the Signet for Scotland from 1800. He was appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1807 and a Knight of the Thistle in 1821, and was Chancellor of the University of St Andrews from 1814. Melville filled various political offices and was First Lord of the Admiralty from 1812 to 1827, and from 1828 to 1830.

So now to the contents of the letter, which concern large sums of money for that time.

Charles Street
6th May 1803
My Dear Sir,
In the first place, as I now see no immediate prospect of the money being paid up in full, which I formerly mentioned to you was still due from the sale of our land, you need not look out for any more heritable security. Independently however of that circumstance I am not sure that the value of the estate pointed out by Mr. Hotchkiss is sufficiently great to authorize the lending of the sum demanded, and in matters of that kind with our trustees it is impossible to expect that they will or ought to look to the personal security however unexceptionable.

Mr Tennant thinks you had better draw three drafts on the 13th. one for £10,000 – and another for £2000, as per advice, as those two sums are to be paid by different sets of trustees. The third draft will also be on Greene & Tennant on my account for the £245.14.2 of interest.

Note: the next paragraph refers to the FREE franking privilege, and parliamentary business.

I have no stamp by me and have not time to procure one by this post, but I shall send you tomorrow a draft to pay Fortune, and the Confectioner, - Very busy about our road bill which is the stoutest contest of the kind I have seen in Parliament for many years.
Yrs Ever
Rob‘t Dundas.

I have left Hotchkiss’s note at Wimbledon but shall send it to you tomorrow.

There is a filing note on the outside of the letter written by the addressee (see image at top of article)

6th May 1803
Honble Robt Dundas about drawing on Greene and Tennant for the £12000 and interest on the 13th Current by 3 Drafts – about payment of the Bill for Election Dinner and Declining the Security for the £5000 offered by Mr Hotchkiss”

It would be interesting to know which road – usually a toll road at this time. I checked on the Hansard reports of this year but the only reference was to Robert Dundas’s request for his father to be allowed entry to the House of Commons to defend himself against impeachment (his father would have been a member of the House of Lords, and so would need permission to enter the Commons).

There were no references to the Toll Roads at this time, but it is possible that the whole of Hansard reports are not yet transcribed or put on the internet.

Robert Dundas became 2nd Viscount Melville on the death of his father in 1811, so when this letter was written in 1803 he was still the Honorable Robert Dundas and at this time was the Member of Parliament for Midlothian and Keeper of the Signet for Scotland in 1801. He was made a Knight of the Thistle (an ancient Order of Chivalry) in 1821. During his career he was made President of the Board of Control for India, Chief Secretary for Ireland and First Lord of the Admiralty.

This image shows him when he was Viscount Melville.

He died on 10 June 1851 at Melville Castle, and was buried at the Old Kirk, Lasswade, Edinburghshire, on 17 June.

His name is perpetuated by that of Melville Sound and Melville Island, Canada because of his interest in Arctic exploration. Melville Island in the Northern Territory of Australia was also named for him, by explorer Phillip Parker King. He also gives his name to Melville Street in the New Town area of Edinburgh, Scotland, and a large statue of him by Sir John Steell stands in the central square of this street.

The locality of Melville in Perth, Western Australia is also named after him.

I was very interested to find out about the Keeper of the Signet, because of the numbers of letters which we have which were written to various solicitors addressed as Writer to the Signet. There is a fair bit of information about this Society on the internet, and this is a brief extract from the Wikipedia entry.

Solicitors in Scotland were previously known as "writers"; Writers to the Signet were the solicitors entitled to supervise use of the King‘s Signet, the private seal of the early Kings of Scots. The Keeper of the Signet is one of the Great Officers of State of Scotland, and is one of the offices held by the Lord Clerk Register. The current Keeper of the Signet is Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Advocate of Scotland and Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom. The office is now a purely ceremonial one, as the Keeper of the Signet grants a commission to the Principal Clerk of Session to allow the Signet to be used. The Keeper of the Signet is the senior officer of the Society of Writers to the Signet and issues commissions to new members.


This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

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