George Mak’s forthcoming lecture prompts a delve into the RAS Collections

Next Thursday (18th June) we are pleased to welcome George  Kam Wah Mak, Research Assistant Professor at David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, who will speak on The Annotation Question of the Chinese Protestant Bible in Late Qing China.

His topic, alongside the fact that I am sorting the papers of the Reverend John Drew Bate (1836-1923), Baptist Missionary and compiler of a Hindi Dictionary, as my ‘pilot’ for getting the archives onto the online catalogue, Archives Hub, caused me to wonder whether we had any material in our collections allied to George Mak’s talk.

Our early 19th century translations of the Bible into Chinese languages are now part of the collection transferred from the RAS to the Brotherton Library, Leeds, in the 1960s. However we still have a small 1916 pamphlet that lists which Scriptures had been translated into Chinese stating different versions and different dialects:

Reverend John R. Hykes’ Pamphlet produced by American Bible Society

The Foreword tells of many involved in the compilation

A small pamphlet which, at its time of publication, would have revealed the many scholars who had been involved in translation.

Though we no longer have any Chinese Bibles we do hold early editions of Bibles in other languages. We have a 1907 Hindi Bible published by the British and Foeign Bible Society in Allahabad:

“The Holy Bible in Hindi”

We also have a much earlier Persian New Testament, “Translated from the Original Greek into Persian, at Sheeraz, by the Rev. Henry Martin, A.B…. with the Assistance of Meerza Sueyid Ulee of Sheeraz”. It has a leather binding and its pages are curious as the text is found on an Asian style of paper but these pages are interleaved with blank sheets of a western form of paper. The back few pages show previous conservation work has been undertaken to preserve the book. This New Testament was printed in Calcutta by the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1816.

The 1816  New Testament
A page of the Manuscript
Pages showing evidence of conservation

Henry Martyn spent only a short time in  India. He was born in 1781 at Truro, Cornwall and went to the local school and then to St John’s College, Cambridge. After training for the ministry he arrived in India, in 1806, employed as a Chaplain for the East India Company. He was obviously adept at languages as he translated the whole of the New Testament into Urdu, Persian and Judeo-Persic, the Psalms into Persian and the Book of Common Prayer into Urdu. However, in 1812, whilst at Tokat, Turkey, he caught a fever and died on 6th October, 1812.

But back to China! I am currently cleaning and sorting the early records of the RAS and amongst them I have found some documents relating to China. I have already blogged on Thomas Weeding’s “Grand Chop” and various documents and items related to George Staunton. I have found another manuscript donated by Staunton but which originated with James Brogden, the interestingly titled “Instructions of the Chinese Government to the Merchants trading with the Russians”.

Chinese rules for trading with Russia

In the Catalogue of English Manuscripts which contains details of many of the early manuscripts that were donated to the RAS, it suggests that James Brogden received this information from Russia and that is contains 24 regulations for the trade carried out at Kiachta (Kyakhta) on the Russian/China border. Searching on the Internet it seems that Brogden travelled in Russia from 1787-1788, so this document may date from them, or it may be a later copy. It arrived in the RAS in 1823 and was read at the General Meeting on December 20th of that year.

Another interesting document concerning China is “Notes on China and the Chinese”, given by RAS member, “George Smith Esq.” and read at the General Meeting on 7th April, 1847.

“Notes on China and the Chinese”

There is a George Smith (1815-1871)  who was one of the first two CMS missionaries to go to China, in 1844, and became the first Anglican Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong in 1849. He published various works concerning China and therefore it would seem appropriate that he had donated the manuscript to the RAS. However it appears that the RAS member, George Smith, would appear to be George Robert Smith (1793-1869), banker and Whig politician, whose father, also a George Smith, had been a MP and Director of the East India Company. How this George Smith came by notes on China and the Chinese, for now, remains something of a mystery…