The Minutiae of Historical Endeavour: Searching for Details of the Interaction between Virginia and Leonard Woolf

 A = Temma Berg’s Initial Query via Email, early December 2022

I write in response to your blog about Leonard Woolf. I am working on Leonard and Virginia and exploring how much they might owe to one another. I have read her novels, diaries, letters, and short stories and his autobiographies and novels and many articles (including yours) and have become fascinated with how much husband and wife influenced one another.

I write to you to ask if you have ever wondered where Virginia’s emphasis on 500 pounds a year came from? I have been trying to find out how much Leonard might have earned while in Ceylon and have been unable to come up with any figures. Do you have any idea how much he might have earned per year?

Temma Berg

B = A Response from John Rogers in USA, 4 December 2022:

 There was an annual publication called the Ceylon Civil List that gives the salaries of government employees. I’ve seen a complete set at the National Archives in Kew, but it may be hard to find elsewhere. I think there is also an equivalent that was published by the Colonial Office, which had the same information but only for more senior officials. It probably would have covered Woolf’s level. Not sure of the title — it might be “Colonial Office List”.

C = A Response from Lucy McCann in The Bodleian Library of Oxford University, 4 December 2022

Dear Temma, I attach photos of pages from the Colonial Office Lists of 1906, 1908 and 1911. On the first Leonard Woolf is listed under Northern Province (top left), in the 1908 under Central Province (right hand column near top) and in 1911 under Southern Province (bottom right). I think that ‘Rs.’ is rupees and I assume ‘l’ is pounds.

I didn’t find Leonard Woolf in the Colonial Office Lists for 1904-1905 (when he arrived in Ceylon as a cadet) but will check the Ceylon Civil List for that time.

Best wishes,

D = Temma Berg’s Reading of This Data, December 2022

 Thank you, Lucy, for your quick and extraordinarily helpful response. I was looking to find out if Leonard Woolf’s salary in Ceylon might have been one of the reasons behind Virginia’s memorable emphasis on a woman’s need for 500 pounds a year. I don’t know why this question never occurred to me before, but I am now working on a book about George Eliot’s Hidden Jewish Lives and, in it I turn to Leonard and Virginia Woolf in a chapter entitled “George Eliot’s Afterlives” and the question came up as I was comparing their lives and works in different ways.

And now that I have seen how much he made in Ceylon my suspicions seem justified. If I am reading correctly the three pages you sent, Leonard made 3,000 rupees as an office assistant in 1906. In 1908 he made from 400 to 500 pounds as an office assistant. And in 1911, he made 500 pounds as an Assistant Government Agent. So, it is possible that her knowledge of her husband’s salary served her as a benchmark as she wrote Room.

I have no idea how much a rupee was worth during that period. But I assume 3,000 rupees was well below 500 pounds.

Again thank you, Temma Berg 

E = A Note from John Rogers, December 2022

In 1901, the exchange rate was set at Rs. 15/- per pound. So, 3000 rupees would have been £200.




THE ORIGINAL CIRCULAR in search of information from Michael Roberts, 4 December 2022

TEMMA BERG in USA wishes to know what LEONARD WOOLF’S govt earnings wd have been in the 1900s. SEE BELOW



Temma F Berg (IP address:,<>)


Lucy McCann is Senior Archivist, Special Collections, Bodleian Libraries
Tel: 01865 270911, ………. Postal address: The Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG

Professor John Rogers is

Temma Berg is Professor of English, Musselman Library, Gettysburg College, USA

Michael Roberts is a Thuppahi Sri Lankan with dual nationality in Sri Lanka and in Australia now residing in retirement in Adelaide ……………….. see ………. 



Philip Sansoni: “The Lonely Cadet and the Maiden: Leoanrd Woolf in Jaffna …..” 2 June 2022,

Joe Kovacs: “Lessons from Woolf for a Latter-Day American,” 4 June 2022,

Prabath De Silva: “Leonard Woolf as a Judge in Ceylon,” 20 November 2016,

Leelananda De Silva: “Leonard Woolf’s Judicial Eyes in Hambantota,” 3 January 2017,

Gerald Peiris: “Leonard Woolf’s WELIWEWA and Its Terrain,” 7 July 2021,

Question-Mark Author: “Leonard Woolf in Hambantota: An Interpretation,” 27 June 2021,

Michael Roberts’s Interview with Leonard Woolf in late 1965 as tape-recorded … ROHP = Roberts Oral History Project at …. “Michael Roberts Papers now at Barr Smith Library, Adelaide University,” 4 August 2010, ………………………. AND….. NOW (2020) also available at t he Natikonal Library Services Board in Colombo

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