The City of
The City of Canton was a lot different to Ningpo. It was all hustle and
bustle. It was becoming a fashionable centre for eating. In fact now it
has a reputation second to none in China for its high class restaurants.
It is said nowadays that the Cantonese will eat anything on four legs
except a table and anything that flies except an aeroplane.
Then, the city was half full of British and French troops. Robert
served under Sir Harry Parkes and was doing more responsible and important
work than at Ningpo. In October 1858 he was promoted interpreter at the
British Consulate under Sir Rutherford Alcock.
In the City of Canton, Robert Hart became a special friend of Viceroy
Laou Tsung Kwang who was a very shrewd judge of men and far seeing into
the future. It was he who invited Hart to raw up a set of regulations and
rules for the collection of customs duty in Canton and put it into action.
As a result Robert Hart resigned his post as interpreter with the
British Consulate and joined the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs. This
was one of the most important steps' in his, career and one which both
Britain and China would be the benefactors.
So from 1859 to 1861 Robert Hart set the affairs of the Canton Customs
in order. Duties were collected fairly and smuggling all but disappeared.
A very unique incident happened during those years. Word had reached
him that some smugglers were going to avoid paying duty on a cargo of tea
they were going to load. at Komchuk. Robert Hart was out with the revenue
cruiser "Cumfa" and seized the smuggler's ship. On examination it turned
out to be, "The Shamrock", the very boat that he had travelled on across
the Irish Sea during_ his schooldays at Taunton.
In 1861 there was a riot in Shanghai. Mr. Lay, the Inspector General of
Customs was attacked and severely wounded to such an extent that he had to
be sent home to England. Two of his subordinates were made acting
Inspector Generals in his place. One was Fitzroy and the other was Robert
Hart. This again was a major step in his career. Fitzroy knew no Chinese
and stayed in Shanghai while Robert Hart travelled up and down the land
establishing new offices.
Customs offices were opened in Ningpo, Foochow, Amoy, Swatow,
Chingkiang and Tientsin. Commissioners of various nationalities were put
in charge so that the international character of the service was
Hart's enthusiasm, effort and energy was tremendous. He would work from
6.30 in the morning until midnight. But as in many new d:
innovations there always comes someone who will throw cold water on your
plans and tell you it is a waste of time. It will not work out? And so it
was that the Viceroy, Kwan Wen whilst a close friend tried to persuade
Hart that his work would all be in vain. But Hart persisted and would not
listen. It was the Viceroy, Kwan Wen of Hankow who was the one to change
his mind and quite soon too.
Robert Hart next moved to Peking which was anything but what it looks
like nowadays. It appeared to him as a large walled medieval fortress. He
stayed with Sir Frederick Bruce at the British Legation.
One day he and another young man, later to become Sir Robert Douglas
were out riding in the outer part of the city during the evening of a
Chinese feast day when a mob of hooligans started following them, throwing
missiles and calling them disrespectful names. It was all in good fun but
at any time the mob could have got out of hand and taken things to the
extreme. So Hart pulled up outside a shop and told the shopkeeper to tell
the mob not to pass his shop because while it would be difficult to come
back and find the ruffians it would be easy to find his shop. The trick
worked and the shopkeeper dispersed the crowd accordingly.
When they returned and recounted their adventure to Sir Bruce his
comment was, "Served you right, you young fools, riding about where you
were not wanted. If I had been here I'd have had a shy at you myself."
The problem of policing the Chinese territorial waters came up and it
was Robert Hart in his capacity df acting InspectorGeneral who proposed
that China should invest in a fleet which would form the nucleus of the
Chinese Navy; Prince Kung agreed and directed a quarter of a million
pounds to be invested in the scheme.
The plan for the new Chinese fleet was scuttled by a radical alteration
to the original plans by his superior Mr. Lay and together with a few
other intrigues the plan never succeeded. In fact the new fleet had to be
sent back to England to be resold, some of the ships having to return
half-way round the world on their journey to China.
The Chinese authorities blamed Inspector-General Lay and within three
months dismissed him and offered the post to Robert Hart. This marked the
momentous threshold of both a new dawn for China and for Robert Hart
The contrast of the outgoing and incoming Inspector-Generals was so
marked. Lay was dictatorial, impatient with the Chinese and although very
clever could only see one point of view. Hart on the other hand was
patient, understanding, tactful, tolerant and always able to see the other
man's point of view.
Robert Hart appointed "Inspector-General"
The first place that the new Inspector-General or I.G. as he was more
commonly known, moved to, was Shanghai. It was there that he met General
Gordon, Chinese Gordon, the man who was later to be sent to the Sudan,
suffer defeat and finally death at the hands of the desert tribes of
Khartoum. Here in China, Chinese Gordon played a major role in putting
down the Taiping Rebellion. On his journey to meet Chinese Gordon the boat
capsized into the icy river and Robert and his servant had to swim for it
with all haste to the river bank and then proceed on their journey soaked
to the skin.
General Gordon greeted Robert Hart very cordially and held a parade in
his honour. At the end of many adventures with the Ever Victorious Army,
General Gordon was offered a gratuity of £3,000. Gordon became so enraged
when he discovered that the Chinese Government were going to treat him as
an adventurer that he chased the messenger for his life.
Robert Hart was called upon to find out what the General would settle
for. "Tell Wen Hsiang that though I have refused money I would like a
Chinese costume," replied Gordon. On Hart's suggestion a yellow jacket was
added and General Gordon's portrait was painted wearing that plus all his
military regalia. This very picture remains to this day on the mess-room
wall at the Royal Engineers, Chatham.
Robert had great admiration for him - "Much as I like and respect him,
I must say he's not all there." However nothing could destroy Hart's
admiration for his hero, General Gordon.
Chinese National Post Office Founded
Marco Polo informs us that in his day there were 10,000 post stations
each 25 miles from the next with 300,000 horses to carry the mail couriers
throughout the Chinese Empire: At the beginning of the 15th Century some
private postal carriers in China originated in Ningpo. They were very
reliable and built up a fine reputation. However its chief defect was that
it developed only paying routes.
