Prof, Sir (knighted 1903)
First name(s)
Robert Kennaway
Position(s) held at King's College London Ref: *1
  • Professor of Chinese (1873-1907)
  • Fellow of King's College (1903-1913)

Education & professional details

School, college and/or university attended

Private tutor, followed by private school in Bath and Blandford Grammar School; Matriculated from King's College, London 1857

Position(s) held (non King's College London) Ref: *2
  • 1858, entered the diplomatic service and was posted as a student interpreter to Hong Kong; various posts in the diplomatic service; returned to Britain in 1864
  • Assistant of the First Class for the Chinese language material in the British Museum (23rd February 1865) 
  • Assistant Keeper in charge of the sub-department of (printed) Maps (1880);
  • Keeper of the British Museum's new Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts (1892 - 1907)
Professional activities Ref: *2

Vice-President and Trustee of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Publications Ref: *3
  • Catalogue of Chinese Printed Books and Manuscripts and Drawings in the British Museum (1877)
  • The Life of Genghiz Khan: Translated from the Chinese (1877)
  • Confucianism and Taoism (1877)
  • Chinese stories (1893)
  • Li Hungchang (1895) 
  • China (1895)
  • Catalogue of Japanese Printed Books and Manuscripts (1898)
  • Society in China (1901)
  • A Chinese manual, comprising a condensed grammar with idiomatic phrases and dialogues (1904)
  • Europe and the Far East, 1506-1912 (1913)

Personal details

Date of birth
23rd August 1838
Place of birth Ref: *2
Tallaton, Devon
Date of death
20th May 1913
Place of death
Acton Turville, Chippenham
Obituary Ref: *4

We regret to announce the death, on 20th May 1913 in his home at Acton Turville, Chippenham where he retired, of Sir Robert Kennaway Douglas, probably the leading sinologist of the day. Born in Devon on the 23rd of August 1838 he was the fourth son of Reverend Philip W. Douglas. After having been a pupil at the Grammar School in Blandford he joined the consular service of China in 1858 and on the 7th of June 1858 he was named as the interpreter to the Superintendant of Hong Kong; transferred to Canton on the 2nd of August 1859 he was attached to the Consulate which administered this city with Pi Koue. He was sent to Peking in March 1861 and named as the third assistant to Tientsin and, in August 1861 interpreter seconded to Brigadier General Stavely, a post he held until the departure of the troops in 1862. In June of the same year he was promoted to first assistant in Tientsin and in October he occupied the position of Vice Consul. He returned to Europe and offered his resignation on 12th April 1865 in order to join the British Museum where he became Assistant in charge of Chinese manuscripts and finally promotion to Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts, a post he held until his retirement in 1907. It was during this time that he compiled the complete catalogue of Chinese and Japanese manuscripts in the collection. 

Douglas was married in 1866 to Rachel, daughter of Kirkby Fenton, Caldecote Hall, Warwickshire. He was Professor of Chinese Language at King's College, London and became a fellow of King's College in 1903. That same year he was knighted. Douglas had for many years been a member of the Royal Asiatic Society and was Vice-President several times. Douglas was a very courteous man and I will always remember him with pleasure for our long friendship over more than 30 years. Henri Cordier (original in French, translated by M.Gravelle)

Family details Ref: *3

Fourth son of the Rev. Philip William Douglas, married Rachel Fenton, 1866. Six sons and two daughters


Spent two years as a sheep farmer in New Zealand as a young man but returned to U.K due to ill health, aged 19.


* References

  1. King's College London Calendar 1906-1907; Hearnshaw, The centenary history of King's College London, 1828-1928
  2. http://www.douglashistory.co.uk/
  3. www.bl.uk/eblj/1998articles/pdf/article8.pdf; en.wikisource.org
  4. F. Legge, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland; Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (October 1913), pp. 1095-1099; http://journals.cambridge.org/; http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/
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