Solomon Caesar Malan (1812-1894)

On 16 July, 1878 Solomon Caesar Malan donated several of his collections to RAMM. The most important is a collection of 1117 birds’ eggs (283 different species). In a biography Malan’s son described his father’s ‘clear blue eyes, sparkling with the light of genius’.

A talented man

Born in Geneva in 1812 and christened Caesar Jean Salmon, Solomon Caesar Malan was the eldest of 12 children. He had ‘over mastering thirst for intellectual knowledge’. All the children were taught by their father. Malan learnt the skills of carpentry (probably cabinet making), bookbinding, printing, drawing, botany and how to use a telescope and microscope. Malan also composed music and played the flute. Whilst at Oxford University he studied so hard that he became ill and lost the sight in one eye. He was warned that unless he stopped reading he would lose the sight in the other. Even though this warning only increased the number of volumes he read, he did not lose his ability to see. When talking of his childhood Malan said ‘I set myself the task of determining to know everything there was to be known’.

Solomon Caesar Malan the linguist

By the age of 18 Malan was fluent in French, German, Spanish and Italian. He communicated with his father in Latin. He knew advanced Hebrew, Sanskrit and Arabic and also spoke a little English. In later life, Malan specialised in ancient and eastern languages. these included Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac, Persian, Hindustani and Mandarin Chinese.

Family and travels

Malan married twice and had six sons and one daughter. His first wife bore him three children but died of consumption. He travelled extensively and even took a position as Classical Professor at Bishop’s College in Calcutta. Here he took Anglican deacon’s orders. In 1845 he became the Vicar at Broadwindsor in Dorset. Malan was very conscientious in his work. He even devoted Christmas day to serving his parish by hosting a dinner for all the elderly residents. During this time he did not neglect his studies. He would travel during August and September and continued to practise his love of watercolour painting. He later retired to Dorset where he died from cancer in 1894. An inscription at Broadwindsor Church reads: ‘[He was] The most accomplished Oriental linguist in England’.