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Sir Robert KennawaySir Robert Kennaway Douglas





Robert Kennaway DouglasVice-President of Royal Asiatic Society, and the first Keeper of the British Museum's new Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts when it was created in 1892, Robert Kennaway Douglas was born at Larkbeare House, Tallaton, on August 23, 1838. He was the fourth son of the Rev. Philip W. Douglas, who was appointed to the Chapel of Ease at Escot, Ottery St.Mary, Devon, by the late Sir John Kennawny, Bart., and his grand-father was Dr. Philip Douglas, Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Douglas was delicate in his child-hood, and spent the first few years of his life at Larkbeare, receiving the rudiments of his education, in company with his three brothers and the present Sir John Kennaway, from a tutor who lived in the village. When he was 10, his father moved to Bath, and Douglas was sent, first to a school in Park Street, and afterwards to Blandford Grammar School.

At the age of 17 he went with an elder brother to New Zealand, where be proposed to devote himself to sheep-farming, but after two yeurs spent in the Middle Island he returned to England and matriculated at King's College, London, where he studied Chinese under the late Dr, Summer. At the nge of 20 he passed first of the candidates for the Chinese Consular Service, went out to China in 18S8, and was appointed on June 7th of that year student interpreter in the Superintendency in Hong Kong.


Barely another year had passed when he was moved to Canton which had been under the control of allied forces since its capture in December 1857. It was here that he acquired the greater part of his knowledge of Chinese life and of the southern dialects. In March 1861, he was transferred to Peking as Third Assistant in the Consular Service. In June 1862, Douglas became First Assistant in the Consulate at Tientsin and worked under General Staveley, who commanded the British Occupation Force there. In October of the same year, he was appointed Vice-Consul at Taku. Here he remained until 1864 when he returned home on leave, never, in fact, to go back to China.bsp;

He was the first Keeper of the British Museum's new Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts when it was created in 1892.

The study of Chinese language and literature had till then been confined almost entirely to missionaries. At the British Museum the Chinese books and manuscripts were dispersed throughout the King's and Grenville Libraries without any attempt at systematic management. Douglas, who had married the year after his appointment, at once set himself to work organizing the existing collection and making additions to it. As regards the latter task, the knowledge of native dealers which he had acquired during his stay in China gave him unique opportunities. By the time he produced the Catalogue of Chinese Printed Books., Manuscripts and Drawings tn the British Museum in 1877, he had been made Senior Assistant. The same year saw the publication by him of two popular works. The Chinese Life of Jenghiz Khan (a translation from the Chinese) and Confucianism and Taoism.


Until the publication in 1993 of Kenneth Gardner's Descriptive Catalogue of Japanese Books in the British Lthrary Printed before 1700, Douglas's catalogue was the only guide to the British Library's antiquarian Japanese collection. Its Chinese counterpart, however, has not yet been superseded in print to this day. Douglas thus became something of a household name among Orientalists, especially scholars of Japanese literature and of sinology.


During his years at the Museum he lived at Dulwich and was a governor of Dulwich College. He retired in 1907 to the west of England. Failing to find suitable accommodation near his birthplace at Ottery St Mary, to which by coincidence Sir Ernest Satow (a British diplomat and doyen of Japanese historical bibliographers) had retired, he finally settled in Acton Turville where he was to remain until his death in 1913. He left a wife, six sons and two daughters.


Douglas was in the Consular Service of China 1858-65 ; Assistant in charge of the Chinese Library at the British Museum 1865-92; Keeper of the
Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts at the British Museum 1892-1907 ; sometime Professor of Chinese at King's Coll., London, and a Fellow thereof 1903-13, and who was cr. Knt. 1903 and d. im.—Belcotnle Lodge, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.

He married in 1866 Rachel, daughter of the late Kirkby Fenton, Esq., of Caldecote Hall, Warwickshire.  Four of his seven sons were cricketers, Archibald Philip, Sholto, James and Robert. A 5th son, Stuart, played for Dulwich College.

His sixth son, Stuart Monro, was wounded serving with 8th Batt., Royal Fusiliers in 1917. He was Indian Educational Service Inspector of Schools, Burma, 1902-6, and Head Master, Lutterworth Grammar School, 1911-30.

His seventh and youngest son, Philip, became a Royal Navy Captain.

There was apparently much more to the dour looking Douglas than appears in the only known photograph of him (1).

He died at Acton Turville, Chippenham, on 20th May 1913.

1.  I have since found another photograph - but he still looks severe!







Sources for this article include:


• "Douglas, Sir Robert Kennaway, (23 Aug. 1838–20 May 1913), Professor of Chinese, King's College London (Fellow, 1903–08)". WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U185486. ISBN 978-0-19-954089-1.
• Hart, Robert; Campbell, James Duncan (1975). The I. G. in Peking: Letters of Robert Hart, Chinese Maritime Customs, 1868-1907. Harvard University Press. pp. 804 note. ISBN 9780674443204.
• "Electronic British Library Journal". British Library. Missing or empty |url= (help)
Douglas, Sir Robert Kennaway (1875). The Language and Literature of China: Two Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in May and June, 1875. Trübner & Company.
• Mitchell, Sally. "Meade, Elizabeth Thomasina". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/52740.
• "Douglas, Robert Noel (DGLS889RN)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
• "Douglas, James (DGLS893J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
• "Douglas, Stuart Monro (DGLS898SM)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.



















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