Burdon, John Shaw (DNB12)

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BURDON, JOHN SHAW (1826–1907), missionary, bishop of Victoria, Hongkong, and Chinese scholar, only son of James Burdon, by Isabella his second wife, was born at Auchterarder in Perthshire on Dec. 1826. On his father's early death he was brought up by an uncle, who kept a school at Liverpool, where he was over-worked. From Liverpool he went to Glasgow. In 1850 he was accepted as a missionary by the Church Missionary Society, and spent two years at their training college at Islington. He was ordained deacon by the bishop of London on 19 Dec. 1852.

He sailed for Shanghai on 20 July 1853, and was ordained priest by the bishop of Victoria, Hongkong, on 8 Oct. 1854. Meanwhile the T'ai-p'ing rebels were menacing the whole empire. Shanghai was taken by them just before Burden's arrival, and he occupied himself with long and very hazardous journeys into the surrounding country. There he preached, interviewed the iconoclastic and professedly half-Christian rebel leaders, and opened new mission stations. From Jan. to July 1859 he stayed at Hang-chow ; but the people proved inaccessible, and he returned to the coast. In 1860 he made a second attempt on Hang-chow, but was obliged to fall back on Shaohsing, where he worked until late in 1861. In December 1861 he was in Ningpo with Mr. and Mrs. Russell, G. E. Moule, and others when that city was captured by the rebels. Early in 1862 he went to Peking as pioneer of the Church of England at the capital, and after eleven years of hard work and domestic sorrow he returned to England on 22 May 1864.

In September 1865 he was again in Peking, where he added to his other work the duties of chaplain to the British legation (1865-1872). In 1864 he had been appointed one of a committee of five eminent Chinese scholars to translate the New Testament into the vernacular of North China. The work, with which his name will be always associated, appeared in 1872, and has been the foundation of all subsequent revisions. In 1872 appeared also a version of the Book of Common Prayer by Burdon and (Bishop) Schereschewsky, which likewise forms the basis of all the Prayer-books since printed for the North China missions. Subsequently he prepared other editions of the Prayerbook (1879, 1890, 1893), issued a revision of the New Testament translation with H. Blodget (1889), and from 1891 to 1901 was a member of a committee for revision of the Chinese Bible.

On his election as bishop of Victoria, Hongkong, he returned to England on 25 Oct. 1873, and early next year received the degree of D.D. from the archbishop of Canterbury. On 15 March 1874 he was consecrated third bishop of Victoria, a diocese which until 1883 included Japan as well as all South China. At his own request his name was kept on the roll of C.M.S. missionaries, and he had sometimes to insist on the fact that he was a missionary, as well as a colonial, bishop. His episcopate was marked by ceaseless if unobtrusive work and boundless hospitality at Hong-kong and by arduous visitations in Fukien and elsewhere. He enjoyed the regard alike of the merchants of Hongkong and the missionaries in Fukien. He resigned the bishopric on 26 Jan. 1897, and retired to Pakhoi, where his missionary life closed. He left China in 1901, and his last years of failing health were spent with his youngest son in England. He died at Bedford on 5 Jan. 1907, and was buried at Royston. Burdon was married thrice: (1) on 30 March 1853 to Harriet Anne Forshaw who died at Shanghai on 26 Sept. 1854; (2) on 11 Nov. 1857 to Burella Hunter Dyer, who died on 16 Aug. 1858; (3) on 14 June 1865 to Phoebe Esther, daughter of E. T. Alder, vicar of Bungay; she died on 14 June 1898. By his third wife he had three sons.

[MS. notes and documents supplied by his youngest son, Edward Russell Burdon; MS. Register of C.M.S. Missionaries; Church Missionary Review, April 1907, pp. 227-236; E. Stock, History of the C.M.S., 3 vols., 1899; Notes on Hangchow Past and Present, by G. E. Moule, 1907.]