DUNDAS, Charles (1751-1832), of Barton Court, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. 5 Aug. 1751, 2nd s. of Thomas Dundas† of Fingask, Stirling by 2nd w. Lady Janet Maitland, da. of Charles, 6th Earl of Lauderdale [S]. educ. Edinburgh h.s.; Edinburgh Univ. 1768; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1769; M. Temple 1774, called 1777. m. (1) 16 Feb. 1782, Anne (d. 29 Nov. 1812), da. and h. of Ralph Whitley of Aston Hall, Flints., 1da.; (2) 25 Jan. 1822, his cos. Margaret, da. of Hon. Charles Barclay Maitland, wid. of Charles Ogilvy of Inchmartin, Perth and of Maj. Archibald Erskine of Venlaw, Peebles, s.p. cr. Baron Amesbury 16 May 1832.
Counsellor to Prince of Wales as gt. steward of Scotland 1785-1820.
Col. White Horse (Berks.) vol. cav. 1797, lt.-col. commdt. 1799, capt. commdt. 1803, lt.-col. commdt. 1804.
Before the interlude in his parliamentary career which began in 1786 Dundas, who had been elected to Brooks’s in 1777, had opposed Pitt. His attempt to return to Parliament at a by-election for Berkshire in August 1794 coincided with the receipt of a peerage by his cousin and former political patron, Sir Thomas Dundas*, as his share in the spoils of the Portland Whigs on their coalition with government, and there was confusion among local observers as to his current political views. Richard Benyon told Earl Fitzwilliam, 27 Aug., that Dundas was ‘supposed not to be so hostile to French principles as could be wished’ but, having heard that he was ‘supported by government’, concluded that ‘he has satisfied them that he is right in politics’; whereas Richard Aldworth Neville noted, 6 Sept., that he ‘professes himself an enemy to democracy’. Even Fitzwilliam was unsure of his ‘old friend’, as he told Benyon, 28 Aug.:
I don’t know, but I think we may be sanguine enough to hope, that he will support aristocracy when he gets into the House, whatever may appear to be his connexions without: however ... if there appeared anything in his professions... that leaned to Jacobinism, I should turn short upon him, and give him that for a reason.
At his unopposed election Dundas to some extent justified this uncertainty by avowing the ‘decided attachment’ to the existing constitution which present circumstances necessitated, but declaring himself in favour of an honourable and propitiously timed peace.1
‘Although’, in his own words, he ‘had been disposed to vote in general with ministers’, Dundas supported Grey’s motion for peace negotiations, 26 Jan., also sided with opposition in favour of Sumner’s amendment concerning the Prince of Wales’s debts, 1 June, Fox’s call for peace, 29 Oct., and against the seditious meetings bill, 25 Nov. 1795, and was listed as ‘con’ by Rose in that year. He voted for the abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. 1796.
Despite claiming to be ‘almost tired of Parliament’, Dundas fought the contested election of 1796 with vigour and ‘found I had a strong support in many places from my being a friend to peace of which I am sorry to say there appears to be but a distant prospect’.2 He was comfortably returned and established an unassailable position in the county, for which he was elected at the following nine general elections. He voted spasmodically in opposition to government in the first session of the new Parliament and supported Grey’s proposals for parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797, but he voted for the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798. He cannot be positively identified as voting against Pitt’s ministry after 1797, but it seems likely that he was one of the three Dundases reported to have supported Grey’s motion on the state of the nation, 25 Mar. 1801. On 11 Feb. 1801 he was nominated as Speaker by Sheridan in opposition to Mitford, but was deemed ineligible, ‘not having taken the oaths’. When again proposed, 10 Feb. 1802, by Sheridan and Lord George Cavendish to stand against Abbot, he declined, observing that ‘my highest ambition is to continue what I have been described to be, a simple but independent Member of Parliament’.3
Dundas defended the volunteers against Windham’s attack, 10 Aug. 1803, but he supported the motions of Manners Sutton, 31 Mar. 1802, and Calcraft, 4 Mar. 1803, concerning the Prince of Wales’s finances and was classed by Rose in his list of early 1804 as a follower of Fox. He evidently took no part in the general attack on Addington, however, and in Rose’s list of May 1804 was reckoned an adherent of the fallen minister. Dundas’s opposition to the additional force bill in June led to his inclusion among the followers of Fox and Grenville in the list of September. He voted against government on the state of the defences, 21 Feb., and the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 6 Mar. 1805, but did not participate in the attack on Melville. On 22 Jan. 1806 he stated that had Sheridan not taken the matter up, he would himself have moved the repeal of the Additional Force Act, an ‘impracticable’ and ‘grievous, unfair and unjust’ measure; and he was teller for the majority in favour of the second reading of the repeal bill, 30 Apr. 1806. He assured Lord Howick, 3 Oct. 1806, that he was ‘a constant supporter’ of the ‘Talents’4 and voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr. 1807.
