Life of George Borrow and the Bible in Spain

George Borrow [1803–1881]

George Borrow, a Norfolk man, served with the British and Foreign Bible Society. His first posting was to Russia in 1833, where he oversaw the printing of a Manchu New Testament and then to Portugal and Spain (1835-1840) as a colporteur. In his native Norfolk he spent much of his time among the Romanies, so it was natural that he should seek these people out in Spain also. He learnt their language sufficiently to compile a Romani-English Dictionary and to translate the Gospel of Luke into it. He wrote of his adventures on the Iberian Peninsula in The Bible in Spain (1843).

Visit the George Borrow page for the download links to his Biography by Herbert Jenkins and to The Bible in Spain.

Copies of these public domain works were kindly provided by Redcliffe College and Book Aid respectively.


During the whole of Borrow’s manhood there was probably only one period when he was unquestionably happy in his work and content with his surroundings. He may almost be said to have concentrated into the seven years (1833-1840) that he was employed by the British and Foreign Bible Society in Russia, Portugal and Spain, a lifetime’s energy and resource. From an unknown hackwriter, who hawked about unsaleable translations of Welsh and Danish bards, a travelling tinker and a vagabond Ulysses, he became a person of considerable importance. His name was acclaimed with praise and enthusiasm at Bible meetings from one end of the country to the other. He developed an astonishing aptitude for affairs, a tireless energy, and a diplomatic resourcefulness that aroused silent wonder in . those who had hitherto regarded him as a failure. His illegal imprisonment in Madrid nearly brought about a diplomatic rupture between Great Britain and Spain, and later his missionary work in the Peninsula was referred to by Sir Robert Peel in the House of Commons as an instance of what could be achieved by courage and determination in the face of great difficulties.

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Richard Knill of St Petersburg

The Rev Richard Knill [1887-1957]
The Rev Richard Knill [1887-1957]. Frontispiece
The Rev. Richard Knill [14 April 1787 – 2 January 1857] was a missionary with the London Missionary Society. He served first in India, but after a bout of cholera was assigned to Russia where his ministry was far more successful. With the assistance of members of the nobility he was instrumental in the establishment of a Protestant Bible society in that country. Following his return to England in 1842 he became a Congregationalist minister in Gloucestershire. [See Wikipedia article here]

My thanks to Redcliffe College for providing a copy of this book for digitisation. This title is in the public domain.

C.M. Birrell [1811-1880], The Life of the Rev. Richard Knill of St. Petersburg. London: The Religious Tract Society, [1859]. Hbk. pp.272. [Click here to visit the download page]

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Preface to First Edition
  1. Early Days A.D. 1792-1812
  2. Missionary Consecration A.D. 1812-1814
  3. Putting on the Armour A.D. 1814, 1815
  4. The First Campaign, A.D. 1816-1818
  5. The Russian Capital, 1820-1823
  6. Storms, 1824, 1825
  7. Gleams, A.D. 1826
  8. Blue Skies, A.D. 1828, 1829
  9. Shadows of the Pestilence, A.D. 1830-1832
  10. Widening Horizon, 1834-1847
  11. Sunset, A.D. 1814-1857
  12. Review of Mr Knills Life and Character by the Rev John Angell
  • Postscript by the Editor


It was during a visit to St. Petersburg in the winter of 1831-32,-the last winter but one of his own residence in the country, that I became acquainted with Mr. Knill and the small circle of English Christians which there surrounded him. There was nothing in the city at that time more deserving of the admiration of a stranger than the union in these men of the habits of commercial life and the elevated tone of Christians-of the spirit of enterprise, nurtured by faith, with the submissive adjustment of conduct to the course rendered possible by jealous hierarchy and the absolute civil government under which they lived. At a time when the smallest measure of haste or imprudence would have imperilled their personal liberty or their leave to remain longer in the country, they were able first to translate, then to pass through the censorship, and eventually to disseminate far and wide, a large number of select religious publications; while the copies of the New Testament which had been arrested by Imperial decree and stored away in the cellars of the Holy Synod….