Project Canterbury

Charles Perry Scott
First Bishop in North China

By the Right Reverend Bishop Montgomery, D.D.

[London] Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1928.

Chapter II. China, 1874

The letters of Charles Scott contain from time to time, for half a century, comments, reflections and criticisms of China, its Government and people. It could not be otherwise. He is always sympathetic, feeling deeply for a great race passing through a painful transition stage, knowing the history of other nations and their contact with China, and Chinese territory, and Chinese law. He noted the return of thousands of Chinese highly educated in America and Europe, and imbued with democratic ideals. And all through these troubles--his own also were great,--he loved the Chinese. He would not otherwise have determined to end his life in China, even after his retirement.

Charles went out to this great Empire at the call of duty. He had only one object, to bring the best of tidings to this race, and as an Anglican. All through his career he determined, in company with almost all Christian denominations at work in China, not to shield himself behind British force, or to appeal against Chinese methods; ready always to obey Chinese rulers; and refusing compensation, if offered by British force; choosing rather to suffer affliction and the loss of all his possessions, even to experience martyrdom among his workers, than to do anything that might tarnish the fair fame of the Mission by any unworthy action.

It seems right therefore in these strained and sensitive days in the Far East, to quote most sparingly, if, indeed, at all, anything which would hurt Chinese sensibilities, though written long ago, and sympathetic.

For the sake of any who have not followed Chinese history during the last half-century, I have obtained from a good friend a brief list of China's troubles, internal and external, during Charles' Chinese career.

1873. Troubles in Hunan.

1874. Troubles in Yunnan with a British Expedition,--the murder of Mr. Margary.

1884. Troubles with France in the South.

1885. Troubles with Corea. Troubles with Upper Burma.

1894-5. War with Japan.

1897. The murder of German missionaries in Shantung, and Germany in Tsing-tao (Kiao-chow).

1900. The Boxer troubles, murder of our missionaries, and loss of all missionary and personal belongings in Peking and elsewhere.

1904-5. The Russo-Japanese War.

1911. The Revolution.

1918. Soviet machinations and general unrest.

It may also be of use to state that the Dowager Empress of China took over the reins of government in 1898, starting then on that anti-foreign campaign which, in 1900, culminated in the sieges of Tientsin and Peking. Charles Scott lived through all these troubles.


Scott and Greenwood arrived at Shanghai on September 17, 1874. At Shanghai they met Bishop Russell, in whose jurisdiction North China was included.

The situation was briefly this: the C.M.S. began work in Peking in 1862. Up to 1874 the visible result in Peking and Yung-ching had been 46 baptised Church members, 36 becoming communicants. In 1874 the C.M.S. Mission retired in favour of the S.P.G., but one of the C.M.S. men remained (Brereton), joining Scott and Greenwood. Bishop Russell, consecrated in 1872, lived 700 miles from Peking, and could only exercise nominal control over North China.

Before our two young missionaries arrive in Chefoo, where S.P.G. had told them to locate themselves, being a treaty port, let me indicate the position. Scott had to take over a C.M.S. Mission without friction. Glance at the "Suggestions" given them by Wilkinson, and note the delicacy needed.

Yet again, Chefoo was the sea-side resort of the missionaries of many Protestant societies. How would the newcomers be received? In a vast country such as China, was it reasonable that the new Anglican Mission should crowd into a settlement where there were schools, hospitals, and mission stations of American and British societies? Scott, however, possessed two qualities of great value. He came with no preconceived ideas, determined to accept what he found, and to work contentedly and patiently. This attitude is often unconscious, yet hardly any other makes so certainly for peace of mind, especially for the pioneer. It also often exists side by side with a natural sense of humour. On the other hand, Greenwood, for his part, was the humblest of men, a characteristic which also makes for peace.

On October 3, 1874, these two landed at Chefoo and their life-work began. Greenwood's for twenty-five years. Finally he was laid to rest in this very place after working for years in the interior.

Charles made Chefoo his centre till he passed on to Peking in 1883. His first letter, written on the day they landed, is headed: "Then are they glad because they are at rest; and so he bringeth them to the haven where they would be." One clause in that first letter meant more than he then realised: "We have been most kindly taken in by Mrs. Nevius, in the absence of Dr. Nevius, the head of the American Presbyterian Mission here." Two months later he speaks as follows: "It is wonderful that we have been led straight to these people. It makes one feel God's goodness and love to be so real, that he should have, as it were, sent before us to prepare such a home, for they have only been settled in Chefoo two years, and in their house one year, though they have been in China twenty years. ... I have been sent to the house of one who seems to combine the wit and elegance of--------, the attractiveness and kindliness of---------and the piety and intense refinement of---------, to say nothing of a strong fund of commonsense."

Then a deep note: "The 103rd Psalm is wonderful. When we are weighed down by the visionary and distant character of all that is heavenly, how beautiful that this immeasurable distance is but the gauge of God's mercy. When I attempt to cross in thought the thousands of miles that separate us, there is at least the sweet thought that our heavenly Father uses this vast distance as a figure intelligible to us of the impassable barrier which he has raised between us and our sins."

