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BOURQUIN, JOHANN HEINRICH THEODOR, educator, Moravian missionary, and grammarian; b. 24 Nov. 1833 in Weberhof, near Orellen, Livonia, son of Isaak Bourquin and Auguste Charlotte Reichel; m. 8 April 1863 Marie Caroline Gysin in Niesky (Germany), and they had four daughters and three sons; d. 17 Dec. 1914 in Herrnhut, Germany.

Born of parents who were serving the Moravian church in Livonia, Theodor Bourquin was sent to German Moravian schools, first to the boys’ school at Kleinwelka (1841–46) and then to the teachers’ college at Niesky (1846–51). From 1851 to 1854 he received his seminary training at Gnadenfeld (Gościęcin, Poland), after which he returned to Niesky as a teacher (1854–61). Believing that one should develop the body into a capable tool for the spirit, he distinguished himself through his engagement in school sports and his editorship of a songbook for gymnasts, and he encouraged the building of a gymnasium for the students. He was ordained acolyte on 8 June 1861 and deacon on 21 Sept. 1862.

In 1862 he received three calls. The first, to Neuwied, he was reluctant to accept, and he requested that it be tested by lot, the Moravian method of seeking God’s direction in matters of great personal or vocational importance by stating a question and then drawing a yes or no lot. The lot fell negative. He briefly accepted the second call, to Gnadenfrei (Piława, Poland). The third call was to the mission field in Labrador. Bourquin, who had never wished to be engaged in missionary activity, least of all in the “icy loneliness” of Labrador, had this call as well tested by lot, which confirmed the assignment. Shortly before his departure he married Marie Caroline Gysin, who also became an acolyte.

The Bourquins arrived in Hopedale on 25 July 1863 and served in Nain from 1863 to 1866, when they moved to Hebron for two years. There they made the close acquaintance of Friedrich Erdmann, the author of an Inuktitut dictionary and translator of the Bible into Inuktitut, from whom Bourquin received much help toward producing his own grammar. In 1867 Bourquin succeeded Carl August Freitag as superintendent of the Labrador mission, a position which entailed responsibility for all the stations. As superintendent, Bourquin had to determine annually who was to serve in the individual stations, issue instructions for missionary work, and serve as councillor and mediator when problems and conflicts arose. He took up the post at Nain in 1868 and held it until 1889, with the exception of a two-year leave in Europe (1871–73). Part of the furlough he spent with Moravian friends in Malmesbury, England, in an effort to improve his English; he also published in Leipzig, Germany, a translation of 100 German folksongs into Inuktitut. Before his return to Labrador, on 20 April 1873 he was ordained presbyter in Herrnhut.

Bourquin’s main contribution to the study of Inuktitut is his grammar, which he began in 1876 and completed in 1887. He left Labrador in 1889 to oversee its publication, and it appeared two years later with the financial support of the Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel. The grammar would remain the authoritative reference work for German-speaking missionaries into the 20th century and would be translated into English for English-speaking missionaries about 1900. It was the first of its kind to be written in the Labrador dialect. The earliest missionaries to Labrador had served previously in Greenland and had brought with them grammars written for the Greenland dialect. This Greenland connection had continued in the correspondence from 1865 to 1880 between Bourquin and his Greenland fellow missionary and grammarian Samuel Petrus Kleinschmidt. Kleinschmidt found the early Greenland grammars so inaccurate that he started his own, which involved a major revision of orthography. He was critical of Bourquin for not having done the same for the Labrador dialect, but Bourquin felt that such a revision would not be accepted in Labrador by the older missionaries or by the Inuit, who had learned the old orthography in the mission school. A new orthography would also have rendered useless the many dictionaries and translations in the Labrador mission. In 1881 Kleinschmidt himself accepted this position when he stated that “an incomplete revision which the people accept is better than a complete one which they want to have nothing to do with.”

After his return to Germany, Bourquin accepted a post in 1890 as secretary of the Unity’s Elders’ Conference. The same year he entered the church’s administration at Berthelsdorf, where he served for 17 years in financial, ecclesiastical, and pedagogical positions and participated in the development of the new liturgy which appeared in 1907. He retired in 1907 to Herrnhut and died there in his 82nd year.

Bourquin judged himself to be rather superficial, not given to deep introspection or brooding. He was a reluctant leader who did not find it easy to deal with the manifold problems of the trade with the Inuit and the administration of the stores as well as difficulties in the church. During his tenure as superintendent, Bourquin faced two major problems. The first was the dissatisfaction associated with a new Moravian policy which separated the mission from the trade and resulted in many conflicts between missionaries and the Inuit. The second was a resurgence of Inuit spirituality and a threat to missionary authority during the 1870s under the direction of the Inuit leader Josua. The stress of these duties adversely affected his health until his return to Europe.

