Our collections offer rich resources on the politics, culture and business of nineteenth and early twentieth century China. The Hart Collection (MS 15) is our most extensive manuscript collection relating to China. It is complemented by a number of associated manuscript collections (Wright MS 16, Piry MS 19), books and digital resources.
Sir Robert Hart was the Inspector General of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service from 1863 to 1908. Born in Portadown, County Armagh, Hart graduated from Queen's College Belfast in 1853. After graduating, he was nominated by Queen's for a position in the British Consular Service in China and left to become a student interpreter in Hong Kong at the age of 18. Following positions in Ningpo and Canton, Hart left the British Consular Service in 1859 to work for the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service. In 1863, aged 28, Robert Hart was appointed Inspector-General, a role which he held until 1908. Hart made a substantial contribution to China's imperial politics and the modernisation of its economy during his time as Inspector General.
The Hart Collection was donated to Queen's by his great-grandson, the last Sir Robert Hart, in 1970. It contains 77 volumes of personal diaries that Hart kept during his time in China (1854-1908), over 7,800 items of personal and work related correspondence, as well as an extensive collection of photographs - over 700 individual photographs, 20 albums, and 170 glass slides. The collection provides an invaluable insight into Hart's professional and personal life, as well as the politics and relationships between China and the western powers at the time. Further detail on the contents of the MS 15 Hart Collection can be found online on our webpages.
Selection of correspondence, MS 15/2
The correspondence contained in our Hart Collection numbers approximately 7,800 items. This consists mostly of the correspondence received by Hart after the Boxer Uprising (1899-1901) up to his death in 1911. The bulk of the correspondence is in excellent condition. The letters are bundled and held in fourteen boxes. Most of the collection is in English, although there are items in Mandarin Chinese, French, Italian and German.
One of Hart's many correspondents was his niece Evalene (Eva) Gordon Price (1876-1933). She lived in England with her brother Willoughby and mother Katie Price (Hart’s sister). Eva’s letters date from 1895-1911. Many are decorated with illustrations. This collection of 85 letters has made available on Digital Special Collections & Archives. Read more on our blog.
A Roman Catholic cathedral in Tientsin following the Boxer Uprising (MS 15/6/6/07)
The photographs within the Hart Collection include c. 700 individual black and white photographs in various sizes, 20 photograph albums, and 170 glass slides. As most of Hart's earlier photographs were destroyed during the Boxer Uprising, most of these photos date from 1900 onwards. The photographs display many people and events related to Hart's life and career. A substantial number of photos are of family, garden parties, diplomats, customs officials, and the aftermath of the Boxer Uprising.
The 167 glass slides in the collection have also been digitised and can be viewed here
Bruce Hart was the son of Sir Robert Hart. Bruce Hart's travel diary (MS 49) describes a journey overland from Peking to Paris, completed by Bruce Hart from 17 June to 31 August in 1894. The diary comprises two volumes and includes pencil drawings.
A pencil drawing from the entry of 13 July 1894
Diary pages from MS 15/1
The diaries are undoubtedly the most important documents in the Hart Collection and comprise 77 volumes that cover the years 1854-1908. They were taken out of Hart's Peking office by a well-meaning colleague before it, his house and their contents were destroyed during the Boxer uprising and are, therefore, the only papers which date from before 1900. It is interesting to note, however, that Hart subsequently professed to regret this particular rescue.
Further details on the diaries can be found on the MS 15 manuscript listing.
Hart's manuscript diaries nos. 1-8 and 31 are available to view, with transcripts, on QUB Digital Special Collections.
Dr Kath Stevenson discusses the ongoing Robert Hart Transcription Project on the QUB Centre for Public History blog
Stanley Fowler Wright pictured (centre) with hospital staff at Hiaokem, 1904. (MS15/6/3)
Dr. Stanley Fowler Wright was born in Belfast in 1873 and attended Methodist College Belfast and the Royal University of Ireland in Belfast (as Queen's University Belfast was at that time known) as an undergraduate. He graduated with a B.A. in 1896 and left Belfast in 1903 for a position in China. He went on to become Commissioner of Customs and Personal Secretary to Sir Robert Hart, the Inspector General, the Chinese Maritime Customs. Later in life, Wright returned to Queen's to pursue further studies. He died in Belfast in 1953.
Piry (second from left, back row) with Robert Hart and others, in Hart's garden. (MS 19/27/9B)
Alphonse Théophile Piry (1851-1918) was a Frenchman and keen photographer who served as a government official under Sir Robert Hart in the Imperial Customs Service of China. He occupied a number of official positions under Hart including Commissioner of Customs, Lappa, c 1898. He went on to become the first Postmaster General of the Imperial Chinese Post Office when this was formed as a separate entity from the Customs Service in 1911. He held this position until his retirement from office in 1915.