Madagascar on SOAS Digital Collections

By Special Collections, SOAS Library|17th June 2020|Collections & Research|3 comments

In this week’s blog we would like to shout about SOAS Library’s Madagascar collections, a fantastically rich regional resource which attracts visitors from Madagascar as well as the international scholarly community. These collections have experienced a burst of activity in recent months in terms of new digital content being added to our Digital Collections.

New content has included striking images from the Royal Court, focused on Madagascar’s Queens, some of whom we featured in our recent Women’s History Month thread on twitter. There are also copies of beautiful contemporary engravings of the six ambassadors or ‘Officers Comprising the Embassy from the Queen of Madagascar to England in the Year 1837′, which have attracted interest from scholars studying woven textiles from the region – such as those worn by the ambassadors. Gaps were also filled in the collection of digitised Madagascar Times, 1882-1889, which document the ruling dynasty of Malagasy queens literally leading charges against the invading French.

Perhaps the most substantial new addition to the digital content for the region are the Papers of Richard Baron (PP MS 79), a missionary and naturalist, whose botanical paintings dips a finger into the world of the sciences. Richard Baron served with the London Missionary Society as a missionary in Madagascar for thirty-five years, from 1872 until his death in 1907, working in Imerina and Betsileo provinces. He was for a time Principal of the Theological College at Tananarive. Baron was a prolific author in both English and Malagasy and, to a lesser extent, in French. In addition to Bible commentaries in Malagasy, together with his fellow missionary James Sibree, he was founder-editor of the ‘Antananarivo Annual: a record of information on the topography and natural productions of Madagascar and the customs, traditions, language and religious beliefs of its people’ which first appeared in 1875.

Baron is perhaps even better known as a man of science. He became a serious student of Madagascar’s flora and during his missionary journeys in Madagascar collected and sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew around 7,000 plants of which 1,000 were new species. In 1882 he was made a Fellow of the Linnean Society. Baron was the author of a number of botanical works including a textbook in Malagasy and a catalogue: Compendium des plantes Malgaches. Baron also studied the geology of Madagascar, liaising in geological matters with the French authorities, following the French annexation of Madagascar as a colony in 1896.

Baron’s official papers as missionary are held in the archive of the London Missionary Society in SOAS Library. Baron’s correspondence with the Botanic Gardens at Kew can be found in Director’s Correspondence Vols 187 and 188 held int he Library and Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Barons’s correspondence with the geologist, Sir Archibald Geikie is held in Edinburgh University Library.

This newly digitised material builds on the existing digital Madagascar collections at SOAS, which include the papers of Rev. and Mrs J.T. Hardyman, archives of the London Missionary Society and artwork by renowned Malagasy artists Emile Ralambo and James Rainimaharosoa.

Enquiries about any of this material can be directed to Special Collections staff at

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About Special Collections, SOAS Library

Broadly speaking, our collections reflect the British interaction with Africa, Asia and the Middle East over the last 250 years, and include archives of missionary societies, NGOs and campaign groups, and business organisations, as well as papers of individuals, including diplomats, campaigners, and academics. If you have any questions, or comments, please get in touch! email: tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4180


  1. This looks so very interesting as I am related to both David Jones of Madagascar 1818 – 1841 & Jean Le Brun 1814 – 1865 who both married in to my French Family in Port Louis – I have been in the process of transcribing numerous of their letters for they mention many of my family. They were both part of the London Missionary Society as the first ot arrive – so I am loving seeing this renewed enthusiasm to see the work that was done all those years ago in assisting the abolish slavery & to bring education to all children.

  2. I forgot to note that the topic of cut money in Madagascar is covered by Gwyn Campbell in An Economic History of Imperial Madagascar, 1750-1895 (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2005).

  3. Having come from the Caribbean, one of the things I find most interesting about the place and territorial importance of Madagascar as seen in the SOAS collection – why it was fought over both militarily [Madagascar vs. France] and by soft powers [UK and Norweigian Christians) is evidence of CUT MONEY -

    At a time when Britain and France were building Empires, Spain already had a considerable empire. The cut money that shows up in Madagascar is Spanish. It would have been brought to Madagascar and used (cut) in a fashion similar to its use in the Caribbean by traders on Spanish or Portuguese routes. It’s place in Madagascar suggests the importance of the island as ships rounded the southern tip of Africa.

    Perhaps more interesting to me, but not in evidence here is how Madagascar fits onto China’s more ancient Belt and Road, it’s shipping routes into the Indian Ocean. Britain would later seize upon these other territories on these shipping routes: in India, at Aden and on Zanzibar. It’s an area ripe for research into the commerce of expansive powers.

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