Henry Lechmere CLIFT (aka Harry) [1876-1949]

Submitted by Aldi on Wed, 01/25/2023 - 04:46
Henry Lechmere
Alias / nickname
Died in (country)
Hong Kong

Dr Harry Lechmere Clift was a pioneering medical missionary.  Born in India in 1876 he was educated in India and then in England at Eastbourne High School and in 1893 he went to Edinburgh to study for his Bachelor of Medicine/Surgery degrees, which he completed in 1900

He married Winifred Ashby in 1901 and in 1902 they sailed out to Hong Kong to serve at the CMS mission hospital in Pakhoi, the first CMS hospital in Guangdong (Kwang-Tung) Province, and second largest in China.  They learned Cantonese.  However they suffered from malaria and other illnesses and the Medical Board in London concluded that it would be unwise for them to continue. They returned to England to a country practice in ScotbyCumberland.   

In 1905 they felt a strong pull back to China to begin a work of their own, and in 1906 they returned independent of any society to settle in Kuei Lin, Guangxi (Kwang-Si) Province and pioneer a medical centre (KMM - Kuei Lin Medical Mission), thence moving on to Nanning at the end of 1906 to do the same there.  This involved learning to speak Mandarin, which they did.  They founded the Emmanuel Medical Mission and Church, the first Medical Mission in the province.  At some point they also started a Foundling Home for abandoned babies.  All these they operated until 1917, when Dr Clift returned to Britain to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France until the end of WWI. 

After the War, the Clifts returned to Nanning and served on in the Medical Mission, Church and Foundling Home, until 1923, when Winifred succumbed to rheumatic fever and was hospitalised in Hong Kong.  As she was given just two years to live, the Clifts approached the BCMS and  handed over the Medical Centre, now a Hospital, and Children's Home in Nanning to them to administer.  They moved to Hong Kong for the sake of Winifred's health and Dr Clift registered to practice there for the next 5 years, but he superintended the work in Nanning until 1930. During this time, Winifred experienced a wonderful recovery.

They went back to Nanning in 1928, but due to the general unrest of the Civil War there they returned finally to Hong Kong in 1930.  

The BCMS home of  foundlings  had also been affected by the ongoing unrest and after several moves in Guangxi, was finally settled in Broadwood Road, Hong Kong, under the supervision of Miss Elizabeth Lucas. 

In 1931 Dr Clift received an appointment from the Hong Kong Government as inspector of the Chinese Medical Charities in the colony.

At some point in the 1930s, Dr Clift rented four ground floor shop spaces at 216 and 218 Nathan Road, and established Chapel for his non-denominational Emmanuel Mission Church, which he led with Winifred's assistance on the organ and with the teaching.  At this time Kowloon was a rapidly growing spill-over from Hong Kong Island, with a burgeoning population.  The Rosary Church was built in 1905 for the Catholics and St Andrews in 1906 for the C of E population, but there was definitely a need for more churches for pioneers like the Clifts.  Dr Clift also opened an Emmanuel Medical Centre and dispensary on the site which continued until 1967.   It was certainly all in place in Nathan Road by 1936.

In 1934 Dr Clift had a second bout of ill health, and the Clifts returned to England to recuperate in Devonshire.  As part of his recovery, Dr Clift then took a post as ship’s doctor on a slow boat to China, via Canada, Africa and Australia.  Back in Hong Kong in 1936, the Mission Church in Nathan Road was now styled as the Evangelical Fraternity Church and had been supplemented by  a Fraternity Book Room, later renamed the Emmanuel English Book Room.  There was also a Forces Games Room with tea room associated.  The Book Room continued as a book-store in Kowloon until 1978

From their years in Nanning, the Clifts found that a waiting room of patients in their Medical Centre gave a wonderful opportunity for sharing Bible stories and the good news of the Gospel.  In Kowloon they had a Chinese Biblewoman who was happy to perform this task and keep the waiting throng entertained, thus providing a ready congregation for the Mission Church.

