Last post: Rev. William Jones Boone, Sr. sets out to China in 1837 as an Anglican missionary, intending to bring the Gospel to the Chinese. He envisions over 300 million people there as potential converts. He believes the Chinese are an industrious and obedient people, ready to receive the good news and hope that Christianity can bring them.
Flash forward to 1884 in Shanghai, where Rev. Boone Sr. is still a revered memory to both Anglicans and Chinese.
In 1884, Rev. William Jones Boone, Jr., his son and namesake, is in trouble. He plans to be consecrated as the fourth Bishop of China in the fall. Yet loud voices are directed against him, during the summer months, from within the Anglican Church: charges of incompetence, calls for a thorough investigation. These voices speak against his consecration. Some want him to resign.
Objections to Rev. Boone Jr. (my 3rd cousin 3 x removed) are found in columns of The North China Daily News, as well as letters to The Southern Churchman, the Board of Missions, the Foreign Committee, and targeted individuals.
The entire correspondence is available at this link. Caveat reader: This is a long, verbose set of accusations and defenses.
In these pages, Mission members in Shanghai express their opinions, as do Anglicans from the United States. Many fire complaints at Rev. Boone Jr. for the way he runs the church services and the mission school, St. John’s College. My own summary of their heated claims:
- Boone’s services are too “Romish” or Roman Catholic, with too much “ritualism.” There are too many colors in the garments. Rev. Boone is said to have heard confessions. He has a gold-colored cross on the altar. He makes the sign of the cross too much. He uses red for Easter, to please the Chinese, instead of pure white.
- Boone’s college teaches too much English language and not enough of the pure Word of the Gospels. There is insufficient discipline. Older Chinese students have been found at St. John’s gambling in the evening hours instead of studying. This mission is not worth financial support.
- The Rev. Boone and Mrs. Boone do not work hard enough. Boone’s Chinese is only mediocre. He does not supervise the mission activities closely enough. Is he relying upon the name of his famous father? Will the Chinese mission become a “sinecure for Boones”? The Presbyterians now have more missionaries to China than the Anglicans. Something must be done.
My one observation: These complaints seem to be primarily about the status and purity of the Anglican Church itself, and its reputation, rather than about the spiritual welfare of 300 million Chinese souls. I’m just sayin’.
This lengthy correspondence includes only a few letters from Boone himself. He resists being dragged into the controversy. Here is a brief excerpt from Boone’s short letter on June 17, 1894:
- We have a grave and reverent ritual at St. John’s. We have no ritualism. The distinction is a real one, and easily understood by those who are conversant with the revival of Church life following on the Oxford movement.
This comment draws a swift and angry reply from one of Boone’s main accusers, Ferdinand McKeige. An excerpt:
- I must confess my inability to draw the hair line between a “grave and reverent ritual” and “ritualism”. . . . The wearing of cassocks, birettas, and varied colours upon different occasions, together with such paraphernalia as a brass cross, a super-alter, etc., certainly leads one to presume that ritualism abides on the premises, unless informed to the contrary.
On October 28, 1884, Rev. William Jones Boone, Jr. is officially consecrated as Bishop of China, with all due ceremony. He seems to have relied upon his fellow bishops – Moule, Scott, and Williams – to support him and quell dissent by essentially ignoring and “rising above” it.
News of this famous controversy reaches London. On November 4, 1884 (a week after Boone’s consecration), the most popular song at the Lyceum Theatre during a burlesque drama is this one:
There is a Mission place,
Out Jessfield way;
Where they teach the young Chinese,
Day after day;
There they thought ‘twould be a “boon,”
If they had a bishop soon.
But now I see they’ve changed their tune,
Far, far away.
In 1891, seven years after his consecration, Rev. William Jones Boone, Jr. dies and is buried in China.
His one surviving daughter Phoebe Elliot Boone, born in China in 1873, emigrated to the United States and married a man from Delaware, in April of 1895. She and her husband settled in Missouri and had three children.
It seems that Phoebe Elliot Boone escaped just in time.
Around 1900 the Boxer Rebellion erupted in China. It was “the worst disaster in missionary history.” The Boxers killed many Christian missionaries and Chinese Christians, especially in North China. After that, “the West lost the certainty of its conviction that it had the right to impose its culture and religion on China.” (1)
I wonder how Bishop William Jones Boone, Sr. would have interpreted the Boxer Rebellion.
(1) Larry Clinton Thompson, William Scott Ament and the Boxer Rebellion: Heroism, Hubris, and the Ideal Missionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing Company, 2009, 1. Quoted in Wikipedia.