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South Asia

Collection Details

South Asia held at Wellcome Library [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

Based on the collections of Sir Henry Wellcome, the South Asian collections are a rich resource of primary and secondary sources relating to the region. Medical history lies at the heart of the collection but most areas of human endeavour are documented in manuscript (South Asian and western), printed and pictorial material. The collection of Hindi manuscripts is one of the largest outside India, the Sanskrit and Panjabi collections are among the major European collections. Primary and secondary materials continue to be systematically collected to support research and teaching in medical history and related subjects. The Library is supported by the Wellcome Trust.

There are approximately 1,500 Sanskrit printed books listed in the online catalogue and almost 6,000 publications from India. There are approaching 7,000 Sanskrit manuscripts on a variety of traditional topics with smaller collections of printed books in most of the other languages of the region. The Roja Muthiah Research Library collection comprises microfilms of about 2,500 Tamil printed books from the period 1850-1964, with median date of 1913. There are over a hundred early Sanskrit lithographs, as well as some in Marathi and Hindi. The western language archive and manuscript material also includes items on South Asia.

The Oriental manuscript collections comprise : ca. 6.500 Sanskrit, ca. 900 Hindi, 470 Sinhalese and Pali, 260 Panjabi, 54 Tamil, ca. 20 Marathi, ca. 10 Malayalam, 6 Oriya, 4 Kannada, 4 Telugu, 22 Urdu (including Kashmiri and Panjabi in Arabic script).

The printed book collection includes rare early imprints from the Laksmivenkatesvara Press, Kalyan, the Srivenkatesvara and the Khemaraja Srikrsnadasa Presses, Mumbai. Complete run of Epigraphia Indica. Series held include : - The Buddhist Sanskrit Text Series, The Gilgit Manuscripts and The Trivandrum Sanskrit Series. The library holds Gorresio’s Ramayana edition of 1843-1870, Muller’s Rigveda. Important topographical collections include works by Sleeman, Hedin, Tod, Talboys-Wheeler, Schlaginweit, Landsdell, Landon, Kawaguchi and Waddell. Folk literature, memoirs, reports of missions (Gilgit-Chitral mission of 1885-86, etc), and gazetteers.

Oleographs and chromolithographs from the Chitrashala Press, Pune. Prints after Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906). Photograph album of Kashmir by Samuel Bourne (1860s). Watercolours of snakes and insects for Mary, Lady Impey (1749-1818). Aquatints and lithographs by English and Scottish artists.

The serials held, many of which are subscribed to when current, include :- Asiatick Researches ; Indian Antiquary ; Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China and Australia ; Calcutta Journal of Natural History and Miscellany of the Arts and Sciences in India ; Indian Army Corps Journal ; Indian Heart Journal : Official publication of the Cardiological Society of India ; Indian Journal of Occupational Health ; Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology ; India Journal of Medical Science ; Indian Journal of Medical Education : Official Publication of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Education ; Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal ; Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society ; Journal of the Christian Medical Association of India, Burma [Myanmar] and Ceylon ; Patna Journal of Medicine ; Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society ; Bulletin of the School of Oriental & African Studies ; Journal asiatique ; Journal of the American Oriental Society ; Indian Journal of the History of Science ; Bulletin of the Indian Institute of the History of Medicine ; Ancient Science of Life ; Nagarjuna ; Bulletin de l’Ecole francaise d’Extreme-Orient.

History and development

The Wellcome Library (including its predecessors) has been active for almost a century in collecting books and manuscripts on the medical traditions and history of South Asia. In 1911, Sir Henry Wellcome sent his agent, Dr Paira Mall, to India to collect materials for a museum of mankind with medical history at its heart which was envisaged at the time. Mall remained in India for a decade, purchasing manuscripts, books, paintings, and other materials. These were shipped to England in the early 1920s, and, together with a vast quantity of Indic material purchased in small London auction rooms, form the core of the South Asian collections. Since Mall’s time, the South Asian collections have continued to be augmented, a policy that continues today. The library’s western language archive and manuscript collections and iconographic collections are rich sources for material on Europeans in (or in contact with) South Asia and these also continue to be augmented.


