New wording for plaque at Melville Monument agreed

A plaque providing a more representative story of Henry Dundas will erected at the Melville Monument in St Andrew Square. 

The form of words was proposed following a meeting of Council Leader Adam McVey, Depute Leader Cammy Day, Edinburgh World Heritage, Prof Geoffrey Palmer and an expert from the University of Edinburgh with a view to agreeing a new form of words as quickly as possible and then formalised by Councillors today (Thursday 11 June).

The new plaque, which will be created and installed as soon as possible, will read: 

“On the plinth at the centre of St Andrew Square stands a neoclassical column with a statue at the top. This represents Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742 – 1811). He was the Scottish Lord Advocate and an MP for Edinburgh and Midlothian, and the First Lord of the Admiralty. Dundas was a contentious figure, provoking controversies that resonate to this day. While Home Secretary in 1792 and first Secretary of State for War in 1796 he was instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Slave trading by British ships was not abolished until 1807. As a result of this delay, more than half a million enslaved Africans crossed the Atlantic. Dundas also curbed democratic dissent in Scotland. 

"Dundas both defended and expanded the British empire, imposing colonial rule on indigenous peoples. He was impeached in the United Kingdom for misappropriation of public money and although acquitted, he never held public office again. Despite this, the monument before you 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 1827.   

"In 2020 this was dedicated to the memory of the more than half a million Africans whose enslavement was a consequence of Henry Dundas’s actions." 

Council Leader Adam McVey said:

It’s right that a more accurate description has been agreed for the plaque at the statue of Henry Dundas. It’s important that a more appropriate and factual description is in place so that people who visit the area can read about the monument and get an appreciation of Edinburgh’s history, and particularly the City’s role in the slave trade.
This is of course just one part of Edinburgh’s history and one small change that we’ve been able to make – we should take many more actions to tackle prejudice now and that includes looking at how we tell our history as it was, not as we wished it had been.

Depute Leader Cammy Day added:

At our meeting earlier today we universally agreed that is no place for racism, prejudice, discrimination, intolerance and hate in Edinburgh and that we will continue to nurture and enhance the Capital’s globally renowned reputation as a safe, welcoming, inclusive city for anyone, from anywhere, to live, work, study, and visit.

This plaque describing Henry Dundas in a more accurate context is an important, if overdue, step in confronting our often uncomfortable history. I hope we continue to take more.

Published: June 11th 2020