No single figure has aroused a more intense interest to those researching the origins of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia than William Barratt. Until recently his life and fate have been shrouded in mystery.
William James Barratt was born on 25 January 1823, in Burslem, North Staffordshire, England.1 This area, covering approximately twenty-seven square miles, was known as the Potteries because of its prominence as the center of British earthenware manufacture. Barratt’s family had lived here for several generations. His grandfather had married a widow when he was eighteen years old and worked as a farmer in Burslem. Taken as a recruit during the Napoleonic Wars, he was not heard of until he returned after being discharged. Upon his arrival home, he found his wife had remarried during his absence. He therefore left Burslem and his family.2
William James Barratt’s father, William Joseph, was the only son of this marriage and had a good education for that time. According to the memoirs written by his grandson (also named William Joseph) he had strong religious inclinations and after being converted at a revival meeting went to London to try to convert his half-brother. Although unsuccessful in the conversion attempt, he remained in London, found work at a chemist shop, and boarded with a widow and her daughter. After a time, he married the daughter, Mary Ann Holland. The couple resided in London until approximately 1830, when they returned to Burslem with their two sons, William James, aged seven, and his younger brother Fredrick. Apparently this was not the first time they had been back in Burslem. Indeed, they may have lived there for a considerable period, as evidenced by William James’s birth in Burslem.
Upon the family’s return, William Joseph worked as a foreman in a factory. However, he was replaced while he was striking for better wages. Being a man of resources, he began buying and selling goods from the factory as a wholesaler. He moved from place to place, doing especially well in exporting goods from Dundalk, Ireland, into England. He planned to settle in Dundalk, but Mary Ann would not go. Soon afterward, William Joseph died at the age of thirty-six. Left with three children and no means of support, Mary Ann soon married Robert Higgins.
Barratt’s conversion story and baptism date are unknown. The earliest reference to the Church’s being introduced into the area where he lived is found in the Manuscript History of the British Mission, 10 March 1839: “The work continues to spread in Manchester and vicinity, among the Staffordshire Potteries and other places in England.”3 The first actual reference to the gospel being preached in Burslem is dated 25 July 1839. On that day, Elder William Clayton began a five-day visit to Burslem during which he baptized seven people. From then on Alfred Cordon, a resident of Burslem who had been baptized 30 June 1839 at Manchester, “commenced preaching the Gospel holding meetings [and] baptizing believers.”4 In August and September of 1839, William Clayton, Willard Richards, and John Moon labored in Burslem with some success.5 By the end of 1839, David Wilding had baptized more than thirty-six people in Burslem.6 The success continued when Wilford Woodruff arrived on 21 January 1840 and baptized many during a stay of six weeks. A few months later, Elders George A. Smith and Theodore Turley also experienced success in Burslem and the Potteries.
William Barratt was likely baptized in mid to late 1839 or early 1840. His interest in the gospel probably stemmed from the influence of his religious father. That he was the only known member of his family to join the Church suggests a firm conviction in his own mind of its truthfulness. Apparently William became an active member after his baptism. The earliest reference to him appears in the journal of Alfred Cordon:
Thursday July 9th 1840 after I had been Preaching at Hanley bro Wm. Barratt came to our house and told me that he expected he was going to South Australia he was about 17 years of age he had a mother and a stepfather he was to have started on the Saterday The Spirit made it manifest to me that if he went he must be ordained to the Office of an Elder On Friday morning while Elder Smith was at Manchester he was impressed upon to come to Burslem he had a coat part made at the Tailor and he went and fetched it from him just as it was And he arrived at Burslem at nine o Clock in the Evening. When he had been here about Twenty minutes he had it manifested to him that he had come for the very purpose of Ordaining William Barratt an Elder We held Council Meeting on Saturday Evening at Hanley Bro Barratt was present he was ordained an Elder and blessed under the hands of G. A. Smith and myself I gave him a Number of address and a few Timely Warning and two numbers of the Starr.7
George A. Smith also made the following note:
Saturday, July 11. Attended Council of the official members at Hanley [Hanley is two miles from Burslem], which lasted till midnight. We made arrangements to have all the ordained members attend to preaching every Sabbath at some place in the country, and report their proceedings every two weeks to the Council. Ordained William Barrett [sic] to the office of Elder, furnished him with what books I could, and gave him instruction preparatory to his mission to Australia; he was 17½ years old.8
William Barratt’s “mission” to Australia was a direct consequence of his mother’s and stepfather’s decision to emigrate. Life was not easy in Staffordshire, and work was hard to find because of the poor economic situation throughout England. The British government, aware of overcrowding and unemployment, promoted emigration to Australia by means of advertisements such as the following:
TO SMALL FARMERS AND OTHERS
PERSONS OF SKILL AND INDUSTRY, AND POSSESSED
OF SOME CAPITAL, BUT UNABLE BY THE USE OF IT
TO PROCURE A COMFORTABLE LIVELIHOOD.
