Friends from the British Isles


During the summer of 1839 seven members of the Council of the Twelve left Nauvoo, Illinois, for Europe. Most of them were just recovering from a malaria-like illness that had swept over the community, and they were still not well. However, these devoted men left their homes and families to take the stirring message of the gospel to the people of the British Isles.

Again this August many of the General Authorities of the Church will leave their homes and families to attend the all-British general conference at Manchester on August 27, 28, and 29.

It was in July of 1837 that the first missionaries reached Liverpool, England, and were inspired to go to Preston, Lancashire, to preach the gospel. It was here on Sunday, July 30, 1837, that nine persons were baptized in the river Ribble as the first converts to the Church.

Jennetta Richards, a twenty-year-old girl from Walkerfold, England, where her father was a minister, was the first person confirmed as a member of the Church in the British Isles.

Mary Smithies was the first child born in the British Mission and the first in all of England to be blessed and given a name in the Mormon Church.

Others who are first in the hearts of Church members include May Anderson, who served for fourteen years as the second general president of the Primary Association, and who for thirty-eight years was the editor of the Children’s Friend. Prior to becoming the Primary president, May was a counselor to Louie B. Felt, the very first general Primary president. One day while May and Sister Felt were walking along the street, they saw a badly crippled boy and were inspired to establish a hospital to help boys and girls who need care. This was the beginning of the Primary Children’s Hospital, which has made it possible for children all over the world to “give that sick children might live.”

May truly represents all of the British Isles. Her people were from Scotland; she was born in Liverpool, England, June 8, 1864; and she grew up in Ireland, where she attended schools in Cork and Dublin. Shortly after joining the Church with her family, she was given a blessing in which she was promised that she would someday go to America and that her name would be “known and honored in every hamlet in Zion.”

Another great woman leader in the Church, Ruth May Fox, was born November 16, 1853, in Westbury, Wiltshire, England. At the age of seventy-five she became the president of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association, after she had already given thirty-two years of service to that board.

Probably only a few members of the Church know that her mother died when Ruth was just sixteen months old, that Ruth emigrated to Utah while still a young girl, and that she became the mother of six boys and six girls. Almost everyone knows, however, that she wrote the words to the stirring song “Firm As the Mountains Around Us” with its challenging refrain, “Carry on, carry on, carry on!”

Ruth May Fox lived 104 years, and she truly carried on to bring honor to her native land and to the Church!

They Were There!

The plaintive strains of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” floated out of the jail on the warm June air. The three prisoners listened intently as John Taylor, the singer, again sang the prophetic words, “In prison I saw him next, condemned to meet a traitor’s doom.”

Two evenings before, on June 25, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, falsely accused of treason and inciting a riot, had been taken to the Carthage Jail. A number of friends went with them to give help and comfort; four of the group remained. These four were John Taylor, Dr. Willard Richards, Dan Jones, and Stephen Markham.

All the next day the men had read and prayed together. They had written letters to their loved ones back home in Nauvoo and to government officials, pleading for their safety and for a fair trial.

Now it was the second afternoon of their imprisonment. As John Taylor finished singing, he saw a number of armed men with painted faces rush around the jail. They were followed by a mob who pushed up the stairs, firing shots to break the lock of the door, then shooting bullets into the room. Hyrum was struck in the face and fell to the floor, mortally wounded.

John tried to ward off the attackers with a heavy walking stick, but could not. He turned and ran to a window, but before he could leap out, a shot struck him in the thigh and another came through the window, headed for his chest. It was stopped by a gold watch in his vest pocket. According to Dr. Richards, who later wrote of the tragic afternoon, it “smashed into ‘pie,’ leaving the hands standing at 5 o’clock, 16 minutes, and 26 seconds, the force of which ball threw him back on the floor, and he rolled under the bed which stood by his side, where he lay motionless.” Meanwhile, the Prophet Joseph had been murdered by the angry mob.

Dr. Richards dragged the injured John into an inner cell and covered him with an old mattress for protection.

Because of the gold watch and the care of Dr. Richards, John Taylor lived to become the third president of the Church. He was born at Milnthorpe, Westmoreland County, England, on November 1, 1808. While still a young man, he immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where he first heard the gospel.

After joining the Church, the Taylor family moved to Kirtland, Ohio, and eventually to the Salt Lake Valley with the Mormon pioneers. Shortly after his thirtieth birthday, John Taylor was ordained a member of the Council of the Twelve. He was one of the first apostles to visit England.

President Taylor’s favorite motto was “The Kingdom of God or nothing.” He lived so as to be known as “The Champion of Right.”

* * *

The night before the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, their friends in the Carthage Jail with them heard Hyrum read from the Book of Mormon and Joseph bear testimony of its divinity to the prison guards.

There was only one bed in the room, and the prisoners took turns resting on it or stretching out on dirty mattresses on the floor. After the others were all asleep, there came the sound of a gun discharging in the courtyard below. The Prophet, who lay beside Dan Jones on the floor, turned to him and asked, “Are you afraid to die?”

