Hart, Sir Robert (correspondence with J. D. Campbell)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises two series of private correspondence between Sir Robert Hart and his personal representative in England, J. D. Campbell - one from 1868-1879, and one from 1879-1906, in addition to a run of semi-official correspondence (1874-1906), a file on the Chinese Fleet (1876-1894) and correspondence concerning the papers themselves. A run of Campbell's letters to Hart (1874-1877) is also included in this collection although they have a different provenance.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Hart (Chinese name He De) was born in Milltown, Co. Armagh on 20 February 1835. He was educated at Queen's College, Taunton, Wesley College, Dublin and Queen's College, Belfast where he received a BA in 1853. The following year he entered the consular service working in Hong Kong, Ningo and Canton before resigning in 1859 to join the Chinese Maritime Customs.

After working as deputy Commissioner in Canton and Commissioner in Shanghai he was appointed as the first Inspector General in 1863. He held this post for nearly fifty years until his death and his commitment to the service led him to refuse the post of British Minister to China in 1885. As well as his work in the Customs he was used by the Quing government to further their aims in dealing with foreign powers. He became supreme advisor to Zongli Yamen (the Chinese office dealing with foreign affairs). On behalf of the Quing government he arranged the Lisbon Protocol in 1885 after negotiations with the Portuguese over Macao. He negotiated with the Indian government over Sikkim and with the British over navigation of the Yangtze River. His efforts led to his receiving honours from a number of countries including Italy, Portugal, Norway, Holland and a number of Chinese honours. He gained an honorary doctorate in 1882. He was also asked to help with efforts towards 'modernisation' such as the establishment of the Chinese postal system and the establishment of Tong Wen Guan (Institute of Education).

In 1886 he married Hestor Jane Bredon and they had three children including a son, Bruce, who took over from J. D. Campbell in the London office in 1907. He also had three children from an earlier liaison with a Chinese woman. These children he supported as his 'wards'. Hestor's brother, Robert was also a member of the Chinese Maritime Customs and became Acting Inspector General after Hart returned to England in 1908 until 1910. In 1901 he wrote These from the Land of Sinim. He died on 20 September 1911.

James Duncan Campbell was born in Edinburgh in 1833. Educated at Cheltenham College and the universities of Paris and Heidelberg, he worked for the Post Office and the Treasury before 1862. In that year he joined the Chinese Maritime Customs and became non-resident secretary in London in 1874. He was sent to Paris in 1884 by Robert hart to negotiate on behalf of the Quing government a cease-fire agreement in the Sino-French War. He married Ellen Mary Lewis in 1870. He died on 3 December 1907.


The correspondence between Hart and Campbell consists of two main series: one from 1868-1879 and one from 1879-1906. These and the remaining sets of correspondence are arranged in chronological order.

Conditions Governing Access


Acquisition Information

Deposited in December 1965. (Letter series from Campbell have a different provenance, and were transferred to SOAS from the Foreign Office in 1967.)

Other Finding Aids

Published Catalogue, Papers Relating to the Chinese Maritime Customs 1860-1943, (SOAS, 1993)

Separated Material

Associated Material held elsewhere: Second Historical Archives of China, Nanjing, hold the administrative archive of the Chinese Maritime Customs. The customs records date from 1861 and are largely in English. A published guide Brief Guide to the Second Historical Archives of China is available; Correspondence, diaries and papers (1854-1908) of Sir Robert Hart, Queens University of Belfast Library [see MS Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation, supp. 1965-1975, 1979]; MS of Peking Legations, British Library, Manuscript Collections [ref. Add MS 46499]; Miscellaneous letters and papers (1866-1908) of Sir Robert Hart, Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Department of Western Manuscripts [ref. MSS Eng Lett c 304, d 319-27, e 124-27, Eng misc b 108-09, c 530-31]; Sir Robert Hart, correspondence with Lord Rendel (1880-1910), National Library of Wales, Department of Manuscripts and Records [ref. NLW MSS 19440-67, 20569- 72, 23028-35] and (1882-1900) [ref. 31]; Sir Robert Hart, correspondence with Sir EM Satow (1901-1906), Public Records Office [ref. PRO30/33/10/3]; J.D. Campbell correspondence with Lord Rendel (1881-1894), National Library of Wales, Department of Manuscripts and Records [ref. NLW MSS 19440-67, 20569-72, 23028-35].

Conditions Governing Use

No publication without written permission. Apply to archivist in the first instance

Related Material

Related Collections at SOAS: See published guide: Papers Relating to the Chinese Maritime Customs 1860-1943. In addition to Sir Robert Hart, these include the papers of Sir Frederick Maze (PP MS 2); George H. Fitzroy (MS 258361); Edward Charles Macintosh Bowra and Cecil Arthur Verner Bowra (MS 201813), and Sir Francis Arthur Aglen (MS 211355). Of particular relevance are: Sir Robert Hart letters to Sir Francis Arthur Aglen [MS 211081] Sir Robert Hart correspondence with J.D. Campbell [MS 211351] J.D. Campbell correspondence with Sir Robert Hart [MS 211353]