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The Scottish Nation

OSWALD, an Anglo-Saxon name. The first syllable, like Ead or Ed, in Edward, Edmund, Edwin, Edgar, &c., was intended to show derivation and family relationship by the use of similar personal names, a practice which seems to have been common in Anglo-Saxon families, thus, Oswald, Oslaf, Oslac, Oswin, Osfrith, Osrie, Osbald, &c. Mr. Kemble, in his ingenious and valuable work ‘On the Names, Surnames, and Nicknames of the Anglo-Saxons,’ gives several instances of this practice.

Since the end of the 17th century a family of the name of Oswald have possessed the estate of Dunnikeir, in the parish of Dysart, Fifeshire, on part of which the village of Pathhead is built. This property anciently belonged to the family of Lundin of Balgonie, and afterwards, according to Sibbald, to a Mr. John Watson, who built the old house in Pathhead, and mortified several acres of land near Burntisland for maintaining poor widows.

Persons of the name of Oswald have for arms, Azure, a naked boy, pointing at a star, in the dexter chief point.

The family of Oswald of Fingalton had, Azure, a savage wreathed about the middle with bay leaves, having a sheaf of arrows hanging by his side, and bearing a bow in his left hand, all proper, and pointing with the other hand to a comet, placed in the dexter chief point, or. Crest, a dexter hand, issuing out of a cloud, and pointing to a star of eight rays, proper. Motto, “Forti favet Coelum.” (Nisbet’s System of Heraldry, vol. i.)

One of the most eminent of the family of Oswald of Dunnikeir was the Right Hon. James Oswald of Dunnikeir, a statesman and patriot, who was long a member of parliament. Born in 1715 in the town of Kirkcaldy, he was educated at the burgh school, where he had for associates Dr. Adam Smith and Dr. John Drysdale, with whom he continued his friendship during life. Through his influence the latter gentleman obtained a presentation to a city charge in Edinburgh. Mr. Oswald was the eldest of four sons. His next brother was promoted to the dignity of a bishop. His father died young. After having the advantage of foreign travel, he passed advocate in 1740, but it does not appear that he ever practiced at the Scottish bar.

At an early period of his life Mr. Oswald had shown a decided taste for literature, and had prosecuted literary pursuits with great ardour. He had also made considerable proficiency in classical learning. Politics, however, and public business soon withdrew his attention from studies in which, had he continued to cultivate them, he bade fair to attain high distinction. One long an intimate in his family, and himself an elegant scholar, left this posthumous record respecting his literary attainments and connexions: -- :That eminent person, Mr. Oswald, who joined the accomplishments of a scholar to the qualities of a statesman, willingly gave the leisure he could spare to the company of men of letters, whom he valued, and who held his great talents in high estimation. He was the first patron of Douglas; David Hume submitted to him his Essays on Political Economy, and the pages of his History, before they went to the press, drew from his deep insight into the political state of England, both in ancient and modern times, many valuable remarks. Lord Kames consulted him upon his literary labours, and Adam Smith was indebted to that large and comprehensive mind, for many of the views of Finance, that are found in the Wealth of Nations.”

In 1751 Mr. Oswald was elected member of parliament for his native town and conjoined burghs, and in every succeeding parliament he was returned either for these burghs or for the county of Fife, until 1768, when ill health compelled him to vacate his seat in favour of his son, James Townsend Oswald. He filled successively the situations of commissioner of the navy, lord of trade and plantations, lord of the treasury, and treasurer of Ireland, and was also a member of the privy council. George II. and George III., sensible of his merits, conferred upon him valuable marks of their consideration, and each bestowed a reversionary grant on his son, of an honourable patent office which he held. The ‘Memorials of the Public Life and Character of the Right Hon. James Oswald of Dunnikeir,’ consisting of his Correspondence, was published in 1825, with a portrait, in 1 vol. 8vo.

Of this family also was Sir John Oswald of Dunnikeir, a distinguished officer. He entered the army when very young, and was engaged in active service for nearly fifty-three years. In November 1793, when captain in the 3d foot, he joined the second battalion of grenadiers under Lieutenant-colonel Cradock, and, embarking for the West Indies, with his battalion, in the expedition under Sir Charles Grey, was present at the capture of the islands of Martinique, St. Lucia, and Guadaloupe. Thence he proceeded to St. Domingo, and in April 1797 was appointed lieutenant-colonel in the 35th foot. In 1799 he embarked in the expedition to Holland, and was wounded in the action of September 19. For his conduct on this occasion, he was particularly thanked by the duke of Gloucester, then Prince William, to whose brigade he belonged.

