Fraser, James (1713-1754) (DNB01)

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FRASER, JAMES (1713–1754), author and collector of oriental manuscripts, born in 1713, was the son of Alexander Fraser (d. 1733) of Reelick, near Inverness. He paid two visits to India, where he resided at Surat. During his first stay (1730-40) he acquired a working knowledge of Zend from Parsi teachers and of Sanskrit from a learned Brahman. He also collected materials for an account of Nadir Shah, who invaded India in 1737-8. Coming home for about two years, he published his book. He then went out again as a factor in the East India Company's service, and became a member of the council at Surat, where he remained for six years. After his return in 1749 he expressed the intention of compiling an ancient Persian (Zend) lexicon, and of translating the Zendavesta from the original. He also spoke of translating the 'Vedh' (Veda) of the Brahmans; he seems, however, to have had no direct knowledge of the Vedas, but to have been acquainted with post-Vedic works only. Nothing came of these plans owing to his premature death, which took place at his own house, Easter Moniack, Inverness-shire, on 21 Jan. 1754 (Scots Mag. 1754, p. 51).

Fraser married in London, in 1742, Mary, only daughter of Edward Satchwell of Warwickshire, by whom he had issue one son and three daughters. A portrait of him is still in the possession of his descendants at Reelick House. James Baillie Fraser [q. v.] and William Fraser (1784?-1835) [q. v.] were his grandsons.

Fraser's book is entitled 'The History of Nadir Shah, formerly called Thamas Kuli Khan, the present Emperor of Persia; to which is prefixed a short History of the Moghol Emperors' (London, 1742). It contains a map of the Moghul empire and part of Tartary. It was the first book in English treating of Nadir Shah, 'the scourge of God.' It is important not only as a first-hand contribution to the history of contemporary events, but also for the number of original documents which it alone has preserved.

At the end of his book the author gives a list of about two hundred oriental manuscripts, including Zend and Sanskrit, which he had purchased at Surat, Cambay, and Ahmedabad. His claim that his 'Sanskerrit' manuscripts formed 'the first collection of that kind ever brought into Europe' appears to be valid, though single Sanskrit manuscripts had reached England and France even earlier. After his death his oriental manuscripts were bought from his widow for the Radclifte Library at Oxford; they were transferred to the Bodleian on 10 May 1872. One of Fraser's manuscripts, containing 178 portraits of Indian kings down to Aurengzebe, found its way directly into the Bodleian as early as 1737, in which year it was presented to the library by the poet Alexander Pope, its then possessor. Fraser's Sanskrit manuscripts, forty-one in number and all post-Vedic, were the earliest collection in that language which came into the possession of Oxford University: the first Sanskrit manuscript, however, which the Bodleian acquired was given to it in 1666 by John Ken, an East India merchant of London. It was in order to inspect Fraser's Zend manuscripts that the famous French orientalist, Anquetil Duperron, visited Oxford in 1702, when brought a prisoner of war to England.

[Preface and appendix to Fraser's History of Nadir Shah; manuscript notes, written about 1754 by S. Smalbroke (son of Dr. Richard Smalbroke [q. v.], bishop of Lichfield and Coventry) in a copy of that work now in the possession of W. Irvine, esq.; Note on James Fraser in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1899, pp. 214-20, by W. Irvine; Burke's Landed Gentry; Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, 1890, pp. 216, 372, note 1; Aufrecht's Bodleian Sanskrit Catalogue, pp. 358, 403-4.]

A. A. M.