Robben Island Bible

As part of our exhibition Scotland and the Commonwealth - 400 Years in the Making, we are delighted to welcome the arrival of a very special item, The Robben Island Bible.

The original Robben Island Bible was flown in from South Africa and takes pride of place in the Mitchell Library for the next three months. It has been loaned to the city by Sonny Venkatrathnam, who was a Robben Island prisoner at the same time as Nelson Mandela.

The book is in fact a copy of the The Complete Works of Shakespeare which Sonny Venkatrathnam kept in his cell. Venkatrathnam disguised its cover with Diwali cards and told prison guards it was his bible to prevent its seizure. He eventually passed it to 33 of his fellow South African political prisoners, asking them to sign a passage that meant a lot to them.

Nelson Mandela was inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and underlined the following section which he signed and dated December 16, 1977.

‘Cowards die many times before their deaths

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I have heard,

It seems to me the most strange that men should fear,

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.’

The book will be on display in the library’s main hall until Saturday, October 4.


Glasgow Life Logo