A series of foreign post offices began to rival these in the mid 19th
Century. Postal disorder and competition rapidly brought mail delivery
In 1861 Robert Hart suggested to the Tsungli Yamen that it would be to
China's advantage that a National Post Office be founded. But the Tsungli
Yamen turned it down because it would have brought him into conflict with
some powerful private vested interests.
However years later in 1896 Hart succeeded in founding the Imperial
Chinese Post Office. Money had been found from Customs Funds and it was
truly the work of a man's lifetime. The innumerable rules, regulations and
problems that had to be overcome were legion. He was consulted on every
possible matter from opening a new department to the design of a postage
stamp. Little did he know then that on his 150th anniversary the Republic
of China would issue a special commemorative stamp in his memory.
It became a great successful working institution and perpetual memorial
to the long hours of work put into its design by Robert Hart. It not only
paid its way but also made a welcome revenue which went indirectly to the
In 1864 Robert Hart visited the off shore island of Formosa, now known
as Taiwan and the Republic of China. He inspected the new customs house.
He had heard many tales of the notorious conduct of the natives, of
Formosa from Partridge a consular assitant whom he shared accommodation
with whilst at his first posting in Ningpo. Back in 1842 Partridge had
been shipwrecked off the Formosan coast. The crews of two ships (175
Bengalis and 13 Europeans) wrecked the same day were captured by the
natives and taken to the capital, Tai-Wan-Foo. There the Bengalis were
immediately beheaded and eventually after one of the Europeans stood on
his head the latter were imprisoned and later released.
There is an interesting story told by Juliet Bredon, his niece although
not directly involving Robert Hart which is too good to leave unrepeated.
During one of the tropical storms which spasmodically sweep the waters
around Formosa, an American ship was wrecked and the crew eaten by the
local natives. The local American Consul journeyed to Formosa to make
terms with the cannibals for future emergencies.
At first the chiefs would not listen and would not sign an agreement made
by the American Consul.
This annoyed the Consul who had both a bad temper and a glass eye. When
he lost his temper his eye annoyed him. So under great stress and
annoyance he slipped the glass eye out for a moment, rubbed it violently
on his coat sleeve and then replaced it.
The chiefs, suddenly amazed that this man had supernatural powers of
taking his eye out and replacing it at will, turned pale and shuddered
with fright. One of them, having more presence of mind than the others
called for a pen, "Quick, quick, a pen, a pen, a pen, quick." They all
signed eagerly not to offend the man with supernatural powers.
On his return from Formosa, Robert Hart wrote a famous paper called,
"Pang Kwan Lun." It was a paper full of criticisms and suggestions on
Chinese affairs. Some of the ideas were followed up and acted upon by the
Chinese Government but many of the ideas were not. Years later in 1902
when Robert Hart had an audience with the Empress of China she regretted
that more of his advice had not been acted upon as events were to prove.
1866, Time for a
In the year 1866 Robert Hart had been away 12 years working in China
and it became his desire to return and see his family, Ravarnette House,
and his own country again. He was granted six months leave. He suggested
to the Chinese that it would be a good idea for some of them to come with
him for the purpose of establishing legations in the European Countries as
well as an excellent chance for them to see a bit of the world.
The Chinese were at first a bit scared of the idea lest they meet
cannibals in London or pirates in the Seine. However a party of 5 went
with the I.G. These consisted of Pin Lao Yeh, his son and three students
from the Tung Wen Kwan. (College of Languages).
Pin Lao Yeh wrote a book about his experiences and included all the
statistics of everything measurable from masts on ships to the height of
the Arc de Triomphe. Two of the party eventually filled high ranking posts
in the Chinese Diplomatic Service. One of them became the first Charge
D'Affaires in London from which the present Chinese Embassy at Portland
Place in London owes its origin.
The trip home from Hong Kong to Lisburn in 1866
The long tedious and hazardous journey was to take 42 days. He left
Hong Hong on Tuesday 27th March 1866 at 8 a.m. on the steamship, "Camboge."
He remarked how fast the ship was. She had two masts and one funnel.
Tonnage: 2,462. Dimensions: 318 ft. by 38 ft. She was launched on the 11th
May 1 861 for the French shipping company, Messageries Maritimes and had a
single screw propellor with a speed of 13 knots. (She was eventually sold
for scrap in Dec. 1902 at Marseilles.)
She did the 915 miles to Saigon in 72 hours. On Wednesday 4th April he
left Singapore and from notes in his personal diary we learn that a heavy
shower cooled the air about 7 p.m. On the Friday 6th the night had been
swelteringly hot and he felt quite feverish and perspired profusely. On
Saturday 7th he woke up with an aching head and rheumatic limbs. On Monday
the 9th April he arrived in Galle, the main port of Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka)
at 3.30. p.m. They learnt by telegraph that the Calcutta steamer was due
in on Tuesday and had to wait although the Camboge was advertised to leave
at 5 p.m. that day. On Tuesday 10th April the Calcutta steamer came in at
8 a.m. and: the Camboge proceeded en route leaving at 8 p.m.
It was Wednesday 18th April that they arrived in Aden at precisely
12.17 p.m. Robert gazed at the hills opposite Aden with wonder and awe as
the sun set on their` jagged peaks. Suez, the end of the steamer journey
was reached on Monday 23rd April at 11.20 p.m. As the Suez canal was not
completed they had to disembark and travel overland to Cairo.
Robert tells how he spent all day Wednesday 25th April exploring Cairo
and notes that as it was Mahomet's birthday all the bazaars were closed.
The following day he left Cairo at 9 a.m. arriving at Alexandria at 2.30
p.m. Here he travelled by ship passing through the Straits of Bonifacio
which separate Sardinia from Corsica, at noon on the Tuesday 1st May. His
arrival at Marseilles was the following day at noon and he stayed that
evening at the Grand Hotel.
His journey. took him to Dijon where he records having a capital
breakfast. The French are noted for good food and any change from
shipboard meals would have been a welcome change. He arrived at 6.30 p.m.
The next day he called on the Foreign office and spent just enough time
to hand over the Chinese friends before leaving at 7 p.m. The Chinese
travellers were to be entertained in half the courts of Europe. They dined
with Napoleon and Eugenie, had tea with the King of Prussia, but Hart
declined any of the pomp and glory. He just wanted to get home again.
Saturday 5th May saw him arrive at Dover by daybreak and he spent the
first day in England at the Albion Hotel in London. He travelled on to
Ireland arriving at Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) and then on to Dublin where
he stayed with some friends, the Morrisons in Dawson Street and dined with
The next day Monday 7th May he called at his old school, the
Connexional School before taking the train on Sunday morning to Lisburn.
What a scene it must have been as the old steam train pulled into the
island platform with his two brothers Jamie and Geoffrey waiting in
anticipation of his arrival. He arrived home at Ravarnette House about 7
p.m. at the end of a six week journey.
Love at First Sight
What a welcome there was for his return at the Hart Family residence in
Ravarnette House. There was time to recount all his experiences. What did
the parents think? There he was back after 12 years in limbo. He had
returned a quiet hero. How many of them would like to go and join him? And
what about the neighbours? Could he get them a job out there? What was
China like? Were the natives friendly? On his return the family had a time
of prayer when thanks was given to God for all his mercies.
After the initial predictable reaction to his homecoming he settled
down to the quiet country life of Ravarnette as. if nothing had ever
happened.He took the same pleasures that he had as a boy, going for walks
and visiting relations and recounting his adventures in very modest tone.
He would enjoy a simple breakfast of herring and tea. He always insisted
that he was just like everybody else, no more eyes or noses than they had.
He visited Belfast on the: 9th May but it was not a city he was over
fond of. The next day he visited Mr. Parkinson at the distillery in
Culcavey. The family home for some years during his earlier boyhood days
had been adjacent to the distillery at the back of it in the manager's
He had some business with his Chinese friends in London, so he left
Ravarnette on Friday the 11th May at 1 p.m. and travelling via Kingstown
and Holyhead arrived in London at 7 a.m. the following day. He stayed at
the Waterloo Hotel in Jermyn Street. The following Thursday he visited the
Crystal Palace, had a date with a couple of girls and arrived back to his
hotel at 1.30 a.m. on the Friday morning.
On Monday 21st May records show that he wrote to the Zion Sunday School
at Priesthill sending them a gift of fifty pounds. He had breakfast at 35,
On Wednesday 23rd May he went with the Chinese to visit Lord Clarendon
who received the delegation kindly. That evening he went to Southampton
and slept there.
The next day the 24th May he left London for home arriving at
Ravarnette House on the following day. It was on Saturday he travelled to
Portadown with his brother James and stayed with some relations. The next
day he went to the Love Feast held in the Methodist Church and dined with
his Aunt Edgar.
He had heard that Dr. Bredon had passed away on the 14th May. A
memorial stone in St. Mark's Parish Church, Portadown recalls this event.
It was erected by his widow and children and reads as follows:
"Sacred to the Memory-of Alexander Bredon M.D. who died on the 14th May
1866 age 63 years. The regret which his removal in the midst of an active
career produced amongst all classes in the town gave evidence of the
reputation which he had gained as physician and of his character as an
honourable upright citizen during the 34 years in which he resided and
discharged the duties of a public officer in this district. 'Mark the
perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.'
-from the Book of Psalms."
So Robert decided to pay his respects to his widow, Mrs. Catherine
Bredon. Catherine Breadon (spelt with an A) was formerly the daughter of
Joseph Breadon, assistant surgeon in the Royal Navy and who incidentally
had been appointed to the "Bellerophon" in 1815, but was ill, unable to
join and missed meeting Napoleon. These Breadon's were cousins of William
Patterson of Baltimore, whose daughter married Napoleon's sailor brother,
So Robert made his way out of Portadown on the Armagh Road and then up
the long lane to Ballintaggart House. She was very pleased to see him and
in the course of the afternoon her beautiful and attractive young daughter
Hester Jane (Hessie) was introduced to him. Hester entertained him by
playing on her piano. It is said that she was as skilled a pianist as she
was attractive. Robert either had or suddenly acquired a great interest in
music and her mother invited him back some time before he left again for
China. He liked her mu is but most of all he had in the course of a few
hours met his ideal girl, Waiting in his diary later he describes her as
being intelligent, wide-awake, lively and able to hold her own against
Robert was :not one for wasting time and so the very next day Tuesday the
5th June he had tea again with the Bredons, As he made his way up the long
lane to Ballintaggart House he must have said a few prayers for God's help
and guidance, Afterwards whilst Hessie was playing the piano in the
drawing room he asked, "Could you find it in your heart to come to China
with me?" Those were the exact words Robert wrote in his diary that night,
She stopped playing immediately and although she was only eighteen years
old she agreed right away. How could she refuse? When he was only 10 days
old his aunt predicted that she would marry him. Seriously it was quite a
decison to take involving not only leaving her mother, marrying a man of
31 (and her only 18) whom she had only met for a few hours the previous
day, leaving her home and going to a strange country which she had only
heard about 24 hours ago. What a decision,
The next thing was for Robert to ask her mother if they could get
married. Perhaps she would not hear tell of it, The mother agreed on the
consideration that the decision could be vetoed by her eldest brother who
assumed a protective role for Hester. As the eldest brother was not about
Robert would have to wait until Saturday for the final outcome: So he left
that evening not knowing for sure if Hess e was to be his wife or not.
