Category Archives: Pioneering Girls’ Education

Pioneering Girls’ Schools in South Africa


“There is a nation to clothe,” wrote a Miss M’Laren in 1840 begging women in Britain to send pinafores and dresses for the girls at her mission school in South Africa. She was the second to be sent by the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE)1 to South Africa and was a true pioneer, travelling by waggon train in December 1839 to an Xhosa area not then annexed by the British or colonised by Boer farmers.

Miss M’Laren left England in August and arrived in Cape Town (pictured above) on October 22, 1839. She may have travelled with Rebecca Irvine Olgivie who married the Rev Robert Niven in Cape Town in November2.

Niven was with the Glasgow Missionary Society and in 1836 had opened a mission station at Igqibigha, near Alice in what is now the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. By December Miss M’Laren was en route with the newly-weds to an area which had not only been ravaged by frontier wars since 17793 but also by tribal battles over land and cattle. On the way they visited Port Elizabeth, Bethelsdorp, Graham’s Town and the Lovedale Mission two miles north of Alice.

Of their journey Miss M’Laren commented: “Waggon travelling is by no means agreeable, though very convenient, and the only suitable mode for such a country, except horseback, which I was glad to recourse to occasionally, and rode about seventy miles of the way.”


According to two Quaker missionaries, James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, who visited Igqibigha in February 1839 the mission consisted of a temporary chapel in a beehive hut and a stone house with a few simple plain rooms one of which was used as a schoolroom. There were a few Xhosa huts nearby and 15 kraals within six miles which Niven visited regularly. Backhouse stated that not only were the Xhosa accustomed to predatory warfare but often many were killed during cattle raids. Even so 100 to 200 often attended services at Niven’s temporary chapel.4

In January 1840 Miss M’Laren wrote to the SPFEE : “Mrs Niven’s arrival and mine excited a great deal of interest among the natives, who flocked from all quarters to welcome us. It was quite a new thing to have white females among them, and their curiosity was intense, especially among our own sex.

“They were not satisfied with our going out to shake hands with them, but continued buzzing about till evening, peeping in at every window, trying to catch another sight of us.

“Mr Niven invited them to come and get something to eat next day, and then we would say something to them. We met above 300 of them on the grass, many of whom had come several miles, all in their native kaross5, and with abundance of ornaments on fingers, hands, arms, legs, ears, and neck. They have quite a passion for ornaments, and some of them display a good deal of taste in the arrangement of them.

“We told them, through Mr Niven, what we had come to do. They listened with great attention, and showed much interest. The children seemed so anxious to come to school, that I thought it better to begin and do what I could with them.

“I accordingly commenced the Monday after our arrival. The first day I had about thirty, the day after about sixty; but many of those came from a great distance, and are not likely to come often.

“I got them all cleaned and dressed in the pinafores from Ireland, and some of the dresses you sent: and really the change in their appearance was very great.

“After suitable exercises I began with sewing, at which they are making very rapid progress. I cannot yet do more than this, till I know more of the language. I find the children very docile and eager to learn.

“I am anxious to get them all decently dressed to get them to lay aside the kaross entirely, and wear European clothing. Should any kind friends be again inclined to send some clothing for the women and children here, I would suggest that it should be in large, dark, strong pinafores for the girls, some of them pretty long, and gowns for the women.

“I mean to beg from all my friends, for here there is a nation to clothe.”

She found the language difficult to learn and Niven was often away so couldn’t translate for her.

Although the countryside was beautiful she felt isolated at the mission station as it was in what she described as a sort of amphitheatre with hills rising up around it. “I feel the solitude a great deal, and the want of all civilisation is a trial.”

Niven had been surprised at the interest shown by so many girls. Even so by April the number attending had dropped to an average of about 25 each day. M’Laren commented: “Those who come, however, seem really fond of school, and are making progress in reading, sewing, and writing: they have committed some hymns and passages of Scripture to memory, and I do hope that the seed which is now attempted to be sown in much weakness, may be the commencement of a great work amongst these poor, degraded, ignorant but interesting children.

“There are some promising girls who attend very regularly: of them I have made monitors, and hope some of them will ultimately become native teachers.”

She recognised that it would not be possible to set up orphanages for destitute children as in India. She explained: “Children are much thought of, and when a parent dies, and leaves a family, they are soon adopted by another, who regards them as his own.

“They are a free people and do not like anything like restraint or servitude. When they do engage as servants, it is only for the cows which they expect; and when their time is expired, they are glad to get back to their kaross and their entire freedom.”

To Miss M’Laren and the other SPFEE agents who went to South Africa education was the lever by which the Africans would be raised from “their present barbarous state, and make them industrious, useful and happy.”

The SPFEE expected that teachers like Miss M’Laren would materially contribute to the advance of civilization in South Africa. And, like Robert Moffat (1795-1883), the Scottish missionary who worked in South Africa from 1817 to 1870, believed that only through Christianity could slavery be stopped in Africa.

Miss Hanson, the SPFEE’s first agent in South Africa, wrote from her school in Cape Town in April 1838: “We owe it to much injured Africa – it is the least we can do as a reparation for her wrongs – to send those who, when the body is no longer enslaved, shall free the mind from that thraldom in which it has so long been kept.”

But the belief that the Africans could be educated and be treated as equals would constantly create conflict between the Protestant Missionaries, the first of whom to arrive in South Africa were the Moravians.6 The first LMS missionaries, under the leadership of the Dutchman Johannes van der Kemp experienced this very soon after their arrival in South Africa in 1799.7

By then Cape Town Colony had grown considerably since the Dutch East India Company had started using it in the mid 17th century as a supply post for its ships on the spice route to Indonesia. The Company had encouraged Cape colonists to develop farms as the local tribes, the Khoikhoi and the San (known collectively as the Khoisan) did not want to trade with it. It also brought in slaves from Madagascar and Indonesia to supply the settlers with cheap labour.8 The Khoisan were driven off their pastoral lands, their cattle were stolen, and many died either due to the diseases introduced by the foreigners or from armed conflict with the Boers.9

Van der Kemp and another LMS missionary, established Bethelsdorp near Port Elizabeth in 1803 as a refuge for those Khoikhoi who wanted to escape the bonded labour form of slavery that the Boers had inflicted on so many of them. He, like Dr John Philip who became the resident director of the LMS in South Africa in 1919, earned the everlasting contempt of the Boers for treating the Africans as equals, and seeking to provide them with education and vocational skills so that they would not be forced into any form of slavery.10

In 1826 Philip made the first of his two visits to London to fight for the civil rights of the Khoisan arguing that they should have the same protection by law as the colonists. In the preface to his book, Researches in South Africa (published 1828) he summed up so well the way missionaries at that time were unable to dis-entangle the Christian message with Western imperialism and capitalism.

The Christian concept of being transformed into the spiritual image of Christ became confused with the expectation that all should conform to European culture and dress. I doubt that the missionaries realised how much their views were shaped by the discourse that pervaded Britain and Europe at that time. In fact they became part of the strong narratives which developed that discourse.

They probably found it very exciting that missionaries like Moffat were lauded as pioneering heroes of the British Empire. Miss M’Laren would play her own small part as a heroine in “darkest Africa”.

And so Philip wrote: “While our missionaries, beyond the borders of the colony of the Cape of Good Hope, are everywhere scattering the seeds of civilisation, social order, and happiness, they are, by the most unexceptionable means, extending British interests, British influence and the British empire.

“Wherever the missionary places his standard among a savage tribe, their prejudices against the colonial government give way; their dependence upon the colony is increased by the creation of artificial wants; confidence is restored; intercourse with the colony is established; industry, trade, and agriculture spring up; and every genuine convert from among them made to the Christian religion becomes the ally and friend of the colonial government.”

He also wrote that the missionaries had found that the Africans in Cape Colony had been deprived of their country and been reduced to slavery. He added: “The missionary stations in South Africa are the only places where the natives of the country have a shadow of protection, and where they can claim an exemption from the most humiliating and degrading sufferings.”

He believed that the Khoisan had a right to a fair price for their labour; to an exemption from cruelty and oppression; to choose the place of their abode; and to enjoy the society of their children.11

David Livingstone, who arrived in South Africa in 1841, reported that to the Boers Africans were just “black property” whom they could kill or force into bonded labour as they pleased.12

Philip’s daughter, Elizabeth (Eliza) Fairbairn was the SPFEE’s correspondent in South Africa and the Society continued to send teachers after Miss M’Laren completed her engagement with it in 1844. By then M’Laren had trained a girl called Utali to teach at the school at Igqibigha. She commented that this showed that the Xhosa girls were teachable.

Africans would be dependent upon Christian missions for their education until the mid 20th century and many were trained to become teacher evangelists.13 Girls formed the majority of those attending the mission-run elementary schools and by 1868 the school at Lovedale was offering the same advanced education to African girls as it did for European girls.14

When the school at Lovedale was founded in 1841 the initial focus had been upon ‘industrial training’ in agriculture, masonry, carpentry, blacksmithing and wagon making. Initially it was believed that Black people could best be elevated by providing higher education for a few but after 1875 the emphasis was on the education of many.15

©P Land 2014

Sources and notes:

The illustrations of Cape Town and of waggon travel in South Africa are from Robert Moffat, The Missionary Hero of Kuruman by David J Deane, Fleming H Revell Company, New York, Chicago and Toronto, 1880

1 The main source I have used, including the spelling of Miss M’Laren’s name, is The History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, published by Edward Suter, London, 1847, pp 162-179.

John MacKenzie in his chapter ‘Making Black Scotsmen and Scotswomen’, in Empires of Religion (Ed Hilary M Carey, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2008), states that the Scottish Ladies’ Kaffrarian Society sent a Miss McLaren to South Africa in 1939 (p126). As usual with such 19th century ladies’ societies there is no mention of her first name.

2 Rebecca Irvine Olgilvie, daughter of Thomas and Isabella Ogilvie of Glasgow, married the Rev Robert Niven at St Andrew’s Presbyterian church, Cape Town, on Wednesday, November 27, 1839. South African Commercial Advertiser October to December 1839, transcribed by Sue Mackay

Niven was minister at Maryhill Church, Glasgow, from 1856 until he retired in 1877.

3 The frontier wars continued until the British gained supremacy in 1879. The seventh frontier war was from 1846 to 1847, and the next was in 1850 during which Niven and his wife had a narrow escape when another mission he had founded, at Uniondale, was destroyed.

4 A Narrative of a Visit to Mauritius and South Africa by James Backhouse (1794-1869), Hamilton, Adams and Co, London, 1844. Available on Google Books. Pp226-227.

5 A kaross is a cloak made from the hide of an animal with the hair left on.

6 The first Moravian missionary to South Africa was George Schmidt (1709-1785) who was there from 1736 to 1744. His baptisms of five converts in 1744 were condemned as illegal by the Dutch clergy and he was forced to leave. Three more Moravian missionaries were sent in 1792, and restarted the mission, assisted by Vehettge Magdalena (Lena) Tikhuie. She was one of those converted by Schmidt and had acted as a church leader in the absence of any missionaries.

The new missionaries created the town of Genadendal (“Valley of Grace”) where Schmidt had worked. This became a model town with schools and where the Africans could learn vocational skills to enable them to become self sufficient. There was much opposition from the Boers to whom the Africans were “children of the devil, black ware and black cattle”. In 1995 Nelson Mandela changed the name of the president’s official residence in Cape Town to Genadendal.

J E Hutton, A History of Moravian Missions, Moravian Publications Office, London, 1922, pp128,179-180,266-270.

And about Lena Tikhuie: Dictionary of African Christian Biography.

See also :

7 In his book A History of Christian Missions in South Africa (Longmans, Green and Co, London, 1911 ) the South African historian, Johannes du Plessis (1868-1935), described how van der Kemp (1747-1811) had been so affected by studying the works of the 18th century Enlightenment philosopher, John-Jacques Rousseau, that he believed that Africans were equal to white men. Plessis wrote: “No responsible missionary today would venture to preach or to practise the doctrine of social equality between the white and the coloured races.”  pp217-128  Thankfully missionaries like Trevor Huddleston (1913 – 1998 )did not agree with him.




9 Researches in South Africa by The Rev John Philip DD, James Duncan, London, 1928, Vol I pp2-5 and Vol 2 p2610

James Cappon, Britain’s Title in South Africa, 1901, p321

11 Researches in South Africa: Preface Vol 1 ix-x; xxvi; xxx-xxxi

12 In 1852 Boers attacked Livingstone’s mission station, killed all the African men and carried off 200 school children into slavery. The Boers also destroyed Livingstone’s home, and took his furniture and clothing to meet the cost of the attack. David Livingstone Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, John Murray, London, 1857,  pp38-39 (Chapter 2) Google Books or


13 Horton Davies & R H W Shepherd (Eds) South African Missions 1800-1950, an anthology Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, London, 1954. P xix

14 1855-1863: A Dividing Point in the Early Development of African Education in South Africa, a paper by R Hunt Davis Jr,_A_dividing_point_in_the_early_development_of_African_education_in_South_Africa.pdf

15 see Lovedale Public Further Education and Training College

Reflections on K Satthianadhan’s “Saguna”

Krupabai Satthianadhan  (1862-1894) wrote her semi-autobiographical novel Saguna: A Story of a Native Christian Life ago about a girl growing up in a very different culture to mine – and yet over 125 years later her story so resonated with that of my own family.

Her mother told her: “What is the use of learning for a girl?” All that a girl needed to know was how to cook and look after the home for her future husband1.

In England in the late 1950s the wife of a primary school head teacher told my mother: “Don’t send her to the grammar school – it’s not worth it because she’ll only get married.” My mum was so proud that I had also passed the 11-plus exam and could go to the local grammar school, just like my two older brothers. And she was determined that I would have the same opportunities in life as they had.



In my eulogy at her funeral I recounted: “As a small girl at a school in Northfleet, Kent in the 1920s my mum dreamt of being allowed to indulge in her love of learning to the full and so live an interesting life. For her, however, that was a forlorn hope for she and her five sisters came from one of the poorest families in their neighbourhood.” Pictures: My mum as a schoolgirl; and as a war time clippy.

At that time formal education in England ended when children were 14-years-old and her parents could not afford the cost of allowing any of their six daughters to go on to further education. Instead she went to work and then married when she was 19 – an experience shared by millions of girls in many countries today2.

My mum was determined to pass on her dream to her children. I can remember when I was between five and eight-years-old sitting around the stove in the kitchen in the evening listening spellbound as she read classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island to me and my brothers.

In our working class neighbourhood it was socially unacceptable for even my brothers to go to grammar school, let alone me as well. We experienced a lot of ostracism once we donned the grammar school uniforms. But it wasn’t as tough as in India in the 19th century as Krupabai explained in Saguna.

She described how Indians feared a learned woman believing that this meant she had the ability to converse with spirits. When the husband of one such woman died she was accused of being in league with evil spirits – even though her husband was 35 years older than she was. As a young wife she was then expected to commit suttee – by being burnt next to her dead husband on his funeral pyre.

Saguna (like Krupabai) was able to study because her parents had converted to Christianity and her eldest brother especially encouraged her. Her passion for learning led her, however, into contact with the alien culture of the western missionaries. She soon found that if she did not obviously comply with their middle-class evangelical ways she would be reproved for not being spiritual enough. I too found it difficult to be accepted by middle-class evangelicals because like Saguna I did not practise those outward aspects of Christian spirituality that they expected.

In the 19th century many missionaries could be accused of being culturally insensitive. Mary Ann Aldersey was an excellent example. But, as I witnessed when working overseas with relief and development agencies, Westerners can still be very insensitive about how they try to bring about change in Africa and Asia.

In the West it was found that the provision of education and employment opportunities did lead to the empowerment of girls and women – the very freedom of choice and action that my mother had yearned for. But that model doesn’t work so well in non-western societies where there are strong social and cultural limitations on women3.

What those 19th century female missionary teachers did do, however – despite often being firm believers in Western cultural and colonial imperialism – was to provide role models for the girls they taught. Once Saguna and her Western teachers had forged a better understanding of each other she could state: “A magic wand seemed to have touched and transformed everything around me. The institution appeared quite different ….. Just a minute before it had seemed as if there was nothing for me to do; now what a world of untried work lay before me, and what large and noble possibilities seemed to open out for me! I would now throw aside the fetters that bound me and be independent.

“I had chafed under the restraints and the ties which formed the common lot of women, and I longed for an opportunity to show that a woman is in no way inferior to a man. How hard it seemed to my mind that marriage should be the goal of woman’s ambition, and that she should spend her days in the light trifles of a home life, live to dress, to look pretty, and never know the joy of independence and intellectual work!

“So, like a slave whose freedom had just been purchased, I was happy, deliriously happy.”

She certainly did not feel, however, that she had to give up her own culture. She indignantly rejected a young Indian man, who after studying in England, felt the only way forward for Indians was to become completely Westernised.

And for Krupabai there was obviously a deep sense of relief when she lodged with the Rev W S Satthianadhan and his wife Anna. Satthianadhan met her at Madras station when she travelled there to become the first Indian woman to study medicine at Madras University. She immediately recognised a father-figure in him.

As Saguna she wrote: “The gentleman’s wife – a soft, smiling, impressionable lady – embraced me, as I had been her own child.”

In the Satthianadhan’s son, Samuel, Krupabai found a young man who, despite his British university education, was happy to be an Indian. He also encouraged her to find intellectual fulfilment. Ill health stopped her from furthering her career in medicine but not from writing – and with Saguna she became the first Indian woman to write a novel in English. Their happy marriage was cut short by her early death in 1894.

Sadly today in India millions of women are illiterate. It is estimated that two thirds of the world’s 880 million illiterate adults are women4. The Western missionaries who pioneered girls’ schools in India, China and also in Africa, showed that, despite their cultural disorientation, education was vitally important in the empowerment of women. And the same could be said for the middle class teachers at my mum’s school in Northfleet.

It is also sad that today many children in England today don’t make the best of the formal education on offer to them. Peer-pressure can certainly play a part in that as can parents. My mum was warned that we might move away  – and we did. Others may fear that their children will have aspirations “above their situation” and so look down on them.  As Krupabai showed in Saguna it helps so much if someone in the family encourages a child to learn.


1. Saguna: A Story of Native Christian Life, edited by Chandani Lokugé, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1998, pages 21, 24,25,131, 147, 152,153.

2. In this century an estimated 51 million adolescent girls aged between 15 and 19 in the developing world are married according to Sanyukta Mathur, Jeffrey Edmeades, Sreela Das Gupta, Anju Malhotra and Dipankar Bhattacharya in their paper: “The Tie That Binds – Early Marriage and Women’s Empowerment in Two Indian States”.


3. Malhotra, Anju and Mark Mather, 1997 “Do Schooling and Work Empower Women in Developing Countries? Gender and Domestic Decisions in Sri Lanka”, Sociological Forum 12 (4): 599-630.

4. :

Girls are more than 70 per cent of the 125 million children in the world who don’t have a school to attend. “Social traditions and deep-rooted religious and cultural belies are most often the barriers to expanding girls’ educational opportunities in undeveloped countries around the world.”

United Nations Foundation : “Girls are bright, talented and full of potential. But too many girls growing up in developing countries never get the chance to live their dreams because they can’t go to school, see a doctor or stay safe from  harm.”

See also

Schooling in Peshawar in the 1950s

Writer and broadcaster, Safia Haleem, shares this story about attending a girls’ school in Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan in the 1950s.


It was 1956 and probably the end of March that my father took me on his bicycle through the narrow streets of Peshawar. I don’t remember whether my parents prepared me for that day or not but I was quite excited to enter a world where my older brother and sister went every day. The word school was a familiar one but still carried a mystery and was associated with the modern world.

The street of the school was familiar to me because I used to pass through these narrow lanes with my maternal grandmother. She went for fabric, silk and wool for knitting as my mother always knitted us beautiful things in winter.

The school was known as “Jogiwarra” which was the name of that street. Jogi in Hindi means a “hermit” and it seems that part of the city was a forest hundreds of years ago as jogis lived under trees. Peshawar is the oldest living city in Asia with a history of over 2000 years. Nobody knows the name of the hermit but we still have very ancient Peepal trees in the old bazaar of city and the ruins of a Buddhist Stupa from the time of King Kanishka were excavated in the beginning of the 20th Century.Our school building was an old temple probably Buddhist, with rooms around a big courtyard which had huge Peepal trees.

I remember vaguely, standing in a courtyard looking around and then found myself in a huge room with many girls of my own age. A lady with red lipstick asked my name and wrote it in a register.

There was a water tank with tap under the spiralling stairs and that spiral went up to the second and third floors. The very top of the building had a bricked courtyard with beautiful facade in the shape of Lotus flower petals. In one corner of that courtyard were the toilets.

It was a primary school for girls only and all the rooms were occupied by the senior classes. The youngest group of children was literally treated as the lowest of the low. Therefore, we had to sit in the courtyard and not in a room.

Looking back it seems so unfair, but at that time we loved to sit on the jute mats spread on the brick floor. During the hot weather, it was bliss to feel the cool floor underneath. There were several open air classes in that courtyard and plenty of view.

All the teachers wore beautiful clothes and high heels.There was a room for the headmistress and near its door, a round copper disc was hanging. We could see that an attendant would come and hit the disc with a wooden hammer. After a few days, I loved the sound of this “bell” as it announced the end of a lesson.

We sat in front of a wooden blackboard placed on a tripod stand. There was a cane chair for the teacher who brought a piece of chalk and a foot long ruler, which was known as “foot”. I don’t remember many things about my lessons, but loved to play hide and seek with a group of girls in that building.

Every class had their own teacher and my teacher was “Susan” – the same lady who wrote my name. She was a Christian but I didn’t know that. She looked like other teachers and always wore red lipstick which I loved. We called them, Apajee, which was a title of respect for an elder sister.

My mother tongue was Pashto but living in the city, I had learnt the local dialect as well which was spoken by most teachers. We were taught in Urdu which was the language of the books. Sometimes, I did not understand what was being taught but there were clever girls who knew everything and they helped.

Each girl had a flat piece of wood known as “Takhti“, a reed pen, inkwell, and a book with alphabet. The teacher wrote with white chalk on the blackboard and we learnt the sounds of the alphabet. Then we wrote on the takhti with the reed pen and black ink which the teacher checked. I made a lot of mess with black ink on my hands, clothes and even my face, but learnt quickly how to drain my pen in the inkwell which had a small piece of cloth.

At some point during the day, we were allowed to go and wash our takhti in the water tank. There would be some green clay known as “gachi” which we rubbed on the damp takhti like soap and made it smooth with hand. Later we would air dry these planks to be ready for the next round of writing. The clay absorbed the ink and it also covered the old ink markings.

There were a number of women attendants known to us as “Amma” (aunt) who escorted us after school and each one of them had a group of girls under their supervision. Every day, when the bell rang in the afternoon we would wait for our “Amma” near the gate and walk with her like chicks around a mother hen. Some girls who were slow or day dreamers like me, would be asked to walk in front so that she could keep an eye on us. She had her own system of taking us through the streets. Some days, she would take a long route and at others she would go the shortest.

After a few weeks, I started going to school with a group of other children from the neighborhood. But, coming home was always with my “Amma” because I loved listening to her stories. She was a very good story teller and although I knew the way to my house, I still followed her.

In the winter months, all the lowest classes were held in the big hall which was used for assembly. The only partition between the three sections was the black board and the teacher’s chair. The jute mats were known as “Taat” which were five to six meters long and a meter wide. They were spread in rows and one row would have seven or eight girls. Those who sat in the front were considered clever and sometimes when they decided to be mean, the last girl would be literally on the cement floor. But the teachers would know and did not allow anyone to have more than their fair share of the space on a mat.

The Taats would be dusted, folded and kept in one corner at the end of the day. It was done by the attendants, after which a woman would come and start sweeping the cemented floor. In the morning, before the assembly, the girls would bring the mats back to the allocated space and spread them in rows. Everyone had their turn and it became a responsibility for us from an early age.

I always sat with my friend behind me except when we fought. If that occurred at the end of the day, either she or I would decide to sit in another row. But it was an unpleasant experience because the girl, whose space was taken, would fight back.

When I passed my first grade, I had a slate added to my three school books. We used the slate for adding numbers and doing sums. It was better than the wooden takhti as it was easy to clean.

The real sponge was rare and only a few girls had pieces to clean their slates. Others would use a dampened cotton piece, sewn with a string and attached to the wooden frame of the slate. Those of us who did not have a sponge or a damp cloth…did the most disgusting things children would do…spat on slates and rubbed with hands while the teachers would scold us if they found out.

We did not have uniform in our school and I wore my sister’s hand-me-downs, my brother’s trousers and even my silk frocks with spangles on. Some girls were always smartly dressed and we knew that they were rich. Others did not have woollen jumpers in severe winter months but they managed somehow.

One day we were all assembled in the courtyard and the headmistress announced that we need to wear specific dress to school every day. It was cotton, sky blue frock and shalwar with white scarf or dupatta. One little girl modelled it for us and I did not like it at all. This was our uniform for the next four years and then in 5th class we started wearing white shalwar with blue frocks. In winter we had bottle green woollen jumpers and later they restricted us to tie our hair with white ribbons only.

Thousands of girls go to school in Peshawar now but they don’t use the learning devices as we did.

© Safia Haleem

Writer and Broadcaster

On the theme of girl’ education the article The Queen in Swat on her website is especially interesting.

Anna Satthianadhan: her schools and her legacy

Both Anna Satthianadhan and her husband, the Rev W T Satthianadhan,  were honoured when they were presented to Queen Victoria in 1878  – Anna for her work in female education and her husband for pioneering self supporting and self governing churches in South India. By then Anna had proved that her old mentor, Caroline Cuffley Giberne, had been wrong to believe that Indian female teachers would require European supervision to be successful.

At the CMS anniversary meetings in 1878 it was reported  that Anna’s husband was in charge of an important pastorate in Madras (Chennai). This was at Chintadripet which he renamed the Zion Church1. He went on to take charge of the Southern Pastorate in Madras as well as becoming the chairman of the Madras Native Church Council2.

Anna in 1878 was superintending six schools in four different suburbs of Madras with a total of 430 students. Four of these schools were for higher caste Hindu girls and the other two for those from “poorer classes”. In addition she was supervising the classes for 106 young women from upper class Hindu families (including Brahmins) in 56 zenanas. She was supported in this by the  Church Missionary Society (CMS),  the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE) and the Hindu Female Instruction Society. Lord Shaftesbury signed the Bible which he presented to her on behalf of the SPFEE as a memorial to her first visit to England3.

From Miss Giberne Anna had learnt not only how to write well in English but also how to run a good school. And Miss Giberne was one of her role models in how to live a deeply committed Christian life sustained by a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Her other role models were her parents, the Rev John Devasagayam and Muthammal, and her  husband. Unlike her he had been forced to decide between his family or Jesus. Below:Miss Giberne’s sketch of Anna when she was 11-years-old.


At the CMS anniversary meetings3 he described how, when he was 14-years-old, his high-caste father had sent him to the mission school at Palayamkottai  to learn English.

But the main study book was the Bible. This made him angry and one day he instigated a rebellion, and told the teacher that if this did not stop they would leave. The teacher, a blind man called William Cruikshank4, called their bluff by stating: “You may all leave the school but give up the Bible I never will.”

So Satthianadhan continued studying there for another three years and recounted: “In the meantime the teacher paid particular attention to the inculcation of Scripture truths and applied them to the hearts and consciences of his students in such a way that they were much impressed by them.” He said that under this admirable teacher the “folly of heathenism” and the “truth of Christianity” dawned upon him.

He knew that to convert to Christianity would mean social alienation from his home and his community but finally he made that decision. The conversion of a higher-caste youth created a sensation in the district and emptied the mission school. He became an object of persecution and was dragged before two magistrates, European and Indian. But he was determined to continue as a Christian and was baptised with the names of William Thomas in 1847.

He began training for the Anglican ministry and worked with the Rev Devasagayam. He married Anna in 1849 and by 1855, when  he went to Doveton College in Madras  to complete his studies, they had two daughters, Joanna and Catherine (Kate).  After two years of study he gained a gold medal for his examination results. The CMS then sent him to join an evangelistic itinerancy team in North Tirunelveli where the couple became very involved with a Pentecostal revival among schoolgirls in mission schools5.

In June 1859 he wrote to Miss Giberne at Kadatchapuram to share the special news that not only had his first son (John) been born but that his youngest brother had become a Christian3.

After Miss Giberne had retired to England  Anna wrote to her (in May 1863): “You will be surprized to hear that we are now in Madras. Although we did not like to leave our dear people at North Tinnevelly (Tirunelveli) yet we could not but submit to the leadings of Providence.” Her husband, who had been ordained as an Anglican priest in December 1862, had been assigned to care for two churches – one at John Pereira’s (Trinity Chapel), and that at Chintadripet. Once in Chennai his wife began a small school for higher caste girls3.

This was something she could do as she came from a higher caste family herself unlike the majority of Indian Christians. Even foreign women did not have easy access to higher caste women. Irene Barnes wrote in 1897:  “If a missionary should come in, she would take a look round at the door of the courtyard, and should the ladies be engaged in any occupation connected with the meals of the household she would go to another house, knowing her presence would be unwelcome, as the touch or shadow of a Christian would make the Hindu woman ceremonially unclean, and would necessitate a bath and washing of her sari before she could take her food.”6

Satthianadhan fervently supported  his wife and obviously encouraged her to follow the same pattern of education as his mentor, William Cruikshank. For the curriculum included reciting texts from the Bible from memory as well as Scripture history, reading, Indian geography, and studying the works of an Indian minor poet, Attihicudi.

In a printed leaflet to advertise her school it was stated: “All these girls began their alphabet here, and the little knowledge of these elementary subjects, they owe entirely to this school. They all belong to the middle classes, chiefly dealers and merchants, who form the bulk of the population in this part of Black Town.”