“Has that time come, think you?” asked Dan. He paused only a moment and then said, “Engaged in such a cause, I do not think death would have many terrors.”

“Before you die, you will yet see Wales and fill the mission appointed you,” the Prophet promised.

And that is exactly what Dan Jones did!

The next morning he was sent to take a note from Joseph Smith to the governor. Upon his return, Dan was not permitted to enter the jail. He tried to force his way inside to be with the Prophet but was prevented from doing so and thus escaped probable death. The next year he left for a mission in the British Isles and was assigned to Wales. He met with such success there, converting thousands, that he is often called the “Father of the Welsh Mission.” A company of 250 Welsh Saints immigrated to Utah in 1849 under his direction.

Dan was born in Flintshire, Wales, on August 4, 1811. After receiving a college education there, he immigrated to the United States and became the owner and captain of a little river streamer called The Maid of Iowa. He operated it as a freight and passenger boat on the Mississippi River above St. Louis, Missouri. One day as a group of converts to the Church were leaving his boat at the wharf in Nauvoo, they were welcomed by the Prophet. Dan stood quietly watching the greeting. Suddenly the Prophet left the group and walked over to Dan. Placing a hand on his shoulder, he said, “God bless this little man!”

Dan was so touched by those few words of praise that he decided to investigate the church that had such a thoughtful man as its leader. To the many converts to whom he preached the gospel in the British Isles he always declared: “I have come in obedience to the counsel of the martyred Prophet, as a messenger to my native land.”

Henry’s Home

Most boys go through their whole lives being called by one name, or at most by two. A boy born in Warrington, Lancashire, England, on March 15, 1857, was called Henry as a child. He was called Brigham after settling in Utah, and he is now known throughout the Church as B. H., one of the great writers of Mormon history. The personal life history of B. H. Roberts is almost as interesting to read as the many exciting events about which he wrote.

When his mother joined the Church and decided to immigrate to America, she was able to take only two of her four children. She left twelve-year-old Mary and five-year-old Henry in England. Mary was apprenticed to distant relatives who owned a kiln.

A couple who had just joined the Church agreed to take the boy. They wandered about England with him, working when they could and begging when no work was available. When they found that Henry had an appealing voice, they took him each night into the taverns to entertain the crowd by singing English ballads.

Henry was often lonely and always felt unloved. By the time he was seven the couple were constantly quarreling, neither wanting the boy. They decided to enlist him in the army as a drummer boy. He was measured for a uniform, a ribbon was fastened to his coat, and he was told to report for duty the next morning.

That night Henry dreamed of his mother. He knew the army enlistment would be binding until he was twenty-one, and he wanted to be free when his mother sent for him as she had promised to do when she left. Quietly slipping on his clothes and tucking his wooden clogs under his arms so he wouldn’t make any noise, the boy crept out into the cold dark street.

Two years later Henry’s mother finally secured enough money to pay for the children to join her in Utah. It was months before the elders found the boy at Wolverhampton and arranged for him to sail to America.

After a long and hard journey west, the children finally reached the Salt Lake Valley. Henry was described by his sister as “a thing of shreds and patches.” She tried to hide him in one of the wagons when the party reached the mouth of Emigration Canyon and started toward the city. But the desperately lonely little boy crept out of the wagon and ran through the streets to find his mother. She was waiting at the Tithing Yard. He flew into her welcoming arms. Henry had found a home at last!

With new clothes and a new name (since the family decided he was to be called Brigham now), the nine-year-old boy began a new life. When the blacksmith to whom he was apprenticed gave him time off to go to school and learn to read, Brigham found a new and exciting world. He became a missionary, a mission president, an editor, a writer, a historian, and a General Authority of the Church.

Born to the Work

It was a cold wintry Sunday morning, December 9, 1849. As thirty boys and girls stamped in from outdoors, they brushed the snow from their coats and hats and slapped their mittened hands together for warmth.

The children had been invited to come to the home of Richard Ballantyne to begin the first Sunday School ever held in the Salt Lake Valley. As he was building the adobe home, with its stone foundation and dirt roof, he had dreamed of the day when he could gather the neighborhood children around him and tell them the stories of Jesus.

The warmth from the stone fireplace was no brighter than the glow of welcome on the face and in the voice of Richard as he welcomed the children and asked them to take their places on the simple wooden benches he had made for them. When all were quietly seated, the tall bearded man conducted a song and then dedicated the room for the teaching of children.

Years later one of Richard’s daughters told of a dream he had had while still a young man. “He saw a large unfinished building,” she reported. “He saw a number of young boys playing in and around it. Then he saw an officer of the law after them, trying to catch them. One of the boys ran to my father. With a pitiful pleading look on his face, he cried, ‘Oh, teach me! Teach me!’ This dream made such a strong impression that it seemed to point out my father’s special work in life.”

