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The Buchan Collection

[Portrait of John Buchan]

John Buchan (1875-1940)
1st Baron, Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield,
Governor General of Canada, 1935-1940

Queen's Special Collections holds the private library of John Buchan (1875-1940), 1st Baron Tweedsmuir and Governor General of Canada from 1935-1940. Buchan was a prolific author of over 450 books and articles including his most well-known novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps. John Buchan also was granted an honorary doctorate by Queen's University.

The Buchan Library was acquired through the generous benefaction of Colonel & Mrs. R.S. McLaughlin of Oshawa who purchased the collection in 1955.

John Buchan: His Life, His Library, His Legacy
Library and Archives Exhibit, October 2004



[Selection of books from the Buchan Collection]

Seletion of books from the Buchan Collection, including The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

The Buchan Library is a treasure trove for Buchan scholars. It consists of over 4000 volumes which cover a wide range of subjects, mainly literary, historical and biographical (with an emphasis on Scotland and Britain). There are many fine bindings, deluxe editions and autographed items, along with some 16th and 17th century imprints.

One of the treasures of the collection is a perfect copy of the limited edition of T.E. Lawrence's The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), initialed by the author. There are also finely-bound editions of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen (1617) and of Abbotsford, the personal relics and antiquarian treasures of Sir Walter Scott (1893).

Buchan's own manuscripts and typescripts of some thirty novels and other writings are in the collection, bound into folio volumes. First editions of virtually all of Buchan's published works are included as well.

Collection Description

[bookplate from John Buchan's private library]

Bookplate from John Buchan's private library

The Collection includes the bound manuscripts of many of Buchan's published writings plus his entire private library; only a few relevant titles have been selectively added since 1955. Can a library tell the story of the man? Indeed, in Buchan's case, quite a lot about his interests, intellect, and proclivities can be inferred from its wide-ranging contents.

The Collection is rich in works of Scottish history, the clans, politics, religion, biography, geography and literature (both fiction and poetry). There is a significant section on the 1914-1918 War in which Buchan had important involvement, both as journalist and historian as well as participant in the British Intelligence Office.

[bookplate from John Buchan's private library]

Bookplate from John Buchan's private library

[bookplate from John Buchan's private library]

Bookplate depicting Elsfield Manor

Buchan's library represents the eclectic interests of an educated man of the world, from classical authors and European history and literature to maps, books on travel, exploration and high adventure such as big-game hunting in Africa and mountain-climbing in Alaska.

Buchan owned a fair amount of North American history and literature as well. There are books on native culture and the Canadian north which he acquired long before coming to Canada. Obviously, the wilderness and pioneering aspects of this continent held some allure. A love of the land and the great outdoors is clearly evident in his collection on natural history and fishing. Worth noting is the fact that the first and last of Buchan's writings dealt with the art of angling, its therapeutic and philosophical aspects as well as the technical. We at Queen's continue to discover, often in discussion with other visiting scholars and Buchan enthusiasts, many hidden treasures in the Collection a half century after acquiring it.

There are many early dated books (i.e. pre-1700 imprints). It appears Buchan took an interest in the art of the book and the history of publishing as well. A scholarly volume on pre 1700 Venetian printing is an example of his collecting in that area. Buchan clearly took pride in book collecting and maintaining his library in good condition as there are many fine bindings. We have found no indication so far, however, of the bookbinders that Buchan favoured. None of the books have binder's labels. Buchan also used a number of different bookplates over the decades to identify his library. The sunflower motif occurs often, a symbol copied from the Buchan Clan crest.

Works by Susan Grosvenor Buchan, Lady Tweedsmuir, are a significant part of the Collection, including her publications (both fiction and non-fiction) written before and after her residence in Canada. Notably, the collection includes a guest book signed by military service men who visited Elsfield during the World War II.

In total, the John Buchan Collection numbers over 4000 volumes. It is a rich research resource, with the additional value of its illustrious provenance.

Access to the Collection

All items are documented in QCAT, Queen's Library catalogue. There is also a checklist that can be consulted.

Buchan Artifacts and Papers

The Buchan Library purchase also comprised several non-book items: a bronze replica of the bust of Lord Tweedsmuir housed in the National Portrait Gallery, London; several photographs; and Buchan’s magnificent leather-topped, double-sided mahogany writing desk with chair and library ladder from his home at Elsfield Manor, Oxfordshire.

Buchan's correspondence and other papers are held in the Queen's Archives.


Last Updated: 28 August 2015

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