The name Dundas (the emphasis should be on the second syllable) is derived from a place name near Edinburgh which, in Gaelic was "dun deas" (south fort). The first record of the name is Helias de Dundas in the reign of William the Lion in 1200. He may have been a descendant of Gospatrick, earl of March. His descendants styled themselves as Dundas of that Ilk, signifying the head of a landed family and held their property until the 19th century.
In the reign of King James III>, Sir Archibald Dundas was a favourite of the king and was sent on missions to England. James IV> later gave a grant of lands to the Dundas family.
The main branches of the family can be found in Duddingston in Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Blair Castle, Arniston and in Fingask in Perthshire.
The 18th Laird of Dundas supported the cause of the Covenanters and was a member of the committee which tried the first Marquis of Montrose when he refused to support the extreme aspects of Presbyterianism. Sir James Dundas was knighted by King Charles I> in 1641 and became a Member of Parliament. On the restoration of the monarchy (in 1660), he became a member of the supreme court, with the title Lord Arniston, in 1662. There were a number of further generations of Dundas (all confusingly named Robert) who became judges also.
William Dundas of Kincavel was a supporter of the Jacobites> in 1715 and was afterwards imprisoned. The 23rd Laird joined the East India Company and died in a shipwreck off the coast of Madagascar in 1792.
The most famous Dundas was Henry, 1st Viscount Melville, who lived from 1742 to 1811. He held the office of Lord Advocate, Keeper of the Signet and Privy Seal and, by controlling political patronage in Scotland, he had considerable power in the Westminster Parliament. He was instrumental in taking over India (from the East India Company) and large numbers of Scots gained the opportunity to work there as a result. He was also the driving force behind the repeal of the Proscription Act which banned the wearing of tartan and the carrying of weapons (implemented as a result of the 1745 Uprising in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie). A Bill in 1784 also restored forfeited land to the Jacobites. His power as a politician was unequalled in his day and has not been matched since, lending his support to a succession of UK Prime Ministers. He built a house in St Andrew Square in Edinburgh (pictured here). It is now the head office of the Royal Bank of Scotland> and is fronted by a statue of Viscount Dundas, designed by William Burn.
The Dundas clan motto is "Essayez" which means "Try".
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