An American minister with the Dutch Reformed Church, Talmage went to Amoy (Xiamen), Fukien (Fujian), China, in 1847. There he was instrumental in solidifying and expanding the new American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions/Dutch Reformed Church mission. Hoping to make the Bible more accessible to the general population, he and his colleague, Elihu Doty, developed a romanized script of the local Amoy language. Talmage then used this new script to produce literacy materials and to translate Christian literature and many books of the New Testament. He completed the Amoy Colloquial Dictionary shortly after his return to the United States in 1889.