We know little about Emily Blatchley’s childhood and youth.
In January, 1865, Emily was accompanying her best friend Jennie Faulding at the Saturday prayer meetings of the nascent China Inland Mission led by Hudson Taylor and held at their Coburn Street headquarters in Bromley-by-Bow, East End of London. Those meetings, and reading Taylor’s China’s Spiritual Need and Claims, moved both girls deeply.
By July of that year, she had finished her studies at the Home and Colonial School in Gray’s Inn Road, and was to be starting work under a Madame Halliday as a school teacher. After she was asked by the Taylors to help them as personal secretary for Hudson Taylor and governess for their children, however, she was released from her contract and freed to join the CIM.
While in London, she attended Regent’s Park Chapel, an Anglican congregation, with Jennie Faulding and her family. Hudson Taylor sometimes joined them. As they were all preparing to leave for China, Maria and Hudson Taylor taught Chinese to Jennie; she then shared with Emily what she was learning. By October of 1865, Emily was living with the Taylors, working as his secretary (she wrote out letters while he dictated), and teaching the two older children. She and Jennie also helped set up the new hand-printing press. Already, she was considered an efficient secretary, to whom Taylor could delegate increasing responsibility for important tasks.
After his offer of marriage to another girl was rejected by her father, CIM member George Stott approached Emily, but she did not respond favorably. A few months later, while mourning the impending death of her brother from tuberculosis, and perhaps also a failed romance, she was refusing food and unable to sleep. She was often both physically and emotionally fragile. When she recovered, however, she did her best to take Maria’s place in the household while she recovered from a serious illness. She was already considered a member of the family.
For a while, when it seemed that family troubles and her health problems might prevent her from joining the party of missionaries about to leave for China, she wrote to Maria, “You cannot think, dear, dear Mrs Taylor, how bitter to me is the thought of having to part from you and dear Mr Taylor” (Broomhall 4.105).
Emily Blatchley lost her mother before her experience as a missionary. Perhaps being an orphan intensified her affection for the Taylors and her happiness in being part of their family.
When her brother died, she poured out her grieving heart to Taylor in a letter: “God is laying the strain terribly tight, and on many chords at once – touching my soul to the very quick. For this is one of the many swords that are piercing just now, that have come all together. Will you plead just this for me, - that I may be strong, and await with more patience and submission the issue of these anxieties.” In a postscript, to show that she was aware of his heavy administrative and speaking burdens, she added, “You must not fear to trust me with directions and commissions, dear Mr Taylor; sorrow is no new thing to me that it should stagger and bewilder me” (Broomhall 4.140).
In the end, she was included in group that the Taylors took with them on the Lammermuir in May 1866. Before they left, a farewell service was held for her and Jennie Faulding at Regent’s Park Chapel and several other churches. The two were always considered an inseparable pair.
Starting Out in Hangzhou
Once in China, she dressed in Chinese clothes along with the rest of the new CIM missionaries, including all of the single women. Unlike one or two other women and several of the men, she did not complain about having to wear foreign clothing. Emily continued as governess for the Taylor children: Grace Dyer Taylor, Herbert Hudson Taylor, Frederick Howard Taylor, and Samuel Dyer Taylor. She taught them daily lessons, freeing Maria to participate in missionary work with her husband.
She and Jennie grew even closer to the Taylors. For example, when Hudson Taylor went on walks with his children, they would accompany them. Hudson Taylor saw Emily and Jennie as younger sisters, and treated them with familial affection. Indeed, the Chinese name that he gave Emily, “Ai Mei,” means, “Beloved Little Sister.” As a natural gesture of brotherly affection, he would kiss them goodnight.
In Hangzhou, the missionaries, married and single, were crowded into a very small dwelling. There was little privacy, so everything done or said was known to others. In early 1867, acting upon a slanderous letter written by one of the malcontents who objected to wearing Chinese dress and to Taylor’s leadership, George Moule, a respected missionary, wrote a long letter to Taylor in which he urged him to cease from all actions that might lead anyone to suspect impropriety between him and Emily and Jennie.
He said he meant well, but he was acting from ignorance, and he told others that he intended to destroy the CIM entirely. Maria responded in a letter that refuted his charges and described her husband’s “private and social walk” as “in all meekness and forbearance, in all purity, in all sincerity of purpose, in all singleness of eye” (Broomhall 4.289). All the women in the CIM house at Hangzhou wrote and signed a letter flatly denying that Taylor had been guilty of any wrongdoing, that they naturally looked to Maria for sympathy and counsel, and that Hudson Taylor’s character and conduct had been that of “a gentleman, a Christian, and pre-eminently a Christian missionary” (Broomhall 296). Nevertheless, in the face of the malicious and baseless slander, “the sisterly freedom the two girls [Emily and Jennie] enjoyed with the Taylors had to stop, however, to the grief of both” (Broomhall 4.294).
