Hannah Riddell: An Englishwoman in Japan by Julia Boyd - review by Derek Davies

Derek Davies

Very Strict Lady

Hannah Riddell: An Englishwoman in Japan


Charles E Tuttell, Kodansha 216pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

During Luftwaffe-enforced periods of evacuation to Wales, I recall warbling at the local Methodist chapel a horrible little song about the heathen. The verse went:

Draw draw yn China a thiroedd Japan
Plant bach melynion sy’n byw,
Dim ond eilunod o’r cylch yn mhob man,
Neb i son am Dduw
(Faraway in China and the land of Japan,
Little yellow children live,
Surrounded by idols everywhere,
No-one to speak of God.)

The chorus adjured Jesus to send missionaries to save the pagans’ souls. I must admit the words did not strike me then as unforgivably patronising, nor was I conscious of helping to fund an army of do-gooders whose impact was arguably as disruptive as the imperial armies and colonial traders who preceded them. Indeed, they sometimes arrived together: one Prussian medical missionary, Reverend Doctor Charles Gutzlaff, was of enormous help to Jardine Matheson’s early efforts to sell opium along the coast of China on voyages he also used for the distribution of Bibles to the ungodly.

Many examples of such imperial assumptions of superiority and double standards are to be found in Julia Boyd’s biography of Hannah Riddell, an English missionary who sailed for Japan in 1890, aged thirty-five, to spend the rest of her life there. One of the women who sailed with Hannah expressed

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