The Rev. George Sidney Owen – Missionary and Professor of Chinese
by Linda Ayres
The Rev. George Sidney Owen was born on the 24th January 1843 at Pembroke. His christening took place at Llangwm, Pembrokeshire, Wales on the 29th January 1843. On leaving school he started his training to be a solicitor. When he was 17 years old, he resolved to work as a missionary. He applied to the London Missionary Society (LMS) with the aim of becoming a missionary. The Society accepted him and sent him for theology training at the Bedford Seminary (College), at the “Howard Manse “at 16 Dame Alice Street, Bedford, (now the site of Bedford Central Club, formerly the Bedford Post Office). The Rev. Owen lived in lodgings at 1 Dame Alice Street.
The Bedford Seminary was founded in 1840 by the Rev. John J. Jukes of the Bunyan Meeting Church, and the Rev. William Alliott, of the Howard Congregational Church, (known then as the New Meeting), in Mill Street. Bedford. The Rev. Jukes taught theology and the Rev. Alliott taught Greek and Latin. The Rev. Owen was one the 160 students who trained for missionary work at the Bedford Seminary. After their training the missionaries went out to the West Indies, India, China, South Africa, Madagascar, Polynesia and New Guinea. The Seminary closed when the Rev. J. Jukes died in 1866.
The marriage of the Rev. Owen to Emma Malden
During his time in Bedford, the Rev. Owen met his future wife, Emma Malden. They were married on the 12th July 1865 at the Bunyan Meeting Church, Bedford. Emma was born on the 19th July 1841 and was the youngest of the four children of David Malden and Ann (née Wells). Emma’s two brothers were Frederick Wells Malden 1836-1919, and George 1838-1846, and her only sister was Anne (1840-1884). Emma lived with her family in the rooms above their father’s bakery and confectionery shop at 39 High Street, Bedford.
The Rev. Owen and Emma move to China
The London Missionary Society sent the Rev. Owen and Emma to China. They arrived at Shanghai on the 5th February 1866 and lived at the London Mission in Shantung Road, Shanghai. The London Missionary Society work in China was mainly educational and medical.
While they were in Shanghai, five of their six children were born: Agnes Emilie Malden Owen was born on the 9th June 1866. Sadly, she died on the 6th May 1869 in Shanghai. George Herbert Owen was born on the 29th December 1867; Charles Edward Owen was born on the 23rd March 1870; Ethel Elizabeth Emma and her twin brother, Arthur Malden Owen was born on the 4th September1872. It appears that Arthur died in childhood but there are no records of his death.
In 1872 the Rev. Owen resigned from the London Missionary Society, and he, and Emma and their four children went to Kurume, Japan, where he devoted his time to scholastic studies. Sadly, during their time in Japan two of their children died of measles. Ethel died on the 6th January 1874. Charles died ten months later, on the 24th October.
The Owen family moved to Peking (now known as Beijing) North China
In 1875 the Rev. Owen and Emma and with their two surviving children, George and Arthur left Japan and returned to England for a holiday. Emma would have stayed with her mother and visited her sister, Anne Insull Tilby who was living in Bedford at that time. A few months later, the family left England, and sailed to Shanghai. On the 15th January 1876 the Rev. Owen and Emma with their two children left Shanghai. They moved to Peking, where he took up his new appointment as the overseer of the London Mission. On the 24th October 1881 their son, Sydney Malden Owen was born at Tianjin (formerly Tientsin) North East China.
Rev. G. Owen Author and Translator
The Rev. Owen was an eloquent preacher. In 1888 he returned to England, and gave talks at many places including, Gloucester, York, Guernsey, Berkshire, Derbyshire, and Kent. He had learned to speak and read fluently in the Chinese language. In 1890 the committee in charge of the translation of the New Testament recognised his ability chose him as one of the seven people to translate the New Testament into Mandarin. He was one of the authors of the Journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. In 1893 he had written a book in Chinese on geology.
He spent years translating the Peking Gazette into English. The Peking Gazette was a publication of the Chinese Imperial court dating back to the 8th century. Its contents were different from that of an ordinary newspaper. Nothing appeared in it except issued by the State. There were no restrictive laws in China, but neither were there any laws guaranteeing the freedom of writing and speaking. The last known translation was for 1899. The Peking Gazette continued in Chinese until the end of the Qung Dynasty in 1912.
From 1891 to 1895 the Rev. Owen served on the Board of Managers on the Finance Committee at Peking University. In 1895 the London Missionary Society appointed him to manage the free day school for boys in the east city of Peking. There was one Chinese teacher, and sixteen pupils, of an average age of eleven years. The school opened in 1882 and the subjects taught were Christian Scriptures and the Chinese classics.
The Rev. Owen reported, “This mission has never done much at school work, but we are doing more now, in order to meet the needs of the native Churches”.
