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William Moseley's Ancestor Inspired Chinese Translation of the Bible

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

'Narnia' actor William Moseley's 3rd great grandfather sparked interest in translating the Bible into Chinese and sending Protestant missions to China.

William Moseley the Chronicles of Narnia and The Royals actor - Mike Batie

You probably recognize William Moseley best for his roles as Peter Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia films, and as Prince Liam in the E! series The Royals. William also has acting credits in at least 29 roles, including the upcoming film Medieval (which my medieval history geek heart is excited for).

William Moseley as Peter Pevensie and Prince Liam - Hollywood Ancestry by Mike Batie
William Moseley as Peter Pevensie in 'The Chronicles of Narnia' (left), and Prince Liam in 'The Royals' (right). / Images via Disney and E!

William Moseley was kind enough to share with me some of the information and stories he knew about his family, which enabled me to have some breakthroughs in researching his family tree. I made a number of interesting discoveries which I will share further over the course of several articles. So, big thanks to William for his help in making this research a great success!

Patriarchal Line of Descent

Let's take a look first at William's patriarchal Moseley line.

William Moseley ancestors chart showing seven generations by Mike Batie.
William Moseley's patriarchal line of descent, showing seven generations of Moseleys. | Chart by Mike Batie / Image via E! series 'The Royals'

Reverend Doctor William Willis Moseley

As you can see from the line of descent chart above, actor William Moseley is the fourth in his patriarchal line to carry the name.

William's third great grandfather, William Willis Moseley, was a reverend and a doctor. William was born in England in 1769 in Peckham, Surrey, England to parents William Moseley and Mary Hall.

On 27 May 1796 he was married to Margaret Jackson Robins at Saint Mary's in Bromley Saint Leonard (pictured below). The church was destroyed in a bombing raid during World War II.

Saint Mary's Church, where William Willis Moseley was married.
Saint Mary's Church in Bromley Saint Leonard, England. / Image via THHOL

The Rev. Dr. W.W. Moseley, as he is often shown on records, kept a large private school at Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire.

In 1799, Rev. Dr. Moseley was doing research in the British Museum when he discovered a dusty Chinese manuscript. He soon discovered it was a Chinese translation of selections from the New Testament. It had been collected by Sir Hans Sloane, who gave it to the British Museum, and it has been catalogued as MS Sloane 3599.

Portrait of Sir Hans Sloane
Sir Hans Sloane deposited the Chinese manuscript of the New Testament into the British Museum many years prior to its rediscovery by Dr. W.W. Moseley. / Image via the National Portrait Gallery

The Reverend Moseley was anxious to share the gospel with China, a nation that had not really been exposed to Christianity at the time. He wrote many individuals, urging “the establishment of a society for translating the Holy Scriptures into the languages of the populous oriental nations.”

Images of the Chinese manuscript found by Dr. W.W. Moseley in the British Museum.
Facsimiles of the manuscript Dr. W.W. Moseley found in the British Museum, and led him to inspire further translation of the Bible into Chinese and the spread of Protestant missions to China. / Images via Cambridge University

Rev. Moseley printed 100 copies of a tract “on the importance of translating and publishing the Holy Scriptures into the Chinese language.” The tracts were sent to all the bishops of England, but were met with discouraging replies.

Image of William Willis Moseley's residence in 1860, a tall building of red brick with white trim.
1860 residence of Rev. William Willis Moseley, at 18 Bloomsbury Street, London, as recorded in a city directory. / Image via Google Maps

Dr. Bogue, the head of Hoxton Academy, was moved by Rev. Moseley’s tract, and was inspired to enlist the help of a missionary named Robert Morrison, who learned the language, and completed a full Chinese translation of the Bible and printed it in 1823. Morrison went on to baptize a number of Chinese converts to Christianity.

Cover of Rev. Dr. William Willis Moseley's book.
Cover of Rev. Dr. William Willis Moseley's book.

Thus, Rev. W.W. Moseley played a key role in the spread of Christianity to China, which spread rapidly after the translation. He even wrote a book chronicling the events surrounding the translation of the Bible into the Chinese language and the first Protestant mission to China. You can read his book online here.

Title page of Rev. Dr. William Willis Moseley's book on the Protestant mission to China.
Title page of Rev. Dr. William Willis Moseley's book on the Protestant mission to China.

Rev. Dr. William Willis Moseley passed away at the age of 94 years on 3 July 1863 in Fulham, England and is buried in Kensington and Chelsea, London.

William Moseley as Peter in The Chronicles of Narnia.
William Moseley as Peter in The Chronicles of Narnia / Image via Disney

It's fascinating that Rev. Dr. W.W. Moseley was interested in spreading the Christian narrative in a new language. Little did he know that, several generations later, his 3rd great grandson (who also bore his name) would star in the lead role of the of The Chronicles of Narnia films based on the books by C.S. Lewis, which have been used to teach youths Christian themes in a "new" language — that of an exciting fictional retelling of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. I think Rev. Moseley would be proud and delighted.

Actor William Moseley's 3rd great grandfather is an ancestor that gives rise to several generations of intellectuals in the Moseley family tree, as his children would become scientists, architects, scholars, and educators.

I have more articles coming on these Moseley ancestors, as I was able to find a wealth of interesting persons in his family tree. Once again I have to give a big thanks to William for sharing some info that helped me make these interesting discoveries.


About the Author

Storytelling binds generations. Films and family history are both powerful forms of storytelling that do just that. Family history research has been a passion of mine since I was a teenager. Having researched my own family tree extensively, I enjoy looking into the family trees of notable people. It gives me a sense of their background and what shaped them and their family into who they are today. To see their roots and where they come from is always inspiring. Being a history geek, I’m often in awe of the historical experiences of their ancestors and how they connect to the present day. I hope to inspire others to research their own family trees and find out where they come from by sharing interesting insights from the family trees of some of my favorite artists and entertainers.

— Mike Batie



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