Gladstone Porteous

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Gladstone Charles Fletcher Porteous, Chinese name 张尔昌 Zhāng Ěrchāng (1874–1944) was an Australian missionary to China who served with the China Inland Mission from 1904 and became Superintendent of the work in East Yunnan. He was a skilled Bible translator, devised the romanized Yi alphabet, and translated parts of the New Testament into several Chinese dialects.

Early life[edit]

Gladstone Porteous was born in Carngham, Victoria, Australia in 1874, the son of John Dempsey-Porteous, who had emigrated to Australia with his parents from Glasgow, Scotland, and Catherine Fletcher of Sandon, Victoria. Porteous was an Australian missionary to China who devised the romanized Yi alphabet, and translated the Bible into the Yi language.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] After training at Rehoboth Missionary College, Richmond, Victoria, he sailed for China in 1904. In 1906 he was appointed to the mission station at Sapushan, working amongst the Miao people, during which time he began to learn Chinese. He continued in this work for many years, his medical experience enabling him to be instrumental in the treatment and recovery of many sick people.

Known to his friends as "Gladdie" Porteous,[9] he was one of the young Australians who came to China following the death of James Bruce in western Hunan province in August 1902 aged 30. The influence of this group of Australian missionaries in Yunnan was profound – though one story is incorrect: they did not introduce the eucalyptus trees into the Luquan District. These had been in Yunnan since the 1850s, and may have been brought back by Chinese miners after the Australian goldrush for use as railway sleepers.[10]

Ministry in Yunnan[edit]

Porteous arrived in Yunnan in 1907 with Arthur G. Nicholls (郭秀峯)and George E. Metcalf (王懷仁). One of the main influences was the theological school run by Porteous. Another was the location, since Sayingpan (撒营盘镇), 80 km north of the county seat of Luquan, was the original site of Salaowu (撒老乌), chief fortress of the Yi.[11]

He was joined by his wife, Minnie (née Pearson) from England, whom he married in 1908. Together they ministered to the people of Yunnan, and eventually moved three days travel to the north to work amongst the Nosu people at Salaowu, where their fruitful ministry continued for over twenty years. A talented linguist, Porteous set about translating parts of the Bible into at least three separate Chinese dialects, in collaboration with Nicholls. These included the Gospel of Mark in the Laqua language (spoken by a people group in south-western China (1912); the Gospel of Matthew in the Hmong language (spoken in western Guizhou Province of China and as far southward as Vietnam and Laos (together with Samuel Pollard, who was responsible for devising the syllabic script used for the Miao dialects and its related languages); and the New Testament in the Nusu language (spoken from Sichuan Province to the south of Yunnan (Gospel of St Luke, 1923; Acts of the Apostles, 1926; New Testament, 1948). His assistant in the Yi language translation and among the Yi people was Li Faxian (李發獻).

Death and legacy[edit]

Gladstone and Minnie Porteous had three children: Ruth Catherine, Christine Olive, and Stanley John (who was killed in action during World War II serving with the RAAF). One of his grandsons is the actor Shane Porteous.

Gladstone Porteous died of Typhus in Salaowu (also known as Sayingpan) on 10 November 1944. A tombstone was erected by local church members; "When our father died, a large slab of stone was cut by the people and the surface polished by the exhausting but surprisingly effective method of dragging the slab back and forth against another rock. Then the pastor chiselled out an inscription in three languages – English, Nuosu and Chinese, and the stone was erected by the Christians above the grave."[12] At his death 20,000 of the Yi and Miao were Christians. Today (2011) there are 40,000 Christians and each valley is marked by white-towered churches.

His tombstone was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and a new one later placed where the site of the grave was presumed to be, a location that was disputed by some of the older villagers, to show when Australians again visited Sayingpan in the late 1990s.[13][14]

China Candid[edit]

In two collections of oral history there are interviews with Yi and Miao villagers which in passing recount various tales about Gladstone Porteous. However Porteous' English name was not widely remembered by the villagers, and in the translation of interviews found in Jacqueline Lo's Writing Home (2000)[15] and in journalist Sang Ye's collection of oral history China Candid (2006) the English translation of his Chinese name Zhang Erchang (张尔昌) incorrectly uses the name "John Williams." The confusion may arise from a conflation of the John Williams (missionary) who famously was eaten by cannibals on Vanuatu, with another John Williams, a radio operator with General Claire Lee Chennault's Flying Tigers who was stationed in Kunming at the same time as Porteous was 100 km further North at Sayingpan.[16] – misnamed as John Williams.[17]


