Papers of Sir William Jones and Lady Anna Maria (Shipley) Jones

Scope and Content

The archive consists of correspondence from William Jones to Samuel Davis, some correspondence from Joseph Banks and Lord Teignmouth with and regarding Lady Jones, various botanical sketches and notes and a Sale Catalogue for the books of William Jones' lLbrary.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir William Jones, was born on 28th September 1746, in London, the third child of William Jones, F.R.S., an able mathematician. His father died in 1749 and he was raised by his mother Maria Jones (née Nix). Jones attended Harrow School from 1753 where he taught himself Hebrew and was seen to be an able poet, keen chess-player and to have a prodigious memory. After school he went to University College, Oxford, where alongside the usual studies he learnt Arabic and Persian.

In 1766 Jones became tutor to Lord Althorp (later Earl Spencer) and with the Spencer family travelled to Europe, learning German. In 1770 he translated the Persian history of Nadir Shah into French at the request of King Christian VII of Denmark. Other publications followed including the Grammar of the Persian Language in 1771, a volume of poetry in 1772 and the Commentaries on Asiatic Poetry in 1774. Jones was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1772.

Jones was admitted to the Temple in 1770 to read law, being appointed in 1776 as one of sixty Commissioners of Bankruptcy. In 1783, he was appointed to the India Bench in Calcutta, the hope of which had precipitated his proposal in October 1782, to Anna Maria Shipley, whom he had known for several years. The appointment also brought him a knighthood. William and Anna were married by special licence on April 6th 1783 and four days later sailed from Portsmouth on the frigate Crocodile.

Besides serving on the bench William Jones set up the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784, becoming its President until his death. He also studied Sanskrit and during an illness both he, and Lady Anna, became interested in Indian botany. Despite frequent bouts of illness, Jones continued to write publications and aimed to compile a complete digest of Hindu and Mohammedan laws. In the end it was Henry Colebrooke who finished this task. Jones also undertook the editorship of the Researches of the Asiatic Society, the first volume being published in 1789.

Lady Jones also suffered from ill-health, and in 1793, William persuaded her to sail for England promising to follow her as soon as he was able. However in 1794 he became ill with 'inflammation of the liver' and died on 27th April, 1794.

Lady Anna Maria Jones was born on 5th December, 1748, the second child of Anna Maria Mordaunt and Jonathan Shipley, Dean of Winchester and later bishop of St. Asaph. Her father taught Anna both classical and modern languages. She married William, aged 35, and sailed with him to Calcutta. Alongside her husband, she became interested in botany and also wrote poetry. After much illness she sailed for England in 1793.

In England, she lived in Worting House, near Basingstoke, and in 1806 adopted her sister's children. She edited her husband's works which were published in 1799 by G. G. & J. Robinson as The Works of Sir William Jones. She also gathered together the material for a memoir of Jones written by the family friend, John Shore, Lord Teignmouth. Anna Maria Jones died on 7th July 1829.

Sir Joseph Banks was born on 15th February 1743 in London into a wealthy land-owning family. He was educated at Harrow School and Eton College, where he became interested in botany. Between 1760 and 1763, Banks studied at Christ Church, Oxford, inheriting a considerable fortune after the death of his father in 1761. This wealth funded his travel to collect botanical specimens.

In 1772, Banks became Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society from 1766 and its president from 1778 until his death in 1820. He was created a baronet in 1781 and appointed to the Order of the Bath in 1795. He died on 19th June 1820 in London.

John Shore, Lord Teignmouth was born in St James Street, Piccadilly, on 5th October 1751 but was brought up in Romford. In 1769 he went to work in Bengal where he was one of the first to learn some of the languages. In January 1785 Shore returned to England in the company of Warren Hastings. While in England, on 14th February 1786, he married Charlotte, the only daughter of James Cornish, a medical practitioner at Teignmouth. He returned to India in 1787as a member of the government of Bengal. However he journey back to England in 1790 to be a witness at the trial of Warren Hastings. Shore was appointed Governor-General of India in succession to Cornwallis on 19th September 1792, and was created a baronet, succeeding to the government in 1793 after Cornwallis' departure. He served as Governor-General until 1798.

On his return to England he was created Baron Teignmouth in the peerage of Ireland. He settled in Clapham and became the first President of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He was involved with the Clapham Sect and their anti-slavery campaign. In 1808 he moved to 4 Portman Square where he died on the 14th February, 1834

Teignmouth was a close friend of William Jones and succeeded him as the President of the Asiatic Society after Jones' death. He edited the "Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Correspondence, of Sir William Jones". An 1807 edition is held in the RAS Collections.

