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William Campbell’s Missionary Adventures in Formosa【Parent-Child Reading Guide】

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The Rev. Dr. William Campbell:

Missionary, Explorer, Writer, and Educator

The Rev. Dr. William Campbell was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1841. Ever the adventurous type, he volunteered and was ordained a missionary to the overseas after completing his studies at the University of Glasgow and then a seminary. Arriving in Taiwan on December 10, 1871, after three months at sea, Campbell was the second missionary after Hugh Ritchie to be sent to Taiwan by one of the presbyterian churches in the United Kingdom, and the first to set foot on the northern, central, and southern parts of Taiwan and on the Pescadores Islands. When the Rev. Campbell retired in 1917 at the advanced age of 76, he had dedicated the most productive 46 years of his life solely to Taiwan.

Besides evangelical work, William Campbell wrote down everything he saw and heard in Taiwan and collected the history of Dutch Formosa. Among his dozen works or so, there was Formosa under the Dutch, Sketches from Formosa, and An Account of Missionary Success in the Island of Formosa. He mastered the Hokkien language spoken in Taiwan, and compiled A Dictionary of the Amoy Vernacular giving words written in both Han characters and romanization. The Dictionary, also known as Kam’s Dictionary after William Campbell’s adopted Taiwanese name, has been in use for over a century since its first print in 1913.

Disembarking at Takow (present-day Kaohsiung), William Campbell made An-peng, Tainan, the base of his mission. His first evangelical tour was less than a month after he arrived in Taiwan—a testament to his commitment. Campbell in particular preferred destinations where the Good News had not been heard, and that entailed visiting aboriginal tribes, outlying islands, and localities off the beaten path. Many places in Taiwan were still ‘wild’ back then and accessible only by foot or by boat; travelling was difficult and hazardous.

The first time William Campbell toured the congregations in the central mountains was during his second year in Taiwan. He set off from the church in Toa-sia and made for Po-li-sia and the mountains in present-day Tainan. Aborigines still dominated the Po-li-sia Plain at the time. There Campbell first made contact with the Seediq, one of the ‘raw savages’.

In 1873, William Campbell boarded a ship at the port of An-peng to visit the Rev. George Leslie Mackay, who was based in Tamsui in the north. A course was drawn to go around the southern tip of Taiwan and head north along the eastern coast, but the ship ran into a storm near Orchid Island. Campbell finally arrived at Tamsui after several days of perilous voyage, and toured congregations in northern Taiwan with Mackay. On his way back, he toured those in central Taiwan as well, and visited for the first time Sun Moon Lake, where he preached to the ‘water savages’ or Thao.

In 1886, the Rev. Campbell and Preacher Tiong expanded their missionary work to Pescadores, each responsible for different islets and towns like Ma-keng. Back in Taiwan, Campbell conveyed the need for evangelism in Pescadores to the believers, and the Pescadores Mission was set up on the support of the Toa-sia church.

Campbell’s work was of course not without setbacks; buildings were vandalized, and lives were threatened. The closest call was the incident at Peh-tsui-khe in 1875, when he ran afoul of Gaw-chi-ko, the head of a local clan who opposed his plan to purchase land for building a church. Gaw-chi-ko ordered his men to set fire in the middle of the night to where Campbell stayed, and even attempted to murder him. Fortunately, the wind blew the smoke toward the arsonists, and Campbell escaped using his blanket to fend off a thrusting spear. He spent the night out of further danger in a ravine, and later received 100 dollars in reparation. The Giam-cheng church was established, and the persecutors put on trial.

In 1887, William Campbell briefly returned to Scotland. He took the occasion to raise 525 pounds sterling (equivalent to around NT$2,000,000 nowadays) from the congregations there, and introduced Braille books to Taiwan. In 1891, Campbell founded Hùn-kó͘-tông, Taiwan’s first school for the blind, on the leased property of Ang-kong Memorial Hall in Tainan. Although the lease ended in 1897, Campbell went to Japan, called on Kabayama Sukenori, the education minister and a former Governor–General of Taiwan, and convinced the Japanese government to take over the school and follow through on his wish to care for the blind.

Two daughters and a son were born to William Campbell and his wife. The daughters followed his footsteps in carrying out missionary work in Taiwan, such as leading Sunday schools. He retired and returned to Scotland in 1917, and was called to Heaven in 1921 at the age of 80. The life and work of the Rev. Campbell, as well as his writings, are forever engraved on the history of Formosa.