Friday, March 16, 2007

The Lechler-Medhurst Accord

The Lechler-Medhurst Accord
Notes on the migration of Hakka Christians to North Borneo (compiled by Calvin Lo)

When Hudson Taylor (the famed Christian missionary and founder of China Inland Mission) first arrived China in March 1854, he sorjourned at the residence of Dr Walter Medhurst. In fact, Taylor walked his way to
the 'ma-ka-kiuen (official residence of Medhurst)' immediately upon disembarkation from the ship, notwithstanding that at the time fierce street battles between the soldiers of the Qing emperor and rebels
were raging on. It was also unheard of for a 'white man' to wander the streets of Shanghai in those days.

Medhurst had been Taylor's inspiration to come to China. Dr Walter H. Medhurst (1796-1857), born in London, was one of numerous translators of the early Chinese bible. He had been at work with the translation since 1840. He also wrote several books.
"China and its Prospects' is oft cited as having inspired the young Hudson. Dr Medhurst himself was a missionary, having sailed into Malacca in 1816. Later on he became proficient in the Malay language but toward the 1830s he turned his attention to China.

Meanwhile in March 1847, the Basel Mission society of Switzerland dispatched two of its missionaries to China Rev Rudolph Lechler and Rev. Theodore Hamberg.
Lechler and Hamburg are considered today as pioneers of the Hakka Christians, having concentrated their evangelization works in Quangzhou. Rev. Hamberg is noted especially for being sympathetic to refugees of the Taiping rebellion (1851-1866).

One of the converts under Hamburg's ministry is Hung Sen, who was an acquaintance of Hung Jen Kan, a high ranking official of the Taiping administrative structure. Jen Kan is also a cousin of Hung Hsiu Chuen the leader of the Taiping rebels. Hung Sen introduced Jen Kan to Hamburg and the missionary at once set out to teach his chargees more correctly the way of the bible. Later on Jen Kan became the prime minister of the Taiping government.

In the midst of fightings between Qing and Taiping soldiers, the missionaries were most active and sympathetic to refugees, mainly Hakkas, fleeing government troops. Later on Hamberg also wrote a book
about the Taiping movement. Dr Walter Medhurst and Hamberg today are credited for contemporary accounts of what went on in southern China at the time, especially regarding the rebellion.

In Sept 1868 Hudson Taylor himself was prevented from leaving Chenqiang because of riotings in the city. It was at this time when Henry Medhurst (later Sir), British Consul at Hankow, and son of Dr Walter, made arrangements to dispatch a gunboat upriver to rescue Taylor. By then the Taiping rebellion had fizzled out and the Hakkas came under severe persecution by the Qing government.

Also by then, the burden of the Basel mission had pass on to Rev. Rudolph Lechler. Theodore Hamberg himself died in 1854 from heart failure. In the back drop of a looming famine, government persecutions, highway robberies and other criminal elements, there was much
pressure for the mission to provide an Exodus from the land.

The ascendancy of Sir W. Henry Medhurst to prominent positions in British and international diplomatic circles was God sent. In 1881 Rev. Rudolph Legler of the Basel mission contacted Medhurst, then Shanghai
British Consul General, and arrangements were made to ship Hakka migrants to North Borneo. Just prior to that Baron Von Overback and the Dent brothers acquired rights to North Borneo and the incorporation of the Chartered company spelt an urgent need for migrant farmers who were hardy and knowledgeable.

Under the Lechler-Medhurst arrangement, the first batch of Hakka Christians arrived Kudat, North Borneo, in 1882. A certain Lo Tai Hong from Long Chuan county, Guangzhou, was the acknowledged leader. They first settled in Laoshan, Kudat. The second batch of Hakka immigrants came in 1886, led by Lee Siong Kong (later a prominent businessman and church leader) and a certain Wong Shuk Min. The third batch of Hakkas came in 1913. They were allocated to lands in Pinangsoo, Kudat, and Inanam and Menggattal of the West Coast of Sabah.

The Hakka Christians in North Borneo (today renamed Sabah) are noted for a legacy of Christian ministry (eg. Basel Christian Church of Malaysia), education (eg. Lok Yuk and Tshung Tsin schools), the first
Chinese chief minister of Sabah (i.e. Peter Lo), development of numerous towns (eg. Kudat, Telipok, Mengattal, Inanam, Papar, and Tenom), development of rubber small holdings and other achievements.

A Century of Mission (Hudson's Autobiography)
BCCM centenary magazine
various atlases

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