The girls were especially keen to learn needlework which they did each afternoon. Anna told Miss Giberne: “My object in opening this school is two -fold not merely that I may have a few caste girls under instruction but more especially that I may eventually attempt what is called zenana visitation. I hope that by God’s blessing on our labour I may have access to the homes of these little girls. Some of their female relatives already visit me and I am endeavouring by every means to gain their confidence. … It is my earnest prayer that the school will prosper and become fruitful. This is perhaps the first school for caste girls in connexion with our Society in South India and I heartily wish that it would not prove a failure.”

And her husband wrote: “I hope you will try to interest some of your good friends (in) my wife’s work here. It is a very important one. She is willing to devote her time and talents to God’s work and what she needs is pecuniary aid.”

Years later he reported: “There were no zenana missionaries, and her work was exceedingly difficult. ‘What caste are you?” – the Christians being always considered pariahs, and of the lowest caste. Mrs Satthianadhan being of good caste was welcomed, and by degrees was able to introduce first a little book written by herself called The Good Mother, on the management of children, and then other books, thus leading on to the Bible. In the first year only three families were visited.”

In The Good Mother Anna wrote: “The greatest blessing is that children sit at the feet of Jesus Christ, gain education and lead a life worthy of everyone. Instead of making them wealthy it is better to make them wise. Because the power of wisdom is the greatest thing to achieve.”  She argued for a good loving balance between discipline and allowing too much liberty and warned parents that children learnt more by observation than by listening.7

The Satthianadhan’s were very aware how much they depended upon the support of foreigners to keep the school going in those early days. Besides the funding they received from the CMS and via the Rev John Tucker, there were also donations sent by Miss Giberne and her friends which paid for presents for the pupils. Anna commented in 1886: “When (my) private school.. was first started, the pupils had to be induced to attend school regularly by means of small presents. Later, on when the system of school fees was introduced, and in some measure enforced, disastrous results followed, in the withdrawal of many children and few fresh admissions.”8

She also stated: “About thirty years ago the subject of Female Education was one which evoked little or no sympathy on the part of the native community at large. Indeed it could hardly have been introduced even into advanced circles without hostile criticism or incisive sarcasm.” The income from fees at her six schools had risen from Rs 10 in 1870 when they were first levied to Rs 721. In addition there was a total of Rs 1,653 in grants from the government as 173 pupils had passed the government examinations. This compared to Rs 680 received in 1876, the first year in which her schools were placed under government inspection.8

From 1876 they had to follow the government curriculum which included reading, writing, arithmetic, poetry, grammar, geography and needlework8. But to her and her husband one of the main subjects had to be the Christian Scriptures. She stated:

“Few will deny that education without the wholesome restraints of revealed religion, especially at a period when atheism and infidelity, the product of the so-called modern philosophy and free thought , are so rampant, must be fraught with danger. ‘Knowledge is power’, but if imparted without a religious basis, or the recognition of the Supreme Being and human responsibility, it is likely to do more harm than good. The development of intellect, the formation of character, the training of the mind for the duties of life, and the attainment of the high end for which humanity has been destined, all seem to hinge upon the combination of education with religion. Our aim is therefore to place the historical facts and elementary truths of Scripture before the minds of the young, so that they may have opportunities of comparing them with their own religion, and when they attain to years of maturity to follow whatever their conscience and reason may dictate as right.”9

The missionaries and Mrs Satthianadhan were so successful in altering attitudes towards female education in India that by the 1880s they were facing strong  competition from Westerners and Indians who were starting girls schools and zenana classes with secular curriculums.

Anna trained Biblewomen so that they could visit zenanas to teach in Tamil, Telugu and English and explained: “With the elementary instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic and needlework the study of God’s Word is invariably combined,”10 By the 1880s all of the female teachers in her schools had been trained in the Normal (teacher training) Class at one of them.  But earlier she had employed both Christians and non-Christians, including a Muslim woman.  She was also assisted by her daughters especially Kate (Mrs Hensman) and Annie (who married the Rev W.D.Clarke).

Some Hindus were converted but certainly not as many as the Satthianadhans would have wished. But many Indian women, including those hidden inside zenanas, benefitted significantly by this access to education – none more so than widows. Many were left virtually destitute and as social outcasts after their husbands died because it was believed (as even now11) that they were responsible for those deaths.  In 1890 a Hindu woman visited Anna and told her: “Years ago, you may remember seeing me as a little girl…and asking my mother to send me to some Mission School close by. My mother took up the idea at once, and sent me to the London Mission School.” She later became the headmistress of a Hindu girls’ school.  This meant that when her husband died leaving her with two young children she could continue to earn a living. But she wanted to escape the social death of Hindu widowhood by becoming a Christian12.

It is probably from two of Anna’s daughters-in-law that a clearer picture can be gained of Anna’s legacy and that of Miss Giberne.

When the Satthianadhan’s second son, Samuel, returned from England in 1881, with an honours degree from Cambridge University13,  he was fascinated by a young woman who was boarding with his parents. She was Krupabai, the brilliant daughter of Haripunt Khisty (a Brahmin convert) and was the first woman to study medicine at Madras Medical College.  She had written: “I had chafed under the restraints and the ties which formed the common lot of women… How hard it seemed to my mind that marriage should be the goal of woman’s ambition, and that she should spend her days in the light trifles of a home life; live to dress, to look pretty, and never know the joy of independence and intellectual work. The thought had been galling. It made me avoid men.”14

But in Anna’s son she found a man who would encourage her to achieve intellectual fulfilment. Ill health having stopped  her completing her studies she married Samuel and went with him to Ootacamund where he was the headmaster of a school. She became involved in female education and set up a small school for Muslim girls.15 Despite often being ill she wrote poems, travelogues, prose and two novels. Saguna (serialised 1887 and 1888 in the Madras Christian College Magazine) was the first autobiographical novel in  English to be written by an Indian woman. She completed her second novel Kamala after being diagnosed with incurable tuberculosis.

Krupabai grew up in a family where her father and eldest brother were committed Christians but her mother, although a convert, remained very much a Hindu. And so in Kamala Krupabai was able to describe graphically from the viewpoint of a Hindu how a child-bride suffered in a home dominated by her mother-in-law.  She wrote: “What man with any self-respect would make much of his wife, give her learning, and raise her up to his own level?  The wife, as the saying went, was the ‘cat under the plate’, the slave of the family and of her lord.” And added later: “She was his wife, his property, and he felt that there was no need for him to exert himself to draw her nearer to himself.” 16 In Krupabai’s story Kamala chose after her husband died to remain a Hindu and became involved in charitable work.

Eleanor Jackson has noted that  it is possible to see Kamala as a Dickens type exposure of social conditions, an indictment of Brahmanical culture and caste and a lament for unfulfilled lives17. Others may find Krupabai’s book too close to Christian missionary narratives in the 19th century which had helped to motivate people like Miss Giberne. The SPFEE for instance stated in the 1830s and 1840s that the condition of women in India, China and Africa was that of extreme degradation and wretchedness and added that a wife in such places “is cut off from all the sweet endearments of family intercourse, put down from her proper position as the friend, the counsellor, and the comforter of man, to a situation the most abject and humiliating: her treatment is the most cruel and revolting, and her mind, excluded from all intellectual enjoyment and all that is consoling and elevating, is left to sink into the utmost depths of sin and misery.” 18

It was not surprising that Queen Victoria and many missionary agencies in Britain were so encouraged and inspired by the Satthiandhans for they would have epitomised the empowerment that the Christian gospel and education could bring. Queen Victoria, after receiving a copy of Saguna, asked to be sent any other books that Krupabai had written19.

Krupabai died, aged 32, in 189420, four years after her beloved mother-in-law, and two years after the death of her father-in-law. A few years later Samuel fell in love with and married another well-educated young woman –  the first woman in South India to complete her graduation  (from Presidency College in Madras, 1898). According to Subbiah Muthiah she was Hannah Ratnam Krishnamma but Samuel called her Kamala.  She too was a writer and in July 1901 founded India’s first women’s monthly periodical called The Indian Ladies Magazine.21

In her first editorial  she wrote: “The main object of the magazine will be to help advance the cause of the women of India… The main influences that are at work in this land, have not appreciably affected the women, the men having benefitted more largely than the women in the matter of education and social development. If the people of India are to advance, they should realise that: ‘the woman’s cause is man’s; they rise or sink together.’”22

A fitting epitaph to the work of not only Anna Satthianadhan but also Caroline Giberne’s!

©P Land November 2013

Below: A photo from Miss Giberne’s album which is undated. Miss Giberne simply stated that it was of the Rev Satthianadhan, his wife and son. She added that his wife, Anna, was the daughter of the Rev John Devasagayam commonly called “Mr John”.


WAS YOUR FAMILY IN CONTACT WITH BRITISH CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IN THE 19TH CENTURY? If so why would you like any research done concerning those missionaries: when and how they reached your family’s home town, what they did there and maybe even if they had contact with your ancestors? If so post a comment on this website.

Sources and notes:

1. The Rev W T Satthianadhan (1830-1892) pastored the Zion church for 30 years, followed by his son-in-law the Rev W D Clarke, and then his grandson, the Rev Samuel Thomas Satthianadhan Clarke. This led to three generations of the family serving that church for 81 years up to 1944. The Rev S T S Clarke’s son ministered there in the early 1970s and then from 1974 to 1989 was the Rt Rev Dr Sundar Clarke, Bishop of Madras. Samuel Satthianadhan (1860-1906) became Chair of Logic and Moral Philosophy at Presidency College, Madras. Through Anna Satthianadhan (1832-1890) the family is descended from the first protestant Indian pastor, the Rev S Aaron, who was ordained in December 1733 by the Lutheran missionary Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg.  Most of this information is from S Mutthiah’s Madras Miscellany  2002.

2. CMS Register of Missionaries and Native Clergy 1804-1904.  In 1884 Satthianadhan was elected Fellow of University of Madras and in 1885 received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

3. Throughout this post there are references to and information from newspaper cuttings and letters kept by Caroline C Giberne in her Album, which is in the Special Collection at the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham. The sketch of Anna at 11-years-old and the photograph of her with her husband and a son are from that album, and the rights belong to the Cadbury Research Library Special Collection.

4. For more about William Cruickshank see

5. Eleanor Jackson, Caste, Culture and Conversion from the Perspective of an Indian Christian Family based in Madras 1863 – 1906,,CultureandConversion.htm 1999

6. Irene H Barnes, Behind the Pardah: the story of C.E.Z.M.S in India,  Thomas Y Crowell & Co, 1897, p 46. See

7. Eunice de Souza The Satthianadhan Family Album, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2005, p85.

8. India’s Women, CMS 1886, pp 241-4, at the Cadbury Research Library Special Collection, University of Birmingham.

9. India’s Women, 1881, p 235

10. India’s Women,  1889,n p 257

11. See


12. India’s Women,  1890, pp 334-335

13. Mrs H B Griggs memoir (p xviii) in the 1894 edition of Kamala by Krupabai Satthianadhan, published by Srinivasa, Varadachari & Co, Madras.

14. Article in The Hindu by Anusha Parthasarathy, September 21, 2013

15. Mrs Griggs, pp xix-xx

16. Kamala,  pp80 and 119.

17. E Jackson

18. History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, Edward Suter, London, 1847, p3

19. Mrs Griggs, p i

20. In her memory the Krupabai Satthianadhan Medical Scholarship was set up at Madras Medical College, plus a memorial medal at the University of Madras for the best female Matriculation candidate in English.   Krupabai Satthianadhan was born in 1862, the 13th child of Haripunt and Radhabai Khisty.

21. S Muthiah – articles for The Hindu including “When the Postman knocked”, updated October 2012

22. S Muthiah, Madras Miscellany February 2002

S India’s first female teacher training institute

The album and journal of Caroline Cuffley Giberne (1803-1885) provides a fascinating insight into the development of female education in South India. She was the first to train South Indian women as teachers and one of those who graduated from her school in Kadatchapuram, near Palayamkottai in Tamil Nadu in the 1840s, was Mrs Anna Satthianadhan (daughter of the Rev John Devasagayam), who went on to set up several schools herself. Miss Giberne’s journal contains some of her often haunting sketches of her first students – like that of Anbye Lydia (below) who died just a few years after joining her school.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Miss Giberne would have watched girls like Anbye Lydia while sitting on her verandah in the cool of the evening and wondered whether she could make a success of that small rural teacher training school in Tirunelveli (Tinnevelly) District. In 1845 she certainly could not have imagined that one of her “undisciplined” school girls would ever have the honour of being introduced to Queen Victoria!


She was far from impressed with her first group of students even though she had selected them herself. The objective of the Normal School she had set up in 1843 was to train female Indian teachers1 but to her it was more like a dame school in England than a good “lady’s establishment”.

In her journal2 in April 1845 she wrote: “There is something about them which I do not like. They are close and not at all open characters but remind me of common English schoolgirls, whispering together, while before me they are as silent as possible. This is my present interpretation of them, but they may improve.” She added that the girls were not used to submitting to the will of others and so were rather unruly. “In time they will I hope be in good order.”

One of the biggest problems was that the girls had only ever learned by rote. “They cannot think!” she complained.

To add to her problems the Indian parents, even the Christians, were very wary about sending their daughters to a boarding school which was not within easy walking distance from their homes. And few were convinced about the need to educate their girls.

In the late 18th century the first Christian missionaries to South India, like the Rev Christian F Schwartz3  had encouraged the Christian converts to open schools for boys. Martha Mault is accredited with opening the first boarding school for girls in 18214. Her husband, Charles, was sent to Nagercoil in what is now Tamil Nadu State by the London Missionary Society and it was there that his wife began the family’s involvement with female education in India.

Other missionary wives followed her example including those associated with the Church Missionary Society (CMS). It was at Palayamkottai near Tirunelveli in 1836  that the wife of CMS missionary, the Rev Charles Blackman, gained her first experience of teaching Indian girls. When they moved about 30 kilometres south east to Sathankulam Mrs Blackman decided to experiment with day schools and the first was at Kadatchapuram in September 18375. This was one of the earliest villages created by the Native Philanthropic Society as refuges from violence and persecution for those who had been converted to Christianity6.

At Kadatchapuram Mrs Blackman was able to employ a school master and a school mistress. The latter was a married woman whose father, a Christian Catechist, was undaunted by the prejudice against female education and had allowed his daughter to attend a boys’ school5.

The Blackmans left India in December 1841 and some of the school mistresses wrote to remind her how parents and others had long resisted the idea of female education stating that “it is not good or proper for girls to learn to read.” The school mistresses added: “Thus for a long time they kept up the bad practice of thinking meanly of us, the female sex, and reared us like young wild beasts.”7

The Rev John Devasagayam and his wife took over the supervision of the girls’ schools started by Mrs Blackman8 and had encouraged the formation of the Normal School. The Rev Devasagayam came from a Christian family and had studied with the Rev Schwartz. He was the second Indian to be ordained as an Anglican minister and the first national to become a Church Missionary (CMS) district missionary9.

Miss Giberne’s first home in Kadatchapuram was a “native” bungalow owned by the Rev Devasagayam and his wife. They sent their own daughter, Annal Arokiam (“child of grace”) to the new Normal School and to Miss Giberne she became Anna. (Below – in the centre is the bungalow built for Miss Giberne at Kadatchapuram.)


Through the support of the Rev Devasagayam Miss Giberne had finally been able to fulfil her calling. She was 35-years-old when she arrived in Sir Lanka (Ceylon) in 1838 believing that she was about to begin what she saw as her life’s work overseas. That had only been possible thanks to the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE) and its pioneering attitude towards single women. But the SPFEE had the policy that its agents should become self-supporting as quickly as possible by superintending fee paying boarding schools.

For Miss Giberne this meant supervising a school for Eurasian Burgher girls. These belonged to an economically and socially upwardly mobile group which valued an English education as a means of being accepted by the British colonial administration. Miss Giberne later lamented: “I had been greatly disappointed in Ceylon, at having seen so little of missionary operations.”

It was very unusual at that time for a single woman who did not have a father or a brother on the mission field to be employed by a missionary society but Miss Giberne was recruited by the CMS and moved to Tamil Nadu. She commented: “I arrived in South India with all the joyful anticipation with which I had left home more than four years before – and my expectations were not in the least disappointed.” After studying Tamil at Palayamkottai she went to Kadatchapuram where she chose 12 pupils, aged from six to 16 years, from the local day school. They slept on her verandah until the new school was built.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Her first senior school mistress was Nulla Mootoo (right)who had been a pupil at a school founded by Mrs Blackman. Nulla Mootoo moved to another village in 1847 and was replaced by Annamy. The latter had begged to attend the boarding school in 1845, was married in 1846, and took over as head teacher at the Normal School in December 1847. “She is a tolerable teacher but would be much more efficient had she been accustomed to discipline in her youth,” commented Miss Giberne.

She also wrote: “No one must imagine that our Indian women have attained anything in mental or moral requirements to be compared with Europeans, indeed it will be many years before they become such as we could wish, because our female teachers are few in number and have not yet arrived at that degree of perfection that is absolutely necessary for teaching the young.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first girl she trained to become a teacher was probably Sarah (left), who was 15-years-old when she joined the Normal School. Sarah got off to a bad start because her mother insisted that she should return home soon afterwards. Sarah, however, was so determined to attend school that she went on hunger strike until she was allowed to return. Miss Giberne took her back on the condition that she was not again “interfered with”.

But after a few months her mother again wanted to remove her from the school as the family planned to marry her to a young merchant. Miss Giberne reported: “As he was not well educated, I persuaded her to leave her daughter at the school and the young man to go and study (with) a missionary. As soon as she (Sarah) was prepared to teach I gave her a class of very young children and thus laid the foundation of an infant school.”


When Sarah did get married in July 1847 the couple were provided with a house next to the school.

Miss Giberne’s school was probably not so different to those started by Mrs Blackman, and it was also supported by the fund raising efforts of Sarah Tucker. Miss Tucker’s brother, the Rev John Tucker, was a CMS missionary in South India from 1833 to 1847. He started a girls’ school in 1845 and his sister, although disabled, became a firm supporter of such schools10.

In her book South India Missionary Sketches Miss Tucker described the rooms as being spacious and lofty with no chimneys and no glass in the windows. There were just mats on the floor which she said gave at first a cheerless and unfurnished appearance. She added: “These things are, however, well suited to the climate; and so are the wide verandahs round the house, into which the rooms all open, and the outside blinds, called tats, made of the sweet-scented cuscus grass, which during the hot winds are placed against the verandah or the window, and having water constantly thrown upon them from without, cool and perfume the wind as it passes through11.” (Below: Miss Giberne’s sketch of a school master teaching older girls while the younger ones practised their writing on sand covered boards.)


Miss Tucker was fascinated by the way that Tamils wrote at that time and stated: “You would wonder to see them write their copies, for, instead of paper, they have each of them an olei, or long strip of the Palmyra leaf, about an inch and a half broad, and one or two feet long. This they hold in the left hand, and in their right, instead of pen and ink, they grasp a style, or sharp iron instrument, which they rest against a notch in the left thumb nail, and with it scratch the words on the leaf. They afterwards rub it over with powdered charcoal, or the leaf of some particular plant, which, sinking into the scratches, makes the letters black or green.”

She said that school books were made the same way except that the strips were shorter and all cut to the same length and breadth. “They are kept together by a string fastened to a shell, which is long enough to allow the leaves to be sufficiently separated to be read, and when they are not in use, is twisted round them. Sometimes the outside leaves are ornamented with various devices, and when nicely executed, the whole is remarkably neat and pretty12.”

Miss Giberne wanted the girls at her school to have copies of the Tamil Prayer Book but found it was too expensive to buy them. Instead the girls made copies on Palmyra leaves. Below: An illustration of writing on Palmyra leaf (olei) from Sarah Tucker’s book; An example of this form of writing kept by Miss Giberne in her album; and her sketch of one of the teachers with a copy of the Tamil Prayer Book.  




In 1847 she wrote in her journal: “When I look back a few years, to the time when the Normal School was first established and recollect the unruly girls of 15 or 16 years of age, whom I had then to break in, and see around me now, well-behaved girls of the same age, setting the younger ones an example of neatness, obedience, diligence, and order to which their teachers have scarcely attained, I am both surprised and thankful and can only say ‘What hath God wrought’.”

And when the infants were examined that December it was reported: “many …appeared to be sharp, intelligent children and answered very nicely. There cannot be a doubt as to the feasibility of establishing infant schools among our Christian people in Tinnevelly… provided we had a sufficient number of native teachers working under European supervision.”  It was also noted that Miss Giberne had laid the foundation for a greatly improved system of female education at her Normal School.

In June 1848, when there were 26 in the Normal School and  35 in the infant section, Miss Giberne was advised by a doctor to go to England for a rest. She returned to India in late 1852 to spend another ten years in Kadatchapuram.

Four years before she finally retired to England the Sarah Tucker Training School for Women was opened in Palayamkottai. One of Miss Giberne’s pupils, Thungamuthus went on to become both a matron and a school mistress at that school. In a letter in 1884 Thungamuthus recalled  how Miss Giberne had come to her village in 1843 and asked her father, the CMS Catechist Gnanamuttu, if he would send both her and her sister to the new school. By 1884 she was a mother and a grandmother and yet she finished her letter to Miss Giberne by stating “I remain, Respected and dear mother, your most obedient daughter.”

Miss Giberne carefully kept other letters from her graduates including those from Anna and her husband, the Rev W T Satthianadhan. In one of his letters he referred to Miss Giberne as “my mother in Christ”.

The Satthianadhans obviously forged a deep and long lasting friendship with Miss Giberne during her last ten years at Kadatchapuram. And Anna would go on to prove, with her husband’s support, that Indian teachers did not always need European supervision. Her school work in Chennai (Madras) alongside her husband’s ministry was so successful that in 1878 they were presented to Queen Victoria. How that came about I will explain in the next post. (Below: Miss Giberne with some of her students.)

©P Land November 2013


WAS YOUR FAMILY IN CONTACT WITH BRITISH CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IN THE 19TH CENTURY? If so why would you like any research done concerning those missionaries: when and how they reached your family’s home town, what they did there and maybe even if they had contact with your ancestors? If so post a comment on this website.


1. On its website ( St john the Baptist church at Kadatchapuram states that “Miss Kibern” established the first Teacher Training Institute for girls in 1843. The term Normal School for the system of training elementary-school teachers comes from école normale in the 16th century in France. The objective of these schools (and that of Miss Giberne) was to teach model teaching practices, with the teachers in the same building as the students (Wikipedia).

2. With many thanks to the staff at the Cadbury Research Library Special Collection, University of Birmingham, for their assistance, and for access to the journal and album of Caroline Cuffley Giberne. These with the letters she kept with them were presented to Selly Oak Colleges library in 1950 by Miss Giberne’s great niece, Helen Neave, and were subsequently deposited in the Cadbury Research Library Special Collection. All the illustrations reproduced here are from Miss Giberne’s album and the rights are held by the Cadbury Research Library Special Collection.

3. Christian Friedrich Schwartz (1726-1798), Lutheran missionary who was in South India from 1750 until  his death in 1798.

4. Martha (nee Mead, 1794-1870) and Charles Mault (1791-1858) in South India – see David Gore’s post  at

5. Sarah Tucker, South India Missionary Sketches, James Nisbet and Co, London, 1848 (3rd edition)  Vol II pp134,145.

6. Ibid Vol II p90  See also  Dyron B Daughrity, A Brief History of Missions in Tirunelveli, International Association of Mission Studies, Port Dickson, Malaysia, 2004, p72

7. Ibid  Vol II p147

8. Ibid  Vol II p149

9. CMS Missionary Register List III, Native Clergy, no 2, died at Kadachapuram in January 1864, aged 78. Ordained as a deacon in 1830 and as a priest in 1836;  See also ; and  Eugene Stock, Beginnings in India, Central Board of Missions and SPCK, London, 1917 – Project Canterbury ://

10. Rev John Tucker (d 1873);  and see the School page on Concerning Sarah Tucker see  and Daughrity  p81, footnote 79. For the development of mission schools and colleges in Palayamkottai see Daughrity p 75.  On the Sarah Tucker College website it states that it “holds pride of place as the first college for women in South India”.  According to Wikipedia Palayamkottai is known as the “Oxford of south India” and most of the schools were founded by Christian missionaries in the 19th century.

11. South India Missionary Sketches, Vol I p9

12. South India Missionary Sketches , Vol 1 pp76-77, including illustration of olei.

Mary Ann Aldersey’s Mission

From 1858 many women in Britain were inspired by Mary Ann Aldersey’s letters which were published in the Female Missionary Intelligencer, the newsletter of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE). She was over 60-years-old and yet still proving that a woman could achieve so much more than was usually expected of the “fairer sex”. Those letters told the stories of Asan, San Avong and the blind woman who was the first Chinese female missionary to be sent to China by a Western Christian agency – Agnes Gutzlaff.

Asan’s Story:

Miss Aldersey “adopted” Asan into her family soon after she arrived in China. As she grew up Asan deeply resented having to conform to English customs such as allowing her feet to grow to their natural size. In Ningbo at that time all girls in wealthier families had their feet broken and bound when they were two- or three-years-old in order to create “three-inch golden lilies”.

This custom had continued in China for over 1,000 years. To produce such “beautiful” feet a girl’s mother would bend all the toes except the big one under the sole of the foot. The arch of the foot would then be crushed by binding a large stone on top of it. The mother would endure her daughter’s screams because she knew how ashamed the girl would be years later if she was rejected on her wedding day by her mother-in-law for having feet longer than four inches.

For years Asan remained aloof and rebellious, meeting all attempts to convert her to Christianity with determined indifference. Miss Aldersey wrote: “Although she had a very superior mind, and could read Chinese and English well, she sometimes asked ‘What is the use of adding to our stock of knowledge?’“ But then in 1851 Asan was converted and changed considerably. Miss Aldersey described her as a clever girl with great powers of managing the school children, even if there was no teacher there.

Zia-Leang-Sang had helped at the school since its infancy and became an evangelist after he was converted. Not wanting her work to be confined to Ningbo or just to girls Miss Aldersey sent him to a place she called Tsong Gyiaou (San Ch’iao which means The Third Bridge), five miles from the port and in a district where the Rev William Russell had established a Church Missionary Society out-station. Soon people were walking miles to listen to Zia and the American Presbyterians sent two of their church members to help him. Miss Aldersey arranged the marriage between Asan and Zia – and Asan set up a girls’ school to complement her husband’s work.

San Avong:

Miss Aldersey had a very different initial response from San Avong. She was introduced to San Avong’s family soon after she set up her first school outside Ningbo city in 1843. Her landlady realised that if there were more children in the school the foreigner could pay her more money – so she took San Avong’s mother to see it.

Miss Aldersey reported later: “It happened that my little pupils and myself were engaged in our morning worship, when my landlady entered with this friend, whom she had almost persuaded to place her four youngest girls with me. As I was reading the Scripture aloud, my pupils observed that silence and order that I had enjoined upon them. This disgusted the mother, and she remarked to her friend, on leaving my house, ‘Did you not observe how much afraid the poor children were of their teacher, and how demure and dismal they looked? Do not think I will ever subject my children to such trammels!’ I was sadly disappointed, but I knew it was my wisest course to conceal all feelings of regret. After a considerable time, however, the parents summoned courage to bind their four little girls to me, for the terms, severally, of two, four, six and eight years.

“Dear San Avong, the eldest of the little party, had of course the shortest period allotted to her, and this term was still further limited, as, although she was only nine years of age, she was betrothed. She quickly evinced not only a very superior mind, but a heart influenced at a very early age by that Holy Spirit, whose office it is to prepare for the holy and glorious kingdom of Jesus.”

Below: The ‘Three Pure Ones’ in the Buddhist monastery at Tien-Dong, near Ningbo, by C.F. Gordon-Cumming. In China in the nineteenth century the women played a very important role in the worship at temples and of the ancestors. It was feared that the Christian missionaries could undermine Chinese families by not only educating girls but also by convincing them not to take part in such worship.


San Avong’s wedding was arranged in 1848 – to a 27-year-old man whom Miss Aldersey thought was coarse and ignorant. But at least he was easy tempered. Miss Aldersey tried to remain in control of the situation. She came to an agreement with the family that, although the bridegroom was not a Christian, they would be married by a Christian missionary and San Avong would not have to fulfil any of the ancestral worship usually required, or bow to idols. She could also spend each Sunday with Miss Aldersey so that they could study the Bible together.

Initially Miss Aldersey was successful but to many of the relatives the couple’s Christian marriage was invalid. After her first Sunday with Miss Aldersey following the wedding San Avong was accompanied home by two Christian women. There she was grabbed by three men, dragged into the ancestral hall of the family’s home and forced, weeping and wailing, to prostrate herself. She was terrified that this meant she was condemned to hell. But she was assured that Jesus knew what she believed in her heart and so still accepted her. To Miss Aldersey  there was still the problem of San Avong not eating meat which had been offered to idols. To protect her Miss Aldersey offered her husband a job as school cook. In this way she brought San Avong back under her own roof.

A few years later, however, the husband died and his family attributed this to the dismal wailing and tears of San Avong before the idols. As her husband was in debt when he died the family proposed to sell her to a non-Christian who lived a considerable distance from Ningbo. Miss Aldersey rushed to help her. She found the family gathered around the body of San Avong’s dead husband: “The abacus was brought to ascertain what would be the best mode of disposing of the widow, and what amount of debts should be defrayed by me, in consideration of my being allowed to have San Avong for the future under my control. Fifty dollars were required, which sum I gladly gave, and the young widow accompanied me home. No Chinese regarded such a transaction in the light of a purchase; and had San Avong been disposed to leave me, I could not have detained her.”

San Avong immediately settled down to studying English and became a valuable and creative teacher at the school. It was she who was able to deal with the most difficult students. She also led the way with breaking with the tradition of foot-binding. Miss Aldersey commented: “It was, I believe, solely on Christian principles that, unsolicited by me, and, indeed, without my knowledge, she unbandaged her feet, though by so doing she incurred the ridicule and contempt of those of her countrymen and women who were not acquainted with her personally; those who did know her, however, whether men, women, or children, alike respected her. Thoroughly and unaffectedly modest and humble, she had a good deal of moral courage, sustained by a high sense of Christian principle.”

