William Cureton (1808-1864) entered Christ Church, Oxford as a servitor, and graduated in 1830. In the following year he took holy orders and was appointed Under-Librarian of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, in 1834. He continued in that post until 1837 when he was called to the British Museum as Assistant-Keeper of the Manuscripts, having been selected for this office principally on account of his oriental scholarship. The first duty assigned to him here was the preparation of a catalogue of the Arabic portion of the collection. As early as 1841, his Arabic studies had been interrupted by the acquisition by the Trustees of the famous Nitrian Collection of Syriac manuscripts.
Cureton was an active promoter of the Society for the Publication of Oriental Texts, of which he was the honorary secretary until about 1850. In this capacity, he edited Esh-Shahrastani's 'Book of Religious and Philosophical Sects', published in two parts in 1842 and 1846, and En-Nesefi's 'Pillar of the Creed of the Sunnites', published in 1843. In that same year he brought out Rabbi Tanchum's 'Commentary on the Book of Lamentations'. Cureton was an active member of the Oriental Translation Fund, of which he became deputy-chairman in 1848, and chairman in 1863. In 1859 he was appointed Crown Trustee of the British Museum. He was awarded the Doctor of Divinity from the University of Halle, he was a corresponding member of the German Oriental Society, and a foreign associate of the Institute of France.