Happy Birthday, James Scarth Gale (February 19, 1863 – January 31, 1937)


Born in Canada 150 years ago, James Gale was one of the founders of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch in 1900.

He first arrived in Korea in 1888, and studied Korean and Classical Chinese intensively. He and Mark Napier Trollope were two of the leading scholar-missionaries of the period, together with Homer Hulbert, who was forced to leave Korea in 1909.

Gale gave the very first paper presentation in the RASKB’s history and served as its President in 1915, Vice-President 1923-7. 

Richard Rutt published an extremely detailed biography of Gale filling the first 88 pages of his edition of Gale’s History of the Korean People (published by and available from RASKB).


The following outline biography is based on that in the pages about the Gale Archive in the Library of the University of Toronto. See also the Wikipedia entry that I have revised.


1863 Born February 19th in the village of Alma, Wellington County, Ontario to John and Miami (née Bradt) Gale.

Why Scarth? Gale's uncle Alexander, when he was studying in Aberdeen before moving to Canada, met and fell for a young lady, Margaret Scarth. Then he moved to Canada and received no response to his letters to her. Ten years later, she wrote to explain that the aunt she was living with had intercepted his letters,and she had found them after the aunt died. Alexander wrote back inviting her to join him in Canada, which she did. They had a son, whom they called James Scarth Gale, using the mother's maiden name as a middle name, a common practice. The talented son died of tuberculosis a little before our James was born, so he received the dead boy's name in memory of him.


1886 Spent the summer in Paris, studying French. He spent some time visiting London on the way to France but did not much enjoy either country.


1888 Graduated from University College at the University of Toronto with a B.A. in arts. Registered at Knox College to study theology, but instead left for Korea as a missionary volunteer with the YMCA.


1891 Joined the U.S.A. Presbyterian Mission in Korea.


1892 Married Hattie (née Gibson) Heron, widow of his friend, Dr. J.W. Heron, who had died in 1890.

From 1892-1897 the Gales lived in Wonsan while Gale served as member of the “Board of Official Translators” of the Korean Bible. He worked with Henry G. Appenzeller, Horace G. Underwood, William B. Scranton, and William D. Reynolds.

(Back row)Kim Chung-sam, Kim Myong-jun, Yi Jang-jik
(Front row) W.D. Reynolds, H.G Underwood, J.S Gale

1894 Published Korean Grammatical Forms (Seoul: Trilingual Press)


1895 Published a Korean translation prepared by his wife and himself  of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (Seoul: Trilingual Press) as 천로역정 天路歷程 with illustrations in archaic Sino-Korean style.


1897 Published Korean-English Dictionary (Yokohama: Kelby) and Korean Sketches (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell)
.  Spent one year in Washington, D.C. where he was ordained by the New Albany Presbytery.


1898 Returned to Korea.


1900 Gale founded Yeondong Church in Seoul, where he remained as pastor until he left Korea. In the same year, he was one of the founding members of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, of which he became the first Corresponding Secretary, and on October 24 he presented the first paper, on "The Influence of China upon Korea." Later, in 1915, he served as the Society's President. In 1900 Mrs. Gale and her daughters went to Switzerland where they remained for six years.


1903 Gale was one of the founding members of the Hansong Young Men’s Christian Association, presently the Korean YMCA and was elected as its first president. Travelled via the Trans-Siberian Railway to Switzerland where he spent six months.  Wrote and published The Vanguard (New York: Fleming H. Revell) Received an honorary degree, Doctor of Divinity, from Howard University, Washington, D.C.


1906 Spent a year’s leave in Washington


1907 Returned to Korea with his family. Mrs. Gale became ill and died the following year.


1909 Published Korea in Transition (New York: Young People’s Missionary Movement of the United States and Canada)

 1910 Married Ada Louise Sale, from England, who had grown up in Japan


1911 Birth of George James Marley Gale


1913 Published a. translation of tales by Im Bang and Yi Ryuk, Korean Folk Tales (London: J.M. Dent)


1917-1919 Edited (and wrote the contents of) the Korea Magazine, a monthly review, until just after the March 1 1919 Independence Movement, when it ceased to appear.


1918 Birth of Ada Alexandra Gale


1922 Published a translation of a work by Kim Man-Choong, The Cloud Dream of the Nine (London: Daniel O’Connor)

 1924-6 Wrote his History of the Korean People, publishing it in installments in The Korea Mission Field.


1925 Published his Korean translation of the Bible prepared after rejecting the over-literal official versions.


1927 Retired from missionary work in Korea; went to live in Bath, England, his wife being British in origin. They lived in 35, St. James Square, Bath, the house where the writer Walter Savage Landor lived in the first half of the 19th century. Charles Dickens often visited him there and these literary associations meant a lot to Gale. (The house is that to the right of the arch, with plaques commemorating Dickens and Landor, but not Gale. It is currently for sale)

1937 Died in Bath January 31st at the end of a gradual decline. Gale is buried in Lansdown cemetery, overlooking Bath.



Published articles available online

Korean Coolie. The Korean Repository, Vol.III (December, 1896), pp. 475-481.


Trip Across Northern Korea. The Korean Repository, Vol.IV (March,1897), pp. 81-89




The Influence of China upon Korea. I:1-24. 1900.


Han-Yang (Seoul). II, part Il:1-43. 1902.


The Korean Alphabet.  IV, part I:12-61. 1912-13.


Selection and Divorce.  IV, part III:17-22. 1913.


The Pagoda of Seoul.  VI, part II:1-22. 1915.


The Diamond Mountains.  XIII:1-67. 1922.


A Shipwreck (Korean) in 1636 A.D. XV:3-22. 1924.