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Gairdner, William Henry Temple (1873–1928), missionary, was born on 31 July 1873 in the family's summer home at Ardrossan, Ayrshire, the second of five sons and four daughters of , professor of medicine at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow's chief medical officer, and his wife, Helen Bridget Wright. James Gairdner, the Tudor historian, was his uncle. He was educated first at St Ninian's preparatory school in Moffat, Dumfriesshire, and subsequently at Rossall School from 1887 to 1892. In October 1892 he entered Trinity College, Oxford, as an exhibitioner, emerging in 1896 contrary to his own and his friends' higher expectations with a second-class BA degree in both classical moderations and Greats.

In Trinity Gairdner's circle of close friends included J. H. Oldham, and while there, in reaction to the death of his brother Hugh, he became very actively involved, through the strongly evangelical Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, in the work of the Student Volunteer Missionary Union. He declared his intention to become a missionary at the annual Keswick Convention of 1893, and his enthusiasm was further fired there the following year by the American student leaders J. R. Mott and R. G. Speer, with their challenge to ‘the evangelization of the World in this generation’. On leaving Oxford he spent twelve months as a lay brother assisting the Oxford pastorate clergy, while also studying theology with F. J. Chavasse, principal of Wycliffe Hall. This was preparation enough to secure his acceptance as a missionary by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in November 1897.

Gairdner had no doubt that his destination lay in Egypt and the Sudan, his thoughts crystallizing in response to several influences. Thrilled by the royal jubilee celebrations of 1897, he was prompted to declare ‘I should like to serve my Queen. Can I do it better than by taking Christ to her Empire?’ (Padwick, 51). Like many of his contemporaries Gairdner had also been brought up a great admirer of General Gordon, whom he regarded as the embodiment of heroism and Christian service; as the reconquest of the Sudan went slowly ahead, the opportunity to complete Gordon's work there seemed very real. There was also a more general preoccupation with Islam at this time, especially in evangelical Anglican circles where eschatological reflections on Christianity's confrontation with ‘Mohammedanism’ resonated with the student movement's commitment to a missionary strategy which would hasten Christ's second coming.

From 1897 to 1898, based in London, Gairdner worked as travelling secretary for the British College Christian Union (forerunner of the Student Christian Movement), and then in 1899 spent a final two terms at Wycliffe Hall preparing for ordination and starting to learn Arabic. Ordained deacon in St Paul's Cathedral by the bishop of London early in October 1899, he left England six weeks later under instructions from the CMS to join his Oxford friend Douglas Thornton for work with students and educated Muslims in Cairo. With missionaries barred from the Sudan by the British authorities, Gairdner became steadily more settled in Cairo. Ordained priest in Alexandria in February 1901 by G. F. P. Blyth, bishop of Jerusalem, and abandoning earlier thoughts of a celibate life, on 16 October 1902 he married an old Glasgow friend, Margaret Dundas Mitchell (b. 1875), who had joined the CMS in Palestine the previous year. They had three sons and two daughters.

Increasingly convinced of Cairo's importance as the publishing and literary centre of the Islamic world, Gairdner came to share Thornton's belief that their task was not only to expound Christianity to Muslims but to stimulate Anglican understanding and sympathy for Islam. The creation of an educational, apologetic literature thus became his principal concern, a literature at once imaginative and wide-ranging in content and rid of its traditional yet ever more lifeless trading of theological argument. For Muslims, Gairdner produced a steady stream of lectures, leaflets, and pamphlets in Arabic, and in 1905 with Thornton set up a regular Arabic and English paper, Orient and Occident, which flourished unbroken until 1942. With similar inspiration he turned his own considerable musical talents to the adaptation of traditional local music for Christian worship. For readers at home, two of his books became of particular importance: D. M. Thornton: a Study in Missionary Ideals and Methods (1908), a biography of his friend who died of typhoid in 1907, was immediately followed by his survey for students, The Reproach of Islam (1909). Appearing in the setting provided by the Pan-Anglican Congress of 1908 and the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference of 1910, which paid considerable attention to the expansion of Islam, both books were widely read. Gairdner's prominence in the early twentieth-century encounter between Christianity and Islam was finally confirmed by his commission to write the popular report of the Edinburgh conference. ‘Edinburgh 1910’: an Account and Interpretation of the World Missionary Conference (1910), written in only eight weeks, in part restated for a new generation the challenge presented by Islam and its centrality in what he interpreted as a major turning point in world history.

The lines of Gairdner's career were now well established. After Edinburgh he visited the United States, Germany, and Hungary to update his knowledge of Arabic scholarship, before returning to Cairo. Continuing his own study and writing, he also acquired an outstanding reputation as a linguist and teacher of Arabic, activities concentrated in the Cairo Study Centre which he set up in 1912. However, administrative obligations constantly intruded, never more so than for the duration of the First World War, when he was obliged to take over the secretaryship of the Cairo mission. Ever anxious to influence the growing nationalist movement, Gairdner also fostered the YMCA in Cairo. He worked constantly to improve relations both with other churches, such as the Copts, and between the different missionary societies.

Gairdner was tall, athletic, and clean-shaven, and somewhat short-sighted. An impulsive, versatile, warm, and unpretentious man, he was much loved, and much mourned when he died on 22 May 1928 of septicaemia in Cairo's Anglo-American Hospital. He was buried in Cairo. A memorial appeal made possible the building of a new church in Old Cairo, completed in 1934 as home to the Egyptian Episcopal church.

Andrew Porter


C. E. Padwick, Temple Gairdner of Cairo, rev. edn (1930) · G. Hewitt, The problems of success: a history of the Church Missionary Society, 1910–1942, 2 vols. (1971–7) · E. Stock, The history of the Church Missionary Society: its environment, its men and its work, 4 (1916) · L. L. Vander Werff, ‘The strategy of Christian missions to Muslims: Anglican and reformed contributions in India and the Near East from Henry Martyn to Samuel Zwemer, 1800–1938’, PhD diss., U. Edin., 1967 · The Rossall register, 1881–1954 (1956) · CMS Register of Missionaries and Native Clergy (CMS, privately printed, c.1904) · WWW · L. R. Murphy, ‘W. H. T. Gairdner: an Englishman in Egypt’, Personalities and policies: essays on English and European history presented in honor of Dr Marguerite Potter, ed. E. D. Malpas (1977), 76–93 · G. K. A. Bell, Randall Davidson, archbishop of Canterbury, 3rd edn (1952)


U. Birm. L., Church Missionary Society archive


photographs, 1902–26, repro. in Padwick, Temple Gairdner of Cairo