Macdonald, Dr Roderick John Johnstone
1859-1906; e.m. 1884

WM medical missionary in China, born in Doncaster. He arrived in Canton in 1884 and took charge of the hospital in Fatshan (Fushan), where he found the needs overwhelming. In 1890 he was moved to Siuchow to open a hospital there, but such were the hindrances that the hospital was not finally built until 1914. In 1893 he returned from furlough to the Fatshan hospital, but his health broke down and by the end of the year he returned home suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. It seemed that his service in China was over, but by 1897 he had recovered sufficiently for him to be appointed to Wuchow, a recently opened Treaty Port some 250 miles west of Canton.

He served for the rest of his days in Wuchow, where he carried out an exceptional ministry. On arrival he and his wife and baby lived in a tiny houseboat, almost wrecked by storms on several occasions. After a few months he rented a small house on the river bank. He bought a site in a suburb of Wuchow on which to build a residence and hospital. He worked alongside local labourers, treating them with respect and writing at that time: 'I have for many years thought that we seek, in our Mission, a great deal too much to make English Christians. Few men think themselves into the state of the heathen mind. We ought surely to change as little as possible - only what is clearly incompatible with the simplest form of Christian teaching and practice.'

He opened a dispensary in his home, making the work self-supporting from the start, and preached in the streets and on the river bank. Soon a small church was completed and in 1904 a new hospital, built in Chinese style, with 50 beds, was opened. Boarding schools for both boys and girls had also been established, and the following year an industrial school was added, where a class began agricultural work. Moved by the plight of leprosy patients who were not allowed into towns and villages, in 1905 he bought a nearby island where he started a leper colony, with small cottages funded by the Mission to Lepers in India and the East.

Throughout his ministry he was ably supported by his wife's work among women and girls. Tragically, on 13 July 1906, the steamer on which he was returning home from Synod was attacked by pirates and, while attending to the wounded captain, Macdonald was shot and died. The Chinese had murdered one of their best friends and although the work at Wuchow continued, it lost its impetus and did not fulfil its early promise.

  • Mrs R. Macdonald, Life of Dr. Roderick Macdonald (1908)
  • John R. Rose, A Church Born to Suffer: being an account of the first hundred years of the Methodist Church in South China 1851-1951 (1951), pp.78-82

Entry written by: GRS
Category: Person
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