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Defending Dundas Against the Hateful Mob

Dundas Monument, St Andrew's Sq, Edinburgh. AFFG 25-8-18

This is an updated version of the article which appeared originally on this site on 28 August 2018.

It is basic revolutionary ideology that if you want to destroy a country then you constantly attack its moral legitimacy – the idea that it is a good thing in itself.

You do that by trying to forget its history and notable figures, and where you cannot forget them, you attack them openly.

You portray the history and persons of the past as "bad", as something "shameful" to feel "guilty" about.

If you break the affection which people have with the past, and their forefathers, then their minds become yours to mould to your advantage.

Those who want to destroy the United Kingdom, therefore, constantly attack British history and people.

It's a necessary part of a political agenda to set up a new Year Zero Country where everything is going to be "Perfect" because Human Frailty will be No More.

This is one of the reasons why our Facebook page has a British History post every day. We won't let our past be forgotten, or attacked.

We are always alert to the signs.

For example, in August 2018, the Scottish Executive removed all reference on its website to the Glaswegian Sir John A Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada. He's now a "non person" to them.

This relates to the controversy that his "residential boarding schools" for indigenous children in Canada were abusive – even though, by the standards of the time, they were a well-intentioned effort to integrate such children into modern Western life.

We were also disturbed to read an article in The Herald (24-8-18) by Rosemary Goring who wrote – in relation to the massive Henry Dundas column in St Andrew's Square, Edinburgh that:

"...instead of removing his statue in St Andrew Square the authorities are considering rewording his plague, to include the discreditable aspects of his career. If it could be hung around his neck all the better."

Of course, we were alarmed to read that someone might write up the (supposedly) "discreditable aspects of his career" in order to beshit his monument.

This prompted us to investigate what the plaque says.

We visited the monument the next day, 25-8-18, and took these pictures.

As of that date, there are 3 written plaques connected with the monument. The only plaque on the monument itself is to Robert Stevenson, the civil engineer who superintended the building of it.

Plaque on Dundas monument. AFFG 25-8-18.

There is a permanent stone plaque at the entrance to the Square, off George Street.

Stone plaque at Dundas Monument. AFFG 25-8-18.

It says:


Erected in 1823 in memory of Henry Dundas (1742-1811) First Viscount Melville and a dominant figure in politics for over four decades. Besides being Treasurer to the Navy he was Lord Advocate & Keeper of the Scottish Signet. The subscription for the monument was raised by members of the Royal Navy. It was designed by William Burn and the statue is by Chantrey.

This covers, very briefly, all the essential points – which we need to know.

1. Who the monument is for.

2. His dates of birth and death, thereby locating him in the historical period.

3. Some of the positions he held.

4. How the statue was funded and when it was erected.

5. Who designed the monument and who designed the statue on top.

Those of us who are interested can look into him further and draw our own conclusions about the man himself.

As we move closer to the monument, there is a plastic Notice in the Garden.

Plastic plaque at Dundas Monument. AFFG 25-8-18.

It says:


The centrepiece of the Garden is the Melville Monument – an imposing statue of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville PC and Baron Dunira (28 April 1742 – 28 May 1811). He was a Scottish lawyer and politician and was the first Secretary of State for War. In 1804 he became the Lord of the Admiralty and the last person to be impeached (1806) in the United Kingdom. The monument to Henry Dundas was funded by voluntary contribution from officers, petty officers, seamen and marines and erected in 1821, with the statue placed on top in 1828. (1)

That tells us some basics, but it is not as neutral as the stone plaque.

It highlights a less than edifying element of his career (impeachment). Why was that necessary to mention?

After all, the monument was not erected to commemorate the fact that he was the last person in the United Kingdom to be impeached!

It adds a dark cloud overall. It suggests that the person who compiled the brief description is not a fan.

And that is the problem.

Once you start to hint at, or describe a "bad" element of someone's life, then why not also mention the good elements?

