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About the John Murray Archive

Letters and photos by Isabella Bird
Letters and photos by
Isabella Bird

One of the greatest and perhaps the most influential of all British publishing houses, with an unrivalled list of authors, was established by Edinburgh-born John Murray in 1768. Since then seven generations of the Murray publishing family have maintained an archive of business papers, correspondence and manuscripts that has become an outstanding national treasure.

The collection

The John Murray Archive includes original manuscripts of works by Murray authors, together with extensive files of correspondence – thought to contain more than 150,000 letters – and journals, dating from 1768 through to 1920.

Lord Byron, David Livingstone, Charles Darwin, Jane Austen, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, Benjamin Disraeli, William Ewart Gladstone, Herman Melville, Washington Irving and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were among the distinguished writers published by the London-based firm, with artists such as J M W Turner providing illustrations for Murray books.

Notable achievements

Throughout the 19th century in particular, the most notable and enduring achievements were recorded and announced to the world in Murray publications

This was an age of romanticism and reform, of unprecedented invention, discovery and exploration, of social and political change.

The richness of the archive comes from the range of individuals represented – minor as well as major correspondents – and the evidence it offers of friendships, collaborations and influences across disciplines and generations. Personal and business papers and correspondence of the Murray family covers literature, exploration, politics, and scientific and engineering discovery.

 Highlights from the John Murray Archive

The Byron Collection

The John Murray Archive incorporates Lord Byron's own papers and is the most extensive and important collection of Byron in the world. Correspondence to and about the poet includes more than 10,000 letters which record his literary life and public career, his complicated private and family affairs, and the enduring impact of his personality on all those he encountered. The Byron Papers feature:

Letter from Walter Scott to Byron
Letter to 'My dear Lord Byron'
from Sir Walter Scott
British, European and American Literature

Key literary figures with manuscripts and/or letters in the John Murray Archive include:

Other literary figures represented in the archive include: Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, William Wordsworth, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Allan Cunningham and J M Barrie. The collection also contains the pre-eminent holding of manuscripts by George Crabbe.

Science and Technology

John Murray published the revolutionary work by Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, in 1859. Many other scientists then turned to Murray with their manuscripts. Notable names include:

Travel and Exploration
A David Livingstone manuscript
A David Livingstone

The travel and exploration papers in the Murray Archive fall into several major sections:

Among those represented are: Isabella Bird, Thomas Cook, Richard Ford and Laurence Oliphant.

Economics and Politics

Prime ministers, politicians, economists and royalty are all well represented in the archive – figures such as:

Scholarship and the Arts

The rich and diverse range of subjects in the Murray Archive includes archaeology, classical studies, bibliography, history and scholarship, art, architecture, art history and collecting, cookery, gardening, music, theatre and children's books. There are many significant correspondents and correspondences, including:

 Unique resource

Prime manuscripts and major correspondences alone make the John Murray Archive a national treasure. As well as this, the quantity, range and depth of all the additional papers, business correspondences, letter copybooks, ledgers, accounts and business files, and the family papers are what make it a unique and exceptional resource.

 More information

John Murray VII, current head of the Murray family, has offered this significant collection to the National Library of Scotland for £31.2 million.

Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Grants have been awarded in support of the NLS bid by the Heritage Lottery Fund and by the Scottish Executive.

The Library is now forging ahead with a campaign to reach the final funding target of £6.5m. If you would like to donate to our fundraising campaign, please see Support NLS.

For background information on the NLS bid to secure the archive for the nation, which involves us raising £6.5 million, see our news stories:

For enquiries, and to make an appointment to consult the archive, please e-mail us at

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