Richard Ballantyne was born in Whitridgebog, Scotland, on August 26, 1817. His father died when Richard was only eleven years old. He was apprenticed to a baker to learn a trade to help support the family.

Richard was twenty-five and teaching a Sunday School class in the Presbyterian Church when he first heard the Mormon missionaries in a small town near Edinburgh. He was soon baptized. The next year he immigrated to America, where he met his wife. Together they traveled west to the Salt Lake Valley with the early pioneers.

For a year Sunday School was held every Sabbath morning in the Ballantyne home. From that simple beginning, Sunday Schools were organized in other areas and finally became a part of the general organization of the Church.

As he grew older, Richard often said, “I was early called to this work by the voice of the Spirit, and I have felt many times that I had been ordained to this work before I was born, for even before I joined the Church I was moved upon to work for the young.”

Boys and girls all over the world can remember with gratitude a little Scottish boy who was “born to the work.”

Friends in Music

Saints from the British Isles have made great contributions to members of the Church, whose lives have been enriched through the music they composed, played, and conducted.

Although the grand Tabernacle Organ was not completed for the October conference in 1867, it could be played. Sixteen-year-old Joseph was small for his age, and he found he could not reach the foot pedals of the new organ. An accomplished musician, he had been appointed as Tabernacle organist, and he worried about not being able to play the notes with his feet. It took some thinking, but he came up with the idea of attaching cork to the soles of his shoes—and it worked!

Born in Norwich, England, April 2, 1851, Joseph J. Daynes displayed a rare musical talent when only four. When he was eleven his family immigrated to the Salt Lake Valley. With a little harmonium (small organ) strapped across his shoulders, Joseph walked most of the way.

During the time he was organist of the Tabernacle, Joseph Daynes wrote music for hymns and composed the marches that were played for the funerals of Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff.

George E. Careless, director of the Tabernacle Choir for many years, was born September 24, 1839, in London, England. While just a boy he showed such great musical talent that he was accepted as a student at the Royal Academy in London.

John Jaques, born January 7, 1827, at Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, England, immigrated to America after joining the Church, but he returned to England as a missionary. While there he wrote the words to “O Say, What Is Truth?” after pondering the words of Pilate, who asked the Master, “What is truth?” The music was composed by Ellen Knowles Melling, a Scottish convert.

The Wesleyan Methodist choir, meeting for practice in a small home in Bicester, Oxfordshire, England, was surprised to find a small boy singing along. At six years of age, Ebenezer Beesley was able to sing his part with the rest. His parents joined the Church, and they immigrated to America in 1859, crossing the plains in a handcart company.

Ebenezer Beesley, who directed the Tabernacle Choir for more than nine years, compiled and supervised the publication of the Sunday School Union Song Book and helped produce the Latter-day Saints Psalmody.

In the village of Pencader, Carmarthenshire, South Wales, a tenth child, Evan, was born to David and Jane Stephens. The family immigrated to Utah in 1866 and settled in Willard. Evan’s first contact with music came when, as a boy of twelve, he was asked to join the choir. With borrowed books, he taught himself how to write, read, and play music. Music became the motivating force in his life.

When Evan Stephens was sixteen, his brother bought a four-octave cabinet organ and Evan spent that long winter learning to play. In 1890 he was asked by the First Presidency to direct the Tabernacle Choir, which traveled three years later to the World’s Fair in Chicago where it won second prize of $1000. Its conductor was given a gold medal. President Wilford Woodruff said, “A shepherd boy came down from the mountains and is here today to contest in this great competition.”

Charles W. Penrose, composer of “O Ye Mountains High,” was born in London, England, February 4, 1832. When he was twenty-two years old, he was called on a mission and started out on foot without a penny in his pocket or a change of clothes. In his journal he wrote: “I had read about Zion and heard about the streets of Salt Lake City, with the clear streams of water on each side; with shade trees. … I could see it in my mind’s eye, and so I composed the song as I walked along the road. … When I got to a place called Mundon, in Essex, I held a cottage meeting, and in that meeting I sang it for the first time.”

Little did William Clayton know that his “Come, Come Ye Saints” would become the marching song of the Mormon pioneers as they crossed the plains to Utah. An entry in his journal of April 15, 1846, said simply, “This morning I composed a new song—All Is Well.”

William Clayton was born July 17, 1814, at Penwortham, Lancashire, England, and was one of the first people to accept the gospel in England in 1837.

“Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning,” the song that tells the story of the first vision of the Prophet Joseph, was written by George Manwaring, who was born March 18, 1854, in Sandback, Cheshire, England.

[illustration] May Anderson born June 8, 1864

[illustration] Ruth May Fox born November 16, 1853

[illustration] John Taylor born November 1, 1808

[illustration] Dan Jones born August 4, 1811

[illustration] B. H. Roberts born March 15, 1857

[illustration] Richard Ballantyne born August 26, 1817

[illustrations] Portraits by Dale Kilbourn

[illustrations] Illustrations by Ron Crosby