The steamship America,
bound for Hongkong, was leaving the dock
at San Francisco. All was bustle and noise and stir. Friends
called a last farewell from the deck, handkerchiefs waved, many
of them wet with tears. The long boom of a gun roared out over
the harbor, a bell rang, and the signal was given. Up came the
anchor, and slowly and with dignity the great vessel moved out
through the Golden Gate into the wide Pacific.
Crowds stood on the deck
to get a last glimpse of home and loved
ones, and to wave to friends as long as they could be
distinguished. There was one young man who stood apart from the
crowd, and who did not wave farewell to any one. He had come on
board with a couple of men, but they had gone back to the dock,
and were lost in the crowd. He seemed entirely alone. He leaned
against the deck-railing and gazed intently over the widening
strip of tumbling wafers to the city on the shore. But he did not
see it. Instead, he saw a Canadian farmhouse, a garden and
orchard, and gently sloping meadows hedged in by forest. And up
behind the barn he saw a stony field, where long ago he and his
brother and the neighbor boys had broken the stones for the new
His quick movements, his
slim, straight figure, and his bright,
piercing eyes showed he was the same boy who had broken the big
rock in the pasture-field long before. Just the same boy, only
bigger, and more man than boy now, for he wore an air of command
and his thin keen face bore a beard, a deep black, like his hair.
And now he was going away, as he had longed to go, when he was a
boy, and ahead of him lay the big frowning rock, which he must
either break or be broken upon.
He had learned many
things since those days when he had scampered
barefoot over the fields, or down the road to school. He had been
to college in Toronto, in Princeton, and away over in Edinburgh,
in the old homeland where his father and mother were born. And
all through his life that call to go and do great deeds for the
King had come again and again. He had determined to obey it when
he was but a little lad at school. He had encountered many big
stones in his way, which he had to break, before he could go on.
But the biggest stone of all lay across his path when college was
over, and he was ready and anxious to go away as a
The Presbyterian Church of Canada had never yet sent but a
missionary to a foreign land, and some of the good old men bade
George Mackay stay at home and preach the gospel there. But as
usual he conquered. Every one saw he would be a great missionary
if he were only given a chance. At last the General Assembly gave
its consent, and now, in spite of all stones in the way, here he
was, bound for China, and ready to do anything the King
cornmanded. Land was beginning to fade away into a gray mist, the
November wind was damp and chill, he turned and went down to his
stateroom. He sat down on his little steamer trunk, and for the
first time the utter loneliness and the uncertainty of this
voyage came over him. He took up his Bible and turned to the
fly-leaf. There he read the inscription:
REV. G. L. MACKAY
First missionary of the
Canadian Presbyterian Church to China, by
the Foreign Mission Committee, as a parting token of their
esteem, when about to leave his native land for the sphere of his
future labors among the heathen. WILLIAM MACLAREN, Convener.
Ottawa, 9th October,
Matthew xxviii: 18-20.
It was a moment of severe
trial to the young soldier. But he
turned to the Psalm marked on the fly-leaf of his Bible, and he
read it again and again.
"My help cometh from the
Lord which made heaven and earth"
"The Lord is thy keeper:
the Lord is thy shade upon thy right
"The sun shall not smite
thee by day, nor the moon by night."
The beautiful words gave
him comfort. Homesickness, loneliness,
and fears for the future all vanished. He was going out to an
unknown land where dangers and perhaps death awaited him, but the
Lord would be his keeper and nothing could harm him.
Twenty-six days on the
Pacific! And a stormy voyage it was, for
the Pacific does not always live up to her beautiful name, and
she tossed the America about in a shocking manner. But the voyage
did not seem long to George Mackay. There were other missionaries
on board with whom he had become acquainted, and he had long
delightful talks with them and they taught him many things about
his new work. He was the same busy G. L. he had been when a boy;
always working, working, and he did not waste a moment on the
voyage. There was a fine library on the ship and he studied the
books on China until he knew more about the religion of that
country than did many of the Chinese themselves.
One day, as he was poring
over a Chinese history, some one called
him hastily to come on deck. He threw down his book and ran
up-stairs. The whole ship was in a joyous commotion. His friend
pointed toward the horizon, and away off there against the sky
stood the top of a snow-capped peak--Fujiyama!--the majestic,
sacred mountain of Japan!
It was a welcome sight,
after the long ocean voyage, and the
hours they lay in Yokahama harbor were full of enjoyment. Every
sight was thrilling and strange to young Mackay's Western eyes.
The harbor fairly swarmed with noisy, shouting, chattering
Japanese boatmen. He wondered why they seemed so familiar, until
it suddenly dawned on him that their queer ricestraw coats made
them look like a swarm of Robinson Crusoes who had just been
rescued from their islands.
When he landed he found
things still funnier. The streets were
noisier than the harbor. Through them rolled large heavy wooden
carts, pulled and pushed by men, with much grunting and groaning.
