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Identity statement

Reference code(s)
GB0100 KCLCA Marsden
MARSDEN, William (1754-1836)
Level of description
Collection (fonds)
Extent and medium of the unit of description (quantity, bulk, or size)
4 boxes (including 2 outsize), 1 volume


Name of creator(s)

Marsden, William, 1754-1836, orientalist and numismatist

Administrative / Biographical history

Born at Verval, county Wicklow, Ireland, 1754; classically educated at schools in Dublin; obtained an appointment from the East India Company and left Gravesend, 1770; reached Bencoolen, Sumatra, 1771; served in Sumatra first as a sub-secretary and afterwards as principal secretary to the government; learnt Malayan; departed for England, 1779; became acquainted with Sir Joseph Banks, 1780; elected Fellow of the Royal Society, 1783; later became its treasurer and vice-president, often presiding during Banks' illness; elected fellow of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, 1784; Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, 1785; an original member of the Royal Irish Academy, 1785; invested his savings and with his brother John established an East India agency business in Gower Street, London, 1785; honorary degree of DCL, Oxford, 1786; member and treasurer of the Royal Society Club, 1787; accepted the post of second secretary of the admiralty, 1795; member of the Literary Club, 1799; promoted to first secretary of the admiralty, 1804; resigned, 1807; suffered from apoplexy, 1833; died from an apoplectic attack, 1836; buried at the cemetery at Kensal Green, London. Publications include: The History of Sumatra (London, 1783, and later editions); Dictionary of the Malayan Language (London, 1812); The Travels of Marco Polo (1818), translated from the Italian; Numismata Orientalia (London, 1823-5); Bibliotheca Marsdeniana Philologica et Orientalis: a Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts (London, 1827). His autobiography was edited and published by his widow Elizabeth as A Brief Memoir of ... William Marsden (London, 1838).

Archival history

William Marsden collected manuscripts and books reflecting his interests in the Orient and in languages. Malay documents in the Light Letters (Ref: MS 40320), part of the collection given by Marsden to King's College London in 1835, were transferred to the School of Oriental Studies (later the School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London, shortly after its foundation in 1916, to be followed by a substantial part of his library in 1918.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Marsden presented manuscripts and books to King's College London in 1835.

Content & structure

Scope and content

Manuscripts collected by William Marsden, including letters and other material, 1627-1668, relating to Portuguese Catholic missionaries in India, some from Ajmir and Agra, and Tibet;  texts, grammars and vocabularies, [17th-18th centuries], including Welsh; Icelandic; Kannada; Tamil fragments, some on palmyra leaves; Javanese text; Tagalog fragments; 'Bocabulario Tagalo', [c1580]; 'Vocabulario de la lengua Iloca'; manuscript letter from C T de Murr to William Marsden, 24 Feb 1797, regarding the Bibliotheca glottica universalis, with accompanying typescript transcription; Ionian (Greek) newspaper concerning King George III, 1805.

Two items, martyrology of Portuguese missionaries in India and other parts of Asia, [17th century]; and manuscript entitled 'Principio do dereito q. tem el Rey de Portugal da Ilha de Goa...1595', bound with 'Livro tresladado dos contos de Goa de todos os ordenados q. Sua Magestade da na India...', both 1658, also with cipher used presumably by the Jesuits, 'Cifra da Compa. q. devem ter todos os superiores...'; were transferred to the Foyle Special Collections Library  at King’s College London in 2018.

Conditions of access & use

Conditions governing access

Open, subject to signature of Reader's undertaking form, and appropriate provision of two forms of identification, to include one photographic ID.

Conditions governing reproduction

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Director of Archive Services, King's College London.

Language/scripts of material

Portuguese, Welsh, Icelandic, Kannada, Tamil, Javanese, Tagalog, Iloca, Greek

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Some items are fragile.

Finding aids

Notes on some manuscripts available in the reading room, King's College London Archives. Bibliotheca Marsdeniana Philologica et Orientalis: a Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts (London, 1827) listed Marsden's collection, but only some manuscripts went to King's College London.

Allied materials

Existence and location of originals

King's College London College Archives

Existence and location of copies

King's College London Archives holds microfilms of 'Vocabulario de la lengua Iloca' and 'Bocabulario Tagalo'; and photocopies of pages from the Marsden manuscripts in papers relating to Professor Charles Ralph Boxer (Ref: K/PP78).

Related units of description

King's College London Archives holds information about Marsden's collection (Ref: KAL/AD6/F50-1). Some printed material from his library, including rare items, remains in Special Collections at King's College Library.

Description control

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project. Sources: brief description in King's College London Manuscripts and Private Papers: A Select Guide (1982); Dictionary of National Biography; National Register of Archives; King's College Library online catalogue; British Library manuscripts online catalogue; AIM25 description of the Light Letters (MS 40320) at SOAS; C R Boxer, More about the Marsden Manuscripts in the British Museum, from the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Apr 1949.

Rules or conventions

Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

This catalogue is made available under the Open Data Commons Attribution License. This catalogue may be updated from time to time in order to reflect additional material and/or new understandings of the material.

Date(s) of descriptions

Jan 2001

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  • Ancient religions
  • Asian cultures
  • Books
  • Celtic languages
  • Central Asian cultures
  • Christianity
  • Communications media
  • Dictionaries
  • Germanic languages
  • Icelandic
  • Indo-european languages
  • Information sciences
  • Missionaries
  • Missionary work
  • National cultures
  • Portuguese
  • Publications
  • Reference materials
  • Religions
  • Religious activities
  • Religious groups
  • Romance languages
  • Saints

Personal names

  • George III, 1738-1820, King of Great Britain and Ireland
  • Marsden, William, 1754-1836, Orientalist and Numismatist

Corporate names

  • King's College London College Archives
  • Society of Jesus


  • India, South Asia
  • Tibet, China, East Asia

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