Known as “The Apostle of Hunan,” Adam Dorward grew up in comfortable circumstances in Galashiels, Scotland. Though he could have made a good living at home as a Scottish manufacturer, working in his uncle’s tweed mills, he chose to become a missionary. He trained at the Harley House in London under Grattan Guinness for four years. Dorward’s heart was set on the closed land of Tibet, which was the greatest challenge he knew. On May 2, 1878, he sailed for China with Jennie Taylor (wife of Hudson Taylor) to serve with the China Inland Mission (CIM). On June 13, he and his companions arrived in Shanghai. After a short introduction to the language, Dorward chose to live with the Chinese, away from fellow Europeans. After more than two years of study and preparatory work in Anhui, he became convinced that the closed province of Hunan was the closer and more pressing problem than Tibet.
Hunan Province, with a population of twenty-two million, was one of the last to be opened to the gospel. In 1880, Dorward was the first to make continuous and persistent efforts to gain entrance to the province. The evangelization of this region was one of the most difficult initial tasks the CIM faced in China. Amidst overwhelming hardships and discouragements, Dorward concentrated his sole attention on pioneer work in Hunan for the next eight years of his life, saying: “If only I can by my efforts, trusting in God’s blessing, lead a few of these perishing souls to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and in any way hasten the opening of that province to the gospel, though it be by my life, I shall be satisfied and my coming to China shall not be in vain” (Assault on the Nine 266).
On October 18, 1880, Dorward made his first journey into Hunan. He encountered an unwelcoming population, whose response to his presence was “Beat the foreign devil.” His journey lasted five and a half months, as he traveled from the northeast to the southwest of the province, as far as the city of Hongjiang. From there, he returned overland by a route some two hundred miles long, through regions previously unvisited by any Protestant missionary. During this tour, Dorward passed through some of the southernmost cities of the Province, selling and distributing over 30,000 Scriptures and tracts along the way. Tactfully moving from place to place before opposition could build up, Dorward helped defuse trouble. Once, when a crowd threw stones at his boat, he calmly went ashore and chatted with the stone-throwers. In a letter to his mother, he wrote: “You need not be in any way anxious on my account. I am just as much in the Lord’s keeping here as I would be if I were at home… (He) can easily command that no evil befall me… But if the Lord should will otherwise still all will be well… Praise God that I am honoured to go to the front of the battle!” (It is Not Death to Die, 95)
After a brief stop in Wuchang for a consultation with Hudson Taylor, Dorward once again set forth on his arduous task. He visited Guiyang, where he conferenced for six days with fellow missionaries; then, he and his evangelist traveled by foot back to Hongjiang. Dorward spent ten days in Hongjiang, attempting to secure premises there. When he was unsuccessful, he left to continue on his journey. At some places, the authorities would not allow him to enter the city gates and tried to prevent him from selling his books, but he found plenty of people to evangelize in the suburbs. In his reports, Dorward spoke of the blessed privilege of being permitted to labor in these difficult regions and rarely spoke of the hardships he endured. Recognizing that the easiest time to rent premises would be at the close of the Chinese old year, when some hard-pressed debtors would need money, Dorward traveled back to Hongjiang in January of 1882. There, he finally gained possession of his desired premises (an attic above an inn). He left his Chinese evangelist in charge while he visited other cities which he believed had strategic importance for opening up the province. When he returned to Hongjiang on June 17, he settled into the property he had acquired and carried out his work in a quiet and unobtrusive way for the next three and a half months. During this time, he helped several men break their opium addiction.
In the fall, it became clear that movements were in place to eject Dorward from Hongjiang, so he again withdrew from the city in October, leaving his two faithful Chinese helpers to continue the ministry in his place. By this time, six or seven people had shown interest in the Gospel, and some of them gave him gifts when he left the city. Dorward spent the next eight months itinerating and visiting other cities, often sleeping on straw on the floor. Walking thousands of miles by himself, he sold large numbers of booklets and Gospels, but he struggled with exceeding loneliness. In one of the cities, someone threw a brick at his head and injured him. He maintained his positive attitude in spite of such trials, saying “I hope even such experiences may in some way glorify God” (M. Broomhall 149).
When Dorward was finally able to settle in Hongjiang again on July 29, 1883, after a journey of more than 1,300 miles, he rejoiced. There, he discovered that eleven or twelve of the cured addicts remained free of opium. He also wrote that his landlord’s brother became a Christian. However, Dorward recognized that to be more effective, he and his evangelists needed better premises. He set about modestly trying to win over the people of Hongjiang in order to secure firm footing. In November, Dorward was able to acquire his desired house from a landlord for a period of three years. He also got a letter from Hudson Taylor that a colleague had been appointed for him. Dorward was quite hopeful about the future, but in December, his situation took a turn for the worse.
On Thursday evening, December 13th, Dorward’s goods were removed from his old residence. Threats of violence were made against him on Saturday and Sunday, and by Monday evening, no effort was being spared to intimidate him. As Dorward preferred to risk his life than give up his house, he stood his ground, arguing with the men even as they began to break up his belongings. When it became apparent to him that his landlord and the men who had assisted him would also suffer, however, Dorward decided to withdraw, saying: “So far as my own person was concerned, I would rather have died than yield, but I could not feel justified in causing others to suffer - perhaps more than I should - and on that account I was led to act as I did. I am not altogether discouraged, and I am ready to go back shortly, if God shows such a course to be His will” (M. Broomhall, 151). Although Dorward’s efforts at establishing a permanent settlement failed, to have lived in Hongjiang from January 1882 until December 1883 was quite an achievement.
Dorward wanted to attempt his work elsewhere in Hunan Province, but war broke out between France and China, making this impossible. So Dorward determined to open Shashi, on the Yangtze River, and Jinshi, which was just a little to the south of the Hunan border. Taking his evangelist, Yao, he left Wuchang in February 26, 1884, and quietly secured premises in Shashi. There, the colleague Hudson Taylor had promised him (Henry Dick) joined him in August. From their base in Shashi, they could surreptitiously cross the border into Hunan Province to continue their work despite the turbulent circumstances. Dorward wrote of their expeditions: “(Again and again) we have come to a city, by foot or native boat, and have entered it not knowing whether we should leave it alive or not” (It is Not Death to Die 93).
In 1885, Dorward was appointed superintendent of the work in Hunan. He took extensive journeys across the Northwest Border into the province, enduring extreme hardships. In one of his last letters, Dorward wrote of his visit to Changde in Hunan Province, “I feel as if I would be willing to do almost anything that would be honouring to God, to undergo any hardship, if I could get a permanent footing in this city, and have the joy of seeing men & women turning to God” (M. Broomhall 231). After devoting eight years of his life to pioneer work in Hunan, Dorward died of dysentery on October 2, 1888. He was buried at Yichang, where the consul, customs officials, and merchants honored him. At his death, Hudson Taylor wrote, “The sad removal of our brother Dorward takes away from Hunan one of the truest hearts that ever breathed in sympathy with that people” (M. Broomhall 231).
- Broomhall, A.J., Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century. Vol. 6: Assault on the Nine. Sevenoaks: Hodder and Stoughton and the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1988.
- Broomhall, A.J., Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century. Vol. 7: It is not Death to Die. Sevenoaks: Hodder and Stoughton and the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1989.
- Broomhall, Marshall. The Jubilee Story of the China Inland Mission. London: Morgan & Scott, LD, 1915.