San Avong also assisted with the Christian work among women even if this meant visiting areas her own family would have considered unsuitable for a well-to-do young woman.  When she accompanied Mary Leisk on a visit to a Chinese woman who was sick in bed she was taunted for being with a foreigner and because her unbound feet were becoming larger.  Not realising that Mary perfectly understood the local dialect some Chinese commented on how disgraceful it was for parents to give up such a good looking girl to foreigners. They were sure the foreigners would kill and eat her!

In 1857 Miss Aldersey handed over her school to the American Presbyterians because she wanted to be free to do more missionary work. She told the SPFEE she would continue her superintendence of Chinese evangelists in the villages around Ningbo and the establishment of girls’ schools like that run by Asan.

She had initially planned that San Avong would continue teaching at the school in Ningbo. The young widow wrote to her in English: “When I heard you were to leave us here how sad I felt! For you had just been like my mother to me. Yea, my own mother has not half been like you. I was just a young, helpless widow, and a motherless child, cast upon the wide and selfish world; but I quickly remembered one text, John 14:18, which you told me to remember when I was thirteen years old. At that time I was about to leave the school, you said to me, ‘San Avong, you shall not be alone, your Saviour will be with you there.’”

It was not long, however, before Miss Aldersey felt it would be safer if San Avong was living with her. She explained: “Fearing that, in the event of my death, her mother would endeavour to marry her to a heathen, I judged it right to seek a Christian husband for the young widow, and she therefore again became an inmate of my own abode.”

After the Treaty of Tientsin in 1858 foreigners could travel further and more easily outside the treaty ports – so Miss Aldersey began regularly visiting Zia and Asan, often accompanied by either San Avong or Agnes. There they met one of the local Christians, Yi-Loh-Ding who, with the help of a missionary doctor (Dr William Parker) had stopped smoking opium. He had become a Christian preacher and was interested in marrying San Avong. At first San Avong resisted Miss Aldersey’s attempts to arrange a marriage but then accepted this matchmaking. She was married in October  1858 and joined her husband in his Christian outreach work.

But within months she became so ill that Miss Aldersey brought them to Ningbo so that San Avong could receive Western medical treatment. Her son, Eng-Sy, was born there in July 1859. The young mother, however, did not recover. As death approached she said to Miss Aldersey: “ I wish you also to know that I am happy; Jesus is with me; I have no fear; therefore, I am quite happy.”

Agnes Gutzlaff:

After Miss Aldersey retired from the school she moved her household to the home of Mary and William Russell (Mary Leisk married the Rev Russell in 1852). The Russells must have had quite a large home for Miss Aldersey’s household included her three elderly Christian servants, two mums with their children whom she was sheltering, San Avong plus Agnes and the three blind girls she was teaching.

Agnes was the only one of the seven blind girls sent to the West for education by Mrs Mary Gutzlaff who did return to China. Four of them had been sent to the London Society for Teaching the Blind to Read in the early 1840s. After 13 years at that Society’s school Agnes was recruited in 1855 by the Chinese Evangelisation Society (CES) to work among blind women in Xiamen (Amoy). The CES (founded by Karl Gutzlaff) could boast that it was the first agency to send a blind person as a missionary to another country. It was also almost certainly the first to send a single Chinese woman to China. But sadly it was incapable of doing it properly.

Agnes arrived in Ningbo in June 1856 virtually penniless and unable to speak the language. She had been sent out with the promise of just £10 a year towards her support. CES missionary James Hudson Taylor (who would later found the China Inland Mission) wrote home: “How very wrong it is, to take a poor blind beggar girl, bring her up in the best style, & then leave her with a less sum than will…. pay for her food, for she cannot now live as a Chinese.”  Below: A blind beggar in China in the 19th century, by C.F. Gordon-Cumming.


Thankfully Agnes found a safe haven with Miss Aldersey. Within a few years Miss Aldersey had helped her set up a small school of industry for the blind. Miss Aldersey loved working with Agnes – but the way the young blind woman had arrived in Ningbo did not endear her to the CES. She was even more shocked when Hudson Taylor decided that the only way he could successfully travel inland was to be dressed like the Chinese. This was an issue that would divide the missionary community for decades. Miss Aldersey felt very strongly that the Westerners should maintain their own standards and be dressed properly as Europeans. She and Mary Russell ran very proper British households.

It would be one of Miss Aldersey’s major criticisms of the James Hudson Taylor when he arrived in Ningbo in 1856.  She certainly would not consider him as a suitable suitor for any of her “girls”. She was used, by then, to acting as a matchmaker for those who joined her household and by January 1853 Burella and Maria Dyer had done just that.

So the feathers did fly when Maria Dyer (the daughter of Samuel and Maria Dyer) fell in love with Hudson Taylor. For more of that story see Jemima, James Hudson Taylor and his Maria.

Miss Aldersey proved that it was possible for a single woman to work in China and the Dyer sisters had followed in her pioneering footsteps. After Maria and Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission their first team in 1866 included single women at a time when organisations like the Church Missionary Society (CMS)  still rarely considered such recruits.

Miss Aldersey leaves China:

In 1860 Miss Aldersey decided to leave China and the dedicated corps of female teachers that she had trained. The mission stations she had helped to establish in villages around Ningbo became the responsibility of the CMS. But she did not return to England – instead she sailed to Australia to join her brother. Richard Aldersey had emigrated with his wife and seven of his children in 1849 and settled in McLaren Vale, South Australia. Miss Aldersey named the house she had built there Tsong Gyiaou.

As a member of the local congregational church she visited the sick, helped those in need, and encouraged young women to become involved in missionary work. She died on September 30, 1868 – and two of her nieces (Eliza and Mary Ann Aldersey) turned Tsong Gyiaou into a boarding school for girls. This was closed in 1903.

In Ningbo Agnes Gutzlaff continued to receive grants from the SPFEE and also financial support from Miss Aldersey. Miss Aldersey had asked Mrs Russell to care for her and she was able to continue running the industrial school for the blind.  But in 1861 Ningbo was in danger of being attacked by the T’ai P’ing rebels and it was decided she would be safer in Shanghai. There she continued to teach blind children how to read using the Moon embossed type but also made a living by teaching English to educated Chinese. Michael Miles stated: “She was not only the first well-trained teacher of reading for blind people in China’s long history, but as a role model was unique – a blind young woman living independently and paying her way by using the skills her education had provided.” Although she continued to wear Western clothing she lived frugally in a Chinese house. She saved so much that after her death she left sufficient to found a hospital in late 1871 – the Gutzlaff Hospital. This was amalgamated with another hospital in 1883.

It is not known when Agnes died – nor Asan. According to notes made by Miss Aldersey’s biographer, E Aldersey White, after the death of her husband Asan was employed by the American Presbyterian Mission in Nanking. She had three sons – one was a Presbyterian pastor, another a preacher and the third a teacher.

copyright Pip Land December 2012

WAS YOUR FAMILY IN CONTACT WITH BRITISH CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IN THE 19TH CENTURY? If so why would you like any research done concerning those missionaries: when and how they reached your family’s home town, what they did there and maybe even if they had contact with your ancestors? If so post a comment on this website.


E J Whately (Ed) Missions to the Women of China, John Nisbet & Co, London, 1866, pp107-123

Female Missionary Intelligencer, newsletter of the SPFEE, 1858-1860

About Agnes Gutzlaff: Blind and Sighted Pioneer Teachers in 19th century China & India  by M Miles and Whately pp92-93 and pp139-140.

Miss Aldersey in Australia:

Letter from one of her nieces published in the Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal,  December 1868 pp 165-166

Ira Nesdale The Third Bridge – Tsong Gyiaou – McLaren Vale, 1980, Investigator Press Pty Ltd, Hawthorndene, South Australia. (My thanks to Kaye and Chris Aldersey of Tintinara, South Australia, for sending me a copy)


Mary Ann Aldersey and the “first school for girls” in China

When Sophia Cooke took over running the Chinese Girls School in Singapore Mary Ann Aldersey (艾迪綏) was already a famous role model for those women who were interested in missionary work overseas. And, amazingly, she became an important role model for Chinese girls. Two of the girls Miss Aldersey inspired became the first Chinese female schoolteachers in China: Ruth Ati ( who married Tseng Lai-sun 曾来顺- also known as Chan Laisun or Zeng Laisun ) and Christiana A-Kit (who married Kew Teen-shang) . The British women who worked with her were Mary Leisk Russell (who became the wife of Bishop William Russell of North China), and Burella and Maria Dyer. Maria Dyer married James Hudson Taylor (戴德生) and with him founded the China Inland Mission.

Mary Ann Aldersey was the most independent and probably the most stubborn of all the single women who went overseas to found girls’ schools during the mid 19th century. She studied Chinese for years but never did become fluent in the dialect she most needed. Nor did she have much respect for Chinese culture. And yet she was obviously a great inspiration to many of the Chinese girls she taught. And it was, I believe, due to that that she was able to start what was most likely the first school for girls in China – at Ningbo in 1843.

For she travelled to China with three teenage girls: her ward, Mary Leisk (daughter of a Scottish merchant) and two Malay-Chinese girls whom she called Ati and Kit. She had taught Ati and Kit in Surabaya in Java and they had run away from their homes to join her when she left for China. It was these three girls who learnt the Ningbo dialect so well. And it was probably the presence of Ati and Kit at the Ningbo school which reassured parents that the strange white woman would not kill their daughters.

It had taken Miss Aldersey almost 20 years to reach the country to which she believed she had been called by God to work in.  Picture : Mary Ann Aldersey as a young woman.


She was born in what was then the leafy London suburb of Hackney on June 24, 1797 and later attended the congregational church where her father, Joseph, was a senior elder. By the time she was 19 she was involved in Christian outreach in a nearby working class area even though at times she was pelted with stones. Her mother died when she was 25 and her father expected her to manage his household and look after him.

And then, in 1824,  Robert Morrison arrived in London. He  had become famous as the first protestant missionary to China having managed to live in the foreign factory area of Guangzhou (Canton), learning the language and then working as a translator with the British East India Company. During the two years he was in Hackney he taught Chinese to both men and women who were interested in going as missionaries in China. It was at those classes that Miss Aldersey met Maria Tarn, the daughter of one of the directors of the London Missionary Society (LMS). Maria later married another of Mr Morrison’s  students, the Rev Samuel Dyer.

Miss Aldersey became equally convinced she was called to work among the Chinese but her father refused to give her permission to go. So instead she had made a donation to the LMS to induce it to send two single women to Melaka. One of those two women, however, according to the LMS, showed symptoms of insanity due to studying Chinese and so the Society sent just Maria Newell, on the same ship as Maria and Samuel  Dyer in August 1827. Miss Aldersey was determined that Miss Newell should have a single woman working with her. So as a member of a ladies’ committee of the British and Foreign Schools Society she travelled to Edinburgh where she was introduced to Mary Christie Wallace who was sent to Melaka in 1829 (See The Saga of Miss Wallace).

In 1832 Miss Aldersey’s  father did finally give his consent for her to fulfil her calling but then her sister-in-law died and she was expected to care for the eight motherless children. “So with deep regret and bitter disappointment I gave up my longed-for work abroad,” she wrote later. She did, however, pay for a Chinese tutor  (dressed in a flowered silk robe) to come to her brother’s house in Chigwell Row, so that she could continue her language lessons. She also learnt a lot about how to care for children but when a friend commented that she should be so happy to be among so many nieces and nephews she retorted: “I would rather be in prison with Chinese children around me.” She often went to her room to cry in frustration and depression.

With her experience in sending single women overseas she was invited, in July 1834, to join the newly-formed Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE) and immediately encouraged the committee to set aside £50 to support Miss Wallace.  But when she asked SPFEE to return that money in April 1837 the committee agreed “it should be appropriated to her benefit under her affliction”. It can only be assumed that they thought she was ill-advised to go overseas herself at the grand old age of 40, especially after what had happened to Miss Wallace. But by then Miss Aldersey was determined to go. Her brother had just announced that he was getting married again and so she felt free at last to book her passage on an eastward bound sailing ship. She recognised, however, that there were still some hurdles to overcome.

She noted: “It was manifestly of great importance that nothing should be entered on by me with precipitation especially as the subject of single ladies engaging in foreign missions either with or without the control of a committee was not generally approved.”1 And so she submitted to a medical examination to prove she was not mentally unstable. And probably to prove to the SPFEE that she was not under any affliction!

On August 10, 1837, she joined some SPFEE agents on the brig Hashemy at Gravesend. They were chaperoned on the journey by the LMS missionary , the Rev Walter Medhurst and his wife, Eliza. Miss Aldersey would never accept the leadership of any man from then on but she did respect Medhurst and it was he who encouraged her to go to Surabaya in Java. At first the Dutch rulers in Java considered forcing her to live in Jakarta (Batavia) but were convinced that a woman missionary wasn’t likely to do much harm.

In Surabaya she lodged with a Dutch Christian clockmaker for six months and then moved out of the European quarters so that she could organise a school for Malay Chinese girls. Very few families were willing to allow their daughters to attend her school and if they did it was only on the condition that the girls remained secluded and well protected.

Ati (then about 12 years old) and Kit were among her first students and the former was especially keen to learn to read.  Ati was so inspired by Miss Aldersey that her mother became very angry and even threatened to kill her. It was likely that both girls faced persecution because they wanted to become Christians and so Miss Aldersey planned not only to leave for Hong Kong with 14-years-old Mary Leisk but also devised an escape route for the two girls which involved walking at night to the home of a foreign Christian family.

She wrote later:“They had themselves determined to escape (but) as young Chinese females never walk out, except perhaps the distance of a few doors, my two pupils knew nothing of the way to (that) house. I therefore drew a plan which would assist in tracing out correctly the course they ought to pursue. Their great difficulty, however, had reference to their starting. They did not live in the same house or the same street. Neither knew on what night, much less what hour, the other might start for her hazardous exit.” Ati made two unsuccessful attempts before, on the third, she managed to meet up  with Kit.

To disguise the fact that they were two young girls who would not be allowed to leave their homes Ati was dressed as a Chinese lady and Kit as her Javanese servant. By dawn they were very weary as they were so unaccustomed to walking. As the sun rose they thought one of their parents would find them but did  at last locate the house they were searching for.

Their parents put up posters about the missing girls in Jakarta and kept watch on the houses where they thought Ati and Kit might be hiding. The girls, at their request, were baptised by the Rev Medhurst before they travelled to Singapore. Miss Aldersey and Mary, had, however, already left Singapore for China, first to Macau and then to Hong Kong.

In Singapore Ati and Kit stayed with Charlotte and Benjamin Keasberry and became friends with Hanio and Chunio who were studying at the Chinese Girls School CGS) started by Maria Tarn Dyer. They reached Hong Kong and were reunited with Miss Aldersey on Christmas Day 1841 – seven months after their daring escape from their homes in Surabaya.

In April 1846  Ati wrote to the SPFEE: “We are very much interested about Chunio and Hanio. We knew them both before they were converted, and when we had news from them, that they had become the disciples of Jesus, it astonished me very much, it was as news from heaven; for we were so lonely, because there was none of our sex who are Christians which we knew, besides us two , my companion and I: therefore when I heard about them, it was a great comfort to me to have other fellow-travellers to heaven-ward. Though we are far from each other, we have correspondence with them, and we can comfort each other in letters.”2

By then the SPFEE was so impressed that Miss Aldersey had managed to set up a girls’ school in Ningbo that it did send a small grant. Some male missionaries had been less impressed and described Miss Aldersey as “quixotic” because she had “waited for no protection but went straight to Ningbo and there established her school.” 3

She had soon became notorious in Ningbo. The Chinese whispered: “All English children have blue eyes, with which it is, of course, impossible to see, and the strange lady wants to receive our children, only that she may pick out their eyes, and send them as a valuable present to her friends at home.” Rumours were spread that she had massacred children and their parents. She was even accused of eating children2.

When, as part of her daily exercise programme, she walked the city walls during the dark winter mornings, led by a servant carrying a lantern, it was believed she was conversing with the spirits of the night. Not surprisingly those who visited her were too scared to eat the food and drink she offered them, especially as it was said she had a special drug which could turn them into Christians. A small book for children published in London in the 1950s about her was entitled The Witch of Ningpo.

Without Mary, Ati and Kit she would never have succeeded. She wrote: “The two dear young converts who have followed me to this country have proved most valuable assistants, not only, or perhaps principally, in the amount of work done for me with reference to the school, but also in gaining for me the confidence of the people, who are still greatly prejudiced against foreigners, having formed for me a sort of link between the people and myself, they being Indo-Chinese, and adopting the costume of this province.”4 Of Mary it was later said: “She not only spoke like the natives, and understood every shade of their vernacular idiom, she felt with them and thought with them.” 5

On arrival in Ningbo in 1843  Miss Aldersey had rented half of a wooden house on the river bank outside the city for her first school. She had then moved to a large house in the city and set up a boarding school for about 50 girls. As at the CGS in Singapore the parents had to sign contracts binding them to keep their daughters at the school for set periods of time.

Miss Aldersey explained to the SPFEE that she had taken on so many girls because she realised that once one was converted to Christianity many parents would take their girls away. When that did happen many parents chose to leave their daughters at the school because the girls were either dull or diseased. (There were the exceptions, however, and one of those was San Avong – see Mary Ann Aldersey’s Mission )

Below: The schoolroom in the Ancestor’s Hall at Miss Aldersey’s rented house in Ningbo. The Chinese teacher is seated in front, with Kit and Ati on either side of him.


Two of the men Miss Aldersey employed were converted and, once they had received Bible training, she sent them on evangelistic trips into the surrounding countryside where the foreigners were not then allowed to go under the terms of the 1842 treaty. Like Sophia Cooke at the CGS in Singapore Miss Aldersey shared the vision for mission with those at her school who became Christians and over the years that would develop into a considerable amount of outreach work.

But she also developed another career – that as a matchmaker. She may have been determined to stay single herself so that she could be a missionary, but she seemed equally determined to organise the lives of the girls who worked with her. By 1852 she had arranged marriages for Kit, Ati and Mary.

Kit (Christiana A-Kit) married Kew Teen-shang In December 1847. He had attended a mission school in Jakarta and was baptised in Shanghai in November 1845. In 1848 Miss Aldersey wrote to the London Missionary Society (LMS) that he was working as a printer for that mission in Shanghai. She added that this was the first marriage of two such converts in that region6. It is likely that Kew Teen-shang also undertook evangelistic journeys for Miss Aldersey recorded in July 1851 that he had just returned from his second visit to Hunan Province and brought back with him two Jews and five rolls of the Jewish Law.

Ati (Ruth A-Tik) married Tseng Lai-sun in July 1850. He came from a poor family in Singapore and after he was converted to Christianity was sponsored by missionaries to go to the USA for his education. Afterwards he worked with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Guangzhou until 1853 when he moved to Shanghai and, thanks to his language skills, had a varied career as a businessman, and then with the Fuzhou Naval School and the Chinese Educational Mission before becoming the chief private English secretary to a Chinese viceroy. Of the couple’s six children one son became a very successful journalist (Spencer 曾笃恭 ), another (Elijah 曾溥 )was probably China’s first “scientifically trained engineer’ after studying in Germany, and two of their daughters married Westerners. The eldest of those was a founder member of the Chinese Red Cross Society.7


In early 1907 Mrs Lai-sun (pictured above – with thanks to Mary Severin, see comment below) was the honoured guest at the day devoted to Women’s Work during the China Centenary Missionary Conference in Shanghai. In the official report of the  conference it was stated that she was introduced as the oldest living example of women’s work for Chinese girls and  as “the first of that noble band of women who had devoted their lives to women in China”. She died in January 1917 aged 92.

Mary Leisk married the Rev William Russell in September 1852. They spent most of their married life based in Ningbo and never had any children. He was consecrated Bishop of North China in December 1872 and died in October 18799. His widow continued working among Chinese women in Ningbo until her death in August 18875.

After Kit, Ruth Ati and Mary were married Miss Aldersey  recruited two more teenagers to help her – Maria Tarn Dyer’s daughters Burella and Maria. Most of the girls who came under Miss Aldersey’s influence did accept her guidance as can be seen in the stories of San Avong, Asan and also of Agnes Gutzlaff. But not Maria!

copyright Pip Land December 2012

WAS YOUR FAMILY IN CONTACT WITH BRITISH CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IN THE 19TH CENTURY? If so why would you like any research done concerning those missionaries: when and how they reached your family’s home town, what they did there and maybe even if they had contact with your ancestors? If so post a comment on this website.

For photos of Ruth Ati see:




E Aldersey White A Woman Pioneer in  China,  The Livingstone Press, London 1932. Both pictures come from this book.

Minutes of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, in the Special Collection at Birmingham University Library.

J Reason, The Witch of Ningpo – Mary Aldersey of China, Eagle Books, No 30, Edinburgh House Press, London, 4th impression 1956 (price one shilling)

plus –

1. From a letter to Miss Aldersey’s nieces, in China Odds Box 8 of the archives of the Archives of the Council for World Mission (CWM),School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

2. E J Whately  (Ed) Missions to Women of China, James Nisbet, London 1866, pp98-99

3. The Chinese Missionary Gleaner, (CMS)June 1857, p94.

4.  Missionary Register  1847, p 116 – report of the Eastern-Female Education Society 1847, p116

5. The Church Missionary Intelligencer  December 1887  (CMS), p 744

6. Miss Aldersey’s letter to the London Missionary Society, in the China Odds Box 8, CWM archives at SOAS.

7. Carl T Smith Chinese Christians,  Oxford University Press 1985, pp69-74

for more about Tseng Laisun also see Chinese Educational Mission Connections 1872-1882 – The CEM Staff:Three Notable Figures –

8. Centenary Conference Committee, China Centenary Missionary Conference  (April 25 to May 8, 1907), Shanghai, 1907. Also see the newspaper report in the Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 5 July 1907, p6, available on-line through the National Library of Singapore.

9. The Church Missionary Gleaner,  April 1888 pp51-52

Sophia Cooke’s Mission to China


Left: A baby rescued from a drain in Singapore in 1883 and given to the Chinese Girls’ School (FMI). Ah Tu, who was one of the  CGS graduates to go as missionaries to China in 1878, was also rescued from a drain. 


By the 1870s the Chinese Girls’ School in Singapore (now St Margaret’s School) was renowned for not just educating Chinese girls but for taking in babies plucked from the gutters, caring for orphans and providing a home for those saved from slave ships. It was also an excellent “marriage bureau” for Christian Chinese men from Singapore to Australia. But that was not enough for Sophia Cooke. She wanted to expand the mission work of the school and its graduates to China.

The school’s wayfinder for this was Miss Houston who retired from its Ragged School work and, at the request of a Church Missionary Society clergyman, went to Fuzhou in April 1875, to supervise a Christian girls’ boarding school there. This would lead to the CGS sending eight young Chinese women as missionaries to Fujian Province in China.

They would often find themselves in very dangerous situations for resentment was building up in China against foreigners and those associated with them. Not surprisingly the Chinese were deeply offended and angry about how the British and other Western nations had used their superior firepower to force unfair treaties and the trade in opium on China following the Opium Wars between 1842 and 1860. Most Christian missionaries were also offended by the opium trade but were delighted that those treaties provided them with the opportunity to at last work in China. The Treaty of Nanking in 1842 only allowed foreigners to live and work in the five treaty ports of Shanghai, Ningbo, Guangzhou (Canton), Fuzhou (Foochow) and Xiamen (Amoy) but some missionaries constantly broke the rules and went further inland.

Most of the missionaries had little appreciation of Chinese culture as they were so convinced about the superiority of their own to the point that they confused Christianity with Westernisation. They expected Chinese converts to break with traditional customs such as idol and ancestor worship and helping to support the temples. This led to social upheaval and created more resentment – and when the missionaries called on the foreign consuls for assistance even more Chinese became aware of their nation’s humiliation at the hands of these hated “barbarians”. As the years went by the full impact of China’s “9/11 moment” in 1842 became more and more apparent especially as foreign missionaries began itinerating outside the treaty ports.

Chitnio, the first CGS graduate to be officially sent to China1 very quickly learned that national Christians in China faced a lot of persecution. She spent ten years at the CGS after being enrolled as a student when she was a nine-years-old orphan. Following her conversion to Christianity she recounted that her relatives had given her up and so she stayed at the school. By 1876 after praying about joining Miss Houston in China a Chinese Christian, the Rev Ling Sieng Sing, travelled from Fuzhou to Singapore to marry her.

Soon after her wedding in October 1876 she described how her husband had been treated several years earlier when he had been sent by the CMS with three others to a large town in Fujian province. The local people were furious that Christians had rented a house and begun to preach there. The four men were seized, bound with ropes and hung from a tree, either by their pigtails (as Chitnio recorded) or by their thumbs2. They were intensely humiliated in other ways and thrown out of the city. Chitnio explained that the chief men in the town were afraid that more would become Christians and that the English would come and take over.

Miss Cooke had planned to send another CGS graduate to Fuzhou with Chitnio and her husband but was told it was not culturally acceptable for a single woman to accompany the young couple. So Wee Inn had to wait until late 1877 when Miss Cooke found a sea captain who could be trusted to care for her on the journey. She was the second single Chinese woman to be sent as a missionary to China3. Wee Inn had been rescued from slavery in early 1858 and, like the others who had no parents or family, was raised as  a Christian at the school by an older girl who acted as her surrogate mother.

Both she and Chitnio were in Fuzhou when the CMS buildings there were destroyed in 1878. Miss Houston told the SPFEE: “Five days ago the Chinese attacked us, pulled down, and burnt to the ground acres of our houses, and we had to escape for our lives. I cannot write to you all about it now, my heart and brains will not let me. It seems all like a dreadful, confused dream. Thank God no lives were lost. Inn and Chitnio are safe and well. This last trial seems to have added ten years to my age.” That attack led to the CMS mission being moved out of the centre of Fuzhou to a suburb called Nantai.

The missionary who had asked the CGS for help with mission work in Fujian, the Rev John R Wolfe, was so impressed by Chitnio and Wee Inn that he requested even more CGS graduates to be sent. After the mission in Fuzhou had almost collapsed in the early 1860s he had come to depend upon an enterprising and often courageous group of national believers even though he was criticised by other missionaries for doing so. He knew that these young Christian men needed the support of educated wives like  Chitnio and Wee Inn (who married soon after she arrived in Fuzhou). So, in December 1878, four more were sent to Fujian.

The mission was well prepared for, on their arrival, their prospective husbands were awaiting them! Miss Houston reported that Jim (Patience), Choon, Sein and Ah Tu, arrived on a Friday and were married on the following Monday. “They were very well indeed, and exceedingly happy. They have seen their husbands, and said ‘Yes Sir’ when they were asked by Mr Wolfe: ‘Will you have this man for your husband?’ Their husbands are all such thoughtful, good men. They have brought their wives such a nice suit of clothes to be married in, so they will not want to hire a dress. I feel just what a mother must at losing four daughters at once.” All four went to live with their husbands outside Fuzhou and must have experienced a considerable amount of culture shock. At the CGS they had lived in a very protected environment where they could even play crochet on the school lawn. In rural Fujian life for them would be tough and often very lonely.

A month after those weddings Miss Houston informed Miss Cooke : “I don’t know how to tell you the sad news, but it must be told. Our dear Chitnio is left a desolate widow. My heart aches for her.” Chitnio was taken on as a biblewoman by the CMS at Fuzhou and Miss Houston reported: “She is working away, going about all the streets of the city, and visiting the houses, contrary to all Chinese rules of propriety. Her dear little baby (son) is a great comfort to her, and goes a great way towards filling up the empty void that was left in her poor heart”. According to the Church Missionary Review in 1912 the Rev Ling, having never got over the shock of how he had been humiliated years before, had “lost his reason” and taken his own life. It seems that  Chitnio never mentioned that in her letters to Miss Cooke.


Left: Chitnio with her son in 1883

Chitnio was not the only one from Singapore to face hard times. Sein’s husband took her back to a village, about ten days journey from Fuzhou, where he too had been beaten, robbed and thrown out for being a Christian. Miss Houston commented: “He is a good, brave young man, and he not only dared to go back himself but took a wife with him.” Sein, however, had great difficulty learning the local dialect. (At that time the dialects in Fujian differed considerably between each valley.) In the first few years of her married life their Christian chapel was burnt down twice and during the second attack she fell ill and died.

In an obituary to her Miss Cooke recalled how Sein had been sold by her mother in China to Malay sailors and brought to Singapore in 1858. The police took possession of her and the other girls on the ship and delivered them to the CGS. There Sein not only became a Christian but also the leader of the choir as she had such a lovely singing voice.

Wee Inn was at first based at the girls’ boarding school in Nantai where the pupils helped her with the language. Later she moved with her husband to Huashan, a small hill station near Gutian (Kucheng). Another Englishwoman, Miss Foster, was sent by Miss Cooke to help at the boarding school in Nantai but then Miss Houston was forced to leave due to ill health. She had never fully recovered from the attack on the mission in 1878 and returned to England in 1880 where she died some months later.  Miss Foster  then appealed to the CMS  but that mission was not yet prepared to send single women as missionaries. So the SPFEE sent Jessy  Bushell4  in 1883 to help run the girls’ boarding school. That school was by then taking only girls from Christian families.

It was a Chinese woman and her daughters who went back into the centre of Fuzhou and opened a day school for non-Christians. That was Lydia, the wife of the Rev Wong Kiu-Taik, who was ordained in 1868. He was a catechist with the CMS in Fuzhou when the Rev Wolfe arrived in 1862. The CMS mission in Fuzhou had failed to thrive since it began in 1850 and again came close to closure when Wolfe became very ill and went to Hong Kong to recuperate in 1863.

