Russell, from Tipperary, Ireland, was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and was ordained in 1847 after attending the Church Missionary College at Islington (London), England. He left for China in the same year with two other missionaries, the first to be sent out by CMS following exploratory visits. He was located in Ningpo, one of the treaty ports, which remained his base for his whole service, although he spent much time in itinerations. In 1852 he married Mary Ann Leisk (1828-1887), born in Batavia to Scottish parents, who from about 1840 had been the ward and protegee of Mary Ann Aldersey, independent pioneer missionary teacher.
From 1862 to 1868, the Russells went on leave in England, where they were engaged in Bible translation, but also awaited the outcome of a dispute over whether a new diocese should be set up for mainland China, separate from the colonial diocese of Victoria, Hong King. Finally, in December 1872, Russell was consecrated first bishop of North China. He returned to Ningpo in 1873 and was active in organizing the church, ordaining four Chinese clergy in 1875 and 1876. He died at Ningpo. Mary Ann Russell was accepted as a missionary her own right and served until her death in 1887.
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.
- CMS, Register of Missionaries and Native Clergy (1904); Eugene Stock, The History of the Church Missionary Society: Its Environment, Its Men, and Its Work, 3 vols. (1899); E. Aldersey White, A Woman Pioneer in China: The Life of Mary Ann Aldersey (1932).