William Hancock: Letters and journals from China

Scope and Content

1. 'Travels of William Hancock from 1874-1908'

A typescript compilation of Hancock's letters, 295 pages, with illustrations, photographs, a map and five pages of prefatory material, including a chronological index. The volume was transcribed by H.G. Lowder, former Commissioner of the Chinese Maritime Customs.

2. Letters from China

A collection of Hancock's manuscript letters from his time in the service. The letters are believed to be elaborations of a pocket diary kept periodically by Hancock. Parts of some letters relating solely to family affairs at home have been excised.

3. Journal of expedition from Tamsui

A short journal, written in pencil, describing a journey, 10-26 February 1882.

4. Journal of expedition from Peking

A diary of a journey undertaken by Hancock, 1 July - 19 August 1886, travelling from Peking to Tientsin, Tientsin to Shanghai (via Chefoo), Shanghai to Ningpo, including an expedition to the Snowy Valley and a stay in a temple there, and Ningpo to Shanghai.

The collection is accompanied by correspondence between Cambridge University Library, A.G. Lowder and L.R. Wicksteed, the niece of William Hancock, regarding the presentation of the material to the library.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Hancock (1846-1914) was born at Lurgan, Ireland, and educated at a private school in Lancaster. He attended Queen's College, Belfast, 1862-1866, where he studied Latin, German and chemistry but did not graduate. After completing his studies, he worked in the linen industry. Hancock joined the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service in 1874, and was appointed clerk at Chefoo on arriving in China in July. He was transferred to the Inspectorate-General at Peking in 1875 to study Chinese. Thereafter, he moved between postings throughout the country. During 1885-1888, he was a professor at Customs College, Peking, where he probably taught Chinese. Hancock travelled widely in his duties and while on leave, including visits to the Sandwich Islands and Venezuela. In 1906 he witnessed the San Francisco earthquake and fire. He was fascinated by botany, and contributed findings collected on his travels to Kew. He was a Fellow of the Linnaean and Royal Geographical Societies. Hancock resigned from the service in 1908, and died at Clifton, Bristol, on 6 August 1914.

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Presented by Miss L.R. Wicksteed, 1971.

Other Finding Aids


Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives.