45982: From Habost to China

An account of the life of Kenneth Macleod (1871-1921) 10 Habost, Missionary to China.

Habost to China is a considerable undertaking even in modern times with the advantages of travel agents, aeroplanes and the knowledge of the country gained through television. How much more of an undertaking it must have been in 1897 for young Kenneth Macleod, when he left Habost on the shores of Loch Erisort for China.

He was the son of Alexander Macleod b1822 Alasdair Dhomhnuill Ruaidh Mor. Alasdair had come from Kershader to Habost and set up home there with his wife, Annabella Maciver b1831, Barabel Choinnich, from 9 Laxay. He was one of five sons and he and his brother, Iain Og, are mentioned in the book ‘The Men of Lewis’ by Rev Norman C Macfarlane. He describes their conversion and says:

They were both thinkers, real thinkers. Alexander retired from fishing and confined himself to crofting. He put his religion into it so that his croft became the model croft in Habost. His home was like his croft. His thatched cottage was often crowded with people who came to hear him conduct family worship. He became an office bearer in the church and a collector of the Sustentation Fund. He made a holy art of his collecting.

Until the meeting house was built in Habost, the meeting was conducted in his home. He and Barabel had four sons and four daughters. Of these four sons, three became ministers of the Gospel, which was no small achievement in those days.

Donald went to work in Stornoway in the 1880s and worked in the business of Kenneth Smith, fish curer and merchant, but feeling the urge of the new life in his soul, he went to Glasgow to study for the ministry. He ministered at Glenelg, Onich and Leurbost. The story is told that when he went to Glenelg in 1914, the habit of consuming much alcohol at funerals still pertained. On being asked to officiate at his first funeral, he agreed, provided there was no drink. They protested but he simply gave them the choice – drink or his services. They chose him and a new era began.

Alexander, born in 1866, graduated from Glasgow University in 1890. He ministered in Croy, Rogart and Portmahomack. He was a gifted and scholarly preacher, a gentle pastor and a friend to many. He was especially interested in children and as a child I was aware of his kindly interest although I was rather in awe of him. He died at the age of 90.

The fourth brother, John was a tailor and having worked as a tailor for some years in Glasgow, he came back to Lewis. While he was in Glasgow he shared a home with his sister Maggie and this was a haven for the student brothers. In 1903 he married Catherine Anne Maciver, Katie Ann an Dhomhnuill from Laxay and continued working as a tailor in Habost. Old Pairc ‘salts’ used to order their Clo Bucach trousers from him and they claimed that any button he sewed on, was on for life!

But to return to Kenneth. Prior to his departure, one lady asked, ‘Oh, Kenneth, why are you going so far away? We will never see you again.’ This incident was often related by a niece of Kenneth’s who was present. She was Seonag Aonghais Bhain who died a few years ago at the age of 98.

Kenneth, however, did go. He went with the China Inland Mission and he did come back on furlough on two occasions. He used to teach the local children hymns in Chinese! In the Chinese Inland Mission it was the custom for missionaries to dress at the Chinese did, so Kenneth grew a queue and wore a Chinese gown. In 1911, when the revolutionaries overturned the imperial government and set up the Republic of China, the revolutionaries went around cutting off men’s queues. Kenneth took the precaution of having his queue cut off but he had it sewn into the back of a Chinese skull hat. So in the presence of imperialists he could wear a hat and queue and in the presence of Revolutionaries he could remove both. The trouble with his wearing a queue was that he had red hair so he could not conceal his foreignness or avoid being called ‘Foreign Devil’. It was no bonus there being one of Clann ‘ic Dhomhnull Ruaidh.

Kenneth married an American missionary, Kathleen Richter, and they had four of a family, one son and three daughters. He was first assigned to Ningbo in Chekiang province and later to Ninghai (meaning ‘peaceful sea’). He died of cholera when travelling back to his station after his second furlough in 1921. Missionaries and Chinese Christians conducted his funeral service and he was buried in Ningbo.

His son, Alexander, spent over 40 years teaching in China. Initially he was at the North China Theological Seminary and when the communist armies over-ran the area, he was in Taiwan Theological College. He has had many commentaries published in Chinese. Life was not always easy as he spent over three years in Shanghai prison interned by the Japanese. This was at the same time as the Scottish athlete, Eric Liddell. He and his American wife, Dorothy, now live in Toronto.

Their only son, Alasdair Donald is senior minister of Newton Presbyterian Church in Boston. His two sons are the only two Macleod descendants of their generation, of Alasdair mac Dhomhnuill Ruaidh Mor. They have both visited the home of their great-grandfather on several occasions and take great pride in their Scottish heritage.

Christina MacDonald, Habost; Pairc Historical Society

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