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Papers of Helen B. K. Maclean (fl. 1921-1954)

Identifier: CSWC 14

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of two version of an unpublished manuscript Memories of a Missionary by Maclean, the first dates from 1967 or just after, the second is the same version but amended and annotated at a later date and including photographs and pictures dating from c 1930s to 1984. It is an account of the relationship between Maclean and her friend Fragrant Tree, describing their backgrounds, their work for the mission and church in Manchuria and events in China during the period that Maclean was there (1921-1949). The manuscript has a foreword by Rev. Professor William Barclay of the University of Glasgow.


  • Creation: [ca. 1930]-1984

Language of Materials

English Chinese

Conditions Governing Access

Contact the repository for details. This collection is open. [Decision date 28 August 2021]

Conditions Governing Use

Contact the repository for details. Photographic material must be handled using gloves.

Biographical / Historical

Helen B. K. Maclean (known as Nell), (United Free) Church of Scotland missionary in China, was born in a village in the highlands of Scotland. Her father was a schoolmaster and elder in the village kirk and she graduated from Edinburgh University (MA) in 1916. She was accepted for China by the by the mission in 1921 and spent her first six months in Peking learning the language. Further language training and an introduction to evangelising followed in Kaiyuan in Manchuria where she first met Fragrant Tree (Wang Su Fen) who was to become her lifelong friend. In 1923 she moved to Shenyang to teach in the mission's girls school, became the school's principal missionary in 1925 and was also involved in developing youth work in the area. She remained at the school for the rest of her time in China, appointing a Chinese principal, encouraging the Church to take more responsibility from the mission and seeing the school through a difficult period when the Japanese occupied Manchuria. She returned to Scotland on furlough three times: 1926-28, 1933-34 when she took Fragrant Tree with her, and 1939 part of which she spent in Japan. After Pearl Harbour in December 1941 Maclean was put under house arrest for six months and the school was closed. With other colleagues she was sent to Japan for internment but was returned home as an exchange prisoner before the end of 1942. The Church of Scotland sent her to work in Ghana from 1944 until 1946 when she was able to return to Manchuria and the school. When the communists entered Shenyang in November 1948 her position became more difficult, she suffered from bouts of dysentery and after the school was closed in 1949 she was ordered home. From 1951 until 1954 she worked in Jamaica then returned to Inverness in Scotland. She kept in touch with Fragrant Tree who secured permission to leave China in 1963 and joined Maclean in Scotland. Fragrant Tree looked after Maclean during her final illness and after Maclean's death moved to an old people's home where she died.


2 Volumes


The collection consists of two items only.

Custodial History

The collection was briefly listed by Ralph Covell in 1992.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were presented to the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World either by Mrs I. P. D. McCulloch who presented a pamphlet of plays by Maclean or through the China section of the Church of Scotland, along with other Manchurian material.


None expected.

Related Materials

The archives of the foreign missions of Church of Scotland are held at the National Library of Scotland and include correspondence with Maclean dating from 1921. The library of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World has a pamphlet of five short plays by Maclean Proud to Belong to China (n.d. c 1947?) which was presented by Mrs I. P. D. McCulloch. The Centre also holds other collections of missionary papers relating to Manchuria.


The biographical history was compiled using the collection itself.

Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379