Sir Robert Hart, 1st Baronet

Sir Robert Hart, 1st Baronet

Sir Robert Hart, 1st Baronet GCMG (20 February, 1835 – 20 September, 1911), born in 1835 in Armagh, Ireland was a British consular and customs official in China.

Early life

Robert Hart was born into a devout Methodist family in Dungannon Street, Portadown County Armagh, Ulster, [] in 1835. His father, Henry Hart (1806-1875) worked in distilleries, and married a farmer’s daughter, Ann Edgar, in 1834. Robert Hart was educated at a Wesleyan school in Taunton, Somerset, then at Wesley Connexional School, Dublin, and at the age of 15 was sent to Queen’s University, Belfast, where he graduated in 1853. He would become, after his retirement, Pro-Chancellor of Queen’s Universitycite web
title = Alumni: Sir Robert Hart | url=
accessdate = 2007-04-24
] cite book | last = Bell | first = Stanley | title = Hart of Lisburn Northern Ireland | publisher = Lisburn Historical Press | date = 1985 | isbn = 0-948391-00-6] .


In spring of the following year, Robert Hart received from his college a British Foreign Office nomination as student interpreter in the China consular service.cite encyclopedia
title = Sir Robert Hart | encyclopedia = Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition | location = London | date = 1911 | url = | accessdate = 2007-04-24
] His first destination was Hong Kong, where he served in the Superintendency of Trade under the orders of Sir John Bowring, the Governor of Hong Kong. In September 1854, Robert Hart was appointed to the British vice-consulate in Ningpo as supernumary interpreter. As a dispute broke out between the British Consul and the Portuguese Consul, Robert Hart was given the responsibility of managing the consulate for several months. Hart’s calmness and good judgement in the face of brutalities between the Chinese and Portuguese earned him favourable commendations from his superiors and led to his nomination to act as secretary to the allied commissioners governing the Canton in March 1858. Hart first served under Sir Harry Parkes, then, in October 1858, was promoted to the British Consulate as interpreter under the orders of Sir Rutherford Alcock. The following year, Hart resigned to take up the post of local inspector of customs. From 1859 to 1861, this position allowed him to develop his expertise in the management of customs in China. In 1861, he was promoted to acting Inspector-General, and was named Inspector-General of Foreign Customs in 1863, a position he held until his retirement in 1907.


As Inspector General of China's Imperial Maritime Custom Service (IMCS), his main duties included collecting customs duties for the Chinese government. His advice led to the improvement of China's port and navigation facilities. Hart was known for his managerial and diplomatic skills, and befriended many Chinese and Western officials, which allowed him to direct customs operations without interruption, including during periods of turmoil such as the Boxer Rebellion.

Yixin (奕訢), also known as Prince Gong (恭親王, 1833-1898) was head of the Zongli Yamen during the time of Robert Hart's tenure in the Maritime Customs and the two men held each other in high regard. Indeed, Robert Hart was so well known in the Tsungli Yamen that he had an affectionate nickname there of "our hart" ("wǒmen de Hèdé." 我們的赫德).

He held his post till his retirement in 1907.

Awards and Recognition

His skills as Inspector-General were recognized by both Chinese and Western authorities, and he was bestowed several Chinese honorific titles, including the "Red Button", or button of the highest rank, a "Peacock's Feather", the "order of the Double Dragon", and the title of "Junior Guardian of the Heir Apparent". He was also appointed a "CMG", "KCMG", and "GCMG", and received a baronetcy from Britain.

Hart had also been asked to become minister plenpotentiary at Peking in 1885, on the retirement of Sir Thomas Wade, but declined the honor as it would have caused a conflict of interest, stating he preferred to "teach China to be a better fisherman instead of handing her fish." [ [ "My Splendid Concubine"] Lloyd Lofthouse, 2007]

His name is still remembered in Beijing through a [ name] in the Legation quarter.

ee also

* Sir Ernest Satow who met Hart many times while he was British Minister in China, 1900-1906. (See Satow's diary).
* Maria Jane Dyer to whom he proposed marriage in Ningbo 1858. She later married James Hudson Taylor


Additional References

*Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century Volume Three: If I Had a Thousand Lives; Alfred James Broomhall; Hodder and Stoughton and Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1982.
*S F Wright. "Hart and the Chinese Customs", published by William Mullen and Son for Queen's University, Belfast.

External links

* [ The Irish Contribution to Joseon Korea - OhmyNews International ] at

* [ Sir Robert Hart Collection] at Queen's University, Belfast

* [ Sir Robert Hart Memorial Primary School]

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