Manipulating Meaning

Daniel Gogerly's Nineteenth Century Translations of the Theravada Texts


  • Elizabeth J. Harris Liverpool Hope University



Theravada Buddhism, Christian mission history, colonialism, translation, Dhammapada, Tipitaka, Sri Lanka, Ceylon, nineteenth century, Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society


Daniel John Gogerly (1792–1862), a British Wesleyan Methodist missionary, served in Sri Lanka from 1818 until his death. He learnt Pali in Matara in the 1830s and was one of the first British translators of the Pali texts into English. Praised by fellow orientalist, T.W. Rhys Davis, as ‘the greatest Pali scholar of his age’ and hailed by his missionary colleagues as the expert who showed them how to attack Buddhism, his work was both pioneering and deeply flawed. This paper first situates Gogerly in his missionary context and then examines one translation — the first 18 vaggas of the Dhammapada, using three versions, one of which was an unpublished rough translation. It demonstrates that Gogerly, in spite of a commendable wish to be just to Buddhism, used his translations to highlight difference between Buddhism and Christianity in furtherance of his missionary agenda. Gogerly is important not only because his translations were so early but also because the differing factors that conditioned them underscore the complexity within any study of orientalist representations of Buddhism.

Author Biography

Elizabeth J. Harris, Liverpool Hope University

Elizabeth J Harris is a Senior Lecturer in Buddhist Studies at Liverpool Hope University, specialising in Buddhist Studies. She is currently President of the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies and a member of the Management Board of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies.


Apter, Emily. 2006. The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bishop, Arthur Stanley ed. 1908. Ceylon Buddhism: being the Collected Writings of Daniel John Gogerly. Colombo: The Wesleyan Methodist Book Room; London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner.

Blackburn, Ann. 1999. ‘Looking for the Vinaya: Monastic Discipline in the Practical Canons of the Theravada’. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 22(2): 281–309.

Clough, Benjamin. 1824. A Compendious Pali Grammar with a copious vocabulary in the same language. Wesleyan Mission Press: Colombo.

Coplans, Barbara. 1980. Methodism and Sinhalese Buddhism: The Wesleyan Encounter with Buddhism in Ceylon 1814–16, with special reference to the work of Robert Spence Hardy. Unpublished thesis, University of Leeds

Devamitta, Ven. K. 1835. ‘Jinapaawachanaalankaare’ (transl. J Armour). Ceylon Almanac 1835: 211–229. Colombo: Government Printer.

Franklin, J. Jeffrey. 2008. The Lotus and the Lion: Buddhism and the British Empire. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

Friedlander, Peter. 2009. ‘Dhammapada Traditions and Translations’. Journal of Religious History, 33(2): 215–234. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9809.2009.00795.x

Gogerly, Rev. D.J. 1838a. ‘Pansiya Panas Jataka Pota (the Jakaka)’. The Friend, I, XII, June 1838, continuing into the following volume.

———. 1838b. ‘On Transmigration’. The Friend, II. III, September 1938: 41–48; II. IV, October 1938: 61–69; II. V, November 1938: 85–94. Re-printed in Bishop 1908, vol. II: 211–248.

———. 1839 . ‘On Budhism — Pirit’. The Friend, 11. X, April 1839: 185–186, reprinted in Bishop (ed.), Ceylon Buddhism, vol. II: 327–328.

———. 1839–1840. ‘On Budhism — The Laws of the Priesthood’. The Friend III. IV, October 1839: 61–67; III. VI, December 1839: 101–106; III. VII, January 1940: 121–127; III. VIII, February 1940: 141–146; III. IX, March 1840: 162–166.

———. 1840. ‘Budhism — Damma Pada’. The Friend, IV. II, August 1840: 21–26; IV. III, September 1840: 41–47: IV.V, November 1840: 81–84.

———. 1845. ‘On Budhism’. JRASCB 1 (1845): 7–28, 90–112, re-printed in Bishop 1908, vol. I, 45–99.

———. 1846–1847a. ‘On Budhism’. JRASCB 2 (1846–1847): 13–62. Colombo: Wesleyan Mission Press, 1961. See also Bishop 1908, vol, 2: 394–372.

———. 1846–1847b. ‘The Discourse on the Minor Results of Conduct or the Discourse addressed to Subha’, reprinted in JRASCB 2(1846–1847): 84–90. Colombo: Wesleyan Mission Press, 1861. See also: Bishop, 1908, Ceylon Buddhism, vol. 2: 492–502.

Harris, Elizabeth J . 2006, Theravada Buddhism and the British Encounter: Religious missionary and colonial experience in nineteenth century Sri Lanka. London: Routledge.

Harvard, William. 1823. A Narrative of the Establishment and Progress of The Mission of Ceylon and India Founded by the Later Rev Thomas Coke under the Direction of the WesleyanMethodist Conference. London: W.M. Harvard.

Harvey, Peter. 1995. The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvana in Early Buddhism. Richmond: Curzon.

Knighton, William. 1845. The History of Ceylon. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans.

Malalgoda, Kitsiri. 1997. ‘Concepts and Confrontations: A Case Study of agama’. In Sri Lanka; Collective Identities Revisited Vol. II, edited by Michael Roberts, 55–77. Colombo: Marga Institute.

Narada Thera, trans. 1978. The Dhammapada: Pali Text and Translation with Stories in Brief and Notes. Kuala Lumpur: Buddhist Publication Society.

Norman, K.R. trans. 1997. The Word of the Doctrine (Dhammapada). Oxford: Pali Text Society.

Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. New York: Pantheon Books.

von Spiegel, Friedrich .1845. Anecdota Pâlica. Verlag von Wilh. Engelmann: Leipzig.




How to Cite

Harris, E. J. (2011). Manipulating Meaning: Daniel Gogerly’s Nineteenth Century Translations of the Theravada Texts. Buddhist Studies Review, 27(2), 177–195.