The next day he called on the Shillingtons of Portadown. One of the
Shillingtons was an old schoolfriend from the Wesley Connexional School in
Dublin. The new Shillington Bridge carrying the M1 motorway from Belfast
to Dungannon across the River Bann in Portadown has been named after the
Shillingtons. Robert then spent a pleasant hour and a half with Hessie and
then returned to Ravarnette House. The following day he went to Belfast
and had tea with ,an old friend William Aicken whom-he lodged with at
Adelaide Place, Belfast whilst at Queen's College.
He had told them at Ravarnette House how he had fallen in love with
this wonderful young lady and how well she could play the piano. His
sisters were all so eager to learn to play the piano that the following
day he decided to purchase one for them as well as getting Hessie some
presents. That evening he went to the Queen's College Literary Society.
On Saturday the 9th June he travelled from Belfast back to Ravarnette
with the goods and then on to Portadown to hear the verdict from the
eldest brother. I'll! was well. The eldest son's answer, was in the
affirmative. After all how could two Roberts fall out? Little was the
eldest son also to know then that, as a result of this decision in the
years he too would go to China to work in the Customs Service and obtain a
Knighthood. So the good news that Hessie was to be his wife was received
with great joy. Hessie confided to him that on St. Valentine's Day last, a
friend sent her a piece of wedding cake. She dreamt, and in that dream she
saw the man who happened to be Robert Hart walking with her brother down
At Leisure in Ravarnette
It was his sister Lizzie whom he took to Portadown first to meet his fiance on Wednesday 13th June. There, they met
many relations and friends such as Mrs. Buchanan, Mrs. Waddile, and Mrs.
Black. Hessie and he discussed the big day and decided on Saturday 15th
September which later had to be changed. It was a very pleasant afternoon
and both were very happy with an exciting future to plan. He wished that
he could be quietly back in Peking with her. All the arrangements and
meeting of all the relations were lengthening out the engagement too long
for his liking.
On returning to Ravarnette House he received a telegram that the
Chinese intended to return without him. So he had to go immediately to
London and with Hessie's birthday on the 21st June he wanted to make sure
he would be back to wish her many happy returns.
On the Friday 15th June at 4.53 p.m. he met the Bredons, mother and
daughter at the railway station in Lisburn and brought them home to
Ravarnette House. He was pleased that his mother, father, sisters and
brothers all approved of her and indeed were delighted with his choice. He
then accompanied Hessie and her mother on the 7.40 p.m. train as far as
Lurgan. His comment to Sarah his sister was, "She is a darling girl and I
love her with all my heart", and he later records this in his diary. Both
Sarah and he walked back to Ravarnette House from Lisburn late that
Unusual weather conditions prevailed the next day. It was very cold.
There was rain, hail, snow and wind in the middle of June.
On Monday the 18th June he went to London where he purchased Hessie's
birthday presents. He bought her a dressing case at Howell James and
selected a watch, each costing 55 pounds, A dressing case was an ideal
present for a lady in the Victorian era, It could be used for travel by
coach and horses, or by steam train. Our school pupils examined such a
dressing case in Lady Bangor's dressing room on their visit to Castleward
House near Strangford. On Wednesday 20th June he invested some of his
money in Rupee Paper, Portuguese Government Loan, Madras Railway Shares,
and Oriental Bank Corporation Shares, Then he was photographed in Magills
On Thursday the 21st June he stopped in Dublin until 2p.m. and then
took the train to Portadown arriving at 6 p.m. where he spent the evening
celebrating Hessie's nineteenth birthday. He also called on his Aunt Mary
and Mr. Irwin.
By contrast Saturday the 23rd June was a warm day and he relaxed at
Ravarnette House by playing a game of croquet on the lawn with his
On Sunday he attended Priesthill Methodist Church. The Bredons moved
house to 4, Upper Buckingham Street, in Dublin so he went on Tuesday 26th
June by the first train and spent the afternoon with her there and again
the next day.
On Thursday 28th June he went to Galway on the 8 a.m. train arriving at
noon. He remarked that the fishing in Galway was excellent. He returned
the next day to Dublin on the noon train and on the Saturday he returned
to Ravarnette by the 8 a.m. train.
On Monday 2nd July he went to Dublin accompanied by Sarah and Jamie. The
next day he visited the Connexional School on the last day of term, made a
speech at his former school and saw the prizes being distributed. He spent
the next five days with Hessie visiting such places as the Winter Palace
and the Connexional Museum. When he arrived back at Ravarnette on Saturday
7th July he found a lot of letters from China awaiting him.
Sunday 8th July was a very cold rainy day and he spent most of his time
in Ravarnette House collecting his thoughts, reading letters and
The next day Mr. and Mrs. Hughes arrived at Ravarnette House for tea
and on the 10th July he had a quiet leisurely stroll at Corry's Glen and
the Ravarnette River within half a mile of home. This glen is a small
secluded strip of woodland which follows a small tributary of the
Ravarnette River near the old mound of the Duneight Motte and Bailey of
Anglo Norman times.
When Orangemen's day came he walked to see them in Lisburn with his
sisters Margaretta, Charlotte, and Doty Hughes. He was not impressed with
some of the drunken louts who, tagged along in the parade. It annoyed him
so much that he wrote to one of the papers about it. He was home by 3 p.m.
and spent the afternoon quietly in Ravarnette House. The next morning the
Rev. Wesley Guard arrived and then the postman brought him a letter from
On Saturday 14th July accompanied by Sarah and her baby he went to
Dublin on the 7.16 a.m. train. In Dublin Sarah took the children to
Phoenix Park Zoo and the Winter Palace whilst Hessie and Robert made more
plans in Upper Buckingham Street. A certain Captain Philips, adjutant of
the Scots Greys followed Sarah and Hessie, and then, when they got home,
he walked up and down in front of the house. Then he knocked the door and
asked for the ladies. Mrs. Bredon asked him his name. He gave it and then
Mrs. Bredon told him to hurry and run for she was about to call the
Master. He took to his heels and fled. Robert said that it was better to
take no notice of the incident, but "If he should go there again he would
have to be taken care of." He arrived home in Ravarnette at 10.30.