Although Dundas voted consistently in opposition to government for the rest of the period, he declined to commit himself to a formal party allegiance. His attitude may be gauged from his refusal, despite his ‘complete approval’ of the scheme, to sign the requisition to Tierney in August 1818, when Lord Duncannon, showing no surprise, commented that Dundas objected only to signing his name to anything, and that he ‘never will attend party meetings’.5 Dundas was evidently only a spasmodic attender, particularly between 1807 and 1814. There is no record, for example, of his having taken part in the attacks on the Copenhagen expedition in 1808, or the Duke of York in 1809; but he did turn up to vote with opposition on the Scheldt inquiry in 1810 and the Regency proposals in 1811. Perceval proposed him for the finance committee, 31 Jan. 1810, but he was not appointed. From 1815 his attendance showed some improvement, and he cast his fair share of votes in favour of economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation, speaking against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816. On some contentious issues his attitude was progressive. He continued to support parliamentary reform, voting for Brand’s motion, 21 May 1810, and Burdett’s, 20 May 1817 and 1 July 1819, and indicating his willingness to promote moderate change on the hustings in 1812.6 He opposed the renewal of a war of extermination against Buonaparte on both Whitbread’s motion, 28 Apr., and the official opposition amendment, 25 May 1815, and voted against the introduction and third reading of the seditious meetings bill, 24 Feb. and 14 Mar., and against the suspension of habeas corpus in both February and June 1817. He voted for Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819. He was not present at the Berkshire meeting to consider the Peterloo incident, 15 Nov. 1819, and, after voting for Tierney’s amendment to the address, 24 Nov., apparently took no further part in the resistance to the government’s repressive legislation. He consistently supported Roman Catholic claims.
Dundas, who harboured no high political ambitions, and took pride in his self-consciously independent stance, was a diligent and respected private Member. He brought in a bill to facilitate the planting of potatoes in common land, 18 Mar. 1801, and was involved in the promotion of measures to regulate the sale of corn by weight, 26 Apr. 1796, and to strengthen the hand of magistrates in dealing with offenders, June 1804. His interests extended to reform of the Poor Laws (he sat on the committees of inquiry, 1817-19), electoral law reform, the amelioration of hardships caused by tax collection and the encouragement of inland navigation.7 William Elliot* assessed him, 10 Dec. 1812, as ‘a man of good plain understanding but without much dexterity or acuteness. At the same time he is a person of weight and is respected in the House’.8 He died 30 June 1832.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Berks. RO, Benyon mss; Neville mss; Reading Mercury, 22 Sept. 1794.
- 2. Add. 36498, ff. 85, 96.
- 3. Colchester, i. 232, 285.
- 4. Grey mss.
- 5. Hants RO, Tierney mss 23a.
- 6. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 31 Oct. 1812.
- 7. Debrett, xliii. 348; (ser. 3), iv. 378; xiv. 392; Parl. Deb. xvi. 449, 831; xxviii. 122; xxxii. 737.
- 8. NLS mss 13335.