Thomas Raffles Collection

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 RAF
  • Dates of Creation
      17th to 19th centuries
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Predominantly English . One manuscript is in Tahitian  and there are occasional autograph letters, etc., in other languages.
  • Physical Description
      20 subfonds; 67 items
  • Location
      Collection available at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate

Scope and Content

The collection, comprising English MSS 95, 115-116, 334-335, 338, 343-399, 401-403 and 1588, falls into three sections:

  • The largest section consists of many thousands of autograph letters and portraits of eminent Englishmen, chiefly of the 19th century, which were collected by Raffles. Those who are represented include authors (English MSS 372-386), poets (English MSS 351-355), artists (English MSS 356-362), members of the nobility (English MSS 363-368), and ecclesiastics, among them 133 Nonconformist divines from 1658 to 1821 (English MSS 369-371) and 135 missionaries (English MS 387). Many letters are addressed to Raffles. The classification of autographs into the above series is not entirely consistent, and a large number of individuals is represented in more than one series.
  • The collection contains a number of autograph volumes relating to Lancashire local history, Nonconformity and missionary work (English MSS 95, 115-116, 334-335, 401-403 and 1588). Many of these volumes were given to Raffles by their authors.
  • The collection also contains calendars of the Raffles autograph collections compiled 1896-1899 by Alice Margaret Cooke for Enriqueta Rylands.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Raffles (1788-1863) was an eminent Congregationalist and collector of autographs. He was born in Spitalfields, London, and was educated at a boarding school at Peckham run by a Baptist minister. From 1805 he studied for the ministry at Homerton College and was ordained in 1809. On the death of Thomas Spencer, minister of Newington Chapel, Liverpool, Raffles was invited to succeed him in April 1812. In May of the same year he moved to the new Great George Street Chapel, which had been built to accommodate the growing congregation and which continued to grow rapidly under Raffles.

Raffles was well known in Liverpool evangelical circles and was involved with many organisations in the city, including the Religious Tract Society, the Amicable Book Society, and the Bible Society. His influence also spread across Lancashire and further afield. Raffles was secretary of the Lancashire Congregational Union from 1826 to 1843. Soon after he moved to Liverpool, Raffles began his involvement with the Blackburn Academy, later Lancashire Independent College. He was chairman of the college education committee from 1839 to 1863, and in 1861 the Raffles scholarship and Library were founded in his honour. In 1839 he was chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales and received honorary doctorates from Aberdeen University and Union College, Connecticut.

Raffles collected many original manuscripts relating to the history of nonconformity in Lancashire, as well as vast numbers of autographs from Europe and America. He also wrote poetry and hymns, publishing a supplement to Watts's Psalms and Hymns (1853). His Original Hymns were published posthumously in 1868. He also published theological lectures, articles and editions of the Bible, etc., between 1814 and 1856. It has been claimed that Raffles was a major influence on the conversion of Enriqueta Augustina Tennant (later Rylands) from Roman Catholicism to Congregationalism.

Source: Alexander Gordon, 'Raffles, Thomas (1788-1863)', rev. Ian Sellers, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Alice Margaret Cooke (1867-1940), who compiled the calendars of the Raffles autographs, was a friend of Enriqueta Rylands. During the 1890s she taught history at Owens College, Manchester, and in 1897 she was elected a member of the court of governors of the Victoria University. She was assistant tutor to women students from 1897 to 1901 and in this role supported the new women's union, was a founder of the first hall of residence for women at Owens, and was chairman of the women's athletic union. During this period she was invited by Enriqueta Rylands to compile a catalogue of Earl Spencer's Althorp Library, which became the nucleus of the printed book collection of John Rylands Library. Alice Cooke also lectured for university extension, supported the Manchester University settlement, and worked for the women's suffrage cause. She had a very successful academic career, with appointments as librarian at Cambridge University Library, reader of history at Leeds University and director of studies in history at Newnham College Cambridge, where she remained until her retirement in 1927.

