Constance Groves, the author’s great grandmother, had a remarkable life. In 1887, aged nineteen, she arrived in China as a junior missionary.
She went to Chefoo on the coast of Shandong Province in northern China, where the China Inland Mission ran a busy hospital for the Chinese population and a thriving school for the children of their own missionaries.
Constance struggled to settle into the strange and sometimes hostile world of rural China, but two years later, convinced of her vocation, she went home to Bristol to break off her engagement. In 1890 she returned to China to marry the man with whom she had fallen in love, Arthur Douthwaite MD, a medical missionary and head of the Chefoo mission.
Every week Constance wrote home to her family, and her letters and photographs have survived, telling in fascinating detail her story over ten years. They create vivid pictures of China in a period of great turbulence; of daily life, food, clothing and travel; of colleagues who became close friends, of the many visitors to Chefoo, of Arthur’s patients, and of the school which was at the centre of the CIM community.
The Douthwaites survived the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 – 1895, in which Arthur Douthwaite distinguished himself by his care of the Chinese wounded.
The letters show Constance, a perceptive observer of people and events, mature from a devout but inexperienced young girl, to a capable mother, teacher and administrator. They reveal, with great honesty, the heavy toll, physical and emotional, that China took on women like Constance, who died in 1896 after the birth of her fourth child.
News from home was a lifeline for Constance and the letters follow the shifting fortunes of her loving but eccentric Brethren family in Bristol.