Rev Frederick O'Neill (1870 - 1952):
Rev Frederick William Scott O’Neill was a Presbyterian missionary who spent much of his long and exciting career in the Far East, mostly in Chinese lands, and was awarded the Order of Wen-Hu, or the Order of the Striped Tiger by the Republic of China (Taiwan), a rare honour for non-military personnel or indeed an Ulsterman.
O'Neill was born in Belfast and educated there, at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and Queen’s College, where he graduated with first class honours in Mental and Moral Science (Royal University of Ireland 1892). After postgraduate study at Assembly’s College, and one year as the first Theological Travelling Secretary of the Student Christian, was ordained on 30 August 1897 and travelled at once to Manchuria where he was assigned to the small country town of Faku in Liaoning province, where he built a church, schools and a hospital.
He would serve there for nearly half a century, witnessing amongst other upheavals the Boxer Rebellion and the Communist revolution. He also was involved with the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) of 96,000 people who assisted Allied forces in France and Belgium from 1917 to 1919 – the largest contingent of foreign workers employed by the Allied powers in the First World War. His grandson writes that
After the attack on Pearl Harbour, Grandfather and Grandmother were kept under house arrest until May 1942, when they were taken to Japan and put on a ship for Lourenco Marques in Mozambique, where they were exchanged for Japanese prisoners. After the war, he wished to, but was unable to return to Manchuria.
O’Neill was honoured by his church with an honorary Doctorate in Divinity in 1933 and was elected for one year (the normal term) in 1936. He proved a highly proficient linguistic and also became an expert on comparative theology. He published several books on his experiences.
As an epilogue, his grandson much later recounted his eventually but not initially successful efforts to recover his grandfather’s Chinese medal which had surfaced in a Hong Kong auction house; he had to bid a four-figure amount, but bid he certainly did, thus repatriating the Order to Ulster.
|Born:||26 August 1870|
|Died:||7 October 1952|
Laurence Kirkpatrick: Presbyterians in Ireland, An Illustrated History (Booklink, 2006); article by Mark O’Neill, The Irish Times, Monday Aug 29 2011
© 2022 Ulster History Circle