ELLIS, WILLIAM: English missionary; b. in London Aug. 29, 1794; d. at Hoddesdon (4 m. s.e. of Hertford), Hertfordshire, June 9, 1872. He was sent by the London Missionary Society to the South Sea islands in 1816 and labored there till 1822, when he removed to Oahu, Hawaiian Islands (q.v.). He assisted the American missionaries in the conversion of the people and reduced the Hawaiian language to a written form. In 1825 the state of his wife's health compelled him to return to England. On the way he spent three months in the United States, lecturing on conditions in Hawaii. He now entered the home-work of the Society, became assistant foreign secretary in 1830 and soon afterward chief foreign secretary, retiring in 1844 on account of ill health. In 1837 he married as his second wife, Miss Sarah Stickney, a lady of some literary fame. In 1853 he was sent to Madagascar to revive the mission there (see AFRICA, III., MADAGASCAR), but not till his third trip in 1856 was he allowed to enter the capital, and then only for a month. In 1861, after the death of Queen Ranavalona I. he made his fourth, and most satisfactory, visit to the island, not returning to England till 1865. By his tact and zeal he placed Christianity upon a firm basis in the island, and his work was crowned in 1868 by the accession of a Christian queen to the throne.


As a missionary Mr. Ellis was thoroughly practical, being bent upon providing for the temporal, as well as for the spiritual, welfare of his converts. He had been bred a gardener; and the year before he went to the South Sea Islands he learned printing and bookbinding. Thus he was able to introduce many valuable plants and fruits and he set up the first printing-press in the archipelago. Through his books he won for missionaries, as a class, a respect they had not often enjoyed. Writing in the Quarterly Review Southey said of his Polynesian Researches (2 vols., London, 1829), "A more interesting book . . . we have never perused." His books were not merely faithful records of missionary labor but real contributions to science. Other works that may be mentioned are, Missionary Narrative of a Tour through Hawaii (London, 1826); History of Madagascar (2 vols., 1838); History of the London Missionary Society (not completed, vol. i., 1844); Three Visits to Madagascar (1858); Madagascar Revisited (1867); The Martyr Church of Madagascar (1870).


Bibliography: J. E. Ellis, Memoir of Rev. William Ellis, London, 1873 (by his son); DNB, xvii. 296-297.