Legge Family Papers

Scope and Content

Papers, 1859-1897, of James and Hannah Legge, consisting primarily of letters written by James and Hannah Legge to their family, written between October 1859 and June 1897. These include those written by Hannah Legge from Hong Kong, 1859-1865, and those written by James Legge to his step-daughter Marian, 1866-1897 (lacking 1881-1889). Hannah Legge's letters give a vivid description of life in Hong Kong. She describes the Taiping Rebels, attitudes towards missionaries, and political and social events, in addition to giving graphic accounts of her trips to Chinese towns and provinces. His letters describe his life during his final residence in Hong Kong and upon his return to England as a University Professor. Also included in the collection are photocopied book extracts detailing missionary work in China and a pamphlet about Wang T'Ao, a scholar who helped Dr Legge in the translation of Chinese literature.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Legge was born on 20 December 1814 at Huntly, Aberdeenshire. He studied at Kings College and the University of Aberdeen, and at Highbury College. He was ordained on 25 April 1839 at Trevor Chapel, Brompton. On 30 April 1839, he married Mary Isabella Morison (1816-1852).

He was appointed to the London Missionary Society (LMS) in 1839, and was posted to China. He arrived at Malacca on 10 January 1840, where he served as Head of the Anglo Chinese Mission in Malacca from 1840 to 1843. In 1842, he received the diploma of D.D. from the University of New York. After the opening of the ports of China, he left Malacca on 6 May 1843 for Singapore. There he began his work translating and annotating the Chinese classics, which he was to continue until shortly before his death. He proceeded to Macao, and arrived at Hong Kong on 10 July 1843. At the Conference of LMS Missionaries that year, he was appointed to the charge of the Anglo-Chinese Theological Seminary at Hong Kong. Between November 1845 and 1848, Mr and Mrs Legge visited England and China, before returning to Hong Kong. Mrs Legge died at Hong Kong on 17 October 1852. During a visit home to England (1858-1859), James Legge married his second wife, Hannah Willetts, widow of the Reverend G. Willetts and daughter of John Johnson. In June 1859, they sailed with his two daughters to Hong Kong.

In 1861, James Legge published his first volume of The Chinese Classics. In 1866, Mrs Legge returned to England, followed by her husband in 1867. In 1870, the degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by the University of Aberdeen. In February 1870, he sailed alone for Hong Kong to take up a three-year Pastorate with the Union Chapel, Hong Kong. At the end of this term he visited the stations at Shanghai, Chefoo and Peking and returned to England via Japan and the United States, arriving in England in August 1873. In November 1873, he withdrew from the position of missionary with the LMS. In 1876 he was appointed to the Chair of Chinese at the University of Oxford. Mrs Hannah Legge died on 21 June 1881. James Legge died on 29 November 1897.

James Legge's publications included: The Chinese Classics, 8 volumes (Trbner & Co.); The Religions of China (Hodder & Stoddington, 1880); also numerous pamphlets on Chinese subjects and translations from Chinese.


The letters are arranged in two main groups: letters from Hannah Legge, 1859-1865, and letters from James Legge, 1866-1897. Additional material including documents relating to Dr. Legge, Chinese missions and Chinese grammar is arranged in chronological order.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated in 1987.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Related Material

The School of Oriental and African Studies also holds correspondence and papers of James Legge among the records of the London Missionary Society (Ref: CWM/LMS).

There is a journal of Legges, dated 1846-47 and papers concerning his Professorship at Oxford in the Bodleian Library.