The colony of Victoria, Australia, produced one-third of the world’s gold found in the 1850s; as a result, every imaginable type of person converged on the area.1 This assemblage, coupled with England’s earlier “social amputation” of its worst souls to what was then a place of perpetual exile, transformed the world’s largest island into what Robert Hughes in his classic book, The Fatal Shore, termed a “wicked Noah’s Ark” of small-time criminality.2 Amid this upheaval, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ventured into the goldfields in an ambitious attempt to gain a foothold in an area where supposedly “rum and gold was all the God” the people wanted.3
The Victorian goldfields particularly proved to be a Jekyll and Hyde of tragedy and triumph, where the age-old struggle between good and evil was magnified in one small area of the globe. Two converts of the Victorian gold fields, Frederick William Hurst and John de Baptiste, both members of the Castlemaine Branch and partners in the diggings, especially personify this relationship. These two men, apparently sharing many of the same hopes and dreams, traveled the road of life together for a time but eventually met greatly contrasting fates.
Fred Hurst’s experiences, while opening a window on the origins of the Church in Victoria, more significantly demonstrate a metamorphosis from a happy-go-lucky teenager with seemingly little religious inclination to a stalwart defender of the faith with an unshakable commitment to the Latter-day Saint cause. Although a virtual unknown in LDS church history, Fred quickly became one of those quiet people vital to the Church’s success. Apostle John A. Widtsoe recalls of Hurst: “[He] had a marked effect upon my life, for I never have spoken with him without feeling that I had received a lift, and was better prepared to carry on in my work.”4
In direct contrast, a recent article in the Deseret News writes of John de Baptiste: “The worst villain in Salt Lake City’s early history probably wasn’t a murderer or even a member of a band of outlaws. Probably the most gruesome criminal was a grave robber who desecrated as many as 300 burial sites in the city’s cemetery”; while “much space has been given to writing about the ‘Monster of the Great Salt Lake,’ if there was a monster, Baptiste is the best real-life candidate.”5 Wilford Woodruff records Baptiste’s deeds as “the most Damniable [sic], Diabolical, Satanical, Helish Sacraleges [sic] . . . recorded in the History of man.6 Historian Dale L. Morgan adds that the Baptiste affair provided “Great Salt Lake with the strangest episode in its whole history”7
Complexion of the Victoria Goldfields
The lure of gold was the impetus for both Baptiste’s and Hurst’s decisions to venture to Australia, a country still considered a vast prison for England’s criminals, an idea perpetuated since the landing of the first convict ship in 1788.8 An article in the Times and Seasons of April 1845, for example, refers to the colonies as “the great depot for the transportation of British convicts,”9 enforcing the idea of Australia as a less than desirable place to live, let alone serve a mission. Indeed, in writing of his mission call to Australia, Thomas Threeves referred to what a searing experience it had been for the last organized group of American missionaries assigned to Victoria in 1856:
Friends . . . informed me that I was called to Australasia, and offered me their sympathy. During the remainder of the week I was the recipient of inumerable condolences. One brother said to me “That’s the hardest mission in the world . . . some of the men who were last called to labour in that field [Victoria] [—]educated and experienced preachers—returned in ten months utterly discouraged.” . . . Another said “As good a Mormon as I am, I would rather go to Purgatory and preach to the spirits in prison than to take your mission.” . . . And finally another one said . . . “The kind of missionary needed in that land is a man like Orson Pratt.”10
When the first LDS missionaries arrived in Australia, their impressions at times seemed contradictory, but the general tenor of their reports was very negative. Charles Wandell, who organized the first branch of the Church in Victoria, illustrates this point: “These colonies have been underated, because they were formerly convict colonies; but permit me to assure you that it would be difficult, even in England to find a more orderly, decent, and hard working population than exists here.”11 But later, Wandell stated: “Australia is the hell into which England casts her devils, and the diggings are the deepest, most fearful pits thereof. Here are literally swarms of convicts, who are absolutely and entirely lost to all fear of God or regard to man.”12
Similarly, Augustus Farnham, the third president of the Australasian mission, more often noted the hellish aspects of the area:
 [They] are as hard a set of beings as I ever met.13  It is true, the people of these lands are a peculiar people, being generally dead to interests of religion, caring but little what the true principles of the gospel are; it may, indeed, be said of them, that their faith is a mere tradition, their worship an empty form, the impression being transitory, ending with the service, when they again devote themselves to gold and pleasure. But withal, there are some as good and honest people in these lands, as can be found on the earth.14  This wicked people are addicted to every vice. It requires men of some experience to stand the test within the midst of the persecution we have to meet.15
 This is a land of darkness. The devil himself I believe is ashamed of many of these inhabitants [and] if he is not I am.16
Although the American missionaries did not often clarify the specific areas in Australia deserving of their most stinging criticism, apparently the colony of Victoria was the worst offender. Farnham reports of Victoria: “It does appear that almost all who have been driven adrift by the different winds of spirits have been driven to this part of the world being the most abandoned characters who disregard all principles of morality Victoria being the greatest sewer of iniquity on account of its being strictly the mining colony has the greatest number of such men.”17
Similar sentiments were echoed by Burr Frost, presiding elder over the Victorian Conference from 1853 to 1854: “I generally meet in this country the most profane men of all that [are] addicted to bad habits.”18 Reflecting on country and people, Joseph Kelly, missionary to Victoria and Tasmania from 1856 to 1857, wrote, “This is as near the gates of hell I wish to be,” adding that he felt little desire to convert the people as “they would only be a curse to our Society at home.”19
Frederick Hurst’s Conversion and Mission
Mingled in the Australian crowd were John de Baptiste and Frederick William Hurst, two of the estimated 463,000 people to arrive in Victoria between 1851 and 1861.20 Hurst had immigrated with his family from the British Isles to New Zealand in 1840 and at the age of nineteen had decided to join a company of six other men to try his luck in the goldfields.21 Fred recorded his initial impressions upon landing at Port Phillip, Melbourne, in the later part of 1852:22