The false accusations pierced Emily to the heart. She blamed herself for being an occasion for others to attack Hudson Taylor. “I don’t know whether I felt most of grief or surprise or indignation in reading that letter,” she wrote in her diary. Her own beloved sister had just died, so she longed all the more for human love, and the thought of her and Jennie having to restrain their expressions of affection devastated her. “I am so lonely, so utterly alone; and now my intercourse with them must be straitened even yet more. But why should I cling so? Oh! Christ, take hold of my hands” (Broomhall 4.290). A.J. Broomhall comments, “Affection was vital to Emily as her own family died one by one of phthisis” (4.290). At this time of extreme emotional trial, her friendship with Jennie Faulding comforted both of them.
When Hudson Taylor took several of the new workers to establish a center in another city, Maria went with him, leaving Jennie and Emily behind; this would “mollify those who resented their longer and closer friendship with the Taylors” (Broomhall 4.309). After the Taylors returned, though she was his secretary, Emily entered into the ministry to Chinese as much as possible. “When a man who had swallowed three times the lethal dose of opium was brought to Hudson Taylor for treatment, Jennie and Emily took turns right through the night, walking him and down incessantly, giving him stimulants, an slapping him to keep him awake and active” (Broomhall 4.311).
George Moule had returned to England, leaving some space for intimacy with Maria and Hudson Taylor, prompting Emily to write in her journal, “A few minutes of the old time returned. But it did not intoxicate me. I did not revel in it. I thanked God for it and took it with a very quiet joy … (yet) I could hardly keep tears from my eyes” (Broomhall 4. 338). She was always a sensitive and affectionate person.
Young Gracie Taylor came down with what proved to be meningitis. Her mother, exhausted in caring for her, lay down beside her to sleep while Jennie watched them both for half the night and Emily the other half. Their living quarters were close enough for people nearby to hear what was going on. Emily’s journal reads, “It is so very hard to be there and hear poor Mr Taylor moaning with pain, and little Gracie uttering incoherent words of raving” (Broomhall 4. 362). Gracie died in August, 1867.
A month later, the mosquito net under which Freddie (Howard) was sleeping accidentally caught on fire. Emily got up from her bed, ran in, snatched Freddie to safety and put out the fire. After all this stress, not surprisingly, Emily developed erysipelas, a severe skin infection, necessitating Hudson Taylor’s return from another station to care for her. She was laid aside for two months, but was finally able to go with the Taylors and a few others on a river trip towards Huzhou.
The Suzhou Interval: April-May 1868
Though that project did not succeed because of local hostility, Taylor still planned to open new stations further inland. Some objected, but Maria agreed with her husband, and “where they went Emily … would go with enthusiasm” (Broomhall 5.51). She went with a small party to settle in Suzhou, leaving Jennie in Hangzhou. As malcontents in the mission who refused to live like the Chinese or to submit to Taylor’s leadership continued to spread slander about Hudson Taylor, Emily reminded Jennie that the charges were all false; she remained faithful to him throughout this distressing controversy. In Suzhou, as before, she helped care for desperately sick children amidst her other duties.
Living on Boats; Settling in Yangzhou: May-June 1868
Taylor and his family, including Emily and Annie Bohannon, the children’s nurse, and their Chinese helpers, left Suzhou in late May and for the next two months lived on boats until they settled in Yangzhou, a city not included in the treaties guaranteeing the right of foreigners to reside in China. He was counting on the most favored nation clause, which had given such rights to the French.
Not long after their arrival in Yangzhou, all three Taylor children came down with smallpox. Four-year-old Samuel then developed broncho-pneumonia, a serious complication. Emily and Hudson Taylor sat up with him through the night until he recovered slightly.
The Yangzhou Riot
They moved into the new premises on July 20th. Already, certain events in the city had alerted them to possible trouble. Emily “underlined, bracketed and annotated 2 Samuel 24:24 [in her Bible], ‘Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing.’ News had come of another brother’s death, leaving two younger sisters and her father of a once large family… She knew the danger she herself was in” (Broomhall 5.82).
