Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Medhurst, Walter Henry (1796-1857)

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1405402Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 37 — Medhurst, Walter Henry (1796-1857)1894Joseph Hirst Lupton

MEDHURST, WALTER HENRY (1796–1857), missionary, was born in London on 29 April 1796. In the register-book of St. Paul's School, where his admission stands recorded on 27 July 1807, at the age of eleven, his father is described as William Medhurst, innkeeper, of Ross, N.B. After quitting the school he found occupation as a printer, first at Gloucester, and afterwards with the London Missionary Society. In their service, after a few months' study and preparation under Dr. Collison at Hackney College, he embarked for China in September 1816 as a missionary printer. His destination was Malacca. On the way the ship in which he sailed put in at Madras, and there he found a wife to share his labours. While working at the printing-press he made rapid progress in the knowledge of the Malay and Chinese languages, and developed a faculty of preaching. He was accordingly ordained by Dr. W. Milne [q. v.] and his colleagues at Malacca on 27 April 1819. Of wiry frame, good health, and unfailing cheerfulness, he proved a most efficient missionary. Penang and Batavia were the scene of his earlier efforts. At Parapattan he established an orphan asylum. In 1836 he returned for a while to England. There he wrote his ‘China, its State and Prospects,’ published in 1838, with the view of stimulating interest in Chinese missions, and especially in a new version of the bible in Chinese, a work which, with the co-operation of friends, he was able to accomplish some years later. It is known as the ‘Delegates' Version.’ In 1838 he went back to Java. Thence, when the ports of Canton, Shanghai, and three others were opened to British merchants by the treaty of 29 Aug. 1842, he moved to Shanghai, and laboured there for fourteen years. On 10 Sept. 1856 he sailed with his wife and family from Shanghai to England in order to recruit his health. He landed at Southend on 21 Jan. 1857, and was just able to reach London, where he died on the evening of the 24th. He was buried in Abney Park cemetery on 31 Jan.

Medhurst's works were numerous. They exhibit unceasing activity of mind and a remarkable gift for languages. Besides the works mentioned above, he published in Batavia in 1830 an ‘English and Japanese Vocabulary,’ and in 1842–3 a ‘Chinese and English Dictionary,’ in two vols. 8vo; at Shanghai he published in 1844 ‘Chinese Dialogues,’ of which a new and enlarged edition was brought out in 1861 by his son, Walter Henry (afterwards Sir Walter) Medhurst [q. v.], and in 1847 a ‘Dissertation on the Theology of the Chinese,’ besides many lesser tracts.

The coloured frontispiece to his ‘China, its State and Prospects’ gives a portrait of him in conversation with Choo-Tĭh-Lang, attended by a Malay boy.

[Inscription on gravestone (No. 17572) in Abney Park cemetery; Gardiner's Admission Registers of St. Paul's School; obituary notice by the Rev. W. C. Milne in the Evangelical Magazine, September 1857; abstract of the same, with some few additional particulars, in the Congregational Year-Book for 1858, p. 215.]

J. H. L.