Correspondence of the Oswald family of Auchincruive, including Richard Oswald (1705-1784)

Scope and Content

The collection is composed of correspondence to Richard Oswald (1705-1784) and the correspondence of Richard Alexander Oswald, M.P. (1771-1841), his cousin James Oswald, M.P., and the latter's nephew Alexander Oswald, M.P., all of whom had succeeded in turn to the Auchincruive estates. More specifically there is: a batch of letters to Richard Oswald of Auchincruive from various correspondents in Scotland relating to the management of his Scottish estates and to business transactions, 1764-1884; letters of Richard Oswald Alexander to D. Campbell, 1836-1837, and letters to Oswald from various correspondents including J. Kermack, W.S. 1804-1826. And also: a letter from A. Oswald to R. A. Oswald in Italy, 1817; letters of Alexander Oswald to R. Oswald, 1774-1778; letter from Alexander Oswald to his aunt Miss E. Oswald, describing the coronation of Queen Victoria, 1838; letter of Alexander Oswald to his sisters at Ardrossan, 1839; letters to Alexander Oswald from brother, sister, aunts, Uncle James Oswald M.P., and grandmother, and also from the 10th Duke of Hamilton and from Messrs. Dundas and Wilson, 1829-1845; letters of George Oswald to R. Oswald, 1769-1772; letter of George Oswald to his brother Alexander, 1841; letter to George Oswald from A. Hain, 1793; letter of J, Oswald to R. A. Oswald in Paris, 1817; letters of James Oswald M.P. to his nephew Alexander Oswald, 1829-1843; letter of James Oswald M.P. to his sister Miss Oswald, 1838; letters to James Oswald M.P. from various correspondents, 1838-1846; letters of Mrs. Margaret Oswald to her grandson Alexander Oswald in Madeira and Pau, 1829; and, letters of Mrs. Margaret Oswald to her nephew Alexander Oswald, 1829 and 1831.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Oswald family of Auchincruive and Scotstoun were of northern origin, coming from Caithness and Orkney. They include Alex Oswald who had been a baillie and an elder in Thurso, 1647, and James Oswald of Kirkwall, in Orkney, who died about the year 1660. The son of the latter, also James Oswald, was one of the magistrates of Wick, and married Barbara, a daughter of Coghill of that ilk. He in turn had two sons, James and George, the former becoming minister of Watten, and the latter minister of Dunnet, in the county of Caithness.

The Rev. James Oswald, Minister of Watten, was born on 26 January 1654. He entered the ministry in 1682. He had two sons Richard and Alexander Oswald. The two went to Glasgow and went into business, becoming very successful. In 1739, they bought the estate of Scotstoun, Renfrewshire, from their fortune. Their father died on 4 November 1698.

The Rev. George Oswald (d. 1725), Minister of Dunnet (appointed in 1697), also had two sons, James and Richard Oswald. James succeeded his father as Minister of Dunnett, and later Methven, and he died in 1793. Richard, his brother, had gone to Glasgow early in his life, to his cousins, and then to London.

Like his cousins, he too became wealthy, his fortune arising from military contracting work for the Government, and from business in America. In 1759 he purchased the estate of Cavens, in Kirkcudbright, and that of Auchincruive, in Ayrshire. He also had a house in Westminster. In 1783 Oswald was appointed Plenipotentiary for Great Britain and sent to Paris to reach a peace treaty with the new United States of America. Preliminary agreement was reached with Dr Benjamin Franklin of the USA, on 30 November 1782, and a definitive Treaty of Versailles between Britain, France, Spain and the United States was concluded on 3 September 1783. Through the treaty, Britain recognised the independence of the new country and dropped claims on behalf of the loyal colonists, and the States agreed to relinquish claims to Canada and Nova Scotia. On the conclusion of the preliminary agreement, Oswald and Franklin exchanged portraits.

Richard Oswald died at Auchincruive on 6 November 1784. On his death, the whole of his property was left in life-rent to his widow, Mary Alexander Ramsay who died on 6 December 1788. On her death, by the terms of the will, his nephew, George Oswald of Scotstoun, succeeded as heir to one portion of the extensive estate, and his grand-nephew, Richard Alexander Oswald, to the other. George Oswald was the head of the tobacco firm of Oswald, Dennistoun and Company, Glasgow, and was a partner in the Ship Bank. He had been elected Rector of Glasgow University in 1797 and had sat for a portrait by Gainsborough. He died on 6 October 1819.

The work by Edward Walford, The county families of the United Kingdom (1885) listed a later Richard Alexander Oswald of Auchincruive (born 1841) and of Cavens, Kircudbrightshire. He was the elder son of a George Oswald of Auchincruive, J.P. and D.L. who died in 1871. His heir at the time of publication was his half-brother Julian Oswald, son of George Oswald by his second wife. Julian Oswald was born in 1860.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

With Accession no. E60.2, probably acquired 1960.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Walford, Edward The county families of the United Kingdom, or Royal manual of the titled and untitled aristocracy of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. 25th annual pub. London: Chatto and Windus, 1885. (2) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 14. Myllar-Owen. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909. (3) Calder, J. T. History of Caithness. Chapter 15. Full-text [online].  [Accessed 27 February 2003].

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various other references to Oswald related material in the Laing Collection and elsewhere (check the Indexes for more details): letter to D. Laing from Alexander Oswald, 1816, at La.IV.6; letter to James Oswald, M.P. from the Duke of Hamilton about the Ministers to Churches Bill, 1834; and, franked postal cover addressed by James Oswald M.P. to Mrs Fowler, 1837.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes for Richard Oswald (1705-1784): letterbooks (10 vols), 1759-1784, Yale University Libraries, Beinecke Library; and, correspondence (3 vols), 1761-1784, National Archives of Scotland, Ref. GD213 NRA 34739 Oswald. For Richard Oswald (1782-1818), Merchant and Army Clothier HMC notes: correspondence and papers, Private, NRA 21704 Oswald.