William (Billy) Daniel McSwiney, Captain, FRGS

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William (Billy) Daniel McSwiney, Captain, FRGS

Birthplace: Kronstadt, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
Death: January 05, 1906 (44)
12 Oxford Square, Hyde Park, London, United Kingdom (Enteric Fever)
Place of Burial: London, Greater London, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of John Henry Herbert McSwiney, Rev., M.A. and Emily Sarah McSwiney
Husband of Ethel Maude McSwiney
Father of Helen Isabel McSwiney, OBE
Brother of George H.B. McSwiney; John William Augustus McSwiney; Edith Mabel McSwiney; E. Frederick H. McSwiney; Arthur Cattley McSwiney and 1 other

Occupation: Officer, 7th Dragoon Guards and Explorer - China ......Reconnaissance/Intelligence work China (at outbreak of Boxer Rebellion)
Managed by: Private User
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About William (Billy) Daniel McSwiney, Captain, FRGS

Billy (William Daniel McSwiney) was born in Kronstadt, Russia, where his father was Anglican Chaplain to the (British) Russia Company at Cronstadt and St. Petersburg. All but the eldest of his siblings were also born there. They lived at the English Parsonage in Cronstadt.

He was the youngest son (reference "Visitation of England and Wales (1893), page 106"), and became fluent in Russian at a young age . Also fluent in other languages, including French (see his translation below)

Of all his brothers and sisters only he (William Daniel), E.Frederick and George survived to adulthood.

He was educated privately in Kronstadt and back home (in England) by the Rev. Thomas Nettleship Staley, Rector of Oakley.  See 1881 Census below.

1881 England Census lists William Daniel, aged 20, as a Scholar boarding at the Vicarage, Croxall, District of Farnworth, Staffordshire.. The head of the house was Thomas Nettleship Staley, (Bishop) Rector of Oakley, Vicar of Croxall. There were a number of other boarding scholars living there. Next door was Croxall Hall. Three years later he was part of the local militia in Staffordshire. (see below).

He was a linguist - fluent in English, French and Russian - with some understanding of Mandarin Chinese.


While serving as Captain 4th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, 23 year old Billy translated from the French and published the English version of "The Future of Egypt from a French Point of View" by E. Paul.


  • In November 1886 25 year old Billy resigned his commission in the Staffordshire Militia
  • He then enlisted in the 19th Hussars.

1888 In 1888 he achieved a Commission to the elite 7th Dragoon Guards (a cavalry regiment).

During the years of 1889 and 1890, Billy's brother was involved in:

Gromchefsky's expedition 1889-90

by Gromchevskiy and Captain McSwiney, Edward Frederick Henry Colonel D.S.O. F.R.G.S.; Publisher: Simla, 1892

1893_Feb_5 Billy was an Adjutant on the outward voyage of the 7th Dragoon Guards on the Troopship Serapis, (from Portsmouth, UK, to Bombay. India)

25 May1897, (his mother) Emily received a letter from her son Fred (William's brother) from Simla India - just before he (Fred) left for Bombay and a voyage home on the "India" to England on 25th June 1897. He mentions his brother 'Billy' (William Daniel) being a senior subaltern and he (Fred) has not a doubt that he will get his troop all right and to tell father not to be anxious and anticipate evil (on the part of others not promoting Billy).

In October 1897 Fred is back in India and writes to his mother, Emily, ..... '''offers advice to his '''brother Billy''' not to come out to India but to marry Ethel (Trower) - a girl "of coin" who can provide him with a luxurious home.  "Why should he go out at this time of life?  Fates have been dead against him in his military career so let him now make a convenience of the service and take life easy.'''  I have had a hard struggle and so far have been lucky." (He died ten years later of dysentery)

Aside from marrying Ethel, Billy obviously didn't take his elder brother's advice:

Contributions on China.

The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. 12, 1898 July - Dec. [China] Royal Geographical Society, Markham, Clements; Charles, W. R. Publisher: Royal Geographic Society, Date Published: 1898. Important material on China, The Yangtse Chiang, by W. R. Charles;

In 1898 Fred had the honor of being elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for his contributions in the exploration of China

In 1899 February - his father died.

1899 he was again engaged in exploration work in China, where he made a special reconnaissance of the Han river, resulting in producing a map of the "Planimetry & Altimetry of the Han River". [Royal Geographic Society Catalog collections]. On his return to England, he received the thanks of the British Secretary of State for War.

With reference to his exploration work in China, Captain McSwiney considered that the waterways of that country were the real trade routes, and that we should make more use of them. "China," he says, "is essentially a country of waterways. Its surface is literally intersected in all directions by rivers, lakes, and canals, and a very large proportion of the traffic is carried on by water. Only those who have been on the Chinese rivers and canals can form any idea of the teeming population who work out a livelihood in boats. Water-trafiic appeals to the Chinaman, and the boating population-a sturdy well-fed race-is always the most friendly. Their junks can be made very comfortable, and almost remind one of the houseboats on the Thames, and cheery Henley days. A great deal has been heard of railway concessions, but little endeavour seems to have been made to improve and work the already existing waterways, which are the acknowledged cheapest means of transport in China."

By December of that year he had returned to England - see the article in The Houston Daily Post - Dec 21 1899 - Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, 1836-1922

  • Text: "... Captain William Daniel McSwIney of the British Dragoon Guards has just passed through St Petersburg on his way from China after making..."


1899 Dec 4 (Monday) Married Ethel Maude Trower in the Church of S.S.Michael and All Angels, Paddington, London - both were aged 38. A cousin - Rev. Cuthbert Fetherston Trower married them, and Mr Campbell was best man. The Service was fully choral.

