1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ellis, William

ELLIS, WILLIAM (1794–1872), English Nonconformist missionary, was born in London on the 29th of August 1794. His boyhood and youth were spent at Wisbeach, where he worked as a market-gardener. In 1814 he offered himself to the London Missionary Society, and was accepted. During a year’s training he acquired some knowledge of theology and of various practical arts, such as printing and bookbinding. He sailed for the South Sea Islands in January 1816, and remained in Polynesia, occupying various stations in succession, until 1824, when he was compelled to return home on account of the state of his wife’s health. Though the period of his residence in the islands was thus comparatively short, his labours were very fruitful, contributing perhaps as much as those of any other missionary to bring about the extraordinary improvement in the religious, moral and social condition of the Pacific Archipelago that took place during the 19th century. Besides promoting the spiritual object of his mission, he introduced many other aids to the improvement of the condition of the people. His gardening experience enabled him successfully to acclimatize many species of tropical fruits and plants, and he set up and worked the first printing press in the South Seas. Returning home by way of the United States, where he advocated his work, Ellis was for some years employed as a travelling agent of the London Missionary Society, and in 1832 was appointed foreign secretary to the society, an office which he held for seven years. In 1837 he married his second wife, Sarah Stickney, a writer and teacher of some note in her generation. In 1841 he went to live at Hoddesdon, Herts, and ministered to a small Congregational church there. On behalf of the London Missionary Society he paid three visits to Madagascar (1853–1857), inquiring into the prospects for resuming the work that had been suspended by Queen Ranavolona’s hostility. A further visit was paid in 1863. Ellis wrote accounts of all his travels, and Southey’s praise (in the Quarterly Review) of his Polynesian Researches (2 vols., 1829) finds many echoes. He was a fearless, upright and tactful man, and a keen observer of nature. He died on the 25th of June 1872.