Robert Morrison (missionary)
Robert Morrison, FRS (5 January 1782 – 1 August 1834), was an Anglo-Scottish Protestant missionary to Portuguese Macao, Qing-era Guangdong, and Dutch Malacca, who was also a pioneering sinologist, lexicographer, and translator considered the "Father of Anglo-Chinese Literature".
Morrison was born on 5 January 1782 in Bullers Green, near Morpeth, Northumberland, England. He was the son of James Morrison, a Scottish farm laborer and Hannah Nicholson, an English woman, who were both active members of the Church of Scotland. They were married in 1768. Robert was the youngest son of eight children. At age three, Robert and his family moved to Newcastle where his father found more prosperous work in the shoe trade.
By the age of 17 Morrison had been moved reading about the new missionary movement in The Evangelical Magazine and The Missionary Magazine. However, he had promised his mother he would not go abroad so long as she lived and was present to care for her during her last illness, when he received her blessing to proceed.
Morrison was ordained in London on 8 January 1807 at the Scotch church and was eager to go to China. On 31 January, he sailed first to America. The fact that the policy of the East India Company was not to carry missionaries, and that there were no other ships available that were bound for China, forced him to stop first in New York City. Morrison spent nearly a month in the United States . He was very anxious to secure the good offices of the American Consul at Guangzhou, as it was well known that he would need the influence of someone in authority, if he was to be permitted to stay in China. The promise of protection was made from the United States consul, and on 12 May, he boarded a second vessel, the Trident, bound for Macau.
Morrison fell ill and returned to Macau on 1 June 1808. Fortunately he had mastered Mandarin and Cantonese during this period. Morrison was miserably housed at Macau. It was with difficulty he induced anyone to take him in. He paid an exorbitant price for a miserable top-floor room, and had not been long in it before the roof fell in with a crash. Even then he would have stayed on, when some sort of covering had been patched up, but his landlord raised his rent by one-third, and he was forced to go out again into the streets. Still he struggled on, laboring at his Chinese dictionary, and even in his private prayers pouring out his soul to God in broken Chinese, that he might master the native tongue. So much of a recluse had he become, through fear of being ordered away by the authorities, that his health greatly suffered, and he could only walk across his narrow room with difficulty. But he toiled on.
This post afforded him, what most he needed, some real security that he would be allowed to continue at his work. He had now a definite commercial appointment, and it was one which in no way hindered the prosecution of the mission, which always stood first in his thoughts. The daily work of translation for the company assisted him in gaining familiarity with the language, and increased his opportunities for intercourse with the Chinese. He could now go about more freely and fearlessly. Already his mastery of the Chinese tongue was admitted by those shrewd businessmen, who perceived its value for their own commercial negotiations.
The years 1824 and 1825 were spent by Morrison in England, where he presented his Chinese Bible to King George IV, and was received by all classes with great demonstrations of respect. He busied himself in teaching Chinese to classes of English gentlemen and English ladies, and in stirring up interest and sympathy on behalf of China. Before returning to his missionary labours he was married again, in November 1824 to Eliza Armstrong, with whom he had five more children. The new Mrs. Morrison and the children of his first marriage returned with him to China in 1826.
In 1834 the monopoly of the East India Company on trade with China ended. Morrison's position with the company was abolished and his means of sustenance ceased. He was subsequently appointed Government translator under Lord Napier, but only held the position for a few days.
Morrison produced a Chinese translation of the Bible. He also compiled a Chinese dictionary for the use of Westerners. The Bible translation took twelve years and the compilation of the dictionary, sixteen years. During this period, in 1815, he left the employment of the East India Company.
In 1817 Morrison accompanied Lord Amherst's embassy to Beijing. His own knowledge of China was very considerably enlarged by this. He was sent by the Company on an embassy to the Emperor at Beijing in the capacity of interpreter. The journey took him through many cities and country districts, and introduced him to some novel aspects of Chinese life and character. The object of the embassy was not attained, but to Morrison the experience was invaluable; and it served, not only to revive his health, but to stimulate his missionary zeal. Through all that vast tract of country, and among that innumerable population, there was not one solitary Protestant missionary station.