Friday, December 23, 2016

Melville or The Disambiguities

HMS Melville and Graham Island
HMS Melville off the volcanic Graham Island, 1831 via Wikimedia Commons
Any mention of "Melville" in old newspapers that is not about the American author Herman Melville (1819-1891) usually refers to one of the following persons, places, or things:
  1. Henry Melvill (1798–1871), often spelled Melville. The famous Anglican preacher.
  2. Lord Melville (1742-1811). Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville.
  3. Robert Dundas (1771-1851). Son of Henry Dundas, 2nd Viscount Melville and first Lord Admiral. Lord Melville after his father's death in 1811.
  4. Andrew Melville (1545-1622).  Scottish clergyman and scholar
  5. James Munro Melville (1835-1892). World-famous bareback rider and circus performer. His sons (Frank, George, Alexander) with wife Louise were all circus performers. 
  6. Henry Melville (1792-1870) the English artist and engraver. This H. Melville's sons Henry Alfred Melville and Harden Sydney Melville were also artists. In "Coincidentally, Herman Melville," the first chapter in Melvillean Ambiguities, John M. J. Gretchko reproduces and briefly discusses Henry Melville's illustration (from a drawing by Charles Stewart) of Afareaitu in the Island of Eimo" from the 1836 Christian Keepsake, edited by William Ellis.
  7. Dr. Henry Melville, Professor of Surgery in Toronto; subsequently lectured in New York City and elsewhere. Practiced in New York City at 54 West 28th Street. In the New York Daily Tribune on December 15, 1857 Dr. Melville offered "Four Lectures on the Modern Treatment of Consumption." In February 1859, "H. Melville, M.D." advertised a series of lectures on The Vital Forces at the Historical Society, endorsed by Dr. Francis and other luminaries of the medical profession.
  8. Melville Bay off the coast of northwestern Greenland.
  9. Melville Island. Trickier, but most often the one in the Canadian Arctic named after Robert Dundas (No. 3 above). This Melville Island frequently gets mentioned in stories about the search for polar explorer John Franklin.
  10. Schooner or Brig Melville. Royal Navy, HMS Lord Melville - 14 guns, served on Lake Ontario in the War of 1812.
  11. HMS Melville (1817). Royal Navy, 74-gun ship of the line.
  12. George John Whyte-Melville (1821-1878) the novelist.
  13. George W. Melville (1841-1912) the Navy explorer and engineer.
  14. Alexander Melville Bell (1819-1905) the phonetics researcher and teacher; developed system of Visible Speech. Father of Alexander Graham Bell.
  15. Melville W. Fuller (1833-1910) the lawyer, politician, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  16. Melville D. Landon (1839-1910) the American humorist.
Within Herman Melville's family, "Melville" could refer to his grandfather, father, uncle, brothers, cousins, brothers and sons:
  • Pierre Francois Wilson Henry Thomas Melvill or Melville (1806-1844). Herman's cousin, son of Thomas Jr. and his first wife Françoise Raymonde Eulogie Marie des Douleurs Lamé-Fleury (1781-1814). Midshipman on the Vincennes, he visited the Marquesas in 1829. This Thomas is the namesake of Herman's narrator "Tommo" in Typee.
  • Robert Melvill or Melville (1817-1881). Herman's cousin, son of Thomas Jr. and his second wife Mary Ann Augusta Hobart Melvill or Melville (1796-1884).
  • Gansevoort Melville (1815-1846). Herman's older brother. Lawyer, rousing democratic orator, diplomat in London before his early death there.
  • Allan Melville (1823-1872). Herman's younger brother, a lawyer. Married to Sophia Eliza Thurston (1827-1858); then Jane Louise Dempsey, who died in the Florence Apartments on March 30, 1890.
  • Thomas Melville (1830-1884). Herman's youngest brother, a sailor and captain, Governor of Sailors' Snug Harbor on Staten Island.
  • Malcolm Melville (1849-1867). Herman's son and first child with Elizabeth Shaw Melville.
Women in Herman Melville's family were never simply "Melville," of course; grandmother, mother, aunts, sisters, wife, daughters, and female cousins had to be addressed and designated in print with due respect as "Miss" or "Mrs." Or "Mother."
  • Mary Melvill or Melville (1778-1859). Herman's Aunt Mary, his father's sister. "Mrs. D'Wolf" after her marriage in 1814 to Captain John D'Wolf II (1779-1872).
  • Nancy Wroe Melvill or Melville (1780-1813). Herman's aunt, his father's sister who at the time of her death was engaged to Lemuel Shaw. 
  •  Priscilla Melvill or Melville (1784-1862) Herman's Aunt Priscilla or "Aunt P."; his father's youngest sister.
  • Mary Ann Augusta Hobart Melvill or Melville (1796-1884). Another Aunt Mary, second wife of his Uncle Thomas whom she married in 1815. (Ganddaughter of Henry Dearborn.)
  • Helen Maria Melville (1817-1888). Herman's oldest sister. "Mrs. Griggs" after her marriage to George Griggs on January 5, 1854.
  • Catherine Melville (1825-1905) Herman's sister "Kate"; "Mrs. Hoadley" after marriage to John C. Hoadley on September 15, 1853.
  • Frances Priscilla Melville (1827-1885). "Fanny," Herman's youngest sister.
  • Ann Marie Priscilla Melvill or Melville (1810-1858). Herman's cousin Priscilla, daughter of his Uncle Thomas with Thomas's first wife Françoise Raymonde Eulogie Marie des Douleurs Lamé-Fleury (1781-1814).
  • Elizabeth Melville (1853-1908); Herman and Lizzie's third child and first daughter "Bessie." 
  • Frances Melville Thomas (1855-1938). Daughter "Fannie," "Mrs. Thomas" after marriage to Henry Besson Thomas (1855-1934). Their oldest child (so Herman and Lizzie's first grandchild) is Eleanor Melville Thomas (1882-1964), "Mrs. Metcalf" after her marriage in April 1913 to Henry K. Metcalf.
For more genealogy, see the Melville entry in
In fiction, people named Melville figure in popular tales of history, gothic horror, adventure, and romance. Examples:


  1. The ship that carried Thomas Hood across the Channel in 1835, and that was almost wrecked on a lee shore, was also called the Lord Melville. I haven't made any effort to track down its history. Herman Melville would have read about it in Hood's book Up the Rhine, which he purchased in 1849.