Sure enough, instigated by the city’s literati, angry mobs besieged and threatened to storm the house, throwing stones at the windows. Emily remained calm: “Having done all that we can do to fortify ourselves, we know that whatever happens will be by God’s permission, for we have put ourselves into His hands. He will not leave us” (Broomhall 5.90). On the evening of the 22nd, several thousand men surrounded the place and broke into first the outer rooms and then the bedrooms on the second story.
Emily wrote later: “We, ladies and children, were alone in the upper storey … We … brought the children into Mrs Taylor’s rooms and gathered there ourselves to plead with God to protect and save us, and especially to take care of our brothers, who were in the fore-front of the danger. Sometimes a fresh outburst among the rioters made our hearts chill for a moment, but we preserved our calmness and sustained our courage by … prayer” (Broomhall 5. 96). Taylor ran with another man to seek the help of the magistrate while the other men and the women tried to hold off the violent intruders. Several men tore at Maria’s and Emily’s clothes to grab whatever money they had, and threatened to harm them.
Then they heard a shout that the house had been set on fire. They let down the children through the window using bedding that had been made into a rope, but the rioters set fire to that way out of the burning house. As smoke filled the room, Maria, pregnant with her sixth child and nursing a very sick baby, and Emily had to jump to safety. Both were injured. Emily had fallen on her back, but the way in which she wore her hair in Chinese style, with a bun at the back, kept her from a serious head injury.
She somehow got to her feet and helped one of the men, who had been stunned by a brickbat, limp away. They took shelter in the house next door. “We sat there in the darkness – such a long, long time it seemed – hoping and fearing as to what had become of Mr Taylor and Mr Duncan.” Maria was bleeding badly. “And I now found out that my arm was bleeding from a cut, and was so painful I could not move it” (Broomhall 5.99-100).
Four days later, after they had all fled across the Yangzi (Yangtse) River to Zhenjiang, Emily recorded, “We have not yet had time to change our blood-stained clothes. Very earnestly do I desire and plead that (God) will yet take us back to that city for His glory’s sake” (Broomhall 5.104).
They were not yet safe, however, for the CIM premises in which they were residing were threatened when citizens there also began to act angrily. They were not harmed, and eventually were able to re-occupy their house in Yangzhou on November 23rd. A medical report stated that Maria and Emily had sustained “permanent and serious injury” (Broomhall 5.159). Maria, in fact, sensed that she was fatally ill. Still, they joined the others in resuming missionary work.
Hudson Taylor often had to travel to other cities to help their missionaries. While away on one such trip, in a letter to Maria he said, “Give my love to Miss Blatchley. Tell her if she loves me to take care of herself.” Then he added, “My heart yearns for you. Fondest love, JHT” (Broomhall 5.196). Like Jenny, Emily was like a daughter and a sister to them. Another time, taking Maria with him, Taylor left Emily in Hangzhou with the three children and another couple. Maria wrote to Mrs. Berger, “It is a real trial, and not a small one, to her to be away from us, and we shall much miss her loving attentions and invaluable help.” Since leaving England, she had developed “a maturity of Christian character” which made her one of the CIM’s most valuable members (Broomhall 5.206).
Meanwhile, Maria’s health became more and more frail. During this trying time, Hudson Taylor was deeply distressed by his inability to remain calm, cheerful, and kind, until he learned from a tract that it was possible to enjoy the fullness of Christ and his peace simply by faith. This realization transformed his whole life. Shortly afterwards, Emily wrote in her journal, “He too has now received the rest of soul that Jesus gave to me some little time ago” (Broomhall 5.213).
Leaving China with the Children: 1870
All the Taylor children were frequently afflicted with various illnesses. With immense grief, therefore, the Taylors decided that Emily should take four of the children back to England. She gladly consented, though it caused her great sorrow. Samuel, who was almost six, died in March before they left.
Emily, too, was seriously ill. Tuberculosis, which had killed several of her family, was already far advanced in her lungs, aggravated by all the stresses she had had to endure. Hudson Taylor, a trained physician, considered her health fragile and feared that she would die unless she could have a change of climate. A.J. Broomhall’s narrative at this point deserves quoting in full:
But in her own words, she had reached a contented state of wholehearted ‘Acquiescence, not submission’ to the will of God. Submission only was too grudging. ‘I delight to do Thy will, O my God’ had become her attitude. Yet the Taylors’ help in bearing her illness was hard to forgo. ‘Receive her as a daughter,’ Maria wrote to Hudson’s mother, ‘for our sake to begin with, but soon you will continue to do so for her own sake… . And … call her Emily and not Miss Blatchley… . In leaving us she is leaving home for she has been to us as a daughter and a sister, both in one’ (Broomhall 5. 233).
