Boxer, Charles Ralph (1904–2000)

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Boxer, Charles Ralph (1904–2000)

C. R. Boxer enjoyed several distinct careers in his long and productive life, and upon his death at ninety-six, colleagues and former students counted more three hundred scholarly and popular publications, reflecting his hugely diverse interests. His primary research interests focused upon the first great epoch of modern European expansion into Asia, Africa and the Americas, especially the efforts of the Portuguese and Dutch as they constructed their vast trading empires after 1400. Boxer's dedication to research and uncanny ability to construct a definitive narrative made him one of the best known and widely read historians of the twentieth century.

Born on the Isle of Wight to a distinguished military family, Boxer entered the British army after completing his education at Sandhurst. As a young lieutenant he developed an interest in all things Japanese, including early Dutch and Portuguese economic and military activities there. His growing facility in both Japanese and Dutch led him to study the lives of sailors, merchants, missionaries, imperial officials, slavery, race relations, ship design, maritime history, European enclaves and colonies, and the reaction of local peoples to the sudden appearance of Europeans in their harbors and ports.

Boxer was the ranking British intelligence officer in Hong Kong in the late 1930s as the Pacific war loomed. Although severely wounded during the invasion and later imprisoned, he helped lead covert resistance against the Japanese occupation. Remarkably, throughout the remainder of his life, he betrayed little bitterness over events of that war and resumed his scholarly study of European interaction with Asia and Japan.

He resigned his army commission in 1947, beginning five decades of teaching and research at universities in Britain and the United States. Boxer's early publications and interest in Portuguese maritime expansion led to his appointment to the Camoens chair in Portuguese studies at the University of London. He also visited and lectured at dozens of universities in Asia, Brazil, Africa, and the United States, and was the sometimes-reluctant recipient of many honors and awards, including the Pedro II Gold Medal in 1986. His major works include The Dutch Seaborne Empire 1600–1800 (1965), The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415–1825 (1969), and Race Relations in the Portuguese Empire, 1415–1825 (1963).

The publication of Race Relations, coming at a time of increasing world scrutiny and criticism of both the Salazarist regime in Portugal and its truculent determination to hold onto the remains of its empire in Africa temporarily cost Boxer the friendship of some acquaintances and many officials in Portugal.

His wife, Emily Hahn, who died in 1997, was a distinguished author and shared many of Boxer's adventures and travels.

See alsoPortuguese Empire .


Alden, Dauril, assisted by James S. Cummins and Michael Cooper. Charles R. Boxer: An Uncommon Life. Lisbon: Fundação Oriente, 2001.

Boxer, C. R. The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600–1800. New York: Knopf, 1965.

Boxer, C. R. Race Relations in the Portuguese Empire, 1415–1825. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963; Westport, CT: 1985.

Boxer, C. R. The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415–1825. London: Hutchinson; New York: Knopf, 1969.

                                        Craig Hendricks