Jessie McLaren (1883–1968), who was the daughter of Charles Reeve, a missionary in India, was born in Hobart. She grew up in Tasmania, India, Geelong and Melbourne, where she attended the Presbyterian Ladies’ College and the University of Melbourne. She became a travelling secretary for the Australian Student Christian Movement. In 1911 she married Charles McLaren, a Melbourne doctor, and they immediately left for Korea as missionaries of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. They lived in Korea for 30 years. From 1911 to 1923 Charles McLaren worked at Paton Memorial Hospital in Chinju and from 1923 onwards he taught at Severance Union Medical College in Seoul. Jessie McLaren taught history and Bible studies at Ewha College. In 1941, with war imminent, Jessie and her daughter returned to Australia. Charles McLaren was imprisoned in Korea and Japan, but was repatriated in 1942.
Jessie McLaren became interested in various aspects of Korean culture and collected many books during her years in Korea. Her daughter Rachel wrote of her mother that ‘books and gardening were two of her major hobbies’. During the 1920s, a long illness forced Jessie McLaren to be housebound and she used the time to immerse herself in Korean history and culture. She also improved her knowledge of Chinese and translated Chinese texts as well as Korean poetry. She was only able to bring back a small proportion of the books to Australia in 1941.
Rachel Human, the daughter of Jessie McLaren, donated the collection of Korean, Chinese and Japanese books to the Library in 1984.
The McLaren-Human Collection consists of 81 Korean books, 44 Japanese books and 11 Chinese books mostly acquired by Jessie McLaren while she was living in Korea. The subject matter of the Korean books ranges from history, literature and religion to cooking and gardening.
Most of the works on Korean history are reprints published in the early years of the twentieth century. There are three editions of the first comprehensive account of early Korean history, Samguk sagi, originally compiled in the twelfth century. Other examples are Samguk yusa, compiled by the Buddhist monk Iryŏn in the thirteenth century, and Tongguk t’onggam, a condensed history of China first published in 1484. There is an 1845 edition of Tonggyŏng chapki, the history of the ancient capital of Kyŏngju, which McLaren translated into English.
Among the many literary works in the collection, there is a rare 1803 edition of Kuunmong, a work of historical fiction written by Kim Man-jung in about 1687. Another early work is a 1713 edition of Tongmunsŏn, an anthology of Korean literature. Twentieth-century writers represented in the collection include the poet and novelist Yi Kwang-su and the poet, editor and historian Ch’oe Nam-sŏn.
The McLaren-Human Collection contains some rare dictionaries and grammars. Two examples are James Gale, Present Day English-Korean (1924) and Lloyd Snyder, Handy Dictionary Note Book Collection: Chinese Characters in Common Use(1939).
Works on philosophy and religion include several Korean editions of the Analects of Confucius and other basic texts of Confucianism, such as the Great Learning. There are early editions of works by Yi Hwang, Korea’s greatest neo-Confucian philosopher. Of particular interest are two popular guides to Confucian and Buddhist virtues, written in both Chinese and Korean. Pulsŏl taebo pumo ŭnjunggyŏng ŏnhae, published in Hamgyŏng province in 1766, is an apocryphal Buddhist sutra on the subject of filial piety. Samgang haengsilto (1729) is a popular guide to Confucian ethics, with inspiring moral tales from Chinese and Korean history.
Other Korean works in the collection include 1931 and 1939 editions of a cookbook and a 1914 reprint of the travel diary of Kim Ch’ang-ŏp. Kim was a member of the Korean mission to the imperial court at Beijing in 1712–13.
The 44 Japanese works are either wholly or partly in Japanese or are by Japanese authors in Western languages. Most deal with the botany of Korea or other parts of East Asia and include several titles by the Japanese Government Botanist in Korea, Nakai Takenoshin. The other Japanese titles deal with Korean culture and bibliography. The 11 Chinese books include dictionaries, textbooks, copies of Chinese classics and works on Chinese botany.
Gale, James, Present Day English-Korean
The McLaren-Human Collection is housed in the Asian Collections. The Korean books have been kept together and the call numbers have the prefix OKM. The Japanese and Chinese books have been integrated into the Japanese and Chinese collections. The books contain a special bookplate featuring a gingko, a tree that featured in the McLaren gardens in both Seoul and Melbourne. The books have been individually catalogued and there is also a finding aid published by the Library in 2007.
Rachel Human donated books, manuscripts and letters of Jessie and Charles McLaren to the Uniting Church of Australia Archives in Melbourne. She also presented books, mainly about China and Japan, to La Trobe University Library in Melbourne.
Gosling, Andrew, Jessie McLaren: An Australian in Korea, National Library of Australia News, vol. 17 (11), August 2007, pp. 11–14.
Gosling, Andrew (comp.), Jessie’s Korea: Guide to the McLaren-Human Collection in the National Library of Australia, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2007.
Gosling, Andrew, Rare books from Korea, National Library of Australia News, vol. 18 (12), Sept 2008, pp. 306.
New, Esmond W., A Doctor in Korea: The Story of Charles McLaren, M.D., Australian Presbyterian Board of Missions, Sydney, 1958.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)