Melvill Family Case Study: Conclusion

021 Philip-Melvill

Figure 21. Portrait of Philip Melvill in Pendennis Castle. Image courtesy of David Williams.


The Melvill family showed a commitment to the EIC (and its successor organisation) and India from the last years of the eighteenth century well into the twentieth century. They were a good example of those Scots who after the Act of Union took their opportunities with the British army and in the overseas empire to make their careers. By virtue of their EIC service, this Scottish family became increasingly English by marrying into established English families and settling in England. In the early years of the EIC, few of the employees had had university education but its increasing bureaucratisation in the nineteenth century is illustrated by the number of Melvill men who went to universities, especially Cambridge, as the century progressed. Those who did not follow the EIC/India route were usually successful in other spheres, whether in military or civilian life. Many of their daughters married into other, Indian-orientated families or other military men. Some of their families tended to be large with up to eleven children and had good survival rates.

When the EIC was disbanded in 1858 following the Indian Mutiny of the previous year, of the sons of Philip I there were two (JCM I and Philip II) in very senior positions in the London office, a third (Henry I) was principal of the EIC college at Haileybury and the fourth (Peter) had recently retired as Secretary of the Bombay presidency. Seven of the men of the next generation had started (or were about to start) their careers with the EIC and another joined the army and would be awarded a VC; of the women of this generation, five would marry civilians or army officers based in India.

While never achieving the highest offices of state, and without any of them being elevated to the peerage, nevertheless several of the Melvills were knighted and most seem to live comfortable lives both while working and in retirement. The family’s wealth and status derived from their association with the EIC in turn enriched diverse aspects of English culture in these and successive generations, including religious life, arts and sciences and architecture. In 1914, on the outbreak of WW1, the effect of the large families and good survival rates combined with a tendency towards public or military service resulted in over sixty of the first Philip Melvill’s descendants being directly involved in the First World War with at least fifty helping as nurses, medical orderlies, in factories or as other volunteers.

The chivalrous action of the Frenchman Colonel Lally, who was fighting with Hyder Ali at the Battle of Pollilur in 1780, in saving the life of a badly wounded twenty year-old lieutenant in the 73rd Highlanders was to have wide-ranging and significant effect on the history of the EIC and India and greatly assisted the British war effort from 1914.

022 lally srirangapatha mural

Figure 22. Detail from mural at the Summer Palace (see figure 2 in The First Generation section) featuring Colonel Lally at the Battle of Pollilur. Image courtesy of David Williams.

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