Asian and African studies blog

16 posts categorized "Printing"

21 September 2017

The oldest example of Thai script printed in Europe

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Formal relations between Great Britain and Thailand were established in 1612 when a letter from James I to the Thai King Songtham travelled on the ship The Globe via Patani in the Gulf of Siam, and finally arrived in the capital Ayutthaya in August or September 1612. Following this, permission was given to British merchants to trade in Siam, and subsequently to explore trading opportunities in the northern Thai kingdom of Lanna, which had been visited in 1587 by the adventurer Ralph Fitch, the first Englishman known to have set foot in Thailand.

In January 1684, during the reign of the pro-foreign King Narai, an embassy from Ayutthaya set sail for France via Great Britain. The ambassadors Khun Phichai Walit and Khun Phichit Maitri were accompanied by the missionary Bénigne Vachet, who spoke Thai. They met Charles II on 26 September 1684. The 17th-century writer, thinker and bibliophile John Evelyn noted in his diary: "26th of September [1684]. There was now an ambassador from the King of Siam, in the East Indies, to His Majesty" (Evelyn 1955: 4.388). On this occasion a manuscript Thai syllabary with numerals, with Romanised equivalents, all written in a sloping hand, was presented to Charles II.

Burghers 1 Reg.16.B.IV
Detail of the first page of a handwritten syllabary listing the Thai consonants (first three lines) and some vowels (bottom line) with Romanised equivalents, circa 1684. British Library, Reg.16.B.IV, f.1 Noc

The scribe of the document is not mentioned – perhaps it was compiled by one or both Thai ambassadors working together with Bénigne Vachet. It can be assumed that its purpose was to further written communications between Great Britain and Siam. However, British trading activities in the Thai kingdom came to an abrupt end with the Siamese revolution and the overthrow of King Narai in 1688.

Burghers 2 Reg.16.B.IV
Detail of the third page of the Thai syllabary listing certain syllables and numerals at the bottom, circa 1684. British Library, Reg.16.B.IV, f.3 Noc

The Thai syllabary passed into the possession of Thomas Hyde (1636-1703), the king's translator. Hyde was a Cambridge-educated Orientalist, who became Hebrew Reader at Oxford in 1658, and was appointed librarian-in-chief of the Bodleian Library in 1665. He had a strong interest in Asian languages and was well known for his knowledge of Arabic, Hebrew, Malay, Persian, Syriac and Turkish. After Hyde's death in 1703 the syllabary was one of many Oriental manuscripts purchased from his estate for the Royal Collection, and is listed in a catalogue as 'The Syam Alphabet, with their numbers' (Casley 1734: 248). The syllabary then remained in the Royal Collection until 1757, when George II gave the library to the British Museum which had been established four years earlier following the bequest of Sir Hans Sloane’s collection to George II for the nation. The approximately 2000 manuscripts and 9000 printed books of the Royal Collection are now held at the British Library.

 Burghers 3 Or70bb9 cover
Front cover of a volume containing various engraved prints from copper plates of the Thai, Sinhalese and Tatar alphabets, and Chinese numbers, weights and measures, bound with a British Museum red leather binding. British Library, Noc

Hyde appears to have commissioned a copper-plate engraving of this handwritten Thai syllabary from Michael Burghers (1647/8 – 1727), a Dutch engraver who resided at Oxford for most of his life, and who was the printer used by Thomas Hyde for most of his experiments with typography. Burghers worked mainly for the university and booksellers, but was also employed by the English aristocracy. Although Burghers produced numerous portraits of scholars and aristocrats, including one of Charles II, he became known best for his engravings of antiquities, artefacts and ruins. In a letter of 19 April 1700 to Thomas Bowrey, compiler of the first Malay-English dictionary, Hyde states that he is sending him copper-plates of two Siamese and one Sinhalese alphabets, for which the engraver had charged £5 (British Library, MSS Eur E 192). 

Hyde's own copy of the two-page print of the Thai syllabary was also acquired for the Royal Collection, and entered the British Museum in 1757. Here it was bound in red leather together with prints of the Sinhalese and Tatar alphabets, Chinese numbers, weights, measures, directions etc., all engraved by Burghers. Each of the prints is marked with “MBurg. sculp.” in the right bottom corner. The prints were first published in a collection of Hyde’s works, edited by Gregory Sharpe, with the title Syntagma dissertationum quas olim auctor doctissimus S.T.P. separatim edidit (Oxford, 1767).

Burghers 4 Or70bb9
Engraving of the Thai alphabet and syllables, based on the handwritten syllabary presented to Charles II in 1684. British Library,, f.8 Noc

Burghers 5 Or70bb9
Detail of Michael Burghers‘ copper print of the Thai syllabary with Romanised equivalents, and with numbers at the bottom, 1700. In the right bottom corner, Burghers signed his work: „Mburg. sculp.“ British Library,, f.9 Noc

Burghers' work, which can now be dated to 1700, is the oldest known example of Thai script printed in the West. Older Chinese woodblock prints of Thai script were produced at the end of the 16th century as a part of multi-language vocabularies, known as Hua Yi Yi Yu, after a section for the Thai language was established at the translators’ institute of the Ming government in 1579.