On Monday 16th July he went ' again to Dublin accompanied by Doty
Hughes and dined at Mary's. Wesley Guard and Charlotte were also there.
After dinner they went to a fruit garden and sampled home cultivated
strawberries and raspberries. The gardener had a newly born child on St.
Patrick's Day whom they christened Robert Hart after their visitor.
On Friday 20th July he gave instructions to his solicitors, Taylor,
MacKay and Mortimer of 7, Dawson Street to draw up settlements. That
morning he met Hessie at the riding school. The next day he returned to
Ravarnette and on Monday 23rd July he had a long talk with his father,
relative to the points in which his father and James Maze differed
respecting their partnership. Then he later had a walk into Lisburn and
had a talk to James Maze. He hoped that he could sort out their problems
without making things worse.
Then on Tuesday 24th July he had to go to Aberdeen on business and
ended up in Paris.
His timetable was as follows:
Tuesday 24th July Left Ravarnette in the morning
Monday 25th July Glasgow at 6.
Thursday 26th July Perth at 1 and then Aberdeen,
Saturday 28th July Left Aberdeen at 4.
Sunday 29th July Rugby at 7.30
Saturday 4th August Left London at 8.30 for Paris with Campbell
Sunday 5th August Paris 7.30
Pressure to return to China caused their original wedding date to be
brought forward: Robert Hart and Hester Jane Bredon were married on the
22nd August 1866 at the Parish Church of St. Thomas, near O'Connell Street
in Dublin. Their honeymoon was spent amongst the romantic lakes of
Killarney and having rides up and down the lanes of the byways and
highways of County Kerry by jaunting car. It was a great time they had
isolated from all the problems of China and one which they were to
remember for the rest of their lives.
Back to Peking
Word had arrived at Peking of the I.G.'s marriage and plans were
quickly implemented to re-arrange and remodel Robert Hart's house there.
The home was a bungalow as double storey buildings were not allowed
because it was thought they might in some way rival the Royal Palace. The
original Chinese ornate design was not altered but rooms were adapted to
Victorian ideas of comfort.
All too soon they arrived back in Peking in August 1866. The Harts
rarely ever gave official formal dinner parties but when one took place it
was indeed a great event. Hessie would be carried in a great green box of
a sedan chair which ;.was 'transported by four carriers. This was indeed
the most practical way to travel especially in the evenings as the roads
were full of ruts, often very mucky, and there was of course no road
At one stage there was an amusing incident when the coolies who carried
the sedan chair came to nearly quit the job. They complained that it
wasn't their wages, nor their kind master, nor their considerate mistress
but the problem was that they were not being given enough work. As a
result their leg muscles were getting flabby and their shoulders soft.
They wanted Hessie to travel in their sedan chair 20 miles a day instead
of 2 miles every 10 days. Was there ever a stranger complaint made from
servant to master?
One of the pastimes the Harts had in Peking was travelling about by
native pony. There were some picturesque hills nearby which became a
favourite place for picnics. They would delight in visiting the beautiful
pagodas, temples and monasteries whilst in the hills. The countryside
became even more picturesque in the autumn months at harvest time.
This was a time when China was opening up new trade with European
Nations and Robert was frequently called upon for advice and drawing up
negotiations which were crucial for success. His tact, intuition, and
knowledge were all invaluable to many treaties signed in China in the
latter half of the 19th Century. This was far beyond his duties in Customs
Administration. As a result the Customs Service took on new powers and
changed dramatically in nature.
Their Three Children
There was great rejoicing in the Hart home in Peking at 2 p.m. on the
last day of year 1868 when Mrs. Edkins, the housekeeper put her head
reassuringly round the door and announced to an anxious father, "It's a
little girl all right, and everything is going well. "Thank God it is all
over," was the I.G.'s reply. He had been worried about Hessie and how she
was going to pull through. Previously his wife had suffered a miscarriage
with their very first baby to be. Also infant mortality was high in those
days and even more so in China
The Chinese Post Office records a special telegram sent on the first of
January 1869 from Robert Hart, in Peking:
TO HENRY HART LISBURN IRELAND , GIRL BORN DEC. 31 ST. MOTHER STRONG,
CHILD HEALTHY, ALL WELL, HAPPY NEW YEAR.
The entire household routine changed dramatically on the birth of the
little girl. This was a new thing entirely for the I.G. to come to terms
with. His immediate reaction on e second day was to remark, "The youngster
squeals a deal and there is no milk for it yet and it is hungry."
Gradually things sorted themselves out. Hessie got over it well and the
baby received milk, became less noisy and did what most babies at that age
do, slept a lot. These things caused Robert to have dreams of his earlier
days and he talked about the distillery at Culcavey, near Ravarnette.
Writing to his London agent, Campbell on the 30th Jan. 1869, "A little
girl was born here on the 31st Dec. Mrs. Hart and child are doing
It was not until the 9th April that arrangements were made by Hessie to
have Godmothers fgr the baby. Mrs. Lowder and Mrs. Burdon (wife of the
minister who baptised the baby) were duly appointed. Then the I.G. drew up
a short list of four names for the baby. His wife was to choose one of the
names for the baby. The names on the short list were Evelyn Amy, Evelyn
Rose, Florence Isobel and Gertrude Elaine. On Sunday 11th April the baby
was christened in church by-the 'Rev. John S. Burdon. The name given to
the little lady was Evelyn Amy. She was known to the family as "Evey."
Writing to his London agent, Campbell on 27th May 1869 ,"Mrs. Hart and the
baby are quite well; the little one thrives well, and is great company for
the mother." ..and again on the 1st Sept. ,1871,"Evey has had
whooping-cough, but is now all right again. She's a demure little body,
and her Chinesewhy it's wonderful. I have worked hard for years, and yet
nature, without any effort, has filled her little head with words, and
given her little tongue a pliancy, that are miles and miles beyond my aim.