Samuel Davis was born in the West Indies in 1760, where his father was Commissary-General. After his father's death, he came to the British Isles and later joined the Madras Infantry as a cadet. He sailed to India, arriving in Madras in early 1780, and the following year, as Ensign and Assistant Engineer, he took part in the second Mysore war. In 1783, Davis, by now Lieutenant, was appointed by Warren Hastings to accompany Samuel Turner's mission to Bhutan and Tibet as 'draftsman and surveyor'. He made drawings and kept a diary, but he was refused permission to enter Tibet and had to return to Calcutta, where Hastings secured a writership for him in the Bengal Civil Service. He subsequently held several posts, including Assistant to the Collector and Registrar of the Adalat Court, First Assistant in 1787, Factor in 1788, Collector of Burdwan in 1793, Magistrate of Benares (1795), First Magistrate of the 24-Parganas (1800), and also Superintendent-General of Police at Calcutta. His last post was that of Accountant-General of India, which lasted from May 1804 until February 1806, when he resigned from the civil service and returned with his wife and children to England. In 1810 Davis became a Director of the East India Company, remaining in the post until he died in 1819.


The collection has been arranged according to its different components, creating four different series. Thus:

  • WJ/1 - Correspondence of Sir William Jones
  • WJ/2 - Correspondence with Anna Maria Jones
  • WJ/3 - Sketches and notes of William Jones and Anna Maria Jones
  • WJ/4 - Catalogue of Library of Late Sir William Jones

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

It is not known how the majority of the art archive material came to be part of the Royal Asiatic Society Collections. Presumably it was deposited at the same time as the paintings and drawings within the collections. It has been suggested that these were in the possession of Lady Jones and deposited at the Royal Asiatic Society some time after her death.

The letters from William Jones to Samuel Davis were presented to the Royal Asiatic Society by John Francis Davis, son of Samuel Davis in 1830

A typed list within the Collections suggests that the Sale Catalogue of William Jones' Library and the letters from Lord Teignmouth were given to the Royal Asiatic Society by Mrs Chambers in 1955. The Council Minutes for 8th December, 1955 record "Letter of thanks to be sent to Mrs. Irene Chambers for a Catalogue of Sir W. Jones' Library"

Archivist's Note

The descriptions were created by Nancy Charley, Archivist at the Royal Asiatic Society, in 2015. The original order of the material was unknown and therefore it was arranged according to the different types of material of which the collection is comprised

Autobiographical information was sourced from

  • Arberry, A.J. Asiatic Jones: The Life and Influence of Sir William Jones (174601794), Pioneer of Indian Studies, Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd, 1946.
  • Feldman, Paula R., British Women Poets of the Romantic Era: An Anthology, JHU Press, 2000
  • Scott Polar Research Institute, Joseph Banks Collection, Archives Hub
  • John Shore, 1st Baron Teignmouth at,_1st_Baron_Teignmouth, accessed 4th August, 2015
  •, accessed 4th August, 2015

Separated Material

The Jones Collection contains a number of paintings and drawings which are described in the "Catalogue of Paintings, Drawings, Engravings and Busts: The Collection of the Royal Asiatic Society" by Raymond Head, 1991, in which he divides the material into:

  • (i) drawings by miscellaneous artists intended for "Asiatick Researches"
  • (ii) drawings by lady Jones excluding botanical studies
  • botanical drawings by Sir William, lady Jones and Indian artists

Details of most of these can be found on the Library catalogue .

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.

Appraisal Information

All records have been retained. The individual records had been given numbers as part of the accessioning procedures, to reflect the arrangement of the archive.

Related Material

Within the Royal Asiatic Society Collections there is some material allied with these papers:

  • Correspondence regarding the restoration of the William Jones Monument in St Mary the Virgin Church, Oxford, 1996-1997
  • Correspondence regarding the commemoration of the birth of William Jones by the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 1995-1996
  • Correspondence with Curzon Press regarding their publication of the "Collected Works of William Jones", 1993
  • The British Library Exhibition Notes, "Sir William Jones and the Asiatic Society of Bengal", 20th January - 29th April 1984

Allied material is held at British Library: Asian and African Studies (previously Oriental and India Office Library)

Books by and about Jones can also be found on our online Library catalogues