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“Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea…” 2 Nephi 29:7
Great Britain certainly qualifies as an isle of the sea, and this post explores the wealth of inspiring stories, events and people which emerged from this land.
This 1852 British edition of The Book of Mormon has an interesting back story and owner.
The printing of British editions of scripture had been discussed when members of the Twelve convened a conference in the Cockpit in Preston, Lancashire on April 15, 1840. The conference minutes indicate their intentions to print a British hymnbook, a British Book of Mormon and to start the publication of a monthly magazine which, the very next day, became known as The Millennial Star.
It has always been a matter of wonder that they made those decisions knowing they did not have the funds to produce them. Weeks later that funding miraculously appeared when Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young and Willard Richards were working in the Herefordshire area . Recent converts John and Jane Benbow gave £200 and Thomas and Hannah Kington gave £100 towards funding these projects. Today (June 2016) the value of those donations would be about £16,290 ($23,018) and £8,143 ($11,513) respectively. Those donations were given by May 20 – just a few months after the baptisms of the Benbows (March 5) and Kingtons (March 21). What a demonstration of faith to part with such large sums of money to men they barely knew for a cause they had only recently joined.
Earlier in May 1840 Brigham still had some hesitancy about printing the Book of Mormon without direct authorisation from the prophet Joseph. He had written to Joseph on May 7:
“Shall we print the Book of Mormon in this country immediately? They are calling for it from every quarter…If I should act according to my feelings I should had the Book of Mormon to this people as quickly as possible.”
Now, on May 20, 1840, Brigham, Willard and Wilford found themselves standing on the top of the majestic Herefordshire Beacon where a decision was made.
They had the money. They had the desire. But they still had not heard from the prophet in America. Wilford explains what happened next:
“We walked to Wind Point and Elders Young, Richards and myself walked on to the top of the part of Malvern Hills called Herefordshire Beacon. Here we united in prayer and held a council and unitedly felt that it was the will of God that Elder Yong should go immediately to Manchester to assist in publishing a collection of hymns… and also to immediately print and finish 3000 copies of the Book of Mormon…We walked from the hill to the valley and took the parting hand with Elder Young, who started for Manchester.”
Brigham visited printers in Manchester and Liverpool and finally, on June 17 1840, he contracted John Tompkins and Company in Liverpool to produce five thousand copies for the price of £210.
Brigham’s hope was the work would be done by September, but paper delays meant it was not officially available until February 1841. Although only 4,050 copies made it off the press before the company ceased trading.
In the meantime, Lorenzo Snow arrived in England (October 22, 1840) with a rather worn and hard to read letter from Joseph Smith. From what Brigham could make out it appeared that Joseph did NOT want them to print the Book of Mormon!!! Brigham was greatly relieved when another letter arrived in December in which Joseph clearly stated he was “glad to hear” the printing was finished and he “should be pleased to hear that it was printed in all the different languages of the earth.”
The 1841 British edition made a few changes for British spellings, was the first to have an index and the first to include the witness testimonies at the front of the book – previous American editions had put them at the back.
Another edition followed in 1849 under the direction of Orson Pratt and then, in 1852, Franklin D. Richards released a third British edition – the edition featured in these images. This edition added numbers to the paragraphs for the first time to assist the reader in finding passages quicker. This numbering is not the same as we use today – for instance:
- First Nephi has only seven chapters instead of 22.
- Second Nephi has 15 chapters instead of 33.
- The Book of Alma has 30 chapters compared with the 63 we have today.
- Etc. etc.
However, it was a pioneering move which made teaching so much easier and focused, and made reading and comprehension far easier. It was thirty years later (1879) that Orson Pratt versified the passages as we now know them.
This 1852 copy was owned by James Darling Ross (1824-1878). The hand written inscription on the inside front cover reads:
“Presented to Elder J D Ross by the Holborn Branch of the London Conference. June 1856.”
James’ story is one of great faith, service and heartache, and it is a privilege to have his copy of the Book of Mormon.
James was born in Perthshire, Scotland, (1824) and joined the church in January 1842 along with his first wife Agnes Gillespie McLaren. Three months after he was called to serve his first mission which lasted ten years until he emigrated for the first time in 1852.
