Maritime Southeast Asia

Detail from an illuminated Malay letter from the Temenggung of Johor to the Emperor of France, 1856. Or. 16126
Detail from an illuminated Malay letter from the Temenggung of Johor to the Emperor of France, 1856. Shelfmark: Or. 16126

We have manuscripts, printed books and periodicals from the present-day nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and East Timor.

About the collection

The British Library holds about 500 manuscripts from Indonesia and the Malay world. Highlights include illustrated Javanese manuscripts from the early 19th century, royal letters in Malay from the courts of the archipelago, some of the earliest known Batak divination manuals (pustaha) from Sumatra, illustrated Balinese palmleaf manuscripts, and royal Bugis diaries from the court of Bone in Sulawesi. The largest collection is in Javanese (250), followed by Malay (120), Batak (33), Bugis (32), Balinese (21), Old Javanese (12) and Makassar (2).

There are some 25,000 printed books in Malay, Indonesian, Tagalog and other Austronesian languages, and about 200 periodical titles mostly in Malay. Due to colonial legal deposit legislation, the British Library has one of the finest collections in the world of early Malay printed books and periodicals from Malaysia and Singapore. Highlights include 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; and popular fiction, magazines and comics from the post-war years.

Research-level publications are currently acquired selectively in the humanities and social sciences.

What is available online?

Digitised Southeast Asian manuscripts include items in Malay, Javanese, Bugis and Arabic, and more Indonesian manuscripts are found in the Endangered Archives Programme. Some early Malay printed books from the British Library are available on the Southeast Asian Digital Library.

The British Library’s online catalogues, Explore the British Library (for printed books and periodicals) and Explore Archives and Manuscripts, include many (but not all) items in maritime Southeast Asian languages.

The Asian and African Studies blog contains short research articles on selected items from the Southeast Asian collections.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

All Southeast Asian manuscripts and printed books can be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Some printed books which are stored at Boston Spa in Yorkshire may take up to 48 hours to be made available.

Some early printed books are only listed on card catalogues available in the Asia and African Studies Reading Room.

Further information

  • Lim Pui Huen, P., Singapore, Malaysian and Brunei newspapers: an international union list (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992)
  • 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)
  • Ricklefs, M.C., 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)
  • 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)


Manuscript Textiles in the Southeast Asian Collections

Researching manuscript textiles from Southeast Asia

Bollinger Singapore Digitisation Project

Making Singapore related material at the British Library available online.

Raffles Family Collection

Introducing the Raffles Family Collection at the British Library.

All projects