“Pioneering the Gospel in Australia, Part I: New Light on the First Missionaries,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 32–34
In the South Australian seaside resort of Victor Harbor, few people disturb the peace of the old town cemetery. For years LDS Young Adults have swum and picnicked at Victor Harbor, unaware that close by was the grave of William Barratt, the first Latter-day Saint missionary to Australia.
For three quarters of a century, the arrival of the American missionaries in 1851 has been regarded as the beginning of the work in Australia. William Barratt, Andrew Anderson, and James Wall have been thought of as mere curiosities of Australian Church history—1840s LDS immigrants who tried preaching the gospel without lasting success and who were never heard of again. Yet new research is uncovering the far-reaching results of their missionary endeavours, causing a new evaluation of early Church history in Australia.
It is clear from the History of the Church that seventeen-year-old William Barratt was called in England in 1840 and sent to Australia as a full-time proselyting missionary.1 There seems no justification for the present-day common assumption that Barratt intended to settle in Australia. “I feel … like a lamb among wolves, going into a land of strangers to preach the Gospel,” he wrote back from London while awaiting embarkation. “Give my love to the Saints, and tell them that as many as remain faithful I will meet in Zion, bringing my sheaves with me. … My resolution is strong to meet you all there.”2
Adelaide, South Australia, was a shock to the young elder and his mission did not prosper as he had hoped. But there is good reason to conclude that he baptized Robert Beauchamp, later to become a mission president in Australia. And although Brother Beauchamp would not accept confirmation into the Church at the time of his baptism by Elder Barratt, his testimony grew with the years, and he came to deeply regret his missed opportunity of being confirmed by the young elder who had baptized him in Adelaide.3
Elder Barratt is not mentioned again by name in contemporary Church sources. But in December 1944, John Taylor, editing the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, reported receiving a bundle of South Australian newspapers4—possibly from William Barratt.
While research is continuing, enough is known now to piece together part of the Barratt story. Early in 1845, news of the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith reached Australian papers, and editors confidently forecast the “ruin of the sect of Mormon.”5 The news must have had a shattering effect on the lonely elder, preaching the gospel in far-off Australia. It seems likely that he may have attempted to correspond with the Church leaders, either in England or America. However, the Twelve had returned to America in 1841, and many of the Saints whom he had known in Britain had gone to America. In the exodus from Nauvoo and the long trek westward to the Rocky Mountain Basin, it would have been easy for letters from Australia to go astray. Alone, his beloved prophet dead, young Elder Barratt could surely be forgiven for perhaps concluding that, if his letters went unanswered, the Church had foundered after the tragedy at Carthage.
On 21 May 1846, 23-year-old Barratt married 19-year-old Ann Gibson at the Native School in Encounter Bay. Seven children—three boys and four girls—were born to them. As time passed, Brother Barratt obtained land at Inman, where he farmed for the remainder of his life. He died on 10 September 1890, at the age of sixty-seven, and was buried at Victor Harbor, where his tombstone was discovered earlier this year.6
There is no evidence that William Barratt knew the second LDS immigrant to Australia, Andrew Anderson, or that they knew of each other’s missionary activity. Brother Anderson, at age thirty, arrived as a bounty immigrant with his wife and three small children in 1841. He settled in the colony of New South Wales, a thousand miles by sea from Adelaide. Baptized by Orson Pratt in Edinburgh, Scotland, the year before, he had been ordained and given a “license to preach” before sailing. By the winter of 1843, Brother Anderson was working as a shepherd in the Wellington district, 220 miles northwest of Sydney. Here he worked hard to gain converts, and by the end of 1844 he had organized the first known branch in Australia, in the private township of Montefiores.7
Within months of the arrival in Australia of the first American missionaries seven years later in 1851, Andrew Anderson had received news of their presence in Sydney. He immediately wrote to the elders, John Murdock and Charles Wandell, and early in July 1852 he made the long journey to Sydney to attend the second quarterly conference of the Sydney Branch.8 Thereafter, Brother Anderson kept in touch with the mission president in Sydney. He had never faltered in his testimony.
Brother Anderson, however, did not stay in Australia. On 7 September 1855, he and his wife, Elizabeth, and their children sailed for Zion on the tragic second voyage of the Julia Ann. (See p. 37 this issue). Among those drowned in the wreck was Andrew Anderson’s ten-year-old daughter Marian. Andrew and Elizabeth and their seven surviving children finally arrived in San Francisco on 27 June 1856.9
James Wall remains the mystery figure of early Australian Church history. It is possible that he was another British immigrant like Brother Anderson, baptized and ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood before migrating to Australia. Alternatively, he may have been converted by either Elder Barratt or Brother Anderson.
The full extent of his missionary work is not known, but in November 1851, just weeks after Elders Murdock and Wandell arrived in Sydney, a man named Matthew Collyer turned up at one of their meetings. He said that he had been baptized in Australia by an Elder James Wall in 1844.10
As with Elder Barratt and Brother Anderson, nothing is known of James Wall’s activities after 1844 for some years. Then, in 1856, in western Victoria, another English immigrant family, John and Charlotte Nye and their children, were taught the gospel by a horse doctor, George T. Wilson. Brother Wilson introduced Elder James Wall, by whom the family was baptized.11
Robert Beauchamp, baptized but not confirmed by William Barratt; eight adults baptized by Andrew Anderson; and Matthew Collyer, George T. Wilson, and the Nye family, baptized by James Wall: why should such meagre fruit be claimed as significant to the history of the Church in Australia?
Robert Beauchamp emigrated to Utah in 1868. In 1869, he was called to return to Australia as mission president. In his first eighteen months, more than 150 baptisms took place in Australia and New Zealand (at least forty of them performed by President Beauchamp personally), and at least forty-five Saints sailed for Utah.12
It has not yet been documented that the Anderson family actually arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Researchers are still seeking descendants of the family. But of Brother Anderson’s eight named converts, usually regarded as “lost,” one may have been found. There is evidence to suggest that the Henry Gale who was a member of the Sydney Branch in 1852–53 was the same Henry Gale who had been baptized by Andrew Anderson some nine or ten years earlier. If so, his baptism by Elder Wandell on 9 May 1852 would have been a rebaptism for renewal of covenants.
Henry and Sarah Gale and their four children sailed for America on 6 April 1853, and became pioneers in southern Utah. Henry Gale took a second wife, Hannah Dade. He had nine children by Sarah, and another eleven by Hannah.13 Hundreds of Gale descendants are active in the Church.
Of the known converts of James Wall, the Nye family migrated to Utah, most of them settling in Ogden. Again, a large posterity active in the Church testifies to the significance of the work of a lonely elder in the Australian bush. Of the original family of seven children, Ephraim Hesmer Nye, for example, served a mission in Great Britain and then two terms as a mission president, one in California and one in the eastern states.14
Matthew Collyer left the LDS church and became associated with another church. Yet his daughter Sarah grew up knowing that the church in which she was christened was not true. Years later she passed this teaching to her granddaughter. When, in the late 1960s, Joan Collyer Armstrong met the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she remembered the teachings of her grandmother. She was baptized along with her family and her nephew Alan Wakeley. All are valued members of the Church in Australia.
Descendants of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century missionaries who served in Australia, and descendants of members who were converted there but then moved to the British Isles, America, or elsewhere, are being sought to help document the story of the Australian Mission and the gathering of the Saints there. If you have information about journals, letters, or activities of your Australian forebears, write to the Public Communications Department, Australia Area Office, P.O. Box 350, Carlingford, N.S.W., Australia 2118.