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Ernest Tipson (1884–1958) was a Brethren Missionary and linguist who compiled a dictionary of Cantonese.

Born into a large Brethren family in Enfield, England, Tipson began his working life, at the age of 14, as an architect's clerk and typist, but was called to missionary service in the early 1900s. His first posting was to Penang and he sailed there from the UK in September 1908. In October 1909, he travelled to Canton (now Guangzhou) in China where he spent almost two years mastering the Cantonese dialect. This was to be a vital tool in his missionary work and he went on to acquire the Hokkien dialect, and perhaps others too.

His lingusitic prowess, and later his acknowledged status as a gifted Chinese scholar, was extraordinary in the light of his humble education at a Board School back in England

His Pocket Dictionary of the Amoy Vernacular is still referenced during the compilation of modern Chinese/English dictionaries. Ernest, true to his faith and calling, ensured that every word in the Bible found its way into his dictionary. Another of his publications, a Complete Chinese Character Course, was mostly created in Changi Prison during the war.

On his return from Canton (March 1911), he remained in Penang for a while (where he married Agnes Millar) and was later based in Kuala Lumpur. His missionary work involved preaching the Gospel, evangelism, and visiting lepers and prisoners. As with most missionaries, in those times, there was the ever-present danger of ill-health and death brought on by the heat and humidity of Malaya. In August 1914, his youngest child, Teddie, fell ill with gastro-enteritis and died. Teddy was just one year old.

In 1917, Ernest himself became seriously ill, with a nervous breakdown, and left immediately for Sydney, Australia. He could not return home to Engalnd due to the conflict with Germany; the First World War was consuming Europe at that time. Finally, he arrived back in England in December 1918.

After a few years on furlough, he returned to Kuala Lumpur in 1920. It was in 1928 that he moved to Singapore to take up the post of Secretary to the British & Foreign Bible Society for Malaya.

Nearing retirement, and almost 60, Ernest was incarcerated in Changi Prison during the occupation of Singapore by the Japanese during much of the Second World War. To begin with, he occupied Cell 24, along with Shenton Thomas, the then Governor of Singapore.

His survival, said his son, also Ernest, was probably due to his tremendous sense of humour and the good company and support of son-in-law David. Liberated in 1945, Ernest Senior travelled to India to be reunited with his wife and son. "He was as thin as a stick!" remembers his Ernest Junior. "We fell into each others arms."

After the war, Ernest Tipson resumed his work in Singapore briefly, but soon returned to England. He died in Cornwall during a preaching visit to a local Gospel hall.


  • A Pocket Dictionary of the Amoy Vernacular, Chinese-English. (1935)
  • A Cantonese Syllabary-Index to Soothill’s Pocket Dictionary, incorporating all Cantonese colloquial characters and their meanings. (1951)
  • Complete Chinese Character Course, etc. (1949)


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