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Vol. 4



JULY, 1913

No. 1


By Edward B. Drew, A.M., Commissioner of Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs, retired.

I propose to set before you, as best I may, the life work of Sir Robert Hart-a career which Professor Williams of Yale in his recent book on the Burlingame Mission pronounces "the most remarkable and creditable of any European, perhaps, in Asia during the (nineteenth) century."

To this China-loving company I would present my late chief as one who served China with a life-time's unflagging devotedness; and to this body of students I offer his achievements as a convincing example of that wholesome terrestrial kind of genius which is said to consist "in days' works."

Robert Hart was born in Portadown, County Armagh, in the north of Ireland, on February 20, 1835. He was the oldest of twelve children. His father Henry Hart was fairly well to do and a stern Wesleyan; his mother, a daughter of Mr. John Edgar, was a tender woman who ever held the affections of her children. Not long after Robert's birth the family moved to Hillsborough where he attended his first school, and where the family home long remained. At the age of eleven he was sent for a year to a Wesleyan school in Taunton, England; his father taking him there in person. At Taunton he began the study of Latin; and Latin he delighted in and read to the end of his life, it being his daily custom to read some classic author while taking his morning tea. His next move was to the Wesleyan Connexional School at Dublin. Here he was graduated at the top of his class at the age of fifteen, with a reputation for love of mischief, as well as for studiousness and a brilliant mind. His solicitous father elected to send him to the new Queen's


THE JOURNal of race DEVELOPMENT, VOL. 4, NO. 1, 1913

University at Belfast, rather than to Trinity College, Dublin-preferring to keep his son near home where he might watch closely over his conduct and where pious influences should guard his character.

In 1853, at the age of eighteen, young Hart received his B.A. degree. He had also taken scholarships and medals in literature and in logic, and had won the distinction of Senior Scholar. It was in this part of his career that he became a favorite student of McCosh, afterwards president of Princeton; and both Dr. McCosh and Sir Robert Hart ever recalled with pleasure their relations at this period, if indeed they did not actually correspond by letter so long as they lived.

Before determining his choice of a profession, Hart began studying for the master's degree; but while he was thus engaged, an opportunity offered itself for competing for a junior post in the British government's consular service in China. He entered as a candidate; but so distinguished had been his university career that he was given the appointment at once without examination. He arrived in China in 1854, and continued for five years in the British consular service, gradually acquiring the Chinese language while serving at Hongkong, Ningpo and Canton, and becoming familiar with both the British and Chinese side of international relations.

His early official experience was gained from the British governor of Hongkong, Sir John Bowring (well known by his noble hymns) and under such able consuls as Alcock, Thomas Taylor Meadows, and Parkes. For most of this period Hart's post was at Ningpo-near enough to the scene of the momentous events then enacting in China to excite the intensest interest of an observant, thoughtful and ambitious young man. The Taiping rebellion was in full career; the rebel leader had already been established at Nanking as his capital for a full year when Hart reached China; and from Ningpo he could observe the Taiping expeditions against Peking. In the study of these stirring times he must have found a stimulating example in his senior, Consul Meadows, who sympathised with the Taipings and in 1856 produced

that still famous book The Chinese and their Rebellions. The period of his residence at Ningpo also covered for the most part the events at the neighboring treaty port, not 200 miles away, when from 1853 to 1855, the "Small Swords," (an offshoot of the Taipings) seized and held the Chinese city of Shanghai. There and then were sown the seeds destined to produce but a few years later the "foreign" customs service so-called, with Hart himself presently as the chief-the guiding hand and the farseeing eye. At this period, too, occurred the Lorcha "Arrow" incident at Canton, followed by the quarrel between China and Britain, which developed in 1857-58 into the Lord Elgin mission, the seizure of Canton, the naval expedition to Tientsin, and the great treaties of Tientsin of June, 1858. When Canton was taken by the British and French on New Year's day 1858, and the foreign allied commission was created to govern it, Hart was transferred from Ningpo, and made secretary to this commission. This gave him a new kind of training, and a rare opportunity to gain experience of Chinese life and thought and the principles of the Chinese government. His efficiency and promise at this time is exemplified by his memorandum (cited by Morse in International Relations1), written early in 1859, while he was still interpreter to the British consulate at Canton, warning his chief, the British minister, Mr. Bruce, of the hostile preparations which the Chinese were then making to resist the expected British visit to Peking to exchange the ratifications of the treaty of the year before. Morse gives the details of this document, pronouncing it perhaps the most accurate forecast of the disastrous repulse of the British at the Taku forts which followed in June (1859).

We have now reached the moment when Hart was about to enter upon what was to become the career of a long, devoted, and indefatigable life as the builder and director of one of the most efficient administrative organisms, and perhaps altogether the most unique and peculiar-known to history. What he had gained, up to this time, was an equip

1 The International Relations of the Chinese Empire by Hosea Ballou Morse, Longmans Green and Company, 1910, p. 575.

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