Past him whirled what looked like overgrown baby carriages, also
pulled by men, and each containing a big grown-up human baby. It
was all so pretty too, and so enchanting that the young
missionary would fain have remained there. But China was still
farther on, so when the America again set sail, he was on board.
Away they sailed farther
and farther east, or was it west? He
often asked himself that question in some amusement as they
approached the coast of China. They entered a long winding
channel and steamed this way and that until one day they sailed
into a fine broad harbor with a magnificent city rising far up
the steep sides of a hill. It was an Oriental city, and therefore
strange to the young traveler. But for all that there seemed
something familiar in the fine European buildings that lined the
streets, and something still more homelike in that which floated
high above them--something that brought a thrill to the heart of
the young Canadian--the red-crossed banner of Britain!
It was Hongkong, the
great British port of the East, and here he
decided to land. No sooner had the travelers touched the dock,
than they were surrounded by a yelling, jostling crowd of Chinese
coolies, all shouting in an outlandish gibberish for the
privilege of carrying the Barbarians' baggage. A group gathered
round Mackay, and in their eagerness began hammering each other
with bamboo poles. He was well-nigh bewildered, when above the
din sounded the welcome music of an English voice.
"Are you Mackay from
He whirled round
joyfully. It was Dr. E. J. Eitel, a missionary
from England. He had been told that the young Canadian would
arrive on the America and was there to welcome him.
Although the Canadian
Presbyterian Church had as yet sent out no
missionaries to a foreign land, the Presbyterian Church of
England had many scattered over China. They were all hoping that
the new recruit would join them, and invited him to visit
different mission stations, and see where he would like to
So he remained that night
in Hongkong, as Dr. Eitel's guest, and
the next morning he took a steamer for Canton. Here he was met on
the pier by an old fellow student of Princeton University, and
the two old college friends had a grand reunion. He returned to
Hongkong shortly, and next visited Swatow. As they sailed into
the harbor, he noticed two Englishmen rowing out toward them in a
sampan. No sooner had the ship's ladder been lowered, than the
two sprang out of their boat and clambered quickly on deck.
Mackay's amazement, one of them called out, "Is Mackay of Canada
"Mackay of Canada,"
sprang forward delighted, and found his two
new friends to be Mr. Hobson of the Chinese imperial customs, and
Dr. Thompson of the English Presbyterian mission in Swatow.
The missionaries here
gave the stranger a warm welcome. At every
place he had visited there had awaited him a cordial invitation
to stay and work. And now at Swatow he was urged to settle down
and help them. There was plenty to be done, and they would be
delighted to have his help.
But for some reason,
Mackay scarcely knew why himself, he wanted
to see another place.
Away off the southeastern
coast of China lies a large island
called Formosa. It is separated from the mainland by a body of
water called the Formosa Channel. This is in some places eighty
miles wide, in others almost two hundred. Mackay had often heard
of Formosa even before coming to China, and knew it was famed for
Even its name shows this.
Long, long years before, some
navigators from Portugal sailed to this beautiful island. They
had stood on the deck of their ship as they approached it, and
were amazed at its loveliness. They saw lofty green mountains
piercing the clouds. They saw silvery cascades tumbling down
their sides, flashing in the sunlight, and, below, terraced
plains sloping down to the sea, covered with waving bamboo or
with little water-covered rice-fields. It was all so delightful
that no wonder they cried,
"Illha Formosa! Illha
Beautiful Isle." Since that day the "Beautiful
Isle," perhaps the most charming in all the world, has been
And, somehow, Mackay
longed to see this Beautiful Isle" before he
decided where he was going to preach the gospel. And so when the
kind friends at Swatow said," Stay and work with he always
answered, "I must first see Formosa."
So, one day, he sailed
away from the mainland toward the
Beautiful Isle. He landed at Takow in the south of the island,
just about Christmas-time. But Formosa was green, the weather was
hot, and he could scarcely believe that, at home in Oxford
county, Ontario, they were flying over the snow to the music of
sleigh-bells. On New Year's day he met a missionary of this south
Formosa field, named Dr. Ritchie. He belonged to the Presbyterian
Church of England, which had a fine mission there. For nearly a
month Mackay visited with him and studied the language.
And while he visited and
worked there the missionaries told him
of the northern part of the island. No person was there to tell
all those crowded cities of Jesus Christ and His love. It would
be lonely for him there, it would be terribly hard work, but it
would be a grand Thing to lay the foundations, to be the first to
tell those people the "good news," the young missionary thought.
And, one day, he looked up from the Chinese book he was studying
and said to Dr. Ritchie:
"I have decided to settle
in north Formosa."
And Dr. Ritchie's quick
"God bless you, Mackay."
As soon as the decision
was made, another missionary, Dr.
Dickson, who was with Mr. Ritchie, decided to go to north Formosa
with the young man, and show him over the ground. So, early in
the month of March in the year 1872, the three men set off by
steamship to sail for Tamsui, a port in north Formosa. They were
two days making the voyage, and a tropical storm pitched the
small vessel hither and thither, so that they were very much
relieved when they sailed up to the mouth of the Tamsiu river.
