"800 Mormons" (Meeting Mormons By Charles Dickens.)

(The following is an excerpt from Charles Dickens' work, the Uncommercial Traveller.)

In this story Dickens recounts his experience with a departing Mormon emigrant company. Dickens' visit took place on the ship, the Amazon in London on June 4, 1863.

Eight hundred what? "Geese, villain?" =Eight Hundred Mormons.= I, Uncommercial Traveller for the firm of Human Interest Brothers, had come aboard this Emigrant Ship to see what Eight Hundred Latter-day Saints were like, and I found them (to the rout and overthrow of all my expectations) like what I now describe with scrupulous exactness.

 The Mormon Agent who had been active in getting them together, and in making the contract with my friends the owners of the ship to take them as far as New York on their way to the Great Salt Lake, was pointed out to me. A compactly-made handsome man in black, rather short, with rich brown hair and beard, and clear bright eyes. From his speech, I should set him down as American. Probably a man who had "knocked about the world" pretty much.

A man with a frank open manner, and unshrinking look; withal a man of great quickness. I believe he was wholly ignorant of my uncommercial individuality, and consequently of my immense uncommercial importance.

=Uncommercial.= These are a very fine set of people you have brought together here.
=Mormon Agent.= Yes, sir, they are a _very_ fine set of people. 

=Uncommercial= (looking about). Indeed, I think it would be difficult to find eight hundred people together anywhere else, and find so much beauty and so much strength and capacity for work among them. 

=Mormon Agent= (not looking about, but looking steadily at Uncommercial). I think so.—We sent out about a thousand more, yes'day, from Liverpool. 

=Uncommercial.= You are not going with these emigrants? 

=Mormon Agent.= No, sir. I remain. 

=Uncommercial.= But you have been in the Mormon Territory?

=Mormon Agent.= Yes; I left Utah about three years ago.

=Uncommercial.= It is surprising to me that these people are all so cheery, and make so little of the immense distance before them.

=Mormon Agent.= Well, you see; many of `em have friends out at Utah, and many of `em look forward to meeting friends on the way.

=Uncommercial.= On the way? 

=Mormon Agent.= This way 'tis. This ship lands `em in New York City. Then they go on by rail right away beyond St. Louis, to that part of the Banks of the Missouri where they strike the Plains. There, waggons from the settlement meet `em to bear `em company on their journey `cross—twelve hundred miles about. Industrious people who come out to the settlement soon get waggons of their own, and so the friends of some of these will come down in their own waggons to meet `em. They look forward to that greatly. 

=Uncommercial.= On their long journey across the Desert, do you arm them? 

=Mormon Agent.= Mostly you will find they have arms of some kind or another already with them. Such as had not arms we should arm across the Plains, for the general protection and defence. 

=Uncommercial.= Will these waggons bring down any produce to the Missouri? 

=Mormon Agent.= Well, since the war broke out, we've taken to growing cotton, and they'll likely bring down cotton to be exchanged for machinery. We want machinery. Also we have taken to grow indigo, which is a fine commodity for profit. It has been found that the climate on the further side of the Great Salt Lake suits well for raising indigo. 

=Uncommercial.= I am told that these people now on board are principally from the South of England? 

=Mormon Agent.= And from Wales. That's true.
=Uncommercial.= Do you get many Scotch? 

=Mormon Agent.= Not many. 

=Uncommercial.= Highlanders, for instance. 

=Mormon Agent.= No, not Highlanders. They ain't interested enough in universal brotherhood and peace and good-will. 

=Uncommercial.= The old fighting blood is strong in them? 

=Mormon Agent.= Well, yes. And, besides, they've no faith. 

=Uncommercial= (who has been burning to get at the Prophet Joe Smith, and seems to discover an opening). Faith in———? 

=Mormon Agent= (far too many for Uncommercial). Well.—In anything! 

Similarly, on this same head, the Uncommercial underwent discomfiture from a Wiltshire labourer: a simple, fresh-coloured farm labourer of eight-and-thirty, who at one time stood beside him looking on at new arrivals, and with whom he held this dialogue:

=Uncommercial.= Would you mind my asking you what part of the country you come from?
=Wiltshire.= Not a bit. Theer! (exultingly) I've worked all my life o' Salisbury Plain, right under the shadder o' Stonehenge. You mightn't think it, but I haive. 

=Uncommercial.= And a pleasant country too. 

=Wiltshire.= Ah! 'Tis a pleasant country. 

=Uncommercial.= Have you any family on board? 

=Wiltshire.= Two children, boy and gal. I am a widderer, _I_ am, and I'm going out alonger my boy and gal. That's my gal, and she's a fine gal o' sixteen (pointing out the girl who is writing by the boat). I'll go and fetch my boy. I'd like to show you my boy. (Here Wiltshire disappears, and presently comes back with a big shy boy of twelve, in a superabundance of boots, who is not at all glad to be presented.) He is a fine boy too, and a boy fur to work! (Boy having undutifully bolted, Wiltshire drops him.)