In February 1800, he sailed for the Mediterranean, with the corps under General Pigot. Landing in Minorca, he proceeded to the blockade of Malta, at the capture of which island he was present. He remained there till the peace of Amiens. On the recommencement of hostilities in 1804, he rejoined his regiment, but in May 1805 was compelled to return to England, on account of his private affairs. In October of the same year, he had the brevet of colonel; and, in February 1806, he joined the army under Sir James Craig. On the troops landing in Sicily, he was appointed commandant of Melazzo. In June the same year he commanded the advance destined to cover the disembarkation of the troops under Sir James Stuart in Eufemia Bay; on which occasion he defeated a considerable body of the enemy, who had attacked his force. He was next appointed to the third brigade of that army, and commanded the same at the battle of Maida. Two days after the action, he marched with the same brigade into Lower Calabria, captured about three hundred French prisoners at Monteleme, with all the enemy’s depot. And pushed forward, by forced marches, to the investment of Scylla castle, the siege of which was confided to him. After a resistance of twenty days, he succeeded in subduing it. He then returned to Sicily with the army; and was appointed, in November, by General Fox, brigadier-general, but this nomination was cancelled by order of the commander-in-chief.

In February 1807 he accompanied the corps under Major-general Fraser to Egypt; and was intrusted with the command of the party selected for assaulting the forts in Alexandria, when he stormed and carried the western lines and forts, taking a considerable quantity of artillery, and driving the Turks, who defended them, within the walls. The place capitulated two days after, and Colonel Oswald proceeded as second in command in the second (unsuccessful) expedition against Rosetta. On the return of the troops he was appointed commandant of Alexandria. When the army withdrew to Sicily, he was made commandant of Augusta by Sir John Moore; and in June 1808 appointed brigadier-general on the Mediterranean. In October following he returned to Melazzo, where he was second in command of a large force, the charge of disciplining which in a great measure devolved upon him. In 1809 he had the command of the reserve of the army destined for Naples, and on the surrender of Procida, was appointed commandant of that place. In September the same year he commanded the force employed to expel the enemy from certain of the Ionian Islands. Among these, Zante, Cephalonia, Ithaca, and Cerigo, surrendered to the troops under his orders. In March 1810 he proceeded against Santa Maura, with a force amounting to about 2,000 men, where he landed on the 23d, and drove the enemy from the town, and stormed the intrenchment. In addition to his military duties, he was charged with the whole civil administration of the different islands. He perfected the organization of the civil and military local government of each; established an advantageous intercourse with the neighbouring Turkish pachas, and by his firm and equitable sway confirmed the favourable prepossessions which the Greeks generally entertained towards the British name and control. In February 1811 General Oswald was appointed colonel of the Creek light infantry, a corps he had formed and disciplined chiefly from the prisoners of that nation. Upon quitting the Ionian isles, he received from their respective inhabitants addresses expressive of their sense of the benefits which they had derived from his administration, with an appropriate gift fro each. In June 1811 he was promoted to the rank of major-general; and in November of the same year was placed on the staff of the Western district of England. During that command he succeeded, in re-establishing the peace of Bristol, which had been endangered by the fury of a mob stimulated to mischief by seditious harangues.

In August following General Oswald was nominated to the Peninsular staff. He joined the army under the marquis of Wellington, October 22, and accompanied it during the severe cavalry affair of the 23d and 24th. He was placed in command of the fifth division of the army, vacant in consequence of General Leith being wounded, and took the direction of the left of the army, at the moment when warmly engaged, both at Villa Morilla and Palencia. He continued to conduct that division during the remainder of the arduous retreat; and after placing it, with little comparative loss, in cantonments on the Douro, he returned to Britain.

In May 1812 he rejoined the army on taking the field, when he resumed the command of the fifth division, forming a portion of the left column under the orders of General Sir Thomas Graham, afterwards Lord Lynedoch. He directed that division during the masterly march through the north of Portugal, and the Spanish provinces of Zumora, Leon, and Palencia, till it crossed the Ebro. At the battle of Vittoria he had the command of all the troops composing the advance of the left column, with which he attacked and drove the enemy from the heights. He held the same command during the blockade of St. Sebastian, until the return of Sir James Leith on the 30th August, when he continued his services as a volunteer, and accompanied the lieutenant-general to the trenches on the occasion of the assault. On General Leith being again wounded, the command of the fifth division once more devolved upon General Oswald; but family affairs soon after obliged him to return to Britain.

This distinguished officer was twice honoured with his sovereign’s gracious acknowledgment of services, in which he held chief command; and three times for those in which he held a subordinate situation. Twice by name he obtained the thanks of parliament; and he bore three medals, one for Maida, one for Vittoria, and one for the siege of St. Sebastian. He was nominated a knight commander of the Bath at the enlargement of the order in 1815; was advanced to the grade of Grand Cross, February 25, 1824, and was invested at Carlton House 9th June following. In July 1818 he obtained the colonelcy of the rifle brigade. In August 1819 he received the brevet of lieutenant-general, and the 9th October following was removed from the rifle brigade to the colonelcy of the 35th foot. Sir John Oswald died at Dunnikeir, June 8, 1840. He was twice married; first, in January 1812, to Charlotte, eldest daughter of the Rev. Lord Charles Murray-Aynsley, uncle of the duke of Atholl, and that lady having died, February 22, 1827, he married, secondly, in October 1829, her cousin, Emily Jane, daughter of Lord Henry Murray, who survived him.

