Sir Robert Hart Collection (Correspondence, journals, photographs)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 752 SRHC
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English, and Chinese.
  • Physical Description
      8200 items, 7100 letters and memos, 77 volumes of journals, 23 notebooks, 100 periodicals, pamphlets, books, maps, 700 photographs, 20 photograph albums, 156 slides comprising: letters, memos, journals, notebooks, periodicals, pamphlets, books and maps, photographs, albums and slides.

Scope and Content

Substantial collection of personal and official papers of Sir Robert Hart (1835-1911), Inspector General of the Imperial Customs, Peking, 1863-1908. The collection contains a range of interesting and insightful material relating to Hart's official duties and experiences in Peking during his long career in charge of the Chinese Customs Service. Significant in this regard is the long series of 77 personal journals which Hart kept during this time. Running from 1854 when Hart first entered the Chinese administration, these diaries record many personal anecdotes and reminiscences about Hart's official duties in China, particularly from the 1870s onwards. Numerous newspaper cuttings, telegrams, letters and Chinese scribblings can also be found throughout. The collection also contains a significant series of correspondence amounting to some 7000 letters dating from 1899 to 1911. Although the majority relate to personal matters, corresponding with family members and other relations, many have a bearing on customs affairs, most notably with James Duncan Campbell (1833-1907),who was Hart's agent in the London Office of the Chinese Customs Service. These provide a useful commentary on the breadth of Campbell's responsibilities in London and the role of the Inspector General and his staff. Other items of interest include a set of notes and papers detailing Hart's experiences and analysis of the Boxer disturbances in Peking, 1900, numerous photographs, slides etc of Sir Robert, his relatives, friends and colleagues, c 1854-1911, and a small collection of various printed works containing articles on Chinese history, politics, trade, policies and diplomatic relations with other countries. Some of these last items have been authored by Hart himself.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Robert Hart was Inspector General of Customs in Peking. b. Portadown, Co. Armagh, 1835. Ed. Queen's College Belfast, 1853. Entered Chinese Consular Service in 1854 occupying a variety of official positions until 1863 when he became first, a Commissioner of Customs at Shanghai, before embarking (later in the same year) on a 45 year career as Inspector General of Customs (1863-1908). During this time he was considered "the most powerful European in the East" and to him is attributed the creation of the Chinese Imperial Customs. Among other career highlights include the establishment of the first modernised national postal service in China in 1896 and the re-establishment of the Manchu dynasty in China after the Boxer rebellion of 1900. Hart retired to England in 1908 after his office was made subordinate to a bureau of Chinese Officials. d. Fingest Grove, Buckinghamshire, Eng., 1911.

Publications:Publications:These from the Land of Sinim (1901)

Access Information

Open for consultation. Language of material is mainly English, some of the material is in Chinese.


Description compiled by Clare McVeigh (RASCAL Project) and entered by Deirdre Wildy, Special Collections.

Other Finding Aids

Hand list detailing contents of the collection is available for consultation in the Special Collections Reading Room (MS 15)

Conditions Governing Use

Queen's University Belfast exercises responsibility over the Hart Papers. Copyright does not, however, rest with the University. Consult with members of staff for further details on matters of copyright and publication.

Appraisal Information

A significant figure in the modernisation of Imperial China during the 19th and early 20th centuries, this collection provides an important insight into the life and career of Sir Robert Hart, one of China's most important adopted sons. Of particular significance are his personal journals and his correspondence with his London Agent, James Duncan Campbell. This collection is an essential source of research to students interested in 19th and early 20th century Chinese history and development.

Custodial History

The collection was amassed during Sir Robert Hart's lifetime subsequently passing to his descendants on his death in 1911. The collection was then bequeathed to Queen's University Belfast, Hart's alma mater, by his great-grandson (the last Sir Robert) in 1970.


Closed, permanent deposit.

Related Material

S.F. Wright Collection (Drafts, notes, books, correspondence)A. Theophile Piry Collection (Drafts, notes, copies of correspondence)


Entering China's Service: Robert Hart's Journals, 1854-1863 (Harvard East Asian Monographs, No 125) , ed. Katherine F. Bruner, John K. Fairbank, Richard J. Smith (Cambridge, Mass., 1986)Robert Hart and China's Early Modernization : His Journals, 1863-1866 (Harvard East Asian Monographs, No 155) ed. Katherine F. Bruner, John K. Fairbank, Richard J. Smith

Geographical Names