Minnie Mary APPERSON

Minnie Mary APPERSON(1557) was born in Wimbledon, Surrey, on 27 Jun 18681, and was baptised at the parish church there on 01 Oct 18692. She was the youngest of eight children of John APPERSON and his wife Martha. In 18713, living at the National School for Boys, Wimbledon, she is aged 2, and the daughter of John APPERSON, aged 51 born in Newtonards, Co. Down, Ireland, the Parochial Schoolmaster, and his wife Martha, aged 44 and born in Bristol, Gloucestershire.

From his age in 1871, John APPERSON was born in about 1820. He died on 25 May 18824. My best guess is that his wife was Martha HEFFER, who was born on 26 Nov 1826 and baptised on 17 Dec 1826 at Bristol 5, the daughter of Henry and Elizabeth HEFFER. There is a marriage in 18516 which may be that of Minnie's parents, as her oldest sibling Henry was born around 1852/3. A Martha APPERSON died in 18757, and John remarried, to Jane WING, in 18788, which explains the widow's name when John died.

In the 1881 census, aged 12 and a schoolgirl, Minnie is with her father and his new wife Jane, still at the Boys School in Wimbledon9.

  Wimbledon High School sixth form  
Minnie Mary APPERSON(1557)

Minnie attended Wimbledon High School under its first head mistress Miss Edith Hastings10, and was just the 64th name on the register when she was admitted on 03 May 188111.She left the school in July 1887, having spent two years in the Sixth Form, the first which the school formed, and taken her Higher Certificates, as they then were, in 1886 and 1887, which would have entitled her to go to university. However, she also attended Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, an evangelical Church of England proprietary chapel where she seems to have had a born again type of experience during a mission on 19 Apr 1883 when she was only 14. Thus, on leaving school, she threw up a chance of a college scholarship and, after a brief period of teaching in Wimbledon, took up work in connection with the Irish Church Missions, going to Dublin and later to Cork and staying in Ireland for the best part of two years12 .

In 1889, Minnie must have answered or obtained some kind of invitation to go to China, and was accepted by the Church of England Zenana Society. A large party of missionaries sailed on 17 October 1889 on the SS Chusan of the P&O, arriving in Colombo on 11 Nov, and departing thence on the SS Thames on 15 Nov for Hong Kong which they reached on 25 Nov. Finally they travelled to Foochow (Fuzhou) on the SS Haitan, arriving on 30 Nov 1889, where they were welcomed at " The Olives", the Zenana base there13.

Once in China, she did not hang about, but moved into the interior almost straight away, adopting Chinese clothes as in her photograph below. In thus going straight into the mountains, she was noted as being unusual. She headed for Kucheng (Gutian), where she arrived on about 12 December. This involved taking a boat up the Min River for some 80 km then north through the mountains. On the frequent journeyings through the mountains there seems to have been a combination of going on foot and being carried in a sedan chair, depending on the state of the path and the mood of the poor chaps doing the carrying.

Most of Fujian province is mountainous, and the climate sub-tropical with hot humid summers and the missionaries generally had a lot of health problems. Being ordered home on health grounds seems to have been quite common. Minnie's first task was to learn some Chinese, and she seems to have had a talent for this as she passed her examination within seven months, where most took a year. By the end of her brief life she had acquired a working knowledge of three dialects and some knowledge of a fourth.

  M M Apperson thumbnail  
Minnie Mary APPERSON(1557)

The book edited by Clara Millard14 gives, through Millie's extensive letters, a picture of a dedicated and evangelical person working with village women, the purpose for which the Zenana society was formed, though often the men hung about outside and wanted to know what was being said. Whatever one may think nowadays of such bible-quoting zeal, one cannot but admire the guts of the people who took on the job. They founded not only churches, but schools and orphanages, and were of course seen as a threat by the establishment. But for most of the time, as they trudged or were carried from village to village together with their beds and bedding, they seem to have been greeted courteously and listened to with interest.

In early April 1890 Minnie had her first bad, but unspecified, illness, to the extent that she did not expect to survive, and was taken down to Foochow. But by the middle of the month she was on the way to recovery, and it had been decided that she would go back to Kucheng, after going to a missionary conference at Shanghai. So, in early September, Minnie returned to Kucheng, only to be sent back to Foochow in December. In May of 1891 she went south to visit the American Methodist mission at Hing Hua. Later, Alice Maude HANKIN, who was to by Hugh Stowell PHILLIPS' second wife, was stationed there. Minnie was back at The Olives in Foochow by the end of the month. In the summer of 1891 she seems again to have been unwell, and spent two months at Kucheng resting, but she was back in Foochow for the autumn conference. In a letter of 18 Nov 1891 she first mentions her engagement to Hugh Stowell PHILLIPS(1334).

In December, she went with a relatively large group of Zenana ladies to Nang-ua, more in the north-west of the province, seemingly the whole way by river. This was the general area where Hugh Stowell PHILLIPS was working, based at Kien-yang, and Minnie was studying Mandarin in preparation for her move to that place. Hugh was in Nang-ua for a while at the end of January, 1892, a planned tour through the adjacent Kiang-si (Jiangsi) province for the CMS not, it seems, taking place.