I don’t wish to offend any of you; and I will not therefore inquire how it is that you got into your present deplorable state, but tell you how you may get out of it. . . . If some of us were to quit the country, the rest might live. . . . I, for one, am going to the new colony of SOUTH AUSTRALIA. . . . I believe it to be, as to soil and climate, one of the finest, richest, most healthy, and productive countries in the world. . . .
All the money which the Commissioners receive for purchase of land, or for the rent of pasturage, is to be spent in conveying to the colony, free of expense, young, able bodied labourers, giving a preference to those who have wives. . . . There will never be a single convict sent thither. . . . Consider if it would not be for your benefit to come with me to the beautiful climate of SOUTH AUSTRALIA, rather than to ramble over the Back Settlements of America, [or] the bleak, dreary, and unhealthy wilds of Canada.
I am Fellow-Countrymen your friend,
An Intending Colonist of South Australia
July 1st, 18359
Upon learning of Barratt’s intentions to emigrate, the elders in England made every effort to prepare him for missionary work when he reached Australia. About two weeks after his departure, George A. Smith wrote from Ledbury, Herefordshire, to his father, John Smith, in Montrose, Iowa, describing his association with the young emigrant:
After conference I went to Burslem, found William Barratt, who is a worthy young man, about starting for South Australia, a distance of 16,000 miles. I ordained him an Elder and gave him a letter of recommendation and spent all the time I had, which was about three hours, in giving him instruction. He left in good courage, and wrote back from London, the day he sailed, and said to his brethren: “Be faithful and I will meet you in Zion bringing my sheaves with me.” He was only seventeen years and six months old. He said he would write to Cousin Joseph as soon as he reached the colony.10
On 15 July 1840, two days before sailing from London aboard the barque Diadem,11 Barratt wrote to Alfred Cordon from Deptford, conveying his heartfelt feeling and commitment to the gospel and his intent to eventually settle in the United States:
Dear brother in Christ
I write these few lines to inform you of my arrival this morning After a tedious journey with much profaneness and swearing as I never hear in my life before. I often went out the boat for the purpose of reading during which my bible fell into the canal but I got it out again
I have felt the importance of my office but I have felt the power also I have said nothing on board respecting the Gospel because of there mockery I have felt the loss of the Saints to be my greatest trial yet
But I think this to be very profitable unto me that I may be the more zealous in good works brethren I feel just as the Apostles were as a Lamb among wolves going in a land of strangers to preach to gospel I desire greatly to see you all for the sake of the gospel I therefore disire your prayer in my Behalf I have witnessed much of the spirit of Revelation since Sunday in fact I only thought it a mere thought when the elders testified with others they were called by revelation But now I know the truth of the Assertion which proves to me who ought to preach and that none ought to preach without They are called by Revelation.
Dear Brother give my love to all the Saints and tell them that as many as are faithful I will meet them in Zion bringing my Sheaves with me.
If they are willing to do these things tell them my faith is fixed and my resolution strong to meet you all their, whom I love in the lord.
