Papers of Brian Houghton Hodgson

Scope and Content

Hodgson used much of his time in both Nepal and Darjeeling in research, wanting to discover and understand about the architecture, languages, ethnography, religion, zoology and botany. He collected specimens and manuscripts, and had many drawings made, which he donated to many collections throughout Europe. He was also politically involved during his Residency in Nepal, and also later in England, when he continued to show an active interest in the Indian subcontinent, particularly regarding trade and vernacular education. These Personal Papers reflect these interests and are a record of much of his activity - Hodgson and his wives seemed to have a need to record all his successes. He was also a keen annotator of material, so that most of the printed material also bears his handwritten comments.

Administrative / Biographical History

Brian Houghton Hodgson was born in 1801 (possibly 1800, there is some uncertainty to the date), the second of seven children. He entered Haileybury in February 1816, finishing top in his year in Bengali, Persian, Hindi, Political Economy, and Classics. As head of his year at Haileybury, Hodgson was entitled to choose the Presidency to which he would be sent. Hodgson chose Bengal and arrived in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1818 to continue his studies at Fort William. However Hodgson became ill with a 'liver condition' and he was advised to seek an appointment at a hill station. He was posted as Assistant Commissioner to Kumaon.
He was in Kumaon for only a year before being appointed as Assistant Resident in Nepal, working under Edward Gardner. It was during this residency that Hodgson began his research into Buddhism and collected Sanskrit manuscripts.
Hodgson was recalled to Calcutta in 1822 as acting Deputy Secretary in the Persian Department of the Foreign Office – a key role but one that he could not maintain due to further illness. He returned to Kathmandu, in 1824, as the Postmaster and became Resident in 1829 until 1843. Hodgson developed interests, not only in Buddhism, but in the languages of the people, in zoology, and in ethnography. He continued to collect manuscripts which he deposited with institutions in Europe and India.
Hodgson's interest in zoology meant that he employed local trappers and hunters, alongside draughtsmen and painters, to collect and record indigenous species. He published 97 papers on the birds and mammals of Nepal and his interest was keenest during the 1930s when Dr Archibald Campbell was his Assistant Resident. He also introduced tea cultivation into the Himalayas.
As Resident, Hodgson would be expected to report on the political situation of the area. He wrote papers on the possibility of trade with China along a trans-Himalayan route, on the legal system, the police and the army of Nepal. He was also interested in the neighbouring countries.
Whilst in Nepal Hodgson was in a relationship with Meharrunisha Begum. His son, Henry, was born in 1835, and his daughter, Sarah, in 1836. He left Nepal in 1844 having resigned due to disagreement with the political policy of Lord Ellenborough. He did not settle in England – he left his children with his sister, Fanny, in Arnhem and sailed for Calcutta in July 1845. He decided to go to Darjeeling with the Campbells, where he bought a bungalow and named it Brianstone, and continued his zoological and ethnographical studies.
Hodgson's daughter died from TB in 1851, and his son returned to India in 1853 to become a Zamindar, but he died in 1856 in Darjeeling. Hodgson returned to Europe in 1853 for a brief period, during which time he married Anne Scott, who returned to Darjeeling with Hodgson later that year. After 1853 Hodgson concentrated more on ethnology and linguistics, than zoology. Anne returned to England in 1857 and Hodgson followed her in 1858.
Hodgson lived in England for a further 36 years before his death in 1894. He remained active in his interest of India and Nepal. Anne died in 1868 but Hodgson remarried the following year to Susan Townshend. She was only 26 years old at the time of their marriage but they seemed happy. Hodgson was awarded an honorary doctorate at Oxford in 1889. He died in London on 23 May 1894 and was buried in the church yard at Alderley.


The material had been partly sorted and listed in a previous project. In preparing for cataloguing, this order was approximately adhered to, creating the series:

  • BHH/1 - Autograph Book
  • BHH/2 - Correspondence with Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker
  • BHH/3 - Correspondence with Dr Archibald Campbel
  • BHH/4 - Correspondence and Testimonials concerning donations, publications, conferment of honours and political acumen,
  • BHH/5 - Other Correspondence with Brian Houghton Hodgson
  • BHH/6 - Manuscripts and Notes Pertaining to Hodgson's Study of Languages and Ethnography
  • BHH/7 - Manuscripts and Notes on the Indian Subcontinent
  • BHH/8 - Manuscripts and Notes on Buddhism
  • BHH/9 - Manuscripts and Notes concerning Vernacular Education
  • BHH/10 - Books of Testimonials
  • BHH/11 - Lists
  • BHH/12 - Botanical Specimen
  • BHH/13 - Printed Material Related to Languages and Ethnography
  • BHH/14 - Printed Material Related to the Indian Subcontinent
  • BHH/15 - Printed Material Related to Buddhism
  • BHH/16 - Printed Material Related to Education in India
  • BHH/17 - Printed Material Related to Zoology and Botany
  • BHH/18 - Printed Material Related to Political Subjects
  • BHH/19 - Printed Material Related to Donations and Honours
  • BHH/20 - Printed Material Related to Personal Matters
  • BHH/21 - Newspaper Cuttings

Access Information

Open. Please contact the archivist. Details are available 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

An entry in a guard book dating to the 1970s states that the material was presented to the Society by Hodgson's wife, Susan. This has not yet been verified but seems that it may be likely. His wife commissioned William Wilson Hunter to write a biography of Hodgson's life. This was published in 1896, so it is likely that the material came to the Society at some point after that.

Archivist's Note

The material had already been partly listed in a previous project, and some of the material bears numbers from this project. However it was necessary to rearrange some of the material when a full appraisal was made. It was therefore relisted and renumbered in line with current policy, by Nancy Charley, RAS Archivist in 2017-2018.

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.

Related Material

The Royal Asiatic Society has within its Collections:

  • A set of architectural drawings of Nepal commissioned by Hodgson; many of which were undertaken by Raj Man Singh
  • A set of Chinese prints acquired by Hodgson in Nepal
  • Plaster bust of Brian Houghton Hodgson made by Thomas Thornycroft; a copy of the marble original made for the Asiatic Society of Bengal
  • Portrait of Brian Houghton Hodgson, c.1818, signed W. Ouseley
  • Photograph of Brian Houghton Hodgson in later life
  • 79 Sanskrit manuscripts; 75 were donated by Hodgson in 1835-1836 and catalogued by Cowell and Eggeling; a further 4 were added later
  • Books by and about Brian Houghton Hodgson
  • Obituary for Brian Houghton Hodgson, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, October 1894, pp. 843-849
Details of all these items can be found on our Online catalogue

Other Hodgson material may be found within the UK at several institutions including:

  • The British Library Oriental and India Office Department, London
  • The Natural History Museum, London
  • The Library of the Zoological Society of London
  • The Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Archives of the Royal Botanical Gardens. Kew, London


The Royal Asiatic Society Book, "The Origins of Himalayan Studies: Brian Houghton Hodgson in Nepal and Darjeeling 1820-1858" edited by David M. Waterhouse, published RoutledgeCurzon, 2004, uses material within this and other collections to build a picture of the life and interests of Hodgson.

Personal Names