Born in Ireland in 1835, Sir Robert Hart entered British consular service in China in 1854 and worked in Hong Kong, Ningpo and Canton. He became fluent in Mandarin and gained entry into the elite social circles of the Manchu princes and prominent government ministers. In 1863, the Dowager Empress Cixi appointed Sir Robert the Inspector General of the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs at the Chinese Treaty Ports, the main source of Chinese government revenue. Sir Robert served with great accomplishment and dedication in this position for forty-five years, even declining the post of British Minister to China in 1885. On March 4, 1889, the Dowager Empress elevated Sir Robert to "The Ancestral Rank of the First Class of the First Order for Three Generations". Sir Robert became the only foreigner in history to receive this honor, and his elevation created a stir at court, since he then outranked many Imperial ministers and nobles.