Newsletter No. 54 (July 2009)

Asian Treasures from Religious Collectors

Andrew Gosling

Former Chief Librarian (1985-2003)
Asian Collections, National Library of Australia

    Works on Asia from the National Library of Australia’s Jesuit Collection and other religious collectors

    Recently I have been preparing a guide to Asian treasures held by the National Library of Australia. While compiling it I have been struck by the number of old, rare and significant titles, which though often not on religious topics, were originally collected by missionaries or members of Christian, Buddhist or other religious groups and later acquired by the National Library. In this article I will first outline briefly four such collections, which are already well documented. They are the Australian Buddhist Library Collection, the Dr John Cooper Theosophy Collection, the London Missionary Society Chinese Collection and the McLaren-Human Collection on Korea. I will then say more about the Jesuit Collection, whose small but valuable Asian component has received much less attention.

    Australian Buddhist Library Collection

    In 1987, the Australian Buddhist Library, which was formerly situated in central Sydney, donated its entire 3000 volume collection to the National Library of Australia. At the request of the donor the books have been kept together as a formed collection and retain the name Australian Buddhist Library.
    In Sydney the library was built up through the generosity of the Liao family and other benefactors. The founder, Eric Liao, was at pains to obtain a wide range of sources on Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, as well as connections between Buddhism and other faiths. The collection consists mainly of Chinese and English language works on Buddhism as well as items in other Asian languages [1]. There are reference works, monographs, periodicals, audio- cassettes, and a Tripitaka section including editions in Chinese, English, Pali, Burmese, Sinhalese and Thai. The Australian Buddhist Library compiled and published a book catalogue listing its collections by language, then for each language by subject [2].

    Dr John Cooper Theosophy Collection

    John Cooper (1930-1998) was a leading historian of Australian and international theosophy [3]. The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 in the United States, though it traces its origins back to ancient teachings on direct knowledge of God. Theosophists believe that all religions and philosophies are reflections of a greater and secret truth. They draw on Asian and Western traditions. Theosophy was quite influential in many countries, including Australia, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but has since declined.

    The Cooper Collection, donated by his family after John Cooper died, consists of nearly 4000 books, 240 serial titles and 30 large boxes of archival material [4]. The books have been kept together as a formed collection; the serials integrated into the Library’s general holdings and the archives housed in the Manuscripts Stack. A bibliography of the books and serials is available on the Library’s website at www.nla.gov.au/collect/cooper.html
    Cooper acquired many titles on religions and philosophies of interest to theosophists, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism, but also other Asian and Western beliefs. To take just one example, he collected more than 100 titles on Tibetan Buddhism and culture.

    London Missionary Society Chinese Collection

    In 1961 the Library acquired a major Chinese language collection from the London Missionary Society [5]. The Society was founded in 1795 during the evangelical revival as a non-denominational body dedicated to spreading the Christian faith around the world. It was largely associated with the Congregationalist movement in England and the United States. The National Library has developed extensive holdings of English language books and microforms about its activities particularly as they relate to Australia, the Pacific and Asia.
    The most valuable part of the collection relates to the Taiping Rebellion and Christianity in China. The Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) was one of the greatest upheavals in modern Chinese history. The collection includes twenty-four pamphlets published by the Taiping rebels and three original proclamations from leaders of the movement. The London Missionary Society collection is also significant for its Chinese translations of Christian works. These include more than sixty editions of the Bible translated into literary and colloquial Chinese and local dialects by British, American and other missionaries. A number of these translations are now rare. There are also scientific and medical works translated into Chinese by the missionaries, as well as classical Chinese works. It should be stressed that only part of the collection is on religion and that many important editions on Chinese history, literature and culture are included, as well as a few Japanese and Korean items. A guide to the collection is available from the Library [6]. The books have also been digitized.

    McLaren-Human Collection on Korea

    In June 1984 the National Library received an important gift of old and rare Korean titles. These had belonged to Mrs Jessie McLaren, who went to Korea from Melbourne with her doctor husband in 1911 as Presbyterian missionaries. Her interest in Korean culture led her to collect many books, some of which she was able to bring back to Australia during the Second World War. Following her death, her daughter Mrs Rachel Human donated the material to the Library.
    The donation of the McLaren-Human Collection provided the National Library with the most significant repository of older Korean imprints in Australia. The titles cover a wide range of subjects from Korean history and literature to philosophy and religion; from dictionaries and grammars to geography and cooking. Jessie McLaren acquired old and rare editions, as well as reprints issued in Korea during the Japanese colonial period, between 1910 and 1941 when she left the country. Most but by no means all the books relate to Korea’s pre-20th century history and culture. While there is little on specifically Christian topics in the McLaren-Human Collection, there are important and rare works by Western missionaries and Korean Protestants on other subjects.  There are also some titles from Japan and China. A detailed guide to the collection is available online and in print form [7].

