Robert Melville was a partner in his uncle Robert Fall’s shipping, trading and fisheries company in Dunbar, East Lothian. When the business went bankrupt, he sought employment with the British Fisheries Society. In 1788, just a few weeks after the Society bought the land at Ullapool, he was appointed as their first contractor and merchant. He built the first houses, storehouses, workshops and pier, and owned three ships. Commissioned as commanding officer of the Ullapool Volunteers in 1798, he was given a set of matching duelling pistols by his ‘Subordinate Officers’ in 1802 – the year the Ullapool Volunteers were disbanded. Ullapool never developed as the Society had hoped. By 1803 Melville was bankrupt, and his Ullapool properties and possessions offered at public roup in 1808 and 1812.
The pistols were given to his daughter, Jane(t), who had married James Sym, a Paisley merchant in 1801. They remained in the Sym family until bought by Ullapool Museum at auction in Carlisle on 29 February 2008 following a public appeal to raise the funds.
“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” - Thomas Telford