But poor child, her English is of the narrowest dimensions."
Evey became fond of animals and her father was frequently sending
orders to Campbell for more. For example on the 16th August 1873, "All my
guinea-fowl are dead; I wish for a pair of fancy rabbits with ears hanging
down. I have for Evey's amusement, a whole lot of rabbits in a yard-
black, white, yellow and grey and now she wants some with hang-down ears-
the queerer and odder the better." According to another letter sent to
Campbell on the 25th July 1874, "The lop eared rabbit died close to
Shanghai. The doe arrived safely. The guinea-fowl arrived in capital
condition. So did all the pigeons, with the exception of the male red
poulter. By the way, "the fancy" have sent me two blue Poulter cocks,
instead of hen and cock. The Bagdads are interesting birds, and the hooded
Capuchins are odd little beings. Evey's menagerie is gradually being well
Tuesday the 8th July 1874 was the date when the second child was born.
It was 1.15 and when Robert learnt that it was a boy, his first comment
was, "Thank God it is all over. I'd as soon have had a girl." The new baby
was christened Edgar Bruce. His thoughts turned to home again. This time
to Legacurry. He had heard that they were going to build a manse for the
Rev. W. Brown and he sent £25 towards that purpose. His thoughts about
home continued "to crowd " into his mind. He mused over the name one of
his sisters had been christened, namely Emma Eliza known as Amy. He
thought a better spelling of her name would have been Aimee, the French
The sad news of his other sister Sarah's little boy dying on the 21st
July 1874 did not reach him until 30th September of that year.
That year he thought about travel on a grand scale. He drew up a
proposal to see the world and his plan was as follows:
1874 Japan; 1875 Manila; 1876 Java; 1877 Australia, New Zealand; 1878
India; 1889 Russia, Siberia, Manchuria & Siberia 1880 America.
But needless to say with the pressure of work in China he never
realised these paper dreams.
Their third and last child, a girl was born on November 1879 and she
was baptised Mabel Milburne. Her second christian name was after Robert's
unmarried brother. She was to be known as, "Nollie."
As the children grew bigger and needed schooling it was decided for
their benefit that Hessie would go back to Europe with them. For nearly 17
years Robert was separated from his wife for this purpose and their only
means of communication was by letters which were written regularly each
week, usually on Sunday.
The Paris Exhibition
In March 1878 Robert Hart left China to go as President of the Chinese
Government's Commission to the Paris Exhibition. He had passed his 43rd
birthday and he pondered on the fact that he probably had lived two thirds
of his life. If he lived to 64 he would have another 21 years for Terra
It was Monday 24th April he arrived in Paris and was met by his wife
and children at the railway station. Evey was in her 10th year and Edgar
Bruce his 5th. Robert had just arrived in time for the opening ceremony
which was a very grand affair. Here were crowds and crowds of people. So
much was the confusion that he and his secretary could not find their
carriage nor any other free carriage and had to walk the whole way home.
Robert did not enjoy these grand ceremonial occasions. But he did enjoy
the simpler pleasures of life such as his times with his wife and
children. He liked to take them to the concerts and places like the
Trocadero where there were contests with massed bands. Robert was an
accomplished musician himself. He had learned to play the violin and cello
without a teacher. He also composed music but when he asked Campbell's
advice on publishing his compositions Campbell diplomatically suggested
not to do it. On Friday the 7th June
he went to see the Opera Faust. The following day he took the children to
La Gute where they saw La Chat Botte, a wonderful sight that they a l
Then they travelled to London and across the Irish Sea arriving in
Dublin on Friday 21st June. The following Monday was spent at the
picturesque and popular seaside resort of Bray just a few miles south.
Then he went North back to the homeland but not to, see his parents as
they had passed away a few years ago. He arrived in Belfast on Wednesday
28th June and the following day took his sisters Sarah, Katie, Margaretta,
Amy and her husband to the seaside town of Bangor in County Down. The
following day he was travelling back to Paris via Dublin and London. He
arrived back on Thursday 7th July 1878.
Before the Exhibition closed he was presented to the President of
France, President Marechale MacMahon, who was born in Ireland. Then came
the time that Robert was really dreading, making his speech. It was said
that he spoke softly and gently with a trace of Irish accent, and that
every word could be heard by all.
The I.G. felt himself over tired and upon consulting the famous
specialist, Sir William Gull decided to take a further six weeks rest. He
was bluntly told "If you will do work, work will do you."
Most of August and September he spent in Ischl and Baden-Baden in
Germany. Then he spent a quiet winter in Brighton and part of February
1879 in Portadown before returning to China.
I wonder did he realise that it would be thirty years before he would
see Europe again. He set sail with his wife and family in March and
arrived on the 5th May 1879 in Shanghai.
Many "run of 'the mill": rules and regulations had to be drawn up for
the Chinese Customs by Robert Hart often, in conjunction with
representatives of other nationalities as new ports were opened up.
For example one of the circulars no.727, issued on the 27th June 1896,
specified that, "Whenever any vessel was sunk, stranded, or abandoned in a
Chinese river or harbour, the Customs commissioner of the nearest port was
to decide whether it was an obstruction to navigation. If it was, the
owners were to be notified and permitted to initiate salvage operations,
but they must first give a legal guarantee to remove the wreck within a
specified time and meanwhile pay for marking and lighting. Failing such a
guarantee, the Customs would remove the wreck, selling its contents to
Another regulation drawn up on the 5th December 1905 by Sir Robert Hart
together with the German Minister to China, Mr. A. Mumm stated in article
13 for the Kiachow Territory as follows: "Ordinance Regulatory Procedures
in Customs Matters stipulated that the personal luggage of the passengers
declared as not containing either dutiable or contraband. goods is passed
duty free as a rule without examination, but the right of examination is
reserved to the customs in cases where it may be considered specially
On the basis of such rules and regulations was the slow, steady work
and progress of the Chinese Maritime Customs built.