Source: Fernanda Helen Perrone, 'Cooke, Alice Margaret (1867-1940)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The bulk of the collection came to the John Rylands Library as part of Enriqueta Rylands's bequest after her death in 1908. English MS 1588 was purchased at auction in April 2022.


Description compiled by Jo Klett, project archivist, and Elizabeth Gow, Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, with reference to: 

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles on Thomas Raffles, Alice Margaret Cooke, etc.;
  • Catalogue of... Autograph letters and historical documents formed by the late Rev. Thomas Raffles...sold by auction by Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge... on Monday the 29th day of June, 1891, and Two following days..., [London, 1891] (the Library's copy, pressmark R16045, has been annotated by Enriqueta Rylands);
  • George H. Morrison (ed.), Memoirs of the Life, Time, and Writings of the Reverend and Learned Thomas Boston, A.M., new edition (Edinburgh: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1899), available online at;
  • Wikipedia article for Pomare II;
  • Christian Biography Website entry for Henry Nott at

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MSS 95, 115-116, 334-335, 338, 343-399 and 401-403).

A card index of correspondents represented in the autograph collections is available in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Custodial History

The Thomas Raffles Collection was purchased by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands at Sotheby's auction of Thomas Raffles's collection of European and American autograph letters and historical documents in June-July 1891. The sale comprised 650 lots, of which Enriqueta Rylands bought a substantial portion, reflecting her interests in Nonconformity, Lancashire history, missionary work, and nineteenth-century literature and art. From the miscellaneous collection of autograph letters and documents (lots 1-544, probably comprise Eng MSS 343-350) Enriqueta Rylands bought a selection, including the manuscript of From Greenland's Icy Mountains (lot 247, Eng MS 95). She purchased the substantial bound autograph collections (lots 545-550, Eng MSS 351-387). Rylands also purchased a small number of other lots: one volume of letters from Nonconformist divines (lot 557, unidentified, possibly subsumed into Eng MSS 369-371); a series of letters from the Countess of Huntingdon (lot 560, Eng MS 338); Raffles' Lancashire Illustrated (lot 568, Eng MS 115); Roby's Traditions of Lancashire (lot 581, Eng MSS 334-335); Bishop Heber's commonplace book (lot 597, Eng MS 116); sermons by Boston and Pirie (lot 639, Eng MSS 402-403); and Pomare's transcription of part of Samuel (lot 640, Eng MS 401). She also bought three printed books, all related to missionary work abroad (pressmarks R18515, R26409, R26410).

The Raffles Collection was one of the first significant purchases by Enriqueta Rylands and she kept it at her library at Longford Hall until her death in 1908 when she bequeathed it to the John Rylands Library. It was almost certainly purchased with the original intention that it should eventually form part of the John Rylands Library. In the 1890s Enriqueta arranged for the calendaring of many of the autographs by her friend Alice Cooke (Eng MSS 388-399). A small number of autograph letters were added to the Raffles autograph collections during this period, including a number of letters to Enriqueta. It has been suggested that Thomas Raffles was instrumental in the conversion of Enriqueta Rylands to congregationalism, and this may be why she took a particular interest in the Collection.

Where available, information about the custodial history of manuscripts before they came into the possession of Thomas Raffles is given within the appropriate lower-level descriptions.


There is within the John Rylands Library a second Raffles collection, acquired later. This comprises Raffles's own papers, including:

  • 28 boxes of sermons delivered between 1807 and 1861;
  • A three-volume holograph of 1819-1821 entitled Collections for a History of the Nonconformist Churches of Lancashire;
  • Five volumes of letters chiefly written to him by Nonconformist ministers.

Although this collection currently remains uncatalogued it will eventually be added to this description.

Related Material

The Library's English Manuscripts sequence contains a number of autograph collections. Some of these (particularly English MSS 340-342) may contain letters from the Raffles Collection.


Timothy Whelan, 'Baptist Autographs in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, 1741-1907', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 89.2 (2013), 203-25. .

Geographical Names