Miss Fosbery’s Passport

David Leffman Woodblock print 1 Comment

Here’s a Qing-dynasty passport for travel within China issued in 1889 to Miss Emily Fosbery (俌美禮, Fu Meili), a missionary with the London-based China Inland Mission (CIM).

The CIM was founded in 1872 by Hudson Taylor, to recruit missionaries from working class backgrounds and send them to parts of China as yet uncovered by the protestant church. Unlike many other Christian missionaries, CIM members wore Chinese clothing and lived cheaply amongst ordinary Chinese. The point was to show their humility and willingness to fit in, though from a Chinese viewpoint this implied that CIM missionaries were poor, lacked self-respect, and had little to offer converts.

Emily wasn’t a historically important figure, just one of many ordinary people during the nineteenth century who, one way or another, wound up in China; most information about her comes from the CIM’s yearbook, China’s Millions, and census records. She was born in Lambeth in early 1844 to John and Caroline Fosbery; her father was a warehouse worker from Stepney (he later became a bookseller and publisher).

In 1861 she was a school assistant at Pilkington in Lancashire, and over the next twenty years appeared in the census as a domestic dressmaker, living in various parts of London. At some point she must have joined the CIM; her address in 1881 wasn’t too far from their headquarters in Hackney.

At any rate, she arrived in China as a missionary aboard the Rosetta from London in June 1884. Her first posting was as a Sunday School assistant and nurse at the port of Chefoo (Yantai), Shandong province; then four years later she moved right across China to the Chengdu mission in Sichuan. In 1889 she established a mission school northwest of Chengdu at Kwan Hien (Guangxian, also known today as Dujiangyan), aided by two Norwegian missionaries named Hol and Næss.

“The Christian Missionary Fu Meili”

Over the next few years the school was well-attended by women and children, though nobody actually converted, and by 1893 Emily was also engaged in “itinerant work” at Maozhou (Mao Xian), between Guangxian and Songpan. Attempts to open a school there were foiled by hostile local authorities.

In 1895, the Guangxian mission baptised their first three converts: a tailor, Mr Sang; U-ting, the mission cook; and a yound scholar named Chen. By this time the mission was run by a Mr Grainger and his wife; Emily seems to have been relegated to their assistant.

In 1896 Emily reported the conversion of ten women from her bible class, but by the middle of the year was back in England on furlough. In 1898 China’s Millions listed “Miss E. M. Fosbery” – the only record that she had a middle name – as “Home Staff and Undesignated”, so she had probably decided not to return to China.

By this time China was becoming a more dangerous place for foreigners. There had been anti-Christian riots at Chengdu in 1895, close to her Guangxian mission; nobody was killed but church property was ransacked. Had she stayed in China, it’s possible she could have become a victim of the xenophobic Boxer Rebellion of 1900, though this was mostly confined to the east of the country.

At any rate, Emily next appears on the 1901 British census, visiting friends at Weston-super-Mare. Her age was given as 53 (which would have meant she was born around 1848, not 1844), and her profession was “retired from China Inland Mission”. An “Emily M. Fosbury” – almost certainly her – died in London in 1905, aged 61.

“Her Britannic Majesty’s Consulate At Yichang”

So what about her passport? It’s woodblock printed, with specific details filled in by hand, and measures around 50cm x 41cm. It had to be pulled out, unfolded and examined at every town and customs post along her route, and most of them eventually fell apart from wear. This one is pasted onto a cloth backing to strengthen it, which has helped it survive – they are pretty rare finds today.

The Chinese reads that the passport was issued at Yichang, a small port on the Yangtze river, in accordance with Article Nine of the Treaty of Tianjin (1858), allowing British subjects to travel inside China for pleasure or trade, bearing passports issued by their consuls. The passport had to be surrendered for inspection as requested by the authorities; anyone tampering with their passport, travelling without their passport, or committing some other offense, had to be handed over to the nearest British consul, with minimum mistreatment or restraint.  

It is issued to the “British missionary Fu Meili, for travel from Yichang to Hubei, Sichuan and Gansu provinces”, and all civil and military personel along her route were asked to treat her with courtesy. The date is given in both Chinese and Western formats – 19 Feb 1889, and 20th day of the first month of the 15th year of the Guangxu reign.

The passport is also stamped in red with the seal for “Her Britannic Majesty’s Consulate at Yichang”, and signed “Passport of Miss Fosbery – Ichang, Feb 19, 1889. William Gregory, HBM Consul”, with a receipt attached for $1.5.

(For anyone interested, here’s the full passport text)


大英欽命駐劄宜昌管理本國通商事務頜事官  為







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