Papers of Cecil and Arthur Polhill

Scope and Content

The collection consists of a draft copy of Two Etonians in China 1885-1925, a manuscript written by Cecil Polhill and Arthur Polhill that was never published. The manuscript covers the early life of the brothers, their work in China and development of mission stations, and Chinese national events, such as the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

Administrative / Biographical History

Cecil Henry Polhill, China Inland Mission missionary in China and promoter of Pentecostal missions, was born into the wealthy Polhill-Turner family in 1860. His father was a former Member of Parliament and the family lived at Howbury Hall, near Bedford. Like Arthur, his younger brother, Polhill attended Eton and then Cambridge University, Arthur studying at Trinity and Cecil at Jesus. It was while he was at Cambridge in 1882 that Arthur Polhill heard D. L. Moody speak and decided to devote his life to God. Cecil Polhill, who had become an army officer, was influenced by his brother and was converted in 1884.

In 1885, they decided to become missionaries and in September of that year arrived in China with five other Cambridge graduates as part of the 'Cambridge Seven'. The Polhills went to Hanzhong in Shaanxi where they studied Mandarin then in 1887 moved into Sichuan. Arthur was at first based at Paoning then moved in 1888, the same year that he was ordained, to Pachei where he remained until 1898. From 1899 he and his wife (Miss Drake, a China Inland Mission missionary in China since 1884) were based at Suiting. Polhill's wife died in 1906 and he married A. A. Hart in 1908 and continued his evangelical work at Suiting until he retired in 1928.

Cecil Polhill was first based at Chengdu and Chongqing in Sichuan but his main interest was work amongst the Tibetan people. He paid an early visit to Gansu, returning in 1888 to Paoning to marry E. A. Marston (a China Inland Mission missionary in China since 1884). The couple spent three years in Xining in Gansu then spent some time travelling along the Tibetan border before in 1892 settling, with their two sons, in Songpan in north-west Sichuan. Their arrival coincided with a period of severe drought for which they were blamed by the townspeople who attacked the Polhills and forced them to leave.

In 1895, after a period of rest in England, Polhill went to Kalimpong in India to help with work on the Tibetan border and a year later his wife and family joined him in Darjeeling. They soon returned to China and settled in Tatsienlu, Sichuan where they stayed until they were evacuated during the Boxer rebellion. Poor health meant that Polhill was sent home in 1900. He remained in England for the rest of his life having inherited the family estate in 1903, but his interest in China continued and he returned on short missionary tours seven times.

On the way back from one of these trips in 1908 he became involved with the Pentecostal movement in Los Angeles. His experience led him, with Alexander Boddy, to promote Pentecostalism in Britain. Polhill was particularly interested in evangelism in the missionary context and, with Boddy, founded the Pentecostal Missionary Union in 1909, structured along the lines of the China Inland Mission. The Pentecostal Missionary Union sent its first missionaries to China in 1910 and later others went to India and to Tibet. Its activities were promoted through the journal Confidence and Polhill's own Fragments of Flame (later Flames of Fire). Polhill was president and director of the Pentecostal Missionary Union until 1925 when it was integrated into the Assemblies of God after which he retired. He died in 1938 three years after his brother Arthur.

Access Information

Open to researchers. It is essential to arrange an appointment in advance to view the archive in order that someone can be available to help. Please contact us by email at . Telephone the Centre on: 0131 650 8900. Postal address: Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LX.

Acquisition Information

The manuscript was donated to the Centre by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (formerly the China Inland Mission.)

Other Finding Aids

A paper catalogue is available to researchers visiting the Centre.

Archivist's Note

Description originally written and researched by Caroline Brown in May 2001. This had been added to Archives Hub in August 2012 by Louise Williams.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction of materials (for example by digital camera) is free for private research and educational use, although we ask researchers to sign an agreement. Please contact us for enquiries on using the material in a commercial setting, for which there will be a fee. Contact us by email at . Telephone the Centre on: 0131 650 8900. Postal address: Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LX


No further additions to this collection are expected.

Geographical Names