    Jesuit Collection

    The Society of Jesus, a religious order commonly known as the Jesuits, was founded in 1534 by St Ignatius of Loyola. In the 16th and 17th centuries it played a major role in the Catholic revival responding to the growth of Protestantism. The Society has always stressed education and learning, with Jesuit writers prominent in many scholarly disciplines. Jesuit missions were established in Asia, including India, China, Japan and Southeast Asia as well as Africa, the Americas and Australia.

    According to Graeme Powell, who has written a short description of the Jesuit Collection, its provenance is quite complex [8]. Based on inscriptions in the books, many of the oldest volumes were originally held by the Jesuit college at Liège, in what was then the Spanish Netherlands (later the Austrian Netherlands) and is now Belgium. English novices were trained there between 1624 and 1794, the year the country was conquered by France. The books were moved to Stonyhurst, a college in Lancashire established by the English Jesuits on their return to England in 1794. Other titles were originally part of Jesuit institutions set up later in Britain. In 1923 Heythrop College was established in Oxfordshire, and between then and the 1960s its library acquired many books from Stonyhurst and other Jesuit colleges across the country. Heythrop apparently disposed of a large collection, when it moved to London in 1970. The National Library acquired the collection in 1971 from the bookseller Richard Booth of Hay-on-Wye in Wales.

    The Jesuit Collection consists of over 5000 titles in about 8000 volumes published between 1533 and 1965, and written in Latin, Greek, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. It covers many religious topics as well as subjects such as art, bibliography, biography and history. While books about Asia make up only a fraction of the whole collection, there are important sources about the Jesuit missions in the region as well as works by and about leading Jesuit missionaries, such as St Francis Xavier (1506-1552), who lived and worked in Asian countries.

    The following are a few major examples of rare early works about China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia in the Jesuit Collection:

    Epistolae Indicae : de praeclaris et stupendis rebus, quas divina bonitas in India & variis insulis, per Societate nominis Iesu operari dignata est, in tam copiosa Gentium ad fidem conversione. Secunda editio auctior. Lovanii : Apud R. Velpium, 1566. [24], 418, [21] p. ; 16 cm. (8vo). Title vignette; head and tailpieces; capitals. Reports by Francis Xavier and others, compiled and edited by J. Rutilius Sombergius. Includes index. RB JES 5084.
    This is a very early and important primary source on Asia and Catholic missionary activities there. The Jesuits started printing letters from their missionaries in Asia, including the most famous, St Francis Xavier. While there were various editions of Jesuit letters in a number of European languages, there was a tendency to issue them in the universally acceptable Latin. The term “Indian letters” (Epistolae Indicae in Latin) was employed as a general term covering correspondence about China, Japan and Southeast Asia as well as India itself. Letters about Japan were particularly prominent. The Jesuits published Latin collections of the letters in 1566 and 1570 at Leuven (Louvain), which was then part of the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium). The Library’s copy of the 1566 edition from Leuven is one of the oldest items in the Jesuit Collection. It has an attractive brown leather binding. The Jesuit Collection also includes an early Jesuit letterbook from Japan and China, Lettere del Giapone et della Cina degl’anni MDLXXXIX & MDXC. Venetia : Gio. Battista Ciotti, 1592.

    Maffei, Giovanni Pietro, 1536?-1603. Historiarum indicarum libri XVI. Ioan. Petri Maffeii Bergomatis e Societate Iesu Historiarum indicarum libri XVI : selectarum item ex India epistolarum, eodem interprete, libri IV : accessit Ignatii Loiolae vita / omnia ab auctore recognita, & nunc primum in Germania excusa ; item, in singula opera copiosus index. Coloniae Agrippinae : In Officina Birckmannica sumptibus Arnoldi Mylij, 1589. [4], 538, p. ; 30 cm. (2o). Title vignette (Jesuit emblem). RBq JES 5154.
    This is one of the most important 16th century publications about European interaction with Asia. A general history of Jesuit activities in Asia, it also contains broader descriptions of the region and Western contacts there. It is the principal work of Maffei, an Italian Jesuit scholar and humanist. His book covers India, China, Japan, Southeast Asia and other areas. The South Asian component is largely a history of the Portuguese in India from Vasco da Gama to the mid-1550s. Maffei also includes the Asian correspondence of St Francis Xavier and many other Jesuits as well as a life of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. The first edition of his work was published in Florence in 1588. The National Library holds an edition issued the following year in Cologne [Coloniae Agrippinae].