While in Hong Kong Wolfe heard of Lydia and her family. Her parents had converted to Christianity and in 1860 sent their two daughters to the newly formed Diocesan Native Female Training School. The sisters were baptised in 1861 and Lydia stated: “I believe that God’s Holy Spirit has been given to me. I feel a light shining in my heart which tells me what is right and what is wrong.” While Wolfe was matchmaking in Hong Kong Wong Kiu-Taik took care of the small fellowship of believers associated with the CMS in Fuzhou. He then travelled to Hong Kong to marry Lydia in January 1864. The only way he could communicate with his future father-in-law was by using written Mandarin.

His bride had such tiny bound feet that she had to be supported by Sophia Baxter5 during the wedding service in Hong Kong cathedral. In Fuzhou Lydia not only had to adjust to married life far away from her family and learn the local dialect but also helped to encourage and support that small group of believers when they came under attack before Wolfe and his wife returned.

It wasn’t long, however, before Lydia had started a girls’ school in Fuzhou. When Miss Houston arrived there were 12 students, all from Christian families, and the premises were becoming too small. She described how the school was flooded when the river overflowed in 1876. Many of the girls were up to their shoulders in water as they escaped with some of the smallest children clinging to the backs of the older students. They made a raft so that they could float their luggage through the streets.

While Lydia’s vision was for the girls of Fuzhou Wee Inn’s, in 1885, was for Korea. The churches in Fujian sent two couples  as missionaries to Korea that year. The other woman in the team was Tek Lim who, who with another CGS graduate, had only recently arrived in China. The two couples were, however, very restricted in what they could do and the Koreans were too scared to become Christians as the King would have had them killed. So within a few years they returned to Fujian.

By then the team of foreign missionaries in Fujian had grown to include Robert and Louisa Stewart from Ireland and several single women. The attitude of mission societies was changing and by the 1890s two thirds of the missionaries in China were women. One of those in Fujian was Elsie Marshall, the daughter of an English vicar. She was 23-years old when the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society sent her to China in 1892.

She spent the first year in Fuh-ning and was so successful in her language study that she was soon involved in missionary work. That included going with Patience (Jim) to a nearby village. There she was struck not only be the abject poverty of those they visited but how hard it was for such Chinese to understand the Christian faith, even when Patience explained it so simply.

In January 1894 she joined the Stewarts at Gutian and a month later was assigned an area to work in. Travelling was very difficult in that region at that time and on occasions she walked 15 to 21 miles a day accompanied by only a Chinese coolie. She often visited villages and Christian families with Topsy Saunders , one of two Australian sisters in their team6. On December 24, 1894 at Gutian she wrote : “One more Christmas nearly gone – one year nearer to heaven.”

On August 1, 1895 she, the Saunders sisters and the Stewarts with some of their children were among eleven foreigners massacred by members of the Vegetarian sect7 at Huashan. In one of the last letters she wrote before her death Miss Cooke sadly commented that the Singapore girls were closely connected with those who had been murdered. But for Chitnio, Wee Inn and the others in Fujian it was business as usual.

Chitnio was assisting with training biblewomen and accompanying foreign missionary women on their visits to villages. Miss Bushell visited Wee Inn (wife of the Rev Yek Sui Mi) in Fuqing (Hok Chiang) in 1897 and found her as busy as ever. Wee Inn had three sons and one daughter and Miss Bushell commented: “Her family is quite a model of good behaviour, brought up carefully and nicely. She is certainly a most earnest and good woman – her light shines brightly.”


Above: The mission  houses at Huashan. The Stewarts were in the upper one and the single women in that below it. (From ‘For His Sake’)

copyright Pip Land October 2012

WAS YOUR FAMILY IN CONTACT WITH BRITISH CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IN THE 19TH CENTURY? If so why would you like any research done concerning those missionaries: when and how they reached your family’s home town, what they did there and maybe even if they had contact with your ancestors? If so post a comment on this website.



Female Missionary Intelligencer  1861-1896 – the picture of Chitnio and her son was first published in the Church Missionary Gleaner and then in the FMI in March 1883.  Pictures from the FMI have been reproduced with the permission of the British Library.

E A Walker Sophia Cooke, Elliot Stock, London 1899

The Church Missionary Gleaner, CMS 1889 and 1894

For His Sake, Extracts from the letters of Elsie Marshall, The Religious Tract Society, London 1897


1 – The first CGS graduate to go to China was Kai-Chai, the youngest sister of Chunio and Hanio (mentioned in St Margaret’s School – the early years, and Sophia Cooke’s Mission. She married a Christian from Jakarta and they went to Hong Kong.

2 – CMS Church Missionary Review  1912

3 – The first single Chinese woman to be sent by a mission to China was Agnes Gutzlaff – in 1856.  She was one of the blind girls adopted by Mary and Karl Gutzlaff and sent to England for education. She was the only one to return to China. See Mary Ann Aldersey’s Mission 

4 – In 1889 Jessy Bushell became the first woman to address the Fujian Provincial Church Council when she gave a speech in Chinese pleading for the abolition of early and compulsory marriages for girls. (The Church Missionary Gleaner, May 1889).

5 – Susan H Sophia Baxter (1828-1865). She set up several schools in Hong Kong and these became known as the Baxter Vernacular Schools.

6 – Elizabeth (Topsy) Saunders and Eleanor (Nellie) Saunders were the first women to be sent to China by the Church Missionary Association of Victoria, Australia.

7– The Vegetarians (Tsai Hui) was a Buddhist group which took a vow of vegetarianism. It became particularly powerful in Fujian between 1892 and 1895.  Seven of those who carried out the massacre on August 1 were executed in September that year.

Sophia Cooke’s Mission


“In appearance she was thoroughly Saxon, with very fair hair, light blue eyes, and rather tall and well-developed figure, a pleasant though not beautiful face, and an expression of mingled kindness, intelligence, and decision. She was born to rule, and enjoyed doing so.”  From E A Walker’s Sophia Cooke or Forty-two years’ work in Singapore, published by Elliot Stock, London, in 1899.


By the mid 1860s the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE) no longer hid behind its petticoat camouflage of calling its recruits “agents” and began referring to them as missionaries –  in direct opposition to the accepted norms of that era. Sophia Cooke, as principal of the Chinese Girls’ School  (now St Margaret’s, Singapore)  became one of its best advocates in this challenge to what was a male-dominated career option even though there was increasing pressure on women to confine themselves to respectable domesticity.

In England the concept of separate spheres for men and women was by then deeply embedded and well supported by some leading Evangelicals who used the Bible to insist that women were subordinate to men and their place was in the home. Among those who objected to this view was Catherine Booth, the “mother” of the Salvation Army. Like the Quakers of the 17th century she re-interpreted the Bible to show that it empowered women and even allowed them to preach. She began publishing her views on Female Teaching in 1859 and this culminated in her Female Ministry in 1870.  By the late 1880s the Salvation Army did not make any distinction between men and women and their “lassies” could even be in charge of their Citadels. But many of those women were brutally attacked by angry mobs for usurping a man’s public role.

The SPFEE took a less confrontational approach, tailoring its publicity so that it was acceptable to those whose financial support it so needed –  either through direct donations or by producing the “fancy goods” which could be sold in places such as Singapore to raise funds for the schools. It did, however, create an effective “women’s agency” through its auxiliaries and work groups in Britain and Europe as it challenged the belief that only men, and ordained men at that, could be called by God to be missionaries.

Miss Cooke’s visit to England in the early 1860s would, therefore, have been very important. She would have told many women’s groups that the girls at the Chinese Girls’ School (CGS) in Singapore were learning Scriptural truths, sewing and cooking as well as reading, writing and arithmetic to equip them to be the moral guardians of their homes when they married. And many of the CGS graduates were proving to be ideal wives for Christian converts, supporting them in their work as catechists and evangelists. But that was not all for Miss Cooke also reported that the school girls and graduates were directly involved in Christian mission.

Leading the way was Hanio – a young widow by then – who was being supported by the society’s Dublin auxiliary as a “native missionary”. Hanio and her sister, Chunio, had first been inspired by Maria Dyer, the founder of the CGS, and then by Miss Grant, to break with their Chinese culture and become Christians. This was far from an easy choice. They, like other converts at the school, were not only taunted as being “Englishwomen” but also fiercely derided for having brought considerable disgrace on their families.

In 1845 Miss Grant had obviously been very encouraged by these two sisters when they were at the school. She told the SPFEE then: “Chunio, my young happy Christian, to whom the Gospel is as wine, giving her a merry heart, brings me verses full of the joy of the Lord.” They helped her to create a Christian environment at the school where those who were converted were encouraged to become missionaries.

Even though there was so much opposition from their family their mother did allow them to be baptised just before they graduated. Afterwards Miss Grant would collect them each Sunday to take them to church. In early 1846 she told the SPFEE about the growing power of the Chinese secret societies and the violent quarrels that were occurring between two of these. “You will not be surprised to find me acknowledging that I have felt at times a measure of trepidation, on going alone at four o’clock in the morning into town to fetch my girls; also at visiting them in the country.”

In the next few years those secret societies turned on the Christian converts as they feared these would undermine their power by refusing to take their oaths of allegiance. In 1851 the Chinese secret societies in Singapore made a general attack on the Christian converts and killed about 500. It was not surprising that later Chunio and Hanio would choose to live in the growing Christian enclave around the CGS.

In 1853 Miss Cooke took over from Miss Grant and attended the baptism of Chunio and Hanio’s younger sister Kay-chai. Working with young women like these she would turn the CGS into one of the most successful missionary ventures in Singapore in the 19th century.

As the mission work of the school girls and the graduates developed Miss Cooke was very aware of the growing need of the 50,000 Chinese converts for a worship service in their own language. So in 1857 she obtained permission from the Anglican chaplain to convert a small bungalow beside the school into a church where services were led in the vernacular by Chinese catechists.

In the early 1860s Miss Cooke was determined that Singapore and her girls should not miss out on two developments: Revival and the introduction of Ragged Schools. About Revival she told the SPFEE in 1860: “Since hearing of the great work going on at home, I have commenced a weekly prayer-meeting with my girls, for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Singapore. I cannot bear to think of Jesus passing by without giving us His blessing.”

To accomplish her other objective she returned from home leave in England in late 1864 with Miss Houston who soon started the first Chinese Ragged School. She would set up two – one based in the home of a graduate, while the other was managed entirely by girls living at the CGS. Among those CGS students were the five saved from a slave ship in the late 1850s. As those five reached out to the wild children on the streets Miss Cooke commented: “It’s beautiful to see what earnest little missionaries they are.” They had been raised as Christians by older girls at the school who were assigned to them as surrogate mothers.

The graduates such as Anleang not only kept clean, tidy Christian homes for their husbands but also found time to evangelise among their neighbours, visit the poor and nurse the sick. In doing so they provided a voluntary welfare service even for those with leprosy. This service Miss Cooke later extended to sailors who were ill or destitute and, in 1882, helped found the Sailor’s Rest.

The ragged schools were closed in 1884 as the CGS no longer had the funds to run them and the Singapore government had opened several schools. By then Miss Houston was dead, her health severely undermined by the trauma of being caught up in a riot in Fuzhou, China.

She had gone there in April 1875 after a request for help from the Rev John R Wolfe of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). That request led to several graduates and two Englishwomen being sent from the CGS to Fuzhou. When the second Englishwoman, Miss Foster, left for China the SPFEE delightedly reported: “Miss Cooke has been the honoured instrument of supplying Foochow (Fuzhou) with two European and six Chinese missionaries.”  See Miss Cooke’s Mission to China

Supported by Miss Ryan at the school Miss Cooke extended her mission work in Singapore. She began leading Bible reading groups in 1875 using notes written by the Revivalist Dwight L Moody. These groups would include those for sailors, soldiers and policemen and she introduced to these as well as to the school the hymns of Ira Sankey, Moody’s associate. The school choir became renowned for singing Sankey’s and other English hymns.

Miss Cooke helped to organise branches of the Ladies’ Bible and Tract Society and of the British and Foreign Bible Society as well as founding the Singapore YWCA in 1876. The latter became a centre where the married CGS graduates could meet each month, share stories about their mission work and encourage each other.

The SPFEE thought Miss Cooke would retire when she visited England in 1880 and reported: “She has taken rank amongst the most successful missionaries ….. and few have been permitted to see so much fruit from the seed sown. They have heard of girls picked up, often as mere infants, out of destitution and degradation, not only growing up under her care civilised and educated women, but giving evidence of that change of heart which Miss Cooke so earnestly desired of them.”

But for Miss Cooke God’s Call to her was to serve in Singapore and so she returned. In 1882 she reported that she was still regularly visiting the sick in hospital (at the General and the Military Hospital) and the CGS girls were helping her by making pillows and excellent bouquets of flowers. They also made bouquets and wreaths for the twice-yearly sales which helped to raise funds for the school.

She visited England again for a few months in 1893 and announced that she would spend two more years in Singapore and then come home to rest. She was probably 80-years-old when she returned to Singapore but  she was soon fully involved in leading Bible studies; visiting the sick in hospital; teaching the Bible to a large class of Chinese young people each week; and helping at the school. She commented: “Our school is now very full – forty-nine- so many lambs to feed for Him.”

She died in September 1895 and Miss Ryan carried on her work at the school until the SPFEE sent Miss Gage-Brown to become its principal in 1897.

copyright Pip Land August 2012

WAS YOUR FAMILY IN CONTACT WITH BRITISH CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IN THE 19TH CENTURY? If so why would you like any research done concerning those missionaries: when and how they reached your family’s home town, what they did there and maybe even if they had contact with your ancestors? If so post a comment on this website.


Catherine Booth Female Ministry, or Woman’s right to preach the Gospel, 1870  – see

History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, published by Edward Suter, London, 1847 Re Hanio and Chunio pp 222, 235-236; Re secret societies p238

Miss Whately Ed, Missions to the Women of China,  James Nisbet & Co, London, 1866, pp 47-51 &  61-77

The Female Intelligencer  (newsletters of the SPFEE), 1853 – 1875

E A Walker, Sophia Cooke or Forty-two years’ work in Singapore, Elliot Stock, London, 1899.

Bobby E K Sng In His Good Time , Graduates Christian Fellowship,Singapore, 1980  Re Chinese Secret Societies – p 57.

St Margaret’s School, Singapore – the early days


The classroom where Wee Kim taught in 1863 was very different to those at St Margaret’s Schools in Singapore today .

St Margaret’s Schools in Singapore (primary and secondary) proudly celebrated their 170th anniversary in 2012. The Primary School states in its Mission “The school was established for the education and nurture of young girls, that each may develop in body, soul and spirit, and be trained in righteousness to become a woman of God, equipped for every good work”. The girls only need to look back at the early history of the school for the inspiration to fulfil that mission.  Maria Dyer founded what was originally known as the  Chinese Girls’ School and in 1843 the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE)  sent Miss Grant to become its principal. In 1939 it became a day school for girls of all races and in 1949 was renamed as St Margaret’s School in honour of Queen Margaret of Scotland. The separation of the school into primary and secondary took place in 1960.

The long sea journey in a sailing ship from England to Singapore was full of dangers in the mid 19th century and Miss Grant almost did not make it to Cape Town in June 1843. Of the great storm that they somehow survived she wrote later:

“Awe-struck with majesty; we were in a deep valley, the sea like perpendicular rocks around us, mainsail split, mainmast snapped! Ropes cracking, 500 miles from land, the vessel dashed about like a plaything. Again and again I lifted up my heart in prayer. My feelings were strange, but I was not afraid. I felt at peace with God, and in the most solemn manner committed myself to Him for life or death. I never felt all the promises of God more precious to me, nor His presence more habitually with me, nor more power of realising the unseen.”

In early August she got her first sight of Singapore: “When about eight miles off I saw the town lights peeping up here and there, I began to look with as fixed a gaze as ever miser eyed his heaps of gold. There lay before me the land of my future life – or it may be death; the land of my solitude – the land of my labours.”

The Singapore she saw had come a long way from the little fishing village where Raffles had planted the Union Jack in 1819. By then it was a major trading station with a very cosmopolitan population. In the port she would have seen British clippers, Malay sampans, prahus from Borneo and Chinese five-masted junks. About 40,000 people lived in the town, on reclaimed land along the southern bank of the Singapore river. Many were itinerant traders and those seeking their fortunes before returning home to Europe, America, India, the Far East and China.

Miss Grant fell in love with the Chinese Girls’ School (CGS) and its 21 pupils, aged between six and 16 and mainly Chinese Malays. The day after her arrival in Singapore and “worn out with inactivity on board ship” she started work. She described the schoolroom as airy with a good gallery and a number of lesson books hung around. She found “a nice intelligent, pleasing set of girls, that in point of mind and manners would do credit to any English charity-school. On the whole I should say that these Chinese children quite equal the English in point of ability, and generally speaking, are lively and ardent in character.”  In the first few months she was very happy to leave the rice and curry department with Mrs Dyer for that “sadly nonplussed” her.

The CGS was the most successful of all the attempts by Christian missionaries to run girls’ schools in what were then known as the Straits Settlements (Penang, Singapore, Melaka and Labuan). That might have been because Mrs Dyer had changed the way she worked with girls’ schools. When she had visited Melaka in April 1832 she had helped to set up seven schools to be supervised by Mary Christie Wallace following the same formula as Mary Ann Cooke Wilson had used initially in Kolkata. But like Mrs Wilson Mrs Dyer altered course and focused on just one group of girls, whether in a school or an orphanage.

In Singapore she followed in the footsteps of Lucy Ball, the wife of Dr Dyer Ball of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions who had set up a boarding school for Chinese girls soon after arriving there in September 18381.  For the sake of her health the Ball’s moved to Macau in 1841 and then to Hong Kong where she died in June 1844.

From the beginning Mrs Dyer felt her school in Singapore had promise and in September 1842 she told the SPFEE: “We have now had our school nearly a month, and have not had near so much trouble with the children as I expected at first. They are very docile, and take great pleasure in their learning. You will perhaps wonder how we came to get such great girls in our schools, seeing the Chinese always shut up their girls from the time they are twelve years old, until they marry. The women whom we engaged to keep the children clean, and to teach them to work, is a widow with six children, three boys and three girls.”

The two eldest boys already attended a Christian school and the three girls immediately joined Mrs Dyer’s when it was opened in a shophouse in North Bridge Road. The two eldest girls, Chunio and Hanio, assisted their mother with the management of the youngest pupils.

Mrs Dyer had immediately introduced the system of making contracts with parents so that their daughters would remain at the school for a set period of time, usually three years. This acted as a guarantee that the girls would not be suddenly removed to be married.

She asked the SPFEE to send a trained teacher so that the standard of education could be improved especially as she expected to move with her family to  one of the newly-opened treaty ports in China when her husband, Samuel, returned from a missionary conference in Hong Kong after the first Opium War. But  he died of a fever in October 1843 and was buried in Macau. Following that conference there was a migration of missionaries from the Straits Settlements to the Chinese treaty ports. Mrs Dyer2, however, went back to Penang.

After Mrs Dyer left Miss Grant settled down to adjusting to the climate, running the school, learning Malay and living with a degree of fear. She recounted: “As I am called to live alone just now, it is rather a trial of courage; for the Chinamen are so fond of paying midnight visits, that my faithful servant, a black Madras man named ‘Keaper’ sleeps outside my door, with a drawn sword to protect me. He pays me the kindest attention, bringing me pineapples, or anything refreshing he can find; and then he has found out that I like roses, and many is the lovely one he brings me.”

At the school she formed an especially close bond with Chunio and Hanio. She explained that the “nio” adjunct was one of politeness and was equivalent to “Miss”. The girls, who were from a wealthy Hokkien family, became school monitors and Christians. When they left in 1845 the number of pupils had grown from 20 to 29 and the head girl was 13-years-old. Miss Grant reported that the first class was well-behaved and intelligent but the remainder, especially the third and fourth classes, were very wild. That was not surprising for some must have been quite traumatised. Many had been saved by from being auctioned as slaves for the homes of the rich. It was such girls who had moved Mrs Dyer to set up the boarding school.

It took time for them to settle in as Miss Grant also found with Key-oh. Miss Grant told the SPFEE in 1846: “I have now got one darling little babe, whom I call my very own. She is an orphan, and was entered in the school by her grandmother, who has since then gone off to China without a clue as to what has become of her, so that the child is entirely to myself; she, little thing, has taken the most intense fancy to me, and I love it as it were my very own. I never saw anything improve like this little darling, since she came to school; on her first entrance, it was awful to hear the filthy, polluted language of this babe of five; and now the little dear is becoming good and obedient, and reproves any of the newly-entered ones when she hears them swearing. These children scarcely ever fight, except with their tongue; but if in playing, one of them transgresses the rules of the game, in an instant the other will turn round and abuse, not the girl herself, but her mother, or grandmother.”

The school was often very noisy for, as Miss Grant noted, all the classes were held in one large room. If she was teaching one class religion another might be learning how to spell. “They are very fond of affording me audible proofs of their industry (in spelling), by learning pretty loud,” she commented.

In early 1851 a nice, respectable, good-tempered looking middle-aged Chinese woman, Bee-bee-kin (Bibi Kin) entered Miss Grant’s classroom and asked if her adopted daughter could attend for fortnight to see if she wanted to stay there. Anleang was about 14-years-old and usually a Chinese mother would have been organising a marriage for her. But Bee-bee-kin was disappointed that Anleang, whom she had adopted when just a small child, had such a peevish, perverse temper.

Miss Grant recounted: “The only system of education with which the Chinese of the Straits of Malacca are acquainted is that connected with the rod; and the continually-repeated injunction laid upon me by the parents, on placing their children under my charge, was contained in these Malay words – ‘Pukul, pukul, pukul, sama – dyer, baik, baik!’ ‘Beat, beat, beat her well!’ Bee-bee-kin told me she had followed this plan in bringing up her adopted daughter, but she only seemed to grow worse and worse every day. Anleang appeared to me to be an affectionate girl, of a very pettish, petulant temper, but possessed of a very good sense, active, and willing to learn.”

After a few months Anleang’s mother was so struck by the change in her daughter that she often visited the school, sometimes spending whole days there. She even placed her small orphaned niece and nephew  at the school and later became its matron. Anleang was baptised as a Christian in 1853 and one of the witnesses was Sophia Cooke who had been sent by the SPFEE to take over from Miss Grant. Anleang went on to be confirmed and became a teacher in time for the arrival of a group of slave children in November 1859.

The six girls, who had been bought in China to be sold in Singapore, were rescued by the Police and delivered to Miss Cooke. “They knew not what awaited them in the strange house with the white lady,” she recalled. She described their howling when they arrived as deafening and reported: “They pulled down their hair, beat themselves about, saying they had better die than remain there; and they refused their food. This was an unpromising beginning; but Christian love and firmness triumphed even over some of them.”  Two, however, had to be returned to the police and one ran away. Of the other three two had become Christians by November 1860.

In 1861 Miss Cooke told the SPFEE that she had 12 girls who had no other home than the school. For them and other girls who had no means of support she sought sponsors in Britain. When the police delivered five more small slave girls (Tien, Choon, Sien, Jin and Inn) she managed to find sponsors for three of them. Older girls took on the task of being their surrogate mothers and all were raised as Christians.

When it came to finding husbands for those who had become Christians it was Miss Cooke who often helped with the matchmaking.  She was assisted by Ellen and Benjamin Keasberry. The Rev Keasberry had chosen to resign from the London Missionary Society rather than leave Singapore in 1843. The LMS gave him its printing press and with this he was able to support his family and his mission work among the Malays. Many Malay speaking Chinese Christians attended his chapel and several would seek wives from among the graduates of Miss Cooke’s school.

True to her protestant beliefs Miss Cooke stood out against vanity and so Gek, the first graduate whose marriage was organised by the school, had to wear a very plain dress.  Miss Cooke recounted: “The people dislike change of any kind, and Gek was subjected to a great deal of trial on account of having deviated from the ‘customs’. ” She therefore accepted, on behalf of the school, a donation of a new wedding dress. Anleang was the first to wear this dress of crimson brocaded silk trimmed with rich embroidery and an embroidered yellow silk petticoat. But by Chinese standards even that dress was only worn by the poorest of brides.



Engraving – from left Anleang, Tempang and Wee Kim. 


Anleang’s husband, Ah Tak, was a Christian who was working as an interpreter at the police court in Singapore. She gave up teaching at the school just before her marriage in December 1862. She wrote to the SPFEE: “I wish to thank you all, dear friends, so very much, for your great kindness in providing for me, not only for my body but especially my soul. I have had a very happy home in this school for fourteen years. I am so sorry to leave it and dear Miss Cooke; but I shall live as close to the school as I possibly can.” The school had moved to a new building (pictured below) earlier that year and the graduates who had converted like Chunio and Anleang wanted to create a Christian area around it.



Miss Cooke then visited England and the school was run by Miss Ryan who had joined the CGS in Singapore. Miss Cooke returned in late 1864 full of enthusiasm both for Ragged Schools and for the Christian Revival she had witnessed in England. She was accompanied on the journey back to Singapore by Miss Houston. The latter took on the job of starting Ragged Schools in early 1865 assisted by the oldest pupils. One of the ragged schools was based in Tempang’s house as she was married by then. Anleang managed the housekeeping at a ragged school until she became ill after delivering her second child. She died in August 1867.

Wee Kim continued at the school until the early 1870s taking on responsibility for the housekeeping as well as teaching. She was described by Miss Cooke as a diligent teacher even though she was more timid and retiring than Anleang. Wee Kim wrote in April 1866 that the nine girls in her class were reading in Malay and English, wrote nicely, did sums and a little geography. She added that she tried to teach them useful things like sewing, cooking and cleaning. By 1875 she had married “Ah Ling” (Moy Ling)  and gone with him to Melbourne where, according to the CMS Church Missionary Gleaner in 1894, he became the principal Methodist missionary to the Chinese there3.

In 1875 Wee Kim wrote to SPFEE thanking them for offering support if she was able to start a school in Melbourne. She added: “The church being in the heart of the city, they (the Chinese) turn to us… and they are taught to think about the true and living God.” Moy Ling became the superintendent of the Chinese Methodist Mission in Victoria and was described as a quiet man who was highly regarded by the leaders of the Methodist Church and held in great respect by his countrymen.

Miss Cooke had no doubt that one of her major objectives was raising Christian women who would make good wives for converts like Moy Ling by not only being well founded in the Christian faith but also being able to run a good household. This was the aim of all the schools run by missionaries for Chinese girls in the Straits and later in China.

But Miss Cooke went one step further. She was not just a SPFEE agent – she was a missionary. And she taught her girls to be missionaries.

copyright Pip Land July 2012



1 Miss Whately (Elizabeth Jane) Ed Missions to the Women of China James Nisbet & Co, London, 1866, p39

2 For more about Maria Dyer   see

3 The principal Chinese missionary in Melbourne at that time was “James” Lee Moy Ling. He had migrated from China to Daylesford near Melbourne in 1856 during the Gold Rush and was converted to Christianity at Daylesford Methodist chapel in 1865 . Later, as a catechist, he established the Chinese Methodist Mission in Little Bourne Street, Melbourne. He and Leong On Tong were, in July 1872, the first Chinese to be ordained as Christian ministers in Australia. When On Tong visited China to find a wife Moy Ling asked if a Christian bride could also be found for him.


History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, published by Edward Suter, London, 1847

Miss Whately, Missions to the Women of China, 1866

The Female Intelligencer  (newsletters of the SPFEE), 1842 – 1875

With thanks to the British Library for photocopies of engravings in The Female Intelligencer.

School histories – St Margaret’s Secondary School

St Margaret’s Primary School:

Information about James Moy Ling:

and Chinese Historical Images in Australia  –

Mary Ann Cooke Wilson and her Kolkata schools

Just a year after arriving in Kolkata in 1821 Mary Ann Cooke  (Mary Ann Wilson)  had been so successful in setting up girls’ schools that her work was seen as more important than that of the man,  Rev Isaac Wilson, who had proposed marriage to her! Now that was extraordinary in the days when women were seen as inferior to men and when it was felt that a wife should be subservient to her husband.

Daniel Corrie, then Archdeacon at Kolkata1, wrote in August 1822 to the Church Missionary Society (CMS)  Corresponding Committee in Madras that Miss Cooke “having embarked in a cause for which she is eminently qualified, & having published her purpose & solicited & obtained considerable public support, were she to leave Bengal, it would probably prove injurious to the Missionary cause generally, & certainly to the cause of Female education.” He added she was already supervising 12 schools attended by about 290 girls.

The CMS Corresponding Committee in Kolkata  therefore suggested to the committee in Madras that Mr Wilson should swap places with another missionary. The only problem was that Mr Wilson had already completed a year of language study whereas the other missionary (Rev William Sawyer) had not yet arrived in India.

Miss Cooke had met Mr Wilson and his wife, Elizabeth, when they were in Madras in mid 1821. The Wilson’s were  newly weds having married that April before leaving for India in May. Elizabeth, however, died in Tranquebar in December 1821. Mr Wilson explained later that he and his wife had formed a friendship with Miss Cooke and had corresponded with her. A letter of condolence from Miss Cooke led to more letters and then a proposal of marriage. He, of course, expected her to join him.

But Miss Cooke, a former governess who was about 39-years-old , was determined to stay where she was. Even she had not expected to be so successful at starting girls’ schools. When the Calcutta School Society was founded  it was estimated that only 4,180 out of a population of 750,000 in that city were receiving any education and scarcely one was a girl2 . Its request for help led to the British and Foreign Schools Society sending Miss Cooke to Kolkata about three years later. That assignment did not last long, however, for some of the Indian men on the committee did not agree with educating  girls.

So, in January 1822, Miss Cooke joined the CMS and went on a tour of the mission’s boys’ schools. At one of them she saw a girl trying to listen to the lessons. Following an invitation from Miss Cooke the girl brought several friends and their mothers the next day. Miss Cooke was accompanied by Hannah  Ellerton, the widowed mother-in-law of Daniel Corrie, who could translate for her.

Mrs Ellerton wrote later about how she had answered the queries of some of the mothers concerning Miss Cooke’s motives and their response: “Miss Cooke had heard in England that the women of this country were kept in total ignorance – that they were not taught even to read or write, and the men only allowed to attain to any degree of knowledge. It was also generally understood that the chief objection arose from your having no female who could undertake to teach. She therefore felt much sorrow and compassion for your state, and determined to leave her country, her parents, friends, and every other advantage to come here for the sole purpose of educating your female children.  They cried ‘Oh! What a pearl of a woman is this!’”

