Viscounts Melville papers  1600-1851 (bulk 1780-1830)
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Viscounts Melville papers (14 linear feet) contain the letters of British statesman Henry Dundas, 1st viscount Melville, and his son Robert Saunders Dundas, 2nd viscount Melville, first lord of the admiralty. The collection contains approximately 1,500 Henry Dundas items and 850 Robert Dundas items, and is primarily comprised of incoming official correspondence, some copies of outgoing letters, and drafts of memoranda by the Melvilles. The papers are almost entirely political in nature and deal with English, Scottish, American, Indian, and European affairs.

The Henry Dundas papers chiefly concern British political affairs and military engagements in France, America, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Russia, Spain, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Minorca, Portugal, Corfu, Trieste, Malta, Sicily, the West Indies, the East Indies, and South America. The majority of these span 1794 to 1805, and relate to his tenure as secretary at war and first lord of the admiralty.

Included in the collection are:

  • Diplomatic correspondence
  • Memoranda on British trade
  • Letters dealing with Indian and British patronage
  • Military intelligence reports, defense plans, and secret naval memoranda concerning the war with France
  • Secret reports on internal affairs of France covering 1791 to 1795 from his nephew George Buchan, Financier Walter Boyd, and J. Bedinfield
  • Intelligence on English prisoners of war in France, including details on the treatment of prisoners
  • Memorials that provide details on individual service member's careers
  • Dealings with the Danish East India Company
  • Miscellaneous naval material, such as reports on ship construction and repairs and on the fleets of other nations

American affairs consumed much of Melville's attention in the 1780s and 1790s while he served on the Committee of the Private Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations. Topics discussed include compensation claims from American Loyalists for losses during the war, and claims of British merchants against Americans for unpaid debts incurred during the war. Of particular interest are the letters between Melville and Grenville that relate to American debt issues (1785-1805 with a concentration in 1792). Also of note are letters from Thomas Jefferson and members of Congress concerning the 1794 Jay Treaty between England and the United States. Also present are the trial briefs prepared for Dundas' defense during his 1806 impeachment proceedings.

Below is a selection of notable items:

  • January 14, 1735: Report to the Great Britain Board of Trade on the state of American and West Indies commerce and fortifications, covering 1734-1735 (40 pages)
  • May 5 and July 14, 1763: Secretary of State Charles Wyndham, 2nd earl of Egremont to the Privy Council, concerning trade in the American colonies after the French and Indian War and a proposal to create a frontier military force
  • June 12, 1784: Dr. John Halliburton to Henry Melville, relating his struggles as a Loyalist who fled from Rhode Island to Halifax during the American Revolution
  • July 10, 1791: Lady Eglantine Wallace's account of the plan for the French Royal Family’s attempted escape
  • November 19, 1794: Draft of the Jay Treaty (American Treaty of Commerce, signed by Lord Grenville, along with a copy of a letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Hammond regarding the treaty, 81 pages)
  • August 3, 1798: Mary Scott's description of the young King of Prussia
  • July 18, 1799: Anonymous letter from a secret service agent in Göttingen concerning "cloak and dagger" operations to send intelligence through Frankfurt
  • June 29, 1804: Secret intelligence from Admiral William Cornwallis concerning attacks on Brest and plans to burn the French fleet there
  • October 17, 1807: William Sweetland's report on the Barbary Coast enclosed in a Sir Charles Flint letter

The Robert Dundas Melville papers relate primarily to his office as first lord of the admiralty from 1812 to 1830. These include material concerning the War of 1812, and secret admiralty memoranda documenting ship locations and movements, strength of forces, and instructions to and from various British admirals. Notably, Melville received copies of intercepted letters from Albert Gallatin, John Quincy Adams, John Speyer, S. Bourne, and R. G. Beasley to President James Madison from 1813 to 1814. The collection also provides insights into American-British tensions in the Great Lakes region in the years after the war. Between 1815 and 1820, Melville received many reports and letters related to the treatment of scurvy in the navy.

Below is a selection of notable items:

  • June 6, 1812: Lord Keith's "Observations upon the Coast of America"
  • January 6, 1813: Richard Bickerton concerning proposed attacks on Boulogne and Dieppe
  • October 6, 1813: Admiral George Tate to Robert Melville containing a complete list of the Russian fleet
  • November 23, 1813: George Campbell's plans for constructing naval vessels in the Great Lakes, with detailed ship diagrams
  • February 26, 1814: Britain Navy Commissioner Samuel Bentham's detailed report on the Battle of Lake Erie (25 pages)
  • July 15, 1814: Charles and George Baillie's presentation of a petition for abolishing the British slave trade
  • March 1815: Many letters concerning the Duke of Orleans's plan to escape England
  • November 1815: Dr. William Beaty's letter on the value of providing lemon juice and vinegar to sailors for health at sea
  • April 25-August 6, 1820: Anthony Maitland, 10th earl of Lauderdale, to Robert Melville concerning Trieste and Malta with detailed information on affairs
  • August 25, 1823: Account of scurvy patients received yearly at naval hospitals at Haslar, Plymouth, Yarmouth, Deal, and Paington for the years 1803-1822
  • 1825: Lord Auckland's report on prize ship laws

The Bound Volumes series (7 volumes) is comprised of the following material:

  • The Melville Correspondence, 1780-1830 (146 items), containing official letters to and from the viscounts Melville
  • Frederick Duke of York letters to Melville (32 letters), relating to militia and military matters, and including a color portrait of the Duke, and 1804 and 1810 accounts for field work expenses incurred by the Home Office, covering the years 1795 to 1803
  • "Precis of Mr. Dundas's Correspondence with the Several Departments of his Majesty's Government," covering the Portland and Perceval ministries (46 pages), March 1807-July 23, 1810
  • Four bundles of military letters and documents concerning conflicts in Europe, covering the years 1793, 1794, 1795, and 1804-1813
Show all series level scope and content notes