Mrs. J. L. Scott (no relation, strange to say) tells of the excitement caused by the arrival of the two Anglicans in Chefoo. "Of the way in which Mr. Scott attracted every one who knew him, it is difficult to write adequately. Apart from his good looks and his beautiful spiritual nature he had such charm, and this he retained to the end of his life. He was the most excellent company, witty and amusing, a delightful guest in every way; and how he loved a good story! I often think of those Sunday evening suppers, when he was the life and soul of the party, and the delightful hymn-singing afterwards in his charming tenor voice was a great asset."

Scott and Greenwood at once set about learning Chinese. Scott writes in April, 1875: "I do not learn fast, but I have been able to catch the tones and twang so that a Chinese can understand me with ease."

And now it may be asked, who was the leader of these two?

Scott writes (Christmas Day, 1874): "You will want to know how we get on. We are very happy together, and supply each other's needs. He has a little knowledge of business, and you know I have none. But I find, as indeed Mr. Wilkinson told me, that I have practically to take the lead. It is not very pleasant with a man so much older than myself, or rather it would not be if he were not the best fellow in the world: he is not the sort of man to leave you all the responsibility and then abuse you! I did not think there was a man in England who would have made me feel that I ought to lead him, but I find that if I don't, we should simply step gracefully behind one another until we arrived at Liverpool again! Not but what Greenwood would do perfectly well alone, but he is so shy and distrustful of self, that while there is another man on the scene he will get behind him, so that there is no place for the other man but the front."

In March, 1875, Charles writes a long letter to the St. Peter's Guild, describing joyously and wittily his first journey into the interior. It was circulated in print, but is far too long for insertion here.


Scott and Greenwood most hospitably and affectionately housed (remember) in the home of the senior Presbyterian minister, were now called upon to decide their line of conduct in regard to a general place of worship, which, in one form or another, had existed for ten years. It was built for the English residents, and conducted by a co-pastorate body of Protestant missionaries of several denominations. Amongst the subscribers were a great many Anglicans, and it was their privilege to have their own services when one of their clergy was in Chefoo, especially on the first Sunday in the month. There was an administration of the Lord's Supper once a quarter. Scott and Greenwood behaved with the utmost tact, recognising the peculiarity of the circumstances, and acknowledging that they could not conduct regular services, situated as they were; and most of all, they were unwilling to commence their work by anything unbecoming or by seeming to desire to set everyone right, whilst those on the spot had done all they could for the spiritual needs of the English colony. They arranged, with Bishop Russell's advice, to hold a celebration of Holy Communion an hour before the morning service on the first Sunday of the month, conducting other services when possible. The S.P.G. Committee cordially approved, and Mr. Bullock [Secretary of the S.P.G.] added: "We feel deeply the obligations under which we are placed by the great and constant kindness which Dr. Nevius has shewn you." He asks whether S.P.G. could not send him some token of recognition,--Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, Robertson's Church History, &c.

Another of their resolutions is noteworthy. They determined to refuse, with due respect, all invitations to parties and evening entertainments. It might have been deemed churlish, but there was much social life, too much for them; they had the language to learn; they remained firm throughout these first years. At the same time, Charles at once recognised the intellectual calibre of the missionaries: "There is one thing out here which has surprised me very much and opened my eyes, concerning the missionaries. I had an idea, and I find it is a very common one at home, that the vast body of missionaries were an inferior class of men. This, so far as I can see with regard to China, is an utter and absolute mistake. I have seen some twelve or fifteen men now, of several religious bodies, English and American, and feel sure that on the whole they are men of considerably higher power intellectually and spiritually than the average of the English parochial clergy at home. Another point, too, strikes me: I think at home we have an idea that the work here is just beginning, because we can only judge from the statistics of converts, &c. In reality the whole of the eastern side of the country has been traversed and re-traversed by missionaries; has been preached over and sown with Christian books to a vast extent, so that numbers know at once what a missionary has come for, and understand a good deal of what he says."

What does Mrs. Nevius think of Charles Scott? She writes in 1876 to his mother--(I wish I could quote the whole letter). She refuses to consider Mrs. Scott a stranger, since she has heard so much of her. She has learnt that Mrs. Scott knows what ill-health is, and she writes: "Do you know what it is to be always tired?" Then, after charming reflections: "Your son is so bright and cheerful. He is a delightful mixture, I think, of the boy, and a very dignified, good and slightly severe clergyman, not a bit too much of the latter, nor indeed of the former. His sweet disposition makes him a favourite wherever he is known. His influence is excellent on the foreign community, and the stronger, I think, from the fact that he has not allowed himself to be too much engrossed by its somewhat frivolous merrymakings. . . . Mr. Scott is getting on nicely with the language. His pronunciation is unusually good. . . . He takes kindly to the Chinese and they to him. . . . Before long they will be leaving us to commence work more by themselves. (1876.) It seems a necessity under this most unsatisfactory state of divisions between Churches and societies, but it will be a great loss to us."