Further reading

Anderson, John, English intercourse with Siam in the seventeenth century. London: Routledge, 2000 (reprint of the 1890 first edition).

Baker, Chris and Pasuk Phongpaichit, A history of Ayutthaya: Siam in the early modern world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Casley, D. A catalogue of the manuscripts of the King's Library. London, 1734.

Evelyn, John, Diary. Edited by Esmond Samuel de Beer, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.

Farrington, Anthony and Dhiravat na Pombejra, The English Factory in Siam 1612-1685. London: British Library, 2007.

Tyacke, Nicholas, The history of the University of Oxford. [Vol. 4, Seventeenth-century Oxford]. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Jana Igunma
Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian

With information on Thomas Hyde and Thomas Bowrey from Ursula Sims-Williams and Annabel Teh Gallop


20 March 2017

First Impressions: The Beginnings of Ottoman Turkish Publishing

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One of the hottest topics on every economist’s lips is the rising price of housing in the United Kingdom. At last count, the average home price in Great Britain was £220 000. For roughly the same price, however, you could also acquire a book on the history of the Americas. This would be no ordinary history, however: İbrahim Müteferrika’s edition of the Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī ul-müsemma bi-Hadis-i nev, or The History of the Western Indies, also known as the New Hadith is the first book by a Muslim about the Americas, and among the first Ottoman Turkish books printed in Istanbul. The Tarīkh is an exceedingly rare item. Of the 500 copies that were produced by İbrahim Müteferrika in 1730, only 17 are known to exist around the world. The British Library is lucky enough to be one of only a handful of institutions in Europe and North America to have two copies of the work. One, at shelfmark Or.80.b.11, contains twelve of the thirteen original black and white woodcut illustrations, as well as the two colour woodcut maps of the world. The other, at shelfmark Or.80.b.7, contains all thirteen black and white illustrations, but neither of the two maps. Both copies are lacking the celestial chart and the chart that are contained in the copy at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.

Or80b7 indigenous people_1500 Or80b11 people tree_1500
On the left (BL Or.80.b.7), flora and fauna of Hispaniola, including the mermen and their splendid pearls, brought back to Europe by a man named Castellón, as well as the tree with fruit like women (BL Or.80.b.11)

The Tarīkh is a unique publication for reasons that are far more profound than the paucity of surviving copies. It is not an original creation, but rather based upon the 16th century manuscript of the same name believed to have been authored by Emir Mehmet ibn Emir Hasan el-Suudi in 1591. Nevertheless, the fact that it was a printed work, rather than a handwritten one, established İbrahim Müteferrika as a pioneer in Ottoman Turkish cultural history. Between the issuance of an imperial ferman on commercial activities related to “certain of printed Arabic, Persian and Turkish books and writings” (Neumann, p. 229) and the 1720s, printing was conducted only by the Jewish and Christian communities, whose works were in non-Arabic scripts. The 17th century saw the importation of Ottoman Turkish works printed in Europe, but both the typography and the language of the content itself were the subjects of derision. The Arabic script requires that some – but not all – letters be attached to those that follow them (to their left), and this characteristic bedevilled European typesetters and those who sought to sell presses to Ottoman clients. At best, the technology created comical mistakes or miscomprehension. At worst, the resulting errors in holy texts led to charges of blasphemy and the befouling of God’s word (Sabev, pp. 107-9).

1-Or80b7 front page_2000 1-Or80b7 colophon_1500
The first page and the end of the chapter on the History of the Western Indies. The text begins in Persian, with an explanation of the real nature of these fantastical images and descriptions, and ends in Ottoman Turkish with information about the culinary delights of the islands (BL Or.80.b.7)  noc

The man who appears to have broken this deadlock was known as İbrahim Müteferrika. He is believed to have been a Transylvanian Christian who converted to Islam and migrated to the Imperial capital of Istanbul at the end of 17th century, possibly to escape religious persecution at the hands of the Hapsburgs (Erginbaş, pp.63-4). His personal history is an apt analogy for the printing press that he popularized: a Christian European invention that was imported and nativized to the Ottoman Empire, ultimately serving to further, rather than harm, the cultural development of the Well-Guarded Domains. İbrahim Müteferrika printed numerous different titles at his workshop in Istanbul, many of which are currently held in the British Library. Apart from the Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī, the Library also holds copies of his Tarih-i seyyah der beyan zuhur-i Agvanian (758.e.9), Tercüme-yi sɪhah-ɪ Cevheri (758.k.7), Takvim üt-tevarih li-Kâtip Çelebi (Or.80.a.8) and Usul ül-hikem fi nizam ül-ümem (758.e.1). Many of these are secular histories or manuals of geography. They demonstrate a concern for steering clear of religious and moral controversy regarding the content of his works and the effect of typography on the text. Some were even presented as serving in the interests of Islam, because of the importance of education holy warriors on the geography of neighbouring regions (Sabev, p. 109). In spite of this, the mere presence of depictions of flora and fauna was enough to raise the ire of some zealots, who sought to destroy his books.

