All rights reserved
Lisburn Historical Press
© Stanley Bell 1985
2, Legacurry Road,
Lisburn BT 27 5 LZ.
ISBN 0. 948391. 00. 6
The Educational Press of
The Universities Press,
"Sir Robert Hart clearly was a remarkable man and if you read what he
wrote about China, he was a prophet. He did foresee that China would
take a big step onto the world's stage and be an enormous influence
and I think he recognised the great qualities of the Chinese people. I
am delighted that Ravarnette Primary School has done the research into
him. 1 think it is a very interesting project and I think it deserves,
and I am sure it will get a wide audience."
Right Hon. Douglas Hurd M. P., Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
"His opportunities were undoubtedly great, but the man rose to
- The Times
"Robert Hart still stands the most interesting personality that
ever figured in China, whose fame has spread to the four corners of
the globe, and whose romantic and illustrious career in the Far East
is without parallel."
- North Daily News, Shanghai.
This book is dedicated, "To the Glory of God and Sacred to
the Memory," of Sir Robert Hart.
Those are also the words to be found on the memorial stone
on his family grave at the Old Blaris Cemetery just over a mile from
Ravarnette Primary School, near Lisburn.
His testimony to the saving grace of Jesus Christ is to be
found throughout his life and recorded liberally in his personal diary.
"But with the Royal Poet I bless God for all his goodness
to me. I can with confidence look up and say ,"Abba, Father" - I know the
Lord to be my God, my Father reconciled to me by Christ : I KNOW CHRIST TO
BE MY SAVIOUR and I can without hesitation rely on his merits for
Salvation; I can give myself up to the Holy Spirit's guidance and
direction for guided by Him I shall not miss my providential way. May I
make the most of my time. May I be blessed myself and be a blessing to
others. May I be sanctified and fitted for Heaven. And when Oh Lord it
shall seem right to Thee to remove me to the other world, 0 grant that I
may be found ready, watching and prepared for my master's coming."
For nearly fifty years he demonstrated that in the middle
of the most subtle temptations of an Eastern Court, a Christian Ulsterman
can uphold Christian principles and maintain a reputation for honesty and
organise a department whose name became the guarantee for every foreign
loan to China.
"It is my desire to live to God."
- Robert Hart.
"Hart of Lisburn"
"The Service which I direct is called the Customs Service,
but its scope is wide and its aim is to do good work for China in every
- Sir Robert Hart
"I shall never leave China contentedly unless I see mines
at work, railways in operation and telegraphs spreading."
- Robert Hart, 1873
During his life he had sacrificed the enjoyment of his
domestic circle for his China. For nearly a quarter of a century husband
and wife had not met. His younger daughter, "Nollie" had been carried away
a babe in arms and returned a full-grown woman of some 26 years of age. An
eye witness records in his newspaper,
"As I strolled past the official residence of the
Inspector-General that night and harkened to the native band thundering a
cake walk in welcome of his wife, I wondered what honour China could
devise, adequate to reward the man who had suffered so much in her
No European knew so much of China and the hidden things of its mysterious
inner life than the Inspector-General.
I wish to thank all the many people who have helped the
pupils of Ravarnette Primary School and myself in researching the subject
material for this book.
The Schools Research Department of the South Eastern
Education & Library Board are to be very much thanked for their efforts in
sending us books and other materials on China, as are also the Humanities
Department of the Central Library in Belfast for their research done on
his visits to Northern Ireland.
Special thanks are due to the help and assistance of Mr.G.
Wheeler, Queen's University librarian, who, in addition to finding
research material including volumes of Sir Robert Hart's personal diaries
and arranging several photographic sessions for our amateur documentary
film on the life of Sir Robert Hart also arranged a very welcome and
interesting library visit for the pupils of our school.
Mrs. Kelly of the Wesley Historical Society is also to be
thanked for her interest and assistance in showing our pupils Methodist
records. Mrs. Isobel Law, local historian and member of Priesthill
Methodist Church and also the Rev. John Hart is also to be thanked for
We are indebted Mr. B. Mackey, Curator of Lisburn Museum &
the Folk Museum, Cultra for help with photographs of Old Lisburn.