The principle strength of the South Asia collections is the unparalleled range of printed and manuscript works on and about South Asian medicine. There is scarcely a branch of traditional culture that is not represented in manuscripts or in printed editions. Jyotihsastra, tantra, stotra, Jainism and vrata are especially well represented. The manuscript collection contains many important, rare, and, in some cases, unique works. Currently, a major project promoted by the Institute of Jainology to catalogue Jain manuscripts in the Wellcome and Bodleian Libraries is in progress. The Wellcome Library preserves the largest collection of Jain manuscripts outside the sub-continent, some 2,000 in number. The printed book collection includes many now unobtainable nineteenth century editions, and a comprehensive collection of twentieth century works on ayurveda and related topics. There is a particularly strong collection manuscript catalogues of libraries all over the world. Western language material includes personal papers (diaries, correspondence, photographs, notes etc.) and institutional records, generated by military, naval and merchant marine surgeons, tropical medicine researchers, naturalists and botanists, and organisations devoted to tropical medicine, sanitation, birth control and a variety of other subjects. The iconographic collections include Indic popular prints, “Company” [East India Company] drawings, Kalighat paintings and British and French aquatints, lithographs, etchings and wood engravings.

General arrangement and access regulations

Open access : Western language post 1850 books arranged according to Barnard (modified) classification system. See BFS and neighbouring sections. The “Modern Medicine” collection contains mainly contemporary works relating to current practice in ayurvedic and other therapies.

Closed access : South Asian language printed books, western books printed before 1850, South Asian manuscripts and western manuscripts on South Asia, iconographic collections. The Tamil medical printed book collection of the Roja Muthiah Research Library is available on microfilm, also on closed access.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

South Asia.


Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka.

Languages of material

Bengali, Braj, English, French, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Newari, Oriya, Pali, Panjabi, Prakrit languages, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu.


Agriculture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Arts, Communication and media, Development, Economics, Education, Environmental sciences, Geography, History, Industries, Language, Literature, Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Politics and government, Recreation, Religion, Science and technology, Travel, Women.

Languages as linguistic focus

English, French, Hindi, Pali, Panjabi, Prakrit languages, Sanskrit, Sinhalese, Tamil.

Names relevant to the collection:

  • Caraka
  • Susruta
  • Vagbhata
  • Sarngadhara
  • Madhavakara
  • Bhavamisra
  • Rheede, Hendrik van
  • Garcia da Orta
  • The British East India Company
  • Royal Army Medical Corps
  • Allen, Frederic Freeman (1825-1888)
  • Ballingall, Sir George (1780-1855)
  • Blacker, Carlos Paton (1895-1975)
  • British Medical Association
  • British Social Hygiene Council
  • Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine
  • Carter, Henry Vandyke (1831-1897)
  • Charles, Sir Richard Henry Havelock (1858-1934)
  • Cholera Research Laboratory (Dacca)
  • Christophers, Sir (Samuel) Rickard (1873-1978)
  • Dalrymple-Champneys, Sir Weldon (1892-1980)
  • Donovan, Charles (1863-1951)
  • Dundas, Henry (1742-1811)
  • 1st Viscount Melville
  • Eugenics Society
  • Family Planning Association
  • Forbes, Alexander Kinloch (1821-1865)
  • Garnham, Percy Cyril Claude (1901-1995)
  • Government of India
  • Gray, John Temperley (1835-1925)
  • Griffith, Edward Fyfe (1895-1988)
  • Hamilton, Lillias Anna (1858-1925)
  • Haythornthwaite, Iszet Mead (1859?-1946)
  • Johnston-Saint, Peter (1886-1974)
  • Karachi Plague Commission (India), 1897
  • Impey, Mary, Lady, (1749-1818)
  • Lady Hardinge Medical College and Hospital, Delhi
  • Lister Institute for Preventive Medicine
  • Macartney, George (1737-1806)
  • 1st Earl Macintosh, Sir Robert (1897-1989)
  • Mall, Paira (1874-1957)
  • Manson, Sir Patrick (1844-1922)
  • McGrigor, Sir James (1771-1858)
  • Medical Women’s Federation
  • Mellanby, Sir Edward (1844-1955)
  • Mulligan, Hugh Waddell (1901-1982)
  • National Council for Combatting Venereal Diseases
  • Nepean, Sir Evan (1751-1822)
  • Nightingale, Florence (1820-1910)
  • O’Farrell, Thomas (1843-1917)
  • Plowden, Charles C.
  • Read, Grantly Dick (1890-1959)
  • Rogers, Major-General Sir Leonard (1868-1963)
  • Ross, Sir Ronald (1857-1932)
  • Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
  • Sharpey-Schaefer, Sir Edward Albert (1850-1935)
  • Shute, Percy George (1894-1977)
  • Smith, Charles Irving (1809-1871)
  • Stopes, Marie Charlotte Carmichael (1880-1958)
  • Strangeways Research Laboratory
  • Van Heyningen, William Edward (1911-1989)
  • Wallich, George Charles (1815-1899)
  • Wallich, Nathaniel (1786-1854)
  • Williams, Cicely Delphine (1893-1992)
  • Wright, Helena Rosa (1887-1982).

