Mr. Denby to Mr. Gresham.

[Extract.]
No. 1691.]

Sir: On the last anniversary of the Queen’s birthday, May 21, Sir Robert Hart, inspector-general of imperial maritime customs, was made a baronet.

This gentleman had already received nearly all the honors that China could bestow. He received a piece of silk with the names of his three immediate ancestors inscribed thereon in five colors. This is a higher honor than the yellow jacket. Another special decree also conferred buttons of the first rank on his immediate three ancestors for his able administration of the customs. The effect of this decree was to ennoble his ancestors for three generations.

The rise and progress of the customs service constitute remarkable events in the history of China. Inaugurated in 1853, after the T’aiping rebels had captured Shanghai, for the temporary collection of customs duties on foreign bottoms, the institution proved so effective that it became permanent.

The indoor staff of the imperial customs is composed of foreigners only. In the outdoor staff there are many Chinese. The inspector-general is the supreme autocratic head. He has absolute and unquestioned control. Immediately below him are 33 commissioners, who are generally stationed in the open ports. The next rank consists of 12 deputy commissioners. There are then about 133 first, second, third, and fourth assistants; also clerks numbering 21; miscellaneous, 18; and 21 surgeons. Exclusive of the surgeons the indoor staff numbers 218. The outdoor staff numbers 354, consisting of tide surveyors, assistants, boat officers, examiners, etc.

The customs service has charge of all the light-houses on the China coast, and the work of lighting is done in an admirable manner. There is also a small educational department, making a total of 719 foreigners, 3, 181 Chinese, or, in all, 3,900 employés.

The British outnumber any other nationality, being 170 in number. There are in the service French, Germans, Americans, Italians, Russians, Portuguese, Austrians, Spaniards, Belgians, Dutch, Hungarians, Norwegians, and others.

Sir Robert Hart succeeded Mr. H. N. Lay as the head of the customs in 1863. He has performed his arduous duties with conspicuous ability. He is now regarded with the highest favor by the Chinese Government. He is more and more, day by day, being intrusted with the administration of difficult questions which arise with foreign countries. [Page 236]The receipts of the customs are honestly accounted for, and constitute a large portion of the income of the Government. As long as Sir Robert Hart lives the system that he has created will be secure, but at his death it is highly probable that the Chinese Government will resume control over its own customs.

I have, etc.,

Charles Denby.