OSWALD, JOHN, a poet and political writer, who published under the assumed name of Sylvester Otway, was a native of Edinburgh, where his mother is said to have kept John’s Coffee-house. He served an apprenticeship to a jeweler, and followed that occupation till a relation of his died, and left him a considerable legacy. With this money he purchased a commission in the 42d Highlanders. Some accounts say that his father was a goldsmith, that he was brought up to the same business, that he enlisted in the 18th or royal Irish regiment, and from his good education was soon made a sergeant, and that when quartered at Deal, he married a native of the place, with whom he got a sum of money sufficient to purchase his discharge, as well as to buy him a commission as an ensign in the 42d, then engaged in active service in America. In 1780, when the 2d battalion was raised, he went out as lieutenant with it to the East Indies. On the passage out, he fought a duel with the officer commanding the two companies, in the transport, in which he was not the aggressor. They fired two rounds at each other, luckily without bloodshed. His finances not permitting him to join the mess on board the transport, he lived upon the same rations that were served out to the soldiers. After being in India a short time, he sold his commission, and returned to England, overland, in 1783 On his outward voyage he had obtained a knowledge of Latin and Greek without the assistance of a master; and during his residence in India, he made himself acquainted with the Arabic. In politics he was a republican, and in religion somewhat of an infidel. In London, it is believed, he supported himself chiefly by his pen. He wrote both in prose and verse. His poetical effusions were mostly of an amatory cast, and some of them received the approbation of Burns. In his habits, Oswald was very singular, and, in imitation of the Brahmins, he rigidly abstained from animal food.

On the breaking out of the first French Revolution, Oswald went to Paris, where, in 1792, he published a new edition, translated into French, with considerable additions, of a pamphlet which he had brought out in London in 1784, entitled ‘Review of the Constitution of Great Britain.’ This pamphlet displayed some ability, and as, from its extreme views, it was quite in accordance with the spirit of the times in France, it at once gained him admission into the Jacobin club. With that ferocious body he soon acquired so much influence as to be acknowledged the first of Anglo-Jacobins. He took a leading part in all its transactions, and was nominated by the Revolutionary government to the command of a regiment of infantry, raised from the refuse of Paris and the departments. Being joined by his two sons, on the true principle of equality, he made them both drummers! His severe system of discipline made him very unpopular with his men; and having attempted to substitute for the musket in his regiment a pike of superior construction, to render them fit to make or withstand a charge, the soldiers mutinied, and flatly refused to be trained to its use. Colonel Oswald’s corps was one of the first of those employed against the royalists in La Vendee, where he was killed in battle. It is said that his men took advantage of the occasion to rid themselves of their obnoxious commander, and to dispatch also his two sons, and another English gentleman who was serving in his regiment.

Oswald’s appearance in the French service excited some attention in this country at the time, and it is a remarkable fact that an attempt was made to prove his identity with Bonaparte. His countryman, Dr. William Thomson, then a well-known author in London, had prepared a work in which he seriously endeavoured to prove that the first consul’s real name was John Oswald, the son of a goldsmith in Edinburgh. Oswald, he argued, was a man of enterprise and courage, and a great admirer of Ossian’s poems, and so was Bonaparte. Having read his manuscript to a friend of his, that gentleman happened to dine that very day with the Corsican general Paoli, then an exile in London, to whom he related the circumstance, when the latter mentioned that he not only knew Bonaparte’s early history, but had actually held him up at the baptismal font. This of course prevented the publication of Dr. Thomson’s absurd speculation.

Oswald’s works are:

Review of the Constitution of Great Britain. London, 1784. 3d edition, with considerable additions. Paris, 1792, 8vo.
Ranae Comicae Evangelizantes; or the Comic Frogs turned Methodists. 1786, 8vo.
The Alarming Progress of French Politics; a Pamphlet on the Commercial Treaty. 1787.
The British Mercury; a periodical publication. 1787.
Euphrosyne; an Ode to Beauty. London, 1788, 4to.
Poems; to which is added, The Humours of John Bull, an Operatical Farce; in two acts. London, 1789, 12mo. This and the preceding appeared under the pseudonym of Sylvester Otway.
The Cry of Nature; or an Appeal to Mercy and Justice, on behalf of the Persecuted Animals. London, 1791, 12mo.

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