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Archival materials (includes non-published & mixed material), Audio materials (includes cassettes & CDs), Books, Manuscripts, Serials, Theses, Visual materials (includes photographs, prints, drawings, videos & films).

Total size of collection

ca. 9,000 manuscripts in South Asian languages. ca. 7,500 printed books from or about South Asia. ca. 6,000 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs. ca. 250 microfilm rolls of Tamil language printed books (providing ca. 2,500 imprints). ca. 8,500 western manuscripts with relevant material scattered through them. ca. 550 archive collections with relevant materials scattered through them.

Size of collection - vernacular

ca. 9,000 manuscripts in Sanskrit and other South Asian languages. ca. 2,000 books printed in Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Gujurati, Kannada, Marathi, Panjabi, Sinhalese, Tamil Telugu and Urdu.

Size of collection - western

ca. 5,500 books on South Asia in western languages. ca. 8,500 western manuscripts with relevant materials scattered through them.

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has stayed the same.

Annual intake

250 printed books and manuscripts and 25 iconographic works per annum on South Asian topics or in South Asian languages.

Content date range

0 to 0 AD

Interlibrary loan procedure

The Wellcome Library is a Reference library only, apart from ILL.

Co-operative agreements

  • Informal arrangements with British Library, Oriental & India Office Collections regarding acquisition of oriental manuscripts.
  • The Library is an Associated Institution of the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and an Associate Member of the Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL).

Collection policy

Collection Policy: The Wellcome Library has a collection policy for secondary post 1850 printed books which it collects to support medical history in its widest context of social history in all languages relating to every age and part of the world. Collection policies for other parts of the Library are under development.

Retention policy

Retention Policy: Post 1850 printed books not retained include multiple copies except those of particular value or significant provenance. These are deselected, offered to other potentially interested libraries and if not required, discarded.

Collection Catalogue Information


Uses software from Innovative Interfaces Inc. Allows searches of whole database including bibliography of works not held, or of specific sections, e.g. oriental manuscripts in particular languages only, western manuscripts and archives only, printed books only, pictures only. Contains records for most of the Library's printed books: journals and a small number of oriental printed books (still on cards) are still to be added. It includes some 50,000 records of iconographic material. A database describes the majority of western manuscripts and archives; a programme to convert old printed or typed catalogues of this material is well advanced. Where a catalogue has not yet been converted to electronic form the hard copy is available for consultation.

Catalogue transliteration schemes

Pin yin (Chinese); Hepburn (Japanese); LC for all other printed oriental material. Published catalogues of manuscripts vary

Collection printed catalogues

Handlist of Sanskrit and Prakrit Manuscripts in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.
Wujastyk, Dominik.
London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, Vol. 1 1985 ; Vol 2 1998.

A Descriptive Catalogue of the Hindi Manuscripts in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.
Friedlander, Peter.
London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1996.

Catalogue of the Sinhalese Manuscripts in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.
Somadasa, K.D.
London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1996.

Catalogue of Tamil manuscripts in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.
Gunasingam, S.
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2, 1990, 359-69.

Catalogue of Urdu, Panjabi and Kashmiri Manuscripts in the Wellcome Institute Library, London.
Quraishi, S.
Journal of the Research Society of Pakistan, 24 (5), 1987, 53-70.

Catalogue of Western Manuscripts on Medicine and Science in the Wellcome Historical Medical Library.
Moorat, S.A.J.
London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1962-73.

Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Wellcome Library for the History & Understanding of Medicine : Western Manuscripts 5120-6244.
Palmer, Richard.
London: The Wellcome Library for the History & Understanding of Medicine, 1999.

Catalogue of Jyotia manuscripts in the Wellcome Library : Sanskrit astral and mathematical literature, compiled by D. Pingree. Leiden : E.J.Brill, 2003

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