She speaks of her husband's absences on tour, and then: "I am not sure that I could have been left so long had Mr. Scott not been here. So you see that it is really a great thing for us, I mean for our mission work, to have had these dear friends with us. Anything I have been able to do for them has only been a delight; indeed, one of the pleasantest experiences of my long missionary life."

In time they moved; the address "S.P.G. House" occurs in July, 1876. They had passed into a rented house. (Charles showed it me in 1910 and with returning memories.)

In October, 1876, Mr. Corfe appears, and I will give Mrs. Nevius' opinion of him, for he stayed with them when he came ashore from the Audacious. But first about Charles: "I wish I had my dear Mr. Scott's happy way of saying a great deal and just the right things in a few words. How well he writes! Mr. Corfe stayed last Sunday with me, taking the morning service. He is interesting and seems very good, but he would, I fancy, be thought by many to be too severe and too exclusive. He sings and plays well."

But again I quote Mrs. Nevius on another matter. (October n, 1877.) She writes to his mother: "I am forwarding his letters and I am so sorry that there is not one English one for either of them. May I take the liberty of making a suggestion? It is that it should be arranged in some way that each home mail should bring your dear boy at least one letter either from you, or from one of his brothers and sisters. You know how strong his affections are. I think one of the hardest things which we missionaries have to bear is to realise how we are gradually slipping out of the daily life and interests of our old homes. It is inevitable, and no one is to blame; but when a mail has come, or more than one, without bringing your dear Charlie a home letter, I can see that it requires no little self-control not to yield to depression."

[We all agree, but it was not the fault of the family, but of the broken communications during Chinese unrest.]

In July, 1878, Scott took Mrs. Nevius into their own house after recovering from serious illness. She is enthusiastic over his arrangements for her comfort. Then she proceeds: "The daily services are a great delight to me, for in my long life in China one of the greatest trials has been the absence of just such privileges. My natural tastes, and I think I may say, my sincere convictions have always inclined me to desire something rather different from Presbyterian services, and it seems to me a special Providence which has provided for me a table in the wilderness." ... "I think you understand what a dear friend he is to me. I can never be thankful enough for the kind Providence which brought him to us. I miss him so very much when he is away."


Early in 1875, Dr. Nevius invited Scott to accompany him on one of his tours.

"Lai-yang. This morning Dr. Nevius and I went out with our pockets full of books, and stood with our backs to a wall, and were surrounded by a crowd of curious Chinese, to whom he talked right well. I am now writing in a place which is more like the prison of my imaginative youth than any other building I have seen. I stood in my great ulster coat this morning and looked at the queer faces and made great efforts to connect myself with the Charterhouse boy, and the Cambridge undergraduate and the St. Peter's curate. It was most interesting to see my work face to face for the first time."

He wanted to discover where his mission should settle, constantly vexed by "our divisions." (1875.)

"It is curious living with those of another communion, and it is extremely trying and humiliating to feel that with all the numerous points we have in common, we have yet a real barrier, raised not by them, but by ourselves. They are powerless to realise our position, thoughtful and delicate as they are on all points where they know we feel keenly."

Then, where to settle. (1878.)

"Pray that God will give us such an opening as may make our way clear for us. We look for a call to some special quarter, but don't care much where it is. We thought we had come to a conclusion to seek work as far as possible from where other missionaries were settled, but the good Bishop strongly advises us to choose the best places, independently of whether there are none, one or ten other missions established there."

In the end they were led to Tai-an-fu, which is at the foot of the sacred mountain Tai-shan; also to Tsi-nan-fu, the capital of the Province of Shantung, and to Ping-yin, near the Yellow River. About Tai-an-fu he writes: "There seems to be no interest whatever in us and our work among the people of this city, for they have often seen foreigners before. But, of course, it is important during the pilgrim season, as we can publish the fact of the existence of Christianity far and wide. In consequence of the want of life in the city, I suppose it has not been considered an advantageous post to occupy, and has been passed over by the missionaries."

Let me now add a human touch. (1875.)

"I did not mention the extraordinary pleasure which the first sound of a musical instrument gave me on my return from the country. It had not struck me that I had never before been without the sound of an instrument for more than a week at a time, and as soon as I had put my fingers on the keys I felt as if I had found out something entirely new, and the effect was such as to bring the tears to my eyes at once. It was so intensely pleasant that I long for an opportunity of repeating it, though it was certainly a dearly bought pleasure at the price of five weeks sojourn in the country."

In February, 1876, in an up-country inn, he writes: "Yesterday, after the morning service, I sat down to read, but the children began stealthily to tear open the paper windows, and the Christians inside preserved a melancholy silence, and the strangers came in and they all glared at me till I got into that terrible state of nervous rage which one used to feel when dinner was delayed on Sundays after service, and I felt as if I would gladly feel the people burn before me; so I jumped up, put some biscuits in my pocket and bolted up the nearest hill and ate my lunch in a warm corner whence I commanded a lovely view of mountain, sea and island. I felt more kindly disposed when I returned."

I have never known anyone keep so full an account of anniversaries of all kinds. It almost seems as if every day in the year recalled for him some memory of home, or of life's journey, of births and deaths, of great joys and also of sorrowful days.

Project Canterbury