Or80b7 flora_1500 Or80b7 fauna_1500
On the left, the famed Chagos tree, the juice of whose fruits is reputed to cure illnesses. On the right, images of native agriculture in South America, including the usage of oxen-like animals to plough fields (BL Or.80.b.7) 

Why would someone want to destroy a history book of the Americas? One particular reason might be the sheer number of woodcut illustrations of the people, animals and plants of the Western Hemisphere. Some of these images feature semi-nude members of indigenous communities, while others provide readers with an idea of the wondrous plants and animals to be found in the Americas. Much like Dürer’s rhinoceros, these illustrations are as much representations of Europeans’ imaginations as they are accurate depictions of the flora and fauna they claim to be. Whether or not graven images are permissible under Islamic law, and, if not, how strictly this prohibition was enforced, are issues of great debate among scholarly communities. What is clear from the Tarīkh, however, is that they did appear in the first Ottoman Turkish-language printed publications; and that they likely made the works more controversial than they would have otherwise been.

Or80b11 map
A map of the world, including California as a green island in the top left quadrant of the map. The “Sea of Peru” is also listed as being along the coast of Central America, while the Gulf of Mexico is labelled the “Sea of Mashigho”. (BL Or.80.b.11)  noc

Even more spectacular than the illustrations, however, is the world map included in one of the copies held at the British Library (Or.80.b.11). One of its most striking features is the depiction of California as an island separated from the mainland of North America by a channel of water. Given that the southern tip of this “island” extends to the middle of Mexico’s Pacific coastline, it is fair to assume that İbrahim Müteferrika’s mapmaker did not know that the Gulf of California had only one outlet to the Pacific Ocean. The map is plagued by various inaccuracies: the St. Lawrence River is too deep and the Gulf of Mexico too shallow; the Great Lakes are merged into one, while North America seems to be in various pieces. Nevertheless, it is difficult to contain one’s awe at the manner in which the world as we now picture it – thanks to satellite imagery and enhanced modeling – came together in the minds of cartographers and dreamers from 1492 onwards.

Or80b7 graffiti Or80b11 ownership stamp
The varied history of the books as items of pleasure and prestige are recorded through the ownership stamps and marginalia of their readers. On the left (BL Or.80.b.7) is a poetic exhortation to readers about the content of the books, while the right-hand image (BL Or.80.b.11) is the ex libris of Shaykh Tirabi (1210 AH/1795 CE)

It should also not be a surprise that these maps are of particular interest to collectors: a reason why so many copies of the Tarīkh are incomplete, including one of those held at the British Library (Or.80.b.7). The Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī ul-müsemma bi-Hadis-i nev is not a roof over your head, or a little corner to call your own, but, just like a home, it has served as a symbol of identity and personality for various owners. The presence of various signs in the works held at the Library – marginalia, ownership stamps and the like – bears witness to this fact. The names of individuals and libraries through whose hands these volumes passed tell as much of a story as the text itself. So too, do the poetic messages scrawled on the opening pages of the work; a testament to the way the written word, in whatever its form, has given rise to dreams and imagination for centuries on end.

Further reading
Neumann, Christoph K. “Book and Newspaper Printing in Turkish”, in ed. Eva Hanebutt-Benz, Dagmar Glass and Geoffrey Roper, Middle Eastern Languages and the Print Revolution: A Cross-Cultural Encounter (Mainz: Gutenburg Museum, 2002), pp. 227-248
Sabev, Orlin, “Waiting for Godot: The Formation of Ottoman Print Culture,” in ed. Geoffrey Roper, Historical Aspects of Printing and Publishing in the Languages of the Middle East (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 101-120.
Erginbaş, Vefa, “Enlightenment in the Ottoman Context: İbrahim Müteferrika and his Intellectual Landscape,” in Roper, Historical Aspects, pp. 53-100.

Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator

03 February 2017

‘South Asia Series’ talks continue

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The British Library is pleased to announce the continuation of the ‘South Asia Series’ talks, based around the ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ digitisation project of printed books from the South Asia collections. Speakers from the UK, US and India will share the results of their research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

The first talk, on Monday 13th February 2017, will be by Richard Morel, Curator of the Philatelic Collections at the British Library. The talk entitled ‘Imperialism by the Book: The Library of the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India, 1784-1858’ re-discovers a ‘lost’ library of early colonial India. Drawing upon various collections of the India Office Library, Richard Morel will focus on the activities of the library of the government department known as the Board of Control, which regulated the activities of the East India Company, its colonial settlements and contributed towards the development of British policy throughout the Near East and Asia between 1784-1858.

