George Thomas Staunton

Birth: 1781


STAUNTON, Sir GEORGE THOMAS (1781–1859), writer on China, only surviving child of Sir George Leonard Staunton, Indian administrator, was born at Milford House, near Salisbury, on 26 May 1781. He was educated privately, and became a good classical scholar. In 1792 he accompanied his father to China, under the nominal designation of page to the ambassador. Before embarking, and during the voyage, he studied Chinese under two native Chinese missionaries from the Propaganda College at Naples, and was soon able to speak with fluency and to write in the native character. In an interview with the emperor of China he was the only member of the embassy able to converse in Chinese. During a visit to England in 1797 he kept two terms as a fellow-commoner at Trinity College, Cambridge. On 10 April 1798 he was appointed a writer in the East India Company's factory at Canton. On 14 Jan. 1801 he succeeded his father as second baronet. In 1804 he was promoted to be a supercargo, and in the following year he was the means of introducing vaccination into China by making a translation of George Pearson's treatise on that subject. In 1808 he was appointed interpreter to the factory, and in January 1816 became chief of the factory. In July 1816, in conjunction with William, earl Amherst, and Sir Henry Ellis (1777–1855), he was appointed a ‘king's commissioner of embassy’ to proceed to Pekin to make representations on the conduct of the mandarins towards the merchants at Canton. The exaction of the ceremony of the ‘Kotoo’ was, after much discussion, waived, chiefly through objections made by Staunton; but other complications arose, and the embassy returned to Canton in January 1817 without obtaining an interview with the emperor. This was only the second time that any party of Englishmen had been permitted to advance so far into the interior of China (Sir Henry Ellis, Journal of the late Embassy to China, 1817, pp. 38 et seq.).

In the same year Staunton returned to England, and did not again hold any public appointment, but his advice was often sought privately by the East India Company and by the government. As a ‘liberal tory’ he sat for the borough of St. Michael's in Cornwall from 1818 to 1826; for Heytesbury, Wiltshire, from 1830 to 1831; and for South Hampshire from 1832 to 1835. He unsuccessfully contested the last-named constituency in 1835 and 1837, and finally sat for Portsmouth from 1838 to 1852. In 1829 he gave evidence before a committee upon Chinese affairs, and in 1830 he became a member of the East India committee and a strong supporter of the East India Company. In the commons he was a frequent speaker on colonial subjects, and his opinions carried some weight.

In 1823 he co-operated with Henry Thomas Colebrooke in founding the Royal Asiatic Society, and, as a commencement for the library, gave three thousand volumes of Chinese works. He became F.R.S. on 28 April 1803, and D.C.L. of Oxford in 1818.

He died, unmarried, at 17 Devonshire Street, Portland Place, London, on 10 Aug. 1859.

Staunton published:

‘Miscellaneous Notices relating to China and our Commercial Intercourse with that Country,’ 1822; 2nd edit., two parts, 1822–8; 3rd edit. 1850.

‘Memoirs of the Life and Family of the late Sir G. L. Staunton,’ 1823.

‘Notes of Proceedings and Occurrences during the British Embassy to Pekin,’ 1824.

‘The Lamentation of Sir G. Stan-Ching-quot, Mandarin of the Celestial Empire’ [i.e. Sir G. T. Staunton], in verse, 1834, 4to.

‘Remarks on the British Relations with China and the proposed Plan for removing them,’ 1836.

‘An Inquiry into the proper Mode of rendering the word God in translating the Sacred Scriptures into the Chinese Language,’ 1849.

‘Observations on our Chinese Commerce,’ 1850.

‘Memoir of Sir J. Barrow, Bart.,’ 1852. For the Hakluyt Society he edited ‘The History of the Great and Mighty Kingdom of China,’ by J. Gonzalez de Mendoza; reprinted from the translation of R. Parke, 1853.

He translated from the Chinese ‘Ta Tsing leu lee, being the Fundamental Laws of China,’ 1810; this was the first book translated from Chinese into English, and is useful as a law-book. Staunton also translated from the Chinese the ‘Narrative of the Chinese Embassy to the Khan of the Tourgouth Tartars,’ by Too-le-Shin, 1821, and revised ‘The Life of Taou-Kwang,’ by C. F. A. Guetzlaff, 1852.

[Memoirs of Sir G. T. Staunton, bart., 1856, with a portrait; Select Letters written on the occasion of the publication of the Memoirs of Sir G. T. Staunton, 1857; Proceedings of the Royal Society, 1860, x. pp. xxvi–xxix; Foreign Office List, 1860, p. 140; Dodd's Peerage, 1859, p. 518.]

(George Clement Boase) Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54. pgs. 114-115.

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