Mrs Ellerton returned the next day with her grand daughter, Anna Corrie, and the Indian women were fascinated by the little girl’s hands for they were so soft and white. When asked why they wanted their own girls to be educated they told Mrs Ellerton that it would enable them to be more useful in their families and increase their knowledge. One mother said: “Our husbands look upon us little better than brutes.”

One of Miss  Cooke’s Bengali language teachers, a high Brahmin, told her that Bengali women were “like beasts – quite stupid” and did all he could to dissuade her from opening girls’ schools. Not surprisingly she did not employ him for long.

Mr Wilson was finally able to join her in April 1823 and they were married nine days later. In December that year, when she had 300 girls in 24 schools,  he wrote: “It is surprising how Mrs Wilson bears her labor (sic). She sallies forth about 7 o’clock and I see no more of her till about 12. In the evening she frequently visits a few schools and notwithstanding all this fatigue she enjoys the very best of health.” Even during the oppressive hot season when other missionaries fell ill and even died she could “bear to go out twice and visit her most distant schools.”

The schools took a lot of supervising because she  had to employ Brahmins who could read and write Bengali but, of course, had not been trained in any British educational system. It was also possible for a new teacher to start work at a school only to find that some of the girls could already read better than he could.

In December 1823 160 girls attended a public examination where a crowd of “persons of the highest respectability”, including Lady Amherst and the Lord Bishop, watched them  read from Watts catechism and produce specimens of their writing. Such examinations became major fund raising events for the schools with the main sponsors being expatriate women. By March 1824 the CMS gave control of  Mrs Wilson’s schools to the newly founded Ladies Society for Native Female Education in Calcutta and its Vicinity. One of the objectives of the society was to make the work more exclusively female. Young expatriate women were employed to supervise the schools.

It took  four years for the society to achieve its main objective which was to have a Central School built with a house attached. One of the major sponsors was Rajah Boidonath Roy Bahadur and a substantial amount of the running costs were covered by selling fancy work sent out by women in England.

In the next few years Mr Wilson became disillusioned with the mission’s emphasis upon schools. On top of his busy schedule of visiting and examining boys’ schools he was often out preaching in the streets. He felt the schools were ineffective because the children left before they had learned much. The girls were only 12 to 14 years old when they got  married and the boys left as soon as they felt they had sufficient education to find better employment. Mr Wilson also believed  they should be employing Christian teachers especially as the Christian superintendents were not able to spend long at each school. The hot season of 1828 was, however, his last for he fell ill and died that September.

His wife had made steady progress in training  teachers. At the public examination held  that year there were 25 young Indian women who were described as teachers and monitors. Many of them were either widows or had been deserted by their husbands – but not young Mary Ann. In 1825, when she was 11-years-old, she was one of the best readers in the small school that she attended. Her father and mother did all they could to stop her becoming a Christian but in the end agreed to live with her on the mission compound at Mirzapore. By 1828 all three  had been baptised and Mary Ann was the head monitor/teacher at the Central School. Mary Ann moved to Mrs Wilson’s  Orphan Refuge on the banks of the Hooghly when that was opened in 1836. She married a Baptist catechist and had a family of her own.

Mrs Wilson seems to have withdrawn from supervising many schools and focused on raising and training the orphans at the Refuge. In that she yet again led the way towards being closer to her pupils – a trend that would be picked up later by another Mary Ann (Aldersey). Mrs Wilson’s most important legacy in India was probably the women she taught to become teachers. But hardly anything is said about them in her letters or reports. Does anyone know what happened to any of those Indian women who helped to pioneer female education in their own country?

copyright Pip Land April 2012

WAS YOUR FAMILY IN CONTACT WITH BRITISH CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IN THE 19TH CENTURY? If so why would you like any research done concerning those missionaries: when and how they reached your family’s home town, what they did there and maybe even if they had contact with your ancestors? If so post a comment on this website.


1 Daniel Corrie became the first Bishop of Madras.

2 An old friend, Peter Conlan, read the above article and informed me that Indian Recollections by John Statham, published in 1832, was available on Google books. In this book Statham quoted (pp53-57) from the 2nd annual report of the “Calcutta Female Juvenile Society for the Education of Native Females” issued in December 1821.  By then this society, instigated by Hannah Marshman of  Serampore, had three girls’ schools in Kolkata with 79 students aged from five-years to 30. At their first one of the students, Doya, had learned so much that she was able to conduct the school when the mistress was ill.  The second two were taught by Indian women even though it was very difficult to find any who were properly qualified to instruct others. One of those teachers was 15-years-old Raymunee who could read pretty well and had been used to keeping shop accounts. Her widowed mother was also engaged to help at the school and a small house was erected for them beside the school. At the third the national female teacher was assisted by her 19-years-old daughter. All three schools were supervised by European women who visited them once to twice a week.  The schools were named after the cities and towns in England from which donations towards their upkeep were received, such as Liverpool.


Letters of Mrs M A Wilson and the Rev Isaac Wilson in the CMS Archives in the Special Collection at Birmingham University.

J Richter History of Missions in India Revell 1908,p334-5-1819 education statistics for Kolkata and about Mrs Cooke Wilson.

Priscilla Chapman Hindoo Female Education L & G Seeley 1839 – and on : Preface and pages 75-77,85,92. Available on

Pioneering girls’ education in India

When the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East ( SPFEE) sent its first agents to India in June 1835 it could have had little doubt about the Herculean task facing them.

In India at that time  it was generally believed that women should not be educated and a missionary commented that to attempt female education there was as hopeless as to try to scale a wall 500 yards high1.  An Indian was reported as saying: “You will be wanting to educate our cows next!”2

An SPFEE agent, Elizabeth Carter, on arrival in India in 1836, wrote: “I hear of nothing on all sides, but difficulties in the work of female education: not that this disheartens me, for I am fully persuaded that it is not by might, nor by power of ours, but that God can, and will, bless the feeblest instrumentality.”

The call for Western women to help their Indian sisters who were living in what was described as darkness and ignorance came initially from the Baptist missionaries based at Serampore near Kolkata. Within a year of arriving there in 1799 Hannah, the wife of Joshua Marshman,  had set up the first Christian boarding and day schools for girls in India and in 1819 she founded the Serampore Native Female Education Society. A  “Letter  to the Ladies of Liverpool and of the UK” from the Serampore missionary, William Ward, published in January 1821 led to the British and Foreign School Society ( BFSS ) sending Mary Ann Cooke (Wilson) to Kolkata that year.   See Mary Ann Cooke Wilson and her Kolkata schools.

The SPFEE in its first fund raising pamphlet noted that those who knew India thought that her attempt to educate Hindu girls  in schools was “as idle as any dream of enthusiasm could be.”  And yet by 1825 about 480 girls were attending 30 schools, and the number continued to grow. The society was inspired by Mrs Wilson and by the shocking stories about the “degradation” of Hindu women.

In that pamphlet it was reported: “They are treated like slaves. They may not eat with their husbands. They are expressly permitted by law to be beaten. They are, by system, deprived of education. They may not join in religious worship without their husbands, and are considered by their laws as irreclaimably wicked.”

The Society fully believed the missionaries who had supplied this information and that it was the duty of the East India Company to be paternalistic  towards those it ruled in India at that time. Therefore it was the duty of women in Britain to assist in providing “the blessing of maternal wisdom and piety – to teach the men … that those who are now their degraded slaves, may be their companions, counsellors and friends.”

And so, within a year of the SPFEE being founded, it sent three agents to India:  Eliza Postans (Mc Cullum ) who went to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh near the Nepalese border;   Jane Jones (Leupolt ) – a trained infant school teacher – to work with Martha Weitbrecht (Mary Weitbrecht *) at Burdwan, 72 miles norther of Kolkata; and Priscilla Wakefield (Chapman) to assist Mrs Wilson in Kolkata. 

On arrival in Kolkata Miss Wakefield found she had to learn Bengali and prepare to take over superintending the Central School as Mrs Wilson was keen to move to an orphanage she had founded nine miles away.

Hindu parents knew that the Central School, which was opened in 1828,  provided a Christian education and Miss Wakefield told the SPFEE: “The time we have with (the girls) is so short, that it is of importance to secure it all for making them acquainted with the Scriptures: the first three classes read the Testament; the next four the Bible History; the next six Watts’s Catechism; and the rest compose the spelling and ABC classes. The average number of children is 300, divided into 26 classes.

“February and March are the great marrying months, when probably all the first classes, and some of the next divisions, will be taken away; and then there is nothing to be done but to endeavour to bring the next best children forward, and to fill up the lower classes with the new children, which the teachers will bring in the place of their old ones. This takes place every year, so that probably 100 children are thus exchanged, or rather 100 are married away, and 100 new ones are brought in their place; for it is the interest of the teachers to get children, as they are paid a pica for ever one they bring. This constant removal of the children is one of the greatest outward discouragements.” It was usual then for a girl in India to be married by the time she was 12-years-old.

Miss Wakefield  studied Bengali for three and a half hours each morning and by March 1836 she could write: “I am thankful to say that for the last month I have been able to attend to the school with some degree of pleasure; that is, I can understand what is going forward, hear the children read, blunder out a few questions, and more or less direct the teachers in their work. My interest in the children increases with my acquaintance with them, and now that I understand their answers. I hope I shall be able to get amongst some of our women teachers at their own homes, and, when I know the language better, talk to the women, who will soon assemble in numbers at the sight of an English lady. At present all attempts to get admittance to (those) among the higher class appear utterly useless.”  She also told the SPFEE that she not only felt no desire to take over the “reins of government” of the Central School but even felt unfit to do so. She added: “Still I have nothing to do but to go on, in daily and hourly dependence that ‘as our day is, so shall our strength be’.”

Then, in October 1836 she married Henry Chapman and the SPFEE had to send  someone to replace her. Eliza Postans married in March 1837 and Jane Jones became Mrs Charles Benjamin Leupolt in 1838. All repaid the SPFEE the percentage of what they owed the society. Prior to Mrs Leupolt’s  marriage the Rev Weitbrecht had noted about the orphanage at Burdwan: “In addition to Mrs W’s maternal care the children have the advantage of very efficient superintendence from a lady who left England expressly devoted to the work.”

His wife would have probably applied to the SPFEE if it had existed in 1831 for she was so keen to work as a missionary  in India. She was 22-years-old when she met Caroline Eliza Garling, the wife of the British Resident in Melaka.  Mrs Garling invited Martha to join her family group when they left for Melaka less than a week later. So Martha packed her bags and went. In Melaka she met and married a British missionary, Thomas Kilpin Higgs but he died on the sea journey to Bengal. So, early in 1832, she arrived in India as a widow after just seven weeks of marriage.

In 1834 she married the Rev John James Weitbrecht and went to live and work with him at the CMS mission in Burdwan where they founded a small orphanage and a day school using the monies given to them as wedding gifts. Mrs Weitbrecht initially planned to train the girls to become domestic servants but wrote in 1875 that those who had been converted in such orphanages in India had “formed a goodly band of teachers and matrons for the ever increasing openings in schools and private residences.” She added: “In this and other respects, both orphanages and boarding schools must be regarded as having proved of essential service in the progress of female education and enlightenment.”

She obviously convinced Jane Jones Leupolt who moved with her husband to Varanasi (Benares) after her marriage. There she not only took care of her own children and helped her husband but was involved with orphanages for girls and boys. Both of these were run by the Leupolt’s on “by faith” principles in that they had to depend upon prayer alone to see the costs covered.

She taught some lessons at the boys’ orphanage and was involved in finding trades for the boys such as Persian carpet making, tailoring, gardening, and in domestic service. Of the girls’ orphanage her husband wrote: “Its aim is to make these girls good Christians and useful members of society. For this purpose they are instructed in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, knitting, plain and fancy needlework…. (and) knitting.”  The fancy needlework was sold to raise funds for the institution. The girls did their school work early in the morning, had an hour’s break, and then helped with such jobs as grinding corn, sweeping the sleeping and school rooms, and cooking food.

Mrs Leupolt noted that some of the girls had later been able to make a living through their sewing and so had been able to support their otherwise destitute families. One, whom she called Mary, was married to a Muslim fakir when she was 12-years-old. He had then disappeared for two years and when he returned she did not want to leave the orphanage. He, therefore, asked for the Rs 5 he had paid for her to be returned. When a missionary offered him Rs 8 if he signed a divorce document he agreed. Mary later converted to Christianity and became a teacher.

At the orphanages Mrs Leupolt began working with some blind children and when she and her husband were in Europe from 1857 to 1860 they visited William Moon in Brighton. She told Moon that a blind Indian Christian woman could already read embossed text in her own language and had begun teaching others. Moon promised to pay the wages of any blind teachers working with the Leupolts.

Back in India Mrs Leupolt devised a system to print Hindi using Moon’s characters and had reading books published in it. These were awarded a special prize at the  Agra Exhibition in 1867.

The Leupolts obtained funding from the government to teach 20 blind boys and girls at the mission schools and orphanages, and when her embossed books were introduced into the Raja Kali Shank Ghosal’s Asylum she sent an Indian teacher as well.  When that teacher died she took along a young Indian man called Titus whom she had trained.

In his second book of recollections Leupolt wrote: “In the morning he taught the blind, and in the afternoon he taught the lame and decrepit who were not blind. He was directed not only to teach the blind to read, but to tell them tales and anecdotes, and to instruct them well in mental arithmetic.” It would seem that Titus was the first specially trained Indian teacher of the blind whose name is still known (M M).

The Leupolts retired from India in 1872 and the work among the blind was carried on by a Mrs Erhardt at the Secundra orphanage.  One of the blind girls, Julia, stayed at the orphanage because, due to her disability, she had nowhere else to go. Mrs Erhardt described her as a faithful teacher.

These are just fleeting glimpses of the Indian teachers who helped to open up the world of education for girls. Most of the mission records are about European men and the stories about missionary wives often remain hidden histories. So it is even harder to find out what happened to the local women who took part in this great revolution.

Copyright Pip Land March 2012


Minutes and pamphlets of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, held in the Special Collection at Birmingham University.

Mary Anne Cooke Wilson: Priscilla Wakefield Chapman at the Central School in Kolkata and Miss Carter on female education : History of The Society for promoting Female Education in the East, London, Edward Suter. pp52-59

1- Louise Creighton Missions Their Rise and Development USA H Holt & Co 1912, p115 (

2 –Nothing to You – a Record of the Work among women in connection with the LMS,  LMS 1899 (London Missionary Society), p14

M Weitbrecht Memoir of the Rev John James Weitbrecht J Nisbet 1854 (pp 51 & 56), and The Women of India and Christian Work in the Zenana London, J Nisbet, 1875 (p65).

*Mrs Weitbrecht is usually referred to as Mary Weitbrecht on the internet sites which list her as an author.

In the Church Missionary Intelligencer for 1888 there was an obituary for Mrs Weitbrecht (pp315-320) in which it was stated her name at birth was Martha Edwardes.

See also


Charles Benjamin and Jane Jones Leupolt:  C B Leupolt Recollections of an Indian Missionary London, SPCK, 1865 pp  ; C B Leupolt Further Recollections of an Indian Missionary, London, Nisbet 1884  – and with thanks to (MM)  M Miles Blind and Sighted Pioneer Teachers in 19th Century China and India (revised edition) April 2011 – – this provides more information about Jane Jones Leupolt.

And a bit more …..

Mary Ann Cooke Wilson 1784 – 1868

Rev John James Weitbrecht, born in Schorndorf, South Germany, April 29 1802. Sent by CMS to India first arriving in 1830 and assigned to Burdwan. Married in 1834. Died March 1852 in Bengal. (Five of their nine children also buried in Bengal)

Martha Weitbrecht, nee Edwardes, born in Great Marlow, Bucks, UK, 24 July 1808.  Died in North Kensington  February 1888. For more about how the Garlings encouraged those involved with girls’ education in Melaka see Single women not wanted.

Henry Chapman born August 15, 1797, married Priscilla Wakefield at Old Mission Church, Kolkata, November 28 1836, died in England March1854. In the 1851 census Mr Chapman described himself as an East India Company agent and merchant. (With thanks to

Priscilla Wakefield Chapman, born January 1810 and died at Wimbledon, England, in January 1887 ( from  www.

Charles (Carl)  Benjamin Leupolt, born in Saxony (Germany) October 1805. Sent by CMS to India in 1832, first to Gorakhpur and then to Varanasi (Benares).  In 1874 he became the rector of Marsham, Norfolk. He died in Aylsham, Norfolk in December 1884.

Jane Jones Leupolt, born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England in  1812 and died in Cannstatt, Germany in November 1894

Eliza Postans married John Mc Cullum at Gorakhpur in March 1837. (India Office) I can’t find any more information about her.

According to the minutes of the SPFEE of March 1839  Elizabeth Carter married Charles Madden and died shortly afterwards. From the Family History Research section of the India Office: she married Charles Madden, a civil assistant surgeon, in June 1837 and died in November 1838.

Two other women sent out by the SPFEE died very soon after they reached their destinations. In its first ten years the society sent out more than 55 women of which eight got married before completing five years. So the SPFEE did avoid becoming a “lonely hearts” club for the single men searching for suitable wives in far off places.

The Quaker Inheritance

The Quaker meeting house at Countersett has become one of my favourite places of worship.  An hour of quiet meditation there is so enriching- the walls of that building seem to have become suffused with the prayers and peacefulness of 300 years of Quaker meetings. I often find myself meditating on what I see as that special inheritance that the Quakers have bequeathed us. I believe they played a significant part in making it possible for single women in the early 19th century to go and start the first schools for girls in Africa, India, China, Singapore and Malaysia as I hope will be obvious from the following article:

In its first year the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE) sent four single women to work overseas – a remarkable feat at a time when it was generally believed that a woman’s place was in the home. But then the SPFEE had gained the support of some very aristocratic ladies as well as  those related to Elizabeth Fry, the Quaker prison reformer. Women in the USA would also receive an appeal from the Rev David Abeel to set up a similar female organisation but were discouraged by Rufus Anderson, the powerful secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Mary Webb in Boston, USA,  may have led the world in setting up the first women’s missionary society but that was okay so long as it raised funds to send male missionaries overseas.

The first meeting of the SPFEE was chaired by a leading Evangelical, the Rev B W Noel but soon after that it became an all-female affair with the Duchess Dowager of Beaufort as the president, and the Duchess of Gordon  among the vice-presidents. The committee had close links with the Baptist Missionary Society, the London Missionary Society and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). They brought to the work evangelistic fervour mixed with  very practical skills and experience. One of the essential skills was how to set up a well-functioning women’s committee – a skill which the Quakers had two centuries of experience and had been used to great effect by Elizabeth Fry in her campaign.

She formed the all-female committee of the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate in 1817 and went on to motivate women throughout Britain and Europe to set up ladies’ committees. One was even formed by the ladies of the Russian court. In 1818 she was the first woman called to give evidence to a committee of the British Government’s  House of Commons.

Women’s committees became an essential part of the Quaker experience because its founder, George Fox (1624-1691), having immersed himself in reading the Bible, recognised that before God men and women were equal. He wrote in his journal: “I saw that Christ died for all men, and was a propitiation for all; and enlightened all men and women with his divine and saving light.” Under his leadership there were committees for women and men  to assist with the affairs of the Society of Friends.

Both he and Margaret Fell (who became his wife) used Biblical texts to prove that women were treated as equal by God, a key verse being “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” (Joel 2:28).  Quaker women, therefore, shared in prophesying, preaching, teaching, mission work overseas, and education as well as suffering imprisonment and persecution. Anna Stoddart wrote in 1899 that to the Quakers women owed “the inception of reverence, of education, of recognition in administrative and executive work, and of co-operation in ministerial and pastoral work.”

With the assumption of spiritual equality the Friends were among the first to start schools for girls as well as boys and by the 18th century in England the literacy rate among Quaker women was far higher than among the general population. The Quakers also recognised the need to provide education for the poor well before universal education was encouraged in Britain. It wasn’t until Evangelicalism became a powerful force in the early and mid 19th century that educating the poor became a political issue – and yet again women’s committees played their part.

At the beginning of the 19th century  two church-based groups, the British and Foreign Schools Society (BFSS)  and the National Schools Society, began opening day schools. Both used the monitorial system as there were so few trained teachers. Under this system a small group of children were taught simple lessons by the teacher until they were able to instruct others. Throughout each school older children taught the younger ones in small classes in a very regimented system. As a major objective of the National Schools Society was to promote the disciplines and doctrines of the Church of England the BFSS, founded by the Quaker, Joseph Lancaster, in 1808, was mainly patronised by the nonconformists such as the Baptists, Congregationalists and Methodists.

The general practice was for the girls’ schools to be separate from those for the boys and to be run by women’s committees. For instance the Maidenhead National School for Girls in Berkshire was founded in 1820 and run by a ladies’ committee which oversaw the curriculum, appointed the teachers, and the administration. The fees paid by the children were minimal with most of the money being raised through public subscription. Lessons included reading, writing, arithmetic, knitting, making up and mending clothes and household work as well as religious studies.

An essential element of Protestantism which began in Europe in the 15th century was that each individual could commune directly with God and that was facilitated by reading the Bible. The revival of the Christian churches in the late 18th century led to an increased emphasis upon literacy and to even more women being called by God into spheres of work not usually open to them. And so the leaders of the Evangelical movement which included John Wesley were, like Fox,  confronted by the revolutionary action of the Holy Spirit which treated women as equal with men. Wesley did finally accept that some women  had been called by God to preach but unlike Fox he did not embed this into the doctrines of the Wesleyan  Methodist church. This meant that after his death the Wesleyan Conference in 1802 decided it was “contrary to both scripture and to prudence that women should preach or exhort in public.” Yet again the freedoms  gained by women during a time of revival were being curtailed.

So when the SPFEE was formed it had to be careful not to be seen to be usurping the “headship” of men. The women on that committee did, however, believe in the liberating ethos of the Bible and had little doubt that if they shared that with girls in the East they could transform lives. In his appeal which led to the founding of the SPFEE Abeel (an ABCFM missionary who was on his way home to the USA after four years in the Far East) spoke of the degradation of women in China and India due to lack of education and being locked away in their homes. He asked how Christian women could not respond and assist a Society whose aim was “to rescue the weak from oppression, and to comfort the miserable in their sorrow – to give to the infant population of India and of China the blessing of maternal wisdom and piety”

The  SPFEE was careful to publicise its work in Christian periodicals as what could be defined as “Women’s Work for Women” and so be an acceptable occupation for pious women. This enabled it to send single women overseas as a natural evolution of organising and superintending  girls’ schools in England. It also needed good role models and for those it looked to women like Mary Ann Cooke Wilson and Martha  (Mary) Weitbrecht who were superintending girls’ schools in India.  And it was to them that two of the first SPFEE agents were sent in 1835.

Footnote: Joyce Goodwin in “Disposed to Take the Charge” records that a Quaker, Hannah Kilham from Sheffield, went to the Gambia (1822-23) and then to Sierra Leone (1827-28 and 1830-32) to organise schools for girls who had been liberated from slave ships. In this article Ms Goodman provides more information about women’s committees running schools in England in the early 19th century.

Copyright P Land 2012


The Female Advocate magazine in England in 1844 told women that their job was to make the home an oasis, and that girls should be educated so that the could achieve ‘elevated standards of morals’ and fulfil their duties to society and to their own children.

Rufus Anderson and women’s committees: Ruth A Tucker’s essay “Women in Missions: Reaching Sisters in ‘Heathen Darkness’, in Earthen Vessels – American Evangelists and Foreign Missions, Eds J A Carpenter and W R Shenk,   W B Eerdmans Pub Co 1990 pp251-252.

Founding of the SPFEE : The History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East published by Edward Suter in London, 1847  pp1-10; Rev Abeel’s appeal – pp261-265; the society’s rules and objectives – pp275-285.


Religious Society of Friends :

Journal of George Fox, Friends Tract Association, 1891, pp35-36, 202,386.

E B Emmott, The Story of Quakerism, Headley Brothers, London, 1908.

W A Campbell Stewart, Quakers and Education, The Epworth Press 1953.

Adrian Davies, The Quakers in English Society 1655 to 1725 Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2000  p 119-22

A M Stoddart, Elizabeth Pease Nichol, J M Dent and Co, 1899.

Elizabeth Fry : see

Education in England:

Berkshire Records Office, Minutes of Maidenhead National School for Girls, 1838.

C P Hill , British Economic and Social History 1700-1964, Edward Arnold, London, 1970

Andrena Stiles, Religion, Society, Reform 1800-1914, Hodder & Stoughton 1995.

J Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain Routledge, London 1995

J Goodman “Disposed to Take the Charge” 1999…/1589/1678


Eliza Thornton – a singular success

In 1835 the Society for Promoting Girls’ Education in the East ( SPFEE) badly needed a success story. Its all female committee had to prove that a single European woman could not only survive living in either South East Asia or India but could also superintend schools for girls in such far away places. It found that pioneer in Eliza Thornton. She became renowned for her work in Jakarta (Batavia) in Indonesia as an SPFEE recruit,  Emma Cecilia Combe from Berne in Switzerland, recounted in November 1839 after their first meeting.

“I approached with a beating heart. ‘Let me find grace before her eyes’ was my prayer, as the next minute was now to show me her whose name I had long pronounced with respect, whose example had inflamed my heart with a holy emulation, and who was now to be so much to me. If sometimes a distant fame awakens expectation which a closer knowledge of the person is not able to realise, it was not my case with Miss Thornton. I expected much and found more.”

Mme Combe was the second woman sent by the SPFEE to help Miss Thornton, the first being a  Miss Hulk from Holland. Miss Thornton had arrived in what was then called Batavia , the capital of the Dutch East Indies, in August 1835 after being selected by the SPFEE and attending a teacher training course. She had superintended some schools in Corfu while working as a governess with the family of an Anglican minister there before applying to the SPFEE. Of her the SPFEE wrote:

“The testimony to her character and ability were deemed so satisfactory, and her personal communications with the committee inspired so much confidence in her piety and judgement, that she was unanimously received as its representative to carry forward the work it had at heart. It was not without serious consideration of the responsibility they incurred, that the ladies came to this decision.”

The committee would pay £150 for her sea passage and her outfit, and would make sure that she was properly chaperoned during the long journey. But with £533 in the kitty in March 1835 and with the possibility of sending three women to India the SPFEE made it very clear to Miss Thornton that she would not receive a salary and would have to support herself from school fees. It was expected that she would do that by taking Mary Wanstall Gutzlaff’s place at the Melaka Free School. It was also hoped that she would be able to superintend the local schools founded by Mary Christie Wallace and Maria Dyer.

Jakarta was then the capital of the Dutch East Indies and was on the crossroads between the Roaring Forties sea route from the Cape of Good Hope and the trade routes from India to China. The prevailing winds at the time of Miss Thornton’s arrival meant that she could not travel on to Melaka for two months and  Eliza Medhurst, the Indian Eurasian wife LMS missionary Walter Medhurst, encouraged her to remain in Jakarta. Mrs Medhurst had opened a boarding school for the girls and young boys of the wealthier families as a way of raising extra funds and was due to go to England with her husband. Miss Thornton informed the SPFEE that the Medhursts had also started an orphanage after finding three half-caste children running around the streets “in utter wretchedness”.

During the 200 years that the Dutch had been in control of Jakarta there had always been a dearth of European women. So the European men had married local and Eurasian women. Some of these families were keen to have their children learn English and to study the Bible. The children at Mrs Medhurst’s school were also taught reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and grammar, plus needlework for the girls.

Thirteen days after arriving in Jakarta Miss Thornton wrote: “This day I have commenced school with twenty children; the school-room, a bamboo roof without walls, exceedingly cool, close to a coffee-plantation, which will shortly be in bloom, and surrounded with cocoa-nut trees and plantains. If I could transport you here for one hour, you would be delighted; separated from the world, dwelling in this lovely spot close to the chapel, which is in the compound, surrounded with the beauties of nature, and abundantly supplied with an occupation which has interest to fill the heart even to overflowing  – you can suppose me to be one of the happiest of human beings. ”

“By the time this reaches England I trust my tongue will be loosened in the Malay language; and then I shall lose no time in attempting Chinese. When any one asks after my welfare, you may say that I would not return for the sake of every earthly blessing. My work is my pleasure, nay more, my delight. Our God is a God of love; the Gospel is a dispensation of love, and by affectionate sympathy we ought to seek to win men to the truth.”

It took almost  year for Miss Thornton to receive the letter from SPFEE which authorised her to stay in Jakarta. The committee had no problem agreeing to her request especially as one of its members, Mary Ann Aldersey, knew what had happened to Maria Newell Gutzlaff and Mary Christie Wallace in Melaka.

Miss Thornton was delighted when she found two teenage girls she could “adopt” and train as monitors and teachers. Emma and Sarah were the daughters of a Frenchman and a Malay woman. Following her father’s death Emma, then about 14-years-old, had been taken by a man who, Miss Thornton said, made it his business to get what girls he could “to bring up for the vilest purposes”. Miss Thornton was very happy to save Emma from such a horrible fate but would in time find the two teenage girls quite expensive to care for.  She taught Emma how to play the piano as the girl had a good ear for music and a beautiful singing voice.

She trained  her servant, Dortchy, to teach Malay girls and proudly set up what she described as the first school for them on the island. It didn’t last long, however. The five schools for Chinese girls, which had been set up by American and British missionaries, survived longer. She felt that three of these were especially under her care as they were supported largely from the sale of fancy goods sent from Britain by the SPFEE. She wrote in July 1836: “This day last year, I was tossing about upon the great deep, anticipating years of toil before I could hope to obtain what I now enjoy – now comfortably settled in a school that supports me, two nice girls under my care training for teachers, and more than all, three Chinese girls’ schools, containing thirty children.”