Tell Bro Smith I have found that courage is very serviceable already now brethren and listen again I say prey for me that a door of utterance may be given unto me in a foreign land to preach the gospel Now brethren rejoice with me for his blessing he has bestowed upon us on whom are come the end of all things even the coming of the Lord to his Saints, Brethren sorrow not for me as those that have no hope but we have an hope of living and eating and drinking together in the kingdom of our God. I have not much to say now only exhort thee to be steadfast and pray for me that I may be humble for I feel at this moment as clay in the hands of the potter that I may be moulded and fashioned as he will for I feel that my will is lost in the will of the Lord. Now may the very God of peace keep your whole soul blameless until the coming of the Lord. Brethren I rejoice with you as though present with you. Grace to the brethren with faith from God the father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Grace by with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ. In Sincerity
To A. Cordon from W. J. Barratt12
Wilford Woodruff records a general note on Barratt and his departure:
Elders G. A. Smith and A. Cordon ordained William J. Barret [sic] of Burslem England, 17 years of age to the office of an Elder on the 11 day of July and he set sail at London for South Australia a voyage of 16,000 miles on the 17th day of July, 1840, to preach the gospel to that far distant people. South Australia is a new colony settled by the English now about 10,000 souls and rapidly increasing.
Thus doors are opening in all parts of the world for the rapid spread of the fulnes of the Gospel. We received a letter yesterday from Elder Barret which he wrote just before he sailed. He exhorted us to be faithful and pray for him. He was clothed with the power of the Priesthood and the Holy Ghost, the spirit of Prophesy and Revelation and the importance of his mission. He testifyed in the name of God that he should return to Zion bringing his sheaves with him. He took our address and J. Smith jn. in the U. S. and says he will write. O Lord bless him.13
The Prophet Joseph Smith was first informed of Barratt’s undertaking in late 1840 and acknowledged his departure approvingly in an epistle to the traveling high council and elders in England: “I am likewise informed that Elders have gone to Australia and the East Indias. I feel desirous that every providential opening of the kind should be filled, and that you should prior to your leaving England, send the gospel into as many parts as you possibly can.”14
In all known accounts concerning Barratt’s mission to Australia, the fact that he was simply acting upon the decision of his parents in proceeding to Australia is neglected, leading many to the incorrect assumption that Barratt was called and sent as the first missionary to Australia. He traveled to South Australia of his own choosing, being “appointed to labor as a missionary as opportunity might present itself.”15 However, once his plans were made known to Church authorities and his good character revealed, every assistance and encouragement was given in promoting his success.
The family, consisting of Robert Higgins, Mary Ann Barratt Higgins, William Barratt, Fredrick Barratt, aged fourteen, and their younger sister Mary Ann Barratt, Jr., aged three, arrived 16 November 1840, in Adelaide, South Australia, a colony begun only four years earlier. South Australia at the time had a population of 14,510, of whom about 8,490 resided within the municipality of Adelaide and 6,110 in the country districts.16 Barratt’s family were among the last to receive government assistance for a time. In the autumn of 1840, immigration by the aid of the Colonization Commission came to an end for want of funds. Only 175 people emigrated to South Australia the following year compared to 8,622 the previous three years.17
William’s stepfather, Robert Higgins, began employment in the government works, most likely in or around Adelaide, while William traveled to Mount Barker about twenty miles away and worked as a shepherd’s cook.18 Although South Australia was not a convict colony, Barratt found the moral tone of the settlement disappointing. On 9 April 1841 he wrote to Alfred Cordon in Burslem, commenting on the condition and prospects of the colony—and the possibility that he might even return to England:
I write to inform you that I still stand fast in the Lord and am stedfastly looking for his appearing, We had some very rough weather on our voyage, but the Lord shewed me beforehand what was about taking place, therefore I could rejoice while others were murmering, But what more concerns you is the Gospel of which I am made a minister I have not baptized any at present The people seem wholly determined to reject my testimony, surely there are few Saints in this place I seem to be given up to work [among] wickedness and uncleanness, I never saw so much Prostitution Drunkeness and Extortion, in England as is practised here the Prophecy is well fulfilled upon them, They that flee from the trap are taken in the snare. They Collony will soon kill or cure the people, in fact a many of the collonists wish themselves back again, you may think Masters dare not speak to there men, but it is quite the reverse I have been oblidged to put up with treatment that I never should have recieved in England a many of the most wealthy men in the Collony are amancipated convicts and they make it there business to study how they may rob the labourer of his hire, A many are crying peasce and safty to this place, but I say Woe! Woe!!! Woe is there doom, So now brethren and Sisters farewell If I meet you not in England I shall in Zion
I remain yours
W. J. Barratt19
Cordon adds: “The letter was eight months in coming to me, he would have written to America but no vessel had sailed from that place that he could send by.”20
Young William did get the opportunity to send a letter to the Prophet in America soon after. The letter states that he had arrived safely at Adelaide after a rough passage and had commenced to preach but had not yet baptized. He cites the same obstacles as mentioned in the correspondence to Alfred Cordon.21 This was the last known communication from Barratt to the Church.
