Ross, John (1842-1915)

Scottish Presbyterian missionary in Manchuria

RossBorn in northern Scotland, Ross served several Gaelic-speaking churches before leaving for China under the United Presbyterian Church in 1872. His ministry deeply touched two areas, Manchuria and Korea. By 1873 he had preached his first sermon in Chinese and had pioneered Manchurian work through wide itineration from his post in Shenyang (Mukden). Known for his generous spirit toward Confucianism and Chinese ancestral rites, he supported the idea of a Chinese church that would not be a Western replica. In 1873, living on the northern border of a Korea still closed to outsiders, he met traders from the “hermit kingdom.” His growing interests produced the first Korean primer (1877) and grammar (1882) in English, the first history of Korea in any Western language (1879), and, under his direction, the first Korean translation of the New Testament (1887). Its unheralded distribution in Korea produced an authentic church there before Protestant missionary itineration began widely within the country. He retired to Scotland because of ill health in 1910 but continued to write and lecture.

Conn, Harvie M., “Ross, John,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 577.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.


A limited number of Ross’s letters are available in the records of the United Presbyterian Church housed in the National Library of Scotland; some materials are also available in the National Bible Society of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Digital Texts

Ross, John. Chinese Foreign Policy . Shanghai: Printed at the Celestial Empire Office, 1877.

_____. The History of Corea: Ancient and Modern; With Descriptons of Manners and Customs, Language and Geography . London: Elliot Stock, 1891.

_____. The Manchus . n.p.: n.p., 1880.

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Ross, John. The Boxers in Manchuria. Shanghai: N.-C. Herald Office, 1878.

_____. Mission Methods in Manchuria. Edinburgh and London: O. Anderson & Ferrier, 1903.

_____. The Original Religion of China. Edinburgh, London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1909.

_____. The Origin of the Chinese People. Edinburgh, London: Oliphants ld, 1916.


Choi, Sung-il, “John Ross (1842-1915) and the Korean Protestant Church.” Ph.D. Diss., Edinburgh Univ., 1992.

Grayson, James H., John Ross: First Missionary to Korea (in Korean, “’Na Yohan: Han’gug-ui ch’ot son’gyo-sa’”; 1982).

_____. Korea: a religious history. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

_____. “A Spark in North East Asia: A Personal Hagiography of a Scottish Missionary to Manchuria: John Ross (1842-1915).” In Sainthood Revisioned, edited by Clyde Binfield, 93-106. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.

University of Edinburgh, School of Divinity, John Ross Scholarship Fund.