Robert Morrison

1782-1834. Missionary to China. Born in Northumberland of Scottish Presbyterian artisan parents, he was converted when an apprentice at Newcastle. He educated himself and in 1802 went to a Dissenting academy near London, became a Congregationalist, and offered to the London Missionary Society, then looking for someone to translate and distribute the Bible in the almost totally closed Chinese Empire. Morrison learned the rudiments of a language nearly unknown in England, was ordained, and in 1807 sailed to Canton via the USA and Cape Horn, because the controlling East India Company refused to transport missionaries.

He could never get farther than the (trading) “Factories” at Canton. He saw scarcely any converts; he could remain only because he learned Chinese so well that he swiftly became the official Company interpreter. But his single-minded, rather dour devotion was eminently suitable for the lonely, discouraging task of laying the necessary foundation on which others could build when China opened to the West. He completed a translation of the whole Bible by 1818. His dictionary (1821) was the standard work until long after China opened fully. He wrote tracts and hymns.

When he obtained an assistant, William Milne,* in 1813, Morrison sent him to found an Anglo-Chinese college in Malacca, an important element in the eventual growth of missions in China. He encouraged work among expatriate Chinese and dreamed of opening Japan. On his one return to Britain, in 1824, now famous, he promoted understanding of China and concern for its evangelization. Dying alone in Canton eight years before missionaries were admitted anywhere else, this austere Scot is the father of Protestant missions in China.

See M. Broomhall, Robert Morrison (1924).