About this time Barratt found a friend in Robert Beauchamp, a member of a religious group called Plymouth Brethren. While William Barratt lost interest in Mormonism, Beauchamp, as a result of his contact with Barratt, was to become one of the longest serving presidents of the Australasian Mission.22 Twenty-five years later, Beauchamp recounted his conversion and association with Barratt in the following letter to President Brigham Young, dated Melbourne, 26 August 1866:
Dear Brother, May God bless you in the work to which you are called. I beg to acknowledge the receipt of the tracts you so kindly sent me; please accept my thanks. I trust you will bear with me, while I give a brief history of the Lord’s dealing with me, and how I have been gradually led on from truth to truth, and from grace to grace to the present time.
I was formerly a member of a sect of professing Christians, called the Plymouth Brethren. I had been taught and firmly believed, that “Mormonism” was a weak and silly cheat, that our dear martyred Prophet Joseph Smith was an impudent and ignorant imposter, and that all “Mormons” were ignorant, illiterate, deluded creatures, objects of pity and contempt. It is true I had never conversed with, or even seen a “Mormon;” but what of that! Those who had given me my ideas of “Mormonism” were learned and pious Christians, in whom I had unbounded confidence. Well, with these impressions, I left England for Australia, in the year 1840. In the year 1841, I became acquainted with a young man who was aimable and intelligent, or at least I thought so, until I had made the discovery that he was an Elder of the Church of Latter-day Saints. I had formed an attachment to the young man, and my heart was touched with pity for him, and I determined, with God’s help, to convert him from the error of his ways. To this end, I set myself to work with great zeal; I prided myself upon my knowledge of the Scriptures; but what was my suprise, to find that this poor deluded “Mormon” knew them better than myself. We had several meeting together, and in the end, instead of converting him to Christianity, I found that, if he had not quite made a “Mormon” of me, he had at least taught me many precious truths. He had convinced me that all the professing Christian churches, were no more than very unskilful imitations; not even having the form of Godliness, but a form without the power. I therefore disconnected myself from all associations with what I now saw was no more like the Church of God, than a brass sovereign was to the legitimate coin. I became disgusted with all professions of religion. [If] I did not believe in “Mormonism,” I could not believe in any of the existing forms of so-called Christianity. I honestly believed in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, and sincerely desired to know the will of God, in order that I might do it. I had been convinced by the “Mormon” Elder that baptism by immersion was necessary as a first act of obedience, and I told him that though I could not consent to be baptized into “Mormonism,” I was desirous of submitting to the ordinance, as an answer of a good conscience towards God, by showing a willing obedience, so far as it had been made plain to me. I was accordingly baptized, but not prepared for the laying on of hands. I enjoyed the society of this young Elder for about three months, when business called him into the country, and I never saw him more.23
Beauchamp’s remark that William Barratt was called into the country probably refers to his moving to Encounter Bay, where his family had settled. The 1841 census records the family as living at Encounter and consisting of Robert Higgins, Mary Ann Higgins, William James Barratt, Fredrick Thomas Barratt, and Mary Ann Barratt.24 However, William may not have arrived in Encounter Bay until some time in 1842 as Robert Beauchamp later recorded his baptism by Barratt as being in 1842 at Adelaide.25
The principal pioneer settler of Encounter Bay was the Reverend Ridgway Newland, a Congregational minister from the Tabernacle, Hanley, North Staffordshire, who brought a party of thirty-four to South Australia in June 1839. Newland had taken up land grants at Encounter Bay prior to his arrival. Here the small party camped in tents for the first two years while trying to get established. Some moved away, but more settlers arrived, the Barratt-Higgins family among the first newcomers. That most of the settlers at Encounter Bay were from the same district in England played a large part in the family’s decision to relocate there.26
