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Malay and Malaysian language collections

The Malay language collections in the British Library originate mostly from present-day Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei.

The collection of about 100 Malay manuscripts volumes has a strong emphasis on literary and legal works; there are also several hundred diplomatic letters and legal documents in Malay. The collection of Malay printed books is extensive, and covers the whole range of humanities and social sciences.



A few Malay manuscripts were acquired in 1753 in the Sloane, Harley and Egerton foundation collections of the British Museum. Most, however, came into the Library in the first half of the 19th century from the collections of John Crawfurd, Colin Mackenzie and John Leyden, who had all served with the East India Company in Southeast Asia.

There are about 100 Malay manuscript volumes which originate mostly from Java and the Malay peninsula, with a strong focus on literature, history and law, but with relatively few works on Islam.

Highlights of the collection include:

  • the oldest of only two known manuscripts of the Hikayat raja-raja Pasai, copied in Semarang in Java in 1797 (Or.14350)
  • unique manuscripts of the Kedah narrative poem Syair Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin (Add.12394) and of Ahmad Rijaluddin’s account of his journey to Bengal, Hikayat Perintah Negeri Benggala (Add.12386)
  • a finely illuminated copy of the Taj al-Salatin from Penang, 1824 (Or.13295)

The British Library also holds an important collection of Malay diplomatic letters, mainly addressed to Thomas Stamford Raffles (MSS.Eur.D.742/1). In addition, there are some 150 legal documents in Malay comprising wills, deeds of sale and financial memoranda held in the Melaka Records (IOR: R/9). These are part of the India Office Records.

Catalogues and guides

Malay manuscripts are not yet catalogued online. There are two printed catalogues for the manuscripts (see below). Manuscripts acquired after 1982 can be accessed through the location register in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

Published catalogues and guides

Ricklefs, M.C. and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: A catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Ricklefs, M.C. and P. Voorhoeve, ‘Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: addenda et corrigenda’. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. XLV, 1982, Part 2, pp.300-322.

Gallop, Annabel Teh with Bernard Arps. Golden Letters: Writing traditions of Indonesia.  London: British Library, 1991.

Gallop, Annabel Teh.  Malay manuscript art: the British Library collection.  British Library Journal, 17 (2), 1991:167-189. (Lists illuminated Malay manuscripts in the British Library.)

Gallop, Annabel Teh.  The legacy of the Malay letter. London: British Library, 1994.

Gallop, Annabel Teh.  'Malay seal inscriptions: a study in Islamic epigraphy from Southeast Asia.' (Ph.D. thesis) School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2002.  (Includes a catalogue of all Malay seal impressions on documents in the British Library.)

Gallop, Annabel Teh. 'Malay documents in the Melaka Records in the British Library.'  Itinerario, 2006 (2):54-77.

Printed books and periodicals


The British Library holds about 7,000 printed books in Malay, and some 200 periodical titles. Our collection of Malay printed books from Malaysia and Singapore is extensive, mainly dating from the 19th and 20th centuries, with smaller collections from Indonesia and Brunei.

There are also early examples of Malay printing in Europe dating from the 17th century. The earliest Malay printed books were produced in Europe, starting with Frederick de Houtman’s dialogues, Spraek ende Woord-boek in de Maleysche ende Madagarskarsche Talen, published in Amsterdam in 1603 (C.71.a.32). Further dictionaries, phrase books and Christian works were printed in the Netherlands and in England during the 17th century.

The Library’s important collection of 150 early Malay mission imprints contains some of the earliest surviving Malay imprints from all over Southeast Asia, including from Melaka, Singapore, Bengkulu, Batavia, Ambon and Borneo. The collection was formed by H.C. Millies and was acquired by the British Museum from the estate of the Abbé Favre in 1888.

From 1886 onwards, successive legal deposit enactments for the Straits Settlements and the Malay states meant that one copy of each book registered was sent to the British Museum. As a result, the British Library holds the finest single collection in the world of early Malay printed books and periodicals from Malaysia and Singapore. It includes:

  • works from mission presses
  • peranakan books in Malay for a Chinese readership
  • lithographed works from early Muslim presses
  • a wide range of government and educational works
  • popular fiction, magazines and comics from the post-war years

The Library also holds small numbers of 19th century Malay books printed in Bombay and Hong Kong, acquired through colonial legal deposit legislation.

Research-level publications in Malay from Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are currently acquired selectively through purchase and donation.

Catalogues and guides

All monographs and periodicals in Malay catalogued since 1982 can be accessed through Explore the British Library.

Earlier acquisitions are accessed through a card catalogue in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, with author, title and subject sequences. Note that there is also an exceptionally detailed published catalogue for pre-1920 imprints. 

Published catalogues and guides

Proudfoot, I. Early Malay printed books: A provisional account of materials published in the Singapore-Malaysia area up to 1920, noting holdings in major collections. [Kuala Lumpur]: Academy of Malay Studies and the Library, University of Malaya, 1993. Also available online.

Gallop, Annabel Teh. 'Early Malay printing: An introduction to the British Library collection.' Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Vol. LXIII, 1990, Part 1, pp.85-124.

Lim Pui Huen, P. Singapore, Malaysian and Brunei newspapers: An international union list. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992.

Roff, William R. Bibliography of Malay and Arabic periodicals published in the Straits Settlements and Peninsular Malay States, 1876-1941: With an annotated union list of holdings in Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Digital resources

Through the Endangered Archives Programme, the Library is receiving digital copies of Malay manuscript collections in Southeast Asia, including heirloom documents held in Kerinci in Sumatra, literary and theological works from Riau, mosque libraries in West Sumatra, and chancery documents from Buton, Sulawesi.

Items of Malay interest on the British Library website:


Reproductions of all collection items can be ordered from the Library’s Imaging Services.


Annabel Gallop
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7661
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641