He was obviously a gifted leader as he was called to preside over the Manchester Conference, London Conference, Birmingham Conference and Cheltenham Conference. The minutes of an 1846 Manchester meeting demonstrate how Ross, like many other missionaries of the time, often left their family behind to fend as best they could – often for years at a stretch – to serve around Britain. The minutes record Ross’s appointment to a new assignment, to which he replied,
“he was ready to obey counsel and labour where he was sent. He wished , however, that the conference would look a little towards the support of his wife who was living in Scotland.”
His family situation came as a surprise to many, but the response to this revelation is quite heart -warming. Brother Wood arose and said “If Sister Ross would come and live with them, that is, himself and wife, for he had no children, he would never ask her to go away, but she should have a home so long as he had one.” An Elder Brown then arose wishing he had beat Brother Wood to the offer, and a Brother Plumpton put a rival bid out stating “that if Sister Ross preferred residing with him she should have a similar welcome.”
As if to clinch the deal “Brother Wood stated that if Elder Ross would supply him with his measurement, he should never want for clothing.”
Agnes emigrated to Utah in 1851 and James followed in 1852. However, Agnes disappeared. Once her ship arrived in New Orleans there is no record of her. Did she fall away and relocate or maybe she died during the Cholera epidemic of that year? The mystery remains. James arrived in Utah, wifeless, and after only being in Utah for six months he was called to serve another mission to England in 1853. This mission lasted seven years!
In 1855 he became President of the London Conference. This picture shows Ross surrounded by fellow British Missionaries in 1855. He is in the front row, second from the right.
Orson Pratt while reporting to Brigham Young, said of James “He is beloved by all the Saints.” This inscribed Book of Mormon is an example of that love with the London Saints wanting to show their gratitude for him. The neat calligraphy reflects a patient and loving hand wanting to create a lasting and meaningful reminder of their appreciation for his service.
James’ second marriage was in January 1856 to Sarah Harris from Maree, Somerset (born 1829). In October of that year their son, James Darling Ross Junior (October 1856), was born, but the delivery seriously affected Sarah’s health and she died in January of 1857 while her husband was at a district meeting in Haversham, Kent. He had received word that Sarah had taken a turn for the worse, so he hurried home.
“Before I entered the village I met Sarah’s father. The gloomy expression of the countenance before he uttered a single sentence, informed me of the sad loss I had sustained. I thought my very heart strings would have snapped. It is useless to attempt a description of the feelings that agitated my whole being at that trying moment.”
This is where wife number three arrives on the scene. Sarah Elizabeth Smith was born in London and had joined the Church in 1851 at the age of 14. When the widowed James Darling Ross arrived as a missionary in London he arranged for Sarah’s family to look after his motherless child. Sadly, two months later his new son died (25 March 1857).
Amid the tragedy Sarah and James fell in love and married in Stepney, Middlesex (1857) with the service overseen by Orson Pratt. Their first two children, Sarah (1858) and William (1860), were born in England.
The following year (1858) James was called as a counsellor on the European Mission Presidency which necessitated the gaining of a special license (passport) to travel.
When James, Sarah and their two children emigrated to Zion (1860) James was put in charge of the group of 594 British and Swiss converts. Upon arriving in America he was called upon to direct the wagon train of 249 emigrants to Utah along with 36 wagons, 142 oxen and 54 cows. They arrived in the valley on September 3, 1860. He was able to report to Brigham Young that “we have had one death on the journey a Swiss Brother who unwisely eat the flesh of an Ox that died of Alkali and poisoned.”
Sadly five days later after this report their young son died. They had four more children in Salt Lake City.
His scriptural knowledge was such that he was sometimes referred to as the “Walking Bible”. When he spoke at a conference in the Bowery in Salt Lake City (October 1860), Brigham Young arose afterwards and said, “In the remarks I have heard from brother J.D.Ross, this afternoon, I am delighted. I drink, and I drink again, and am I still dry? I am at least still prepared for more; and the more I receive in my understanding, and the more my mind expands for the things of God, the better, seemingly.”