The city was literally crowded with people. It seemed to me they were from all nations. All was hustle and confusion. Large nuggets of gold were to be seen in the Broker’s windows also large piles of souveniers [sic] and bank notes, specimens of gold quartz. All kinds of reports were in circulation respecting the mines. . . . The roads were lined with teams of all kinds, people of all nations and colours and grades, some few respectable, but the more part escaped convicts, cutthroats, murderers, thieves, gamblers, blacklegs; in fact to make a long story short, the skum [sic]of the earth were there. To use a common expression, “all hell let loose.”23
A contemporary description of Melbourne at the height of the gold rush in the early 1850s agrees with Hurst’s description, calling the city a “modern Tower of Babel, the resort of hooligans, drunks and gamblers, one of the circles of Hell come upon Earth.”24
Eager to leave Melbourne and begin, Hurst’s group walked seventy muddy miles to Forest Creek (near Castlemaine), where, being inexperienced, they dug in “the most unlikely places.” After two weeks of back-breaking labor, out of money and in debt, the disillusioned party disbanded, and all but Fred sold their tools. Left with sixpence but determined to make good in the goldfields, Fred found work at a store some distance from Melbourne. There he made enough money to get started again. At the same time, he became more acquainted with the area and learned how to stay away from trouble.25[*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***]
Fred recounted the constant dangers of everyday life:
Not a day or night passed but what some dreadful tragedy would happen. For instance, I was at Moonlight Flat, one man armed with pistols met an elderly gentleman, stopped him in sight of hundreds of men in open daylight and demanded his money or his life. He handed over his money to the robber, walked on about twelve steps, turned and fired at the villain and shot him in the back of the neck and he fell in the road. The gentleman then returned to the body, got his money and left the fellow in his blood. Again, on Montgomery hill close by, two men quarreled, one seized a double barrel gun, fired at his partner and blew his mouth and one side of his face away, the blood and brains flew all over the wall of the house. Again, nearer still, close by our store a man was shot dead. He had robbed Mr. Steel’s store of a bag of flour weighing 200 pounds. Mr. Steel watched him come out from the back of the store, fired at him and he fell dead in the public street. The young man who had stolen the flour was well off. Times would fail me to record even one hundredth part of what daily occurred.26
Leaving the store in January 1853, Fred went again to the diggings of Bendigo, where he met an old acquaintance from New Zealand by the name of Francis Evans. Fred had previously known Evans as a “very zealous Methodist,”27 but unknown to Fred, Evans had been investigating the Mormon church. In Bendigo, Fred “made money hand over fist”28 until news of the death of his father forced his return to New Zealand. Fred’s family was overjoyed to see him again, his sister Amelia “crying with joy.” Little could Fred have realized the wedge soon to be driven between them, resulting in his name being stricken from the family Bible.
After a brief stay, Fred decided to return to the goldfields, this time accompanied by his brothers Alfred and Charles Clement and by their friend, Thomas Holder.29 They arrived in Melbourne in late October 1853. The group made the fateful decision to stay overnight at the home of Francis Evans. At the Evans’s home, the three Hurst brothers and Thomas Holder were introduced to an American elder, Burr Frost.30 Frost, along with Paul Smith, was part of a group of ten American missionaries who had landed in Sydney, Australia, in late March 1853 and were assigned to Victoria.31
Previous attempts to establish a mission in the colony of Victoria had made little headway. John Murdock, first president of the Australasian mission, arrived in Melbourne on December 19, 1851, with little more than pocket change and a “quantity of books” but found “few men in the city” and the people “in a perfect uproar.” After a stay of about ten days “of extreme difficulty,” feeling the situation a hopeless one, Murdock decided to return to Sydney.32[*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***]
Charles Wandell arrived in Melbourne the following year, three weeks after Fred Hurst and company landed from New Zealand.33 Wandell preached outdoors to what he considered “orderly congregations” and before leaving Melbourne had organized a “very promising little branch.”34 Burr Frost, sent to Melbourne to follow up on Wandell’s initial inroads, had been set apart as the presiding elder of the Victorian Conference.35
As Evans had a cabin in the goldfields and would be remaining in Melbourne for a time, he asked Fred and company if they would like to live there, taking care of the place until his return. They readily agreed to this proposal.36 The next day, the four men continued on to the diggings, arriving at the cabin five days later. On a Sunday night the following week, to the surprise of the Hurst brothers and Thomas Holder, who were still at dinner, a number of Francis Evans’s friends arrived, declaring they were going to hold a meeting. Fred asked one of the “preachers,” William Cooke, if he would take a cup of coffee, and a conversation commenced.37 Fred, remembering Evans as an avid Methodist, was eager to be on his way, as were Charles Clement and Thomas, but Alfred, being quite religious, implored them to stay.38
Fred Hurst remembers the deep and lasting impression Cooke left on him the first time he heard the elder preach, an account most revealing as to the methods of proselyting for the era:
The preacher [William Cooke] came out and said we had better come in for he would do us no harm. I thought it would look rather disrespectful if we went away, so concluded to stay. Well, shortly afterwards the meeting commenced. I must confess I was struck at the peculiarity of the hymns. The hymn books were in pamphlet form and headed “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. I thought to myself, the Methodists are getting up. If I was astonished at the hymns and tunes, I was still more so at the prayer that was offered up by the preacher. He prayed to the Lord to bless the Prophet, Seer and Revelator, Brigham Young, his councelors [sic], the twelve Apostles and others. I was full of wonder and curiosity. I never had such feelings before in my life. I asked myself the question, “Who can Brigham Young be?” and again, “Who can the twelve apostles be?” It would be impossible for me to tell the hundredth part of what passed through my mind.
