John Robert Morrison

John Robert Morrison

Morrison (right) with a colleague. Painted by George Chinnery.
Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong (acting)
In office
21 August 1843  29 August 1843
Preceded by George Malcolm
Succeeded by Frederick Wright-Bruce
Personal details
Born 17 April 1814
Died 29 August 1843 (aged 29)
Resting place Old Protestant Cemetery
Parents Robert Morrison
Mary Morton
Profession Interpreter, colonial official

John Robert Morrison (Chinese: 馬儒翰; 17 April 1814 29 August 1843) was a British interpreter and colonial official in China. Born in Macau, his father was Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary in China. After his father's death in 1834, Morrison replaced him as Chinese Secretary and Interpreter to the Superintendents of British Trade in China.[1][2] In 1843, he was appointed as Acting Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong and a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils, but died eight days later in Macau from fever.

Early life

Morrison was born on 17 April 1814 in the Portuguese colony of Macau. He was the second son and third child of missionary Robert Morrison's marriage to Mary Morton. Morrison left Macau on 21 January 1815 with his mother and elder sister aboard a ship bound for England. They returned to Macau on 23 August 1820, but less than two years later his mother died and he was sent back to England to receive an education. Over the next four years, he was educated in Manchester and at Mill Hill Grammar School in the London.[3] When his father left for China on 1 May 1826, he took John Robert with him. He learned the Chinese language from his father, and attended the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca between 1827 and 1830.

Career in China

From 1830, Morrison acted as translator for English merchants in Canton (Guangzhou), China. From 1832 to 1834, he accompanied American merchant and diplomat Edmund Roberts to Siam and Cochin China as his personal secretary and translator.[4]:p.171 Morrison also compiled a Chinese Commercial Guide to provide information on British trade in China and contributed to Karl Gützlaff's Eastern Western Monthly Magazine,[5] a publication aimed at improving Sino-western understanding.

Morrison succeeded his father in 1834 and was appointed Chinese Secretary to the British East India Company on behalf of the British government. He was then involved in diplomacy during the Opium War from 1839 to 1842, which resulted in the Treaty of Nanking, of which he translated. Along with interpreter Robert Thom, he assisted the British expedition up the Broadway River from Macao to Canton in 1841.[6] On 21 August 1843, Hong Kong Governor Henry Pottinger appointed Morrison as Acting Colonial Secretary in the absence of Colonel George Malcolm, and a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils.[7][8]

Translation work

Apart from official duties, John Morrison continued his father's work of the English Protestant Church in Canton and supported those Chinese converts persecuted by the Chinese authorities. He revised his father's translation of the Bible and appealed to the London Missionary Society to continue its missionary work in Canton. In February 1838, he was made Recording Secretary of the Medical Missionary Society.

In 1840, Walter Henry Medhurst, Karl Gützlaff, Elijah Coleman Bridgman, and Morrison cooperated to translate the Bible into Chinese. The translation of the Hebrew part was done mostly by Gützlaff from the Netherlands Missionary Society, with the exception that the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua were done by the group collectively. This translation, produced in a version of classical Chinese known as High Wen-li (Chinese: 深文理), was completed in 1847 after John Robert's death and is well known due to its adoption by the revolutionary peasant leader Hong Xiuquan of the Taiping Rebellion as the basis for some of the reputed early doctrines of the organisation.


The grave of Morrison in the Old Protestant Cemetery in Macau, next to his parents

Morrison died on 29 August 1843[3] following a nine-day episode of "Hong Kong fever" (possibly malarial fever). This was the same outbreak in Hong Kong that took the life of fellow missionary Samuel Dyer. He is buried in the Old Protestant Cemetery in Macau, close to the grave of this father.[9] Morrison Hill in Hong Kong is named after him.

Literary works


  1. Starr, J. Barton. "Morrison, John Robert (1814–1843)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004 ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/19327. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
  2. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Volume 8. London: John W. Parker. 1846.
  3. 1 2 Carey, W. H. (1850). Oriental Christian Biography, Containing Biographical Sketches of Distinguished Christians Who Have Lived and Died in the East. Calcutta, Baptist Mission Press. p. 193.
  4. Roberts, Edmund. "Chapter XII —". Embassy to the Eastern courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat : in the U. S. sloop-of-war Peacock ... during the years 1832-3-4. Harper & brothers. p. 171. OCLC 12212199. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  5. "Eastern Western Monthly Magazine (東西洋考每月統紀傳)" (in Chinese). Chinese Culture University, Taiwan. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  6. Bernard, William Dallas; Hall, William Hutcheon (1847). The Nemesis in China (3rd ed.). London: Henry Colburn. p. 139.
  7. The Chinese Repository (1843). Volume 12. Canton. p. 445.
  8. Sweeting, Anthony (1990). Education in Hong Kong Pre-1841 to 1941. Hong Kong University Press. p. 19. ISBN 9622092586.
  9. Ride, Lindsay (7 May 1962). "The old Protestant cemetery in Macao" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-12-10.

Further reading

Government offices
Preceded by
George Malcolm
Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong (acting)
21–29 August 1843
Succeeded by
Sir Frederick Bruce
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