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

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:

How to guides

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services

Get a Reader Pass

A guide to how to obtain a British Library Reader Pass to use our Reading Rooms

Find Arabic manuscripts

Details of Arabic manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find Persian manuscripts

Details of Persian manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find charters, rolls, and seals

How to access medieval and early modern European documentary collections

Guide to Explore Archives and Manuscripts

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to browse the collections and how to request items

How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

About Explore Archives and Manuscripts

With Explore Archives and Manuscripts you can search for information about our rich and unique archive and manuscript collections.

Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

Search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

How to search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them

Find and request Lord Chamberlain's Plays

How to locate items in our largest single manuscript collection

How to get a Reader Pass if you are under 18

How to apply for an under 18 Reader Pass