Grateful acknowledgments are due to William Mullan & Son
(Publishers) Ltd. of Donegall Place, Belfast for their permission to quote
from, "Hart And The Chinese Customs," also to the School of Oriental
Studies for quotations from various letters to and from Sir Robert Hart in
their special'collection and also to the late Juliet Bredon for some
personal eye witness accounts in her Memoirs of Sir Robert Hart's life in
Thanks are also due to Mr.Norman Crothers of Larne, an
accomplished historian, who made several trips to England on our behalf,
to obtain valuable information and photographs. Miss. Alison Henry of the
Northern Ireland Chinese Circle who helped to translate Chinese and Mr.
David Barker who personally conveyed letters from our pupils to the
People's Republic of China are also to be thanked not forgetting the many
Chinese young people who replied with interesting information such as Hua
Chun Ge and Liu Mai from Sian, Shaanxi.
The help and assistance of Lady Hilda Etain Hagart-Alexander,
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Brodie and Patrick Brodie decendants of the
Hart family has been of great value in bringing the story up to date.
Thanks are also due to the help given by various officials
of the Public Records Office both in Belfast and London.
I appreciate very much the work of three local artists. Thanks are due to
Mrs. Cinnamond for designing the front cover and reproducing various Hart family portraits. Also to Mrs. May Ringland, our
school secretary and Mrs. Laura Hall for various drawings throughout the
I would also wish to record the encouragement of the Lisburn Borough
Council and the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust amongst many others, in
part of the wider and on going project of discovering, recording local
history and sharing this
common heritage with others.
We are also grateful for the many additional sponsors
including The Allied Irish Bank, Green's Food Fare, Brian Morton & Co.,
Wesley College, Dublin, and Queen's University Belfast.
Ravarnette Primary School Team won First Prize in the 1985
local history competition with the school's entry on "Sir Robert Hart.
Also in the photograph is May Blair, one of the judges and author of "Once
Upon The Lagan."
"History," says Thomas Carlysle, "is a mighty drama
enacted upon the theatre of time, with suns for lamps and eternity as a
background." Within this drama each individual is at one and the same time
an actor and a member of the audience contributing to the unfolding
process of life.
During this century world-wide-attention has been directed
to national and international upheavals as if these events were the whole
Ravarnette Primary School under the leadership of its
Principal, Stanley Bell has sought to change this emphasis by recording
the history of their area. This book has diligently sought out the life
and times of Sir Robert Hart, Ravarnette's most famous son.
Hart was a product of the High Victorian period. He was
one who created confidence and built in place of the old. But what is most
remarkable is that he was greatly respected in China, a land that did not
take readily to foreigners.
I commend it to all who take an interest in Ulster and its
forgotten sons and daughters who contributed so much to life here and
Chairman of Lisburn Historical Society
Who is the man who became the Founder of the Chinese
Lighthouse Service, the Organiser of the Chinese Post Office, the
InspectorGeneral of the Customs and Maritime Services, the founder of the
first Brass Band in China, the Pro-Chancellor of Queen's University and
who once lived in the small village of Ravarnette just a couple of miles
outside the town of Lisburn?
In three words : SIR ROBERT HART.
"Sir Robert Hart was not only one of the most striking
personalities of the Far East, but must be accorded an honourable place
among the greatest Britishers. For a quarter of a century he never left
China, and it was there that his life's work was accomplished, but it is
safe to say his fame and character of his achievements are known all over
- The Morning Post
The Hart family lived in Ravarnette House which is nearly
opposite Ravarnette Primary School for 18 years from 1854 to 1873. Prior
to that they lived a couple of miles up the road at Culcavey near
But is he well known here in his home town and his home
"He is an integral part of China, and every book that is
written of the Empire includes frequent allusions to him, while all of
them put together give a less than adequate idea of his greatness, his
abilities, his ways and his resources. He is certainly the most powerful
man in China and yet he is quite unknown at home.
- Vanity Fair
The People's Republic of China recently in their
publication, "Pictorial China No. 42", indirectly paid tribute to Sir
Robert Hart by reprinting the "Longetivity" set of the first Chinese
commemorative postage stamps issued in 1894 as well as the very first set
of Chinese postage stamps, "Great Dragon of the Customs", designed by Sir
Robert Hart, printed and issued by the Imperial Customs House in 1878. The
set of nine Longetivity stamps has become a rare treasure and were issued
to mark the 60th birthday of the Empress Dowager Ci Xi of China. Not to be
outdone, the Nationalist Chinese Authorities of Taiwan, formerly Formosa
and now known as the Republic of China issued a special commemorative
postage stamp for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Robert Hart on
the 20th February 1985. Chinese stamps have become favourites with stamp
collectors all over the world.
