New donation: Photographs of the Roberts Memorial Hospital, China

By Special Collections, SOAS Library|3rd April 2018|Collections & Research|4 comments

This week’s blog looks at a new donation of photograph albums received by SOAS Archives, offering a glimpse of life in a mission hospital in North China at the beginning of the 20th century, in the immediate aftermath of the Boxer Uprising[1]

“The Opening Day, 16th February 1903”. Ref: MS 381326. © SOAS

The six captioned photograph albums (reference: MS 381326), dating from c.1902-1908, contain black & white prints and also cyanotypes with a blue image hue, which picture the ‘Roberts Memorial Hospital, T’sangchou’, North China.

Dr Arthur Davies Peill (1874-1906). Ref: MS 381326. © SOAS

The medical missionary Frederick Charles Roberts (1862-1894) was commemorated in the London Missionary Society’s Roberts Memorial Hospital, which opened in in T’sangchou (Tsangchow, now  Cangzhou), about 90 miles south of Tientsin (Tianjin) in northern China, in 1903. Its establishment was funded by gifts from the Roberts family and by support from the local community. Its staff included Dr Arthur Davies Peill (1874-1906), who worked for the London Missionary Society as medical missionary to north China from 1896, and his brother Dr Sidney George Peill (1878-1960), medical missionary at Tsangchow from 1907.

Photographs depict the life of the hospital, including damage to the buildings during the Boxer Uprising, subsequent construction and repair of the hospital, the official opening ceremony, patients, doctors and other staff, treatments, and general scenes of Tientsin and the wider region.

“The Hospital Staff” 1905. Ref: MS 381326. © SOAS

Students and staff at the Roberts Memorial Hospital. Ref: MS 381326. © SOAS

“An Inpatient”. Ref: MS 381326. © SOAS

The albums are thought to have been created by Dr Arthur Davies Peill, and passed down through generations of the Peill family, many of whom served as missionaries in Madagascar and China with the London Missionary Society. They were kindly donated to SOAS Library in March 2018.

Each book is annotated on the inside of the back cover with “Notes for anyone who is interested”, which outlines how donations will be spent on resources for the hospital – suggesting that the photograph albums were possibly shown to audiences in the UK by missionaries on deputation.

The albums add to the very rich collections of historical photographs of China held by SOAS Archives. Look out for more blogs on this theme in the coming months.

[1] The Boxer Rebellion (拳亂), Boxer Uprising or Yihetuan Movement (義和團運動) was a violent anti-foreign, anti-colonial and anti-Christian uprising that took place in China between 1899 and 1901, toward the end of the Qing dynasty.

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About Special Collections, SOAS Library

Broadly speaking, our collections reflect the British interaction with Africa, Asia and the Middle East over the last 250 years, and include archives of missionary societies, NGOs and campaign groups, and business organisations, as well as papers of individuals, including diplomats, campaigners, and academics. If you have any questions, or comments, please get in touch! email: tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4180


  1. It’s great to see these. Arthur Peill was my grandfather’s uncle and I’ve been looking for information about the Peill family. I have often wondered if they are still around in the Lake District. I do have a copy of Arthur Peill’s book and also an article he wrote about the church in China.

    1. He was my Great Great Grandfather

    2. Hi Jane,

      I was doing research on Arthur Peill and I stumbled onto this website and your comment. The Chinese people in Tsang Chou are looking for Arthur Peill’s descendants in the U.K. The hospital your grandfather’s uncle started has become the largest modern hospital in that region. They have also built a museum in memory of Arthur Peill. The hospital officials are keen to find anyone related to Arthur so they could express their gratitude. If you could get in touch with me, I can put you in touch with all these people. Thank you!

    3. Hi Jane. Responding to your comment some years later, so apologies. We have had contact from a lady in China who says the following:

      “I noticed there’s a comment on the website by Jane Johnson who identified as Arthur’s descendant. The people in China who are still benefiting from the first modern hospital founded by Arthur have been long looking for Arthur’s descendants. They want to get in touch and show them the great impact his work yielded in China and also express their gratitude. In recent years, they even built a museum on the original site of the hospital in memory of Arthur and his colleagues.”

      She is keen to make contact with you – if you are interested I can put you in touch. Perhaps email us at in the first instance.

      Best wishes,

      Joanne Ichimura
      Archivist , SOAS Special Collections

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