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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 17 May 2022

This Wexford man walked 10,000 miles through China in 1914 to find his family

Dr Hadden survived 2,000 people throwing “clods of earth” at him during one point in his journey…

china chronicling america An article about the family in the Day Book, a Chicago publication Source: Library of Congress

DR GEORGE HADDEN was remarkable in many ways: a 7ft tall Wexford man who lived in China, a medical missionary of the Methodist faith… and a husband who apparently trekked 10,000 miles to find his lost family.

American newspapers from 100 years ago tell the fantastical tale of what happened to Dr Hadden when he became separated from his wife during riots in China, and spent years before seeing her again.

Where it all began

A look at American newspaper archives fills us in on the story the couple told when they finally met again, three years after they last saw each other.

Dr Hadden had been living in Yungchowfu for seven years with his wife when they became separated during the Shangsha riots on the Yang river.

Mrs Hadden was pregnant, and gave birth to a boy on St Patrick’s Day, who she named Patrick. This was March 1910 and little Patrick wouldn’t see his father until he was three years old.

Understandably, Dr Hadden had little idea of where his wife Helen was, and went “wandering” as the Day Book reports, for three years trying to find them.

Here’s how their story was depicted at the time:

china hadden 1 Source: Arizona Republican via Library of Congress

It was also covered in the Ogden Standard of Utah and in the Kennewick Courier in Washington:

china hadden 3 Source: Kennewick Courier via Library of Congress

The Day Book reported that it was only when Dr Hadden returned to his old post at YungChowfu that he learned that his wife was in Hongkong.

However, the Rock Island Argus said that Helen Hadden (for some reason she remains unnamed in all articles) was sent with her husband’s knowledge to a different town, where she gave birth at a missionary settlement.

The Argus also said that after a year apart, Dr Hadden got in touch with his wife, and found out he had become a father.

He didn’t leave his post, however, but trekked through the country by foot until he was reunited with his spouse and child at Canton.

Fact and fiction

While Day Book reported that Dr Hadden was 7ft 4, the Argus said he was “nearly 7ft”.

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While on his 10,000 mile trek, Dr Hadden must have had some incredible adventures.

In the colourful and not particularly racially-sensitive parlance of the time, the Day Book said that while walking across the fields in Kuei Yang Chow, the “natives” “looked upon him as a devil in the flesh and blood, and followed him 2,000 strong”.

Dr Hadden reported that he “walked a little faster” than usual as he was “pelted with clods of earth”.

Did the experience change the family? Perhaps these sentences tell it all:

final par Source: Chicago Day Book via Library of Congress

We do know that eventually, Hadden returned to Wexford – where his family were in the drapery and outfitting business – at the age of 60, where he remained until his death at the age of 91. Helen Hadden lived to the age of over 100.

No doubt their son Patrick had plenty of tales to tell his own children.

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