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March 2023
Issue No. 313

China, Hong Kong and St. Paul’s College (中國、香港、聖保羅) - The Stewart Family

by Dennis Yuen, Principal of St. Paul’s College
On 18th September 2022, the South China Morning Post – Post Magazine published an article entitled “Where Credit is Due” about the anonymous writer of a book called A Record of the Actions of The Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps in the Battle for Hong Kong: December 1941. The book is a journalistic record of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps’ role in resisting the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong during WWII. The “anonymous” turns out to be Colonel E. G. Stewart, the 8th Principal (1930-1958) of St. Paul’s College. Since he felt that credit should be given to the entire regiment, Colonel Stewart decided not to put his name down as the author of the book when it was published.


An SPC Principal and a Colonel?

Because of his military training, while being the Principal of St. Paul’s College, Stewart was also a major, commanding the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (香港義勇防衛軍) No. 3 (Machine-Gun) Company, first on Stonecutters Island, and later in the Wong Nei Chong Gap area when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in 1941. After Hong Kong’s surrender on Christmas Day 1941, he became a prisoner of war in the Argyle Street Camp. Stewart was sent back to the UK at the end of the war with severe wounds which eventually left him with a permanent injury affecting his walking.

St. Paul’s College had to temporarily merge with St. Paul’s Girls’ School after the war. When Colonel Stewart returned to Hong Kong in 1947, it was him who won the support of the alumni for the College to regain its identity as a boys’ school and he reopened St. Paul’s College in 1950. Taking over the use of the present site on Bonham Road allowed Colonel Stewart, alumni, teachers, and students to start a new page in the history of the College. That is perhaps why our College song begins with ”Once again we here foregather”. It is ‘once again’ because we had been denied that chance before.

Why am I writing about Colonel E.G. Stewart? If a colonel serving as a high school principal is not unusual enough, the story of a British principal in Hong Kong fighting to defend Hong Kong people is certainly remarkable. It is even more amazing if we dig deeper into the family history of Colonel E. G. Stewart.

The Stewart Family: A Family of Missionaries

Evan George Stewart was born into an Irish family. His parents, Robert and Louisa Stewart, were missionaries who went to the present day Fukien (Fujian) Province to preach the Gospel to Chinese people in the late 19th Century. Evan was the seventh of eight children, most of whom were born in China. 

On 1st August 1895, when Evan was about three years old, the Stewart family was brutally attacked by xenophobic insurgents in Fukien (Fujian). Evan’s parents, the housekeeper, and two of his siblings - babies Hilda and Herbert - were killed, and their house was burnt down. One of the siblings, Kathleen, managed to rescue her sister Mildred and her baby brother Evan. Eventually, they were sent back to Ireland where all the siblings were raised by their uncles and aunts there. 

What is truly amazing is that all six surviving siblings of the Stewart family eventually came back to China and Hong Kong, one by one, to continue the “unfinished business” of their parents – preaching the Gospel to the people of Hong Kong and China through their work in schools, hospitals and churches. The eldest, Arthur Dudley Stewart, was ordained and went on to become the 7th Principal of St. Paul’s College and the Vicar of St. Paul’s Church (Hong Kong). Kathleen Stewart, who wanted to provide education for girls, set up St. Paul’s Girls’ School and later married Canon Ernest Martin, who became the Principal of St. Stephen’s College. Philip Stewart worked in St. Stephen’s College as a medical officer. Evan Stewart succeeded his eldest brother, becoming the 8th Principal of the College. Meanwhile, James and Mildred Stewart ended up in Sichuan (Szechuan) province—James involved with the University of Western China and Mildred in a school.

 The Revd Arthur D. Stewart                Colonel E. G. Stewart

When I read the stories of the Stewart family, I could not help but think of the Bible verses from the Book of Isaiah: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). When the lives of Robert and Louisa Stewart were cut short in their prime, one would naturally have thought that their missionary work had come to an abrupt and dismal end. One would have complained about why God had failed them and allowed all their good efforts to come to such a tragic waste. Yet, when we take a longer-term perspective, we can see that, despite what had happened to their parents, all their siblings multiplied their parents’ work ten times or even a hundred times over in Hong Kong and in China. God works in mysterious ways, and the way God weaves remarkable events in and through our lives is often beyond our understanding. Their stories also remind me of the lyrics of a very lovely song called “In His Time”:

      In His time, in His time
      He makes all things beautiful
      In His time
      Lord please show me every day
      As you''re teaching me your way
      That you do just what you say
      In your time

More details about the Stewart family can be found in the book “Children of Massacre: The Extraordinary Story of the Stewart Family in Hong Kong and West China” by Professor Robert and Linda Banks. These stories of the Stewart family are not just stories of St. Paul’s College. These are stories of selflessness, forgiveness, dedicated service, and devotion that are also testimony to God’s work in both China and in Hong Kong.

<The above article was published in "Echo" Issue No. 313. Please click here>


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