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‘The Heavy Artillery of the Missionary Army’: The Domestic Importance of the Nineteenth-Century Medical Missionary

  • A. F. Walls (a1)

The history of medical missions is an epiphenomenon of the history of the medical profession. On the one hand they can be seen as a late growth in the missionary movement, and throughout the nineteenth century they required explanation and apology; on the other, they can be seen as present from the movement’s earliest days. After all, when William Carey sailed for India in 1793 his only colleague was a medical man; and a ‘surgeon’ was specifically included amongst the first party sent by the London Missionary Society to the Pacific in 1796. Indeed, generations of missionaries carried out a form of pillbox ministry, gravely administering draughts, lancing excrescences and proceeding by trial and error (‘We soon discovered the unfitness of calomel for African fevers’, observed the Rev. Hope Waddell of Calabar, ‘by its prostrating effect upon ourselves’), Some, like David Livingstone, studied medicine as part of their missionary training, without thereby becoming any special sort of missionary, or one whit less the minister of the Gospel that the ordinary missionary was assumed to be. The difference between this and the developed medical missions which were all but universal by the First World War was created less by developments in missionary thought than by developments in the medical profession.

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1 John Thomas (1757-1801) enfant terrible of the Baptist mission, had studied at Westminster Hospital and had been a naval surgeon as well as a surgeon-apothecary in private practice. See Lewis, C.B., The life of John Thomas, surgeon of the Earl of Oxford East Indiaman, and first Baptist missionary to Bengal, (London 1873).

2 John Gilham (1774—?) surgeon appears as no. 13 in Sibree, J., London Missionary Society. A register of missionaries, deputations, etc. from 1796 to 1823 (4th ed. London 1923).

3 Waddell, Hope Masterton, Twenty-nine years in the West Indies and Central Africa (London 1863) p 452.

4 Perhaps the most important single apologia is Lowe, John, Medical missions: their place and power (Edinburgh 1886, many later editions). Lowe (1835-1892) served LMS in Neyyur, South India from 1861-1868 (he is no. 569 in Sibree’s Register). Like his predecessor C.C. Leitch, he was both medically qualified and ordained. He did much to build up the Neyyur Hospital. From 1871 to his death he was Secretary of the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society which provided background and practical training and financial assistance for the studies of medical missionary candidates and from whom medical missionaries for many societies were recruited. Lowe’s book has a commendatory preface by the notable Indian civil servant (and by this time Principal of Edinburgh University) Sir William Muir, which contains just a hint that such sober authorities believed Lowe might have overstated the general necessity for medical missions.

5 Dowkontt, [G.D.], [Murdered millions] (London 1894). The American edition was earlier. Dowkonntt, an M.D., was Secretary of the International Medical Missionary Society from 1881.

6 Dowkontt p.20.

7 Conference on missions held in 1860 at Liverpool … edited by the Secretaries to the Conference. (London 1860) p. 100. Lockhart (1811-1896) is no. 384 in Sibree’s Register. He wrote an account of his work entitled The medical missionary in China (1864).

8 CMS Archives GAC 1/16 49-50 Venn to Balfour 27.11.1863, 7.4.1864, 1.6.1864. Cf. CMS CI 1/26, 356, Venn to Sir D.F. McLeod KCSI; “Our past experience of medical missionaries has been uniformly unhappy. I will indulge the hope that in this case we may have better success”.

9 On William J. Elmslie (1832-1872) see [John Lowe], Anon., Medical missions as illustrated by some letters and notices of the late Dr. Elmslie (Edinburgh 1874) and Church Missionary Society Register of missionaries and native clergy from 1804 to 1904 (London 1905), no. 657.

10 CMS Archives GAC 1/16, Letter of 7.11.1866.

11 Herbert Lankester M.D. in S[tudents and the] M[issionary] P[roblem. Addresses delivered at the international Student Missionary Conference, London, January 2-6, 1900], p 494.

12 Calculations are based on Sibree’s Register. The aggregate credited to the various fields is more than 80 since several served in more than one field.

13 Emmeline M. Stuart, who had been the SVMU Women’s Travelling Secretary, sent this appeal from Isfahan (SMP p 512f).

14 Cf.Moorshead, [R. Fletcher], [“Heal the sick.” The story of the Medical Mission auxiliary of the Baptist Missionary Society] (London 1929) p 50 , for an account of an Indian hospital faced with an epidemic in the absence of the only doctor.

15 H.S. Jenkins and C.F. Robertson died in 1913, John Lewis in 1916, Thomas Scollay in 1918 and G.K. Edwards in 1919.

16 The Baptist Missionary Society originally conceived the medical function in the Congo Mission as medical attendance on the missionaries, with gratuitous help to ‘any European or Native in the neighbourhood who may be ill or send for help’, Moorshead p 28. There was plenty of comtemporary evidence in decimated missions to some parts of Africa, of the dangers of not having specialist medical advice. Cf. e.g. The Catholic Church and Zimbabwe eds. Dachs, A.J. and Rea, W.F. (Gwclo, Zimbabwe 1979), ch. 1 and Gelfand, M., Gubulawayo and beyond: letters and journals of the early Jesuit missionaries to Zambesia 1879—1887 (London 1968) passim. The first ten years of Baptist missions in Zaire were very costly in life and health.