During the 1930s the Clifts' Emmanuel Mission Church became firmly established and they published meetings for each coming week in the HK Daily Press. These included church services on Sundays (morning and evening), a children's Sunday School, and a weekly Wednesday evening prayer meeting, with other meetings in the week for Bible Study or teaching or social activities, held in church members' homes; a programme which would be very familiar in a contemporary church setting today.  Dr and Mrs Clift both seem to have had a fruitful and influential teaching ministry based on their wealth of mission experience in China. With the daytime Medical Centre to run, and a busy church programme evenings and weekends, the Clifts essentially had two full time jobs between them. 

One might be forgiven for thinking they must have been people of some means.  Dr Clift was a generous man who treated all his patients whether they could pay or not.  He and his wife started up a medical centre, later hospital, and a foundling home in Nanning, (worth some £4,500), which they gave over to the BCMS;  in Hong Kong they purchased a flat in Kowloon and rented premises for another medical centre, church and other rooms. However, when they started in Kuei Lin, they were renting their accommodation and from reading Very Far East it appears they lived by faith and many of these things were funded by financial support from home.  In one letter from Nanning, Winifred says, 'We have nearly bought a piece of land near the river (Yong).  Please pray that God will give us enough money to build a very nice hospital and dispensary and preaching hall.'  In another place she says of the Chinese, 'They get so accustomed to seeing missionaries building houses and hospitals and schools, they nearly always believe he does it out of his own pocket (!!!), and they think we are telling lies when we say we have not the means to pay a big rent.'

During the War, the Clifts were interned in Stanley Camp by the Japanese. During the occupation, friend Willie Goon and other uninterned nationals kept the Mission Church and book room going.  After the liberation the Clifts were repatriated as priority cases, both being bedbound, but Winifred the more needy.

Once fully recovered, they returned to Hong Kong and continued their work but in 1949 Dr Clift died after a short illness, aged 73.  Following his death, Winifred returned to England, but she must have realised her home was now in Hong Kong and she returned to live the rest of her days there until her own death in 1966, aged 89.  They are buried together in the Hong Kong Cemetery, Happy Valley.  Theirs were lives of significant achievement and influence for good, and a dedication to the Chinese people perhaps only possible through not having had a family of their own to raise.  The fact that they both died in Hong Kong highlights their total identification with the land they came to serve.  In Far Far East Winifred wrote these insightful words, ‘Science will never know how much she owes the opening door in China to the steady, plodding teaching of Christianity by thousands of obscure missionaries.’ 

Their church The Emmanuel Church has grown to six churches and is known today as The Emmanuel English Church, the rest being Chinese speaking. The first daughter church was the Sham Tseng Church, built in 1955.  Another church is the Emmanuel Chinese Church1962.  Some Emmanuel Churches have Emmanuel medical centres and schools associated.

I'll leave the final word on the Clifts to American missionary Beth Nance who said, 'Dr Clift was a wonderful missionary, gentleman, Bible scholar, medical doctor and precious man of God.  His wife was a great match.'


Photo of The Emmanuel Book Room and Church Office in the 70s here.

SourcesVery Far EastAnnals of an Isle in the Pacific; - Winifred Clift.

The Biographical Dictionary of Medical Practitioners in Hong Kong web page;  

The First 25 Years of the BCMS. 

The Church Missionary Intelligencer/1900.

Directory of Protestant Missionaries China 1903

The Yip Family of Amah Rock by Jill Doggett.

My Life - Elizabeth Nance;

Cairns Post 25th April 1936

and also team Gwulo - thank you.


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During the war, Dr and Mrs Clift were interned at Stanley Camp. They appear on the 1942 list of civilian internees:

Clift Mrs E W L 65 Housewife
Clift Dr H F 65 Medical Doctor

The Clifts were both key in encouraging Mildred Dibden in her calling to start taking in abandoned babies in Hong Kong in 1936, when no missionary society in the UK was willing to back her.  After all, this is just what they had done in China in their younger years and they had much accumulated experience to share with her.  Like her too they had been incapacitated and repatriated due to malaria in their early years, but had returned to labour on in Hong Kong.  The Clifts' Evangelical Fraternity/ Emmanuel Church backed her for three years. 

In 1940 she moved to Fanling with 49 babies and opened her Babies' Home on Main Street, at which point she became financially independent of the Fraternity as a faith mission.  The Clifts continued their support but in an advisory capacity and Dr Clift served on in his capacity as the Home doctor.