To Mr. Berger, the CIM home secretary, Taylor wrote, “Miss Blatchley will be better than twenty letters, being more intimately acquainted with Mission matters than any other members” (Broomhall 5.234).
In England: 1870-1874
When they all arrived, Mrs. Berger wrote Maria, “I was quite shocked to see dear Emily; she is so altered – no one who has not known her intimately would recognize her” (Broomhall 5. 236). After two months, however, she seemed much better, which was good, since she needed all her limited strength to brief the Bergers on the situation in China.
Maria died in July shortly after giving birth. In November Taylor’s mother wrote that the doctor had examined Emily’s lungs and gave her “no hope. Her tuberculosis was far advanced. ‘My heart felt almost overwhelmed for a few minutes,’ he wrote in reply. Was Emily to be taken too? Maria’s dying wish had been that the children ‘should all be kept as a little family together; and under (Emily’s) care’” (Broomhall 5. 281).
While Hudson Taylor struggled with grief, illness, and discouragement in China, “Emily, too, was tearful and lonely, finding the care of his children as much as her failing strength could stand” (Broomhall 5.292). Taylor’s mother suggested that he come home and marry Emily, but he replied:
The Mission would never have been what it is, but for her ability, diligence, and faithfulness. On at least two occasions, I am convinced, my dear wife owed her life to her kind and vigilant nursing… . Miss Blatchley’s present condition is largely the result of her unceasing care of dear little Samuel during the winter of ’69-’70… So that if I did not love and value her, I should be ungrateful indeed. But that is quite a different thing from entering into the relationship you so delicately allude to… [Others had advised him to marry her.] But I have always replied that if there were no other reasons against it, the state of her health was too uncertain to admit the question (Broomhall 5.292)
The Hardest Blow: 1871
Finally, the needs of his children and the Mission combined with his own broken health to require Taylor’s return to England. Jennie Faulding, too, was very ill with malaria, and had promised her mother that she would come back after five years in China. On the voyage home, growing affection for each other blossomed into full-blown love and she accepted his proposal of marriage.
Taylor knew he had to inform Emily before they reached England, so he wrote her a “long, affectionate letter” about the pleasures of the journey, but “had to tell her what was happening” (Broomhall 5.324-325). She sent her congratulations to greet them when they landed, but for herself, “she printed on a card, to keep before her, the words of Jesus, ‘EVEN SO, FATHER’ – ‘for so it seemed good in Thy sight’” (Broomhall 5.326). In her journal she confessed that she had hoped she would be the next “Mrs.”
Taylor rented a house for his family and his mother moved in with him and Emily and the four children: Herbert (10), Howard (8), Maria (4), Charles Edward (2), and Lanfeng, the girl whom Maria had adopted. When the wedding took place, Emily agreed with it but suffered intense grief. Jennie joined the household after the wedding. Though she had not yet recovered, she helped Emily with the children, for Emily too was sick and continued as Taylor’s secretary.
By then, “Emily’s ‘Even so, Father’ had progressed beyond resignation to contentment. ‘My one cry is for perfect Christ-like acquiescence in the Father’s will. Then … I shall have joy, and even undisturbable peace’“ (Broomhall 5.340). She was happy to be part of the family again with Jennie and Hudson Taylor. “Without others in the home he did not have to call her ‘Miss Blatchley’. She was ‘Aimei’, ‘loved [little] sister’, all the time, reliving the past while writing her memoir of Maria” (Broomhall 5.340).
Soldiering on at Home
Hudson Taylor and Jennie returned to China a year later. In the midst of a flood of duties and pressures he wrote to Emily, “My dear, more-than-dear, Sister, … If I could I would write you often and long, as I think of you often and much… . You are never forgotten [underlined five times]” (Broomhall 5.356).
Meanwhile Emily was doing all that the Bergers had done before resigning from the Mission: correspondence, accounts, and publishing and distributing the Occasional Paper, so he had to write mostly about business affairs. Taylor worried that she was doing too much and urged her to engage a secretary to help with the work load. Knowing that she probably had only a few more months to live, and happily married to Jennie, he could express his affection openly. After a long letter filled with business matters, he wrote, “I don’t like to send you such wretched letters, when you send me such dear, loving, long ones… May God bless you, my own dear Ae-me [dialect for Aimei]” (Broomhall 5. 365).
