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Henry Wellcome, Personal Letter Books

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These letters are often difficult to read, and this is true of the originals as well as the microfiche copies.

The letters were copied to the Letter Books using a 'wet' process. The original letter was given a sheen of water and quickly pressed upon a page in the Letter Book. The Letter Books were bound volumes of very flimsy tissue paper, with the copy being read 'through' the page. Each page was pre-numbered and the copy was indexed in the index at the front of the volume. This process - which required speed and dexterity - resulted in many of the copies being very faint, blurred or smudged with water marks. Some copies are quite patchy as to where the ink has copied across - where the sheen of water was uneven or where the pressure was not sufficient to make a copy. Sometimes the copy was hastily pressed, with part of the letter not being copied onto the page but 'falling off the edge'. The process required the ink to be water soluble, and occasionally more than one copy was attempted. This has resulted in some of the copies - particularly the manuscript letters resulting in very blurred copies - with looped letters such as a, e, o, or d becoming difficult to distinguish. This is less apparent in the typed letters. There is also 'bleeding' through from one copy to another, partly because the paper is so thin - this is particularly true of signatures. In a few instances some copies were 'cancelled', usually with a better copy existing in the book - this has been noted where appropriate.


Correspondents are indexed in alphabetical order by name, followed first by the page numbers and then a brief indication of main subjects covered. Where a number of different subjects are covered the relevant page numbers are repeated before the subject description. The main abbreviations are indicated below. In addition, to shorten descriptions the 'indexed' name may be repeated as an abbreviation within that specific entry.

agt - agreement

BW&Co - Burroughs Wellcome & Company

HSW - Henry Solomon Wellcome

Mrs HSW - Syrie Wellcome (nee Barnado)

McK&R - McKesson & Robbins

MS&Co - Markby Stewart & Company

RMIB - Royal Masonic Institution for Boys

RMIG - Royal Masonic Institution for Girls

RMBI - Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution

RMIG - Royal Masonic Institution for Girls.SMB - Silas Mainville Burroughs.

WRL Wellcome Research Laboratories (at Khartoum).


This is an extensive series of Henry Wellcome's outgoing correspondence for the years covered by the surviving volumes. The contemporary notation as 'Personal' does not mean it contains purely private or domestic correspondence. Rather, it is referring to the fact that these copies were Wellcome's own copies of private business correspondence rather than his domestic. These volumes would have been held by Wellcome's secretary in the Snow Hill Offices. 'Personal' was a common business description of an individual's files or correspondence as opposed to a Department's files.

However, from the earliest date the books reflect Wellcome's inability to maintain personal and business separately. Purely personal letters are frequent and many letter mix business and personal comments - particularly to his friends and business contacts in America such as the Fairchilds. This is a common trait of privately owned businesses where there is a sole owner or a partnership. It is particularly true of entrepreneurs or those for whom their life is their work.

The first two Letter Books contain manuscript letters, written by Henry Wellcome. His letters tended to be lengthy, personal and rambling. Dictated letters during this period were rare, however by c.1890 typed dictated letters appear. These were brief and more focused on business, rather than personal, issues. The typed letters appear to date from the time Wellcome appointed a business secretary. After this date, correspondence was increasingly dealt with directly by his secreatary - H. F. Johnson, later H. G. Bright and W. Hales - whom Wellcome trusted with most of his business and personal correspondence.


Business topics covered include: Correspondence with SMB, correspondence with Markby Stewart & Co - HSW's solicitors, details of BW&Co Travellers, details of competition, details of particular drugs or development opportunties, Trade Marks, and new initiatives - such as the establishment of the Khartoum Laboratories.

In addition there are commonly letters enclosing cheques or settling accounts - for both domestic and business purposes. Included are letters regarding the rental of HSW's homes, donations to charities or testimonials. For description purposes 'enc. cheques' refers to where cheques, postal orders or overseas bankers drafts were sent by HSW.

Subscriptions to organisations were also commonly included - professional organisations and journals, but also those of a more personal interest such as the 'Japan Society'.

HSW was a member of the various chemists associations, and correspondence within the Letter Books mainly relate to social or fundraising events - in particular the routine sale of tickets to balls. Although HSW purchased tickets he did not attend, his usual reply was he 'did not attend dances'.


