Eleanor Chestnut served 11 years in China under the mission board of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and suffered a martyr’s death at the hands of a rioting mob. She was born in Waterloo, Iowa, orphaned in infancy, and raised by relatives. Graduating from Park College, Missouri, and the Women’s Medical College of Illinois, she dedicated her life to mission.
She sailed for China in 1894 to take responsibility for the recently opened women’s hospital at the isolated mission station of Lianzhou (Lien-chow), 300 miles up the Bei Jiang River from Guangzhou (Canton). She became well known for her travels on horseback to hold clinics in neighboring villages and for her sacrificial living in cramped and uncomfortable quarters on the second floor of the hospital.
In 1905 a confrontation occurred between Dr. Edward Machle and Buddhist priests at the temple adjacent to the hospital over the erection of a small, temporary Buddhist structure on hospital property. Although the dispute was amicably settled, a gang of ruffians enraged the gathering mob, which burned the mission station to the ground. The missionaries escaped to a nearby Buddhist grotto, where a priest had invited them to take refuge. When the mob arrived, four of the seven missionaries and a child (Rev. and Mrs. John Peale, Ella Machle, her ten-year-old daughter, and Miss Chestnut) were found and killed. The death of the young medical doctor made a deep impression on the populace, and witnesses said that her last act was to treat a Chinese boy who had been hit with a flying stone. Two years later missionaries returned, the hospital and church were rebuilt, and the work went on.
Gerald H. Anderson, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, 130-31.
- The best account of the Lianzhou affair, the investigation into its causes by the Chinese viceroy and the United States consular officials, and biographical sketches of the martyered missionaries are found in a pamphlet by Arthur J. Brown, The Lien-Chou Martyrdom (c. 1906).
- A shorter account appears in Arthur J. Brown, One Hundred Years (1936).
- See also Robert E. Speer, Servants of the King (1909).