Sarah Bowdich Lee manuscript on African history and geography, 1830s

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Lee, R., Mrs., 1791-1856
Sarah Wallis Bowdich Lee was an English naturalist, author, and illustrator. This collection consists of an untitled, apparently unpublished, 1830s manuscript (439 pages) surveying the African continent and discussing African exploration, history, geography, and culture from a white British colonialist perspective.
0.5 Linear Feet (1 box; 439 pages)
Materials in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Collection consists of one untitled holograph manuscript (439 pages) written by Sarah Bowdich Lee discussing African history, exploration, geography, and culture. It appears to date from the 1830s, and was apparently never published. The pages are grouped into loosely bound signatures, with no title page or binding for the text.

Lee's manuscript is an untitled work on Africa that is a survey of European knowledge of the continent as of approximately 1830. It does not appear that Lee saw many of the nations she describes. She writes that she selected many of the "details from the narratives of those whose names alone inspire confidence." The manuscript's watermarks date between 1814 and 1828. Much of Lee's description reflects British white colonialist attitudes and racist or patronizing views of African and Arab people.

The first portion of the manuscript (about pages 1-100) recount African history, exploration, and colonization. The second portion of the text discusses African regions and kingdoms, including Egypt (114, including a description of the ancient pyramids and tombs, and contemporary Muslim inhabitants); Nubia and Sudan (141; includes a description of local wildlife, population, and the trafficking of enslaved people); Abyssinia (165); the Red Sea (180); Darfur and Kordo-far (188; unicorns are mentioned on 194); Cyrenaica (207); Tripoli (216); Fezzan (225); Bornou (240); Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco (283); Senegal (297, includes descriptions of French colonization, the gum trade, Baobob trees, and wildlife); Gambia (306, including descriptions of the British settlement Bathurst); Sierra Leone (322); Ashantee (340); Dahomey (355, including a description of the king and his court); Gabon (381); Congo (388); Portuguese Angola; Cape of Good Hope (399, including a description of Cape Town); and the African islands of Mauritius, Madagascar, Madeira, the Canaries, and others.

Biographical / historical:

Sarah Wallis Bowdich Lee was a white English author, illustrator, traveller, zoologist, botanist, and pteridologist.

Acquisition information:
The Sarah Bowdich Lee Manuscript was received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 1975.
Processing information:

Processed by Meghan Lyon, February 2016

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.

Travel -- History -- 19th century
Slave trade -- Africa -- History
Africa -- Description and travel


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Collection is open for research.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Sarah Bowdich Lee Manuscript on African History and Geography, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.