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Monday 15 September 2014
 
 
 

News: The National Records of Scotland acquires the Melville papers (1629-1939)

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) is delighted to announce the acquisition of the Melville papers (1629-1939). The collection has long been regarded as one of the 'Crown Jewels' in the NRS and has enjoyed very wide usage by historians. It cost 1,350,000 GBP to purchase and the NRS is grateful to the Scottish Government and to the Trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund for their support in making this purchase.

At the core of the collection are the papers of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville and his son Robert, 2nd Viscount, dating from 1775 to 1830. Both men were de facto Secretaries of State for Scotland. Father and son were very involved in the government of India and in the administration of the Royal Navy. Henry Dundas was the close friend of William Pitt and with Lord Grenville they formed the triumvirate that directed Britain through the French Revolutionary Wars and the first stages of the war against Napoleon. Robert Dundas's was a lesser career but he retained the family grip on Scotland and had a twenty year reign as First Lord of the Admiralty.

Detail from plan of estate belonging to Henry Dundas of Melville, 1790 (National Records of Scotland, RHP2095).

The Scottish sections cover local politics, revenue and administration, education and universities, church and religion, and the law. The political material has useful insights into the struggle by government against persistent demands from the people for democratic reform from 1792 to 1815. In addition, there is significant material on the early Scottish whisky industry.

Image showing Fiona Hyslop, Culture Secretary and Saho Arakawa, NRS conservator (on left), holding a panorama of the coast of north-west Spain including the ports of Ferrol and Corunna, as seen from Monte Faro, circa 1800 (National Records of Scotland, RHP2126).

Fiona Hyslop, Culture Secretary, and Saho Arakawa, NRS conservator (on left), holding a panorama of the coast of north-west Spain, including the ports of Ferrol and Corunna, as seen from Monte Faro, circa 1800 (National Records of Scotland, RHP2126).

There are thousands of letters from Scots, English and Irish asking for appointments and promotions in government, the army, the navy and across the British Empire. More piteous are the hundreds of letters from people begging for pensions on the Scottish civil list. These tend to be a cross-section of the genteel down-at-heel, including impoverished nobles and retired public officials.

From 1830, the family was less prominent and their papers thereafter show a small Midlothian landed family making its way in the world, serving the Empire in middle-ranking roles, until just before the Second World War. These include the records of a small estate in Northamptonshire.

Overall, the Melville papers purchased occupy about 31 linear metres of shelving, and contain about 11,000 individual items, bundles and volumes.

There is a body of plans from the collection in the Register House Plan (RHP) series. They include maps and plans of properties and places in the UK and abroad, 1738-1933.

Image showing letter from William Walker to Henry Dundas, 3 May 1798 (National Records of Scotland, GD51/5/35).Detail of panorama of the coast of north-west Spain, including the ports of Ferrol and Corunna, as seen from Monte Faro, circa 1800 (National Records of Scotland, RHP2126).

Letter to Henry Dundas, 3 May 1798 (NRS, GD51/5/35). Detail of panorama as seen from Monte Faro, circa 1800 (NRS RHP2126).

Colin McLean from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said 'This is wonderful news. As such prominent political figures, the archives of both the 1st and 2nd Viscounts Melville offer a fascinating insight into some of the 18th and 19th centuries' most monumental moments in our history. Charting the American Revolution and War of Independence and the nation's struggle against Napoleon, the trustees of National Heritage Memorial Fund felt this archive was of such historical importance it must be safeguarded for future generations'.

Image showing George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, and Colin McLean, National Heritage Memorial Fund, consulting documents from the Melville papers.

George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, and Colin McLean, National Heritage Memorial Fund, consulting documents from the Melville papers.

 

The Melville papers can be viewed at the NRS search rooms in Edinburgh and searched via the online catalogue. More information on the NRS search rooms and how to conduct research remotely or on site can be found in our Doing research section.

 

   
 
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