A nationalistic German, Bourquin served as German consul for Labrador from 1879 until his official release in 1891. His poetic talents are expressed in his many songs and in his contributions to the liturgy.

Marcella Rollmann

As superintendent of the Labrador mission, Johann Heinrich Theodor Bourquin prepared the following translations or adaptations into the Labrador dialect of Inuktitut: Okâlautsit . . . /Sermons and addresses printed for the S.F.G. in London, for the use of the Moravian mission in Labrador (3 pts. in 2v., Stolpen, Germany, 1870–71); a catechism of Bible history, Apersûtit kigutsillo . . . /Biblische und kirchengeschichtliche Fragen und Antworten sowie Erklärung verschiedener Fremdwörter (London, 1872; also issued in 2nd and 3rd eds. at Herrnhut, Germany, in 1910 and 1936, respectively); a collection of German folk-songs, Imgerutsit nôtiggit 100/Hundert Eskimoische Lieder . . . (Leipzig, Germany, 1872); the New Testament, Testamentitak . . . (a volume containing the Gospels and Acts was published at Stolpen in 1876, and an expanded version, containing the whole New Testament, was issued there in 1878); and a hymnal, Imgerutit . . . (Stolpen, 1879). Full references to these publications, including their complete Inuktitut titles, appear in Canadiana, 1867–1900, and in the bibliographies by Lande and Pilling cited below.

Bourquin’s grammar of the Labrador dialect was issued under the title Grammatik der Eskimo-sprache . . . (London and Gnadau, Germany, 1891). His autobiographical reminiscences were published posthumously as “Lebenslauf des am 17. Dezember 1914 in Herrnhut entschlafenen Bruders Heinrich Theodor Bourquin,” Mitteilungen aus der Brüder-Gemeine (Gnadau), 1915, no.4: 138–64; no.5: 190–213.

Drafts of Bourquin’s decennial reports as superintendent of the Labrador mission to the general synods of 1869, 1878, and 1888, as well as numerous letters, can be found in the records of the Moravian missions, Labrador, now housed at the Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary Library, Bethlehem, Pa (available on microfilm at NA, MG 17, D1, and at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial Univ. of Nfld, St John’s), in particular ff.10750–864 (reports) and ff.2479–3574, 9159–243, and 10294–739 (letters).

Archiv der Brüder-Unität (Herrnhut), Dienerblätter (service records for J. H. T. Bourquin and M. C. Gysin Bourquin); Hermann Jannasch, “Bunte Bilder aus meinem Leben: Erinnerungen aus dem Leben eines Missionars der Brüdergemeine” (typescript, Bad Boll [Boll], Germany, 1929–30); “Katalog des Unitätsarchivs der Drucke and Manuskripte von sprachlichen Arbeiten.” Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary Library, Records of the Moravian missions, Labrador, ff.15211–12 (“Catalogus der Missionare in Labrador”); ff.15312–18 (“Verzeichnis der von seitens der Missionare in der Eskimo-Sprache angefertigten Schriften, 1906”). Theodor Bechler, Samuel Kleinschmidt, der Sprachmeister Grönlands . . . (Herrnhut, 1930). S. [P] Kleinschmidt, Kleinschmidts Briefe an Theodor Bourquin, ed. Erik Holtved (Copenhagen, 1964). The Moravian missions to the Eskimos of Labrador; a checklist of manuscripts and printed material from 1715 to 1967. . . , comp. L. M. Lande (Montreal, 1973). J. C. Pilling, Bibliography of the Eskimo language (Washington, 1887); repr. as J. C. Pilling, Bibliographies of the languages of the North American Indians (9 pts. in 3v., New York, 1973), vol.1, pt.1. Marcella Rollmann, “The role of language in the Moravian missions to eighteenth-century Labrador,” Unitas Fratrum (Hamburg, Germany), no.34 (1993): 49–64. Karl Thom, Friedrich Erdmann, Missionar in Labrador . . . (Hemer, [Germany, 1968]).

General Bibliography

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Marcella Rollmann, “BOURQUIN, JOHANN HEINRICH THEODOR,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 13, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bourquin_johann_heinrich_theodor_14E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bourquin_johann_heinrich_theodor_14E.html
Author of Article:   Marcella Rollmann
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   April 13, 2024