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Sniffers of the stench of corruption….

August 3, 2015

Three examples from the golden age of political caricature featuring Henry Dundas, the first Viscount Melville….

Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

This one satirises the five-strong Commission of Naval Enquiry quizzing Dundas and the Navy paymaster Alexander Trotter (the guys in kilts).

The Commission’s dogged persistence revealed an enormous casino banking scandal and endemic corruption in the Navy overseen by Dundas. This was 200 years ago but some may see contemporary overtones in denials and attempts to thwart their work, undue Scottish influence in Westminster, and er…. the stench of banking corruption.

For a fuller account, see my piece in Public Finance magazine.

I think it is the work of Edinburgh-born Isaac Cruikshank who worked for most of his life in London. He drew another caricature of Dundas in 1805:

Courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland

Courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland

The third one is by of James Gilray, the foremost political cartoonist of his generation.  His earlier portrayal from 1788 shows Dundas at his empire building zenith at the East India Company straddling two continents.

There is no doubt that the power of the media then through caricature through Cruikshank and Gilray shaped public opinion and assisted in the ultimate disgrace of Dundas, although he still stands as the tallest statue in Edinburgh.

Dundas straddling continents in 1788, Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Dundas straddling continents in 1788, Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

More info:

The National Portrait Gallery’s extensive Gilray collection

The National Maritime Museum has a splendid array of  fine art and other Naval exhibits.

Hansard report on the impeachment and a fuller contemporary account  of the process.

History of Parliament profile of Dundas

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