Other letters contained instructions on how to discipline the boys, who tended to be unruly: “A little rough discipline might … make them strike their roots deeper, give you more hold of their affections, make them men not girls” (Broomhall 5.368).
Apart from her other duties, Emily often had to speak on Taylor’s behalf to correct misleading comments made by the CIM home council members and honorary secretaries, for she knew his thoughts and was far more in tune with the spirit of the mission than they. To Taylor she wrote, “You must pray for me, dear, dear Brother. I cannot be blind to the fact that as yet the real responsibility of the work at home rests on me… . Your loving Me-me [dialect for meimei, little sister]” (Broomhall 5.365). Sometimes she even spoke about the CIM at informal gatherings.
The honorary secretaries had still not grasped the principle of praying for donations and not asking for them. “Emily’s role was a difficult one, to coach the secretaries into dealing with God, not men, when they had little in hand to transmit, but she succeeded” (Broomhall 5.369). Nor did they realize that they must remit to China gifts that they received, so that Taylor could provide for his missionaries. Emily had to remind them or pick up the slack herself.
To her, rather than to the honorary secretaries in London, Taylor confided his plans for further advance. “Emily could be trusted to pray, to comment wisely, and to share her knowledge only with discreet friends” (Broomhall 5.378). To her, also, he delegated very delicate matters of communication.
She was only 30.
Last Days on Earth: 1873-1874
Finally, the strain of so much work took its toll on her chronically ill body. The children were sent to live with their grandparents and she was cared for by Henrietta Soltau and then another woman. News of her rapid decline reached Hudson Taylor in one letter after another. He knew that no one could serve as effectively as she had. “Much as he loved Jennie, he loved Emily too. On the anniversary of Maria’s death… he had written to her, ‘I thought that writing to you would be a comfort to me’” (Broomhall 5.385).
He hoped that she would live long enough for Jennie to return and nurse her as she had tenderly cared for Maria. He responded to news of a fresh onslaught of tuberculosis in a letter to his mother: “No words can express my sorrow over what I fear will be the end of this attack. It is selfish to sorrow so, for what will be infinite gain for (her). But ‘Jesus wept’ … and can sympathize still” (Broomhall 5.386).
Jennie forwarded to him a cable from a friend in London, saying, “Emily not expected to live many weeks. She would like you to come.” He desperately wanted to see her before she died, but felt he was needed more in China. “There is nothing feasible and right which I would not gladly do for our precious Ae-me – the debt I owe her I can never repay … As dear Ae-me says, we must trust (the Lord) implicitly” (Broomhall 5.387). Nevertheless, he wrote, “The most painful part of it, perhaps … to me and to dear Jennie is (Emily’s) desire to see us once more, to resign her charge [the children and Mission matters] into our own hands” (Broomhall 5.388).
On November 24, 1873, he wrote to her expressing his anguish and confusion: “Dear Ae-me! … He has placed me here, you there. For the time being HE has separated us… . I feel bewildered, dear, precious sister… . I think of how you nursed me in the (guest hall) at Yangchou… . Of your care of Gracie and Samuel and their sainted mamma – who seems to die again in you, to leave again my precious children bereaved, and me so, so far away. I do pray, ‘Lord, what will Thou have me to do?’” (Broomhall 5. 389). A few months later, he was clear: “My own dear Ae-me, you know how dearly I love you, and how I long to see you (and the dear) children. But I dare not doubt that the Lord is doing the best thing for them and for you” (Broomhall 5.404).
Two CIM women nursed her on a “water bed.” In February, a visitor wrote that she was “so calm and patient … I believe she enjoys rest in our blessed Lord.” Broomhall comments, “Emily had come a long way in a few years” (Broomall 5.403). In April, Taylor was still writing her about business matters!
Emily Blatchley died on July 25th, 1874 while Jennie and Hudson Taylor were hurrying home by ship. By the time he reached London, Taylor was prostrated by a spinal injury and swamped by Mission business, so there are few letters and no diaries from that period. Only this: “Using letter paper with heavy black margins for mourning, [he] wrote to his mother on October 22, ‘I am almost overwhelmed or you could have heard from me sooner.’ No relative had died. The mourning almost certainly was for Emily” (Broomhall 5.420).
Broomhall, A.J., Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century. London: Overseas Missionary Fellowship. Book Three: If I Had a Thousand Lives, 1982; Book Four: Survivors’ Pact, 1984; Book Five: Refiner’s Fire, 1985.
These volumes and the others in this seven-volume work have been reprinted as The Shaping of Modern China: Hudson Taylor’s Life and Legacy. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, Two Volumes, 2005.