Interspersed with these were personal letters - to friends, family, or individual letters where he pursued a personal interest, replied to a one-off letter, or wrote to potential friends. In later volumes there are letters to the Barnardo family and to close friends upon his marriage, birth of a son and divorce. In his private correspondence HSW often referred to his health, sometimes in great detail. A common phrase used by HSW when replying belatedly to private correspondence was 'due to ill health and pressure of business'. Includes correspondence with the explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

After HSW's marriage to Syrie Barnado, HSW often had his business secretary carry out basic administration on behalf of family matters. Many of the domestic accounts were paid for by his secretary such as the rent, and bills for everything from coal to coach hire. Frequently cheques were issued in respect of Syrie Wellcome's personal accounts. This is indicated by 'Cheques for Mrs HSW'.

Many letters refer to HSW's interest in collecting items relating to the history of medicine - such as objects, paitings, books, and research. Some of the letters refer to material elsewhere in the Library and Science Museum holdings - such as books which were given to HSW (such as 'the author Reginald Harrison donating a copy of 'The Ambulance in Civil Life', letters re. commissioned paintings by the Terzi brothers, or research carried out by the first Librarian CJS Thompson - all of whom are represnted elsewhere in the Library's holdings.


There is a substantial amount of correspondence with Burroughs, often with great detail as SMB travelled abroad on behalf of BW&Co. Notably, there is an absence of letters to SMB whilst the partnership dispute took place. However there are many letters of this period referring to the dispute, those to his family are particularly detailed.


Solicitors for HSW and the company. Often highly detailed correspondence on various litigation. This includes the SMB partnership dispute, also a number of trade mark disputes - the most notable of these being the Thomas Capper 'Tabloid' case.


For a short period [WF/E/01/01/03-05] standard letter standard letters sent with wedding gifts start appearing. The gifts are sometimes noted in pencil. These were probably to Dartford employees, in WF/E/01/01/04 similar letters to 'Dartford' appear. [This may have been a company 'custom' that Burroughs had instituted, and upon his death HSW took over]. By WF/E/01/01/05 and 06 these letters disappeared. As these entries are relatively numerous they have been given at the end of the main description for those volumes.


A significant number of letters reflect his American links, there are a number of letters to his family and friends as well as business letters to American companies such as McKesson Robbins, Wyeth, Fairchilds etc. American professional societies are also represented such as the American Pharmaceutical Association to which he subscribed. There are many letters concerning his involvement with the Americans in London, notably the American Society in London, but also the Carlyle House Restoration Fund. He maintained an involvement with issues in America as well - notably his involvement in 'Metlakahtla', and again correspondence on these topics can be found in the Letter Books. Several letters touch on his interest in American politics, such as his donation of the Pocahontas portrait to the US Senate.


HSW was a member of several clubs and societies, including the Lotus Club in New York, the Savage Club in London, the Whitefriars Club (at Whitefriars House, Carmelite Street, London EC - a mens dining club). He was also a member of personal interest societies such as the Royal Geographic Society (with it's exploration connections). There are several references to his personal interests such as sailing, travelling, and collecting.


For a time HSW was an active mason - in 1885 he became involved through Burroughs in London. A number of letters reflect his active membership of the Freemasons - one Lodge he was a member of was the Columbia Lodge which consisted of Anglo-Americans and as such had close ties with the American Society in London. In addition HSW had connections with Clarence, Eastes, Savage and Emulation Lodges and their members. There is also correspondence on the creation of a 'Kirby' testimonial Lodge The Letter Books descriptions mostly gives the Lodge name followed by the individuals with whom HSW corresponded on masonic business. However, where the correspondence mixed masonic with other topics references are given by the person's name. c.1896 HSW withdrew from active participation in the Freemasons, although as the Letter Books show he continued to pay subscriptions for some years after that date. Masonic entries can be found by searching for 'freemason'. Throughout the letter books HSW gave donations to various masonic institutions, the following abbreviations have been used: Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution RMBI; Royal Masonic Institution for Boys RMIB; Royal Masonic Institution for Girls RMIG.


Archibald McNeill was a fellow Savage Club Lodge freemason who died in December 1887 in France under peculiar circumstances. There was a related legal case concerning McNEILL -v- Ashley.
LB01-LB03 contains extensive correspondence from HSW who became involved in a private investigation into McNeill's death. These can be found by searching for 'McNeill'.



Physical description

9 Items

Ownership note

Please see main WF collection description (ref. 'WF').

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