Persian manuscripts collected by Sir William Ouseley

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 161 MSS. Ouseley 1-409, 410-14 (R), 415-20
  • Dates of Creation
      14th-19th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Persian, Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Hebrew, Hindi, Javanese, Pali, Sanskrit, Syriac, Telugu, and Urdu.
  • Physical Description
      420 shelfmarks

Scope and Content

Most of the manuscripts in Sir William Ouseley's collection are Persian, although some material in the following languages is also present: Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Hebrew, Hindi, Javanese, Pali, Sanskrit, Syriac, Telugu and Urdu. Subjects represented include history, language, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, poetry, and Zoroastrianism. One of the treasures of the collection is a beautiful manuscript of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, written at Shiraz, in 1460 (MS. Ouseley 140).

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir William Ouseley (1767-1842) was educated for the army, but preferred oriental, especially Persian, studies. He left the army in 1796, was knighted in 1800, and in 1810 accompanied his younger brother Sir Gore Ouseley (1770-1844) to the East, as his private secretary. Their political mission led them through India to Persia, and in both countries the two brothers made large separate collections of oriental manuscripts. See the Dictionary of National Biography for details on both.

Access Information

Entry to read in the Library is permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card (for admissions procedures see

Acquisition Information

The Library purchased the collection in 1843.


Collection level description created by Susan Thomas, Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts.

Other Finding Aids

Falconer Madan, et al., A summary catalogue of western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford which have not hitherto been catalogued in the Quarto series, with references to the oriental and other manuscripts (7 vols. in 8 [vol. II in 2 parts], Oxford, 1895-1953; reprinted, with corrections in vols. I and VII, Munich, 1980), vol. IV, nos. 22775-23193.

The manuscripts are also summarily described in the card catalogue, arranged by language, located in the Oriental Reading Room.

E. Sachau, H. Eth and A.F.L. Beeston Catalogue of the Persian, Turkish, Hindstn, and Pusht manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1889-1953), vols. 1-3.

Theodor Aufrecht, Moriz Winternitz, A.B. Keith Codices Sanscriticos complectens, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1864-1909), vol. 2.

A.B. Keith A Catalogue of the Prakrit Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (Oxford, 1911).

Robert Payne Smith Catalogi codicum manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Bodleianae, pars vi: codices Syriacos, Carshunicos, Mendaeos, complectens (Oxford, 1864).

Custodial History

Sir William printed a list of 731 works (in nearly 600 volumes, chiefly Persian), about 400 of which he had acquired before 1800. He offered the whole collection for sale, but had not parted with it at his death in September 1842.

Related Material

The manuscripts of Sir Gore Ouseley (MSS. Moseley Adds.; MSS. Elliott).