After singing another hymn the preacher read a passage from the Book of Mormon. “What book can that be?” thought I to myself. I would very much like to read it for I had never heard that there was such a book before. Well, to proceed, the preacher also read part of the 15th chapter of St. Marks Gospel, and then preached Faith, repentance, Baptism for the remission of sins, also the gift of the Holy Ghost by the imposition of hands. Talked about Joseph Smith, gave us a brief history of the Church, the persecutions, etc. I cannot describe my feelings. I could not help paying deep attention, yea, I felt inspired, my heart was drawn towards the speaker, I watched for every word for it seemed good to my soul.39[*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***]
Ironically, as soon as Cooke and his associates had departed, Alfred, supposedly the more religious of the three brothers, “commenced a long tirade against the Mormons,” warning his brothers that the Mormons were “a very dangerous people who practiced plurality of wives, a most abominable doctrine.”40
Nevertheless, Fred and Charles Clement Hurst decided to investigate this newfound oddity for themselves. Fred recalled, “We attended every Mormon meeting and most every evening we went and heard them sing. I got real fond of their company, though the good Christians called us fools, said we were deluded.”41
In the weeks following, Fred and his group worked hard and long hours but extracted very little gold, and Alfred talked of returning home. With the arrival of Francis Evans and family, Fred Hurst admitted, “We had Mormonism from morning until night, and might I say from night til morning.” Alfred Hurst could get no peace and finally, after staying three weeks, returned to New Zealand, taking what little gold and cash his companions had.42 Fred and Alfred’s brotherly friendship would never be the same.
Fred and Charles Clement Hurst were baptized January 12, 1854, followed by Thomas Holder the next week.43 Less than two months after being baptized, Fred and Charles Clement wrote home, detailing their conversion and stating how excited they were to bring their family the news of the restored gospel. The brothers thought that as soon as the family heard the “truth” they would readily accept it. However, the two men were dreadfully mistaken. Their mother and sisters wrote back letters that “contained no arguments” but were “full of false accusations and abuse towards Joseph Smith and the Church in general,” adding that they were ashamed to own the brothers any longer as members of the family. Fred reflects:
My heart was so sore I could not forbear shedding tears. I then began to realize that I had to round up my shoulders, though forsaken by my own dear mother, brothers, and sisters, and obey all the commandments of God as far and as fast as they were made known to me. . . . To tell the truth, after this I began to realize that all those who obeyed the requirements of the gospel were nearer and dearer to me than all my former friends or relatives. Well, we wrote home repeatedly but received no answer to our letters, although I stated in them if they would prove from the Bible that the doctrines of even Polygamy was unscriptural I would renounce Mormonism.44
Fred continued to write and beg for a fair hearing but to no avail. To each family member, he wrote personal letters similar to the following one addressed to his older brother Alfred:
Do you think we would have left our home, and dear mother and sisters behind on mere belief. Again do you think for one moment we lie when we say we know the gospel is true and that it came from God? Do you think we would risk our salvation in this manner? O my dear brother I beg and entreat you to examine these principles and obey them, and then to ask God for a testimony and he will give it to you.45
But Fred’s efforts were in vain, and after three years nothing had changed. Fred recorded part of a letter he received from his sister Amelia: “She is very much opposed to Mormonism. Wants to know how long Clem is to be a slave to those witches.”46 Because Fred was Charles Clement’s older brother, he carried the blame for Charles Clement having joined the Church.
The impact that the local members such as Hurst had on the growth of the Church cannot be underestimated, since much of American Elder Burr Frost’s time was spent at Melbourne while Elder Paul Smith concentrated on Geelong. Correspondence reveals very little headway was made in these respective areas. Bad weather had restricted Frost to less than half a dozen meetings in the first five months in Melbourne.47
With never enough experienced preachers to cover so wide an area, the mission president was forced to continually travel, giving counsel and checking that all was in order. While trying to watch over present converts and at the same time open new ground, the mission was forced to improvise with whatever men they had that were willing to be called to help further the gospel message. Fred Hurst, for example, was called within months of his baptism and “ordained to preach in the Bendigo Gold mines and build up the saints scattered over the country.”48 Little regard was given concerning his inexperience and his inability to bear his testimony, let alone conduct a meeting. Fred admitted “when called upon to speak in public I [would] commence trembling.”49
The following experience by Hurst helps illustrate the burden some of the new converts were willing to shoulder on behalf of the Church. After being called on his first mission to Golden Gully, Bendigo, Fred writes of his arrival and subsequent tribulations:
The Brothers and Sisters were all very glad to see me. . . . I felt determined to do my best though I had never preached before. . . . Well, the first time I got the Saints together I opened the meeting with prayer, but could not muster the courage to address the Saints, consequently I read portion of the Millennial Star, and as I did not speak myself I felt ashamed to call upon anyone else. I felt real miserable for I felt I was not doing my duty. Sunday come and we had quite a congregation, but I felt worse than I did on Wednesday evening previous although I had prayed and fasted. The very thought of preaching made me loath the sight of food, it took away my appetite entirely.
Before going to meeting I would resolve in my own mind to speak, but as soon as the second hymn was sung I would be seized by a trembling fit, all ideas would flee from my mind and I would have to take up the Star or some other book and read. However, on Wednesday while at work I got in conversation with a man and preached to him about the Gospel. While talking with him I told him if he would come up to meeting that evening he would hear an Elder preach on the first principals of the Gospel. He promised he would come. After he had left me I began to reflect on what I had told him respecting the meeting. I turned sick at the idea. I could not eat my supper but I washed myself and went down hoping the man would not be there, but all my hopes were turned to slopes, for there the man sat as large as life. I cannot describe my feelings at this time, but after saluting him I went into the woods alone and besought the Lord to have compassion on me. After doing so I felt relieved and returned. We opened the meeting and in spite of all hell I arose to my feet, opened to the 3rd chapter of St. John’s Gospel, and after reading a few verses my tongue was loosened and before I was aware of it I was preaching. I never have spoken more freely in my life, and it was a strong testimony to me of the truth of Mormonism, and I felt thankful beyond measure and with my whole heart I praised my maker. The brethren and sisters were very much astonished but not more so than myself.50
Near the end of December 1854, Fred Hurst received instructions to relocate to Castlemaine51 and begin preparations to leave for Zion, as plans were being made by Burr Frost to have a company ready the following year. In Castlemaine, Fred had great success in the diggings, after entering into a partnership with recent convert John de Baptiste. Hurst and Baptiste worked well together and each cleared $1,000 the first six weeks.52
At the outset, Baptiste seemed to fit the mold of “religious seeker,” while in contrast Hurst appeared a more unlikely candidate for baptism as he had an honest skepticism towards religion in general. Nevertheless both men had made a strong commitment to the Church soon after hearing the gospel message: Hurst accepted missionary calls and Baptiste donated his own property for Church use. Both also answered the call to gather with the main body of the Saints in Utah.
