Williamson was born in Rochdale, Lancashire, England. Sensing a call to China, he entered Bristol Baptist College and in 1908 was accepted by the BMS for service in Shansi province. There he remained until 1926, engaged primarily in educational and famine relief work.
Williamson was an accomplished Chinese scholar. At one point, wanting to remain a missionary, he declined to allow his name to be nominated as professor of Chinese studies at the University of London. From 1926 to 1938 he was director of the Whitewright Institute and Museum in Tsinan (Jinan), Shantung (Shandong). He was appointed China field secretary of the BMS in 1932 and in 1938 was recalled to London to succeed C. E. Wilson as foreign secretary.
In that role Williamson directed BMS policy during the turbulent decade of the 1940s. A born optimist, he believed that contemporary political changes would lead to new missionary opportunities. To preside in his closing years of office over the evacuation of BMS missionaries from China was thus a saddening experience. After his retirement in 1951, he wrote a valuable history of the BMS China mission, British Baptists in China, 1845-1952 (1957). From 1947 to 1953 he was chairman of the China Christian Universities Association.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- J. B. Middlebrook, Memoir of H. R. Williamson: In Journeyings Oft (1969); Brian Stan1ey The History of the Baptist Missionary Society, 1792-1992 (1992).