Skip to main content

Woodward, Francis Lee

(1871-1952). Orientalist and Pali scholar. Woodward was born in Norfolk, England, on April 13, 1871, the third son of an Anglican clergyman. In 1901 he graduated M.A. from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, with First Class Honors in Classics. He became interested in Buddhism and the story is told that his sister, on hearing that her brother was turning Buddhist exclaimed, “What a lot of rubbish this talk of Frank becoming a Buddhist; there ought to be a law to make everyone Church of England!” (Platypus, Tasmanian University, 1952).

In 1901 Woodward joined the Theosophical Society (TS) and when he offered his services to Henry S. OLCOTT who was then the first President of the TS, was installed as the Principal of Mahindra College, at the time administered by the Buddhist Theosophical Society of Galle, Sri Lanka. This college was at that time administered by the Buddhist Theosophical Society of Galle, Sri Lanka. Woodward worked for the college for sixteen years, during which time he expended most of his financial resources on new buildings and, as a consequence, spent his declining years in poverty. For some time he edited the magazine The Buddhist. While in Sri Lanka he was an active supporter of theosophical activities there and each year Woodward journeyed to India to attend the annual convention of the TS.

In 1919 Woodward was forced to leave Sri Lanka as the tropical climate was undermining his health and he settled in Tasmania, Australia, for the remainder of his life, except for a short period (1922-25), when he was acting Librarian of the Adyar Library at the headquarters of the TS, near Madras, India. He was an 18° Co-Mason.

An interesting sidelight on his lifestyle during his Tasmanian period is given in Paul Croucher’s Buddhism in Australia, 1848-1988, (New South Wales University Press, 1989, p.22). “. . . he became so oblivious to his appearance that on the few occasions he left the ‘radius’ of his ‘ashrama’, as he put it, he often did so clad only in a pair of pyjamas, a paper bag for a shirt and a white turban. His neighbors relate that on one walk he bumped into Robert Menzies (Prime Minister of Australia), who was visiting friends in the area and subsequently had him in for afternoon tea.”

Woodward devoted most of his time in Tasmania to working on a concordance of Pali Texts and by the time of his death on May 27, 1952, he had completed sixteen volumes. Twenty-five volumes of his translations of Buddhist texts were published by the Oxford University Press.



© Copyright by the Theosophical Publishing House, Manila