Papers of William Claxton Peppé

Scope and Content

The Papers include correspondence with Wiiliam Claxton Peppé, lists of the finds, some plans of the site, and a draft of an article by Peppé published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1898, pp. 573-588. There is further allied material relating to the originals.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Claxton Peppé was born in India in 1852, his father being an estate manager in Northern India. He was educated in Aberdeen but returned to Birdpur, India, to assist his father in 1873, becoming the manager in the early 1880s. In the spring of 1897, Peppé began to excavate a mound near the village of Piprahwa on the Birdpur estate. After weeks spent clearing away soil and dense scrub that covered the mound preliminary excavations exposed a solid mass of red fired brickwork that after further digging revealed itself to be a large dome roof roughly 130 feet in diameter. Peppé contacted Vincent Smith, an authority on ancient Indian history and archaeology, who decided that it was an unusually early example of an ancient Buddhist stupa probably dating from the era of Ashoka the Great.

Excavations continued in 1898 and after digging through eighteen feet of brickwork he found a huge slab of stone, the cover of an enormous stone coffer. Within the coffer were five vessels, none more than seven inches in height, containing quantities of stars in silver and gold, discs of gold leaf embossed with Buddhist symbols, numerous pearls of many sizes, drilled beads, stars and flowers cut in red or white cornelian, amethyst, topaz, garnet, coral and crystal. Also found inside the vessels were small pieces of bone and ash and on the side of one of them, in an ancient Pali character was an inscription that read:

"This shrine for relics of the Buddha, the August One, is that of the Sakya's, the brethren of the Distinguished One, in association with their sisters, and with their children and their wives."

William Peppé had seemingly unearthed one of the original eight stupas that were said to contain the ashes and bone fragments of the Buddha that werewas shared out after his cremation.

Within a week of the discovery a Siamese Buddhist monk, Jinavaravansa who was the grandson of King Rama III of Siam, arrived to ask that the relics go to his country. Peppé had already placed the relics at the disposal of the Government but he sent the request to the Commissioner of Gorakhpur. The British authorities agreed that some should be sent to Siam, other portions also went to the Museum in Kolkata, and to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Peppé was apportioned about one sixth of the jewels.

Peppé retired from his post in 1903 returning to England, but returnrd to India from 1920-1926, before finally retiring. He died in 1936.


The original material had been previously listed and transcribed as one continuous series, therefore it was decided to keep this series as listed. A further series was added of allied material. Thus:

  • WCP/1 - Original Material
  • WCP/2 - Allied Material

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 papers were donated to the Royal Asiaitc Society by Neil Peppé, grandson of William Claxton Peppé, on 15 December 2008.

Archivist's Note

The Papers were catalogued by Nancy Charley, RAS Archivist, in 2018.

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.

Custodial History

The Papers belonged to the Peppé family and were donated in 2008.

Related Material

Peppé's article concerning his discovery can be found in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1898), pp. 573-588. Within the RAS Institutional Collections Archives there is correspondence regarding the donation and some research material concerning the letters and the Piprahwa find.

Peppé gave some of the jewels to the RAS in 1903. These were passed to the Buddhist Society, London, some time after its founding in 1924.

We hold a copy of "The Buddha and Dr Führer: An Archaeological Scandal" by Charles Allen which tells the story of the discoveries at the Piprahwa site. We also hold a copy of "Excavations at Piprahwa and Ganwaria" by K. M. Srivastava which details the excavation of the sites in the 1970s. Records for these can be found in our online catalogue.