1852  — 1895

Louisa Stewart

Irish missionary, martyred with her husband by a secret Chinese society.

Robert and Louisa Stewart were Irish missionaries with the Church Missionary Society. They were stationed in Gutian, where they led the society’s work, but had been asked by the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society also to watch over the dozen single women serving in Gutian with that organization.

Louisa Stewart had been active in women’s work in Fujian, establishing a boarding school for girls in Fuzhou that resulted in numerous conversions to Christ. She also helped to found a Christian hospital in the same city. At the time of the [Gutian] massacre, the Stewarts were taking a spiritual and physical break from their labours and had organized the retreat in Huasang, a village of approximately 500 people located 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Gutian.

The couple had four children with them at the retreat: two daughters, a teenager called Mildred and an 11-year-old, Kathleen, and two sons: one-year-old Herbert, who was to die on his birthday, and a newborn baby named Evan. Early in the morning of 1 August 1895, Mildred, Kathleen, and little Herbert were excitedly picking flowers for his birthday picnic later that day. At a quarter to seven, a mob suddenly descended from the woods. The children rushed over to see what they thought was a procession, but Annie Gordon [an unmarried missionary], who had been reading the Bible under the tree, saw the strangers’ spears and immediately realized the danger. She shouted to the children to run.

The little ones somehow managed to escape the murderers’ grasp and raced into the bungalow where their parents were—but their assailants pursued them.

Some entered the bedroom occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, and striking down Mrs. Stewart, who was at the door, next killed her husband, first telling him that their object was not to obtain money, but to take his life. Poor little Herbert they wounded terribly, then attacked and killed the nurse, Helen Yallop, who was bravely trying to hide the baby under her clothes.

Both Robert and Louisa Stewart were dead, and two of their children were severely wounded. Herbert and the baby later died, while Mildred survived after spending a long time in a critical state. Just how she did so is a matter of wonder, in light of the following eyewitness account:

Mildred and little Kathleen were in the same room, the door of which was bolted. Kathleen at once got under the bed. Milly was about to follow, when she thought, ‘If I do that, the men will know there is somebody here, because the door is locked; I will unlock the door and lie on the bed, perhaps they will only see me, and not look under the bed for any others.’ This she did. ‘Soon,’ says little Kathleen, ‘the men broke open the door, opened the drawers, smashed windows and things, pulled off all the bed-clothes, then began beating Mildred, and cut her with their swords; afterwards they left the room.’ In spite of the terrible gash on her knee, dividing the joint, and which long afterwards endangered her life, Mildred got up, and went to the nursery with Kathleen, and together the brave little girls succeeded in pulling the wounded year-old baby from under the dead nurse’s body, and rescuing also their baby brother Evan, who was only slightly hurt, from the burning house.

The Vegetarians [a secret Chinese society of anti-government rebels] set the mission houses alight with kerosene, believing they had killed all the foreigners, but the few they had missed fled into the woods until the murderers had gone. The shocked survivors didn’t know what to do. The next day, they decided they should leave immediately for the safety of Fuzhou, 80 miles (130 kilometers) away. Leaving Huasang at three in the afternoon, the group undertook a ‘terrible and difficult march all through the night of the 2nd of August, during which the little birthday boy, Herbert, so terribly wounded, “fell asleep” and joined his parents. “How glad father and mother will be to see him!” said brave, suffering Millie, when told of his death.’

Finally they arrived at the hospital in Fuzhou, where doctors attended to their wounds. The mission writer Irene Barnes observed: ‘Remarkable it was that this hospital, built through dear Mrs. Stewarts’s exertions, should have opened its doors to receive her children!’ Looking back, Mildred Stewart was aware of the miraculous grace of God during the long journey to Fuzhou. She remembered how none of the survivors, despite carrying life-threatening wounds, felt any great pain until they reached the hospital. Without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, none of the victims of the Gutian massacre would have been able to survive the ordeal. One writer remarked:

The heroism of these children at such an awful moment was undoubtedly inspired. Consecrated to God for China from their birth, and trained in the atmosphere of self-sacrifice and holy courage, they followed in their now sainted parents’ footsteps… Not one word of reproach or resentment did they utter. On that very evening of the first of August, little Mildred, sorely wounded, her parents and friends cruelly murdered, could not settle to rest, for she wanted to pray and to plan that those gaps in the ranks might be filled up. When someone said that one of the ladies would bring the children home to Ireland, ‘No one can be spared from the work now,’ she said; ‘the stewardess will help us to take care of the little ones.’ So earnestly did she long that the people who had dealt so cruelly with her and hers should be led to the Saviour!

A day or two after arriving in Fuzhou, the baby died. Even though his physical wounds had not been so great, it was as if his little spirit could sense the trauma of the situation.

On 7 August, the entire foreign community in Guzhou turned out for the funeral service for the Gutian victims. In the middle ‘was a black draped box, smaller than a coffin, and on it the names of Robert and Louisa Stewart, and the words, “Lovely and pleasant in their lives, in their deaths they were not divided.”’

‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’ Matthew 5:43-44


China’s Book of Martyrs. Carlisle: Piquant Editions, 2007. Used by permission.

About the Author

Paul Hattaway

Paul Hattaway is the international director of Asia Harvest, an organization committed to serving the church throughout Asia. He is an expert on the Chinese church and author of the The Heavenly Man and Back to Jerusalem.