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Thomas Raffles Collection

Date range: 17th–19th century.

The collection of Thomas Raffles (1788–1863), eminent Congregationalist and autograph collector, is particularly relevant to Nonconformist history, but has wider significance for a range of nineteenth-century studies.

Raffles was ordained in 1809 and appointed minister of Newington Chapel, Liverpool, in 1812. His influence within evangelical circles soon spread beyond that city.

He was secretary of the Lancashire Congregational Union from 1826 to 1843, and in 1839 served as chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales.

With George Hadfield he founded Blackburn Academy for the training of ministers in 1816, and he oversaw its transfer to Manchester in 1843 as the Lancashire Independent College; he chaired its education committee from 1839 until his death.

Raffles was also a noted collector of original manuscripts relating Nonconformity in Lancashire, and he amassed a vast numbers of more general autographs.

The collection falls into two sections which were separately acquired by the Library.

The first comprises many thousands of letters and portraits of eminent Englishmen, chiefly of the nineteenth century, which were collected by Raffles.

Those represented include 2,260 authors, 231 poets, 392 artists, 542 members of the English nobility, 133 Nonconformist divines from 1658 to 1821, and 135 missionaries (English mss 343–387).

The autographs were calendared in twelve volumes by the historian Alice Margaret Cooke (English mss 388–399).

There are also several manuscripts collected by Raffles, including:

  • a commonplace book of Reginald Heber (1783–1826), bishop of Calcutta and writer, and the autograph manuscript of his From Greenland’s Icy Mountains (1819), in a later binding by Zaehnsdorf (English mss 95 and 116)
  • the manuscript draft of John Roby’s Traditions of Lancashire (1829–31), with many corrections and amendments (English mss 334–335)
  • fourteen letters from Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, to the Reverend and Mrs Thomas Wills, 1774–84 (English ms 338)
  • two volumes of autograph sermons of the Scottish independent ministers Thomas Boston (1676–1732) and Alexander Pirie (1736/7–1804) (English mss 402–403)

A particularly unusual item is a transcription by King Pomare II of Tahiti of Rev. Henry Nott’s translation into Tahitian of part of 1 Samuel, 1819 (English ms 401).

The second section consists of Raffles’s own papers, including 28 boxes of sermons delivered between 1807 and 1861; a three-volume holograph of 1819–21 entitled ‘Collections for a History of the Nonconformist Churches of Lancashire’; and five volumes of letters chiefly written to him by Nonconformist ministers.

See also the Congregational College archives.

Finding aids

  • Catalogue of the first section available online via ELGAR.
  • First part recorded in published handlist of English Manuscripts (English MSS 343-387), with card index of correspondents; unpublished handlist of second part.

Location

The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

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