17 Elmslie read a paper at a CMS Conference at Amritsar in 1866 proposing a Punjab equivalent of the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society to assist the formation of indigenous Christian doctors. [Lowe], Elmslie, 79. The significance of the small number of “national” Christians accredited as medical missionaries needs study of its own.

18 ‘The old hospitals with their inefficient equipment and structural deficiencies, were in the position of the old wineskins in the familiar parable of our Lord’, Moorshead p 129, on the Baptist hospitals immediately after the First World War. The deputations from the home committee in fact brought back frightening accounts and urgent recommendations for renewal.

19 Moorshead, R. Fletcher, The way of the doctor. A study in medical missions (London n.d., ca. 1926) p 181ff.

20 Lankester, SMP p 49ff. Similar advice was given at the 1896 Liverpool Conference by Dr. Thomas Gillison of the LMS in China, Make Jesus King. The report of the International Students Missionary Conference, Liverpool January 1-5, 1896 (London 1896) pp 33-37. At the Cleveland Student Volunteer Conference of 1891, one of the themes was ‘Immediate sailing: its advantages, and how secured.’ Nevertheless Dowkontt, who spoke on medical work, said in answer to a question as to whether one should take a full or a short course, ‘I would say, never go out unless you have a full medical course. And unless you have a degree, do not allow people to call you a doctor, and do not dare to assume the title’ Report of the first International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions [1891] p 91 (rep. Pasadena, Calif. 1979). There were cases of contrary advice, notably in the policy of the China Inland Mission.

21 Dowkontt, Murdered millions p.20.

22 SMP p 501.

23 ibid. On David Duncan Main (1856-1934), like Elmslie a Scot who entered the service of the C.M.S., see Cruche, K. de, Dr. D. Duncan Main of Hangchow, who is known in China as Dr. Apricot of Heaven below (London nd [c. 1926]) and Gammie, A., Duncan Main of Hangchow (London n.d. [c. 1934]).

24 Moorshead, “Heal the sick” p 94.

25 SMP, pp 501 f.

26 The post-war appointments of the LMS, e.g., included an Associate Professor of Physiological Chemistry and two pharmacists for the Union Medical College, Beijing. (Sibree nos. 1388, 1428, 1429).

27 Cf.Lovett, R., The history of the London Missionary Society vol. 1 (London 1879) pp 771—773 . The doctor concerned, Andrew Davidson (Sibree no. 584) wrote a massive Geographical pathology: an inquiry into the geographical distribution of infective and climatic diseases, (Edinburgh 2 vols 1892) and lectured at Edinburgh University.

28 Murdered millions ch.4.

29 The way of the doctor p 191.

30 Moorshead, “Heal the sick” p 122ff gives some account of the Baptist position, including a requirement on hospitals to raise 80% of their expenditure from local services.

31 J.D. Macgowan, American Baptist Missionary Union, Ningpo, Conference on Missions held at Liverpool p 275.

32 E.g. Samuel Hickman Davies of the LMS (Sibree no. 640), an ordained missionary, served in Samoa (where medical missions were not developed) for twenty years before going to study medicine in Edinburgh in 1805. He qualified (LRCS and LRCP) and served five more years in Samoa before, following health troubles, he took a post with the St. Paneras Medical Mission. He later stood locum tenensat the Neyyur Hospital, South India (1900). For Henry Venn cooling the ardour to study medicine of a hard-pressed missionary in the Turkish Empire, cf. CMS Archives GAC 1/16 49-50, Venn to O’Flaherty 26.12.1864.

33 A twentieth, T.T. Thomson, was the son of a medical missionary.

34 SMP p497ff.

35 World Missionary Conference, 1910. Report of Commision V The training of teachers (Edinburgh 1910) p 42f.

36 The Commission recognized that in a busy hospital the medical missionary might be absorbed in the professional side of his work, but even so acknowledged his “general spiritual oversight” of that “directly spiritual” work in which he might need to delegate to others. (Ibid, p 138).

37 cf. Lankester, SMP p 499: ‘as a rule the well-qualified medical realises full well how little he knows, whereas sometimes a non-professional Committee thinks that as long as a legal qualification has been obtained it is sufficient,’ and Moorshead, “Heal the sick” ch.2, where the author clearly relishes the young medical man‘s triumph over the venerable Candidates Committee. Lankester (CMS) and Moorshead (BMS) were G.P.s who had not been serving missionaries but who serviced the medical departments of their respective societies. Lankester was called in to advise on the setting up of the Baptist auxiliary.

38 It is interesting that the establishment of the baptist medical mission in Congo in 1907 arose spontaneously from a public meeting in Birmingham where the elderly chairman spoke eloquently of the recent death in Congo of that city‘s distinguished baptist George Grenfell. The committee had planned the meeting to support the work in China. Moorshead, “Heal the sick” p 56.

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