William Milne

MILNE, William (1785-1822) — Malacca

Missionary and printer. Produced woodcut maps and astronomical diagrams for use in his “Ch’a-shih-su mei-yueh t’ung-chi-chuan” (Chinese Magazine) between 1816 and 1819. “His monument is the Old Testament part of his translation with Robert Morrison of the Bible in Chinese (21 vols., 1823)” (ODNB).

Born in Scotland and baptised at Kennethmont, Aberdeenshire, 27 Apr 1785 — the son of William Milne. Said originally to have been a shepherd, he decided to become a missionary, and after studying at the college of the London Missionary Society he was ordained in July 1812. On 4 Aug 1812 at St. Leonard Shoreditch he married Rachel Cowie (d.1819), daughter of Charles Cowie of Aberdeen, and in September they sailed for the Far East. They landed at Malacca in June 1813, where Milne met Robert Morrison. He arrived at Macao with Morrison 4 July 1813. Difficulties with the local authorities led to Milne being despatched on a tour of the Far East in 1814 to distribute 2,000 copies of the New Testament in Chinese, with catechisms and tracts, to Batavia, Borneo, Malacca and elsewhere. Milne and his family settled in Malacca in May 1815 with a language tutor, a printer and paper. He founded the Malacca Mission in that year and started printing the “Ch’a-shih-su mei-yueh t’ung-chi-chuan” (Chinese Magazine) — the first modern Chinese newspaper and magazine. In a letter to his London Directors in October 1816, Milne enclosed an impression taken from a woodcut produced in the traditional Chinese way — “Our workmen can cut with tolerable exactness; and as this is the first plate of the kind cut here, I hope they will be able to cut such other plates and maps, as may be necessary for illustration, more exactly and with finer strokes”. By 1817, Milne had established a proper printing office, with a printing press from Calcutta, equipped with English and Malay types and six printers, as well as the services of the printer Walter Henry Medhurst, with another press from England. Milne died at Malacca 2 June 1822 and was buried there in the Dutch cemetery of St. Antony. His “Some account of a secret association in China, entitled the Triad Society” appeared posthumously in 1824. A memoir by Morrison was published as “Memoirs of the Rev. William Milne, late missionary to China, and principal of the Anglo-Chinese College” (1824).

COPAC. ODNB. Ching Su, “The printing presses of the London Missionary Society among the Chinese” 1996.

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