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GO TO CHINA: THE STORY OF FRANCIS HENRY SPRENT, MISSIONARY PRIEST IN CHINA, KOREA, AND MANCHURIA – BR GILES SSF (THE REV’D MICHAEL F SPRENT)

Brother Giles SSF (Rev. Michael F. Sprent)

Go to China: The Story of Francis Henry Sprent, missionary priest in China, Korea, and Manchuria

Obtainable only from The Shop, The Friary, Hilfield, Dorchester DT2 7BE

£12, p & p £3

Brother Giles’ paternal grandfather, Francis Henry (Frank) Sprent, as we learn from the chronology at the beginning of this book, was born on 2nd November 1861, in Portsea and died 97 years later at the Home of St Barnabas, Lingfield. His grave is in Edington churchyard where lies his wife, who predeceased him by ten years in 1947.

From his grandfather’s scanty literary remains Giles has constructed a fascinating glimpse of Anglican missionary work in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Books have been written about the giants in that field in other better known parts of the world – Selwyn, Patterson, McKenzie, Weston – here is a cameo portrait of a Hampshire lad who approached ordination via a missionary college in neighbouring Wiltshire and travelled as a twenty-two year old layman to north China where he worked for the North China Mission from 1883 to 1915. Ordination came in 1885-7, in China.

So, of his 97 years 22 were his preparation for the 30 years in China, 22 years of ministry in the south of England, and 22 in retirement. His marriage to Mabel Turner whom he had met while on furlough in 1900 took place two years later, and their only child, Philip, was born in China in 1905. Frank died after ten years of widowerhood, clearly a much loved grandparent, as witness this book – a labour of grandfilial devotion on the part of Brother Giles.

And Frank? Venturesome, observant, strong minded, humorous, com-passionate, a ‘people’s person’, courageous – he lived through the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion. He was a linguist, he loved travel, witnessed the opening of the Trans-Siberian railway, and made use of it. He recorded his adventures on a lengthy journey of investigation into the missionary opportunities offered by Manchuria on behalf of his bishop. His autobiography is fragmentary; his grandson has gone a long way to remedying that.

Anselm SSF.