First Brass Band in China
One day the I.G. discovered in his staff a bandmaster and he thought of
the pleasure music can give. So he sent money from his private funds to
purchase musical instruments from Europe. He had a great interest in
A dozen Chinese were put to learning how to play the instruments. They
learned quickly and within a year eight of them were fairly proficient and
capable of teaching others. More and more players were added. A barber
played the flute, a shoemaker played the cornet whilst the tailor banged
the drum. All the Chinese were very enthused with the brass band. Perhaps
it was the uniforms made them feel very important. The bandmaster was
Portuguese and had an ear for perfection. Several other brass bands came
into being as a result. The "I.G.'s Own" Brass Band became known
throughout all of China.
In Spring and Autumn open air concerts were given every Wednesday
afternoon in the I.G.'s garden. Not only invited guests came but also many
Peking residents came to watch and listen. The scenes were tremendous for
their cosmopolitan crowds represented. All nationalities, classes and
creeds were represented in the gatherings. It was not only to see the
bands they came but also to catch a glimpse of the man who had shaped the
course of events in China.
And you know, he guessed it also. He remarked, "They come; I know why
they come. It is just to get a sight of the two curios of Peking, the I.G.
and his queer musicians."
He was always looking for good musicians for his band as a postscript
to a letter to Campbell on the 20th April 1890 suggests, "Keep your eye
open if you hear of a good Brass-instrument man, who would make a good
Postal-clerk and good Bandmaster (playing First Cornet himself), let me
know. Qualifications necessary: Good tempered, patient, painstaking, able
to transpose and re-arrange music for his men, good cornet player, good at
simple arithmetic, handwriting, sober and economical."
Back in Peking he continued his work, always doing what was best for
China and his motherland. In 1879 his own country decorated him with the
C.M.G. which was soon changed into a K.C.M.G. just as an American
University in Mitchigan conferred on him an honorary LL.D.
The K.C.M.G. was followed by a G.C.M.G. given by Liberals and
Conservatives alternatively. His baronetcy came from Gladston's Ministry,
with a friendly letter from Mr. Gladstone himself. Gladstone's own brother
later met the I.G.'s brother in China and the former commented, "You
should feel very proud of a man who has made his name illustrious for all
"Sir Harry Parkes, the British Minister in Peking died.. The funeral
made a deep impression on Robert Hart. It was a great practical
demonstration of the vanity of earthly glories.
"We brought nothing into the world and it is certain we can take
Never in his life did the I.G. feel as humble. When he was invited to
take the post, he stood the one blackcoated figure amid the blaze of
diplomatic uniforms. He was eventually persuaded to take the post. Queen
Victoria was very pleased to hear that Robert Hart would be the next
British minister in China. Almost immediately he relinquished the post as
he felt he could do better work for China in the Maritime Customs Service.
Robert Hart, as in all things, was very methodical in remembering
Christmas Presents, Birthdays and other anniversaries of his family and
friends. He often bought children of his friends presents and entertained
them at his house in Peking. There are no records or letters to show that
he ever purchased any local Chinese items for presents. His shopping for
presents was invariably done through mail order catlogue and though the
post via Campbell, his London agent. One typical letter to Campbell was
written on the 24th January 1881 as follows:
I want various articles for Christmas, Birthday and Good-Bye presents to
given to various friends of mine, old and , here and along the coast. Will
you kindly procure what I want and send all in one parcel insured some
time before the middle of April so as to be here before 10th June. First
of all, I want for Mrs. Hart's birthday (21stJune) a little morroco case,
lettered outside "H.J.H., 21st June 1881", containing a pair of Diamond
Ear-rings, - I think They are called Solitaires, - and either one or two
rings - the one with a diamond in it and the other with an Emerald, or one
ring with a diamond or Emerald overlapping each other obliquely. For these
things you may spend front £200 to £300.
Secondly: for Freda, (his housekeeper), I want a nice, small,
serviceable gold watch (she has one but it goes' not go): for this, you
may pay about £20, and for a small Albert-like chain, say £5 more £25. On
the watch I want the words "To: Freda Peking 1881" engraved with a gold
chain (lady's "Albert Chain"): the watches to cost £4-10-0 each and the
chains about £2-10-0, On the one watch I want the words "To Nollie 1881"
cut, and on the other "To Laura 1881."
Fourthly: I want four necklets of the kind marked No.2 in H.S. King &
Co.'s Price list 1880, price £6-10-0 each, each having a locket atached of
the kind numbered 25, 26, and 27 (£4-7-0, £5 and £4) in the same list.
Fifthly: I want in Japanese style, one set necklet and locket and
ear-rings of the kind numbered 11,12, and 23 in the same list (£14, £4,
I enclose a cheque for £400; which ought to cover all.
The first things, ear-rings and finger rings or rings for Mrs. Hart - I
want to be really good; the other things I-wish to look good.
Seventhly: Three necklets and lockets for little girls of eight or
thereabouts very light chains, and very small lockets but petty.
Eighthly: One polished box containing 14 games 36/-
One mahogany box containing "the whole" 48/-
One cabinet containing 20 conjuring tricks 37/6
Two Royal Card cabinets 52/- each - from Vide pages 284-287 King's
Ninethly: Three Mordan's Gold Pencil Cases: about 50/- each.
Five months later on the 11th June 1881 he writes again to Campbell
"The jewellery has not reached me. I begin to fear it has gone to
Calcutta,- as the books once did." However his following letter to
Campbell-of the 21st June 1881 records their safe arrival as follows:
"The jewellery arrived the other day. Many thanks. But unhappily U. & P.
made a couple of mistakes. Although their bill charged for putting H.J.H.,
21st June 1881, on the little case containing the solitaire ear-rings,
they actually put the letters H.A.J. on instead. And. they have sent two
pairs of Bracelets, a pair in a case: whereas I only wanted each bracelet
in its own case, as I don't wish to give bracelets in pairs to the little
girls concerned. I expected a place of their sort to turn out corrector
work and neater things."