While sources provide insight into Fred Hurst’s conversion, very little remains to illuminate Baptiste’s motives or intentions in joining the Church or the turn his character took.
Baptiste was born in 1814, reportedly in Venice, Italy,53 and was attracted to the Australian gold fields in the early 1850s. He first came in contact with the Church in 1854 at Castlemaine, Victoria. Baptiste had called at the elders’ tent just outside Castlemaine, inquiring if he could in some way help cover the costs of the “Church of Christ.” Burr Frost, who was present with a number of other elders, asked Baptiste his name and what he believed. Baptiste answered that he could not speak English very well but believed the Bible to be the word of God.54
A conversation followed, and Baptiste told them he had been raised as a Roman Catholic from youth, but he saw much error in it and concluded to join the Church of England, thinking they might be right. He soon tired of them and joined the Methodists and had up to the present time been “advocating their principles.” Elder Frost replied that the men in the tent were preachers and explained in detail the scriptures and organization of the Church. Baptiste got in “quiet [sic] a frenzy” and called out “I will become a baby, I will become a baby, I want to be baptized.” Frost told him not to be in a hurry, that he should carefully consider what they had talked about before making any hasty decisions. “No, No, No I want to be baptized,” responded Baptiste.55
Following Baptiste’s baptism, Burr Frost and James McKnight were requested by Baptiste to accompany him home. He took them to downtown Castlemaine and showed them a wooden-frame chapel about 60′ × 35′ in size, constructed with the best materials and supplied with good seats, chandeliers, and a pulpit. “There, Beloved Brethren, you shall have that to preach in. It is my own property, I have built it with my own hands and at my own expense,” stated Baptiste. He had partitioned off a small section of the building to live in and informed the elders that he had been in the habit of holding meetings every Sunday.56
The building was an asset to the local missionaries who previously had had no option other than to speak in the open air or the confines of a tent. Fred Hurst recalls it was the first time he had ever spoken in a chapel with a pulpit.57 Baptiste’s “chapel” was also used by the Church members for business affairs such as the payment of gold.58
Hurst’s and Baptiste’s Immigration Journeys
Burr Frost had been working for some time to organize the first exodus of converts from Victoria to Utah. Hurst and Baptiste were among the seventy-two passengers who left Hobson’s Bay on April 27, 1855, aboard the ill-fated Tarquinia.59 An old craft, the Tarquinia started leaking after leaving Tahiti and docked for repairs at Honolulu, where a great number of bad feelings surfaced among the group. A number of the passengers, Baptiste among them, decided to remain at Honolulu, feeling they could no longer continue with the company, in part because they doubted the Tarquinia would ever get to San Pedro, California.60 Over a week later, the vessel sailed again, but after three days, gale force winds strained the vessel so much she began to leak badly on both sides, forcing the captain to return to Honolulu. Further repairs proved fruitless, and the ship was sold for salvage.61
At Honolulu work was hard to find, but Baptiste was apparently financially secure. He became part of a branch organized by John T. Caine on August 19, 1855, and was ordained a teacher.62
The majority of the passengers had no money or means to continue on to San Francisco. Fred Hurst, who had approximately $1,000 in gold sewn up in his clothing, characteristically turned all of it over to Church leaders, leaving himself almost penniless, unemployed, and stranded in Honolulu.63 The local mission leader, eager to take advantage of Hurst’s missionary zeal, asked him to accept a mission among the natives, to which he agreed.64 For Fred Hurst, hardship and trials seemed to accompany his joining the Church, but his humble heart and ability to make the best of any situation was revealed during the time he proselytized on the island of Waialua in the Sandwich Islands:
I spent the day pleasantly thinking how much better off I am now than I was before I became a member of the Kingdom of God, not in the things of the world, for I have only a suit of clothes and they have seen their best days, for I see my elbows begin to show through my coat sleeves. I am almost barefoot. I have an old pair of low shoes and every now and then I have to take them off and empty the sand out of them as the roads are very sandy and heavy. I have no socks. . . . I do not look for my reward in this life, I look for it in the world to come. I think sometime when I begin to get lonely what Jesus Christ suffered, also the apostles, Joseph Smith and others, and then I feel as if I ought to suffer at times. For one thing I do know it is with much tribulation that we enter the kingdom, and unless I run the race, how can I expect to win the prize. I try to cast all care aside and put my trust in the Lord. My earnest desire is to get the language of this people so I can declare the Gospel of Christ in its purity unto them. No one can tell, except by experience, what pleasure it is to stand up and bear testimony to the truthfulness of this work in the Hawaiian language. I realize already that it pays for all trouble of learning it. So much for my thoughts.65
Fred served faithfully until his release in October 1856. The following month, Fred sailed for San Francisco along with his brother Charles Clement, who had not yet turned eighteen. They landed with thirty-seven and one-half cents between them.66 Here Hurst and Baptiste crossed paths again. Baptiste had arrived in San Francisco in late February 1856 and was still there in April 1857. Baptiste gave Fred, who had no warm clothing, a “good cloth coat.”67
Despite his success in the Victorian goldfields and his dire financial situation, Fred never hinted at trying the California diggings. Fred’s desire for gold had turned to souls and upon being informed that there was a shortage of elders in the conference, Fred and Charles Clement decided upon a mission to Northern California. Since joining the Church three years earlier, Fred had been continually engaged in missionary work, which had taken its toll on him both physically and mentally. In the following weeks, Fred wrote:
I have felt a kind of low spirit this last day or two. I seem to be tired in both mind and body. I feel there is a great responsibility resting on me, and I feel to realize it more every day. It makes me feel my own nothingness and I feel like putting my trust in the Lord at all times. . . . The Saints all tell me I look pale and thin. I weighed myself when I was in Stockton and instead of weighing 152 lbs I lack 20 of it. The most I could go, walking stick and all, was 132 lbs.68
Shortly after, George Q. Cannon met with Fred and Charles Clement and told them “not to kill [themselves] traveling all over the country.” During this time, Elder Cannon also gave Fred a blessing.69 In the latter part of September, Fred was sent on a “special mission” to warn all the Saints to be ready to gather “at a moments notice” as government troops were marching on Utah.70
