Hudson Taylor: Deep in the Heart of China

Chapter 1
Dangerous Light

Captain Morris gripped the wheel of the Dumfries, a 470-ton wooden sailing ship, as he barked orders at his twenty-three man crew. In his cabin below deck, the ship’s only passenger, Hudson Taylor, sat writing in his journal. The short, young Englishman with blond hair and blue eyes was on his way to be a missionary in China. Busy writing, he didn’t know that the ship was headed into a storm, though he did notice that the lantern in his cabin was beginning to swing more than it had been.

On deck, the barometric pressure was dropping steadily. Low pressure meant high winds, and high winds meant rough sea. Waves were beginning to break across the bow of the ship. With each one, the Dumfries rolled from side to side, shuddering and creaking. The stronger the wind grew, the more worried Captain Morris became. Despite all his efforts, his ship was at the mercy of the current and the howling wind. And worse, they were just four days out of Liverpool and not yet in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They were still in the Irish Sea, close to the jagged, rocky outcrops of the Welsh coastline. Now, tossed to and fro by the wind and the ocean current, those rocks were perilously close.

By late afternoon, the waves were mountainous, and the Dumfries creaked as it lurched. Hudson Taylor made his way cautiously up on deck. The color of the sky matched the bruises he’d gotten while being tossed around in his cabin. Ocean spray stung like tiny shards of glass as it whipped at his face.

Captain Morris clung to the ship’s large wooden wheel, turning it first one way and then the other, trying to get the Dumfries to respond. He glanced at Hudson, not once slackening his grip.

“Unless God helps us, there is no hope,” he yelled.

“How far are we from the Welsh Coast?” Hudson shouted back.

“Fifteen or sixteen miles, and we’re drifting fast.”

As Captain Morris spoke, a huge wave hurled itself against the ship. Frothing foam driven by the wind filled the air, and water surged across the deck, tossing barrels and pieces of lumber around as though they weighed nothing. Hudson decided he would be safer down in his cabin. As he left the deck, he surveyed the scene before heading below. Unless God works miraculously on our behalf, a few broken timbers will be all that’s left of us and our ship by morning, he thought, unsure of what lay ahead.

In the darkness below deck, many of the Dumfries’ crew huddled together in the mess room. The ship was pitching and rolling so heavily—now falling forward, now rocking from side to side, now falling and rocking—that Hudson had to crawl on his hands and knees down the passage to his cabin in the ship’s stern. The cabin door swung wildly on its hinges, but he managed to secure it behind him as he collapsed inside. He rolled onto his bunk, alone in the dark, hearing only the smash of the waves against the ship’s side and the ship’s shuddering reply. Each swell nearly threw him from his bunk.

He tried to sleep, but it was no use. The fury of the storm only grew, until the ship was being tossed so wildly that Hudson could not remain in his bunk. He made his way back up on deck. Captain Morris still stood resolutely at the wheel. But Hudson noticed something different this time. He could see a lighthouse close to the leeward side of the ship.

“The Holyhead Lighthouse,” Captain Morris yelled to Hudson. “We’re heading straight for it.”

“How long do we have?” Hudson bellowed back over the howl of the wind.

“Two hours at the most,” was the captain’s grim reply.

Hudson could think of nothing else to say. It was over. Captain Morris had done everything he could to save his ship, but nothing had worked. It was only a matter of time before the Dumfries would smash into the rocks. Tears joined the salty trail of sea spray that streaked down Hudson’s cheeks.

Thoughts of family flooded Hudson’s mind as he made his way back below deck. He could see the faces of his mother and father and his sisters Amelia and Louisa. How would they cope with his death? It was not supposed to end this way. Had God saved him from malignant fever and certain death only to let him drown in the Irish Sea? He thought about his body. Would it sink to the bottom or wash up on shore? Just in case it washed up, he took out his pocketbook and, despite the fierce, unpredictable movements of the Dumfries, managed to write his name and address in large letters inside the cover. He slipped the book inside his undershirt. Now, if his body washed up, his family would know he’d been identified and properly buried.

Next he began looking for something that would float, something he could cling to when the Dumfries sank. As he looked, he realized that floating was less of a problem than avoiding being smashed against the rocks by the raging sea. But there was nothing he could do about that; he would just have to take his chances. Finally he settled on a cane hamper as a life preserver. It would surely float, and it was easy to cling to. Inside the hamper he put a little food, a change of clothes, some rope, and his surgical tools. With this unlikely lifesaving kit tucked under his arm, he once again made his way to the deck. A hatchway door had been ripped from its hinges, and water was now pouring in below deck through the hatch. Several crew members were scrambling to cover the gaping hole with a piece of torn sail and some lumber.

On deck, Captain Morris was still standing at the Dumfries’ wheel, where he had been standing for the past twenty-four hours. Frothing water swirled around his legs as wave after wave washed violently over the ship’s railing.

Hudson gripped the railing and pulled himself towards the captain. Above him, the halyards whipped against the mast. Captain Morris was trying to get the Dumfries to tack, zigzagging the ship first one way and then the other, to get away from the rocks. But it was no use. The wind was just too strong, and the ship still would not respond. Yard by yard they were being pushed toward Holyhead Lighthouse and the ship-smashing rocks of the Welsh coast.

