Papers of Henry Thomas Colebrooke

Scope and Content

The collection consists of two series:

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Thomas Colebrooke FRS FRSE (1765-1837) was a Sanskrit scholar and orientalist. He was born in London, the third son of Sir George Colebrooke, 2nd Baronet, Chairman of the East India Company, and Mary Gaynor of Antigua. He was educated at home and at fifteen was adept in classics and mathematics.

In 1782 Colebrooke was appointed to a writership in India. He held administrative, legal and academic posts whilst in India during which time he learnt Sanskrit which he used to translate "Digest of Hindu Laws", unfinished by Sir William Jones.

Colebrooke returned to England in 1814 where he played an active role in promoting knowledge. He was co-founder of the Royal Astronomical Society. He was present at the inaugural dinner and meeting on January 12, 1820. More significantly for the Royal Asiatic Society, he instigated its foundation, with the initial planning meetings taking place at his home. He presided as Director of the Society until his death in 1837.

Belinda Colebrooke was born on 11th July 1800, the elder daughter of George Colebrooke. On his death, her mother, was involved in a series of relationships. Belinda and her sister, Harriet, were eventually made wards-of-court and placed with a foster mother. On 28th October 1823 she married, at New Church St. Marylebone, Charles Joshua Smith 2nd Baronet. She died, without children, in London on 22nd January 1825.

Charles Athanase Walckenaer (1771-1852) was a French civil servant and scientist. He was elected a member of the Institut de France in 1813, was mayor (maire) in the 5th arrondissement in Paris and secretary-general of the prefect of the Seine 1816-1825. He was made a baron in 1823. In 1839 he was appointed conservator for the Department of Maps at the Royal Library in Paris and in 1840 secretary for life in the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres. He was one of the founders of the Société entomologique de France in 1832. He introduced the English form of biography into French literature.

Horace Hayman Wilson (1786-1860) was an English orientalist who studied medicine at St Thomas' Hospital, London, before travelling to India in 1808 to become an assistant surgeon for the East India Company in Bengal. Whilst in Calcutta he devoted his attention to the study of Indian languages, especially Sanskrit, and in 1811 became the Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, upon the recommendation of Henry Colebrooke. In 1832, Wilson left India as he was appointed the first Professorship in Sanskrit at Oxford University. Four years later he became Librarian at East India House and he fulfilled both positions for many years. Wilson wrote extensively on the subjects of Sanskrit literature, Hindu religion, and Indian history. He became Director of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1837 following Colebrooke's death, and remained in position until his own death in 1860.

Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854) was born in Copenhagen. He obtained the diploma of the Royal Academy of Surgeons at Copenhagen in 1806 and was subsequently appointed Surgeon to the Danish settlement at Serampore, Bengal, in 1807. From 1817 he took a permanent post as Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden, and travelled widely in the Indian subcontinent. Wallich published two major works on the plants of the region, Tentamen Flora Nepalensis Illustratae (1824-26) and Plantae Asiaticae Rariories (1830-32). Due to ill-health, Wallich resigned his post in 1846 and retired to London, where he became Vice-President of the Linnean Society, of which he had been a fellow since 1818. Wallich remained in London until his death seven years later, aged 68.

Access Information

Open. Please contact the archivist using the email address given here. The archive is open on Tuesdays and Fridays 10-5, and Thursdays 2-5. Access is to any researcher without appointment but it will help if an appointment is made via phone or email. Please bring photo ID

Acquisition Information

The H.T. Colebrooke - Memoirs and Autographs book was donated by Timothy Frost in 2009. It appears from the inside cover that the book was purchased by Frederick Hendricks, an ancestor of the donor.

It is uncertain how the photocopies of the letters between Henry Thomas Colebrooke and his niece, Belinda were deposited at the Royal Asiatic Society. It is thought that they probably came into the archive in the early 2000s when Rosane and Ludo Rocher were using the RAS to store material for their research for "The making of Western Indology: Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the East India Company".

Archivist's Note

The descriptions were created by Nancy Charley, Archivist at the Royal Asiatic Society, in 2016.

Conditions Governing Use

Digital photography (without flash) for research purposes may be permitted upon completion of a copyright declaration form, and with respect to current UK copyright law.

Appraisal Information

The material consists of two separate entities - the bound book and the photocopied letters. These were thus created into two series.

Custodial History

It appears from the bookplate and sale notice in the front cover that the Memoir and Autograph book was purchased by Frederick Hendricks sometime around 1893. It remained in his family until 2009 when it was donated to the Royal Asiatic Society.

The original letters between Colebrooke and his niece Belinda are with Papers still held by the Colebrooke Family. At some points copies were made and deposited with the Royal Asiatic Society, probably in the early 2000s.

Related Material

The early archival material of the Royal Asiatic Society contains some correspondence to Colebrooke, as Director of the Society.

In 1837 the Society commissioned a marble bust of Henry Thomas Colebrooke from Henry Weekes (1807-77). This is still in the Society's possession. The bust also features in a drawing alongside his descendant C.C.F. "Kit" Naylor. This was commissioned from Peter Wardle in May 2005 to mark the resignation of Kit Naylor from the position of Honorary Treasurer of the Royal Asiatic Society in November 2006.

In February 1824, Colebrooke donated 6 sheets of drawings of agricultural tools, fishing nets, drinking vessels and containers, and musical insturments, drawn by Indian artists. These are described in Head's Catalogue of the RAS Artworks (Cat. Nos. 011.001-011.006)

There are also a number of books written by Colebrooke within the Library Collections. These can be found on the Library catalogue .


"The Making of Western Indology: Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the East India Company" by Rosane Rocher and Ludo Rocher (Royal Asiatic Society Books/Routledge, 2011) uses material from this archive and many other sources to produce a detailed account of Colebrooke's life.