Founder of the China Inland Mission, born in Barnsley on 21 May 1832, the son of James Taylor, chemist and WM local preacher. His grandfather, also James Taylor, converted at Staincross in 1776, later moved to Barnsley, where he gathered the first Methodist society and entertained John Wesley on his visit on 30 June 1786. His maternal grandfather was a WM minister, Benjamin Brook Hudson (1784-1865; e.m. 1810).
He was apprenticed to his father; then worked in a bank until his eyesight deteriorated. Following an evangelical conversion at 17, he joined the Methodist society and, after reading an article on 'The Beauty of Holiness' in the WM Magazine experienced a 'cleansing from all sin'. Hearing a call to missionary work in China, he acquired medical experience in the slums of Hull and training at the London Hospital. He became associated with the Plymouth Brethren and, as there was at that time no Methodist missionary work in China, he sailed as the first agent of the Chinese Evangelization Society, reaching Shanghai on 1 March 1854. Against the disapproval of his fellow missionaries, he adopted Chinese dress and the pigtail. When he was left destitute by the Society, he lived by faith.
Returning to England in 1860 through ill-health, he obtained further medical qualifications in 1862, founded the China Inland Mission in 1865 and returned to Shanghai in 1866, with a family and a party of missionaries. He is said to have favoured Wesleyan recruits, finding the Presbyterian missionaries 'too Calvinistic'. The CIM became a major partner in the evangelization of China. In the Boxer Rising of 1900, 79 CIM missionaries and children were murdered; Taylor won the admiration of the mandarins by refusing to claim compensation.
Ahead of his time in identifying with the native population and in his encouragement of indigenous leadership, he retired in 1902 and died in Changsha, Hunan on 3 June 1905. The site of his birthplace in Barnsley is now marked by plaques in English and Chinese.