She found, however, that the schools for Chinese girls faced a special cultural problem as she explained in 1837: “The infant school system is especially necessary, because no girl is permitted, after the age of eleven years, to be seen out of her house, or, indeed, out of her room, without her mother’s special permission, until she is married. The eldest and most promising girl in my school has just been taken away. I went to enquire the reason, and to see the child. The mother said she was too old to come any more to school, she must now be shut up.”

By the time that Miss Hulk arrived in mid 1837 (funded by a committee in Geneva) Miss Thornton had moved to a new house. This was very pleasant, cool and healthy and had large grounds – but was expensive. She hoped to meet the cost through school fees and the sale of fancy goods sent by her friends in Hackney. She worked 12 hours a day, starting at 5am, but wrote in 1838: “This month my own school has increased in numbers, so that my house is quite full, and I am enabled to meet all my expenses. We sit down, twenty to dinner every day, but we are a very happy family – peace reigns amongst us almost without interruption. I sometimes think, though I have my trials, that I am certainly one of the happiest beings in the world; and the delight I experience in the affection of the children amply compensates for my toils and weariness.”

Miss Combe was the next to join her. One morning in November 1839 she got up early to enjoy her first view of Java from the deck of the sailing ship on which she had travelled from England. She wrote:

“An ampitheatre of lofty mountains, between when we could distinguish woody valleys – the bamboo cottage, peeping out of shady bowers, surmounted by lofty cocoa-nut trees, were reflected in a glassy sea, and gilded by the first rays of the morning sun. That was a feast indeed for us who for months together had seen nothing but sky and water, or stolen a glance of some distant mountain that seemed to come within the horizon, only to tantalise and disappear.”

She and a travelling companion had a very bumpy journey by palanquin and then horse-drawn carriage from the port to Jakarta, the cosmopolitan city which had developed under Dutch rule. There at last she met Miss Thornton.

By February 1840 Miss Combe had opened her own school with ten Malay girls, based in Miss Thornton’s pleasant and cool house. Miss Thornton was, by then, superintending a school for Eurasian girls and the fees from that helped to cover their living costs and enabled them to be self-sufficient.

Despite many problems Miss Combe so loved the work that even after she married the American missionary, the Rev Frederick B Thomson, in December 1840 she continued to superintend a girls’ school in Jakarta.

The Dutch colonial government, however, was determined that the American missionaries would not remain there as it was worried that they would antagonise the Muslims and so hinder its commercial interests. The Dutch also thought the Americans were interested in developing trade in that region. The colonial government had, therefore, insisted that the Americans who had been sent by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church and the Prudential Committee of the American Board should, after a year’s residency in Jakarta, move to southern Kalimantan (Borneo).  Mr Thomson stayed in Jakarta longer because his wife died there leaving him with two young children. His period of stay was extended when he married Miss Combe – but finally in February 1842 the Dutch insisted that the family had to leave.

They moved to a compound deep in the forest to live and work among the Dayak tribe which didn’t even have a written language. And yet Emma wrote to the SPFEE requesting someone to help with teaching girls. The Geneva Auxiliary Committee gave £50 towards the cost of sending someone to join her. And the young woman chosen by the SPFEE was Jemima Poppy.  (See Jemima’s Story)

The Medhursts, who had returned to Jakarta in 1838, left for China in June 1843. Mr Medhurst reported that by 1842 the Dutch authorities in Jakarta were restricting the movements of non-Dutch missionaries and traders. Many of the Chinese had gone and the missionaries couldn’t open schools or distribute tracts.

The following year Miss Thornton wrote that all the missionaries had left and, after 11 years, she wanted to return to England for a rest. By then her oldest pupils had completed their education. There is no record of what happened to Emma and Sarah.

copyright Pip Land  February 2012


Minutes of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, in the Special Collection of Birmingham University Library.

History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East published by Edward Suter in London 1847, pp 10-32 & 36-43

C R Boxer The Dutch Seaborne Empire 1600-1800 Penguin 1990 pp221;239; 241-3.

Council for World Mission/London Missionary Society archives at the School of Oriental and African Studies Library, London: CWM Ultra Ganges – from Java and Batavia 1841-43.

Mission to Borneo – The Historical Society of the Reformed Church in America Occasional Papers No 1, by Gerald de Jong, 1987.

The Saga of Miss Wallace

Thomas Beighton loved writing sagas – and Mary Christie Wallace certainly provided him with one in 1835. It was a saga which could have wrecked all attempts by the Society for the Promotion of Female Education in the East ( SPFEE ) to recruit single women to run girls’ school overseas.

In October 1834, three months after the SPFEE was founded in London, it was recorded in the Society’s minutes that Miss Wallace was working with the American Board of Missions and so didn’t need any further support. This was followed by reports that she had gone to China – reports which are still repeated today.  But Miss Wallace never got to China and her career as a teacher in Malaysia came to a very sad ending. Melaka (Malacca) certainly proved to be a very hard and lonely place for single women like Maria Newell Gutzlaff and Miss Wallace.

After being recruited by Mary Ann Aldersey Miss Wallace left Glasgow to study the Lancastrian monitoring system of education at the  Central School of the British and Foreign School Society in London so that she could assist in the girls’ section of the Malacca Free School. Subscriptions were raised in Edinburgh, Hackney and Norwich to promote the Education of Chinese Females in order to pay for her outfit and passage to Melaka and to help support her when she was there.

She arrived in Melaka in August 1829 about seven months before Charles (Karl) Gutzlaff took his wife Maria to Bangkok.  Miss Aldersey’s plan had been for Miss Wallace to be a companion for Maria – and certainly not to be left as the only single woman among the missionaries there.  Miss Wallace, however, did  so well initially that the LMS directors received a warm recommendation about her. She was described as being remarkably timid, modest and retiring in character when among the English people but bold, diligent and persevering, undaunted and active with the nationals.

When Samuel and Maria Dyer visited Melaka  in April 1832 Mrs Dyer and Miss Wallace set up seven small schools for about 120 Chinese girls. Mrs Dyer left funds to help support these schools while Miss Wallace took on the job of superintending them. There was a large Chinese community in Melaka but as the girls couldn’t travel far small schools had to be set up close to their homes.

One of the problems that Miss Wallace faced was that the girls who came to the schools were the offspring of Chinese men and Malaysian women. Their main language was Malay and yet their school books were in Chinese. “The children do not understand the language which they must be taught in. In learning Chinese the children are first made acquainted with the sounds of the characters, then taught to repeat the book off, and when they can do so well they are taught the meaning.” This was a long and slow process and she added: “We frequently  have the mortification to see clever promising girls taken from the school by their parents before they understand anything, because they are considered too big to attend.”

Even though the number of schools had decreased by April 1833 with a total of attendance of about 70 she did feel that the prejudice against educating girls was being broken down.The parents would have preferred that their own books would have been used in the schools but Miss Wallace made sure that only Christian ones, often translated and printed at the Anglo-Chinese College, were available. The high cost of running the schools was barely covered by donations from the Dyers, Samuel Garling (the British East India Company’s representative in Melaka), the LMS and friends in Britain.

She was less successful with the school for Malay girls. In 1831 the attendance had increased and so a larger school room was built. But this roused the fear of the parents and especially an old Muslim priest that the girls at the school would be converted to Christianity. Over half the girls left and it was not possible to use Christian books. “They are at present reading books of a moral kind not touching upon Christianity but we hope in time to be able again to introduce Christian books,” Miss Wallace wrote.

By 1832 she had been joined by Mary Wanstall from England (also supported by an independent ladies’ committee) and had handed over the Malay school to a missionary at the College. She reported: “We have found since we devoted ourselves more particularly to the Chinese schools that they have made greater progress, and that superior opportunities are afforded to us for acquiring the Chinese language.”

All seemed to be going very well but then, on August 8 1833, she arrived in Penang and told the Beightons that she was no longer wanted in Melaka. Garling had even suggested that the cost of her return to England should be met by the LMS.  Beighton told the LMS that she was a young, healthy woman who just wanted to do good and he couldn’t understand why the missionaries in Melaka wanted to be rid of her. Miss Wallace moved to Singapore while in Melaka, in 1834, Miss Wanstall became the second wife of Charles Gutzlaff and accompanied him to Macau.

In February 1835 the Rev Ira Tracy of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) wrote to the LMS because he thought Miss Wallace was one of its missionaries. He explained that she had been running a small school for Chinese and other children in Singapore. As he was the only missionary working in Singapore at that time he felt bound to support and encourage her. He had even advanced her money as well as passing on financial gifts from American friends. He said he visited her as often as he could be had to be careful for both their reputations as he was not married. Then on January 1 he was informed that she was dying.

“We found her deranged and saying she was about to depart. She wished to make some communications to us ‘for the good of the church’ and began reading from her journals, which showed plainly that she had been out of her right mind for weeks if not months.” He encouraged her to rest but the next day her servant took him to a Chinese house where he found her barefooted with her hair loose and in “native” dress. He wrote that he and a newly-arrived missionary doctor unsuccessfully tried to reason with her and finally they sent for the magistrate. When that didn’t resolve the problem they moved her to the house of an American where she stayed several days before taking passage to England via Penang. “Miss Wallace is evidently deranged and we endeavoured to treat her as we would a sister laboring under that calamity,” commented Tracy.

The only source of information as to what happened next is in Beighton’s letters from Penang to the LMS. He said that she was ejected from the ship she had sailed on from Singapore after she had left her journal open on the deck. In it she had written that she had seen the ship on the rocks and that she was being murdered. Faced with the dangerous voyage around the Cape the crew didn’t want a Jonah on board.

“I feel sorry for her. She ought never have come out alone,” wrote Beighton. He felt responsible for her as she had received some support from the LMS. For a few months he didn’t even know where she was but then heard that she was staying with Roman Catholics who had been able to put a restraint on her and she was not allowed out. Then in July 1835 a Grand Jury unanimously decided she was insane and sent her to prison. The jailor took pity on her and tried to care for her in his own home but found she was too difficult to have around his young children. Finally, by the order of the Bengal government in India which had jurisdiction over the British Straits Settlements in South East Asia, she was sent to Kolkata. Her friends in Britain then paid for her return to England. Beighton wrote later:

“I am very glad Miss Aldersey acted so promptly in the affair but still had not the Commission of Lunacy been obtained we could not have sent Miss Wallace to England without her consent. I hope this distressing affair has been arranged to the satisfaction of Miss Wallace’s friends. I sincerely hope no case of such a kind will ever occur again.”

It would appear from the minutes of the SPFEE that Miss Aldersey never did officially report on this sad ending to Miss Wallace’s career overseas. But the committee obviously did know what had happened and that would affect its view of Miss Aldersey’s determination to go overseas in 1837.  The experiences of  Maria Newell Gutzlaff and Miss Wallace in Melaka also had an impact upon the career of the first single woman that the SPFEE sent overseas (Eliza Thornton ).

copyright Pip Land February 2012


E Aldersey White, A Woman Pioneer in China, the Life of Mary Ann Aldersey, Livingstone Press, London, 1931, pp12&14

“An Address to the Ladies of Great Britain on Behalf of the Chinese Female Population”, February 1828, with incoming letters from Ultra Ganges in the  CWM archives at SOAS.

Minutes of the Society for the Promotion of Female Education in the East 1834, in the Special Collection at Birmingham University Library.

Council for World Mission/London Missionary Society archives at the School of Oriental and African Studies Library (SOAS) Incoming letters – CWM Ultra Ganges Malacca and Singapore – from Miss Wallace, Thomas Beighton and Ira Tracy.


Single women not wanted

One of the pioneering women who inspired the committee of the Society for the Promotion of Female Education in the East ( SPFEE) ) was Maria Newell (later Maria Gutzlaff), whose missionary work was sponsored by Mary Ann Aldersey, and who taught at the Malacca Free School in the late 1820s. But she learnt very quickly that in Christian missionary circles in the 1820s single women were not wanted.

Miss Newell was born in Stepney in August 1794. British Christian missions have always been predominantly the preserve of the middle classes so it was a surprise to see that someone from London’s  “East End” had applied to join what was then the all-male London Missionary Society (LMS). When the LMS was founded in 1795 the call went out only for men who were prepared to be the “heroes of the Church”. It did accept that the men recruited as missionaries could take their wives and, by 1812, that women could play an important role in raising funds to support its missionaries. Most of the major Christian missions would not begin recruiting  large numbers of single women until the 1890s and certainly not from the East End of London.

But at the beginning of the 19th century Stepney had not yet become a notoriously overcrowded working class area of London. It was still the retreat of mariners and merchants like Miss Newell’s father who was a tallow chandler. It was in Stepney that she was introduced to the faith of the independent-minded dissenters and non conformists to whom the Bible was their guidebook.

She attended the Congregational chapel led by the Rev Andrew Reed, a hymn writer, philanthropist and social reformer. So she probably grew up in an environment where a basic education was viewed as vital for each individual, male and female, if they were to achieve their full God-given potential. She became a school teacher in Blackheath, South London, but it was the Rev Reed who provided  her with a reference when she applied to the London Missionary Society (LMS) in early 1826.

She would never have been considered by the LMS if it hadn’t been for its most famous missionary, Dr Robert Morrison championing the cause of single women and the fundraising by some very determined ladies in England.  One of those was Mary Ann Aldersey who was single and had the financial means but whose father refused to give his permission for her to answer her call to work overseas. Like Jemima Poppy Miss Newell’s parents were dead and so she was free to  make her own choices.

The LMS had originally intended to send two single women to work in association with its Anglo-Chinese College in Melaka (Malacca). But in January 1827 the LMS Examination Committee reported that the health of Miss F Nichols had “considerably failed in consequence of her application to the Chinese language” and it was felt inexpedient to send her overseas.

So Miss Newell travelled with the newly-married Rev Samuel Dyer and his wife, Maria. After months of seasickness and living in a damp cabin Miss Newell was so glad to reach Penang where they met other LMS missionaries, including the Rev Thomas Beighton and his wife, Abigail. It was there that the two Maria’s could see for themselves the successes and failures of trying to run schools for girls among the Chinese and Malay population.

Mrs Beighton and another mission wife, Joanna Ince, had started a boarding school for young ladies advertising that it would have a strict regard to morals, as well as a kind attention to the health and progress of the pupils. Their school brought in sufficient money to make the lives of the missionaries a lot more comfortable in Penang – but the LMS directors in London did not approve. The response from Penang was that if the LMS directors did not recognise the women as missionaries their husbands couldn’t see why they should abide by mission rules!

The Dyers decided that they would stay in Penang rather than travelling on to Melaka, and Mrs Beighton insisted on escorting Miss Newell when she continued her journey. As the tall, masted ship dropped anchor about two miles from the shore at Melaka Miss Newell could see the European settlement on the western side of the estuary with its tree-lined streets which had been laid out by the Dutch and the ruined hill-top church of St Paul’s.  To the east were the more closely packed local buildings  and beyond them the Malay villages among the green paddy fields and coconut plantations. And then there was the jungle stretching far into the distance to the rugged Mt Ophir. They disembarked into a smaller boat to reach the beach where Miss Newell’s day of heartbreak began.

A missionary was there to greet and provide accommodation for the Dyers. But no-one had come from the missionary community to welcome her. Mrs Beighton, however, had informed the British Resident, Samuel Garling, about their arrival and he had sent a messenger inviting her and Mrs Beighton to his home. The Dutch had, in a treaty in 1825, handed over Melaka to the English East India Company and Mr Garling was the company’s senior representative. Of her arrival at his home Miss Newell wrote: “I was received by him with all hospitality, politeness and dignity of an elegant English gentleman.”

She hadn’t been there long when she received what she described as a cold, rough and unfeeling note from David Collie, the principal of the Anglo-Chinese College, stating she could not stay at his home as he and his wife were already providing accommodation for Dr Morrison’s son and daughter. Miss Newell wept which upset Mrs Beighton.  In his letter Mr Collie had informed her that she could stay with Samuel Kidd and his family at the college but when they visited that home they found that the wife was ill and there was just one small room to spare. “It was evidently inconvenient,” commented Miss Newell. Kidd told the LMS directors later that only a woman of fastidious delicacy would have taken offence at being offered a room in his house.  And how could they match what Garling had offered?

On her first day in Melaka Miss Newell visited Mr Collie who said little but did inform her that all her study of the Chinese language was useless as most of the local people spoke Malay. “My heart was ready to break,” she wrote.

The missionary community  in Melaka was obviously not ready for an independent, single woman. Most mission agencies for years to come would only accept single women who were either the siblings or daughters of male missionaries, or widows who remained on the mission field after their husbands died. What appeared to be a lack of communications between the London directors and the college did not help Miss Newell either. Collie informed her that if she did not follow instructions from the college she would not receive any financial support. The missionaries were even more upset when she took Garling’s advice and accompanied his wife on a trip to Singapore for which he paid all the expenses. It was in Singapore that other missionaries told her to keep her distance from the Anglo-Chinese College. Of those at the college in Melaka she wrote:

“I have been as friendly as I can, but I cannot crouch to them or anyone. It is better to hurt in the Lord than put confidence in man. Debt to me in any circumstances is a wretched thing but in this case necessary. I am now without money but not without faith. Think of me as happy. God will not suffer me to want. He has already done wonders in providing such friends as the Garlings, so high in station yet so pious and ready to help in every good work.”

The Melaka missionaries were far from impressed. Kidd wrote to the LMS directors: “She engaged herself on a tour of pleasure in Singapore, on which she was absent from her station for two months, all without asking a word of advice from us.”

Miss Newell accepted Garling’s offer to work in the girls’ section of the Malacca Free School and began teaching English to those of Portugese and Dutch parentage. An agreement was reached with Collie that she should receive the £200 a year allotted to a single missionary but would give any profits from her school work to the LMS. By staying with the Garlings all her board and lodging costs were covered. She wrote to Miss Aldersey: “It is here a day of small things so far as female education is concerned.”

Miss Newell had seen herself as going out as a missionary and not as a teacher. Instead she found herself teaching in a school where the Lancastrian monitoring system was used – and for which she had no training. Miss Aldersey set herself the task of finding another single woman who would be a companion to Miss Newell and help in the school work. A visit to Edinburgh  led to her recruiting Mary Christie Wallace. Miss Wallace reached Melaka in May 1829 but had little time to work with Miss Newell for in November the latter married Charles (Karl) Gutzlaff .

Her husband was a short, squat man from Prussian Pomerania (now in Germany). He was born in 1803  into a tailor’s family in Pyritz and used his considerable talents to gain a place at a school for missionaries in Berlin. He later studied at Rotterdam and was initially sent by the Netherlands Missionary Society to Thailand (then known as Siam). He worked there from 1828 to 1829 with an LMS missionary where the only other foreigners were two Roman Catholic bishops and a Portugese merchant. In February 1830 he took his wife to the small house (below) he had managed to rent by the river in Bangkok. There he had set up a small dispensary as well as distributing Christian booklets.










She wrote to the Garlings:”I have sometimes felt as if buried alive, yet we are very busy. Charles has again fully revised the whole of the Siamese New Testament and is now revising those books of the old which are translated. The whole of the New Testament is translated into Siamese… The sick still throng our doors, the books meet with almost universally delighted reception, our stock is coming down fast, large as it was. Our poor hovel is a great change after the comforts to which I have been accustomed, but God is all sufficient. I am his (her husband’s) humble servant for it is in the assistance I can yield him I hope to be most useful. I have been hither and thither among the miserable and the dirty – to the wretched palaces of the two Cambodian princes, and into their more miserable harems. I have been almost suffocated by crowds of citizens whose curiosity far exceeded their politeness. Everywhere I go a tolerably sized and sometimes very large congregation assembles, and if into a temple, the rush is greater still.”

She commented that the local rulers feared them because of their ability to speak so many languages. It was in Bangkok that Gutzlaff learnt the Chinese Fukhien dialect from the many Chinese living and working there. Later that year the Gutzlaff’s  little house was almost engulfed in flames. The noise of the fire woke them up at midnight and it looked as if the whole city was on fire. When the wind blew strongly towards them they prepared to flee and lose everything. “The wind continued unabated; and it appears to me like a miracle, that although the sparks from the immense masses of burning houses were flying around us in every direction, not one fell upon our hut.”

Just a few months later, in February 1831, she died after giving birth to twins of whom one died immediately and the other four months later. Gutzlaff wrote: “The Chinese mission has lost a most industrious and ingenuous labourer, who would have lent effective assistance to the great cause.”  He spoke highly of her translation work and what she had done on preparing a Chinese English dictionary. He was very ill himself after her death but was persuaded by the master of a Chinese junk to set sail for China leaving his daughter in the care of a foreign family.

Later he would marry Mary Wanstall who had been running some girls’ schools in Melaka and they set up home in Macau, then a Portugese enclave and, until 1841, the only place where foreigners could settle and build homes in China.

The LMS did not recruit another single woman to send overseas until 1864.

copyright Pip Land  January 2012


In its first leaflet the SPFEE stated in 1834: “What female superintendents of schools have those (Missionary) societies sent out? Miss Newell… whom the London Missionary Society sent to Malacca in 1827, is a solitary instance. Miss Wallace was adopted by the London Missionary Society, but she was sent out by a few friends. Miss Cooke came into alliance with the Church Missionary Society, but she was sent out by the British and Foreign School Society.”

Stepney: Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien & Nikolaus Pevsner, London 5:East, Yale University Press, 2005, p444 (available on Google Books)

E Aldersey White, A Woman Pioneer in China, the Life of Mary Ann Aldersey,  The Livingstone Press, London, 1932,  pp11-12


Richard Lovett, The History of the London Missionary Society 1795-1895, Henry Frownde, London 1899

John Cameron Our Tropical Possessions in Malayan India, Smith, Elder & Co, 1865.

Council for World Mission/London Missionary Society archives at the School of Oriental and African Studies Library, London, including Incoming letters – CWM Ultra Ganges Malacca (from Newell, S Kidd and J Ince) and in CWM S.China Box 3 (from Gutzlaff following his wife’s death).

Gutzlaff’s departure from Thailand and death of his infant daughter: Karl F A (Charles) Gutzlaff Journal of Three Voyages along the coast of China pp103-107

Ricci Roundtable: (compiler R G Tiedemann )

Into the harems of Egypt

One of the first agents sent out by the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE ) was Alice Holliday. She contacted the Society a year after it was founded in London because she believed she was called to go and work among girls in Egypt.  She set up what was probably the first school for girls there – and was invited into the harem of Muhammed Ali Pasha, the Viceroy of Egypt which was then part of the Ottoman Empire.

She began by opening a girls’ school in Cairo in 1837 which was attended by a motley group of Spaniards, Italians, Greeks, Syrians, Coptic Christians and Arabs. The SPFEE sent her money so that she could take in orphans, and funds from the Ironmongers’ Company in London enabled her to ransom some children out of slavery. Those in her little orphanage were dressed like Westerners especially on Sundays for she commented: “In every respect we wish to see them English.” English was the medium of instruction in the orphanage while those in her day school studied Arabic.

She informed the SPFEE: “Female schools for reading seem never to have been thought of in this country. Their prejudices against such instructions are very strong. Among the higher classes, however, since the power of Mahomet (sic) Ali has been established on a firmer basis, these prejudices are fast breaking, and in several instances the more intelligent have been brought to see, in some degree, the advantages of female education. None of the higher classes have ever yet been collected into schools, but many are taught privately in their own houses. The mission school is therefore the very first, and indeed the only one, throughout Egypt.”

By 1838 she had 114 girls in her school and, on March 7, was officially asked if she would take on the education of 100 royal women, including the daughters, nieces and nearest relatives of Muhammad Ali Pasha.  An officer of the state, Hekekyan Effendi,  told her: “This is only the beginning of female education in Egypt, for the Pasha has much larger views but he wishes first to try the experiment on his own family. Much depends upon the approbation of his eldest daughter, whether instruction shall spread through the country; only gain her favour and regards, and you will carry every point to your utmost wishes.”  He assured her that they paid great respect to their ladies who were allowed absolute rule within their homes.

He also explained: “In introducing an enlightened female education in Egypt, we shall be striking at the root of the evils which afflict us. In seconding my illustrious Prince and benefactor in his work of civilising Egypt, I have been led to reflection by the nature of my duties, and have as yet been able to trace our debasement to no other cause than that of the want of an efficient moral and useful education in our females. I believe that in elevating the soul by initiating it in the mysteries and beauties of nature, through the means of geography, astronomy, botany, geology, natural history & c, in proportion as we better comprehend the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Great First Cause, so are we enabled of ourselves to detect our own errors.”

On March 27 Miss Holliday wrote: “This day is among the most remarkable of my life. About 10am Mrs Kruse, Mrs Hekekyan and myself, mounted on donkeys, and set out for the harem. With many fears we arrived at the gate of a long avenue, which is the first strong door of the harem; we next came to another gate, where the janisaries and donkeymen were ordered to remain, while we were waited on by several eunuchs, who took us through another strong gate, and soon after ushered us into a long and stately saloon, where there were numerous ladies busily at work. We were then shown into an anteroom, and served with coffee, out of some of the most splendid cups, set with diamonds, I have ever beheld. Our attendants were young and beautiful slaves, evidently Greek, Georgian and Circassian. One brought us coffee, another sherbet, and a third handed sugar, each waiter having numerous slaves to attend upon her below the dais. Two little girls were then brought in to us; they came up to me and lounged upon me with greatest confidence, as if accustomed to such endearments; they were evidently some part of the royal family, from their likeness to the Pasha.

“In about a quarter of an hour an old lady, evidently high in office, came to conduct us to Her Highness. We followed her into another side apartment where we were introduced to the princess. We found Nazly Hanum sitting on a high divan in the corner of the room. Mrs Kruse and myself made our European salutation, but Mrs Hekekyan had to prostrate herself at her feet, and kiss the hem of her garments. She condescendingly moved her hand in salutation, and then smilingly told us to be seated on the divan nearest her. Nazly Hanum is a little woman, rather fat, apparently about forty years of age. Her countenance is striking in the extreme, particularly her eyes – indeed I never saw a more piercing eye in my life; she is said to be exceedingly like her father.

“Her dress was very simple, consisting of a black silk handkerchief around the head, secured at the side by a diamond pin, a shirt of white English net, which quite concealed the bosom, a robe of blue cloth, evidently English; and around her body was wrapped a splendid Cashmere shawl, from which hung suspended a magnificent watch and chain. She almost immediately inquired which was the teacher, and on my being pointed out to her, asked me several questions in Turkish, which Mrs Hekekyan translated. By this time all my nervous fears had vanished. Her questions were pertinent, and showed that she had the improvement of her household at heart; she wished me much to come and live in the house, saying that every liberty should be allowed me; I of course declined this offer, but thanked her for the honour intended. The princess evidently pleased with me, for she seldom took her eyes of me for a second. She was smoking the whole time, while a crowd of ladies stood below the dais, watching her every movement.”

It was agreed that Miss Holliday would take classes there in the mornings. As no Arabic was spoken in the harems and her Turkish was not so good she felt she could only do “ornamental teaching”.  When she returned six days later to start teaching she found the princess and her ladies superintending the thorough cleaning of the grand salon. “She was standing on a small Turkish carpet, giving directions to all the servants, who were busily employed in obeying her,” wrote Miss Holliday. Nazly Hanum then took her into her private apartment where the boxes of picture books and sewing materials were carefully inspected by about a dozen ladies. From then until lunchtime they worked with muslin and made some lace. Miss Holliday reported:

“At a little after 11 o’clock Her Highness’s dinner was brought in by about thirty slaves; a silver basin and jug, with  richly embroidered napkin, was given to me, while a young Circassian slave poured the water on my hands, a still more beautiful girl doing the same office for the princess. A small table, inlaid with pearl and silver, was placed before  her, over which was thrown a cloth of velvet and gold; then came forward three slaves bearing a large silver tray, about four feet in diameter, which was placed on the table. I was then called to take my seat near her, when a slave covered my lap with an embroidered napkin, and another gave me a French cambric handkerchief for my mouth.

“The table was completely filled with silver plates, salts, peppers, and within the pickle dishes of gold were glasses of deep cut glass; my spoon, knife and folk were of the same massive silver as the table and dishes, differing only from those of Her Highness in not having, like hers, the handles set with precious stones. My plate was changed with every dish; more than fifty dishes succeeded each other on the table, indeed in such quick succession that there was barely time to taste many of them. I was, however, so pressed by looks and signs, and nods and winks, first to have this, then to have that, that I really felt at last afraid of seeing them.

“Although a knife and fork was by the princess, yet she preferred pulling the meat and fowls to pieces with her fingers (the usual way of eating in this country); but there was nothing uncleanly in the way she did it, and it was performed with the greatest dexterity. As a mark of particular honour, she broke two or three hard-boiled eggs, and laid them on my plate, frequently placing on it also the choicest part of the dish before us. When she partook a second time of any dish, a little bell was rung. Towards the ante-room there were no fewer than three great silver trays, each filled with nine or ten dishes, and as one tray was emptied another took its place. Each tray was supported by three black slaves, richly dressed, who stood like three statues; at the foot of the divan, on each side of the room (the divans range all round the room, except the side where the entrance is), stood young and beautiful girls, also splendidly dressed, with their eyes constantly fixed on their mistress, one holding a fly-chaser, another a censer, a third a cup with water, a fourth a basin and ewer, a fifth a towel worked with gold, and the sixth the little bell before mentioned. Dinner being finished, to my great relief, our hands were washed, her Highness retired to sleep, and I returned to my children.”

Trying to keep her orphanage and schools going, eating such large dinners and travelling through the desert in summer to and from the harem each day for five months wore her out and she fell ill. The Royal family did all they could to make sure she was well cared for. On her return to the harem she again found it difficult to teach the ladies to read for they preferred needlework, fancy work and drawing – just the type of teaching she most disliked. Then a box of fancy work made by the ladies of Tiverton arrived.

The Royal family and their guests inspected all the items with keen interest for these included dolls, books and scientific plates as well as a model of the Thames tunnel for the little princesses. A picture of the British queen fascinated Nazly Hanum who was surprised that Queen Victoria was as yet unmarried and that her power was equal to that of a king. Miss Holliday then had to show the Pasha the contents of that box.