    Tachard, Guy, 1651-1712. Voyage de Siam, des pères Jésuites, énvoyez par le roy aux Indes & à la Chine : avec leurs observations astronomiques, et leurs remarques de physique, de géographie, d’hydrographie & d’histoire. A Paris : Arnould Seneuze et Daniel Horthemels, par ordre de sa Majesté, 1686. [16], 424, [8] p., plates. : ill., maps. ; (4to). RB 915.93 JES. This early Western account of Thailand is by Guy Tachard, a French Jesuit missionary and diplomat. Tachard accompanied the embassy that France’s King Louis XIV sent to the court of King Narai of Siam (Thailand) in 1685. King Narai reigned from 1657 to 1688. The mission sought to convert Narai to Christianity and cement the alliance between France and Siam. For several years Tachard was involved in efforts to bring about these two ends. After the Siamese palace revolution of 1688 and expulsion of the French, he became a missionary in southern India, based at Pondicherry, which was held by France. The Library holds this original Paris edition of 1686. It is richly illustrated. There are lively full page and chapter heading drawings, including depictions of Siamese envoys bowing to Louis XIV, royal barges, a Siamese official, buildings and plants such as ginseng, betel and areca.

    Other rare titles about East Asia by Jesuit authors include:

    Crasset, Jean, 1618-1692. The history of the church of Japan. 2 v. London : [s.n.], 1705-1707. RB JES 201/1-2, an English translation of the French, Histoire de l’Eglise du Japon, by Jean Crasset.

    A short account of the declaration given by the Chinese Emperour Kam Hi, in the year 1700. London : [s.n.], 1703. RB JES 1175, an English translation of the Latin work Brevis relatio…Kam Hi, by Antoine Thomas (1644-1709) and others on the Kangxi Emperor’s declaration about the Chinese terms for God and the non-religious nature of Chinese veneration for ancestors and Confucius.

    Trigault, Nicolas, 1577-1628. De Christianis apud Iaponios triumphis… Monachi : [s.n.], 1623. RB JES 203, the Latin first edition published in Munich of Trigault’s work about the mission to Japan and Christian martyrs in that country.

    The Jesuit Collection is complemented by other National Library holdings of Jesuit writings about the region, especially in the J.M. (Jack) Braga Collection on the Portuguese in Asia [9].

    The above is just a brief introduction to the Asian component of the Jesuit Collection. All its rare content, including every title published prior to 1801, may be found quite readily in the Library’s online catalogue (http://www.nla.gov.au/) as their call numbers contain RB for Rare Books and the letters JES for Jesuit Collection. Hence searches on RB JES as well as RBq JES and RBf JES for larger size volumes will bring up all the rare works.

    I am most grateful to Graeme Powell, former Manuscript Librarian at the National Library, for use of his description of the Library’s Jesuit Collection.

    Andrew Gosling
    24 June 2009  


    1. Falk, Tina and Andrew Gosling “Collecting karma,” in National Library of Australia News, April 1999 p.3-7 [as “Buddhist holdings at the National Library of Australia” (www.nla.gov.au/asian/pub/agbh1.html).

    2. The Australian Buddhist Library… a classified catalogue, compiled by Lai-chu Lau. Canberra : National Library of Australia, 1989.

    3. Jackson, Philip. “Historian’s theosophy collection acquired,” in National Library of Australia Gateways, June 2002 (http://www.nla.gov.au/pub/gateways/archive/57/p14a01.html).

    4. Gosling, Andrew. “Connecting Asia and Australia” [Dr John Cooper Theosophy Collection]. National Library of Australia News, January 2006, p.14-17 (http://www.nla.gov.au/pub/nlanews/2006/jan06/article4.html)

    5. Gosling, Andrew.  “Religion and rebellion in China” [revised version of an article on the London Missionary Society Collection from National Library of Australia News, July 1998, p.3-6 at (http://www.nla.gov.au/asian/pub/aglms1.html)].

    6. Catalogue of the London Missionary Society Collection held by the National Library of Australia, compiled by Ching Sun and Wan Wong. Canberra : National Library of Australia, 2001.

    7. Gosling, Andrew. Jessie’s Korea : guide to the McLaren-Human Collection in the National Library of Australia. Canberra : National Library of Australia, 2007 (http://www.nla.gov.au/asian/form/documents/McLarenguide-final17-10-wholedoc.pdf).

    8. Powell, Graeme. Jesuit Collection [unpublished draft description, June 2007].

    9. Haldane, Pauline. The Portuguese in Asia and the Far East : the Braga Collection in the National Library of Australia. Paper prepared for the Second International Conference on Indian Ocean Studies held in Perth, Western Australia, 5-12 December 1984. (http://www.nla.gov.au/asian/pub/bragappr.html).

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