During the War, the Clifts were interned in Stanley Camp by the Japanese, and Mildred bravely persevered in her Fanling Home.  They all went through agonies of suffering and hardship in different ways in that time but after the liberation they had a happy reunion, and enjoyed some happier times together. 

Dr Clift's death in 1949 was a heavy blow to Mildred, as was Winifred Clift's death in 1966.  I like to think that they as an older childless couple and Mildred as a single younger woman (her parents and family were thousands of miles away in England and Canada), found in each other an affection and a bond that filled that void and met those needs in them in a very special way.  In her Yip Family of Amah Rock, Jill Doggett wrote, ' This woman (Winifred Clift)...... seemed closer to her (Mildred) than uncles and aunts of childhood, than any relative or friends.'


Whether in Nanning or Hong Kong the Clifts invariably gave the name Emmanuel to their operations, Emmanuel Mission Church, Emmanuel Book Room etc.

In Very Far East, we are told the origin of this name. Winifred writes, ‘You see we have given ourselves a name.  We hated to be talked about as “That Independent Mission in Nanning,”  because, instead of being independent, we felt so absolutely dependent on God, and so utterly inefficient in ourselves.  “EMMANUEL – GOD WITH US” has meant a great deal to us since we decided upon our name.’    

1876  Henry Lechmere Clift born in India 6th April

           Winifred Ashby born 30th Nov

1893-1900  Clift completes his Bachelor of Medicine/ Surgery degree courses in Edinburgh.   In his final year he applies to join the CMS to serve in China [8#5].

1901  Marriage of Henry and Winifred Clift. 

1902 They go out to Hong Kong to serve with the CMS at their mission hospital in Pakhoi, Guangdong. ([7#5] says 1901) They learn Cantonese.  They suffer from malaria and other illnesses and the Medical Board in London conclude that it would be unwise for them to continue.[5] They return to England c1903/04.

1905 Dr Clift is working as a GP in a country practice in Scotby, Cumberland.  They feel a pull back to China to start a work of their own.[3]

1906  March - The Clifts return to China independent of any society and start a pioneering Medical Mission in Kuei Lin, Guangxi Province.  Boarding with the Childs.  Aided by nationals Mr & Mrs Shek and a dispensary attendant and an amah. They learn Mandarin. [3]

1906  December - Dr Clift moves to Nanning when it becomes the capital of Guangxi Province. Winifred follows later. [3]

1909  Winifred publishes Very Far East being a compilation of her letters home telling of their early experiences in Kuei Lin and Nanning.[1]  They start the Emmanuel Medical Mission (08/09).    At some point they start taking in abandoned babies – foundlings.

1911  The last ruling Dynasty (Qing) ends.  Republic of China inaugurated.  At some point the Clifts buy their bungalow at Nam Tam Wan, Cheung Chau for summer vacations.

1914  WWI starts.  Winifred writes her second book (Annals) on Cheung Chau.

1915  Winifred publishes her ‘Annals of an Isle in the Pacific’, telling of their island life on Cheung Chau.[1]

1917  Henry Clift returns to England to serve as lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France.[1]

1918  He is promoted to Captain. [1] End of WWI.  The Clifts return to Nanning to continue with the Emmanuel Medical Mission and Foundling Home.

1923 Winifred Clift suffers rheumatic fever and is admitted to hospital in Hong Kong (probably the Matilda as it was the hospital for missionaries).  She is given two years to live and the Clifts ask to be relieved of the work in NanningDr Clift registers to practice in HK and after some months in Peking, he manages the Matilda Hospital HK to allow incumbent manager Dr J H Sanders to visit England. [5]

1924  The Clifts join the staff of the BCMS.   They hand over their Medical Mission and Foundling Home to the BCMS to administer.  Estimated worth £4,500.  Dr Clift continues as Superintendent of the Nanning work. [2] During this time Winifred makes a wonderful recovery. [5]  Dr Clift is appointed Temporary Medical Officer HK.

