iPad owners who are stuck for something to read during the sun-drenched British summer can rest easy — a new app offers access to a sizeable chunk of the British Library’s historical book collection.

The British Library 19th Century Collection currently provides access to 45,000 digital editions of titles that include such gems as a contemporary account of the exhumation of Napoleon’s body, the memoir of a battlefield nurse during the American Civil War and an ethnographic study from 1884 of the gypsies of the Scottish Borders

The ebooks use full-colour, high-resolution scans of the British Library’s collection, which faithfully reproduce the original pages, their bindings, and any plates, engravings and other illustrations.

Books can be browsed by subject and theme, and include author inscriptions and margin notes. Books can also be downloaded for reading without internet access, which is perfect for when you’re pitched up beyond the reach of the 3G network.

The collection will expand to 60,000 titles by the end of the year and also includes books written in Italian, Spanish, French, Norwegian, Portuguese and Dutch.

The British Library 19th Century Collection is free to download from the iTunes App Store, but access to the books requires a paid subscription, which costs £1.99 a month. Highlights from the collection can also be browsed online.

[British Library 19th Century Collection (iTunes)]