=Uncommercial.= It must cost you a great deal of money to go so far, three strong. 

=Wiltshire.= A power of money. Theer! Eight shillen a week, eight shillen a week, eight shillen a week, put by out of the week's wages for ever so long. 

=Uncommercial.= I wonder how you did it. 

=Wiltshire= (recognising in this a kindred spirit). See theer now! _I_ wonder how I done it! But what with a bit o' subscription heer, and what with a bit o' help theer, it were done at last, though I don't hardly know how. Then it were unfort'net for us, you see, as we got kep' in Bristol so long—nigh a fortnight, it were—on accounts of a mistake wi' Brother Halliday. Swaller'd up money, it did, when we might have come straight on. 

=Uncommercial= (delicately approaching Joe Smith). You are of the Mormon religion, of course?

=Wiltshire= (confidently). Oh yes, _I_'m a Mormon! (Then reflectively.) I'm a Mormon. (Then, looking round the ship, feigns to descry a particular friend in an empty spot, and evades the Uncommercial for evermore.)

After a noontide pause for dinner, during which my emigrants were nearly all between-decks, and the Amazon looked deserted, a general muster took place.

The muster was for the ceremony of passing the Government Inspector and the Doctor. Those authorities held their temporary state amidships, by a cask or two; and, knowing that the whole eight hundred emigrants must come face to face with them, I took my station behind the two.

They knew nothing whatever of me, I believe, and my testimony to the unpretending gentleness and good-nature with which they discharged their duty may be of the greater worth. There was not the slightest flavour of the Circumlocution Office about their proceedings.

The emigrants were now all on deck. They were densely crowded aft, and swarmed upon the poop-deck like bees. Two or three Mormon agents stood ready to hand them on to the Inspector, and to hand them forward when they had passed. By what successful means a special aptitude for organisation had been infused into these people, I am, of course, unable to report. But I know that, even now, there was no disorder, hurry, or difficulty.

All being ready, the first group are handed on. That member of the party who is intrusted with the passenger ticket for the whole has been warned by one of the agents to have it ready, and here it is in his hand. In every instance through the whole eight hundred, without an exception, this paper is always ready.

=Inspector= (reading the ticket). Jessie Jobson, Sophronia Jobson, Jessie Jobson again, Matilda Jobson, William Jobson, Jane Jobson, Matilda Jobson again, Brigham Jobson, Leonardo Jobson, and Orson Jobson. Are you all here? (glancing at the party over his spectacles)

=Jessie Jobson Number Two.= All here, sir. 

This group is composed of an old grandfather and grandmother, their married son and his wife, and _their_ family of children. Orson Jobson is a little child asleep in his mother's arms. The Doctor, with a kind word or so, lifts up the corner of the mother's shawl, looks at the child's face, and touches the little clenched hand. If we were all as well as Orson Jobson, doctoring would be a poor profession.
=Inspector.= Quite right, Jessie Jobson. Take your ticket, Jessie, and pass on.

And away they go. Mormon agent, skilful and quiet, hands them on. Mormon agent, skilful and quiet, hands next party up.

=Inspector= (reading ticket again). Susannah Cleverly and William Cleverly. Brother and sister, eh? 

=Sister= (young woman of business, hustling slow brother). Yes, sir. 

=Inspector.= Very good, Susannah Cleverly. Take your ticket, Susannah, and take care of it. 

And away they go.

=Inspector= (taking ticket again). Sampson Dibble and Dorothy Dibble (surveying a very old couple over his spectacles with some surprise). Your husband quite blind, Mrs, Dibble? 

=Mrs. Dibble.= Yes, sir, he be stone blind. 

=Mr. Dibble= (addressing the mast). Yes, sir, I be stone blind. 

=Inspector.= That's a bad job. Take your ticket, Mrs. Dibble, and don't lose it, and pass on.
Doctor taps Mr. Dibble on the eyebrow with his forefinger, and away they go. 

=Inspector= (taking ticket again). Anastatia Weedle. 

=Anastatia= (a pretty girl in a bright Garibaldi, this morning elected by universal suffrage the Beauty of the Ship). That is me, sir. 

=Inspector.= Going alone, Anastatia? 

=Anastatia= (shaking her curls). I am with Mrs. Jobson, sir, but I've got separated for the moment. 

=Inspector.= Oh! you are with the Jobsons? Quite right. That'll do, Miss Weedle. Don't lose your ticket. 

Away she goes, and joins the Jobsons who are waiting for here, and stoops and kisses Brigham Jobson—who appears to be considered too young for the purpose by several Mormons rising twenty, who are looking on. Before her extensive skirts have departed from the casks a decent widow stands there with four children, and so the roll goes.

The faces of some of the Welsh people, among whom there were many old persons, were certainly the least intelligent. Some of these emigrants would have bungled sorely, but for the directing hand that was always ready.