Finally, in early October, Fred started for Utah via San Bernardino, arriving in Salt Lake City on March 20, 1858.71 The following week, he was present to hear Brigham Young speak in the Tabernacle and wrote: “I have felt to rejoice all the day long. I realize that it is a very great privilege to listen to the teachings of the Fountainhead, or the First Presidency. Oh how long and anxious I have looked forward to the day when I could see the Prophets, Brigham, Heber, and hear their voices.”72
Baptiste’s Grave Robbing
Baptiste had also made his way to Salt Lake City around the same time as Hurst and by 1859 had been hired to dig graves and bury the dead at the Salt Lake Cemetery east of the city. He built a small home next to the graveyard and shortly thereafter married “a simple minded woman.” Together they opened a millinery and tailor’s shop.”73[*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***]
His ghoulish, illegal activities came to light January 27, 1862, but his crime first began to unravel four weeks earlier when a gang of half a dozen lowlifes took it upon themselves to pay back then Governor John W. Dawson, who was fleeing from Utah. Already resented and very unpopular, Dawson had apparently made “improper proposals” to a well-known Salt Lake “Society Lady,” who resented his advances and informed friends of his conduct. Despite Dawson’s quiet and quick exit from Salt Lake, the gang soon overtook the mail stage, almost beat Dawson to death, and robbed the stagecoach.74
By January 16, 1862, three of the gang members were dead. Moroni “Rone” Clawson and another were shot to death on 200 South in Salt Lake City while trying to escape from police.75 Clawson’s body initially went unclaimed and thus by default was buried in the north Salt Lake cemetery. Local police officer Henry Heath, in a humanitarian gesture, paid to have Clawson properly clothed for burial. In the days following, some of Clawson’s family obtained permission from the sexton, Jesse C. Little, to exhume the body and remove it to Draper, but upon opening the coffin, they found the body naked. Shortly thereafter, George Clawson confronted Officer Heath, expressing his disgust over how his brother had been buried in such a disgraceful manner, despite the lawman’s adamant denial to the contrary. A frustrated and suspicious Heath soon confided in probate judge Elias Smith, who ordered him to look into the matter.76
In an effort to quietly resolve the affair, Heath first approached Sexton Jesse C. Little, who could shed no light on the event. From there Officer Heath, George Clawson, and two other men traveled to Baptiste’s home on Third Avenue, where they found only his wife at home. While making inquiries about her husband’s whereabouts, the men could not help noticing numerous boxes inside the house. A casual glance inside one of the boxes raised gasps of horrid surprise, for it revealed a “motley sickening heap of fresh-soiled linen” and “funeral shrouds.”77 Many bundles of grave clothes were found throughout Baptiste’s house, along with a large box filled with infant’s clothing, about sixty pairs of children’s shoes, and “about a dozen men’s garments including shirts, caps, socks and many parts of suits of females.”78
After the initial shock, Officer Henry Heath became particularly incensed over the morbid discovery. He feared the grave of his “idolized” daughter, who had been recently buried in the cemetery, had also been desecrated. With personal feelings overriding his professional calling, Heath calculated the killing of Baptiste then and there in the graveyard if his suspicions should be confirmed.79 The men then proceeded through the snow to the cemetery and found Baptiste. One report has Baptiste picking up cobble stones.80 Another has him working in the frozen ground digging a new grave. Baptiste was reportedly wearing a “broadcloth Prince Albert suit” in which a local saloonkeeper had recently been buried. Officer Henry Heath later wrote of the confrontation:
I at once charged him with robbing the dead and he fell upon his knees calling God to witness that he was innocent. The evidence was too strong and I choked the wretch into a confession when he begged for his life as a human being never pleaded before. I dragged him to a grave near my daughter’s and pointing to it inquired: “Did you rob that grave?” His reply was “Yes.” Then directing his attention to the mound of earth which covered my child’s remains I repeated the question with bated breath and with the firm resolve to kill him should he answer in the affirmative. “No, no, not that one; not that one.” That answer saved the miserable coward’s life.81
A second-hand account by John R. Young states Baptiste was first taken to the grave of Moroni Clawson and accused by George Clawson, the dead man’s brother, of robbing the body:
George Clawson, the dead man’s brother jerked him [Baptiste] out of the hole, jammed the pistol against his temple, and said, “tell me who robbed my brother, or I will kill you, and bury you in the hole you are digging”? the man on his knees confessed he was the robber. The people went wild, rushed the grave yard, opened their graves and found, so many of their loved ones robbed.82
Heath continued, “The news of our discovery and Baptiste’s confession spread like wildfire, and it was with difficulty that we got him to the county jail in safety.”83
Oddly, the Deseret News made no mention of the Baptiste saga at the time. The possibility of an angry crowd getting out of hand and lynching Baptiste seemed a real possibility, and the newspaper probably did not wish to throw any more fuel on such a volatile issue. Nevertheless, the whole population seemed aware of the crime by the following evening, “creating a great Consternation through the City.”84
Late afternoon, the day following his exposure, Baptiste was carted back to the cemetery to identify the graves he had robbed, but he would point out only about a dozen for fear the people would rise up in anger and kill him.85 For his own safety when returning to the jail, Baptiste lay flat in a wagon bed, covered with a blanket to screen him from the public view. Early January 28, 1862, all the clothes found in the Baptiste’s house were displayed at the county courthouse, where “several hundred funeral suits” covered a “broad table fifty feet in length.” During the day, hundreds passed through, examining and identifying most of the clothing. The pathetic spectacle of a grief-stricken mother identifying articles of clothing from a child or a “husband or wife recognizing the funeral apparel of the life partner who had preceded them into the unseen world” was a sight not quickly forgotten.86
The following day, January 29, “ten or eleven” graves that Baptiste had denied robbing were dug up with “3 or 4” of the bodies found stripped. The “considerable dirt with the bodies” made the viewing a morbid sight. Another pathetic feature was the fact that Baptiste had not only stripped the bodies but dumped them out of their coffins, which he used for kindling wood “with no more concern than if he were eating his dinner.” Other graves Baptiste admitted to robbing were also opened, and as expected, all the bodies were found naked.87