The Boxer Uprising
Throughout 1898 and 1899, peasants in Shandong, eastern China, began forming what became known as the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists (the Boxers). The group practised certain boxing and callisthenic rituals in the belief that it made them untouchable. The Boxers attempted to drive all foreigners from China. They murdered Chinese Christians and Western Missionaries for preaching the Gospel. In Peking the Boxers burned churches and foreign residences. The Rev. Owen and Emma lost their home and possessions and they witnessed some of the most horrific scenes. By January 1899 they had managed to get out of Peking and return to England. Several countries sent troops to stop the attacks. The uprising officially ended when the Peace Protocol was signed in Peking on the 7th September 1901.
Before the uprising had officially ended the Rev. Owen returned to Peking, while Emma stayed in England. The Bedfordshire Mercury, Friday, 23rd August 1901 published a letter sent from the Rev. Owen in Peking, in which he writes, “The Chinese have granted the compensation claims of the converts connected with the London Missionary Society Mission in full, and allowed, in addition, small sums to thirteen destitute families on account of the murder of the bread-winners”.
The final years of Emma and the Rev. Owen
There are no records to show the kind of work that Emma took part in the missionary field. Most of the wives of missionaries were unpaid assistants to their husbands.
By October 1902 the Rev. Owen had returned to England, because Emma became ill. He was unable to return to Peking and resigned as one of the translators of the Old Testament. In 1908 King’s College, London, appointed him as Professor of Chinese. He wrote a series of essays on sacred books of China. He had suffered for some years from tropical sprue, a rare digestive disease, which led him to resign.
Emma’s mother, Anne Wells Malden died on the 14th March 1888. Her nephew, Charles Wells, and the Rev. Owen were granted the Probate of her Will. Emma inherited from her mother three properties in the High Street, which included 37 High Street, occupied by W. G. Aston, and 39, and 41 High Street, occupied by Underwood and Wellesley as well as ten cottages in Malden’s Yard, Bedford, charged with an annuity of £100 to Ann Malden’s eldest son, Frederick Wells Malden who was at the time living in Adelaide, Australia.
The 1911 census records the Rev. George Owen and Emma living at 23 Morella Road, Wandsworth, London. They employed two servants, and Emily Sarah Hancock who was employed as a companion to Emma. Emily was the sister of Ida Beatrice Hancock, the daughter-in-law of the Rev. Owen and Emma. The Rev. Owen and Emma subsequently moved to 16 Patten Road, Wandsworth.
Emma died on the 22nd February 1913 at her home in Wandsworth. It was Emma’s wish that her burial should take place near the graves of her mother and father, and her sister, Anne Insull Tilby at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Her cousin Charles Wells, the brewer was among the many mourners who attended the funeral. Grave Ref: E6.142.
After Emma died Emily Hancock became a companion to the Rev. George Owen and nursed him until he died on the 8th February 1914 at his home in Wandsworth. His burial took place in the grave with Emma. His two sons were unable to attend the funeral as George Herbert Owen was in Canada and his other son Sidney Malden Owen was in Gwallois, India. Among those who did attend were Charles Wells, and the Rev. Owen and Emma’s nephews, Frederick, and Eldred Tilby. Grave Ref: E6.142
The children of Emma and the Rev. Owen
Their eldest son, George Herbert Owen went to Tettenhall Boarding School, Staffordshire. By the age of 24 George was living in British Columbia, Cariboo, Canada. In 1885 he married Maud who was born in America. They moved to America where George worked as a farmer. The 1910 census for Orcas, San Juan, Washington, America, records George working as a fruit farmer. By 1914 George and Maud with their seven children had moved to Alberta, Canada.
The 1891 census for 1 Rutland Gardens, Greenwich, London records their youngest son, Sydney Malden Owen was visiting a family friend, James Thomas a Congregational Minister, and his wife Elizabeth. Sidney married Ida Beatrice Handcock in 1913. Ida was born in Liverpool in 1895. Before her marriage Ida lived with her parents, Carlton Edward Handcock, a wallet maker, and his wife Elizabeth, at 123 Grierson Road, Forest Hill, London. Sidney and Ida subsequently moved to 3 Reigate Road, Worthing, Sussex. Sydney died aged 69 on the 19th March 1954 at Worthing.
Photography by Linda S. Ayres
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 18th August 1866 and 28th February 1913 and 13th February 1914 and 4th June 1937
Memorials of Protestant Missionaries to the Chinese Alexander Wylie 1867
The Chronicle and Directory for China, Japan, and the Philippines 1868.
London and China Telegraph March 16th 1874
Bedfordshire Mercury June 5th 1875
Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle 1876
Eastern evening News 28th August 1888
The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society 1890 and 1894
Fourth Estate: A Weekly Newspaper for Publishers: 28th November 1895
The London Missionary Society Education Directory for China 1895
The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal June 1869 and 1894 and 1914
The Illustrated London News 2nd September 1893
The Educational directory for China 1895 John Fryer page 5
The London Missionary Society Peking 1895
Homeward Mail 9th January 1899
Cornish Telegraph 3rd April 1901 and Reading Mercury 27th Sept 1902
USA Census 1900 – 1910 and the British Census 1841-1911
Bedford Archives Service Catalogue
The Sphere April 1963
August 04, 2021