Papers of Thomas Gillson and Elizabeth Gillson

Scope and Content

Original family letters written by Thomas Gillison and his wife Bessie between 1859 and 1937. Includes a certain amount of correspondence relating to Thomas Gillison's work as an LMS [London Missionary Society] missionary, 1882-1937. For example, there is a series of correspondence with Griffith John, and there are letters from missionaries such as C.G. Sparham and Arthur Bonsey. Also includes published transcriptions of the correspondence in 3 volumes, and a copy of the publication 'Days of Sorrow Times of Joy', by Frances Clemmow (2011), with a revised edition (2016).

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Gillison was born on 1 Oct 1859 in Baldernock, Stirlingshire, Scotland. He was the son of Rev. John Gillison (d.1873) and Jane Brotch (d.1894). He attended school firstly in Baldernock and then Glasgow and Edinburgh, studying at the Merchiston Castle School for three years. He then went on to study medicine at Edinburgh University. He was appointed by the London Missionary Society as a medical missionary to Chung King in Szechwan province. He sailed for China on 4 Oct 1882. He arrived in Hankow and remained there, taking charge of the Hankow Hospital in May 1883. On 7 Sept 1893 he married Elizabeth May Harris (Bessie).

Bessie Gillison (née Elizabeth May Harris) was born on 3 Oct 1868 in Calne, Wiltshire. She attended school in Hornsey Rise and then went on to boarding school at Hildesheim in Germany. She later studied medicine at London and Edinburgh Universities. She was appointed as a medical missionary with the London Missionary Society to work at the Margaret Memorial Hospital, Hankow and embarked for China on 28 Oct 1892. She left for China with her sister Mary Walford Harris, who had also been appointed to Hankow. Mary Harris was to marry another LMS missionary James Walford Hart, and died at Hankow on 28 July 1985, aged 25.

Thomas Gillison worked at Hankow Hospital from 1883 to 1918 and also at the Medical School from 1902 to 1918. In 1896 he visited Japan. In 1918 he was transferred to Tsinan in Shantung province, when the Hankow Medical School was amalgamated with the larger Union Medical School in Tsinan. He was re-appointed in Hankow in 1923. After a furlough in Britain from June 1928 to Mar 1930, Dr Gillison returned to China as a volunteer missionary and settled in Hankow. His lasting professional contribution was in medical education, not only opening the Hankow School but also in translating a number of standard medical textbooks into Chinese. For example Luff's Manual of chemistry, inorganic and organic.

Bessie Gillison continued to be involved in missionary work after her marriage. She established a Women's Bible School and a Training Home for women in Hankow. She also published material including Work among women in Hankow (1911) and Mary Hart: memories and letters (c.1895), a work about her sister that she co-edited for private circulation. Mrs Gillison visited Britain in 1896, 1905-06, 1913-1915, 1920, 1926, and 1928-1930.

The Gillison's had six children - Edwin Walford (1894-1912), Evelyn (b.1898), Keith Harris (b.1900), Jean Brotch (b.1901), Thomas Howard (b.1904) and Gordon Colebrook (1909-1941). Bessie Gillison died in Hankow on 30 Nov 1936. Thomas Gillison died there on 22 June 1937. Two of the Gillison children went on to become LMS medical missionaries in Central China. Keith Harris served from 1926-50 and Jean Brotch from 1929-52.


Letters and transcriptions are arranged chronologically.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated to SOAS Library by Frances Clemmow in April 2010, June 2011, November 2015 and July 2016.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by SOAS, University of London