Further questioning revealed that Baptiste had been “carrying on his hellish work” for the past three and a half years, claiming his only motive was to sell the clothes. But another police officer, Albert Dewey, states Baptiste hoarded the clothes about his house as a miser would his gold, admitting “the devil was in him.” Baptiste also confessed that he had robbed the dead in Australia and built a meeting house with the avails of the robbery (the chapel which was used by the missionaries in Australia).88
Reports estimated Baptiste had robbed about three hundred graves, principally those of women and children. At first many doubted that such a thing could possibly happen, but further reopened graves revealed many bodies stripped of their clothing. The locals became so incensed over the situation that it was only with the greatest difficulty that the police were able to control the mobs that gathered each day at the prison and threatened to lynch Baptiste.89
The police locked Baptiste in the “farthest recesses of the jail.” Had they not, wrote Judge Elias Smith, “the populace would have torn him to pieces, such was the excitement produced by the unheard of occurrence.” Wild stories began circulating through the city. Some had dreams; others claimed to have heard rapping on the floor, on the bedstead, and on tables, imagining that they were hearing from the spirits of the dead calling upon their friends.90
Burying the dead in the proper clothing was of great importance to the people at the time. In Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from Utah, Anthon Cannon helps shed some light on why this issue was so sensitive:
A Mr. F [sic] of Salt Lake dreams that his mother dies, and is buried “improperly dressed,” meaning not in regulation LDS burial clothing. Six months later his mother dies, and he reminded his father of the dream. His father assured him that everything would be done properly. The evening after the burial, his sister found some of the mother’s clothing which should have been put on her. They dug the woman up and put the clothing on her.91
In response to intense public feeling reaching a “feverish state of excitement” and the wide concern of the people for their dead, Brigham Young addressed the issue at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on February 9, 1862:
“It appears that a man named John Baptiste has practiced robbing the dead of their clothing in our grave yard during some five years past. If you wish to know what I think about it, I answer, I am unable to think so low as to fully get at such a mean contempitable, trick. . . .
“Many are anxious to know what effect it will have upon their dead who have been robbed. . . . [W]e have done our duty in this particular, and I for one am satisfied . . . the Saints will come forth with all the glory, beauty, and excellence of resurrected Saints clothed as they were when they were laid away.
“Some may inquire whether it is necessary to put fresh linen into the coffins of those who have been robbed. . . . I will promise you that they will be well clothed in the resurrection, for the earth and the elements around it are full of these things. . . . I would let my friends lay and sleep in peace. I am aware of the excited state of the feelings of the community; I have little to say about the cause of it; the meanness of the act is so far beneath my comprehension that I have not ventured to think much about it.”92
Soon after the community agreed to gather up the funeral clothing and have the police bury the whole bundle in one grave at the cemetery.
Baptiste remained in jail for about three months before his fate of banishment was finally decided. A suggestion was proposed earlier by Brigham Young in his Tabernacle address:
“To hang a man for such a deed would not begin to satisfy my feelings. What shall we do with him? Shoot him? No, that would do no good to anybody but himself. Would you imprison him during life? That would do nobody any good. What I would do with him came to me quickly, after I heard of the circumstances: this I will mention, before I make other remarks. If it was left to me, I would make him a fugitive and a vagabond upon the earth. This would be my sentence, but probably the people will not want this done.”93
Salt Lake’s “John the Baptist” had became “such a hated object that the sooner and further away he got from sight without being put under ground, himself, the better every one would feel.”94 The grave robber was taken initially to Antelope Island in a wagon across a bar through the briny water which at the time was scarcely more than knee deep. Baptiste was met as planned by boatmen at Antelope Island and rowed to an island about five miles north called Freemont Island.95
Before Baptiste was allowed to continue with the waiting boatmen to his final destination of Freemont Island, he was tattooed with indelible ink, “not seared with hot irons as many have believed,” with the words “Branded for Robbing the Dead.”96 Another contemporary account says that his ears were cut off, and he was branded on the forehead with the words “GRAVE ROBBER.” Officer Albert Dewey stated at the time, “Whatever the indignities, there had been provocation enough.”97
Freemont Island was often referred to as Millers Island because two brothers, Henry and Daniel Miller, had for some time been using the island for their stock. They had erected a small shanty stocked with basic provisions, which they used on odd occasions while checking on their stock. Calling at the island about three weeks after Baptiste’s initial banishment, the Millers found him “getting along very well in his loneliness.” A second trip to Freemont Island three weeks later found no trace of the exile. Albert Dewey remembered: “The roof and parts of the sides of the cabin had been torn off. A part of the carcass of a three-year old heifer was lying on the ground a short distance away, and portions of the hide were near by, cut into thongs. It was evident that with the tools found in the cabin Baptiste had killed the heifer, built a raft from the logs and timber of the shanty and with this had made his escape from the island.”98
As to Baptiste’s final fate, Dewey added:
The general belief is that he made his escape to the mainland on the north, somewhere near the Promontory; and it was reported some time afterward, on what would seem to be unquestioned authority that he was seen in a Montana mining camp and on being closely questioned by one who recognized him, confessed to being Jean Baptiste and related how he made his escape. Another rumor is that he joined himself to a westbound emigrant train, went to the coast where he lived for some time before he came to Utah, then left San Francisco, where he feared he would be recognized and made his way to southern California, where he died.99
If Baptiste did in fact reach the California coast, the possibility exists he could even have returned to Australia.
One can continue to speculate over Baptiste’s fate, but whatever the outcome, John de Baptiste will continue to live on in infamy in Church annals as Australia’s most notorious convert. Baptiste had looked among several faiths and seemingly felt he had found what he wanted with the Mormons, yet the chapel he provided for the other religious practitioners of the day as well as for the Saints was built with money from grave robbing.
