Rosalie’s story

By Arotahi
Rosalie was the second global worker ever from New Zealand, the first sent beyond the Pacific, and the first sent by the New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society in 1886.

NZBMS was new on the scene, founded in 1885, and nobody had yet been sent over­seas. Its focus was a special need of B—al which they had heard about from both British and Aus­tralian Bap­tists. NZBMS took this so seri­ously that they were seeking only women missionaries.

A Miss Fulton from Hanover Street Baptist Church in Dunedin vol­un­teered and Rosalie Mac­ge­orge from the same church, offered in August 1886 with the idea that the two should work together. Miss Fulton then pulled out but Rosalie stayed the course.

The Beginnings

Rosalie was born in Aus­tralia, the third of nine chil­dren, and prob­a­bly came to NZ when she was about five. In her middle twen­ties, Rosalie was described as “A young woman of fine appear­ance, strong char­ac­ter, and deep devo­tion to her Lord.” She had been bap­tised 12 years before, had joined and was serving the church, and was an able speaker. She had grown up in the Hanover Street church with her family, who were respected and active members. She was a trained teacher, and had a special love for chil­dren — a love and under­stand­ing that was demon­strated later in the many letters she wrote to them from India.

Rosalie’s depar­ture was a rush. She could travel with C—ta-bound English Baptist global workers Mr and Mrs Kerry. Her farewell was on 28th Sep­tem­ber, 1886, and she asked for the prayers of God’s people, espe­cially as dif­fi­cul­ties would con­front her. The min­is­ter, Rev Alfred North, noted that the occa­sion was unique as Rosalie was the first global worker from the Baptist denom­i­na­tion in New Zealand to go over­seas, and the first woman sent by any NZ group for global work. Then he said, and this proved very true, ‘the work which lies before you is excep­tion­ally hard and exhaust­ing.’ He men­tioned dis­ap­point­ments, pity, com­pas­sion, hope deferred, igno­rance, time-con­sum­ing lan­guage study, sep­a­ra­tion from loved ones and climate.

Rev North charged her,

…Go! In the assur­ance that His pres­ence yields. Go! In simple faith in the power of the Gospel of His love. Go! Your heart over-brim­ming with love to all on whom His love is set, and for whom His blood was shed. So shall the bless­ing of the Lord Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, rest upon you for ever.’

Rosalie reached C—ta in Decem­ber that year and trav­elled to F—r to study Bengali. She was impa­tient to start work but recog­nised she must do about two years of study.

There was bookish, clas­si­cal Bengali as well as common spoken lan­guage. Once she got her words mixed and called her pundit not ’teacher’ but ‘cow’. He was not amused. But Rosalie was never content with the books. She insisted on gaining col­lo­quial words, tones and twists of lan­guage, even asking local chil­dren to correct her. She wanted free con­ver­sa­tion style, some­thing many global workers had missed out on.

Settling in

By early 1888 she could write, ‘I feel I could do a little in the zenanas if nec­es­sary, but it would be blun­der­ing work, and would cripple me in the lan­guage for the future.’ She kept study­ing. She pre­pared a short talk she could give as her first one, care­fully cor­rect­ing the pro­nun­ci­a­tion. Her joy was great when seven weeks later, very uncer­tain, she found she was under­stood when she spoke to the women in a house. Yay! She was getting some­where. She visited five houses a week and talked to the women for an hour.

A local pastor was preach­ing at a mela (fes­ti­val) and an Aus­tralian young woman, Miss New­combe, and Rosalie helped by giving out tracts and singing hymns and Rosalie added playing on her con­certina, with which she was quite com­pe­tent. Miss New­combe told the story of Rosalie saving a little girl’s life. The girl was bitten on the leg by a snake, and her father saw Rosalie walking past and called her. ‘She ran and applied a lig­a­ture above the bite, and then sucked out the snake poison. Her quick resource­ful­ness undoubt­edly saved the life of the child, who, within a few days was almost com­pletely well again. The parents sent two sons to the Sunday School.’


NZBMS wanted a site of their own from which to work. D—a was sug­gested, but Rosalie wanted some­where smaller, so they chose the size­able river port, N—unj. The Aus­tralians and Rosalie asked the com­mit­tee in NZ to send them more workers as soon as pos­si­ble. Rosalie’s sister Lillian offered to come, and soon Hopestill Pillow as well. Rosalie started by walking the streets of N—unj in local dress over her dress to indi­cate she wished to iden­tify with the people. Ini­tially she spoke to a few women who were willing to learn to read.

Some did not mind her Bible teach­ing but on occa­sion, some asked her, ‘Do you intend to teach that Jesus is the Son of God?’ When she said ‘Yes,’ they said point blank, ‘We don’t want you.’ The men grew noisy and vehe­ment.  But Rosalie quietly and bravely held her ground, said a Bengali hymn or gave out tracts, offered to come into the homes and talk to the women if they invited her.  After, she asked to be allowed through the crowd and walked quietly away, fol­lowed by the children.