Image 1 richard-cr
Image of the Civil Service Commission Building, Cannon Row formerly home of the India Board (1874). British Library, LOU.LON 107

The second of the talks will be on Monday 27th February 2017, and will be given by CJ Kuncheria, a PhD candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. His talk entitled ‘An Empire of Smoke: Growing Indian Tobacco for Britain in the Interwar Years’ demonstrates how Indian tobacco, grown in India from the 17th century onwards, was ‘improved’ during the colonial period in order to better conform to ‘European’ tastes.  Kuncheria draws upon India Office Records and shows how the emergence of ‘Empire Tobacco’, colonial-grown tobacco, transformed agriculture and agricultural practices in the producer colonies, marking the beginnings of industrialised agriculture in India.

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Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1937, with rules made prior to the 3rd edition, 31 December 1946 (1947).  British Library, IOR/V/27/500/14

On 13th March 2017, Professor Francesca Orsini of Hindi and South Asian Literature at SOAS will talk on the circulation of books in non-European languages in Britain and other parts of Europe.  The talk titled ‘Present Absence: World Literature and Book Circulation in the 19th Century’ will question why, despite the material presence and circulation of these books in Victorian Europe, as evinced in the records kept by book importers such as  Trübner & Co., they remained absent from the imagination of world literature.

Image 3 Trubner
Front Page of ‘Trübner’s American and Oriental Literary Record’ (1865). British Library, SV 176

The fourth talk, on Monday 27th March 2017, will be by Professor Tony K. Stewart, Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. His talk ‘The Colloquy between Muhammad and Saytān: Conundrums in the 18th century Bengali Iblichnāmā of Garībullā’ examines a short 13th century Bengali work written by the highly productive scholar Garībullā. This somewhat unusual text is a colloquy between the Prophet Muhammad and the fallen Iblich (Ar. Iblīs), also called Saytān. The bulk of this fictional text is an interrogation of Iblich regarding the nature of his followers and their actions. Prof. Tony K. Stewart shows how the move to fiction immediately alters the approach of the reader, who is rewarded with humorous, often naughty descriptions of the depraved and licentious acts of Saytān’s lackeys.  This titillation of the reader, he will argue, is an escape from the Bakhtinian monologic of theology, history, and law that governs the discourse of the Bengali Sunni (hānifīyā) mainstream.

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Front page of the Iblichnāmā (1870). British Library, VT 1766

On Monday 10th April 2017, Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, MBE will talk on ‘The Enlightenment in 18th Century India’. Using India Office Records, she will look at the transmission of Enlightenment ideas from Europe to India through high-ranking men employed by the East India Company.   The talk discusses the new-found interest in botanical classifications which led to drawings commissioned from local artists; fascination with ‘natural philosophy’ and scientific experiments including hot-air balloons, as well as humanitarian ideas that were very much part of Enlightenment philosophy and which were fostered in India by the Freemasons.

Image 5 rosie jones
Image of Major General Claude Martin of the British East India Company’s Bengal Army, sitting on the sofa in a red uniform, in the 18th-century painting ‘ Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match’, in a 19th-century reproduction. British Library, P 890

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. Please do come along, listen and participate.

Dr. Layli Uddin, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’

14 March 2016

More than a Book: a new display of Southeast Asian manuscripts

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Visitors to the British Library building at St Pancras will recently have noticed a new display in the Southeast Asian exhibition case by the entrance to the Asian and African Studies Reading Room on the third floor. ‘More than a Book’ presents examples of writing from Southeast Asia in a range of unusual formats and materials, with texts incised on bamboo and gold, painted on paper with a brush, written on gilded wood, printed on silk, and even woven into cotton binding tapes to be wound around a book of palm leaves.

Exhibition Case 2016 (6)
More than a Book: a new display of writing from Southeast Asia, at the British Library Noc

In pride of place is the Burmese 'Butterfly Book’ (Or. 16052), as we have named what is actually a printed petition presented to a colonial official.  No government officer could ever have received a more beautiful document than this formal address, created in around 1907 on the occasion of the first visit to Mergui of the British Governor of Burma. Mergui (Myeik) is a coastal town on the Tenasserim Coast (the present-day Taninthayi Division), the southernmost district of Lower Burma (Myanmar). Technically this is not a hand-written manuscript, for the Burmese words have been typeset and printed onto ‘wings’ of silk, and bound within a large oyster shell.  In the petition, local residents offer sincere thanks to the Government for the construction of roads, and express their belief that the expansion of transport networks will bring more benefit to the region. Included in their long ‘shopping list’ is a request for a marine ferry to ply between adjacent coastal towns, a telegraph office, and aid in building a new hospital.