“I was introduced into the apartment, which is splendidly furnished after the French fashion; and here I saw what perhaps no other European female ever beheld, the Pasha Mohammed Ali, standing like one of the patriarchs of old in the midst of his own family. On my entrance he smiled, and asked me how I was, with great condescension. The box was then opened ….. and Nazly Hanum stood in front, presenting the things she thought the most beautiful, the wives at the same time showing him the baby linen. He appeared to look with fond affection on them all. It is well known in Egypt that he is one of the most indulgent of fathers, but I did not expect to see so fond a parent. He is a rather short man, very aged, with a dark sun-burnt, and of course wrinkled visage, a milk-white beard, and eyes black, deep and piercing. He was dressed in the plainest manner, not having the slightest ornament of any description upon his person.”

Late in 1838 Miss Holliday married the Rev Rudolph Theophilus Leider, who had been sent to Egypt by the Church Missionary Society. Although no longer counted as an agent of the SPFEE she continued to send reports and received assistance from it for some of her work. In December she informed the SPFEE that the Pasha had been “extremely affected at the piety and philanthropy of the English ladies composing the Society for the Promotion of Female Education in the East, and recommended H H Nazly Hanum and the princesses of his family to follow their example in his dominion.” She and the SPFEE were the conduit whereby gifts were exchanged between his family and Queen Victoria.

Soon afterwards she was invited into the harem of a very high-ranking Turkish official as his two teenage daughters were so keen to learn how to read and write. She fascinated local teachers with the scientific instruments sent out by the SPFEE and was invited to help set up a school for 150 children. The Pasha was encouraging  boys’ and girls’ schools to be founded – the boys usually had European teachers while the girls were taught needlework and some reading by Turkish women. By 1846 Mrs Lieder could comment: “What a change has been wrought within the last ten years. When I first came to Egypt there was not a woman that could read, and now I have the pleasing gratification of knowing that some hundreds possess this power, and that they have the best of books to read.”

She looked forward, however, to the disappearance of the harem system, as she felt that it was one of the greatest impediments to female education.  She was forced by ill health to stop teaching in the Royal harem in 1841. By then English was not so popular in the Royal court because the Pasha was building an alliance with the French. She was always warmly received by Nazly Hanum but decided to continue quietly with her own work. Her husband died in 1865 and she died in 1868.

copyright Pip Land January 2012


Source:   History of The Society for promoting Female Education in the East, published by Edward Suter, London, 1847, pp62-69 and  pp  97-124

A charter for girls’ education

“In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female. This is the Magna Charta (sic) of our womanhood. He committed the Gospel of Resurrection first to the lips of women! How little did those women understand their obligation to their true Emancipator.” This bold declaration was written in 1884 in the pamphlet to mark the 50th anniversary of the Society for Promoting  Female Education in the East ( SPFEE) which has  often been shortened to the Female Education Society. The women who were sent out by that society were among the pioneers of girls’ education in Africa, China, India and the Far East.

By the 1880s the main Christian missionary agencies had begun to recruit single women but when  the SPFEE was founded it was a very different story. Even the wives of missionaries were not recognised as official members of those agencies. It would  not be easy to prove that single women were capable of living and working in far away places.

Other ladies associations had been formed to support girls’ schools in the UK as well as overseas but the SPFEE became the largest and most successful sending out about 57 agents within the first ten years. The development of ladies’ committees owed a lot to the Quakers (See  The Quaker Inheritance) and the Christian Revival in the late 18th century.

Christian revivals liberate both men and women. In  Adam Bede George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) had her female revivalist preacher, Dinah Morris, state “It isn’t for men to make channels for God’s Spirit, as they make channels for the watercourses.”  But by the 19th century many were busy trying to contain that free, empowering Spirit.

This meant that the  SPFEE was faced with a fine balancing act. It was determined to send single women overseas but had to be careful not to be too different or it would lose the financial support from the Christian community that it so needed. There were very few role models in 1834 that the fledgling society could list in its appeals for funds and recruits. It could point to the success of Mary Ann Cooke Wilson in Kolkata  but quickly forgot Mary Christie Wallace and Maria Newell Gutzlaff.

The SPFEE desperately needed a success story and a woman who could inspire others to join the society.  It found that in their first agent, Eliza Thornton. During her time in Jakarta (1835-1846) Miss Thornton provided an excellent role model for the type of women that the SPFEE wanted to recruit.

In the early days the SPFEE called their recruits “agents” probably so that they would not offend anyone by appearing to send out missionaries – a role then reserved for ordained men.  The SPFEE recognised that several missionary wives  had helped to prove that it was possible to run schools for girls in India and among the Chinese in Malaysa but it pointed out those women had to spend a lot of time assisting their husbands and caring for their children.

Single women could, however, give their full attention to the task of superintending schools for girls. As Indian and Chinese girls were usually confined to their homes after puberty only women could carry out this work – and to the SPFEE men would be “manifestly incompetent” to select them. Only a Ladies’ Society could do that for : “Who but a woman can understand the heart of a woman, and enter into all her difficulties and discouragements, and bestow the tender consideration and the appropriate direction she requires? ”

The committee quickly developed its own methods of assessing and evaluating possible candidates, the emphasis being on creating an effective corps of single women. It wanted to be a distinct agency which fulfilled a specific purpose, focusing its limited funds on its goal of liberating girls through education. Firstly it was keen to have a united philosophy within this corps, and this was done by strictly adhering to the Evangelical creed. Candidates had to show that they regularly attended an Evangelical church and accepted its principles of faith. It was also very important that the recruits were sure that they had a definite call to the work, as well as having a what was seen then as a good education and teaching experience. All this had to be backed up by references about their spiritual life and temperament and if they had their own independent source of income.

The SPFEE was  therefore, carefully selecting middle class, pious women (often middle-aged governesses)  who were capable of superintending girls’ schools and training local teachers. The SPFEE wanted children to learn the Christian Scriptures and have the opportunity to come to faith in Jesus Christ besides learning other useful knowledge.

Those  accepted by the committee had to attend a period of probation at a British and Foreign School Society institution in London. This Society followed the Lancastrian monitoring system with its very systematic, carefully graded lessons and textbooks so that senior students (monitors) could teach younger pupils. This enabled one teacher to supervise the education of up to 300 children. During the probation  period the recruit was under constant assessment by three to four members of the SPFEE.

If a woman passed that test successfully the SPFEE would select a destination for her, pay for her outfit and the cost of the long sea voyage. It did later give grants but continued to expect its agents to become self sufficient as quickly as possible by running boarding schools for fee paying students.

The SPFEE was, however, determined not to become a missionary lonely-hearts dating agency. One of the rules carefully explained to candidates was that if they married within five years of being sent out by the SPFEE they would have to repay a proportional percentage of the cost of their travelling expenses and outfit. They also had to give the committee sufficient notice of their intended marriage so that a successor could be found. The committee was criticised for this and for insisting, especially in the early days, that when a woman married she could no longer be a SPFEE agent. But the committee replied that it was setting up a specialist corps called to a specific task. Its agents, it said, should be undistracted by other interests and be free to give their undivided energy to the task of female education in the East. For its part the SPFEE always kept a contingency fund available so that it could quickly repatriate one of its agents should her health fail.

By 1845 seven had married  within five years of going overseas with one not even reaching her assigned area of work. Several of those who got married set up schools and did receive assistance from the SPFEE.  A few agents paid the ultimate price: Miss Smith caught smallpox and died very soon after arriving in Bombay in 1839; Miss Carter, who was sent to India in 1835, got married and then died in 1839;  and Miss Shakerley died shortly after reaching South Africa in 1844.

Miss Hulk from Holland , who was sent to help Miss Thornton in 1840, was the society’s first non-British agent. By 1838 the SPFEE had an independent sister society in Geneva with an auxiliary in Strasbourg. Packages of fancy goods came from the continent as well as the 10 auxiliary societies and many working groups in England and Northern Ireland.   Some girls’ schools overseas were almost completely funded from  the sale of those goods which included children’s clothing and lace collars.

By 1884 the SPFEE  felt strong enough to openly state at during its Jubilee year that, through the means of education, it was first and foremost a missionary society. It described itself as a British pioneer and called for women to stand fast “in the liberty with which Christ has made them free”.

Its work came to an end in July 1899 when Rosamund Anne Webb died. She had been its secretary for 58 years. In its final newsletter it stated : “Our society was the parent and originator of all the Societies, and it is impossible for the smaller agencies to command the funds and interest once enjoyed.”  The Church Missionary Society took over the majority of its work –  24 missionaries and their work in Palestine, Japan, China (Hong Kong and Fuzhou) and India (Agra and Multan). The school in Singapore was handed over to the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society.

copyright Pip Land 2012

Footnote: For more about how new recruits were interviewed see Joy Bausum – following in Jemima’s footsteps


Minutes books of the Society for Promoting  Female Education in the East in CMS archives held in Special Collection at Birmingham University.

History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, published by Edward Suter, London, in 1847 (quote about women interviewing women is on page 5)

George Eliot Adam Bede Penguin Popular Classics 1994 p95

Adam Matthew Publications:



Jemima and the Hudson Taylors

“I was impressed by her enthusiasm to take on any challenge and travel to any location in order to serve the Lord she loved,” wrote Russell Board, one of the directors of World Mission Ministries, about Joy Bausum following her death in Malaysia on August 18 2010, aged 26. That could certainly have been written about Joy’s great, great, great grandmother Jemima. Her career in the 19th century  began in south Kalimantan (Borneo) after the long voyage around Africa  and took her via Penang to Ningbo in China. It started when the Society for  Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE) received an application from “Miss Poppy school mistress from Maidenhead”. It ended with her playing a very important role in the lives of James and Maria Hudson Taylor and the founding of the China Inland Mission .

Maidenhead to Borneo

Jemima was free to make her own decisions about where she lived and worked because her father, Jonathan Poppy, had died in January 1838, 29 days before her 20th birthday. His will was not probated in Norfolk until November 1843 so it was likely that Jemima did not receive any of her inheritance until then.

She found a teaching post at Maidenhead and may have arrived in that busy brewery town  in time to see the first train cross Isambard Brunel’s magnificent bridge. Many had prophesied that the bridge, which crossed the River Thames in two great strides, each span being 128 ft (39m) wide,  would collapse when the wooden props were taken away! It still stands today like a memorial to how visionary ideas can be successfully accomplished. But could a young, single woman in the 19th century fulfil a visionary calling?

Jemima would have been aware that the SPFEE had made it possible for some to do so. By the end of 1838 the London committee had sent 13 women overseas. One of the first was the Englishwoman,  Eliza Thornton, who successfully set up girls’ schools in Jakarta (then Batavia) after arriving there in 1835.

In the society’s records no reason was given for the delay between receiving Jemima’s application and her beginning the mandatory probation period in May 1842.  It is likely, however, that between 1839 and 1842 she not only continued working as school teacher but had also built a strong relationship with a church for she needed good testimonials from both to be accepted by the SPFEE. Her referees had to assure the society that she had given evidence of real piety, and had maintained a temper and deportment consistent with her Christian character and profession. They were asked if she also “embraced opportunities for usefulness” by benefitting others such as by teaching at a Sunday School or visiting the sick. The society  wanted to be sure she was a good communicator; had good sense, judgement and prudence; was mild, courteous and humble; and evinced patience and perseverance.

Jemima had to convince the women who interviewed her that she had sound protestant doctrines and that she had the right reasons for wanting to be a missionary, besides showing that she was well equipped as a teacher. Following a successful interview Jemima began a period of probation at a British and Foreign School Society institution in London.

The SPFEE was careful to find a ship which was suitable for her as a single women to travel on, and (as with all their agents) would bring her home in the case of sickness or any unlooked-for emergency. But, like many mission agencies at that time, the SPFEE did not even think it necessary to prepare their candidates for living in a very different culture. Nor did the society research the location to which it decided to send Jemima.

All it had was a letter of invitation from a Swiss woman who had gone to work with Miss Thornton in 1838. Emma Cecilia Combe from Berne had initially been accepted by the Geneva Auxiliary Committee.  After Ms Combe married an American missionary, the Rev Frederick B Thomson,in December 1840 she continued superintending a girls’ school in Jakarta. But in February 1842 the Dutch colonial government insisted that she and her husband should join the American missionaries in southern Kalimantan. They moved to a compound deep in the forest – and it was from there that Mrs Thomson wrote to the SPFEE. Her life and death in Kalimantan would greatly affect Jemima.

Back in England Jemima must have wondered if she would ever begin what she saw as being her life’s work. After successfully completing her probationary period in early 1941 the SPFEE finally found a ship captained by a man it could trust to take care of single women. But then he died – and they had to search for another vessel. It wasn’t until March 1843 that Jemima sailed from Gravesend little realising that  it would be over a year before she reached her destination.

By early 1844 she was in Singapore and wondering how she could get to the American mission base in Pontianak for the seas around Kalimantan were infested with pirates.

The problem was solved when she managed to hitch a lift with James Brooke who had just become the white rajah of Sarawak. His adventures would inspire the term Sarawaking which stood for white adventurism that turned ordinary men into kings of far away domains. He was one of those upon which Kipling based his book The Man who would become King. George McDonald also drew on Brooke’s life for his Fraser Flashman books. Jemima’s story was equally as amazing.

Brooke would certainly have told her about the head hunting Dayaks who lived in Kalimantan. Yet from Pontianak she faced a four to five day journey by canoe deep into the forest. Below – the type of Dayak longhouses Jemima would have seen. Photo taken in 1894 on the Kahayan River, now with Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, via Wikimedia Commons.


Today tourist agencies organise adventure holidays into that area offering the great jungle experience, braving rapids, staying overnight in Dayak longhouses and meeting the tattooed descendants of the headhunters. At the end there is a comfortable hotel with all mod-cons and the internet on which to share experiences. Back in the 1840s it could take up to six months for mail from the States to reach Pontianak.

So, although Mrs Thomson had requested the SPFEE to send an agent, she had no idea that anyone had been sent. “No previous advice of her coming had reached me; she had landed quite unexpectedly at our far-distant missionary premises in the wilderness of Borneo,” she wrote to the SPFEE after Jemima arrived.

It had been in the autumn of 1842 that her husband and the Rev William Youngblood had chosen a site by the river ten minutes walk from Karangan, having already gained the permission of the local Malay ruler at Pontianak. As it was difficult to find local labourers to help clear the almost impenetrable forest the Americans had to do most of the work themselves, clearing a 24 acre site so they could have a large vegetable garden and orchard as well as space for the mission buildings. It was tough work for, with Pontianak on the equator, there was no escape from the heat or the myriads of mosquitoes.

The two bamboo and wood houses they built were raised up on posts to help keep them dry and free from snakes and other wild life. The roofs were covered with broad leaves and slabs of bark. Thomson brought his wife and children to Karangan in early 1843.Within two years the land they had cleared had groves of plantains, coffee, fruit trees, spice trees, and pineapples. The latter were grown beside the houses because their thorns kept out rodents and other animals.

The wild and often pathless forest around them provided cover for porcupines, wild cats, scorpions and centipedes. So it was very difficult for the ladies to visit their neighbours. Nor did they find it easy to understand the Dayaks. The missionaries could not comprehend their unwillingness to learn to read, how they lived together in large groups, or their animistic beliefs.

Seven months after her arrival Jemima wrote: “Our prospects are very dark at this time. The people at the nearest kampong (longhouse) avoid coming near us, unless it is to steal or to beg, or in hope of some sordid gain: they seem entirely to refuse instruction, and try to perplex us in every way they can, yet, we hope not from a spirit of malice or hatred, but because they like to show their importance, or to show how far they dare go in deeds of darkness. They seem to feel a savage pleasure in thinking themselves able to perplex a white man.”

There was certainly much to perplex the missionaries. Not only did the Dayaks have no written language but there were several dialects within a small area. There was no big centre of population but rather 3,000 people scattered in 15 villages within a day’s walk. Mr Thomson and Mr Youngblood often got lost on the poorly marked trails and had to wade through swamps.

When they reached a longhouse the Dayaks would usually share their scarce food supplies with their visitors such as rice, eggs, pumpkins, cucumbers and cocoa water. But they had to eat these surrounded by smoked human heads which the Americans found revolting. The Americans, however, noted that the custom of head hunting seemed to be in decline in that area and that the Dayaks there were peace-loving, inoffensive and docile. The Dayaks loved a good story and when everyone gathered in the longhouse in the evening they especially enjoyed those about the Creation and the Flood, and the doctrine that all (including Dayaks) were equal before God.

By 1844, however, the American mission at Karangan was struggling to survive. Mr Youngblood moved his family to Pontianak as his wife was not well and a single man joined those at Karangan. Then came the fatal blow when in December 1844 Mrs Thomson died. The men at Karangan reported later: “One whom we were disposed to regard as all-important to our comfort and efficiency, has been taken from the midst of us… Since her decease, every feasible attempt has been made to attain the same end, but all has proved unavailing. A family circle is a sanctuary, which a missionary to such people needs above every other external comfort.”

Mrs Thomson’s presence had safeguarded them from suspicion and much more.  The Dayak women now expected sexual favours from them, something the missionaries found unthinkable and embarrassing. Lady Sylvia Brooke, Ranee of Sarawak (1885-1971) wrote: “The Dayaks ravish my senses, the boys as much as the young girls, who, with uplifted breasts, were simple and unashamed, and had delicate swift movements like little wild fauns.”

By the time he left Karangan Mr Thomson had buried two daughters and a son in the little cemetery there. Emma Thomson was buried at Pontianak where she had died. With two daughters left, one by each of his wives, Mr Thomson headed West. At St Helena he sent his oldest daughter on to America to her maternal grandparents in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He travelled with his youngest daughter via Marseille to Berne, where he died in March 1848.

By 1845 Jemima had realised that her hope of living and dying among the Dayaks had come to an end. She told the SPFEE: “Oh what a brittle thread do all our earthly hopes hang! Blessed indeed shall we be if we learn, by all the Lord’s dealings with us, to hold our souls in readiness for whatever He may send, so that, whether he fulfils our desires, or blight our hopes, we may bow with perfect submission, and, with his servant of old, say, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.’”

She heard about the need for a school superintendent in Penang and moved on.

Penang, Maria Dyer and Johann George Bausum

In Penang  in 1845 Jemima had the opportunity to learn from a woman who proved to be one of the most successful at setting up schools for Chinese girls. Maria Dyer founded the Chinese Girls’ School  in Singapore in 1842. That has become  St Margaret’s Primary and Secondary Schools  and is very proud of being the oldest girls’ school in Singapore and the Far East.

Maria handed over the school to the SPFEE agent, Miss Grant, in mid 1843 and then suffered  the double tragedy of losing both a baby son and her husband, Samuel. He was an exceptional linguist and printer who had developed a quicker way of printing  texts in Chinese. Samuel died immediately after attending  a conference in Hong Kong where the western missionaries decided which of the five  newly-opened treaty ports in China they would work in following the British victory in the 1st Opium War.

This was the move that the Dyers had so longed for – but as a widow with three children Maria decided instead to return to Penang  especially as so many missionaries were moving to China.  Her youngest daughter (who became the first wife of J Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission) commented later that her mother felt she should be in Penang as there were no missionaries there by then and she could reach men and women equally. That was a revolutionary stance as the mission societies believed that women should only work with women and girls.

The Dyers had obviously done a lot of preparation for their career on the mission field. Samuel was one of the men who attended the Chinese language classes run by Robert Morrison between 1824 to 1826.  When Robert Morrison  reached China in 1807 he experienced  tremendous difficulty in learning the language because the Chinese government forbade anyone –  with the penalty of death –  to teach it to foreign barbarians. So when he was back in England in he was determined to share what he had learnt. He was very keen to recruit single women for the work among the Chinese and had a language class for three to four ladies, including Maria. Maria’s father, Joseph Tarn, was a director of the LMS, so she had probably grown up in a household full of mission stories.

She certainly had heard that “fancy goods” as the SPFEE came to call them were a very useful way of raising funds to cover the cost of setting up non-fee paying girls’ schools for she carried a lot of them with her when, with her husband, she sailed to Penang in 1827. There she would learn from a very experienced missionary wife, Abigail Beighton, about the problems of running schools for Malay and Chinese girls.

Thomas and Abigail Beighton had been assigned, with John and Joanna Ince*, to the newly created mission at Penang in late 1819.  The two wives started a girls’ boarding school in 1820 and by 1821 it was flourishing – much to the chagrin of the LMS directors back in London. The directors felt it diverted attention from missionary work. But as the LMS didn’t recognise the wives as being missionaries there was little they could do! The boarding school was for fee paying students from wealthier homes and helped considerably to boost the meagre allowances the missionaries received. It was schools like these which encouraged the SPFEE to believe that their agents could be self-supporting.

Maria set up schools for Chinese and Malay girls in Penang and then in Melaka before the couple were re-assigned to Singapore. Many of the schools failed partly because the girls left after a few months as after puberty they were secluded in their homes until they were married. So the missionary wives devised a system for the Chinese schools which meant they were assured that girls would stay for a set period of time. Parents were asked to sign an agreement that their daughters would remain at a school for three, four or five years according to their age. The schools had to  ensure that the girls were well protected.

When Maria moved back to Penang she sent her 10-year-old son, Samuel, to England but kept Burella (8) and Maria (6) with her. She received an allowance  from the LMS and by late 1844  had 21 Chinese girls in a boarding school which was entirely supported by the sale of goods sent from England. It was in Penang that she met Johann  Georg(e) Bausum who was born in Rodheim vor de Hohe near Frankfurt am Main in June 1812 and had worked on the Malaysian peninsular for about seven years. She was nine years older than him but had little doubt that they should marry. She wrote to the LMS:

“The Lord put it into the heart of a truly devoted missionary, Mr J G Bausum, to offer me his hand – and I think my usefulness will be greatly increased, my own spiritual benefit and that of my dear children, be greatly promoted. He has lived by faith, on the promises of God. And we believe that the Lord will do so still.” They were married in 1845 and settled in Penang where  they took over the LMS work even though she gave up the mission allowance. She also continued with the girls’ school.

The Bausum’s, however, were married for just over a year when, on October 4, 1846, Maria died. Deeply bereaved George decided to send “my two darlings” (Maria’s daughters) home to England. He was allowed to continue using the LMS property and three years later he married Jemima.

John George Bausum wanted a wife who was as dedicated to mission work as he was – and he certainly found that in Jemima. And yet again she proved she was a survivor.

Below: Penang as Jemima would have known it. Photo taken between 1860 and 1900, now part of the Colonial Office photographic collection at The National Archives, available via Wikimedia Commons.


After their wedding in Singapore on May 23 1848 they returned to the LMS mission in Penang. The LMS gave approval for them to continue using the mission in exchange for taking care of the buildings, as had originally been agreed with John George and Maria. The buildings provided them with accommodation as well as space for the boys’ and girls’ schools. John George also bought an adjacent property so that the girls’ school could be extended.

Besides supervising two boys’ schools John George was very busy with his evangelistic and pastoral work which included training some young local men to help in the ministry. Meanwhile the Bausum family was growing: Mary Elizabeth was born in October 1849; George Frederick in November 1850; William Henry in January 1852; Samuel Gottlieb in July 1853; and Louisa May in March 1855.

The main problem for John George and Jemima was financing their work. As John George had gone out as an independent missionary he had looked for other ways of making a regular income and so had bought a plot of land on which to grow nutmegs and fruit. This, however, was not as productive as he had hoped. By early 1849 the girls’ school was failing to attract sufficient support and John George was considering joining a large mission. But he could not fully agree with the doctrines of the Church of England and the Free Church of Scotland decided to send its own minister. In 1852 he did receive public contributions towards the rebuilding of one of the boys’ schools but still went into debt.

There was worse to come. In April 1854 John George wrote in the family Bible: “Our dear Samuel Gottlieb departed this life on the 19th between the hours of 8 & 9 P.M. of the Malignant effluent small pox, which was conveid (sic) to him through the Vaccine matter the 30th of March, and which made their appearance on the 8th day after vaccination.” On March 1855 he  had to record another death as little Louisa Jane survived for just six days after her birth. The doctor called it the “nine days disease” and stated that it was generally fatal.

Then, on August 1 1855, Jemima wrote: “My dear Husband departed this life after but one night’s fevering having sat up all the previous night with a dying member of his church.” He had collapsed on her shoulder. Shortly afterwards lawyer Jonas D Vaughan wrote to the LMS that John George suffered excruciating pain at the end and an autopsy had revealed that one of the principle arteries of his heart had ruptured.

Jemima then found herself in the midst of a financial nightmare. As it took so long to exchange letters between Penang and London there still had not been a satisfactory conclusion as to John George inheriting (via Maria) a building that Samuel Dyer had bought in Penang. If she could have sold that Jemima could have reduced some of the debt she had inherited.  With John George dead some subscribers stopped giving funds but the Chinese Evangelisation Society (CES) continued to support two young local evangelists. Jemima had to give up one of the boys’ school but believed she could supervise that at the Penang mission along with the girls’ school and the church if the LMS agreed to the same leasing agreement as it had had with John George.

She wrote to the LMS in December 1855: “You could naturally ask what my plans are for the future – I can scarcely say that I have any at all, only my great desire is that this work should not be abandoned.” The hope of someone being sent to help with the work, along with the support of local Christian staff, kept her going. She was however suffering from enlarged tonsils which had meant that for three months she had been almost silent. There was little hope of recovery until her tonsils were removed, she said.

Her main concern was for her children. She explained that they were at the age when maternal teaching was most needed but she could bestow it upon them in very limited degree because she had to keep her power of speech for the school work. She felt trapped as she couldn’t fight or retire. She added: “But I do not forget that it is the Lord’s doing, and it is well.”

By July 1856 she gave up waiting for the Power of Attorney she needed from the LMS for the house Samuel Dyer bought. She told the LMS: “I am about to leave Penang for Ningbo  for the sake of my children and being myself greatly in need of a change. I am and have been for the last month unable to speak above a whisper without much pain on account of swollen tonsils.”

She had managed to make sure their work would continue and had secured a teacher for the girls’ school. “I shall leave with many regrets but it seems the call of duty,” she wrote, adding that her agent would deal with the Power of Attorney. And she had won her battle to make sure their mission work would continue.

By 1859 both the girls’ and the boys’ school were under the auspices of the CES and there was a congregation of 20 local Christians at the church. The Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE), which had obviously continued supporting the girls’ school after Jemima left,  was informed that there were “18 Chinese, 10 Burmese, four Malays, three Arminians, one Siamese, one Kling, and one European” and that three of the students had been baptised that year.  A local Christian woman was teaching embroidery and there was a Chinese Christian cook. Two older ladies kept discipline and one of the older girls was an excellent monitor. The school was supported by the sale of fancy goods which were sent by the SPFEE auxiliary committees in London, Geneva and Dublin.

The property that John George bought for an extension to the girls’ school meant that, when the LMS sold its mission buildings in 1870, some Brethren missionaries still had a base in Penang. Jemima’s heirs were delighted that a mission chapel was later built on that site and from that grew the Burmah Road Gospel Hall.

But why did Jemima go to Ningbo in China? The answer to that lay with the teenage daughters of Maria Dyer Bausum and an indomitable, very determined little woman called Mary Ann Aldersey.

(*Joanna Ince died in 1822 and in 1824 her husband was buried beside her and three of their infant children. The Beightons, however, carried on until Thomas died in 1844.)

Below: Map of Ningbo when Miss Aldersey had her school in the city. From A Woman Pioneer in China  by E Aldersey White, The Livingstone Press, London, 1932.


Jemima, James Hudson Taylor and his Maria

By the time that Jemima reached Ningbo Miss Aldersey was a very influential member of the missionary community. Even the Chinese were in awe of  her. Dr W A P Martin, an American Presbyterian who was in Ningbo from 1850 to 1860, wrote: “The most remarkable figure in the foreign community was Miss Aldersey, an English missionary. Born with beauty and fortune, she never married, not for want of opportunity, for she was known to refuse at least one offer.  The (Chinese) firmly believed that as England was ruled by a woman, so Miss Aldersey had been delegated to be the ruler of our foreign community! The British consul, they said, always obeyed her commands.”

Miss Aldersey arrived Ningbo in 1843 and, with the assistance of three teenage girls, set up what was probably the first girls’ school in China. Like Sophia Cooke at the Chinese Girls’ School in Singapore she did not accept that only men (and ordained men at that) could be missionaries and so she too inspired Chinese girls and women to take part in mission work.

As an experienced matchmaker Mary Ann Aldersey realised there was nothing like a long trip into the azalea-carpeted hills that encircled Ningbo for a touch of romance. The only problem was that the young man was so out of breath trying to keep up with his beloved’s palanquin that he never managed to say “Will you marry me?”

By the early 1850s the foreigners could visit the hills around Ningbo and Miss Aldersey was quick to use a day-trip to bring two young people together. She took her matchmaking duties very seriously as she was responsible two very eligible foreign young women in Ningbo at that time: Burella and Maria Dyer. She had initially invited just Burella to help run her school.  Burella, however,  insisted that her sister, Maria, should accompany her. Miss Aldersey felt that as their work would be wholly among girls and they were sober minded and earnest their youthfulness would not be a bar to their both travelling to China. She said they were very missionary hearted and could largely support themselves.


When they arrived in Ningbo on January 12, 1853, Burella was 18-years-old and Maria was just four days short of her 16th birthday.  They quickly settled in and soon became fluent in the local dialect as they had spent their childhood surrounded by Chinese. They were very much at home, whereas for another teenager Ningbo provided a hard and lonely start to an illustrious career in China1Above: The type of  river view which the Dyer sisters and Robert Hart would have seen on arrival  in China after their long sea voyages. Drawing by C. F. Gordon-Cumming.