  Minnie and Hugh thumbnail  
Minnie Mary APPERSON(1557) and Rev. Hugh Stowell PHILLIPS(1334)

Minnie's marriage to Hugh Stowell PHILLIPS took place at Foochow (Fuzhou) in the English Church, on 04 May 1892, as planned. She was given away by Inie Newcombe, the senior Zenana missionary for the province. Both bride and groom, and Miss Newcombe, wore Chinese dress, and the couple "looked calmly happy and trustful, as it became God's servants to look at such a time".

After their wedding they went to Shanghai, presumably on a sort of honeymoon, and were able to enjoy, as she put it, a little bit of English life, and to visit the dentist! By 23 May they were back in Foochow, and by early June were at Nang-ua but not allowed to go on to Kien-yang where there had recently been trouble. Instead, they went up to a village in the hills, to escape the summer heat.

In September 1892, Hugh went to see for himself how things were in Kien-yang, which was supposed to be his base, leaving Minnie behind. Later, she went back down to Nang-ua, where she was reunited with Hugh in early October and they both headed for Kien-yang. Before they got there they were warned of further trouble, but carried on. However, their new house was again attacked and they had to take refuge in the local mandarin's establishment (the yamen). The new house was burnt down, but their possessions, still in rented rooms, were not touched. A detailed description of the event, presumably from a letter which Hugh wrote, is given in another book about the Fuhkien misssion15. And so they had to go back to Nang-ua, and thence to Foochow.

  Minnie's tombstone thumbnail  
The tombstone of Minnie Mary APPERSON(1557)

From January 1893 they were back in Nang-ua, waiting for the possibility of returning to Kien-yang, meanwhile working locally, and on 05 Apr 1893 their first child, Robert Stowell PHILLIPS(1558), was born there. Minnie was very unwell, and again thought likely to die. But she rallied, and in June went up to A-Cue in the hills to escape the heat. She stayed there until the end of September, when she and the baby moved back down to Nang-ua for about a week and then on to Foochow and to the CMS sanatorium at Sharp Peak on the coast. At the beginning of December they were back on the river on their way up to Nang-ua, which they reached on 22 Dec. Finally, in January 1894 they were back in Kien-Yang, where Robert's first birthday was celebrated.

By the summer of 1894 Minnie was back at the CMS sanatorium at Sharp Peak, and in very poor health. Hugh joined her there, and on 12 Aug their daughter Mary Cecilia PHILLIPS(1559)was born. Minnie rallied sufficiently to return to Foochow, to a bungalow on the hill, and was making preparations to return to England with the two children. However, that was not to be, and on 17 Nov 1894 she died. She was buried in the Anglican cemetery in Foochow, subsequently destroyed.

Minnie and Hugh's two children, thus left motherless, must have been returned to England, though when and with whom is not known. Possibly they went with Hugh when he returned in 1895 having become engaged to marry Alice Maud HANKIN.


1) The date given in the admissions register of Wimbledon High School, kindly provided by the school librarian. Her birth is also registered in the GRO births index, Kingston, Dec quarter 1868, vol.2a, p.264.
2) Familysearch, based on FHL film 991781: Wimbledon Parish church records; burials 1849-1871, baptisms 1862-1871 and marriages 1837-1871.
3) 1871 England and Wales Census, RG10, piece 856, folio 67, p.8.
4) England and Wales, National Probate Calendar 1882: APPERSON, John. Administration of the Personal Estate of John Apperson late of the National Schools Wimbledon in the County of Surrey who died 25 May 1882 at the National Schools was granted at the Principal Registry to Jane Apperson of the National Schools Widow the Relict. Personal Estate 367 10s. 11d. Date of grant 1 July 1882.
5) Familysearch, based on FHL film 825381, items 6-7: records of the Langton Street Methodist Chapel, Bristol, containing births and baptisms 1813-1837 and burials, 1828-1837.
6) GRO marriage index, Kingston, Surrey, Dec quarter 1851, vol.4, p.303.
7) GRO deaths index, Kingston, Surrey, Dec quarter 1875, vol.2a, p.167.
8) GRO marriage index, Kingston, Surrey, Jun quarter 1878, vol.2a, p.472.
9) 1881 England and Wales census, RG11, piece 829, folio 79 , p.21, indexed under Appeson.
10) Victory, bring reminiscences of and letters from Minnie M. Apperson (later Mrs. H. S. Phillips) of the Church of England Zenana Society, edited by Mrs E. C. Millard, with preface by Rev. Edward W. Moore. M.A., incumbent of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon. London, E. Marlborough & Co.
11) Information on Minnie from Wimbledon High School has very kindly been researched and provided by the school librarian.
12) In memoriam article on Minnie which appeared in the Wimbledon High School magazine of 1894, a copy of which article has been kindly provided by the school librarian.
13) Victory, see note 10 above, pp.3-9.
14) Victory, see note 10 above.
15) For Christ in Fuh-Kien. Being a new edition (the fourth) of The Story of the Fuh-Kien Mission of the Church Missionary Society. London: Church Missionary Society, 1904. p.127

© John Stowell 2011             This file last edited on 29 Aug 2011.

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