That Christmas in another letter to Campbell he recollects a Miss.
Eliza Faukner. She married a Mr. McDonald who worked in the Marquis of
Downshire's land office in Hillsborough when Robert Hart was a boy. She
was only ten days older than himself. ...."In these days of all the girls
I ever saw, I Worshipped none to the same extent - it wasn't love, it
was simply affectionate adoration - she was so neat, so sweet, so gentle,
so good., and so nice looking. So if he asks me for a nomination for a
son, I shall not refuse. . ... I get the "Fortnightly" and "Contemporary"
regularly - also "Blackwood" and the "Century." These and the China
Express - and your cuttings are about the only things I look at from home.
Fancy - it rained last night, the 8th Nov. To-day it is blowing great
guns. Merry Xmas, - Robert Hart."
His younger Daughter comes to China
Eventually his children, having grown up at and having been educated in
Europe came out to China to see their father. It must have been quite a
shock for Sir Robert to see what once he only knew ad babies now as fully
grown adults. A graphic account is given by letter from his younger
daughter Mabel Milburne Hart on her first visit out to China in 1905, when
she was 26 years old to see her father.
........"My father sent a perfectly charming American Secretary of his
to look after us and we had a very nice private car attached to the train
which nearly took 11 hours getting here. My father met us at the station
and we had a wonderful procession up to the house - First a beautiful
Chinaman on a pony, then my mother in a gorgeous sedan chair carried by
six coolies and a lovely creature walking on each side, then I came along
with the same escort and another man on a pony to bring up the rear. As it
was dark they all carried paper lanterns, and it was most picturesque.
My Father's Chinese Band was playing a stirring march in the Courtyard
as we entered - It consists of about 20 Chinamen who are trained by a
Portuguese and play brass band instruments out of doors and stringed
indoors. They play as well as almost any band I've ever heard, and are
splendid at Dance Music. There is a huge hall in the house with a splendid
floor made especially for dancing. We are going to have a Diplomatic
Dinner on Thursday with a dance to follow. Wish I could take this house
home and plant it in some nice part of the country. It is very large and
one could have jolly parties in it. Every bedroom has a nice little
Boudoir and Bathroom (somewhat primitive) attached. We can only go out
with attendants. As soon as I get to know the Customs men I shall have
them as escorts whenever I want. My father has 14 different nationalities
on his staff at present, and they all seem nice - chiefly bachelors. There
are quite a lot of military of all nations. Some of the Kents are here
with about six officers - one or two others learning Chinese. One feels
fairly safe seeing English Tommies in the streets - but the country is
very unsettled all over. My Father and I are becoming good friends. I
think he approves of me as he never takes his eyes off me, except when he
is at work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Isn't it wonderful for a man of that age?
They were skating till yesterday but it is all over now, alas. I wasn't
allowed to go to the rink as I haven't appeared in public. I am going to,
at my Uncle's house to-day. He has all young Peking coming. I do hope
Harry will be put here before we leave. Pardon my candour, but I think you
are crazy to send Maud to Cannes. It is a physical impossibility to keep
quiet there. We spent a week at Santa Barbara. What a pity we didn't know
you had relations there.
We hope to spend April in Japan, but are undecided at present. Write
soon to C. Place and tell me all the news. Has J. Newman got in? I hear his
opponent was deaf and blind, so he. must have had a chance. Best love to
all, and apologies should this be very dull reading,
At the end of 1889 the Chinese government were desirous of giving the
I.G. a special honour never before given to any foreigner. The Empress
issued a special decree raising him to the Chinese equivalent of the
peerage. in western countries the equivalent honour would pass on to the
male heirs but in China the honour was passed backwards to the male
generations of ancestors for three generations. It was reckoned that it
was their ancestors who ought to be credited for producing so remarkable a
man and not his children. This seems quite logical.
The strange thing was that the night before the I.G. went to receive
the honour he did something he had not done for years. He had a dream
about his father. He saw in his dream his father dressed in a
snuff-coloured suit, with knee breeches and shining shoe buckles. He was
walking down the main street of Portadown leaning on his heavy blackthorn
stick. He was grumbling," Nobody cares for me, nobody takes any notice of
me". Well, his father would have been really pleased if he could have
heard how great an honour was to be passed to him on account of how well
the Chinese thought of his son, Robert.
The Hart Coat of Arms
In 1893 when Robert was made a Baronet he had to have a family crest or
coat of arms for he had to submit one to the College of Heralds. His
niece, Juliet Bredon was in no doubt that the Hart family originated
directly from the famous Dutch Captain Van Hardt who came over with
William of Orange to fight at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
He made a quick decision on the matter by choosing for design three
fleurs de lis and a four leaved shamrock. The amazing thing was that some
considerable time later a member of the Hart family happened to be having
a stroll through the old graveyard of St. John's Church in Dublin and
suddenly he stumbled on the long forgotten tomb of Captain Pierce Hart.
Underneath the engraved name was the coat of arms. And guess what? Yes, it
THREE FLEURS DE LIS AND A FOUR LEAVED SHAMROCK
For a motto Robert chose "Audacter Tolle," - "Bear It Bravely" or "Take
It Fearlessly" or "Carry Stoutly" or "Boldly Arise" as literal
translations. He did not use the old Hart motto of "Coeur Fidele."
The story is told of how one evening the I.G. was leaving a Mission
when a member of one of the lower Chinese classes, all dirt and grime came
up to him and throwing his arms around him told him he would accompany
him. At first Robert was taken aback at this and tried every possible way
of getting free from his company. But he thought, how can one truly be a
Christian if you don't put out the hand of friendship to your
brother-in-Christ. So both baronet and coolie walked together arm in arm
down Legation Street to the amusement of the sentries on duty.