Fonds TM - Papers of Thomas Manning, Chinese Scholar, First English visitor to Lhasa, Tibet

Identity area

Reference code

GB GB 891 TM


Papers of Thomas Manning, Chinese Scholar, First English visitor to Lhasa, Tibet


  • 1968-1997 (Creation)
  • 1785-1876 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.05 cubic metres / 4 archival boxes

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

Thomas Manning was born in Broome, Norfolk on 8th November, 1772, the second son of Reverend William Manning, rector of Brome and subsequently rector of Diss, Norfolk, and his wife, Elizabeth, the only child of Reverend William Adams, rector of Rollersby Norfolk.

Thomas Manning was educated locally and was admitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1790 to study mathematics. Here he made some lifelong friends including Charles Lamb (1775-1834). Manning was very able but did not graduate as he refused to sign the oath of allegiance to the Church of England. Manning continued in Cambridge coaching students and published his Introduction to Arithmetic and Algebra (1796-1798)

Manning became interested in China and the Chinese language and in January 1802, sailed from Dover to stay in Paris where he met and studied with Dr Hagar at the Bibliotheque Nationale. Manning intended to stay in Paris for two years but was detained further due to the Napoleonic conflict with England. He returned to England in late 1804 and studied medicine for 6 months at Westminster Hospital with the intent of gaining an useful skill for his travels.

Manning first thought of trying to reach China overland via Russia but felt that his language skills were insufficient and therefore applied to the East India Company to travel on board one of their boats. He sailed on the Thames in May 1806 arriving in Canton, China, later that year.

Manning lived within the East India Company factory and helped with medical matters and translation. He was frustrated by lack of access to interior China. He joined an expedition to Cochinchina (Vietnam) in 1808. This expedition failed and Manning returned to Canton.

Manning then decided to attempt to reach the interior of China via Tibet. For this purpose he sailed on the Pellen to Bengal. He became known in Calcutta for his flowing beard and native costume. He waited for official permission to travel through Bhutan but in the end set off with one Chinese servant entering Bhutan in September 1811 and Tibet later that year.He travelled with Chinese soldiers and treated their medical ailments. He reached Lhasa in December 1811 and was allowed an audience with the Dalai Lama. However he was not able to continue further inland and was sent back to Calcutta in 1812. From there he returned to Canton where he continued his studies until joining the unsuccessful Amherst Embassy in 1816, after which he set off for England with the Embassy on the Alceste. This was wrecked on 17 February 1817 and he continued on the Caesar. He reached St Helena in July 1817 and was given an audience with Napoleon who was imprisoned on the island.

Manning returned and settled in England. He lived in Italy, wanting to improve his spoken Italian, between 1827-1829. He returned to England and continued to live in Kent until 1838, when after a stroke which disabled his right hand, he moved to Bath to gain better medical attention. He died at Bath on 2 May, 1840 and was buried in Bath Abbey Church.

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Archival history

The majority of this material was sold by a family member to Maggs Bros. Ltd., where it remained until its 'rediscovery' in 2015.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was acquired from Maggs Bros. Ltd., Rare Book Publishers, London, in 2015 with funding received from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and further support from the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund; the Friends of the National Libraries; and numerous private donations.

A few items within the Papers were donated to the RAS at an earlier date.

Manning's copy of Klaproth's Description du Tubet was donated to the Society by Deborah Manning in October 2017.

The items in TM/19 were loaned by Deborah Manning in 2019.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The Papers include correspondence between Thomas Manning and his family, friends and some official correspondence ranging from his childhood, through Cambridge days, time in France, travels to China and India and his later life.These reflect both Manning's interests and the wide range of contacts that he cultivated.

There are also original notebooks and notes, some documenting his travels including his journey through Tibet; others reflecting his interests in mathematics, poetry & riddles and Catholic emancipation. There is also an early Manuscript for "The Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa".

Other highlights in the Collection include early English and European passports, calling cards, and later receipts

These Papers give an insight into this unique man formerly best known for his relationship with Charles Lamb. These Papers show that Manning was also a man of talent, charisma and determination in his study of China and the Chinese language.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

The archive was appraised by the archivist. It had been divided into 'lots' ready for sale by Maggs Bros. Ltd., thus original order was not present. All material was kept and ordered with material already held by the institution to create a catalogue of the total material.


In 2019, the Royal Asiatic Society were loaned 5 letters from the Manning family. These have become TM/19.

System of arrangement

The Collection has been arranged according to different types of material creating a number of series. These are:

  • TM/1 Family Correspondence:
  • TM/1/1 Correspondence with William Manning
  • TM/1/2 Correspondence with Other Family Members
  • TM/2 Correspondence with Early Friends:
  • TM/2/1 Correspondence with Robert Lloyd
  • TM/2/2 Correspondence with Charles Lamb
  • TM/2/3 Correspondence with Sir George Leman Tuthill
  • TM/2/4 Correspondence with W. Baines
  • TM/3 Correspondence during Manning's time in France:
  • TM/3/1 Official Correspondence and Documents
  • TM/3/2 Personal Correspondence whilst in France
  • TM/3/3 Calling Cards and Invitations
  • TM/3/4 Diligence information
    *TM/4 Other Correspondence Pre-dating Manning's Time in China
  • TM/5 Correspondence during Manning's Time in China and India
  • TM/6 Correspondence Post Manning's Time in China
  • TM/7 Correspondence with Stanislas Julien
  • TM/8 Correspondence - Unknown Era
  • TM/9 Notes and Notebooks:
  • TM/9/1 Hardcover folder containing notes on all subjects
  • TM/9/2 Notebook including notes on meeting the Dalai Lama
  • TM/9/3 - TM/9/5 Chinese notebooks used during time in Tibet
  • TM/9/6 Notes from Chinese period
  • TM/9/7 Five pocket almanacks with annotations (1825-1833)
  • TM/9/8 Poetry and Riddles
  • TM/9/9 Mathematical notes and notebooks
  • TM/9/10 Notes regarding Roman Catholicism
  • TM/10 Manuscript of "Narrative of the Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa"
  • TM/11 Passports and Official Documents
  • TM/12 Newspaper Cuttings
  • TM/13 Receipts
  • TM/14 Address Labels and Calling Cards
  • TM/15 Later Correspondence within Thomas Manning Archive
  • TM/16 Notes regarding the Thomas Manning Archive
  • TM/17 Catalogue of Manning's Books in RAS Library
  • TM/18 Printed Material
  • TM/19 Correspondence on loan

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Open. Please contact the archivist using the email address given 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

Conditions governing reproduction

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.

Language of material

  • English
  • French
  • Chinese
  • Ancient Greek
  • Italian
  • Tibetan

Script of material

    Language and script notes

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    Finding aids

    Allied materials area

    Existence and location of originals

    The original letters from Thomas Manning to Charles Lamb are held at the University of Kentucky

    Existence and location of copies

    Related units of description

    The RAS also holds within its Collections:

    • The Latin-Chinese dictionary belonging to Thomas Manning and marked with his annotations
    • A half-length portrait of Thomas Manning, oil on canvas, c.1805 by J.M. Davis
    • Bust of Thomas Manning, plaster, c.1805, unknown artist.
    • New material related to the acquisition of the archive and its subsequent publicity

    The Chinese books bequeathed to the RAS by Thomas Manning's estate are now held at The Brotherton Library, Leeds

    Related descriptions

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        Archivist's note

        The descriptions were created by Nancy Charley, Archivist at the Royal Asiatic Society, in 2016. 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

        Accession area