A literary treasure trove for Scotland

A unique multi-million pound treasure trove of writings from some of the greatest world figures of the past two hundred years could be on its way to the National Library of Scotland.

This outstanding archive containing private letters, manuscripts and other correspondence from Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, Charles Darwin, David Livingstone, Thomas Carlyle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edith Wharton, to name a few, is being offered to the National Library at a reduced price in order that the collection is kept in Britain.

The Murray publishing family, which is based in London, owns the archive but the current head of the family, John Murray VII, wants the collection to be placed in the National Library of Scotland because of the strong Scottish content and the fact that John Murray I was born in Edinburgh.

The collection would be sold to the National Library of Scotland for just over £33m. Experts believe the true market value of the archive to be in the region of at least £45m.

As a result of the sale John Murray will establish a family charitable trust, one of whose purposes will be to support access to, and preservation, of the archive. This will include a gift of £3m to the National Library to cover the running costs of the archive.

The archive is a who's who collection of British authors and is thought to contain many undiscovered literary and historical treasures along with political, scientific, engineering, travel and exploration material which would provide a rich source of information on British life and society over three centuries.

Today the Scottish Executive is granting £6.5m towards the purchase. An application for £22m has been made to the National Lottery fund. The National Library is also announcing an appeal to raise the remaining £6.5m so that this unique archive can belong to the nation.

Speaking at the National Library of Scotland, the Culture Minister, Frank McAveety said:

'I am delighted to announce that the Scottish Executive is contributing £6.5m from central resources towards the cost of securing the John Murray Archive for the National Library of Scotland.

'The archive is a link to the critical role that Scots have played in the development of ideas and imagination through the centuries.

'Acquisition of the John Murray Archive will enhance the national and international cultural and educational reputation and image of Scotland. It will enable the National Library to strengthen its already significant contribution to Scottish Executive priorities, including the promotion of Scotland worldwide, support for research, education and lifelong learning and the generation of economic benefits.'

Martyn Wade, the National Librarian, said, 'The archive has a distinctly Scottish flavour and it would be as though the collection were coming home. It's wonderful that the Scottish Executive has set the fund-raising ball rolling. This is a unique treasure trove of invaluable artefacts and having them in the National Library of Scotland would be an immense achievement.'

The National Library of Scotland houses more than eight million printed items and has manuscript and rare book collections of international importance. This collection would add to its standing as one of the world's great libraries.

John Murray said, 'I am offering the Murray Archive to the National Library of Scotland as my ancestor, the first John Murray, who founded the publishing house in 1768, came from Edinburgh. It therefore seems appropriate that the archive should return home. Also, so many Murray authors, such as Walter Scott, David Livingstone and Isabella Bird, were Scots, and throughout our history we have had close links with Scottish publishers and booksellers.

'We are asking £33m for the John Murray Archive which has been valued at a minimum of £45m.

'£3m will be handed over immediately to the National Library of Scotland to endow the archive. The aim is that the Library should not have to call on any of its normal funds for administering the archive.

'The balance will go into the John R Murray Charitable Trust and a key purpose of this Trust will be to support the Archive whenever the need occurs such as for future conservation or the purchase of items that relate to the Collection. It will also endow 50 Albemarle Street to secure its future as one of the UK's key historic buildings.

'No member of the Murray family will gain personally from the sale.'

Chairman of the National Library Board of Trustees, Professor Michael Anderson, says, 'This collection has huge national and international importance and to secure it for Scotland and its people would raise the profile and attract visitors from across the globe.'

Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library says, 'The John Murray Archive has huge international significance therefore it is vital that such a comprehensive and fascinating collection stays in the United Kingdom. We welcome every effort to retain it within the country.'

Notes to Editors on the John Murray Collection

 

  • John Murray Publishing was established in 1768. The founder, the first John Murray, was born in Edinburgh in 1737. Seven generations of Murrays have run the business. It is now owned by Hodder Headline publishers.
  • John Murray is the seventh generation Murray to run the business. The firm of John Murray was one of the greatest and perhaps the most influential of all British publishing houses, with an unrivalled list of authors.
  • The archive includes the personal and business papers and correspondence of the Murray publishing family and includes literature, exploration, politics, scientific and engineering discovery.
  • The letters journals and manuscripts date from 1768 through to 1920. In total there are more than 150,000 items.
  • Authors include, Lord Byron, David Livingstone , Charles Darwin, Jane Austen, Thomas Carlyle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, John Galt, James Hogg, Sir John Kirk, and Herman Melville to name a few. JMW Turner and David Roberts provided illustrations for Murray books.
  • The National Library of Scotland is one of the leading research libraries in Europe. It houses eight million printed items and has been a Legal Deposit library since 1710. Every week it collects more than four and a half thousand new items.
  • In order to raise the purchase price of £33m the National Library of Scotland has applied to the Heritage Lottery fund for £22m and must also raise £6.5m itself to match the the Scottish Executive £6.5m.

2 March 2004




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