There was also an announcement in Nottinghamshire Guardian - Saturday 09 December 1899 - although reported incorrectly Cuthbert 'McSwiney' instead of 'Trower') : "Billy was under immediate orders to proceed to South Africa, so the wedding was very quiet with few relations of both families being present - the original wedding having been planned for December 12. She was married in a 'handsome travelling gown of pale heliotrope faced cloth, the jacket being braided with silk of same shade, with collarette, and edged with chinchilla fur and lace cuffs, and toque of same fur, trimmed with jewelled chiffon'. Their honeymoon was two days at Weybridge, after which he left for South Africa, *with the 7th Princess Royals Royal Dragoon Guards. Their presents, over 200, included valued articles from a large circle of private and military friends and relations of both families."

(*Following the outbreak of the Second Boer War in late 1899, the regiment was again sent abroad for service in South Africa. A total of 24 officers and 500 men left Southampton.)

2 February 1900 Issue number: 27160 Page number: 691 London Gazette

7th Dragoon Guards, The restoration to the Establishment of Supernumerary Captain William D. McSwiney is antedated to 1st August, 1899, in succession to Major R. Cooper, employed under the Foreign Office.

1900 August 17, War Office, Pall Mall announcement in the London Gazette of August 24 "7th Dragoon Guards, Captain William D. McSwiney is seconded for

special service with the Expeditionary Force in China.

This was at the outbreak of the BOXER troubles in China.

His knowledge of foreign languages (fluent in Russian, French and English and some knowledge of Chinese), his tact, skill, and sound common sense, enabled him to smooth over many difficulties, especially during the Anglo-Russian Railway dispute at Tientsin, where Captain McStviney was appointed railway staff officer. General Sir E. G. Barrow, Chief of the Staff of the Anglo-Indian contingent, has borne generous testimony to his tact and reliability under circumstances of great difficulty and delicacy.

The late Lord Hardwick, when making his statement in the House of Lords on March 28, 1901, on the Anglo-Russian Railway dispute of Tientsin, said, "I shall only be praising those to whom praise is due if I commend, in the warmest manner, the tact and self-control displayed by the British officers on the spot."

(Carbon copies of his intelligence reports from Tientsin, China - in particular to do with the Boxer Rebellion - remain with the family, as in other countries." He undoubtedly travelled out to China with Ethel - which was a risky move in light of the Boxer troubles. A year later they returned:

1901 Billy and Ethel returned from China to England

via the United States as per the following record:
  • McSwiney, William Daniel, Birth: 1862 (age 39)
  • McSwiney, Ethel, Birth: 1865 (age 36)
  • Departed: Portland, Maine, United States

Arrived: 20 Aug 1901 in Liverpool, England [Citation: Ancestry.com, UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008), www.ancestry.com.au, Database online]

After this: "On the conclusion of the Boxer troubles in China, the late Captain McSwiney proceeded to rejoin his regiment on 23 September 1901 - the 7th (Princess Royal's) Dragoon Guards - in South Africa's Boer War, and took part in the operations in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, obtaining the Queen's Medal and Five Clasps.

It was there (in South Africa) that he was struck down by enteric fever for the second time in his life, and invalided back to England in March 1902."

Anglo-Boer War records 1899-1902 for Billy from 1901, Sep 23 to 1902, March 14

  • First name(s) William Daniel
  • Last name McSwiney
  • Service number -
  • Rank Captain
  • Regiment 7th (Princess Royal's) Dragoon Guards
  • Rolls WO100/113 page 233
  • WO100/113 page 234
  • Notes Landed in S.A. 23/09/01. Left 14/03/02. Invalided.
  • The Queen's South Africa (QSA) Medal Clasps: Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902
  • Country Great Britain
  • Record set Anglo-Boer War records 1899-1902
  • Category Military Service & Conflict
  • Subcategory Boer Wars
  • Collections from United Kingdom


  • June 19, 1903 The birth of his daughter, Helen - later Girl Guide Commissioner and recipient of the O.B.E.


8th October, 1904. Captain William D. McSwiney was placed on temporary half-pay on account of his ill-health. His family residence was then at 12 Oxford Square, Hyde Park, Mayfair, London.

1905 Retirement

He retired from the service in 1905 on account of continued heart trouble, to which he finally succumbed (in January 1906), deeply regretted by all who knew him.

5 January 1906 Death at 12 Oxford Square, Hyde Park, London.

Captain McSwiney died one month short of his 45th birthday. He had been married only six years and left behind a widow and daughter of 3 (Helen). Probate February 17 to Ethel Maude McSwiney of effects 1274 pounds.

He is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London, next to his parents-in-law Helen and Henry Trower (see attached photo of headstone).

National Geographic's "The Geographical Journal", Vol. 27, No. 2. (Feb., 1906), p. 205. OBITUARY for Captain W.D.McSwiney. "We regret to announce the death of Captain William Daniel McSwiney, late 7th Dragoon Guards, after a long illness, at the early age of forty-four. He was the youngest son of the late Rev. J. H. H. McSwiney, Rector of Barnoldby-le-Beck, Lincolnshire. The deceased officer resigned a captain's commission in the Staffordshire Militia in November, 1886, in order to enlist in the 19th Hussars, from which he obtained a commission in the 7th Dragoon Guards two years later.

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William (Billy) Daniel McSwiney, Captain, FRGS's Timeline

March 20, 1861
Kronstadt, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
May 20, 1861
Age 28
Iran, Islamic Republic of
Age 36
London, England

In 1898 Billy made a special reconnaisance of the Han River in China. On his return to England he received special thanks from the Secretary of State for War.

December 1899
- August 1900
Age 38
South Africa
August 1900
- August 1901
Age 39
Tientsin, China
June 19, 1903
Paddington, Greater London, UK
January 5, 1906
Age 44
London, United Kingdom