Raffles Family Collection

A drawing of a young tapir from Sumatra, with white stripes against black hide.
A young tapir from Sumatra (Tapirus indicus Desmarest), watercolour, probably by J. Briois, Bengkulu, 1824. British Library, NHD 47/48.

In 2009 the British Library acquired the Raffles Family Collection, comprising personal papers of Thomas Stamford Raffles and his family, natural history and other drawings, and official correspondence in Malay.

Published date:


In 1969 the Raffles Family Collection was deposited on permanent loan at the India Office Library by Mr John Raffles Flint Drake and his mother Mrs Muriel Drake, a great-great-niece of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.  The Collection consisted of family papers (MSS Eur D742), including 184 autograph letters from Raffles and correspondence with such luminaries as the abolitionist William Wilberforce, the scholar William Marsden, and the Duke and Duchess of Somerset; over 150 natural history (NHD47-49) and topographical drawings (WD2969-3006) from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore; and a collection of over one hundred Malay diplomatic letters (MSS Eur D742/1), primarily from rulers and nobles of Malay states to Raffles when he was stationed in Melaka in 1811 preparing for the British invasion of Java. The Raffles Family Collection joins other material relating to Raffles already held in the British Library

Scope of the project

In 2007 the British Library acquired the Collection from Mrs Drake’s heir, Michael Stewart Esq., with substantial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other benefactors including the Art Fund, the Friends of the British Library, the Friends of National Libraries, and John Koh Esq.  A large programme of outreach activities accompanied the acquisition, ensuring that the collection was made accessible beyond London.

  • Art and the Man, an exhibition in the Treasures Gallery of the British Library (18 Apr. - 3 Aug. 2008) of drawings and illuminated letters relating to Thomas Stamford Raffles.
  • Spice of Life: Raffles and the Malay World, an exhibition of the Raffles Family Collection in Central Library, Liverpool (9 Aug. – 28 Oct. 2007).
  • Raffles’ Ark Redrawn: Natural History Drawings from the Collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, an exhibition at the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh (8 May - 5 Jul. 2009), accompanied by a full catalogue of the collection by H.J. Noltie, published by the BL and RBGE in association with Bernard Quaritch.
  • Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World, a travelling photographic exhibition of Islamic seals, including Malay seals from the Raffles Family Collection, organised in 2010 in collaboration with the British Museum.The exhibition was shown in Liverpool, Leicester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Lewisham and Cambridge, ending at the British Museum in London.
  • The Spice Trail, on online exhibition on the British Library website created in 2010 by two Malaysian student volunteers, Nurhanna Wan and Taufiq Wan, exploring the spice plants depicted in the drawings, and their contemporary uses and relevance.
  • The wreck of the Fame, an educational online resource, featuring archives on the loss of Raffles’s ship the Fame through fire off the coast of Sumatra in 1824.
  • An internship at the British Library for a student archivist to catalogue the private papers in the Raffles Family Collection.

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Collection guides

The Raffles Collection

Important collections relating to the natural history and cultures of the Malay world

Maritime Southeast Asia

Manuscripts, books and periodicals from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and East Timor

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Bollinger Singapore Digitisation Project

Making Singapore related material at the British Library available online.

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