Scottish Congregationalist, born near Glasgow Gilmour trained at Glasgow Theological Hall, and then at Cheshunt College and Highgate. In 1870 the London Missionary Society appointed him to reopen the work in Mongolia, pioneered by Edward Stallybrass and William Swan from 1817 to 1841. In contrast to his predecessors, Gilmour worked from the southeast with a base in Peking (Beijing), making contact with Mongolians there during the winter, and in the summer itinerating across Mongolia.
In 1874, in Peking, he married Emily Prankard, with whom he had corresponded in England. Four strenuous and lonely years, sharing the life of the nomadic Mongolians, brought no converts; eleven more passed before the first baptism. Throughout his service he lacked a medical colleague, which he considered essential for the task. His colleagues in Peking were not wholly sympathetic to his single-minded commitment to work among the nomadic Mongolians. From 1885 onward he agreed to work among the more-settled agricultural Mongolians in the eastern areas, and he labored there in three main centers: Ta Cheng Tzu (Dazhengzi), Ta Ssu Kou (Dasigou), and Chao-yang (Zhaoyang).
Gilmour’s books, Among the Mongols (1883; rev. 1888) and More about the Mongols (1893), with their vivid account of his experiences of life in the Gobi Desert, opened Western eyes to a hitherto largely unknown country. His ascetic life and patient, whole-hearted commitment in the face of such little response challenged both his own and later generations to missionary service. Gilmour died of typhus in Tientsin.
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.
- H. P. Beach, Princely Men in the Heavenly Kingdom (1903), pp. 77-106; Richard Lovett, James Gilmour of Mongolia: His Diaries, Letters, and Reports (1892) and James Gilmour and His Boys (1894).