Francis James was born in the English town of Upton in 1851. At the age of 25, a call to the mission field stirred his heart and he applied to be a missionary with the China Inland Mission. He sailed for the Orient that same year, and for the next two years travelled widely around Shanxi Province easing the suffering of victims of a severe famine that gripped the region in 1877.
In September 1878, James married Marie Huberty, a Belgian woman who was also serving with the CIM. Curiously, he adopted his new wife’s maiden name as part of his own name. In 1881, the couple returned to England. By the time they went back to the Orient two years later, they had resigned from the CIM and joined the English Baptist Mission instead. They threw themselves into their new work in the Shangdong Province and in 1890 James wrote a paper on the ‘secret sects of China’, which was read at a national missionary conference in Shanghai. Little did he know that it would be one of those sects, the Boxers, that would end his life and enter his name on the glorious roll of martyrs for Christ.
The Jameses appear to have had some difficulty finding their place on the mission field, for in 1892 they felt compelled to resign from the EBM. They settled in America, where he became a university lecturer and was involved in writing. In 1897, they returned once again to China. This time, James took a job as a translator with the Imperial Arsenal near Shanghai. A year later, he joined the staff of the Imperial University in Beijing.
When the Boxer Rebellion erupted in the capital early in June 1900, James was instrumental in helping more than two thousand Chinese Christians to find refuge in the British legation, where they miraculously survived the danger.
However, at about 5pm on 20 June 1900, for reasons that remain unclear, he himself left the safety of the legation. He crossed a dry moat and was walking towards a bridge when he was stopped by Chinese soldiers. They were about to shoot him when he put up his hands to show that he was unarmed, so they bound him and led him away. One report said that he ‘suffered decapitation…and that his head was stuck on a spear and exhibited to the passers-by, some of whom recognized it.’
Francis Huberty James, who had lived in many places and worked for several different organizations, was nevertheless greatly respected by both foreign and Chinese Christians. That afternoon he finally found the rest and security his soul had longed for.
China’s Book of Martyrs. Carlisle: Piquant Editions, 2007. Used by permission.