Melville Papers, story of Dundases, acquired for £1.35m

The family documents include estate plans such as this
The family documents include estate plans such as this
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THEY are described as the “crown jewels” of Scottish historical documents but the price tag may still seem a bit steep for something you have already had for 60 years and is too fragile to put on display.

It was announced today the Melville Papers – a collection of 11,000 records – have been secured for the nation for what is described as a discounted price of £1.35 million.

In truth, experts believe that the documents may well have fetched far more on the open market and are hailing the purchase as a coup. Covering the period of 1775 to 1830, the papers contain the private records of Henry Dundas (1742-1811), 1st Viscount Melville, and his son, Robert, 2nd Viscount (1771-1851).

The father and son were described as being secretary of state for Scotland “in all but name”.

Both were also heavily involved in the government of India and in the administration of the Admiralty and the Royal Navy.

A statue of Henry Dundas still casts its gaze over Edinburgh from the top of the column in St Andrew Square.

The papers had been on long-term loan to the National Records of Scotland (NRS) since 1951, and the archive was given first refusal – and a discount – when the Melville family recently decided to sell.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund paid £625,000 towards the cost, with the Scottish Government providing the remaining £725,000.

George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: “Had we not acquired this incredible collection for Scotland’s archive, the papers would have been sold at auction at a price beyond the public purse and broken up and dispersed across the world.

“We are enormously grateful that the Melville family offered us the first chance to acquire the collection when they decided to sell it.”

A spokeswoman for the NRS said that although the papers, which also include a letter written by Adam Smith, the Scottish father of modern economics, are too fragile to go on display, they would be accessible to any member of the public who wishes to view them.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, announced the acquisition, saying: “There are very few important politicians and military and naval men who did not have dealings with the Dundases.

“Their influence over government, politics and society of Scotland was extensive – and their legacy lives on in Scottish public life today, in our street names, our statues, and now this public collection.”

Dr Andrew McKillop, department of history, King’s College, the University of Aberdeen, added: “The National Heritage Memorial Fund are to be congratulated for their generosity and foresight.

“It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of both the Dundas of Melville family and the historical record they have bequeathed.

“This is no ordinary collection of family papers.”