Walter Henry Medhurst

Walter Henry Medhurst bigraphy, stories - Missionary in China

Walter Henry Medhurst : biography

29 April 1796 – 24 January 1857

Walter Henry Medhurst ( 29 April 1796 – 24 January 1857), was an English Congregationalist missionary to China, born in London and educated at St Paul’s School. He was one of the early translators of the Bible into Chinese language editions.

Early life

Medhurst’s father was an innkeeper in Ross, Scotland. As a young man Medhurst learned the business of a printer and typesetter at Hackney College. Becoming interested in Christian missions he sailed in 1816 to join the London Missionary Society’s station at Malacca, which was intended to be a great printing centre. En route, he called at Madras where, in a little less than three months, he met Mrs Elizabeth Braun, née Martin (1794–1874), marrying her the day before he sailed to Malacca.

Once he arrived, Malacca quickly became proficient in Malay, in a knowledge of the written characters of Chinese, and in the colloquial use of more than one of its dialects.

Medhurst was ordained at Malacca in 1819, and engaged in missionary labours, first at Penang, then at Batavia – and finally, when peace was concluded with China in 1842, at Shanghai where he founded the London Missionary Society Press (墨海書館) together with William Muirhead, Joseph Edkins, and William Charles Milne. There he continued till 1856, laying the foundations of a successful mission.

Significant books

Medhurst’s principal labour for several years, as one of a committee of delegates, was in the revision of existing Chinese versions of the Bible. In 1840, a group of four people (Walter Henry Medhurst, Charles Gutzlaff, Elijah Coleman Bridgman, and John Robert Morrison) cooperated to translate the Bible into Chinese.

The translation of the Hebrew language part was done mostly by Gutzlaff from the Netherlands Missionary Society, with the exception of the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua, which were done by the group collectively.

Medhurst’s book on China inspired many to become missionaries including [[Hudson Taylor.]]

This translation, completed in 1847 is well known due to its adoption by the revolutionary peasant leader Hong Xiuquan of the Taiping Tianguo movement (Taiping Rebellion) as some of the reputed early doctrines of the organization.

This Bible translation was a version in Classical Chinese, correct and faithful to the original. With John Stronach, and the assistance of Wang Tao, Medhurst later translated the New Testament into the Mandarin dialect of Nanking.

His Chinese-English and English-Chinese dictionaries (each in 2 vols.) are still valuable, and to him the British public owed its understanding of the teaching of Hung-Sew-Tseuen, the leader of the Tai-ping rising (1851–64).

Medhurst was a prolific writer, translator, and editor. The list below is incomplete. In recognition of these learned books, in 1843 New York University conferred upon him the honorary degree of D.D.

Abney Park]]

Soaring skywards, the stone obelisk monument in memory of Dr Medhurst at the Congregationalists’ non-denominational [[Abney Park Cemetery]]

Death & memorial

Medhurst left Shanghai in 1856, in failing health.

He died two days after reaching London, on 24 January 1857 and was buried at the Congregationalists’ non-denominational Abney Park Cemetery where his white stone obelisk monument can still be seen today.

His son, Sir Walter Henry Medhurst (1822–1885), was British consul at Hankow and afterwards at Shanghai. His obituary was published in the Illustrated London News of 9 January 1886.

Published books

  • Medhurst, Walter. A Dictionary of the Hok-këèn Dialect of the Chinese Language: According to the Reading and Colloquial Idioms: Containing about 12,000 Characters (ISBN 1-86210-067-5)
  • Medhurst, Walter Henry (1838). London: J. Snow. -University of Hong Kong Libraries, Digital Initiatives, China Through Western Eyes
  • Medhurst, Walter Henry (1848). Shanghae (Shanghai): Printed at the Mission Press
  • Medhurst, Walter Henry (1872). London: Edward Stanford. -University of Hong Kong Libraries, Digital Initiatives, China Through Western Eyes