We start getting into the realm of subjectivity, where the natural prejudices of the writer can tend to take precedence.

You'll quickly find that it is difficult to strike a fair and balanced perspective, unless you want to write an entire essay on the subject!

Therefore, plaques on statues should either be as neutral as possible – giving us just the basic objective facts we need to know, such as the brevity on the stone plaque.

Or, if you are going to be subjective about it, then be hugely positive!

But if the plaque is going to be negative, rather than neutral or positive – raising the (supposedly) "discreditable aspects of his career" – then why bother allowing the statue in the first place! It is as if you are just using the statue as "a prop" for your lecture!

So, who was Dundas, and why is there a controversy about him?

"No-One did More" than Dundas to Promote the Interests of the Scots

He was born in Dalkeith on 28 April 1742. He died on 28 May 1811 in Edinburgh.

Such was his influence that he became known as the "uncrowned King of Scotland".

Jeremy Paxman has written that "no-one did more" to promote the interests of the Scots in the British Empire than Dundas.

Dundas was Home Secretary under William Pitt the Younger between 1791-1794, and was at the forefront of promoting Britain's interests worldwide, and particularly those of his native Scots.

Paxman writes:

"In Gillray's famous cartoon he stands, kilted, with one foot in London and the other in India, as fleets of merchant ships pass between his legs. Three of his brothers made the journey to the subcontinent, and two of them never returned.

But India was much more than a family business: so great was Dundas's more general patronage that the wit Sydney Smith observed that 'as long as he is in office, the Scotch may beget younger sons with the most perfect impunity. He sends them by loads to the East Indies and all over the world.'

"A pattern had been set. In the two centuries following the Union, Scotland provided governors, governors general, residents, district commissioners and agents. In the wilderness of northern Canada the Hudson's Bay Company was represented by Orcadians.

"Kilted Highlanders were glorified for their roles in the Indian Mutiny and the Boer War. Tropical newspaper offices were presided over by men with soft Highland accents. Lowland doctors treated tropical sicknesses. Scots built enormous trading companies, created botanical gardens, commanded merchant vessels.

"There were Scottish farmers, shopkeepers, lawyers and teachers everywhere. 'We want more Scots. Give us Scots. Give us the whole population of Glasgow,' screamed the mayor of Sandhurst, South Australia. Glasgow itself was soon calling itself 'The Second City of the Empire', the Clyde was an imperial artery, and when a Glasgow company met the military's request for the world's first instant coffee (Camp Coffee – it had a large dose of chicory mixed in) its label showed a Sikh bearer waiting on a kilted Gordon Highlander." (2)

So, he was a big mover and shaker in the British Empire. That's one reason why some people don't like him!

Dundas and the Slavery Controversy

Another excuse which the Scottish Nationalists, and the troublemakers of various race-hustling movements, use to attack Dundas is that they claim he was "a slavery profiteer" who was "a nemesis of William Wilberforce" and "who helped delay abolition for two decades". See article by Cat Boyd. (3)

However, the fact is that Henry Dundas was, as Michael Fry has written, "instrumental in prohibiting not only negro slavery but also native serfdom in Scotland". (4)

This relates to the case of Joseph Knight, a slave brought back to Perthshire from the West Indies by his "master" John Wedderburn. Considering his "pocket money" too low he gave Wedderburn notice that he would leave and look for a job. Knight lost the first round at court, but he won on appeal. Wedderburn appealed to the Court of Session (the highest civil court in Scotland).

Dundas, who was Lord Advocate – the chief legal officer for the Crown in Scotland – spoke for Knight and won the case. James Boswell, the associate of Samuel Johnson, wrote: "I cannot too highly praise the speech which Mr Dundas generously contributed to the cause of the sooty stranger." (5)

It was this 1778 case which established that slavery was illegal in Scotland.