Burmese 'Butterfly Book', printed petition of 1907 from the residents of Mergui presented to the visiting British Governor of Burma. British Library, Or. 16052 Noc

Also from Burma are two sazigyo, or woven binding tapes for winding around sacred texts.  Among the ways in which Burmese Buddhists believe that merit can be gained is by commissioning and donating a sazigyo to a Buddhist monastery. There are many types of sazigyo: some are purely decorative but others are woven with texts recording the names of the donors, their titles and distinctions, and their deeds of merit. The donors usually call on devas and humans to applaud their meritorious deeds.

The larger red sazigyo is from a manuscript of Pacitʿ Pāli, a canonical text of Theravāda Buddhist monastic rules (Or. 4846). The text on the sazigyo is in verse, and begins with the word Zeyatu which means ‘success’. The donors call upon the universe to hear the news of their donation of the scripture of the Buddha’s glorious teaching, and express their hope that by the merit of this donation they may swiftly and directly reach the cessation of afflictions (Nirvana).  The inscription on the smaller yellow sazigyo (Or.15949/2) suggests that both the manuscript and the binding tape were donated to the Sayadaw (Abbot) of Bangyi monastery.

Exhibition Case 2016 (11)
Two sazigyo, manuscript binding tapes woven with Burmese texts. British Library, Or. 4846 and Or. 15946/2 Noc

From northern Thailand come two wooden title indicators, written in Thai in Dhamma script, decorated with red lacquer and gold leaf. The titles of the palm leaf manuscripts to which the title indicators were attached with a cord are incised on the gold background, together with the names of donors and honoured persons. The small title indicator was made for a manuscript containing the Vessantara Jataka copied in 1925 (Or.14528), while the larger one belonged to a text from the Abhidhamma dated 1930 (Or.14529). These title indicators were used to help retrieve manuscripts when they were stored in large chests or cabinets at Buddhist temple libraries.

On the lower shelf is an imperial Vietnamese scroll (Or. 14817/A). In 1793 a British embassy to China led by Lord Macartney ran into a storm while off the coast of central Vietnam, and issued a plea for help. In response, the Tây Sơn ruler of Vietnam, Emperor Cảnh Thịnh (1792-1802), sent a welcoming party to the British delegation, with food supplies and this beautiful scroll.  The scroll is written in Han Nom characters on orange paper decorated with a large dragon, and bears the royal seal stamped in red ink.

Vietnamese imperial scroll, 1793. British Library, Or. 14817/A

At the back of the case is an example of Batak writing on bamboo (MSS Batak 1), from north-east Sumatra. In 1823, at the request of his British visitor John Anderson, the King of Bunto Pane wrote on this piece of bamboo the Batak numbers one to ten, and a reminder to Anderson to send him two dogs once he had returned to Penang. In the bamboo container are found a knife – which may have been used to inscribe the Batak letters – and four poison-tipped blow-pipe darts.

Lastly, but catching all eyes at the top of the display, is a letter written on a sheet of pure gold, from Bali (Egerton 765). This letter in Balinese was sent in 1768 from the princes of Badung and Mengwi to the Dutch Resident of Semarang, on the north coast of Java.  Inscribed in Balinese language and script with a sharp stylus on a piece of gold in the  shape of a palm leaf – the usual writing material in Bali – the princes affirm their friendship with the Dutch East India Company.

Annabel Gallop, San San May, Jana Igunma, Sud Chonchirdsin Ccownwork
Southeast Asia section

03 April 2015

Early vocabularies of Malay

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Among the Malay manuscripts in the British Library which have just been digitised are a number of vocabulary lists and dictionaries in Malay, compiled by visitors to the region as aids to learning the language. The study of Malay in Europe dates back to the very first voyages to Southeast Asia in the 16th century, for Malay functioned as the lingua franca for the whole of the archipelago, and was an essential business tool for both merchants in search of spices and missionaries in search of souls.  

68.c.12, Bowrey map, 1701
Map showing the lands where the Malay language was used, from Thomas Bowrey, A dictionary English and Malayo, Malayo and English (London, 1701). British Library, 68.c.12  noc

The earliest Malay book printed in Europe is a Malay-Dutch vocabulary by Frederick de Houtman, published in Amsterdam in 1603, and an English version of this Dutch work became the first Malay book printed in Britain in 1614. However it was only in 1701 that the first original Malay-English dictionary was printed in London, the work of Thomas Bowrey (ca. 1650-1713), an East India Company sea captain, who explained in the Preface the urgent need for such a publication: “… I finding so very few English Men that have attained any tollerable Knowledge of the Malayo Tongue, so absolutely necessary to trade in those Southern Seas, and that there is no Book of this kind published in English to help the attaining of that Language; These Considerations, I say, has imboldened me to Publish the insuing Dictionary …” (Bowrey 1701). A draft manuscript version of Bowrey’s dictionary (MSS Eur A33), in his own hand and probably dating from the late 17th century, has just been digitised. It is probably the very volume which Bowrey mentions in the dedication of his publication, “To the Honourable the Directors of the English East-India Company”: “The following Work was undertaken Chiefly for the Promotion of Trade in the many Countries where the Malayo Language is Spoke, which your Honours having perused in Manuscript, were pleased to approve of; and to Incourage the Publishing of it …”

