Walter Henry Medhurst

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Walter Henry Medhurst
Walter Medhurst.jpeg
Missionary Walter Medhurst with Choo Tih Lang and a Malay Boy
Born (1796-04-29)29 April 1796
Died 24 January 1857(1857-01-24) (aged 60)
London, England
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 麥都思
Simplified Chinese 麦都思

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.[1]

Early life[edit]

Medhurst's father was an innkeeper in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. As a young man Medhurst learned the business of a printer and typesetter at the Gloucester Herald. 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 Braune, née Martin (1794–1874), marrying her the day before he sailed to Malacca.[1]

Once he arrived, Medhurst 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 by William Charles Milne in Malacca on 27 April 1819,[1] and engaged in missionary labours, first at Penang, then at Batavia, where the church he founded operates today as All Saints Jakarta and the Parapattan Orphanage which he started, continues to this day.[2] When peace was concluded with China in 1842, he moved to Shanghai where he founded the London Missionary Society Press (zh) together with Dr William Lockhart, and later was joined by Joseph Edkins, and William Charles Milne. There he continued until 1856, laying the foundations of a successful mission.

Delegates Version of the Bible[edit]

Medhurst's book on China inspired many to become missionaries including Hudson Taylor.

Medhurst's principal labour for several years, was in leading the committee of delegates, which created the Delegates Version of the Bible.[2] In the 1840s, a group of four people (Walter Henry Medhurst, John Stronach, Elijah Coleman Bridgman, and William Charles Milne) 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. The initial Gutzlaff translation, completed in 1847 is well known due to its adoption by the revolutionary peasant leader Hong Xiuquan of the Taiping Rebellion as some of the reputed early doctrines of the organization.[3]

The translation of the New Testament was finished in 1850 and of the Old Testament in 1853, written in a version of Classical Chinese. With John Stronach, and the assistance of Wang Tao, Medhurst later translated the New Testament into the Mandarin dialect of Nanking.[4]

Significant books[edit]

Medhurst would also produce a Chinese translation of the Book of Common Prayer, published in Hong Kong in 1855.[5]

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 Hong Xiuquan, the leader of the Taiping Rebellion (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.

Death & memorial[edit]

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.[1]

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.

Inscription to Dr Medhurst at Abney Park
Soaring skywards, the stone obelisk monument in memory of Dr Medhurst at the Congregationalists' non-denominational Abney Park Cemetery



  1. ^ a b c d  "Medhurst, Walter Henry (1796-1857)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^ a b Bonk, Jonathan J. "Walter Henry Medhurst: M: By Person: Stories: Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity". Retrieved 25 April 2017. 
  3. ^ Reilly, Thomas H. (2004). The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. pp. 74–79. ISBN 0295984309. 
  4. ^ Hanan, Patrick (2003-01-01). "The Bible as Chinese Literature: Medhurst, Wang Tao, and the Delegates' Version". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 63 (1): 197–239. doi:10.2307/25066695. 
  5. ^ Muss-Arnolt, William (1914). "The Book of Common Prayer among the Nations of the World: China, Korea, Japan". Retrieved 25 April 2017. 


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Medhurst, Walter Henry". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Holliday, John (2016). Mission to China: How an Englishman brought the West to the Orient. Glouchestershire: Amberley.