Hugh Ritchie - Called for Life【Parent-Child Reading Guide】


Send Me Forth

In 1867, thanks to Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell's charitable medical mission, there was already a sizable number of people in the southern part of Taiwan willing to convert to Christianity. They were in need of someone who could offer the sacraments, and Maxwell appealed to the Presbyterian Church of England (PCE). The church responded by sending one David Masson, who unfortunately was shipwrecked on the South China Sea. It was under these circumstances that Scottish-born Hugh Ritchie (1840–1879), who was in his third year reading theology at the English Presbyterian College,received the dispatch and later became the first clergyman sent over by the PCE to Taiwan.

In 1867, Hugh Ritchie was made a minister and married Eliza C. Cooke (1828–1902). Merely a fortnight later, the Ritchies embarked on the five-month journey to Taiwan. They arrived at Takao(Kaohsiung proper) on December 13, 1867, with Eliza well pregnant.

Ritchie's Tracks in Taiwan

An incident of British trading companies smuggling camphor evolved into Taiwanese riots against Westerners and Christians in 1868. As tensions died down, Ritchie spent the next six years rebuilding what was lost in the riots, while using A-li-kan (Li-kang, Pingtung) as a new base to expand southward, opening more than ten churches for ethnic Han people. Missionary responsibilities were shared between Maxwell and Ritchie: The former would move back to Taiwan-fu (Tainan), leaving the latter in charge of the hospital and the flock in Takao. Ritchie also had to make regular visits to some of the churches set up by Maxwell, including those in downtown Tainan and several Siraya congregations dotted in the hills of present-day Tso-chen and Nei-men.

In 1870, Ritchie launched a "Preacher Training Program" in Chi-hou (now part of Chi-chin, Kaohsiung). The legacy of Ritchie and the graduates of the program can still be felt on either side of the Hsia-tan-shui (Kao-Ping) River. They organized the faithful in settlements as far north as Chiao-tou and as far-flung as the islet of Lamay (Liu-chiu); they even got to the Hakka community, a subgroup of Han that is culturally and linguistically distinct from the Hokkien majority in Taiwan.

Rev. William Campbell, arrived in Taiwan in December 1871, immediately followed by Rev. George Leslie Mackay of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission. Ritchie initiated Mackay to the environs, and with one Dr. Matthew Dickson accompanied Mackay north, landing in Tamsui. The three also toured central Taiwan several times in 1871 and 1872, baptizing dozens of catechumens and holding services for hundreds of people at a time. A border agreement of sorts emerged from the tours: From then on, the Canadian Presbyterians would bring the Word to lands north of the Ta-chia River, while the British Presbyterians would continue their good work south.

Organization of the missions in Takao and Taiwan-fu merged in 1876, and the Preacher Training Program was moved to Taiwan-fu and re-instituted as the Capital College, where Ritchie taught the Old Testament, astronomy, geography, etc.

Making Headway in Taitung

During his days serving in Takao, Ritchie crossed paths with a Puyuma chief receiving treatment at the missionary hospital. A few years later, another chief's daughter underwent amputation there by Dr. Thomas Rennie. Both aboriginal nobles suggested that Ritchie expand to the eastern part of Taiwan.

Ritchie acquiesced, and hit the road (the deck, actually) in 1875. His junk took fourteen days to reach Pao-sang (Taitung proper). He called on his Puyuma friends, and visited the Plains aboriginal tribes along the coast north, once conducting an open-air service in front of a Siraya chief's house. That was his first trip "beyond the mountains."

As one of the first missionaries to enter eastern Taiwan, Ritchie was surrounded by hundreds of ailing people asking for medical care wherever he went. Ritchie found that many had heard from the previous colonists, the Dutch, that "there is a Name above all names." As he imparted modern sanitary dos-and-don'ts, Ritchie also told the tribespeople, "God is the great Father of us all. God is love. We are all sinners before Him. Jesus is Christ the Redeemer who delivers us from evil. Jesus has come amongst you as a servant."

In the Plains aboriginal communities along the coast, the residents spoke Hokkien. Most of them had never heard of the Gospel, but were fascinated enough to kneel and pray with Ritchie. A Siraya chief was cured by Chang Yuan-chun from A-li-kang with a bowl of blessed water in 1877. Other miracles happened thereafter, leading to the establishment of a congregation by Hsun-kuang-ao (a bay located in present-day Cheng-kung, Taitung). The congregation was served by preachers trained by Ritchie, and has since moved several times in the area. Ritchie came back to the East with Rev. Thomas Barclay in 1879. On that sojourn, they baptized many and visited churches in Hui-lan (Hualien).

Efforts in Women's Education

Eliza Ritchie, became involved in women's education in 1871. She set up makeshift literacy classes everywhere she went: in the woods, on the grass, under the sky. She and her husband took a sabbatical toward the end of 1878. When they returned to Taiwan, they had a new project: A school for girls. Despite objections that were not insignificant, they filed a land use request with the Mission Council in June 1879. They were given a parcel of land near Tainan's East Gate, on the condition that the school's buildings be paid for by the Ritchies themselves.

The Han people still practiced foot-binding in the late 19th century. The Ritchies were vehemently against foot-binding, and stipulated that all pupils of the school must have their feet unbound.

Before he died of fever on September 29, 1879, Ritchie asked the Women's Missionary Association of the Presbyterian Church of England for a female missionary who was willing to serve in Taiwan; that is, to preside over the girls' school and the work regarding women. The Association instead named Mrs. Ritchie its first female missionary to Taiwan. In 1884, the Sino-French War broke out, and most of the missionaries were evacuated to Amoy. It was not until February 14, 1887, that Sin-lau Girls' School, the predecessor to Chang Jung Girls' High School, welcomed its first class of 18 pupils, after Joan Stuart and Annie E. Butler had taken over the preparation in 1885.