It was low tide and a
bare sand-bar stretched across the mouth of
the harbor, so the anchor was dropped, and they waited until the
tide should cover the bar, and allow them to sail in.
This wait gave the
travelers a fine opportunity to see the
country. The view from this harbor of the "Beautiful Island" was
an enchanting one. Before them, toward the east, rose tier upon
tier of magnificent mountains, stretching north and south. Down
their sloping sides tumbled sparkling cascades and here and there
patches of bright green showed where there were tea plantations.
Farther down were stretches of grass and groves of lovely
feathery bamboo. And between these groves stretched what seemed
to be little silvery lakes, with the reflection of the great
mountains in them. They were really the famous rice-fields of
Formosa, at this time of the year all under water. There were no
fences round their little lake-fields. They were of all shapes
and sizes, and were divided from each other by little green
fringed dykes or walls. Each row of fields was lower than the
last until they came right down to the sea-level, and all lay
blue and smiling in the blazing sunlight.
As the young missionary
stood spellbound, gazing over the lovely,
fairylike scene, Mr. Ritchie touched his arm.
"This is your parish,
Mackay," he whispered smilingly.
And then for the first
time since he had started on his long,
long journey, the young missionary felt his spirit at peace. The
restlessness that had driven him on from one Chinese port to
another was gone. This was indeed his parish.
Suddenly out swung a
signal; the tide had risen. Up came the
anchor, and away they glided over the now submerged sand-bar into
A nearer view showed
greater charms in the Beautiful Isle. On the
south, at their right, lay the great Quan Yin mountain, towering
seventeen hundred feet above them, clothed in tall grass and
groves of bamboo, banyan, and fir trees of every conceivable
shade of green. Nestling at its feet were little villages almost
buried in trees. Slowly the ship drifted along, passing, here a
queer fishing village close to the sandy shore, yonder a
light-house, there a battered Chinese fort rising from the top of
And now Tamsui came in
sight--the new home of the young
missionary. It seemed to him that it was the prettiest and the
dirtiest place he had ever seen. The town lay along the bank of
the river at the foot of a hill. This bluff rose abruptly behind
it to a height of two hundred feet. On its face stood a
queer-looking building. It was red in color, solid and weather
worn, and above it floated the grand old flag of Britain.
"That's an old Dutch
fort," explained Mr. Ritchie, "left there
since they were in the island. It is the British consulate now.
There, next to it, is the consul's residence.
It was a handsome house,
just below the fort, and surrounded by
lovely gardens. But down beneath it, on the shore, was the most
interesting place to the newcomer, the town of Tamsui proper, or
Ho Be, as the Chinese called it. The foreigners landed and made
their way up the street. To the two from south Formosa, Tamsui
was like every other small Chinese town, but Mackay had not yet
become accustomed to the strange sights and sounds and stranger
smells, and his bright eyes were keen with interest.
The main thoroughfare
wound this way and that, only seven or
eight feet wide at its best. It was filled with noisy crowds of
men who acted as if they were on the verge of a terrible fight.
But the older missionaries knew that they were merely acting as
Chinese crowds always do. On each side were shops,--tea shops,
rice shops, tobacco shops, and many other kinds. And most
numerous of all were the shops where opium, one of the greatest
curses of Chinese life, was sold. The front wall of each was
removed, and the customers stood in the street and dickered with
the shopkeeper, while at the top of his harsh voice the latter
swore by all the gods in China that he was giving the article
away at a terrific loss. Through the crowd pushed hawkers,
carrying their wares balanced on poles across their shoulders.
Boys with trays of Chinese candies and sugar-cane yelled their
wares above the din. The visitors stumbled along over the rough
stones of the pavement until they came to the market-place.
Foreigners were not such a curiosity in Tamsui as in the inland
towns, and not a great deal of notice was taken of them, but
occasionally Mackay could hear the now familiar words of contempt
--"Ugly barbarian"--"Foreign devil" from the men that passed
them. And one man, pointing to Mackay, shouted "Ho! the
black-bearded barbarian!" It was a name the young missionary was
destined to hear very frequently. Past opium-dens, barber shops,
and drug stores they went and through the noise and bustle and
din of the market-place. They knew that the inns, judging by the
outside, would be filthy, so Mr. Ritchie suggested, as evening
was approaching, that they find some comfortable place to spend
There was a British
merchant in Tamsui named Mr. Dodd, whom the
missionaries knew. So to him they went, and were given fine
quarters in his warehouse. They ate their supper here, from the
provisions they had bought in the market, and stretching
themselves out on their grass mats they slept soundly. The next
day was Sunday, but the three travelers spent it quietly in the
warehouse by the river, studying their Bibles and discussing
their proposed trip. They concluded it was best not to provoke
the anger of the people against the new missionary by preaching,
so they did not go out. To-morrow they would start southward and
take Mackay to the bounds of their mission field, and show him
the land that was to be "his parish."