Hurst’s Utah and New Zealand Service
Fred Hurst, like Baptiste, also initially settled in Salt Lake City but in contrast lived a life which drew no unusual attention. Fred married Aurelia Hawkins on November 3, 1858, and they had ten children. Aurelia came from a wealthy English family. A reserved, deeply religious and stately woman, she enjoyed “very little pleasure in life other than her home and family.”100
In April 1860, Fred took a position as “Keeper of the Station at Ruby Valley,” about 300 miles west of Salt Lake City on the western route to California.101 True to form, Fred made the best of a situation that included severe winters, hostile Indians, and a new home that looked more like a prison “built wholey [sic]of logs and the never failing dirt roof.”102
Kate B. Carter wrote of Fred:
Mr. Hurst believed in the policy of Brigham Young—that of feeding the Indians rather than fighting them—and being a naturally kind hearted man, he desired to alleviate their suffering. Many times he gave the Indians who came to the station bread and also a kind of poi he had learned to make in the Islands. At Christmas time he gave them a special treat of a large plum pudding which he had steamed in flour sacks over a bon fire. The Indians were deeply appreciative of these acts of kindness and often warned him of hostile bands who were bent on destroying the station. Thus he had time to secure proper defence.103
In 1865, Fred and Aurelia moved with their three children to Logan, Utah, where Fred led an unassuming life, farming and raising his family until 1868, when he was run over by a load of hay and nearly killed, his left arm being paralyzed. Forced to quit farming entirely, Fred turned his attention to “house painting, graining etc.,” which he developed into a good business with more work than he could handle.104
Although Fred had made a new life for himself in Utah, his thoughts must have often been upon his childhood home of New Zealand and a mother he had not seen in over twenty years. As fate would have it, missionary emphasis had shifted from Australia to New Zealand, where by 1887 membership would total an amazing 2,500, of which the vast majority were Maori.105 Laying the foundation for this growth were brothers Fred and Charles Clement Hurst, who returned to New Zealand in 1875, this time “on a special mission to the Maoris.”106[*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***] [*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***]
Fred left his family in “deep sorrow and anguish”107 on account of his eight-year-old daughter dying three days before his departure. Fred and his brother Charles Clement arrived in New Zealand on December 14, 1875, and were met with a cold reception:
[*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***] [*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***] [*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***]
The papers greeted us with a dose of billings-gate, and a rehash from the San Francisco Chronicle, stating also that they hoped we would get as cordial a reception as an Elder had experienced in Wellington some time ago when he was saluted with sundry dead cats and other ordorous accompaniments [sic]. The press actually countenancing and advocating MOB LAW. So much for prejudice and blind bigotry.108
Fred’s immediate concern was to locate his mother. When he found her in a very feeble state, Fred recalled, “she was overjoyed at seeing me, but could scarcely realize it was true that we had come at last to see her, after such a long absence.”109 Fred and Charles had planned to link back up with the other missionaries after a brief visit but due to lack of funds, Fred was forced to remain behind and attempt to open the Wellington area to the restored gospel. The following six months would be very lonely and trying for Fred:
I scarcely know what to do, everybody I used to be acquainted with gives me the cold shoulder.110
I got an abusive and insulting letter from by brother, Alfred, but have concluded not to notice. It would be beneath me to stoop so low as to answer it.111
January 10th. I took a long walk to find a secret place to retire to, for I felt bowed down and bewildered, not knowing where to go or what to do. Everything seemed shut down for want of funds. In the anxiety of my soul I whished [sic] to exclaim: “Oh, Lord, I am here to do thy will and not my own, wilt thou in Thy tender mercy make it manifest unto me what I shall do for the best interest of this mission. If it is Thy will that I should preach in this place, wilt thou provide means to hire a hall, or what shall I do, and whither shall I go to accomplish the most good?”112
Fred did manage to hire a hall and began preaching regularly, handing out tracts and holding gospel discussions with whomever would lend him a moment, but most only “wanted to know about poligamy [sic] and not baptism.”113 The newspapers also “did not spare their abuse and misrepresentation calling Fred a sickly Saint from Utah.”114 The Evening Post of January 17, 1876, wrote that Fred addressed “a large congregation on Sunday afternoon and was invited by the Evangelist to a public discussion, and that Elder Hurst the Mormon Prophet and all his absurdities were entirely disposed of.”115
Fred, with his uncanny knack to turn even the most discouraging situations into something positive, comments:
Here am I, a stranger in a strange land, insulted and despised by all that know me, abused by the Press, Priests, and people. And what for? Because I have the Priesthood of the Almighty and a message from High Heaven to warn the people to repent of their sins ere the judgments of God will overtake them as a thief in the night. As I have written in some of my letters, it has never fell to my lot to meet with so many rebuffs, slights, insults, and abuse and crosses and disappointments in such a short space of time as I have since I landed here and yet the hand of the Lord is over me for good, and I often realize it to a marvelous extent.
But it does not do to brood over these things; although things look dark now I firmly believe there will be a change before long even if the Lord has to come and stir the people up by His power. He will do all things well.116[*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***] [*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***]
Fred’s faith and perseverance were not misplaced. He was possibly the first Latter-day Saint to learn the Maori tongue and actively try to proselyte among the natives. The following reflection by Fred was indeed prophetic:
I had a very pleasant dream last night, that filled my soul with joy unutterable. A personage was talking to me. He appeared to be standing in the air several feet from the ground and was telling me, or giving me an account of some very great and important events, several of which will transpire within a year from this date concerning the Lamanites [Maoris], and cited me to a certain passage in the Book of Mormon, that was not being fulfilled concerning that people, but when I awoke, alas, the dream and the passage referred to fled from my memory, for which I feel sorry, but presume it is all right.117
Months later a letter was received from Brigham Young confirming Fred’s feelings; it requested that the missionaries study the Maori language, “for the time had come for them to hear the gospel.”118
While in New Zealand, the Hurst brothers suffered not only public abuse, but also lack of money to meet basic expenses and provide bare essentials. Fred writes: “We are in a very destitute condition, and it requires all our courage, and that would not amount to much without the Spirit of the Lord to comfort and cheer our hearts.”119 “Sometimes we go a whole week without meat, butter is a rarity, we live mostly on oatmeal porridge and sop, but we have sickened on oatmeal. . . . We can’t both go to town together on account of Charley’s [Clement’s] boots have given out, and that leaves us with but one pair between us, and we wear them turn about.”120
Through it all, each difficulty seemed little more than a diversion for Fred. He never lost sight of how his life fell into Christ’s scheme of things, never became frustrated or angry, just took it all in stride with a resilience that would anger any skeptic: “Oh how very happy I ought to be for the hand of the Lord has been over, and round about me and mine for good, and my heart swells within me, and my gratitude to devoting myself, my time and my all for the up building of God’s kingdom and the spread of truth. And while I’m permitted to live on earth I want to do good.”121
One commodity Fred never lacked was true and sincere friends. When Fred had left on his mission, he was overwhelmed by community generosity.122 News of Fred’s release was soon followed by $300 in gold raised by the brothers and sisters of Logan to help pay his fare home.123 Fred commented, “When I thought of such kindness I felt very humble and asked myself the question, ‘Am I worthy of so much kindness and solicitude?’”124
Fred returned to Logan in June 1877. His journal entries for the time highlight the fact that Fred was a man truly loved and respected by his family and friends:
We found quite a large assembly at the station to welcome us. I didn’t really feel worthy of so much honor. Such a cordial shaking of hands.
I will never forget Brother L. Farr hauled us home in his wagon crowded to the guards. We were hailed coming along the streets, and had to jump out every once in a while to shake hands, finally we reached home. Found my dear wife tolerably well but looking very thin and careworn. The twins had grown remarkably and Leo, quite a while after I got home, kept saying, “Take me to my papa, take me to my papa, I tell oo.”
The children were all delighted with the shells and corals that I brought along. Everything was new to them. Besides images and animals carved out of wood, a box made of sandal wood and beautifully carved by Chinese, and then all my sketches, etc.
In the evening a very large company, over three hundred, came down with Brother William Knowles to serenade us. God bless them for their kindness. My wife says, “You must go out and invite them in.” I told her our city lot would scarcely hold them. I made a few remarks to thank them, and felt to bless them in the name of the Lord Jesus.125
Fred continued painting part time. He lived near the temple in Logan, Utah, where he spent much of his time doing work for the dead. In 1892–93, Fred’s artistic talents were called upon to engrave and paint the inside of the Salt Lake Temple.126 Although “so sick with vomiting,” he believed the completion of the temple was of such importance that he never missed a day’s work until the project was finished.127[*** graphic omitted; see PDF ***]
One of Fred’s last entries in his journal is a truly remarkable one and a testimony to what his life centered upon: family, missionary work, and temple work. Fred recorded:
Along about the 1st of March, 1893, I found myself alone in the dining room, all had gone to bed. I was sitting at the table when to my great surpize [sic] my elder brother Alfred walked in and sat down opposite me at the table and smiled. I said to him (he looked so natural): “When did you arrive in Utah?”
He said: “I have just come from the Spirit World, this is not my body that you see, it is lying in the tomb. I want to tell you that when you were on you mission you told me many things about the Gospel, and the hereafter, and about the Spirit World being as real and tangible as the earth. I could not believe you, but when I died and went there and saw for myself I realized that you had told the truth. I attended the Mormon meetings.” He raised his hand and said with much warmth: “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with all my heart. I believe in faith, and repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, but that is as far as I can go. I look to you to do the work for me in the temple. You are watched closely, every move you make is known there, and we were glad you came. We are all looking to you as our head in this great work. I want to tell you that there are a great many spirits who weep and mourn because they have relatives in the Church here who are careless and are doing nothing for them.128
Accordingly, Fred later authorized the work to be done.129
Frederick William Hurst, foot soldier for the gospel, died October 30, 1918, at age eighty-five.130 Like those of a vast majority of less eminent converts, Fred Hurst’s life was not characterized by any one great event to immortalize his name in LDS history. Fred served without popular distinction, prominence, or position, but his example truly “influenced people from all walks of life in many lands.”131 For example, youthful John A. Widtsoe remembered an aged Fred Hurst:
He always kept a beautiful flower garden at his home just below the Agricultural College at Logan, where I was laboring as President of that institution. Naturally my responsibilities were heavy. In times of discouragement I would often take a walk real early in the morning when all was quiet, where I could be alone with my thoughts . . . [Fred] was always out with a very cheery “Good Morning”, and if I gave no signs of being in a hurry he would talk over the fence. It usually was not long until some remark we had made brought from his store of wisdom and experience some story of his early days, and I would listen to him. He had such a marvelous personality, and as his face glowed with faith and cheerfulness, one never tired of his stories of actual living for it seemed his life had reached out into every worthwhile activity of man. He had a cheerfulness that would dispel any worry or fears and I would go back to my labors full of encouragement and faith in the purpose of life, and that God was interested in all of his children, and would overrule for the good and blessing of any who would trust in him to make life or tasks conform to the will of God.132
No one could have mapped out a longer route to Zion either in physical miles or spiritual trials than did Hurst and Baptiste, who both managed to escape the goldfields and their quagmire of religious indifference, moral leprosy, and isolation. But what turned out to be a refiner’s fire for Hurst proved to be little more than a hand-warming flame for Baptiste.
For many people, evil has a perverse and entertaining fascination while the whole and significant sum of a good man’s works pass by unnoticed. Good is less likely to catch our interest. This is no better illustrated than in the lives of Fred Hurst and John de Baptiste. The brief appearance of Baptiste in our history catches the mind and stirs the imagination to ponder the sensational, but of the Fred Hursts of the world, President Howard W. Hunter wrote: “There are many great, unnoticed, and forgotten heroes among us. I am speaking of those of you who quietly and consistently do the things you ought to do. I am talking about those who are always there and always willing . . . to do the many simple and minor things that will ultimately make us great.”133