To mark the 150th anniversary of his birth in 1985 the
pupils of Ravarnette Primary School did a project starting in 1984 on Sir
Robert Hart and the Hart family.
No foreign person ever exercised so much personal
influence in China as Sir Robert Hart. Yet, few local people initially
seemed to have heard of, remembered or knew very much about Sir Robert
Hart. Eventually when it was realised it was the 150th anniversary of his
birth and how important a role he played in China and how he had been
reared within the Borough of Lisburn since he was two years of age fresh
interest and curiosity was arisen.
An amateur documentary film was made as the pupils visited
the, "Hart Trail", a series of places connected to the Hart Family. The
introduction of which was given by the Right Honourable Douglas Hurd M.P.,
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who has served in the Diplomatic
Service in Peking in the mid-1950's and has written his own book, "The
Arrow War", an in depth study of an interesting part of Chinese history.
Many letters were written by the pupils to find out
information. These included letters written to China. Letters were also
written to various newspapers requesting help with information from their
readers. In this respect we are greatly indebted to the many newspapers
who greatly assisted including the Belfast Newsletter, the Belfast
Telegraph, the Dromore Leader, the Ulster Star, the Irish Press and the
Irish Times. Meetings were held in the school to collate the information
in the evenings and visits were made to the Public Records Office, Queen's
University, and other Libraries and Museums.
As a result of widespread interest and much information
collected it was decided to make an Exhibition and also publish a book
about Sir Robert Hart.
This book is not intended to be a serious study of the
Chinese Customs and Maritime Service nor a complete biography of Sir
Robert Hart. It is more of a patchwork kaleidescope on the many differing
and changing scenes and fortunes of the greatest westerner ever in China.
It is primarily from the viewpoint of his association with the village of
Ravarnette and the town of Lisburn that we look at his life.
The Hart family played a major role in founding the village of Ravarnette.
They founded the linen business in the village which attracted the first
housing developments around the factory.
Ravarnette House was from where he went to be educated,
from where he set off to travel to China, from where he set out to ask a
certain young lady to be his wife and it was home to him when he first
came back from China. That house still stands, albeit extended, in all its
glory with the date of building 1789 just visible on the wall.
Unfortunately, the house of his birth in Portadown was
demolished in 1968 and it does not seem that he had any memories of that
house as he only lived there for a few months after his birth.
The aim of this book is to tell a momentous and historic
story. One which we are proud of and glad to be associated with. It is
above all the story of a humble man with Christian principles who played a
major role in taking the great nation of China from the Middle Ages to the
threshold of becoming a modern vibrant and dynamic nation.
Three characteristics which won Sir Robert Hart success
An honesty beyond suspicion
A genius for organisation, and
A never failing industry
When he retired from the Customs Service which he had
built, it employed 17,700 Chinese and 1,468 foreigners from 24 nations.
His critics have described him as the Ulsterman from
Lisburn who ruled China like a despot in the Orient.
Certainly it is no exaggeration that, "At one time three
Irishmen governed three of the greatest nations in the world: France,
Austria and China. Marechal MacMahon, was President of the French
Republic, Baron Taafe (One of the Taafe's of Ballymote, Sligo) was Prime
Minister of Austria and Sir Robert Hart was the most powerful man in
- Christian Advocate 11/12/08.
Of his own job in China Sir Robert Hart said, "The Service
which I direct is called the Customs Service, but its scope is wide and
its aim is to do good work for China in every direction."
Nevertheless, many years after his death, Sir Robert Hart
still stands "The mot interesting personality that ever figured in China,
whose fame has spread to the four quarters of the globe, and whose
romantic and illustrious career in the Far East is without parallel."
- North Daily News, Shanghai.
The book is dedicated to the memory of a truly great man
of his day. Many of his prophecies about China have come true and I have
no doubt some day in the not too distant future the great Chinese nation
on the mainland under its new leaders will come to a greater appreciation
of his years of loyal and unstinting service to that country.