The intelligence here was unquestionably of a low order, and the heads were of a poor type. Generally the case was the reverse. There were many worn faces bearing traces of patient poverty and hard work, and there was great steadiness of purpose and much undemonstrative self-respect among this class. A few young men were going singly. Several girls were going two or three together.

These latter I found it very difficult to refer back, in my mind, to their relinquished homes and pursuits. Perhaps they were more like country milliners, and pupil teachers rather tawdrily dressed, than any other classes of young women. I noticed, among many little ornaments worn, more than one photograph brooch of the Princess of Wales, and also of the late Prince Consort.

Some single women of from thirty to forty, whom one might suppose to be embroiderers, or straw-bonnet makers, were obviously going out in quest of husbands, as finer ladies go to India. That they had any distinct notions of a plurality of husbands or wives, I do not believe.

To suppose the family groups of whom the majority of emigrants were composed, polygamically possessed, would be to suppose an absurdity, manifest to any one who saw fathers and mothers.

I should say (I had no means of ascertaining the fact) that most familiar kinds of handicraft trades were represented here. Farm labourers, shepherds, and the like, had their full share of representation, but I doubt if they preponderated.

It was interesting to see how the leading spirit in the family circle never failed to show itself, even in the simple process of answering to the names as they were called, and checking off the owners of the names.

Sometimes it was the father, much oftener the mother, sometimes a quick little girl second or third in order of seniority. It seemed to occur for the first time, to some heavy fathers, what large families they had; and their eyes rolled about, during the calling of the list, as if they half misdoubted some other family to have been smuggled into their own.

Among all the fine handsome children, I observed but two with marks upon their necks that were probably scrofulous. Out of the whole number of emigrants, but one old woman was temporarily set aside by the Doctor, on suspicion of fever; but even she afterwards obtained a clean bill of health.

When all had "passed," and the afternoon began to wear on, a black box became visible on deck, which box was in charge of certain personages also in black, of whom only one had the conventional air of an itinerant preacher.

This box contained a supply of hymn-books, neatly printed and got up, published at Liverpool, and also in London at the "Latter-Day Saints' Book Depot, 30, Florence Street." Some copies were handsomely bound; the plainer were the more in request, And many were bought. The title ran: "Sacred Hymns and Spiritual Songs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints."

 The Preface, dated Manchester, 1840, ran thus: —"The Saints in this country have been very desirous for a Hymn Book adapted to their faith and worship, that they might sing the truth with an understanding heart, and express their praise, joy, and gratitude in songs adapted to the New and Everlasting Covenant. In accordance with their wishes, we have selected the following volume, which we hope will prove acceptable until a greater variety can be added. With sentiments of high consideration and esteem, we subscribe ourselves your brethren in the New and Everlasting Covenant, =Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor.="

From this book—by no means explanatory to myself of the New and Everlasting Covenant, and not at all making my heart an understanding one on the subject of that mystery—a hymn was sung, which did not attract any great amount of attention, and was supported by a rather select circle.

But the choir in the boat was very popular and pleasant; and there was to have been a Band, only the Comet was late in coming on board. In the course of the afternoon a mother appeared from shore, in search of her daughter, "who had run away with the Mormons." She received every assistance from the Inspector, but her daughter was not found to be on board.

The saints did not seem to me particularly interested in finding her. Towards five o'clock the galley became full of tea-kettles, and an agreeable fragrance of tea pervaded the ship. There was no scrambling or jostling for the hot water, no ill-humour, no quarrelling. As the Amazon was to sail with the next tide, and as it would not be high water before two o'clock in the morning, I left her with her tea in full action, and her idle Steam Tug lying by, deputing steam and smoke for the time being to the Tea-kettles.

I afterwards learned that a Dispatch was sent home by the Captain before he struck out into the wide Atlantic, highly extolling the behaviour of these emigrants, and the perfect order and propriety of all their social arrangements. What is in store for the poor people on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, what happy delusions they are labouring under now, on what miserable blindness their eyes may be opened then, I do not pretend to say.

But I went on board their ship to bear testimony against them if they deserved it, as I fully believed they would; to my great astonishment, they did not deserve it; and my predispositions and tendencies must not affect me as an honest witness, I went over the Amazon's side, feeling it impossible to deny that, so far, some remarkable influence had produced a remarkable result, which better-known influences have often missed.<*>

* After this Uncommercial Journey was printed, I happened to mention the experience it describes to Lord Houghton. That gentleman then showed me an article of his writing, in _The Edinburgh Review_ for January, 1862, which is highly remarkable for its philosophical and literary research, concerning these Latter-Day Saints. I find in it the following sentences:—"The Select Committee of the House of Commons on emigrant ships for 1854 summoned the Mormon agent and passenger-broker before it, and came to the conclusion that no ships under the provisions of the `Passengers Act' could be depended upon for comfort and security in the same degree as those under his administration. The Mormon ship is a Family under strong and accepted discipline, with every provision for comfort, decorum, and internal peace."

"Walking Journal" ( Full length ) from Elsebeth Jørgensen on Vimeo.

Popular Posts