Sloane manuscripts

Detail of a  diagram of the eye
Detail of a diagram of the eye. 14th or 15th century. Sloane MS 981, f 68r.

The Sloane manuscripts collection covers a wide range of subject matter: medicine, alchemy, chemistry, botany and horticulture, exploration and travel, mathematics and natural history, magic and religion.

About the collection

In 1687 Hans Sloane travelled to Jamaica as physician to the English governor. On his return, he married an heiress to sugar plantations in Jamaica which were worked by enslaved people. The profits from these plantations contributed substantially to Sloane’s income and financed his collecting.

Some of the collection's highlights are an early 14th-century illuminated copy of Roger Frugardi’s Chirurgia, a 15th-century physician’s folding almanac, Henry VIII’s collection of medical recipes, the manuscripts of Sloane’s contemporaries and immediate predecessors in the scientific community (John Dee, Sir Thomas Browne, Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton), and contemporary records of exploration in both hemispheres, from Nova Scotia to the East Indies and the South Seas. 

This collection was formed by the physician Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), and purchased at his death from his executors by the Act of Parliament which also established the British Museum. It represents one of the three foundation collections of the British Library. The collection of medical manuscripts has been described as the greatest ever assembled by a single individual, not just in quantity and variety but in the exceptional quality of the individual items.

Most of the manuscripts from this collection have Sloane numbers Sloane MS 1 through to Sloane MS 4100. Two further groups of manuscripts are from Sloane’s collection but bear Additional MS numbers. These are Add MS 5018-5027 and Add MS 5214-5308.

The Sloane charters and rolls are numbered XXXI.1 - XXXIV.1.

What is available online?

Most of Sloane MS 1 to Sloane MS 4100 are described in the online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts and can be browsed here. Images from some of the manuscripts can be found on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

A number of the Sloane manuscripts have been digitised in full on Digitised Manuscripts.

Add MS 5018-5027, Add MS 5214-5308 and the Sloane charters and rolls are not yet available on Explore Archives and Manuscripts. 

Hand-written descriptions of the Sloane charters and rolls can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room. These descriptions can also be consulted on microfilm M2032/19.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Most of the Sloane collection of manuscripts, charters and rolls can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Items in Hebrew and in other Oriental languages are can be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

Some items may require a letter of introduction.

Further information

Useful reference resources include: