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Major-General
JOHN RYDER OLIVER
C.M.G., R.A.


OLIVER COAT OF ARMS

One of the most interesting and fascinating Oliver family members that I’ve discovered was Major-General John Ryder Oliver, C. M. G. (Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George), R.A. (Royal Artillery).

Major-General John Ryder Oliver was the oldest of 13 children born to JOHN DUDLEY and MARY SUSANNA Oliver. Born December 16, 1834 in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicesteshire, England, John Oliver was educated at Leamington College, Caius College. His education was completed at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he obtained a mathematical scholarship.

In September 1855 he was gazetted to a Lieutenancy in the Royal Artillery, having obtained a direct commission by the first competitive Army examination ever held, passing fifth out of a 150 candidates.

In May 1857, the company to which he was posted embarked in a small sailing vessel for service at the Cape of Good Hope, a voyage which did not in any way resemble the speed and luxury of the present day. A few days after the ship's arrival at Cape Town, news was received of the outbreak of the Indian mutiny, and the company at once re-embarked in the "Penelope" reaching Calcutta in September just as the news of the capture of Delhi was made known.

Lieutenant Oliver took part in the subsequent campaigns up to March 1859, including General Windham's battles with the Gwalior contingent at Cawnpore, the battle of Cawnpore, the final siege and capture of Lucknow, the battle of Bareilly, the campaign in Rohilkund under Sir Colin Campbell, and the final campaign in Oudh. He was mentioned in dispatches, and for his services received the medal with clasp for Lucknow.

In 1860 he was appointed to a Battery of Horse Artillery, which soon afterwards returned to England. Exchanging to a Battery in India in 1863 he was attached to a newly-formed mountain Battery at Peshawur, and with it took part in the campaign in Bhootan, and was present at the capture of the strong Hill Forts of Dalimkote and Chamoorchee. He was again mentioned in dispatches and received the Indian Frontier medal and clasp.

During 1865 and the following year he passed through the course at the Staff College, and afterwards as a Captain served two years at St. Helena, where, during part of the time he was specially employed by the War Office as an acting engineer.

In 1869 he was recalled to England to take up the appointment of Brigade Major R. A., at Aldershot, which post he held until he was promoted to the rank of Major in 1874.

He was for several months employed on special duty at the Intelligence Department in 1876, and in the following year was appointed a Professor at the newly founded Canadian Military College. In 1886 he succeeded Colonel Hewett, C.M.G., R.E., as Commandant of that Institution, which posted he retained until his final return to England in September 1888.

He retired from the Service with the honorary rank of Major General in December 1887, and on the 1st of January 1889 was made a C.M.G. ("Companion [of the Order] of St. Michael and St. George") a citation founded in 1818 by George IV. On his leaving Canada many complimentary articles appeared in the leading Canadian newspapers, from one of which the following is an extract: “General Oliver's name will always be identified with the Royal Military College. He was on its staff as a professor in its day of 'feeble things' and he has had the satisfaction of watching its growth to its present proud position. In him the qualifications necessary for successfully managing such an institution were happily blended, and it is not detracting from the credit due to other quarters to say that not a little of the success of the College during the last few years was attributable to the admirable manner in which he discharged his responsible duties. General Oliver is an accomplished scientific officer, and has a long and active military record. He resigns his position at a time when the College has secured the highest reputation at home and abroad.”

Uncle Jack wrote several books, one was entitled “The Olivers of Cloghanodfoy and Their Descendants”. Several editions of that book were written at the turn of the 20th century. Published in London, England by the Army and Navy Co-operative Society Limited, his 48-page book has been a frequent reference guide for my genealogy research on the Oliver family. I’m constantly amazed that Uncle Jack’s research was all done via “snail mail” and good old fashion research by digging through dusty archives. I have letters written by Uncle Jack over a time period spanning 30 years about his study of the OLIVER family lineage. A large coat-of-arms poster of the Olivers and others who married into the Oliver family was painstakingly handpainted circa 1901 by Uncle Jack’s daughter, Mary Beatrice Lucy. Major-General Oliver also authored several scientific textbooks and papers, some of which were drawn for the Government of Canada. He wrote: “A Course of Practical Astronomy for Surveyors, with the elements of Geodesy” (published in 1883); “The Geology of Saint Helena” (published in 1869); “Notes on Field Artillery Projectiles” (published 1873); “Notes on Geodesy, the Adjustment of Observations, Projections of the Sphere, and Trigonometrical Levelling” (published 1888); “Notes on practical astronomy” compiled for the use of cadets of the Royal Military College of Canada.

In 1892 Major-General John Ryder Oliver invented and patented a sundial that showed true clock time (Patent #1660). The problem of time with a sundial is that it registers solar time, which varies throughout the year, whereas we use mean time, which we make a regular 24 hours a day all through the year. The result is that we have to correct the sundial time to give us mean time. This can be done by reading the time on the sundial and then consulting a table or graph to find the correction for that day; or, as with Oliver’s method, using specially shaped gnomons (the part which throws the shadow) which automatically compensates for this difference so that you read mean time directly. The name of the sundial is an equatorial dial (sometimes known as an equinoctial dial). The part that Oliver patented was the gnomon, the odd shaped piece in the middle, which casts the shadow. This gnomon is usually a plain thin rod. What he did was to give this "rod" a shape such that it corrected for the difference between solar and mean time. Major General Oliver's daughter presented the sundial to the London Science Museum in 1932 where it is currently on display in the Time Measurement Gallery. It had previously only been on loan to the museum, since 1897.

Here is the sundial display at the London Science Museum (the large green sundial at the upper left side of the picture). The accompanying plaque next to the sundial states:

Sundial Showing Mean Time
This sundial, patented by Major-General Oliver in 1892, and made by Negretti and Zambra, is designed to indicate mean time directly, the equation of time being automatically allowed for by the shape of the style which casts the shadow.

This style consists of a metal plate from the central part of which a figure has been cut out. The time is indicated by the point at which the shadow of the curved edge of the plate intersects the equatorial line on the hour circle, and the plate is marked with the names of the months to show which side of the shadow is to be observed.

The hour circle is engraved with divisions every five minutes, and the instrument can be adjusted for any latitude between 60° N and 60 ° S.

[See British Patent Specification No. 1,660 of 1892.] Presented by Miss M. L. B. Oliver Time Measurement Catalogue No. 124 Inv. 1897-29

John Ryder Oliver first married GEORGINA FRANCIS HARRISON (daughter of George M. Harrison of Stanground Manor, Hunts) on April 19, 1864; she died November 2, 1874. They had a son, JOHN CHARLES ARTHUR (born April 22, 1871 and died February 4, 1875). John Oliver married secondly MARY HINDS (daughter of W. G. Hinds of Kingston, Canada) on June 30, 1880. They had three children: MARY BEATRICE LUCY (born April 3, 1883), CECIL RYDER (born February 11, 1887) and CHARLES ALDWORTH (born September 10, 1889).

John Oliver died in Feltham, London on February 10, 1909 at the age of 74. Click here for a personal tour of the refurbished Castle Oliver.

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This page was updated January 20, 2014