Special collections: Korean manuscripts and rare books

Beginning of the Korean collections

Antiquarian Korean materials arrived at the Bodleian libraries in the latter part of the 19th century, relatively late compared to other East Asian materials. Although few in number, they are still important. In fact, several titles in the Bodleian collections are included on the ‘100 Hangul Heritage’ list. The library also holds rare and important antiquarian printed books, manuscripts, imperial publications, fine portrait albums, and a painted scroll of the funeral procession of King Yŏngjo (英祖, 1694–1776, r.1724–76, also known as King Yŏngjong 英宗). The late arrival is probably due to the fact that Chosŏn, known in the West as Corea or Korea, was opened to Western visitors only from 1882.

The first arrivals in the Bodleian were a group of books from the New Testament translated in the 1880s into the native Korean script, han’gŭl, by John Ross (1842–1915). These New Testament books, Yesu syŏnggyo syŏngsyŏ, (N.T. Corean e.1 – 5) were part of the donation from the well-known Orientalist, the Reverend Solomon Caesar Malan, given to the Bodleian Indian Institute Library in 1885. Malan’s donation of some 4,000 volumes was the largest gift ever received by the Bodleian Indian Institute Library. Ross’s New Testament books are included on the ‘100 Hangul Heritage’ list, as they are the first books of the Bible in han’gŭl.

Many of the other rare and important Korean books and manuscripts in the Bodleian Library were donated sporadically between 1896 and 1930 by Bishop Mark Napier Trollope (1862–1930). Bishop Trollope, educated at New College, Oxford, was the third Anglican Bishop of Korea and arrived in Seoul in 1890, less than ten years after Korea was opened to the West.

The first important manuscript, Yŏngjo kukchang palin panch’ado (英祖國葬發引班次圖, MS. Asiat. Misc. a.1), was donated by Bishop Trollope in 1902. It is a painting scroll of the funeral procession of King Yŏngjo (英祖1694 1776). The second important manuscript, Kunsin tohoe (君臣圖繪, MS. Chin. c. 21), donated in 1907, was a four-volume set of paintings consisting of fine illustrations of famous Chinese figures from ancient times up to the Ming Dynasty. Another important manuscript is a collection of ten official documents (MS. Asiat. Misc. a.41(R)) given to the library by Colin Franklin in 1998. They are official orders by King Kojong between 1885 and 1886 conferring various titles on his government officials and their family members. King Kojong was the twenty-sixth king of the Chosŏn Dynasty and the first emperor of the Korean Empire. Each document bears the king’s seal.

Early printed books

Among early printed books in Korean, the important ones include the Kyesul suyŏnnok (繼述受宴錄, Corean 13). This is a record of a banquet given in 1766 by King Yŏngjo, then in his seventy-second year, on the sixtieth anniversary of a similar banquet given by his father King Sukjong (肅宗, r.1674–1720). The full title of the book is Ŏje Kyesul suyŏnnok (御製繼述受宴錄). There is a naesagi (內賜, a hand-written message of a king’s gift to his close relatives and senior officials) inside the front cover, stating that this is a presentation book given to the king’s son-in-law Hwang In-jŏm (黃仁點) of Ch’angsŏng (昌城,husband of Princess Hwayu 和柔, 1741–71) on the thirteenth day of the ninth month of 1766.

The well-known Korean work Samgang haengsil (三綱行實, Corean 14), ‘Conduct of the three bonds’, was originally published in 1432 under royal patronage, as part of the project to construct a Confucian society under King Sejong. Samgang haengsil consists of a series of historical anecdotes. The Bodleian’s copy has been identified as the Sŏnjo tae chungganbon (宣祖代重刊本) edition (printed in 1581 underKing Sŏnjo). This title is also on the 100 Hangul Heritage book list. One of the first uses of the newly invented han’gul syllabary in the 1440s was to supply a vernacular rendering of the moral stories for this book.

There is also a very rare book entitled Terminations of the verb 하다 (Corean 20) from the Monsignor Rutt collection. There is no other known surviving copy anywhere in the world. It was published in 1896 and contains the studies of the verb 하다 (to do). This book is also important as it is probably the earliest book on the study of Korean verbs; not least because the whole book is devoted to one verb.

Early printed books in European languages relating to Korea

The earliest work in a European language on Korea is Hendrik Hamel’s An account of the shipwreck of a Dutch vessel... with the description of the Kingdom of Korea, published in Paris in 1670 by Chez Louys Billaine (TAY Main Libr VET.FR.I.A.149).

Other interesting works include Basil Hall’s Account of a voyage of discovery to the west coast of Corea... (1818) (BOD Bookstack 4° BS. 308); John M’Leod’s Voyage of His Majesty’s ship Alceste, along the coast of Corea, to the island of Lewchew: with an account of her subsequent shipwreck (1818) (BOD Bookstack 8° R 152 BS. [1]).


After the opening of Korea to the West in 1882, great numbers of books on Korea’s history and geography, as well as maps, began to appear in the late 19th century. The library’s map collection includes maps showing routes made by such well-known travellers as Isabella Bird Bishop (1831–1904). The Bodleian possesses a copy of her Sketch map of central Korea (D23:5 [1]) and her General map of Korea and neighbouring countries (D1:4 [78]). Both were published in 1898 and trace Isabella Bishop’s first and second journeys.

There are also maps showing Captain A. E. J. Cavendish’s route. Captain Cavendish (1859–1943) was one of the few travellers who gave first-hand, detailed accounts of the area around Paektusan (‘White Head Mountain’, C. Changbaishan) in the 19th century. Cavendish’s Sketch map of Korea (D23 [101]), which shows his route, was published in July 1894. The library also has the second edition (D23 [117]), published a month later in August 1894 by the same publisher, which includes treaty ports and main roads as well as his route.

Missionary work

In addition, there is a collection of materials related to missionary work in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. These materials include the private correspondence of Bishop Trollope from 1891 to 1929, as well as letters received and sent between 1889 and 1928 from the archives of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. There are also bound copies of ‘Morning Calm’, the diocesan newsletter from 1890, as well as photographs related to missionary work.

See also