OSWALD, James Townsend (1748-1814), of Dunnikier, Fife.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1768 - 1774
24 Jan. 1776 - May 1779

Family and Education

b. 23 Feb. 1748, o.s. of James Oswald.  educ. Edin Univ. 1764-6; St. Mary’s Hall, Oxf. 1766; in France 1767.  m. 30 Sept. 1769, Jessie (or Janet) da. of Alexander Gray of Over Skibo, Sutherland, at least 3s.  suc. fa. 1769.

Offices Held

Sec. Leeward Is. 1772; auditor gen. of Scottish Exchequer 1779.


Oswald’s Grand Tour was interrupted when his father, forced to retire by illness, arranged for his son (although under age) to stand for Dysart Burghs in 1768. Lord Findlater, expressing satisfaction that James Oswald’s ‘political concerns were settled’, wrote, 3 Mar. 1768:1

I flatter myself our friend your son is not the worse for his journey to France ... I suppose a little tour to Italy will be the next excursion: it furnishes rather an additional fund for elegant amusement in private life than anything useful. In following out ambitious views in public life, education as far as possible should be calculated to qualify a man for both.

Young Oswald’s parliamentary career did not however fulfil any ‘ambitious views’, and he apparently never spoke in the House. He supported the Grafton and North Administrations, but on 25 Feb. 1774, though a placeman, voted against the Government on the Grenville Act.

At the general election of 1774 he was defeated for Dysart Burghs, and in December 1775 stood for Fife against John Henderson, who obtained the interest of Robert and Henry Dundas. Oswald, ‘a most respectable man from his own character and the merits of a father so much beloved and respected’,2 was returned by 61 votes to 60. During the subsequent proceedings in the court of session, on the validity of the votes, Henry Dundas’s reflections on the integrity of Lord Auchinleck’s judgment were violently resented by James Boswell, who shortly afterwards, while Henderson’s unsuccessful petition was before the House, made Oswald’s acquaintance in London. He found him ‘a plain worthy fellow’ who apparently agreed with his friend Lord Aberdeen’s strictures on Henry Dundas, Buccleuch and the ‘Scotch Ministry’.3 None the less in Parliament he continued his support of Administration, until he vacated his seat on succeeding in May 1779 to the auditorship of the Exchequer. Henceforth he took little part in politics.

He died 3 Jan. 1814.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Oswald Mems. 206.
  • 2. And. Stuart (Henderson’s uncle) to Ld. Pres. Dundas, 28 Dec. 1775, Melville Pprs., NLS.
  • 3. Private Pprs. xi. 34, 72, 78, 163-4, 210.