Henry Dundas, 1st viscount Melville (1742-1811) was born in Edinburgh and educated at Edinburgh University. He began practicing law in 1763, and three years later became solicitor general for Scotland. Melville entered Parliament for Edinburghshire in 1774, and within a year was appointed lord advocate. In 1777, he was made joint keeper of the signet.
Melville proved to be an effective spokesperson for the North ministry, supporting the American War, arguing against any acknowledgment of American independence, and opposing economic reform. In 1781, Melville began his long involvement in India affairs as chairman of the secret committee investigating the Carnatic Wars. In the second Rockingham ministry, Dundas continued as lord advocate and was a member of the Privy Council. Under the Shelburne administration, Dundas was made treasurer of the navy, and held the position from 1782 to 1800. In 1783, he returned to the House of Commons as Member of Parliament for Edinburghshire, and spoke in defense of Shelburne's peace preliminaries. Melville served as lord of trade from 1784 to 1786, and over the next twenty years held various prominent positions, such as William Pitt's secretary of state for the Home Office (1791-1794), president of the Board of Control for Indian Affairs (1793-1801), secretary at war (1794-1801), and first lord of the admiralty (1804-1805). As a military leader, Melville played a major role in the conduct of the war with France. Politically, he dominated Scottish politics in Parliament, defended government control of the East India Company, and opposed abolishing the British slave trade. He was forced to resign from the Admiralty in 1805 when accused, and later acquitted, of misappropriating funds.
Melville married Elizabeth Rannie (d.1847) in 1765, and through her gained the title of Melville. They divorced in 1778, and in 1793 he married Lady Jane Hope (d.1823). He was created Viscount Melville in 1802.
Robert Saunders Dundas, 2nd viscount Melville (1771-1851), was the only son of Henry Dundas and Elizabeth Rannie. He entered politics as private secretary to this father, and was elected to Parliament for Hastings in 1794, for Rye in 1796, and for Edinburghshire in 1801. That same year he was appointed joint keeper of the signet for Scotland. In 1807, the Duke of Portland appointed him president of the Board of Control for Indian Affairs, and he remained in the position throughout the Perceval ministry. Prime Minister Robert Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool, made Robert Dundas first lord of the admiralty, an office he held from 1812 to 1830. During his admiralty tenure, he oversaw British naval operations against the Americans during the War of 1812, and against the French, including the Battle of Trafalgar. He also managed Britain's peacetime drawdown of naval forces.
Robert married Anne Saunders (d. 1841) in 1796 and took her name. Together they had six children, including Henry Dundas, later 3rd viscount Melville.