On May 12, 1807, he sailed on the Trident and arrived in Canton on September 6, that same year. He took residence in the American section of a restricted enclave where the Chinese government allowed foreign traders to live and conduct business with Chinese traders. He immediately took up the task of learning the Chinese language. With the assistance of 2 local helpers and teachers, he was able to learn the language. This was conducted in extreme secrecy as these workers risked their lives doing this.
Robert Morrison moved back and forth a few times from Canton to Macao, a small island off the coast of south China. In either place, he was greatly restricted to do the work of evangelism and faced great resistance from the Roman Catholic bishop living on Macao. This bishop issued an anathema against any who had interaction with Morrison, received his books or supplied him with Chinese books. The Catholics had already established a presence on the island and were in good favour with the Portuguese governor. Meanwhile, Morrison continued to labour diligently to learn the Chinese language and began compiling a book on Chinese grammar.
In 1809, a couple of significant events took place in the life of Morrison. First, the East India Company had recognized his skill with the Chinese language and offered to employ him as their official translator and interpreter in all their official China affairs. This gave him a handsome wage, allowed him to reside there officially and gave him the opportunity to continue developing his language skills. Second, he fell in love with Mary Morton, who was the daughter of a surgeon of the Royal Irish Regiment there. They had a happy marriage and were blessed with two children. In 1815, Mary was forced to return to England with her two children due to her loss of health. This began a bleak time in the life of Morrison. His wife returned in 1820, but died of continued weakness in 1821. Mary was buried in Macao, and her two children were sent back to England. Morrison grieved many years over the loss of his dear wife Mary and missed his young children every day. Yet, he persevered in language study and compiled a 6-volume edition of an English-Chinese dictionary, which was ready for publication in 1822. This and his grammar book were huge accomplishments and used by the East India Company in teaching their employees involved with trade in China. With funds provided by the company, this was printed and distributed widely in Chinese-speaking territories of the then British empire.
Morrison was involved in Bible translation immediately upon his arrival in China. He published the book of Acts first as a result of him finding a copy in Chinese in the British Library before his departure. Three copies were sent back to England, which aroused a great enthusiasm among the LMS and the British and Foreign Bible Society. An additional amount of 500 pounds was allocated for the continuation of the translation efforts of Morrison. He came to realize that the task of translating the entire Bible was too much of a task for one person and requested the LMS to send him a helper. In 1912, William Milne was sent out by the London Missionary Society to assist Morrison in his arduous task of translating the Scriptures. He arrived in Macao 1813, transferred 3 days later to Canton, and began his language studies there. One of Milne’s famous statements on learning Chinese was: ‘Learning the Chinese language requires bodies of iron, lungs of brass, heads of oak, hands of spring steel, eyes of eagles, hearts of apostles, memories of angels, and lives of Methuselah.’