Papers of Robert Blair Monro Binning (1814-1891)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection is composed of: an introduction to the Asiatic languages, namely Modern Arabic, Persian and Hindi, possibly from 1873; record of travels and experiences in Africa and the Middle East, 1845-1847; a catalogue of the book collection of R. B. Monro Binning; letters and documents relating to Arabic, Persian, Hindustani, Dukhnee, Telugu etc; and, a vocabulary in English, Arabic, French, Hebrew, Persian, Greek, Sanskrit, Latin, Turkish, Telugu, Gaelic, and Hindi.

Administrative / Biographical History

Traveller and linguist Robert Blair Monro Binning was a member of the Madras Civil Service. He was born in 1814 and was the third son of David Monro of Softlaw (who by deed of entail assumed the surname and arms of Binning), by his second wife Isabella Blair. Binning enjoyed a career as an administrator in the East India Company Service in Madras. He was an enthusiastic linguist in Arabic, Persian and Hindi, in the pursuance of which he collected historic manuscripts and other examples of the use of these languages, and published A grammar, with a selection of dialogues and familiar phrases, and a short vocabulary in modern Arabic edited by Fletcher Hayes, in 1849. He travelled in the Cape of Good Hope and in Syria, the Holy Land, Arabia and Egypt in 1845-1847, but had to quit his post for health reasons in 1850. For the next two years he travelled again, in Ceylon and Persia, which he described in his published Journal of two years' travel in Persia, Ceylon, etc., (2 volumes, London, 1857).

Robert Binning assembled a collection of about 140 Oriental manuscripts. Of these manuscripts, one is now among Edinburgh University Library's rarest and most valuable, the exquisitely illustrated MS Or 161, Al-Asar al-Baqiyah 'an al-Qurun al-Khaliyah (The chronology of ancient nations and their history) by Abu al-Raihan al-Biruni (AH 707, AD 1307). Another is a portfolio of 29 Indian miniature paintings of which one in particular, portraying an elephant fight, has become well known. They are listed in A descriptive catalogue of the Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library, by Mohammed Hukk and others (1925).

Binning originally presented part of his collection to New College, Edinburgh where they were catalogued by Robert Bertram Serjeant in A handlist of Arabic, Persian and Hindustani MSS of New College, Edinburgh (London: 1942). They were transferred to the Main Library, where they rejoined the other part of the collection, after the Library of New College, which had become the Faculty of Divinity in the University in 1929, became part of Edinburgh University Library in 1962.

He bequeathed to New College Library (Edinburgh University Library) a selection of language notebooks and a four-volume journal of his 1845-1847 travels in Africa and the Middle East.

Robert Blair Monro Binning died in 1891.

Conditions Governing Access

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Note

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Edinburgh University. Gallery of benefactors. Full-text [online].  Robert Blair Munro Binning (1814-1891). Member of the Madras Civil Service  [Accessed 02 March 2004].

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

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