The lighthouse beam passed rhythmically, eerily, over the Dumfries’ bow. It was the kind of light no sailor ever wanted to see this close.

Knowing he was about to lose his ship, Captain Morris checked his instruments one last time. The barometer revealed that the pressure was beginning to rise, but not fast enough to be of any use to them. Then he checked the wind gauge. Suddenly, he shouted. “The wind has shifted,” he cried. “Only two points mind you, but enough that we might be able to clear the rocks.”

He barked orders to his crew, who scurried up from below deck to carry them out. They pulled at the halyards with all their might to set the sails to take advantage of the wind shift. Captain Morris skillfully adjusted the Dumfries’ wheel, and this time the ship began to respond. Instead of being swept closer to the rocks, it began to inch away from them. Inches turned to feet, and feet into yards, and soon the Dumfries was headed back out into the Irish Sea. Everyone on board let out a loud cry. They were safe!

None was more surprised or happy than Hudson Taylor. He was not going to drown after all. He was going to make it to China. He smiled to himself. Four days out of England and he’d already had his first sea adventure. If the junior clerks at the Barnsley Bank could see him now!

Chapter 2
A Mother’s Prayer

The boys at work were right, Hudson Taylor thought to himself, as his father continued to read. I live the most boring life in the whole of Barnsley, probably in the whole of England. Why do I have to be stuck here listening to this morning after morning? He was listening to his father read from the Bible. It followed right on from the Bible reading the night before, but Hudson hadn’t been listening then, either. He glanced around at his two younger sisters, Amelia and Louisa. They were paying perfect attention, their blonde ringlets of hair hung still, and there was a serious expression on both of their faces. His mother sat on the other side of the table, nodding her head slowly in agreement as Mr. Taylor read. How boring!

Hudson’s mind drifted back to when he had started working at the bank. How naive he’d been, thinking the other junior clerks would be impressed by the fact that in 1791 his grandfather had built the town’s first Methodist chapel on Pinfold Hill. Or that his family had attended the church every single Sunday since then. Instead of being impressed with his family’s history, his Bible knowledge, and the fact he could even read the Bible in Latin, his coworkers had laughed at his childish faith and began challenging everything he’d always presumed to be correct about his religion.

“Presumed,” that was the right word. When he’d been told about Jesus and the Christian faith, he’d presumed the person was telling him the truth. But was he? What if there was no real truth? What if people just believed because other people told them to believe? And what about Christians being hypocrites? Hudson’s coworkers were always throwing that one up. Were they right? Hudson could certainly think of a few people at church who easily fit the category. His head swirled with thoughts that had never even crossed his mind until he’d started working at the bank nine months earlier. His experiences were so narrow, his upbringing sheltered, and his life downright boring. By comparison, the lives of the young men he worked with seemed filled with the promise of adventure. While they were making the most of life, he, a sixteen-year-old no less, was stuck at home sitting at the table with his twelve- and eight-year-old sisters, listening to his father drone on and on.

Eventually, Mr. Taylor clapped the Bible shut and said a final prayer. Then he turned to Hudson. “Come downstairs before you go to work today, I want to take a look at those eyes of yours.”

Hudson nodded reluctantly. His father didn’t miss a thing. Hudson’s eyes had been hurting a lot lately, especially when he tried to balance the ledgers at the bank. But he hadn’t wanted to tell his father about the problem because deep down he had a suspicion that his eye problem had something to do with the gas lamps at the bank. And since working at the bank was his escape from boredom, he didn’t want sore eyes to come between him and this newfound freedom.

Hudson descended the stairs from the family living area to the pharmacy below. The familiar smell of herbs and potions greeted him as he stepped into his father’s world of bottles and pill boxes. Mr. Taylor beckoned for him to come and sit down on the stool in the back room. This was where he examined his customers’ ailments. He lifted Hudson’s eyelids and peered into one eye and then the other through a magnifying glass. He asked questions. How long had they been hurting? Was it worse in the morning or at night?

Finally, the diagnosis was made. Both of Hudson’s eyes were badly inflamed—a serious problem that could make him blind. The only hope for a full recovery was total rest. Hudson sat stunned. He knew it had been too good to last. There would be no more working at the bank, no more laughing with the other junior clerks. Instead, he’d be stuck at home all day long being cared for by his mother and sisters. It was so unfair, but what did he expect? It had been this way all his life. Every time something started to go right for him, he would get sick. And ever since his younger brother William and then his baby brother Theodore had died, his parents had become extra cautious. Life already seemed totally boring, but Hudson had a feeling it was going to get a whole lot worse in the weeks ahead.

As he lay in his darkened bedroom, all thought of adventure drained from his mind. The water dripping from the wet rags pressed against his eyes mingled with the tears of self-pity that ran across his cheeks. He could see his life stretched out before him, and it wasn’t a happy sight. As the only son, he would one day own the pharmacy. One thing would be different, though, Hudson promised himself. There would be no more Bible reading each morning when he was running things. And he wouldn’t be praying with his children either. If nothing else, his time at the bank had shown him just how old-fashioned these religious ideas were.