Thomas Bowrey’s autograph draft of his Malay-English dictionary. British Library, MSS Eur A33, pp. 6-7  noc

After Bowrey’s pioneering work, it was not until the late 18th century that British studies of Malay developed in earnest, through the efforts of the ‘Enlightenment group’ of colonial scholar-administrators such as William Marsden, John Leyden, John Crawfurd and Thomas Stamford Raffles. The polyglot Leyden gathered together a vast array of linguistic materials, some compiled in his own hand (Or. 15936) and others acquired from different sources (MSS Malay F.2). Raffles too collected vocabularies from all over the archipelago, including a Malay wordlist (MSS Eur E110) which appears to be in the hand of his Penang scribe Ibrahim; this volume is especially valuable for also containing an early register of inhabitants of Penang, listed by street name, with details of origin, occupation, and family members. Raffles also obtained manuscripts as gifts, including a Malay-Javanese-Madurese vocabulary (MSS Malay A.3) from his good friend Pangeran Suta Adiningrat of Madura.  Finally, an English-Malay vocabulary (MSS Eur B37) is of unknown origin but includes at the end hospital lists of treatment with many Indian names such as 'Singh', suggesting the owner might have been a medical officer in the Indian army or of an Indian regiment in Southeast Asia.

A vocabulary of Dutch, English, Malay (Jawi script) and Malay (romanised script), provisionally dated to the 18th century on the basis of the Dutch and Romanised Malay handwriting. British Library, MSS Malay F 2, p. 4 (detail)  noc

Vocabulary of Thai and Malay, compiled by John Leyden, early 19th c. British Library, Or. 15936, f.69v (detail)  noc

Final page of a Malay-Javanese-Madurese vocabulary, early 19th c. British Library, MSS Malay A 3, f.113v (detail)  noc

Opening pages of a Malay-English vocabulary, with on the left-hand page the variant forms (isolated, initial, medial and final) of the Jawi alphabet, early 19th c., Raffles collection. British Library, MSS Eur E110, pp.2-3  noc

Early 19th-century register of the inhabitants in Love Lane, Penang, including a Portuguese fisherman and his family of ten from ‘Junk Ceylon’ (Ujung Salang, or Phuket), who ‘came to the island with Mr Light’, i.e. Francis Light, in 1786. British Library, MSS Eur E110, f.147r (detail)  noc

English-Malay vocabulary, 19th century. MSS Eur B37, f. 1v (detail)  noc

These manuscripts join three other Malay vocabularies digitised last year, and are listed below in approximate chronological order.  Many other Malay manuscript vocabulary lists are held in the British Library, often comprising only a few pages within larger volumes, but all are detailed in a recently-published catalogue (Ricklefs, Voorhoeve & Gallop 2014).

Digitised Malay manuscript vocabularies in the British Library:

Add. 7043, Malay grammar and vocabulary by William Mainstone, 1682, copied by John Hindley, early 19th c.

MSS Eur A33, Malay-English dictionary, by Thomas Bowrey, late 17th c.

Egerton 933, Two Malay vocabularies, 1731 and early 19th c.

MSS Malay F.2, Dutch-English-Malay vocabulary, ca. 18th c., Leyden collection.

Or. 15936, Various Malay vocabularies, early 19th c., Leyden collection.

MSS Eur E110, Malay-English vocabulary, early 19th c., Raffles collection.

MSS Malay A.3, Malay-Javanese-Madurese vocabulary, early 19th c., Raffles collection.

Or. 4575, French-Malay vocabulary, early 19th c. 

MSS Eur B37, English-Malay vocabulary, 19th c.

Further reading

Frederick de Houtman, Spraek ende Woord-boek in de Malaysche ende Madagaskarsche Talen (Amsterdam, 1603). British Library, C.71.a.32
Augustus Spalding, Dialogues in the English and Malaiane languages (London, 1614). British Library, C.33.b.41
Thomas Bowrey, A dictionary English and Malayo, Malayo and English (London, 1701). British Library, 68.c.12. Digitised version from the National Library of Singapore.
Annabel Teh Gallop, Early Malay printing 1603-1900. An exhibition in the British Library 20 January to 4 June 1989.
M.C.Ricklefs, P.Voorhoeve† and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

24 April 2014

Romeo and Juliet in Thai

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If you were in Bangkok about a century ago and you were going to a theatre performance, the last thing you would expect is a play by Shakespeare. But you might be surprised to find out that this was very much a possibility, and it was equally possible to recognise the Thai king as one of the actors on stage.

