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Cavens, Kirkbean, Dumfries and Galloway: unexecuted designs for a house and greenhouse, for Richard Oswald, 1773 (6)

Signed and dated

  • 1773


Richard Oswald (1705-84), was the second son of George Oswald, a Presbyterian minister in Dunnet, Caithness. In the 1730s he travelled through North America and the Caribbean working as the junior partner in his cousins’, Richard and Alexander Oswald’s, Glasgow-based sugar, wine and tobacco trading business. In 1746 Oswald moved to London and became a wealthy merchant in his own right, dealing in tobacco, sugar, horses, and enslaved people. His endeavours were bolstered by his marriage in 1750 to Mary Ramsay, the daughter of the Jamaican merchant, Alexander Ramsay. At this time Oswald branched out into government contracting, making a fortune during the Seven Years War, as well as land speculation. He acquired estates in Scotland, 30,000 acres in Florida, and 1,566 acres in the Caribbean. The estates of Auchincruive in Ayrshire, and Cavens in Dumfries and Galloway were acquired piecemeal from 1764 to 1784. Oswald sold various lands in the USA during the 1780s, and in 1782 he was chosen by Lord Shelburne to travel to Paris as a British diplomat, in the hope of mediating peace in America. Following lengthy negotiations, and heavy criticism by the British public, Oswald’s terms were accepted, and in September 1783 the treaty of peace with America was finalised in Paris. Oswald died at Auchincruive in 1784. His two illegitimate sons had predeceased him, and he was succeeded by his nephew George Oswald (1735-1819).

Oswald commissioned the Adam brothers to make designs for alterations at both Auchincruive and Cavens. The estate at Cavens included a sixteenth-century castellated house, for the replacement of which Adam made designs for a new house. These were not executed, and the original house was abandoned in the nineteenth century and is now a ruin. It may have been through his connection with Shelburne, Adam’s patron at Bowood and Lansdowne House, that Adam came to Oswald’s attention.

See also: Auchencruive

Lord Fitzmaurice, Life of William, Earl of Shelburne, 1912, Volume II, Chapter IV; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 6, 83; J. Gifford, The buildings of Scotland: Dumfries and Galloway, 1996, p. 360; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 80, 123, 183, 216; Yale Edition, Horace Walpole's correspondence, 2011, Volume 25, p. 279; D. Hancock, 'Oswald, Richard', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online

Frances Sands, 2012



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Contents of Cavens, Kirkbean, Dumfries and Galloway: unexecuted designs for a house and greenhouse, for Richard Oswald, 1773 (6)