Soon she had invi­ta­tion to visit 30 homes weekly where there were about three women in each. Some women lis­tened happily. Some didn’t. Some babies cried too loud for lessons. Some women chat­tered non-stop. Some asked ques­tions. ‘Why don’t you get married?’ ‘What soap do you use?’ ‘Will you have a smoke?’ ‘What did you eat for break­fast?’ ‘How much money does the gov­ern­ment pay you?’ ‘How do you twist your hair up?’ ‘Let us see the colour of your feet.’ It was hard work, espe­cially with the lan­guage dif­fi­cul­ties, but some women were also inter­ested in what Rosalie believed.

Chil­dren espe­cially loved Rosalie and she loved them and taught them songs that helped them remem­ber her lessons.


Miss New­combe became unwell and in 1889 doctors told her to return to Aus­tralia and not return to South Asia. This was a big blow to Rosalie, who needed a fellow-worker and friend.

Rosalie’s health had been good but in April 1889 she was unwell and sent to the cool of the hills, to D—ling at 7000 feet, to take a break. In June she returned to N—unj feeling much better, but was promptly dragged down in health and by July was again unwell and feeling affected by the lone­li­ness. Right then, while expect­ing her sister Lillian to set out for South Asia, Lillian was given a neg­a­tive health report and told to stay in New Zealand.

Staying was becom­ing dif­fi­cult. No land had been bought for the NZ base and no deci­sion made. But N—unj itself added to Rosalie’s dif­fi­cul­ties. Her biog­ra­pher notes that ‘The sights and sounds appalled her, the smells, the poor hygiene, the lot of women, the plight of the widows, the sad little child-wives, the rude­ness and dis­cour­tesy of the men, the poverty, the disease, and the god­less­ness of the English res­i­dents, the idolatry…She was never free of it and she had no one to share it with.’

Still, there were some good things. A woman who, in great dis­cour­age­ment, turned to Jesus for help and con­tin­ued to pray. Another, at the end of Rosalie’s tiring day of vis­it­ing homes, who said she believed in Jesus Christ and her husband had con­cluded the Bible was a true book. Rosalie now had some new friends to nurture. Two men (able to write where most women could not) sent letters later, appre­ci­at­ing so much her kind­ness and proud to be younger broth­ers in Jesus.

Strategy and developments

During 1889 Rosalie worried the NZBMS com­mit­tee back in NZ by refus­ing, after praying about it, to accept per­sonal salary. They tried to dis­suade her, fearing she may no longer heed their advice if not accept­ing pay. But she was deter­mined. She believed God would bless a simple life of trust. She felt receiv­ing a salary com­pro­mised people’s view of her, making them think she was a gov­ern­ment agent. And she wanted to free up global funds to support others. So instead she lived with a local family, earning her keep by teach­ing English and other sub­jects, and immers­ing herself in local culture more.

At this time, NZBMS enlisted the help of Aus­tralia and British Bap­tists to try and settle on a place for an NZ base. With Rosalie’s encour­age­ment, they chose B—ria (east of N—unj).

About this time Rosalie again became ill. She stayed in her hut and one evening a small boy peered in and saw her pray to her God. When she asked her house owner for some goat’s milk she care­fully checked that the woman’s child would not receive less milk because of her. This little story had a sur­pris­ing after­math: many years later a man asked at a nearby Chris­t­ian base to be bap­tised. The pastor asked how he came to be there. He said he was the small boy that Rosalie had been con­cerned about. His mother had then pledged not to decrease his milk, and he’d been deeply impressed by this, and the lady’s piety, unselfish­ness and gen­tle­ness. So years later he had searched for, and found, the Jesus whom Rosalie was praying to.

Two new com­pan­ions and an expe­ri­enced middle-aged couple arrived from New Zealand to work with Rosalie. Miss Hopestill Pillow, Miss Bacon, and Mr and Mrs Emeric de St Dalmas, who had joined NZBMS after expe­ri­ence in India within the British Bap­tists. Their new task, to run the site in B—ria work, was a comfort to Rosalie, who was thank­ful to have friends from home.

Final days

In January 1891, Rosalie wrote home that she was well and strong again and ready for another year’s work. However, at a routine doctor’s visit, she was told to return imme­di­ately to New Zealand. Reluc­tantly, she left East B—l to go home via Sri Lanka. Old friends the Carters met her in Ceylon, finding her ill with a fever, and imme­di­ately arranged a stay inland. Though attended by a skilled doctor she passed away six days later on 12 April 1891. She was 31.

Global workers and Tamil Chris­tians sang as they carried her to her resting place in the garden town of Kandy. In four and half years she had, with faith and zeal, trail­blazed cross-cul­tural work for the gen­er­a­tions that would come after.

Adapted from ​​–1891/

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