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Tristram, Katherine Alice Salvinfree

  • P. F. Kornicki

Tristram, Katherine Alice Salvin (1858–1948), missionary and teacher in Japan, was born on 29 April 1858 in Castle Eden, co. Durham, as the fifth child of the Revd Henry Baker Tristram (1822–1906), canon of Durham, and his wife, Eleanor Mary (d. 1903), daughter of Captain P. Bowlby. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies' College, and in 1882 she was appointed lecturer in mathematics at Westfield College, London, becoming the college's first resident lecturer. She continued her studies while teaching and in 1887 graduated from the University of London less than ten years after women were first admitted to degrees.

In May 1887 Tristram offered her services as a missionary in Japan under a plan for Christian educational institutions which had been put forward by Professor Masakazu Toyama of the University of Tokyo, who was not himself a Christian. The Japanese committee responsible for a newly established institute for women's education in Osaka offered her the principalship, but the missionary societies did not favour the notion of a missionary being employed by a non-Christian committee, so she offered her services instead to the Church Missionary Society and left for Japan on 20 October 1888. She remained in Japan until 1938, seeing her family only during the occasional home leave, apart from the visit of her father to Japan in 1891.

Upon arrival Tristram joined the staff of the Eisei Girls' School, which had been founded in Osaka in 1879 and was taken over by the Church Missionary Society on 1 March 1889. Tristram managed to pass an examination in Japanese in 1889, and in January 1890 she became headmistress of the school. On 10 March 1890 the school was reopened under a new name, the Bishop Poole Memorial Girls' School, after Arthur William Poole, the first English bishop in Japan. At that time there were at the school two other British women apart from Tristram, as well as eight Japanese teachers, including four women, and there were forty-nine pupils, of whom twenty-three were Christians. A year after her arrival she had written, 'Our great hope for the school is that it may be a missionary school, in the sense of the girls themselves who are Christians being missionaries to the others' (One Hundred and Ten Years of Poole Gakuin in Photographs, 140), and throughout her fifty years in Japan she remained a keen evangelist. As such, she was responsible not only for the teaching offered in the school but also for spreading the Christian faith among the pupils, in which she met with considerable success at first. Under her guidance as a woman graduate, a rarity among the female missionaries, the school's academic reputation grew; in a report written in 1889 the Revd Charles Frederick Warren, secretary of the Church Missionary Society mission in Japan, noted 'the improvement of the course of study, so as to meet the needs of girls and women of the upper classes' (Church Missionary Intelligencer, Sept 1889, 568). It was presumably to meet those needs that, according to her father (Tristram, Rambles, 242), flower arrangement and the tea ceremony were included in the curriculum. In 1909 the school finally received government recognition as a high school while retaining the right to preach the gospel, and it was still in existence in 2000 in the form of a private university, Poole Gakuin University.

Tristram was, however, not only seeking to meet the needs of the 'upper classes'. At the time of her father's visit, she was running a Sunday school 'in a poor woman's dwelling-house … in a very poor part of the city' (Tristram, Rambles, 230). She was engaged in other work, too, such as nursing the injured following the Osaka earthquake of 1891 and, in 1901–2, running a class for policemen, which consisted of a mixture of English instruction and Bible teaching.

Upon retirement in 1927, Tristram gave much of her time to the Garden Home, a sanatorium established outside Tokyo for sufferers from tuberculosis. In 1931 she was awarded the Ranju Hosho (blue ribbon Distinguished Service Medal) by the emperor in recognition of her work in Japan. In 1937, following the outbreak of war with China and the increasing international isolation of Japan, life became more difficult for the British and American missionaries, and in 1938 she left Japan for good.

Like many other female missionaries, Tristram dedicated her life to her career as a missionary and remained unmarried. She died at Brislington House, Bristol, on 24 August 1948.


  • One hundred and ten years of Poole Gakuin in photographs (1990)
  • E. Stock, The history of the Church Missionary Society: its environment, its men and its work, 4 vols. (1899–1916)
  • Tochio Kubo, ‘K. Torisutoramu – Pūru jogakkōchō to shite yonjūnen’, Akashibitotachi – Nihon Seikōkai jinbutsushi (1974)
  • H. B. Tristram, Rambles in Japan (1895)
  • WWW, 1951–60
  • ‘Recollections of Henry Baker Tristram D.D., F.R.S.: an account written by Louisa Hely Hutchinson Tristram, his daughter and secretary, in 1898’, ed. L. H. H. Tristram, unpublished typescript, priv. coll.
  • J. Sondheimer, Castle Adamant in Hampstead: a history of Westfield College, 1882–1982 (1983)
  • d. cert.


  • U. Birm. L., Church Missionary Society archives


  • bust, Poole Gakuin Daigaku, Osaka; repro. in One hundred and ten years of Poole Gakuin, 93
  • photographs, Poole Gakuin Daigaku, Osaka; repro. in One hundred and ten years of Poole Gakuin

Wealth at Death

£10,074 6s. 3d.: probate, 7 Dec 1948, CGPLA Eng. & Wales