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The Marsden Collection


The Oriental and African works of the Marsden Collection, formed by William Marsden (1754-1836) and donated to King's College London (KCL) on his death, was one of the main founding collection of the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies.

William Marsden (1754-1836)

William Marsden was born on November 16th 1754 in Wicklow, Ireland. He entered into service with the East India Company in 1770 at the age of sixteen, and for the next ten years was stationed at Bencoolen (Bangkahulu) in western Sumatra, rising to the position of Secretary.

On Marsden's return to England in 1779 he prepared for publication the first detailed account of the natural history, society, religion and language of Sumatra. Following the publication of this work in 1783, Marsden devoted himself to the study of the Malayan language, privately publishing a dictionary and a grammar of the language in 1812.

Marsden was not merely interested in the languages of south-east Asia, but had a consuming interest in comparative philology, and collected books in numerous obscure and unusual tongues, in 1827 publishing a catalogue of his collection of linguistic works "with a view to the general comparison of languages".

Between 1795 and 1807 he held the positions of Second Secretary and then First Secretary to the Admiralty.

He died on October 6th 1836.

The Marsden Collection

Marsden's extensive library was bequeathed to the recently-founded King's College on his death in 1836. The library included books on travel, history and philology written in European languages, as well as an eclectic collection of books written in a wide range of non-European languages.

Those works written in Oriental and African languages were transferred to the School of Oriental and African Studies on permanent loan in September 1920. The rest of the collection remains at KCL.

At present there is no catalogue, or any type of list, of the Chinese printed books at SOAS that derive from Marsden's collection, and the books are fully integrated into the main Chinese collection.

Summary of Marsden Books at SOAS

A summary of the Marsden books transferred to SOAS (as recorded in SOAS MS 226830 Box 1 Document III/2/18) is given below:

Language Group No. of Works No. of Volumes No. of Folios
Albanian 2 2 --
Arabian 336 379 31
Armenian 27 30 1
Bhotan, etc. 2 5 --
Burmese 22 23 1
Chinese 159 186 11
Egyptian 70 76 2
Ethiopic 25 25 6
Georgian 5 6 1
Indian 336 379 22
Japanese 31 42 3
Malay 43 67 8
Negro 27 31 2
Persian 170 200 12
Polyglot 240 422 25
Tartar 67 83 --
Tunkin 10 10 --
Turkish 160 208 11
  1,735 2,174 136