In other words, it was Henry Dundas, who as Lord Advocate – the chief legal officer for the Crown in Scotland – won the case which established that slavery was illegal in Scotland! Those who attack Dundas don't bother to point that out!

As far as his relations with Wilberforce, the slavery abolitionist, are concerned, this relates to the period in the British Parliament around April 1792.

Dundas was not opposed to abolition; rather he was concerned to gradually abolish it over a period of years in order to mitigate what he considered were the economic impacts upon the West Indies.

Dundas stated in Parliament: "That the slave trade ought to be abolished, I have already declared. But I believe that any other than a gradual abolition will be attended with bad consequences to the public...The co-operation of the legislators of the West Indian islands will be absolutely necessary to give effect to that mode of abolition which I conceive to be the most eligible." (6)

With a range of suggested policies, he aimed to seek, as Fry has described, "a deal offering something to everyone: a stop to a great part of the trade at once, to the rest within a reasonable period, with allowance for adjustment by those bound to be financially affected." (7)

That approach had to be taken because otherwise slavery was not going to be abolished.

However, even this diplomatic and gradualist approach, which sought to build the broadest support for the measure, was defeated in the Lords (8).

To claim that Dundas was deliberately obstructive towards Wilberforce is wrong.

It is also wrong to suggest that he somehow "delayed" the abolition of slavery.

It could just as easily be argued that he hastened the abolition of slavery.

After all, slavery was not going to be abolished unless the plantation owners received compensation. It was Dundas's ideas which encouraged that possibility and helped to set the wheels of abolition in motion.

We could just as easily say that his ideas helped to speed the abolition, rather than "delay" it.

In any case, it was the trade in slaves in the British Empire which was abolished by The Slave Trade Act 1807. The practice of slavery was not abolished until The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (22 years after Dundas died). The 1833 Act expanded the jurisdiction of the Slave Trade Act 1807 and made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire.

Scotland's Rich and Proud Colonial History

We don't, however, expect any of the above to change the view of the Scottish Nationalists and troublemakers who attack him.

As we said at the start of this article, they are all about dumping on our past in order to remould the present.

Interestingly, in her article, Boyd sees Scotland's relative ignorance of our colonial history as some sort of advantage to her anti-British political point of view because it means that the British identity in Scotland is not as strong as it could be.

Or as she puts it: "For now, the vacuum of Scottish debate over colonialism is an advantage, albeit a hypocritical one. It leaves less space for hard right, conservative Scottish/British identity."

Putting aside the "hard right" smear, she may well be right!

We've always believed that ignorance of our British Empire history has led to less of a sense of Britishness in Scotland.

She also thinks that if her lot of cultural philistines tried to dismantle the statue of Dundas, that nobody would put up a defence of it.

Previously she may have been correct.

What she has since failed to note is that the referendum in 2014 has changed everything. Such threats are seen as much more of a serious matter. People are awakening to the importance of their cultural inheritance – our British heritage which we enjoy today – in a way which did not exist prior to 2014.

For our part, we are dedicated to remembering our Scottish and British colonial history and promoting it as having been largely A Force For Good in the world.

Please help us continue our entertaining and educational research into British Unionism by supporting us as a monthly donor from as little as £1.15 a week (£5 a month). We rely entirely upon our Union Supporters to keep this work going. Thank you to all the wonderful people who help keep our show on the road!


1) We notice that "1821" is a different date from the date of "1823" on the stone entrance plaque.

2) Jeremy Paxman, Empire, (Penquin paperback, 2011), pp.52-53.

3) Cat Boyd, "It's about time Scotland confronted its own racist, colonial past", The National, 22-8-17.

4) Michael Fry, The Dundas Despotism, (Edinburgh University Press, 1992), at 199. (The title of Fry's book is intended to be ironic. He contradicts the erroneous notion of "despotism".)

5) Ibid, at 59.

6) Ibid, at 200.

7) Ibid.

8) Ibid, at 201

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