King Vajiravudh (Rama VI, 1910-25) was a true fan of Shakespeare and translated several of his works into Thai. He also made great efforts to ensure that Shakespeare’s plays found their way into Thai theatres and by doing so he introduced Western/modern forms of theatre into Thailand. He often stood on the stage himself as he had a passion for acting that he had developed as a young student in England. Immediate family members were encouraged to join him on stage.

The Cheltenham Chronicle and Glo’shire Graphic reported on 30 August 1902 about the young Crown Prince Vajiravudh that “the Prince has recently appeared in another role – that of amateur actor and playwright - at an ‘At Home’ at Westbury Court… The stage name of the heir to the Siamese Crown is ‘Carlton H. Terris’, and he actually performed in three plays – ‘In Honour Bound’, ‘Old Cronies’, and ‘The King’s Command’, the latter being from his pen.”      

King Vajiravudh during his coronation ceremony in 1910. Source: Chotmaihet Phraratchaphithi borommaratchaphisek Somdet Phraramathibodi Srisinthon Maha Vachiravut Phramongkutklao Chaoyuhua. Bangkok, 1923, p. 1 (Siam.183)
King Vajiravudh during his coronation ceremony in 1910. Source: Chotmaihet Phraratchaphithi borommaratchaphisek Somdet Phraramathibodi Srisinthon Maha Vachiravut Phramongkutklao Chaoyuhua. Bangkok, 1923, p. 1 (Siam.183)


King Vajiravudh was born on January 1, 1881 being the second son and successor of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). At the early age of 12, he was sent to Sandhurst Royal Military College and then moved to Oxford University to study history, administration and law. Altogether, he spent nine years in England. Following the death of his elder half-brother, Crown Prince Maha Vajirunhis in 1895, Prince Vajiravudh succeeded as Crown Prince and eventually ascended the throne after his father King Rama V deceased on 23 October 1910. He was the first Thai king to be educated abroad. The long time as a student in England had a considerable and lasting influence on his love of literary and performing arts. In many of his works, he emphasised the value of the press, and of reading in general.


Romeo and Juliet in Thai, translated by King Vajiravudh. The book was printed in 1922 and bound in a lavender coloured silk cover embossed with gilt (Siam.279)
Romeo and Juliet in Thai, translated by King Vajiravudh. The book was printed in 1922 and bound in a lavender coloured silk cover embossed with gilt (Siam.279)


His most important translations into Thai are Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Siam.279), “As you like it” (Siam.330/421), and “The Merchant of Venice” (Siam.275/7). His excellence in this field earned him the name “Maha thiraraja”, meaning “philosopher king”. Due to the fact that many of his contemporaries did not see the purpose in his activities as an author, playwright and actor – the latter being indeed very unusual for a Thai king - he decided to write and perform under different pseudonyms, like for example Si Ayutthaya, Asvabhahu, Tom Toby, or Carlton H. Terris. Altogether, King Vajiravudh used more than 40 pseudonyms (known to date).


Beginning of the first act of Romeo and Juliet in Thai, translated by King Vajiravudh (Siam.279, pp. 4-5)
Beginning of the first act of Romeo and Juliet in Thai, translated by King Vajiravudh (Siam.279, pp. 4-5) 

The publication of Thai literary works and translations of Western literature and theatre plays into Thai reached a first climax with King Vajiravudh as author and translator himself.  He stood out for his considerable contribution to Thai literature and the performing arts, and was the first one to classify Thai theatre into two types, the Khon and Lakhon.

In "A Descriptive Catalogue of the Siamese Section at the International Exhibition of Industry and Labour" (Turin, 1911) he wrote: “The theatre where the Khon and Lakon are performed ... possesses the beautiful simplicity of an ancient Greek theatre ... neither stage nor scenery is required ... Costumes and properties however, are very elaborate, and are made as accurately as possible. The costumes are made to resemble those worn in Siam in olden times, and have not changed during successive generations, because they have been found most picturesque and suitable. Queens or royal personages wear crowns or coronets; others have various kinds of headdresses suitable to their rank and station. Character parts, such as demons, monkeys, or yogis wear distinctive masks of different colours and designs. Each mask is a good example of Siamese decorative art, and is distinctive and characteristic, so that each character may at once be recognized by the mask worn by the actor.” 

In addition to these traditional theatre forms, he helped to popularise modern dance-drama, spoken drama (lakhon phut) and sung drama (lakhon rong) in Siam as a way to prepare the people of his country for the modern world.

The British Library has a collection of over 120 first editions and reprints of King Vajiravudh’s works, including the above mentioned three translations of Shakespeare’s plays into Thai.