1925  The Foundling Home (26 children) under Miss Elizabeth Lucas moves from Nanning to  Lungchow due to local unrest.[2] 

1926  The Clifts residence is given as Cheung Chau from 1926-38[1,7].

1927  Winifred publishes ‘Looking On in Hong Kong’. [1]  Beginnings of the Chinese Civil War (1927-49).

1928  The Clifts are back in Nanning.  The hospital is reconstructed, there is a new church building with 100 attending on a Sunday. [2]

1928  Winifred publishes ‘Seng Chang Sees Red and Other Stories’.[1]

1929  'The early months' The Clifts are in Nanning.  Then war breaks out again. [2]

1930  The Red Army takes Lungchow. [2] Miss Lucas moves the Foundling Home from Lungchow to 'palatial' accommodation in Broadwood Road, Hong Kong.[4] The Clifts leave Nanning (Jan)[2].  The Clifts' service with the BCMS comes to an end.[2]

1931 Dr Clift receives an appointment from the Hong Kong Government as inspector of the Chinese Medical Charities in the colony. [5] 

1932  February - Dr Clift inaugurates the Hong Kong branch of the Bible Union of China.[1]

1933  The Foundling/Children's Home moves to Taipo.  Miss Lucas retires.  Mildred Dibden takes over. [4]  Dr Clift is Visiting Medical Officer Chinese Hospitals and dispensaries.  (First appointed 1931)

1934 Dr Clift again a Medical Officer.  Autumn - Dr Clift has a second period of bad health.  The Clifts take 18 months out to return to England to recuperate for a while in Devonshire, and then Dr Clift takes a role as ship’s doctor on a Glasgow ship taking a long route to Australia, and thence to Hong Kong. [5]

1936 (mid year) The Clifts are back in Hong Kong, with a flat at 118 Nathan Road.[4] They have an Emmanuel Medical Centre and dispensary at their premises in 216/218 Nathan Road as well as their non denominational Emmanuel Mission Church/Evangelical Fraternity (No 218)[1,4]. Also by this time their Soldiers’ Welcome Tea Room/Book Room/Reading Room (Emmanuel Book Room) has been established, selling Christian books and Bibles in nine major languages. [1,4,5]

They encourage young missionary Mildred Dibden with a passion for abandoned babies, to do what they did in China, and start a Home for foundlings in Kowloon.  The work quickly grows.  Their Emmanuel Fellowship backs her until 1940, when she establishes an independent work, the Fanling Babies’ Home. [4]

1941   Dec 8th - The Japanese invade.  The Clifts (address 77 Pokfulam Road[1]) are interned in Stanley Camp.  Winifred continues her weekly Bible studies for women. [6]

1945  The Japanese surrender.  The Clifts are given priority for repatriation as they are both bedridden, 5th September. [6]

1949  Death of Harry Cliftaged 73.  He is buried in the Hong Kong Cemetery, Happy Valley.[1,7]  

1950c  The Emmanuel Book Room starts publishing and retailing evangelical books and literature. [1]

1961  Winifred Clift apparently leaving Hong Kong for good, is feted with a farewell meeting of 'Old China Hands' -  almost 30 missionaries who have been in China for 40 years or more (4 of them for 50 years).[7#5]  She leaves but at some point she returns to Hong Kong. 

1966  Death of Winifred Clift aged 89. She is buried with her husband in the Hong Kong Cemetery, Happy Valley. [1]  Prior to her death she lived in Pak Sha Wan, Sai Kung. [7#14]

1967  The Medical Centre closes.[1]

1978  The Book Room closes.

The Emmanuel Church continues and grows to 6 churches, 5 non-English speaking and one English speaking.  Like their mother church these churches have associated schools and medical centres of the same name.


[1] Biographical Dictionary of the Medical Practitioners of Hong Kong  (MPHK)

[2]  The First 25 Years of the BCMS

[3] Very Far EastAnnals of an Isle in the Pacific. 

[4] The Yip Family of Amah Rock by Jill Doggett.

[5] Cairns Post QLD 25th April 1936 

[6]  My Life - Beth Nance

[7]  Government Records Service. See earlier post by moddsey - Carl Smith Archives.

[8] The Church Missionary Intelligencer 1900

Also team Gwulo - thank you.


This is a truly awesome find, moddsey!  

A real mine of information on the Clifts, including details of their medical history, which we had previously just to guess at, and more detail of their early years.   This adds a lot more to their story, and I will enjoy adding the detail to their individual pages.

Well done indeed.