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A cabinet of curiosities

Curious Objects

In 1727 George Lewis gave a cabinet of ‘Oriental’ manuscripts and assorted curiosities to the University Library, just a year before John Woodward’s cabinets of fossils were acquired. Educated at Queens’ College, Lewis was Chaplain to the East India Company in Madras from 1692 to 1714.

A gifted linguist, proficient in Persian, he put his skills to use as a translator and travelled with diplomatic missions. This provided him with the opportunities he needed for collecting. His time in India coincided with an increased European interest in indigenous cultures. Lewis was commissioned to collect artefacts and specimens from the natural world—including shells, nuts and butterflies for Sir Hans Sloane—as well as manuscripts.

Initially the manuscripts he gave to the Library excited little notice, and interest was focused on the curiosities, which were displayed to visitors. Lewis lived his later life in Ireland, and was archdeacon of Meath from 1723 to 1729.