Robert Hart was 19-years-old when he arrived in Ningbo and was taken on a tour of the city by the British consul, John Meadows. A year earlier he was doing post graduate studies in modern languages and modern history at Queen’s College in Belfast when the British government was recruiting young men who could be sent to China to learn the language and become interpreters, especially as those already there had a knack of dying young. When he reached in Ningbo in September  1854 there were about 22 foreigners there.  Most were missionaries  (mainly American Presbyterians and Baptists plus a few from the British Church Missionary Society) along with some Roman Catholic priests, merchants, opium smugglers , consular officials and the occasional sea captain.

Having come from a family steeped in Wesleyan Methodism he attended church services and initially sought companionship among the missionary community. When he met Miss Aldersey he thought she was a very nice old lady but rather “old maidish in dress.” He was far more interested in the Dyer sisters and wrote about Maria: “I admire her so much that I can say no more about her.” He spent many pleasant evenings with the various missionary families and noted that the wives made superb cakes and jams.  Hart became especially close to the Rev William Russell and his wife, Mary, who had been Miss Aldersey’s ward.

It was likely that it was at a Christmas dinner with a missionary family  that Miss Aldersey noticed his longing to become acquainted with Maria. It was quite a feast: soup, leg of boiled mutton, two roast pheasants, a roast goose and a nice piece of bacon, followed by plum pudding, mince pies, tarts and blancmange. And afterwards he was able to sit beside Maria. “She is such a sweet nice girl,” he wrote in his diary.

So in April 1855 he was invited to join the Russells, Miss Aldersey, the Dyer sisters and some others on a visit to the hills.  He wrote in his diary: “When going up the hill .. I walked by the side of Miss Maria D’s chair for about an hour, during which time I said very little & was near fainting half a dozen times, as I was about ‘declaring love’ & c. I once got so far as clearing my throat, but I lost my breath and could not go on. I let the opportunity slip – unfortunately or fortunately. I don’t know which! What a youth I am!” He never did get that special kiss he longed for. After that outing he seemed to have given up hope of winning Maria and also slowly moved away from the missionary community.

He was to prove  far more flexible in his approach to the Chinese culture – a trait that would help him build bridges between the foreigners and the Chinese and so later be in a position to help China adjust to western modernisation.

He quickly realised that his salary would not enable him to support the sort of English wife who would expect to have many servants and was likely to be frequently ill. It was far cheaper and much less complicated to take a Chinese mistress and Meadows was only too happy to help him find one.

In July 1855 Hart gave up writing a diary for a few years  and so provided no record of his view of the great unholy rumpus that tore apart the missionary community in Ningbo in 1857. Miss Aldersey, Maria Dyer, James Hudson Taylor  and Jemima Poppy Bausum were at the centre of that row.

When Jemima arrived in Ningbo in October 1856 she and her children, Mary (7), George (almost 6) and William (4) were enveloped by a missionary community where everyone helped each other no matter what their denomination or background. It is likely she first went to Dr William Parker’s small hospital in a farmhouse among the paddy fields where her infected tonsils could be removed. By November she had moved to Miss Aldersey’s household in the city so that  she could start learning how to run the school of 60 girls at which Maria and Burella Dyer and San Avong were teaching. Miss Aldersey was looking forward to retiring from the school she had founded in 1843 as she wanted to do more missionary work. The transition was hastened by the advent of the Second Opium War.

By the end of 1856 Guangzhou (Canton)had been seized by foreigners following a bombardment  by British and French gunboats.  Cantonese pirates around Ningbo were out for revenge and by January were planning to massacre all the foreigners. Several missionary wives and their children were evacuated to Shanghai and Miss Aldersey wanted to send the Dyer sisters as well. But when Jemima decided to move to the American Presbyterian compound across the river the sisters went with her (see map below).  Miss Aldersey had agreed that when she retired her school would be amalgamated with that at the American Presbyterian compound and so the transfer was completed. But even if the Dyer sisters were no longer living with her Miss Aldersey believed she was still acting as their guardian while they were in Ningbo.

By late January she was concerned about Maria as the young woman had already turned down two proposals of marriage. That month Maria confided in the “wise and motherly” Jemima that she had been praying about Hudson Taylor after his first visit to Ningbo between October and December 1856. Then, in February, Maria believed those prayers had been answered for she received a proposal of marriage from him. Miss Aldersey, however, was adamant – Maria had to refuse him and tell him not to be in contact with her.  Very soon even her sister, Burella, was telling Maria to stay away from Hudson Taylor.

For Maria it was going to be a long, hard year, one in which young Mary Bausum would remember her often looking very sad. “It seemed as if God’s will and Miss Aldersey’s were opposite,” Maria wrote to her brother, Samuel. It was hard to accept that a woman she had come to love and respect could be so wrong. As she struggled with this she wrote: “ … no man is infallible and I must allow no one’s judgement to come between me and my God.” 2

When Hudson Taylor  returned to Ningbo in June 1857 he was very careful not to approach Maria. He soon found, however, that Miss Aldersey was actively working against him. She asked other missionary couples not to help the two to meet and told Maria not to visit those with whom Hudson Taylor was working. The missionary community was split, divided by Miss Aldersey’s fierce opposition to Hudson Taylor. He did find an ally in Jemima and it was from her that he learnt that Maria was interested in him. And it was Jemima who, in July, arranged a meeting between Maria and Hudson Taylor which she chaperoned. At that meeting Maria gave him permission to write to her official guardian in England, William Tarn, asking for permission to marry her. But it would take four months or more before he would get a reply.

Miss Aldersey was furious when she learnt that both Maria and Hudson Taylor had written to Tarn. To her Jemima was just as guilty because she had allowed them to meet. When Hudson Taylor went to see her she left him in no doubt how far she would go to stop him and Maria being together. She told him he was neither a Christian nor a gentleman because he had approached a minor without seeking her permission as Maria’s “guardian” in Ningbo. There was much more she had against him.

When he arrived in Ningbo in October 1856 he had already discarded the hot, tight fitting western apparel for Chinese clothing. In Shanghai he had been ridiculed by the foreign community for “demeaning their superior race” by dressing like a Chinese. He had done so because he did not want to be immediately recognised as a foreigner when he travelled illegally outside the treaty ports as an evangelist.

He was also often penniless because he was determined to “live by faith” and depend upon prayer to God for his daily needs. He wasn’t getting a regular allowance from the  China Evangelisation Society as that agency didn’t have the funds to support the missionaries it had sent to China. But in addition his pietist beliefs led him to give to anyone who asked him for food and money. If that wasn’t enough he had broken the cardinal rule of travelling on a Sunday. He tried to explain to Miss Aldersey  that he had been helping a missionary who needed urgent medical care when he had committed that “sin” but to no avail.

One of those who did understand him was Jemima for her late husband had wanted to “live by faith”. And, of course, Maria’s mother had also embraced John George Bausum’s pietist approach when she became his first wife. Maria’s father, Samuel Dyer,  had given up studying for a degree in law when he felt the call to become a missionary – so it wasn’t much good telling her (as Burella’s fiancé, the Rev John Burdon did)  that Hudson Taylor should go back to England and finish his medical studies before he could propose to her.

Miss Aldersey was not used to being opposed but in Maria,  Hudson Taylor  and Jemima she met her match. Maria was more in line with that strong independent streak of Protestantism which allowed each person to have their own personal relationship with Jesus and made it possible, even for a young single woman, to make decisions of her own so long as she felt they were backed up by God. As Hudson Taylor commented to his mother, the whole row centred on the fact that many did not think a maiden lady was qualified to judge on matters of love. He also wrote home about Miss Aldersey: “There is a good deal to be said in excuse for one now about 60, with failing memory, who has always ruled supreme over a large establishment and been spoiled by the deference and flattery shown her. She cannot brook contradiction.”

It was on December 11 that Maria received a letter from her aunt and uncle giving her permission to accept Hudson Taylor’s proposal so long as the wedding took place after her 21st birthday on January 16, 1858. The Tarn’s also asked Jemima to be like a mother to the young couple – which she was very happy to do. After that the young couple often met at her home where her daughter, Mary, noted that they flouted convention by sitting together and holding hands.

Miss Aldersey still tried to stop the marriage. Russell had sided with her in the row and so refused to officiate at the wedding even though he was the most senior CMS missionary in Ningbo. He also took the British Consul on a shooting trip on the day of the wedding -January 20. But the Consul signed the necessary papers before he went and left his deputy, Hart, to act for him.

On January 20 Hudson Taylor was penniless and his wedding suit was a plain cotton Chinese robe. Others rallied around to make it a special day and the Consul helped by returning the wedding fee in lieu of the groom’s assistance as a translator. The couple would go on to become two of the most influential missionaries in China in the 19th century through the mission they founded: the China Inland Mission. They would owe much to Jemima in the early days of that mission.  But first Jemima had a price to pay for supporting the couple against the wishes of Miss Aldersey.

In the first few tough years of their marriage Maria and James Hudson Taylor would hardly have dared to believe they would be instrumental in founding one of the most influential Christian agencies in China – the China Inland Mission (now  OMF International). That they survived and managed to develop a new missionary society was thanks to several special friends, including Jemima Bausum and the Rev Edward C Lord.

Maria and James Hudson Taylor were soon in need of  Jemima Bausum’s hospitality. Not long after their marriage in January in 1858 they moved to a small cottage in a country town about nine miles from Ningbo. But both of them became very ill. They stayed first with some other China Evangelisation Society (CES) missionaries and then convalesced at Jemima’s home.

Afterwards they moved to an apartment above the room that the CES missionaries used as a chapel in Ningbo. It was then that they heard that Jemima would be replaced by some American Presbyterian missionaries at the school. Hudson Taylor wrote: “I should be sorry for her to have to return to England from want of support. Perhaps some aid might be got here, but unless nearly £40 a quarter could be raised at home, I fear she and her family and the mission work could not be sustained.”

He told his mother later: “She is a zealous, useful missionary and her influence has been greatly blessed on those who were under her care. You know how kind she was to me, and that too when others were afraid to aid me, however much they felt with me. And I may add that her loosing (sic)  her position in the school was probably owing in part to her kindness to me.”

By July 1858 he was able to report that Mary Ann Aldersey and the Russells were more friendly if not familiar towards him, and that Burella had started writing to her sister, Maria, again. Little did they realise that they had just one more month to enjoy this renewed relationship with Burella – for the latter died of cholera in Shanghai in August.

It is likely that they received that news after Jemima had left Ningbo. In a letter to his mother on September 16 Hudson Taylor wrote: “Mrs Bausum and three children are now on their way to England nearly six weeks.  She has taken my part in the difficulties I have had and since we have married I have staid (sic) in her house some time. She has promised to come and see you while in England & I am sure you will be pleased with her, and her kindness to me will be a claim on your love. I hope she will come out again ere long.”

He sent a letter of introduction with Jemima to the Tottenham Ladies’ Association, a Christian group which was supporting him. And in England Jemima and her children went to live with Maria’s uncle, William Tarn, and his wife. She needed all the help she could get because, with the loss of her position as headmistress of the school in Ningbo, she was left homeless and almost penniless.

Jemima was kept busy in England getting her children settled and trying to raise sufficient funds so that she could return to Ningbo and open her own school. She successfully applied for a grant from the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East ( SPFEE)  and made many friends, particularly in Tottenham, among those who believed in “living by faith”.

Her own husband, John George Bausum, had been inspired by the teachings of Anthony Norris Groves (1795-1853), as had George Muller, the founder of the orphanages at Ashley Down in Bristol. Through prayer and by only accepting unsolicited gifts Muller  saw thousands of children cared for in those orphanages. He  even received sufficient funds to support some missionaries including Hudson Taylor.

By July 1859 the Hudson Taylors were looking forward to Jemima’s return and had sent a list of books for her to bring as well as a compound microscope and other items.

(Jemima left her daughter, Mary, and two sons in England. Mary moved in with the Hudson Taylors when they were in England and became like a member of their growing family. But George and William did not settle so well. )

By the time Jemima got back to China much of that country was  under the control of the Taiping rebels, led by a man who believed he was the younger brother of Jesus. The Chinese emperor had failed to ratify the Treaties of Tientsin and this led, in October, to  Lord Elgin with the French General de Mountauban ordering the destruction of the magnificent imperial Summer Palace in Peking.  Beset by the Taiping rebels and the foreigners, the Chinese had to submit to the Allies’ demands.  The Peking Convention signed in 1860 treaty even allowed for the British to appoint the head of the Imperial Maritime Customs.

The missionaries were pleased to hear that they would have more freedom to travel inland but were appalled at the enforced  legalisation of the opium trade. After the Peking Convention the opium dens grew faster than schools in China. Not surprisingly the Chinese deeply resented such “unequal treaties” not just for the imposition of the opium trade but because foreigners often enjoyed more privileges than they did.

By early 1860 Jemima had 11 girls mainly under 10-years of age in her school. She told the SPFEE: “They had been sadly neglected, never comfortably clothed or fed, and looked much such a picture of starvation and misery as we are familiar with in our ragged schools at home. One poor child was brought to the house, and the message left that the teacher might do what she liked with her. Then three are afflicted – one with total and two with partial blindness, while a fourth was a cripple. But they are not wanting in intelligence, and a few months after their admission, five out of the eleven had learnt to read Chinese as it is spoken in Ningbo. Their time was very pleasantly spent – very different to their former days of wretchedness. They learned to be useful children, to cook their own rice, make their clothes, and clean their rooms.”

The circle of friends around Jemima and the Hudson Taylors included an American Baptist Union missionary, the Rev Edward C Lord.  Lord had gone to Ningbo in 1847 with his first wife, Lucy Lyon who was a niece of Mary Lyon, the pioneer of women’s education in the States and  founder of  Mount Holyoke College. Lucy gave birth to two children but both died in infancy and then, in 1852, she became ill. Her  husband took her to back to Fredonia in New York State where she died in May 1853 of “intestinal tuberculosis”. In November that year he married her younger sister, Freelove, and they went to Ningbo together. Lord was bereaved yet again in early 1860 when Freelove died soon after their fifth child was born.

In December 1861 he married Jemima. Hudson Taylor had worked with Lord and obviously  highly respected him. He asked Lord  to oversee and help the young missionaries who had been sent out by the CES (John  and Mary Jones and James and Martha Meadows) while he and Maria were in England.  The Hudson Taylors left  Ningbo in late 1860 and did not return until 1866 – after the China Inland Mission had been founded.

As Jemima had not signed a marriage pledge with the SPFEE she did not have to return any of the society’s grant. That was fortunate because her vision was to build an even bigger and better orphanage and school. These plans soon had to be put on hold because the Taiping rebels were heading towards Ningbo.  By mid 1861 thousands of  Chinese were fleeing to Ningbo as the Taiping rebels attacked nearby towns and Dr  Parker’s new hospital was over-flowing with casualties.

Jemima decided to close the school in the city and send the girls to a safe place across the river. She ventured forth from the American Baptist compound in September to visit the Joneses as John was very ill. On the way back she found the canals full of boats overflowing with refugees. Streams of fearful people were passing the Lord’s home sharing stories of how the rebels had slaughtered so many and burnt their houses.

The panic was palpable but Jemima commented: “I do not indulge in fear.” At a Bible class she managed to keep the attention of the few Chinese women there by discussing “Fear not them that kill the body…”  For the next two months there were so many terrifying  rumours about what the rebels would do.

The circle of friends around Jemima and the Hudson Taylors included an American Baptist Union missionary, the Rev Edward C Lord.  Lord had gone to Ningbo in 1847 with his first wife, Lucy Lyon who was a niece of Mary Lyon, the pioneer of women’s education in the States and  founder of  Mount Holyoke College. Lucy gave birth to two children but both died in infancy and then, in 1852, she became ill. Her  husband took her to back to Fredonia in New York State where she died in May 1853 of “intestinal tuberculosis”. In November that year he married her younger sister, Freelove, and they went to Ningbo together. Lord was bereaved yet again in early 1860 when Freelove died soon after their fifth child was born.

In December 1861 he married Jemima. Hudson Taylor had worked with Lord and obviously  highly respected him. He asked Lord  to oversee and help the young missionaries who had been sent out by the CES (John  and Mary Jones and James and Martha Meadows) while he and Maria were in England.  The Hudson Taylors left  Ningbo in late 1860 and did not return until 1866 – after the China Inland Mission had been founded.

As Jemima had not signed a marriage pledge with the SPFEE she did not have to return any of the society’s grant. That was fortunate because her vision was to build an even bigger and better orphanage and school. These plans soon had to be put on hold because the Taiping rebels were heading towards Ningbo.  By mid 1861 thousands of  Chinese were fleeing to Ningbo as the Taiping rebels attacked nearby towns and Dr  Parker’s new hospital was over-flowing with casualties.

Jemima decided to close the school in the city and send the girls to a safe place across the river. She ventured forth from the American Baptist compound in September to visit the Joneses as John was very ill. On the way back she found the canals full of boats overflowing with refugees. Streams of fearful people were passing the Lord’s home sharing stories of how the rebels had slaughtered so many and burnt their houses.

The panic was palpable but Jemima commented: “I do not indulge in fear.” At a Bible class she managed to keep the attention of the few Chinese women there by discussing “Fear not them that kill the body…”  For the next two months there were so many terrifying  rumours about what the rebels would do.

Then, in December 1861 Jemima wrote to the SPFEE: “The rebels have entered and sacked the city to a house, and laid waste all the surrounding country. No pen, much less mine, can describe the ten-thousandth part of the wretchedness to which our eyes and ears are witness. All trade is stopped, and vast numbers look forward to nothing but starvation and death, even should they escape the rebels’ knife. Many are robbed of all they have while seeking a place of safety. The people are distressed beyond description. Might is right.”

The missionaries were not attacked by the rebels but Jemima had the agony of turning away many orphans because she did not have the funds to take care of them. The only foreign woman who stayed in the city was Mrs Mary Leisk Russell. She and her husband, the Rev William Russell,  provided a refuge for about 200 Chinese and fed the destitute. Mrs Russell was known as a timid woman but still successfully stood up to the rebels when they tried to carry off some of her school girls.

The rebels were besieged by Chinese Imperial forces in May 1862 and made the mistake of firing upon French and British ships. The ships fired back and so helped the Imperial army to force the rebels to leave Ningbo. The British had already decided to help the Imperial army to defeat the rebels and by 1864 that was fully  accomplished, one of the heroes being “General” Charles Gordon who would later be killed at Khartoum in Sudan.

In April 1863 the Lords decided that Jemima should take her husband’s  five children (Lucy Lyon, William Dean, Franklin Lyon, Fannie Adaline and Mary Freelove) to his sister in New York State. It would be more than a year before she returned to her husband and her work.

Jemima and Edward Lord’s five children were on the steamer from Shanghai to New York, via Cape Horn, for three months – but it was obviously well worth it for she was so impressed by her sister in law, Esther Lord McNeil and the educational facilities around the McNeil’s home in New York State.

Aunt Esther and her husband, James, were dedicated temperance workers and she became the first county president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in New York State when it was formed in 1873. It was about a month after she married in 1832 that she became a Christian and felt called to care for homeless children. The McNeils never had any children themselves but by the mid 1860s they were caring for eight youngsters. These included Edward and Freelove Lord’s five children (Lucy, William, Franklin, Fannie and Mary) and George and William Bausum. For in 1863 Jemima had decided to go to England collect her boys and take them to live with Aunt Esther. George (below left) was then 13-years-old and William was 11.










In England Jemima spent time with her daughter, Mary, who was very much part of the Hudson Taylor family. She did manage to raise some support for her work in Ningbo while there particularly through George Muller (founder of the orphanages at Ashley Down in Bristol) but fund raising in the States proved to be very difficult because of the Civil War. Nor did it help that, when she was in Brooklyn preparing to return to Ningbo, she caught diphtheria. Jemima didn’t get back to her husband until July 1864 having spent most of the last 14 months at sea.

Dr Lord had been very busy during her absence both with his own work, overseeing the construction of the orphanage, helping those missionaries (like James Meadows) who looked to Hudson Taylor for leadership and acting as vice-consul during the American consul’s absence. He would also survive what was thought to be cholera and, when scarcely off his sick bed, baptised 15 converts, 11 of those at the Bridge Street church that he was overseeing for Hudson Taylor. Once back in Ningbo Jemima was soon immersed in more than just her school work.

As the orphanage approached completion she felt frustrated that she could not do more evangelism among the women in and around Ningbo. She began systematically visiting nearby villages with a local Christian worker, Mrs Tsui – known as the “man hunter” for the way she sought to introduce many Chinese to Jesus. Jemima told the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East and Hudson Taylor that the two Biblewomen she worked with had such easy access to so many homes in Ningbo that she didn’t know how to cope with all the work.

She wrote that if she had five helpers she could easily give each one a district in which there was ample employment – leaving her free to teach women to read the Scriptures in Romanised colloquial script. Hudson Taylor and his associates in London did recruit an assistant for her but that young woman never settled into the work at the school and soon left. He described Jemima as being the equivalent of one good man!

By 1865 Dr Lord felt that Meadows, after three years in Ningbo, was ready to take responsibility for the Bridge Street church which by then had about 40 members. He was, however, even more impressed by another of Hudson Taylor’s recruits – Stephen Barchetwho had arrived in July 1865. Barchet was German and had been converted in London when he was studying medicine. Dr Lord described Barchet as a young man of unusual promise who was more intelligent and more teachable.

Hudson Taylor sent others to Ningbo, including a couple who stayed at Jemima’s school for a while. But the Lords and Meadows were very keen to see the Hudson Taylors return. Maria had, however, been very ill after the birth of her third son, and there was still much to do before they could leave England. They were seeing the impact of the Christian Revival in Europe and by 1865, after they founded the China Inland Mission, they had many applicants to assess. As their plans progressed for a whole team to travel with them to China in 1866 Dr Lord encouraged them by stating that they could all find a home with him and his wife when they first arrived.

That team of 16 new workers included Jemima’s 16-year-old daughter, Mary, whom Hudson Taylor accepted as a missionary. He well knew how effective his own wife had been in Ningbo even though she had also been only 16 when she first went to China. This team would pioneer the inclusion of single women and non-ordained men in Christian outreach deep into China.

The Hudson Taylors with their four children and that team left England in May 1866 on the Clipper Lammermuir and arrived in Shanghai on September 30. Hudson Taylor immediately escorted Mary Bausum and Elizabeth Rose to Ningbo, for the latter was engaged to Meadows. He didn’t take the Lords up on their offer of hospitality for the team – but did continue to cherish their encouragement and support.

Barchet left Hudson Taylor’s team and joined Dr Lord in his work in Ningbo while Mary became her mother’s assistant. It didn’t take long for romance to blossom between Barchet and Mary and they married in November 1868. Sadly Jemima never witnessed the birth of her first grandchild for she died on January 15,1869.

A doctor reported that her health had been declining during the past year but she had continued to do her work till the last week or two of her life. His diagnosis was that she had pleurisy “which ended in effusion of water on the chest”.  This was summarised by her daughter and son-in-law as probably being heart disease and bronchitis.

They wrote: “Her sufferings during her final illness were great, not being able to lie down nor get rest. But her faith remained unshaken, and her mind seemed to be quite calm.”

Above: Jemima’s school in Ningbo.  Below:Mary Bausum  Barchet in about 1925

Her daughter added: “Mamma is very much missed, not only in the family circle, but also by the Chinese, who say she is the ‘only lady who mingled so much with them, and worked so hard for them.”

Her husband wrote: “She had labored long and well; it was right she should go home to her rest. For seven weeks she bore her severe sufferings with great fortitude and patience, and closed her great battle of life.” He spoke of how dauntlessly, tirelessly and hopefully she had worked – and his sorrow at losing her.

Jemima told one of the Biblewomen shortly before her death that she was very well as she was going to her Father’s house and so looked forward to death.

In an obituary about her a newspaper in Fredonia (where the McNeils were living with her children) it stated that her school, with almost 50 girls, was the largest and most successful in China. It still exists today but looks very different now that it has been completely rebuilt and modernised.  

There would be more sorrow the year after Jemima’s death, as Maria  Hudson Taylor died after giving birth to her eighth child (that son and th ree other children pre-deceased her). ToMary Bausum Barchet she had been like a very special big sister.

Mary carried on her mother’s work at the school and the orphanage for a while. In the 1870s the Barchets went to the States where Stephen completed his medical studies and they joined the American Baptist Missionary Union. They returned to China and worked there for the rest of their lives. They had four daughters and one son.

Dr Lord would marry three more times. In 1887, 40 years after he first arrived in Ningbo, he and his sixth wife contracted cholera. He was so ill that he never knew that his wife had died – four days before he did. So he and five of his wives were buried in Ningbo.

The Bausum boys made their lives in the frontier lands of South Dakota. In August 1885 William married Dr Lord’s daughter, Fannie Adaline, but then had to leave immediately for South Dakota where his brother, George had died suddenly. He brought back George’s son to Aunt Esther.

William and Fannie (who had acted as secretary to her father in Ningbo for several years) then went to South Dakota themselves. They had seven children one of whom, Robert Lord Bausum, enjoyed telling his children that his mother’s father married his father’s mother (He Led All The Way pp 20 &36). He was with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board in China in 1929 when he married Euva Evelyn Majors and their fourth child, Dorothy (Dorothy Lord Bausum  Evans), carried on the family tradition of missionary service.  When Dorothy and her husband, Bobby Dale Evans, retired from the mission field in 2000 it was Joy Bausum who picked up that torch.

Sources : I am very grateful to Dan Bausum and Dorothy Evans (Jemima’s great grand daughter) and to Margaret Troy for sharing information about Jemima. * In the family Bible of John George and Jemima Bausum there is a note that Jemima was born in Great Yarmouth, England, on February 17, 1818.

The records of the SPFEE in the special collection at Birmingham University; the History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East published in London  in1847 by Edward Suter; and The Female Intelligencer published by the SPFEE.

Mission to Borneo – The Historical Society of the Reformed Church in America Occasional Papers No 1, by Gerald de Jong, 1987;  Queen of the Head Hunters by Sylvia Brooke, Sedgwick & Jackson, 1970.

Incoming letters to the London Missionary Society, in the Archives of the Council for World Mission, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Christine Doran, A Fine Sphere for Female Usefulness, Missionary Women in the Straits Settlements, 1815-1845, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic society Vol LXIX pt 1 1996.

E Aldersey White A Woman Pioneer in China, The Life of Mary Ann Aldersey, The Livingstone Press, London, 1932.

A Brief History of Noncomformist Protestantism in Penang and the Mission House at 35 Farquhar Street,  Submission to The Penang Story, Volume 2, by Jean DeBernardi.

Dorothy Lord Bausum Evans He Led all the Way, Xulon Press 2007 – I am especially grateful to Mrs Evans for sharing the information in the Bausum’s family Bible.

See also

Katherine F Bruner, John K Fairbank and Richard J Smith (Eds and narratives) Entering China’s Service – Robert Hart’s Journals 1854-1863, Harvard University Press 1986, pp 8-9, 62-63, 70,71, 84, 96-97, 128-129.

Church Missionary Society Intelligencer 1853 (Report of the Bishop of Victoria about a visit to Ningbo in the spring of 1852).

About Maria Dyer and James Hudson Taylor : J C Pollock Hudson Taylor and Maria, Hodder & Stoughton 1962, pp 81-105; Geraldine Guinness The Story of the China Inland Mission,Morgan and Scott 1894; and  A J Broomhall If I had a Thousand Lives – Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century Vol III Hodder & Stoughton 1982.

The Ricci Roundtable, website of the Ricci Institute

The Project Gutenberg eBook: Frances W Graham and Georgeanna M Cardenier, Two Decades – A History of the First Twenty Years’ Work of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of the State of New York, 1894.  The photograph of Esther Lord McNeil is from that book.

1. From 1863 to 1908 Sir Robert Hart was the Inspector General of  China’s Imperial Maritime Custom Service.

2. Maria Dyer’s letter to her brother, Samuel, in July 1857, China Inland Mission archives in the special collection at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

See also: A Charter for Girls’ Education and Eliza Thornton – a singular success

I am especially grateful to OMF International and to the staff at the special collection at SOAS for the chance to access some of the letters of James Hudson Taylor. This made it possible to be certain exactly when Jemima left Ningbo in the late 1850s, and again in the early 1860s. The letters of E C Lord are in the CIM archives in the special collection at SOAS.

My thanks to Dan Bausum, Joy Bausum’s father, for providing copies of photographs from the Bausum family archives.


Jemima Bausum Lord  1818-1869; Edward Clemens Lord 1817-1887; Mary Elizabeth Bausum Lord 1849 – 1926; Stephen Paul Barchet 1843 – 1909; George Frederick Bausum 1850 – 1885; William Henry Bausum 1852 – 1905; Fannie Adaline Lord Bausum 1858 – 1927; James Hudson Taylor 1832 – 1905; Maria Dyer Taylor 1837 – 1870; Robert Lord Bausum 1893 – 1979; Euva E Bausum 1900 – 1966.


From Dan Bausum, December 1, 2010: I am enjoying your story very much. I look forward to each installment. Patty and I retured recently from Malaysia where we attended the dedication of the Joy Bausum School. There were dignitaries there, who, based on their education and accomplishments were highly esteemed by men and there were refugee children, many of them orphans sitting with them. I was struck by the contrast and the fact that Jesus was equally comfortable with either group. So was Joy. It brought us inexpressable joy. We did get to visit Penang and found the grave of John George Bausum, Jemima’s first husband and the mission house that was built on the property he and Jemima bought next to the girls’ school. I appreciate you sharing your research in the form of this story.  Dan Bausum

From Beth  Feb 22, 2014: I too am enjoying this story of my great lineage. These are some very strong and courageous women of whom I get my DNA. This helps me understand where I get my boldness to serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am the great great great granddaughter of Jemmima as well. My G G Grandparents were Mary and Stephen Barchet. I understand there is a hospital in his name? This was so wonderful to read about my great great great grandmother Jemima and her daughter Mary and husband Stephen, which (of course) I am related to as well. Wonderful to know these good kind Christians are part of my DNA~~~smile!

From Doc M  August 19, 2011: Interesting post! I am a great-great-great-grand-daughter of Jemima’s older half-sister Mary Poppy and her husband Stephen Todd.