Oswald, John Charles

Scope and Content

The collection comprises photographic and printed material relating to John Charles Oswald and the Oswald family, primarily during the period they were resident in Foochow [Fuzhou], China. The photographic material consists of eight photograph albums and a number of loose photographs. Seven of the albums contain photographs of the Oswald family at their homes in Foochow and Kuliang [Guling], formal and social occassions, horse racing, and locations in China including the port at Foochow. The eighth album contains photographs of Cambodia and Indonesia. Many of the photographs were taken by John Oswald, although the albums contain photographs taken by others as well as commercially available photographs. The albums may have been compiled by Nina Louisa Oswald, John Oswald's wife. The printed material consists of publications relating to China, some of which were given as gifts to John or Nina Oswald.

In addition to the photographic and printed material, the collection also contains an album of watercolours depicting Chinese professions, including a sequence showing the various stages in the production and shipping of tea.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Charles Oswald (1857-1930), tea merchant, was born in Croydon and educated in Heidelberg. Aged 16, he started work with a tea importers in London, with whom he remained for the next 13 years. Oswald then left Britain for China, travelling to Foochow [Fuzhou] in the late 1880s. In 1888 Oswald was working for Odell & Co., merchants, as a clerk. By 1890 he had moved to Bathgate & Co., where he was to stay, becoming manager later in the 1890s.

In addition to his work for Bathgate & Co. Oswald did work for other companies, including Fairhurst & Co. in the 1900s and Gilman & Co. at a later date. Oswald was also a consul for the Netherlands from the 1890s and later vice-consul for Norway.

Oswald married Nina Louisa Day, the daughter of Reverend A.B. Day, of Fishponds, near Bristol, on 4 May 1896. The couple had three children, Yvonne, Cynthia ('Bunch'), and John.

In Foochow, Oswald lived in his house 'Tai Hing' (which was the hong, or registered Chinese name, of Bathgate & Co.). Along with many of the foreign merchants in Foochow, Oswald spent parts of the summer at Kuliang (Guling), which provided a cooler escape from the city. He was active in local social circles, including serving in a variety of positions on the committee of the Foochow Club (of which his son was also a member). In the stables at 'Tai Hing' Oswald kept racehorses, and he rode as an amateur jockey at Foochow racecourse. He was also a keen photographer – a photograph of him in one of his albums is captioned 'Mr Camera' (see MS 380876/06/101).

Oswald received the Order of the Double Dragon from China, the Order of St Olaf from Norway, the Order of Orange-Nassau from the Netherlands, and a medal from the Red Cross for famine relief work.

Oswald died in 1930. His remains were returned to Britain after cremation in Foochow.


'The Directory & Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Straits Settlements, Malay States, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, the Philippines, &c.' Hongkong: Hongkong Daily Press Office. 1888-1922 [title varies]

Wright, A. 'Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and Other Treaty Ports of China'. 1908; p.838

Correspondence with the family of J.C. Oswald


The collection has been arranged as follows:

MS 380876/01-07: photograph albums of China

MS 380876/08: photograph album of Cambodia and Indonesia

MS 380876/09: loose photographs

MS 380876/10: watercolour album

MS 380876/11-12: ephemera

MS 380876/13: typescript article on Chinese art by Cynthia Eaton

MS 380876/14-20: published material

MS 380876/21: tea caddy

Where items have been digitised and are available online as part of the University of Bristol's 'Historical Photographs of China' project, the HPC references are cited in the 'Alternative reference' field. See 'Copies' below for further information.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated to SOAS Library in 2004

Alternative Form Available

Five of the photograph albums (MS 380876/1-5) have been digitised as part of the University of Bristol's 'Historical Photographs of China' project (see www.hpcbristol.net), under the references Os01, Os02, Os03, Os04, Os05, Os-n, and Os-s. Please note that the albums have not been digitised in their entirety. Only those photographs relating to China in these albums are included in the project.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Copyright held by SOAS, University of London

Related Material

Related collections at SOAS include those associated with the Chinese Maritime Customs, such as Francis Arthur Aglen (MS 211355); Edward Charles Mackintosh Bowra and Cecil Arthur Verner (PP MS 69); Reginald Follett Cordrington Hedgeland (PP MS 82); Hugh Gordon Lowder (PP MS 81); and Frederick Maze (PP MS 2). Other collections relating to business in China include John Swire & Sons Ltd (JSS) and the China Association archive (CHAS). Other collections including photographs of China are Henry Rue (MS 381233); Robert Ruxton (MS 381142); and the Godsil and White families (MS 380511).

Photographs from the Oswald collection are included in the 'Historical Photographs of China' project at the University of Bristol (www.hpcbristol.net), which includes photographs from many other sources.