Hart Collection Queen's University Belfast




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), 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.


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.

Physical Characteristics

The collection contains approx. 8200 items comprising, c 7100 letters and memos, 77 volumes of journals, 23 notebooks, c 100 periodicals, pamphlets, books and maps, c 700 Black & White photographs, 20 photograph albums and 170 slides.



Collection Type



Policy: Closed   Method: Donation;   Periodicity: Closed


The collection is available for reference only under supervised access in the Special Collections Reading Room at The McClay Library. Further information is available here: http://www.qub.ac.uk/specialcollections 

Visitor access to The McClay Library

Legal Status

Queen's Univeristy Belfast has legal ownership of these materials. Please contact Special Collections & Archives regarding rights queries.

Description or Catalogue

Hart Collection listing: http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/InformationServices/TheLibrary/SpecialCollections/Manuscripts/#d.en.607212

Manuscripts webpage

Images of selections from this collection available in Digital Special Collections & Archives.

Publications Note

Archive Collection Only



Hart, Robert, Sir (1835-1911)


Inspector General, CIMCS


Inspector General of Customs in Peking. b. Portadown, Co. Armagh. 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: These from the Land of Sinim (1901)



Queen's University Belfast


The McClay Library
10 College Park




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The McClay Library operates a controlled entry system.  Members are required to use their Queen’s staff, student or library card to obtain admission. 

Information for visitor access to The McClay Library for researchers not affiliated with Queen's is available from the Library website at http://www.qub.ac.uk/lib

Visitor access to Special Collections & Archives is detailed here http://www.qub.ac.uk/specialcollections

Administrator Role








Academic Institution






Queen's University Belfast was formerly established as 'Queen's College, Belfast' by Queen Victoria in 1845 as one of a network of three Queen's Colleges in Ireland alongside Cork and Galway. It was raised to the status of a full university in 1908 with its own Charter and Statutes. When Queen's College first opened its doors in 1849, there were 20 professors and 90 matriculated students all based in the main Lanyon building off University Road, Belfast. Since then, the University has grown considerably both in reputation and stature reflecting its status as one of the oldest universities in the UK. Now catering to some 1,300 academics and 17,000 full and part-time students, the University offers courses and research opportunities in Agriculture & Food Science, Arts, Economics & Social Sciences, Medicine & Health Sciences, Science, Engineering, Education, Law and Theology based in centres within several miles of the original site, as well as a Marine Laboratory at Portaferry, a campus at Armagh City and outreach centres in Omagh and Newcastle and a nursing campus at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry. Notable persons to have come through Queen’s doors include Seamus Heaney, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland and senior officer at Queen's, David Trimble, a former member of teaching staff and a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace and actor Liam Neeson.