  1. ^ China's Millions (China Inland Mission, Council for North America, 1906) "Nichols has had a new worker, Mr. Gladstone Porteous, from Australia, join him in the work at the south gate during the quarter. Mr. Porteous is now studying the language there, and giving such help as he can in the work."
  2. ^ Annual Report of the American Bible Society (American Bible Society, 1949) p. 133 "Gladstone Porteous – Mr. Porteous had completed the translation of the Nasu New Testament before Pearl Harbor and had it accepted by the China Bible House for publication. Only the first page of the manuscript was actually in the hands."
  3. ^ The Tai Race, Elder Brother of the Chinese, ed. William Clifton Dodd, Isabella Ruth Eakin Dodd (1996) "A call was sent out by Mr. Gladstone Porteous, from Wutingchow, Yunnan. It was addressed to 'The Presbyterian Laos Mission, Bangkok, Siam,' and in due time it came to me."
  4. ^ Among the Tribes in South-west China, Samuel R. Clarke (1984) p. 315 "Mr. Nicholls and Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone Porteous are kept very busy in the work. Difficulties many, and dangers not a few, beset the path. The Miao are low in the social scale. The landlords of their miserably barren farms are Chinese."
  5. ^ Marshall Broomhall The Jubilee Story of the China Inland Mission (China Inland Mission, 1915) p. 386 "In Yunnan Mr. Nicholls, who lost his wife in 1903, has had as colleagues Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone Porteous, Mr. G.E. Metcalf, and more recently Mr. and Mrs. Gowman."
  6. ^ 张尔昌简介 云南苗族基督教网 2010年8月13日 张尔昌(Gladstone Porteous 1874–1944). 英籍澳大利亚人,基督教内地会传教士。1874年生于澳大利亚,1904年10月到中国传教,先在广州,1915年左右到 ... "
  7. ^ 高漫| 按人物姓名检索| 人物生平| 华人基督教史人物辞典 撒普山在云南府(今昆明市)以北,接近山区的一个村寨。1907年,郭秀峯教士(Arthur G. Nicholls)和张尔昌教士夫妇(Mr. & Mrs. Gladstone Porteous)在此地建立了
  8. ^ 近代西南少数民族语言圣经翻译出版考述-原创代写论文网 2010年5月6日... Hanson)等创制了景颇文;美国浸礼会传教士永文生(Vincent Young)创制了拉祜文、佤文;英籍澳大利亚传教士张尔昌(Gladstone Porteous)等创制了彝文。
  9. ^ Elinor Violet May Cook, Fijian Diary, 1904–1906: A Young Australian Woman's Account, 1996, p. 189 "Gladdie – Gladstone Porteous was an old friend of the Cook family who shared with them keen interest in missions. He himself served with the China lnland Mission."
  10. ^ Lachlan Strahan Australia's China: Changing Perceptions from the 1930s to the 1990s. p. 111.
  11. ^ Joakim Enwall A Myth become Reality: History and Development of the Miao written language. Institute of Oriental Languages (Stockholm University, 1995) p. 241.
  12. ^ A Tribute from a Friend, quoted in biography of Gladstone Porteous by Ruth Porteous Bailey and Christine Porteous, in The Porteous Story, 1975, Porteous Associates.
  13. ^ Chinese language travel blog with photos of chapel and road to the grave
  14. ^ 撒营盘镇人文地理 on Yunnan government site 2007年11月29日 ... 禄劝彝族苗族自治县撒营盘镇数字乡村新农村建设信息网 ... 回国,改革开放后,张尔昌夫妇和外籍外教士的子孙陆继回到撒营盘镇的撒老坞村委会,并与镇 ...
  15. ^ Jacqueline Lo. Writing Home: Chinese Australian Perspectives (Centre for the Southern Chinese Diaspora, Division of Pacific and Asian History, The Australian National University, 2000) p. 39.
  16. ^ Ed. Ye Sang, Geremie Barmé, Miriam Lang. China Candid: The People on the People's Republic, (University of California Press, 2006) p. 212
  17. ^ Claire Lee Chennault, Robert B. Hotz. Way of a Fighter: The Memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault, 1949 "Radio parts were smuggled into China from Hong Kong and assembled in Kunming under direction of John Williams, later communications officer of the AVG and Fourteenth Air Force, and Harry Sutter."


  • Annual report of the American Bible Society (American Bible Society, 1949), p. 133.
  • Bailey, Ruth Porteous, and Porteous, Christine. Gladstone Porteous – China Missionary. In The Porteous Story, Porteous Associates, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 1975), p. 190.
  • Broomhall, Marshall. The Jubilee Story of the China Inland Mission (China Inland Mission, 1915), p. 386.
  • China's Millions (China Inland Mission, October 1904; 1906).
  • Clarke, Samuel R. Among the Tribes in South-West China (China Inland Mission, 1911), p. 315.
  • Cook, Elinor Violet May. Fijian diary, 1904–1906: A Young Australian Woman's Account (1996), p. 189.
  • Enwall, Joakim. A myth becomes Reality: History and Development of the Miao Written Language (Institute of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University, 1995), p. 241.
  • Lo, Jacqueline. Writing Home, Chinese Australian Perspectives (Centre for the Southern Chinese Diaspora, Division of Pacific and Asian History, The Australian National University, 2000), p. 39.
  • Sang, Ye (ed.). China Candid: The People on the People's Republic (University of California Press, 2006), p. 212.
  • Strahan, Lachlan. Australia's China: Changing Perceptions from the 1930s to the 1990s (Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 111.