Jana Igunma, Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian ccownwork


Further reading

Paradee Tungtang: Shakespeare in Thailand. PhD dissertation, University of Warwick, 2011 (SFX 537761) 

Walter F. Vella and Dorothy Vella:  Chaiyo! King Vajiravudh and the development of Thai nationalism. Honolulu, 1978 (X.800/32387)


19 March 2014

BL Event: Korean Literature: Past and Present

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In connection with the London Book Fair 2014 the British Library is holding an event entitled Korean Literature: Past and Present from 6.30-8 pm on Tuesday, 8th April.  One of Korea’s foremost novelists, Yi Mun-yol, will be in conversation with Dr Grace Koh, Lecturer in Korean Literature at SOAS, and Brother Anthony of Taizé, a noted translator of Korean literature.

15260.c.7 Cho Ung chǒn
Cho Ung chǒn
“The Tale of Cho Ung“, Korean novel in hangŭl script. c.1850 (British Library 15260.c.7 )

Korea has been chosen as The London Book Fair’s Market Focus for 2014 to reflect the country’s status as one of the top ten publishing markets in the world, and its expanding reputation within the international literary community.

The event will also include a brief intoduction to the British Library’s Korean collection which contains many historical and contemporary literary works, notably a collection of rare 19th century novels in hangŭl script.

For more details of the Event see the BL website:  What's on

For information on the BL’s Korean collections: Help for researchers: Korean collections


Hamish Todd, Asian and African Studies


17 March 2014

The road to Mandalay

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The name of the British Library is in some ways a misnomer - we hold amazing collections from around the world, as the entries on this blog show. With a global collection that's important to so many people in so many places, comes a responsibility to work to enable people around the world to access the collections. Digitisation can be a wonderful way of enabling anyone, anywhere, to read manuscripts, books, or newspaper, and to see works of art, without having to come to London. Sometimes, library staff also travel, to tell people about our collections and encourage people to find out more about them.

Among the millions of items in the British Library are around 2,000 Burmese manuscripts – one of my favourites is Or.16761. There are also around 20,000 books from Myanmar, as well as photographs, newspapers, and the records of the Burma Office and India Office. We have long been in touch with colleagues in libraries in Myanmar, but last month we were able to do something that hasn't been possible for a number of years: to travel to Mandalay and Yangon, taking with us two displays about our collections.

The opening of a 19th century Burmese manuscript illustrating a variety of royal entertainments (Or.16761, ff 1-3r)

The displays featured two sets of material - photographs taken in Myanmar in the 19th century, and early books printed in, and about the languages of, Myanmar. Because we knew that one of the displays would be outdoors, the displays used images rather than including the original books and photographs, but the high-resolution scans and photographs used meant that the facsimiles could be extremely high-quality, and enabled people to get up close and examine the images in detail. We’ve done similar ‘facsimile’ exhibitions recently – as you can see on previous blog posts – in Kabul and Delhi.
LitFest visitors
Visitors at the displays at the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, Mandalay. © British Library

The first venue for the displays was the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, which this year took place in Mandalay. Despite a last-minute change of venue from the Kuthodaw Pagoda to a nearby hotel, thousands of people came to the literary festival. It was probably the first time we've done a display in a car park, but the response from the estimated 3,500 visitors who came to see the Library's displays made all the hard work (and the heat and dust outside) worth it. Many of the photographs and books in the pictures had not been seen in Myanmar before, or not for some years, and people often stopped to ask us questions, or to take photographs of the displays for future reference. Some visitors returned the next day with their friends and families, and at one point a group of tour guides came to see the old photographs of the places to which they regularly took tourists.
Two monks getting up close to see the details of the old photographs. © British Library
After a busy three days, we packed up the displays and drove to Yangon, to set up in our second venue: the Universities' Central Library on the main campus of the University of Yangon. The campus has been closed for years, and only recently reopened to students, but there's already significant investment in improving the facilities, and rejuvenating the campus and faculties. The Universities' Central Library has its own hugely important collection of books and manuscripts, and cases in the marble-clad lobby showing some of these. After we had been treated to a tour of the library and its collections, we installed the displays in lobby and welcomed friends old and new to the opening ceremony.

UCL staff
Staff of the Universities’ Central Library previewing the exhibition before the opening ceremony. © Universities’ Central Library

UCL visitors
Students and other visitors enjoyed the displays at the Universities’ Central Library. © Universities’ Central Library
Thousands of visitors came to see the displays in Yangon, and we’ve left the panels there, so it’s possible that they will be shown again in the future, perhaps in other venues. Meanwhile, we're starting to think about what's next - and looking forward to future projects in partnership with our colleagues in Myanmar, whether they involve digitisation, displays, or something else entirely. Watch this space!

Catherine Eagleton, Asian and African Studies


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