New plaque on Melville Monument will record dark deeds

A NEW plaque to spell out the true story of one of Scotland's most controversial historical figures is to be fitted on the Capital's tallest statue.

Monday, 12th September 2016, 9:03 am
Updated Thursday, 15th September 2016, 3:16 pm
The 150ft Melville Monument. Picture; TSPL

The 150ft Melville Monument in St Andrew Square commemorates Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742-1811), the most powerful Scottish politician of his day.

He was variously known as “the uncrowned king of Scotland” and “The Great Tyrant”. He used troops to enforce the Highland clearances, delayed the abolition of slavery and was the last British politician to be impeached, though he was 
narrowly acquitted.

But at the moment, the only information for passers-by is a small plaque nearby saying simply he was “a dominant figure for over four decades” and listing some of his titles.

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Earlier this year, Green activist Adam Ramsay superglued an alternative plaque to the monument in protest. It was removed the same day.

But Mr Ramsay launched a petition to the city council, calling for a permanent plaque acknowledging “the full brutality” of what Melville did.

And now the council’s petitions committee has accepted the idea in principle and given the go-ahead for discussions to agree an appropriate wording.

Mr Ramsay, who lives in nearby Dublin Street, told the committee: “I would not argue we should judge his actions by today’s standards, but even by the standards of his day Dundas was a hugely controversial figure.”

He said he was not asking for the statue to be demolished.

But he added: “A plaque which gives an outline of his career and acknowledges the biggest statue in Edinburgh is of the man who ensured the continuation of the transatlantic slave trade is important.

“I don’t think we should tell people what to think about historic figures, but we should tell people the facts and allow them to come to their own conclusions.”

Lib Dem councillor Paul Edie said from what he had read, Melville was “a 24-carat bastard”, but he was nervous about how such a controversial figure could be explained on a plaque. “It’s like trying to summarise all that in 140 characters [the maximum allowed on Twitter].”

City museums boss Frank Little told the committee he was keen to promote greater understanding of monuments across the city and suggested an app. “That approach is far more effective in the 21st century than putting a plaque on a monument.”

But he agreed with committee convener Chas Booth there was no reason why both ideas could not be pursued.

Mr Ramsay said he was willing to help raise money for the plaque, which he estimated at £150 or less. He will now meet officials to discuss the matter further and a report will be brought back to the committee.