Papers of Sir Robert Hart

Scope and Content

Papers of and relating to Sir Robert Hart, 1866-1954, comprising two series of private letters from Sir Robert Hart to his personal representative in England, James Duncan Campbell, one dating from 1868-1879 and one from 1879-1906; A run of Campbell's copy letters to Hart, 1874-1877; a run of semi-official letters to Campbell, 1874-1906; a file on the Chinese Fleet, 1876-1894; correspondence and papers, 1866-1954, concerning the letters, including their ownership.

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 Qing 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 Qing 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, and 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 1866 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 when Hart returned to England from 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 other series of letters are each arranged in chronological order.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

After the death of James Campbell in 1907 Hart's letters were returned to the London office of the Chinese Maritime Customs. Their immediate fate is unclear, but they passed from the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and were deposited at SOAS in December 1965. Letters from Campbell, 1874-1877, 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), unpublished handlist and database.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Related Material

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds originals and a volume of typescript copies of Sir Robert Hart's letters to Sir Francis Arthur Aglen, 1888-1911 (Ref: MS 314854 and MS 211081); a volume of typescript copies of Sir Robert Hart's letters to J D Campbell, 1903-1907 (Ref: MS 211351); two letterbooks containing J D Campbell's copies of his letters to Sir Robert Hart, 1898-1906 (Ref: MS 211353). For other related collections at SOAS, see published guide: Papers Relating to the Chinese Maritime Customs 1860-1943. In addition to Sir Robert Hart's papers, these include the papers of Sir Frederick Maze (Ref: PP MS 2); George H Fitzroy (Ref: MS 258361); Edward Charles Macintosh Bowra and Cecil Arthur Verner Bowra (Ref: MS 201813, now ref PP MS 69); and Sir Francis Arthur Aglen (Ref: MS 211355). The 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. Queens University of Belfast Library holds correspondence, diaries and papers, 1854-1908, of Sir Robert Hart (see Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation, supp. 1965-1975, 1979). The British Library, Manuscript Collections, holds a manuscript of 'The Peking Legations' (Ref: Add MS 46499). Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Department of Western Manuscripts, holds miscellaneous letters and papers, 1866-1908, of Sir Robert Hart (Ref: MSS Eng Lett c 304, d 319-27, e 124-27, Eng misc b 108-09, c 530-31). The National Library of Wales, Department of Manuscripts and Records, holds Sir Robert Hart's correspondence with Lord Rendel, 1880-1910 (Ref: NLW MSS 19440-67, 20569-72, 23028-35) and his letters to Lord Rendel, 1882-1900 (Ref: 31). The Public Record Office holds Sir Robert Hart's correspondence with Sir E M Satow, 1901-1906 (Ref: PRO30/33/10/3).

The National Library of Wales, Department of Manuscripts and Records, holds J D Campbell's correspondence with Lord Rendel, 1881-1894 (Ref: NLW MSS 19440-67, 20569-72, 23028-35).