George Scott Railton was born in Arbroath, Scotland in 1849, the son of Methodist missionaries Lancelot Railton and Margaret Scott. His parents both died in November 1864, probably of cholera. The death of his parents left the 15 year old Railton homeless and jobless. He briefly worked for a shipping company in London, before travelling to Morocco in 1869 as a Christian missionary.
In 1872, Railton read a copy of the Christian Mission’s report ‘How to reach the masses with the Gospel’. Moved and inspired, he wrote to William Booth and subsequently joined the Christian Mission. For some years, he lived with the Booth household as William Booth’s secretary. He became the acting editor of 'The Christian Mission Magazine' and in September 1873 was appointed General Secretary to The Christian Mission.
Railton was inspired by the missionary spirit in a far wider sense than is generally understood. He was a missionary not for a province, land, or people, but for the world.
In 1880, Railton travelled to New York with seven female officers (ministers) - nicknamed the 'Hallelujah Lassies' - to start the first Salvation Army mission in the United States. Railton and the "lassies" made swift progress, joining with the unofficial work already begun by the Shirley family in Philadelphia. He also began the work in Newark, New Jersey, leaving two young women in charge. With typical zeal, he soon departed for St. Louis, Missouri, in an effort to begin work there, but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, in New York the work had gone so well that by May there were 16 officers, 40 cadets, and 412 soldiers. By the end of 1880, a total of 1,500 had been converted.
The Salvation Army is now the second biggest charity in the United States, with more than 1,200 churches and 123,843 members.
After great success developing the work in the USA, he was called back to England in 1881. Three years later, he married Marianne Parkyn. The couple settled at Margate and had children, but Railton continued to spent much of his time travelling overseas. He conducted campaigns in South Africa, Holland, South America, the West Indies, the Far East, West Africa, Russia, and Turkey. He was appointed head of SA work in Germany, from 1890 to1894 and was Territorial Commander in France from 1901 to 1902.
In the course of his voyages, he made many contributions to the Army's work. They include song books in Zulu and Dutch, the beginnings of the Army and Navy League for Salvationist servicemen away from home, and the Prison Gate work for recently-released prisoners.
In 1906, in accordance with the founder's wishes, he scouted China to look for possibilities for the Army's work which began in 1915. He also gloried in reaching the Japanese people, where he found the work already in progress.
Railton's health began to fail noticeably in 1913, the year after Booth's death. He kept up his frantic schedule with a trip to France and Holland and an impulsive stop in Cologne, Germany. In July 1913, after running for a train with heavy baggage, he collapsed and died at the age of 64. His first lying in state was at the men's shelter in that city.
People from all walks of life, from all over the world, mourned his promotion to glory. World Commissioners followed the car bearing his casket. As the procession passed Parliament, a band was permitted to play for the first time in 100 years. George Scott Railton was truly William Booth's spiritual son and was laid to rest beside The Salvation Army's founder. There is a memorial to the late George Railton in Battery Park, Manhattan, New York City and The Railton School for Youth Worker Training in Suffern, New York is named after him.