The Reverend Newland was loved and respected by the settlers of Encounter Bay as a minister and a man. He was often asked to represent the district in Parliament but felt his ministry far more important. However, he was actively concerned with all local projects. He had been known to swim rivers to get to church and ride miles at the end of the day to visit the sick.27
Young William Barratt no doubt became well acquainted with Newland. A few years later he married the minister’s housemaid, Ann Gibson. Ann’s parents had been members of Newland’s congregation at Hanley. Ann had been employed at an early age in the potteries, where William Barratt had also worked, but the two did not meet until years later at Encounter Bay. Ann’s father, James Gibson, had been well acquainted with some of the members of the Newland party who left England in 1839, and with his family he soon followed them, leaving England in December of 1840. He took up land at the Inman Hills while Ann went into service with the Newlands as a housemaid.28
William lived with his family for some years after arriving at Encounter Bay, helping his stepfather in the store he had set up and also working as a sheep shearer.29 William and Ann were married 21 May 1846 by the Reverend E. Meyer, a Lutheran missionary, at the Tabernacle, a small chapel at Vilki, Encounter Bay, named after the Tabernacle in Hanley, North Staffordshire.30 Shortly after the marriage, they moved to Glenbrook, Lower Inman, about two miles from Victor Harbor, where William rented a property. In 1851 William purchased some land eight miles away at Back Valley, which opened into Bald Hills. The land was nothing more than scrub, and William brought with him a boy named Hunt to help with the work of clearing the land.31 William’s oldest son, William Joseph, recalls driving a team of bullocks for his father while he was ploughing. “At harvest we had to cut wheat with a sickle. We cut it and put it in heaps and father tied it up.”32
William Barratt became a prominent landholder in the Bald Hills and Inman Valley area. His signature is on some of the documents and petitions trying to get roads built and educational facilities for his children. It is also reported that he did local doctoring when the need arose. He bought more land closer to Inman Valley that he used for dairying as he could not grow wheat.33 When Ann’s father died in 1877, he left an estate valued at 750 pounds. Ann was the sole heir. William and his family then moved to a property at Inman Hills called Wattle Farm. This farm is still called Barratt’s Place by the local residents. William and Ann had seven children: William Joseph (1847–1940); James (1849–1921); Ann Weymouth (1851–?); Mary Shipway (1852–1919); Sarah (1857–1921); and Fredrick Joshua (1868–1956).
William Barratt’s decision to forego Mormonism and return to the mainstream religions of the day probably stemmed from a variety of reasons. His association with Reverend Newland and others in the Encounter Bay party cannot be underestimated. This, along with the murder of the Prophet Joseph Smith when William was twenty-one and the apparent demise and disintegration of the Church no doubt contributed to the decision. When we consider the poor image of the Church and the persecution that grew with the introduction of new principles such as polygamy, William Barratt’s choice is easy to understand.
It seems likely that he was probably better informed concerning the movements of the Saints in the States than previously assumed. Australian newspapers frequently published reports about the Mormons. In addition, some of Ann’s relatives emigrated to Ohio at the same time her family came to Australia, in 1840. A descendant of William Barratt’s had in her possession a number of postcards sent by a Gibson from Ohio.34
As time passed, William Barratt seems to have been more than content with his new life in South Australia. Although Mormon missionaries arrived in Australia in late 1851, and branches were organized in South Australia at Adelaide, Woodside, and Morphett Vale, there is no record that Barratt ever tried to make contact with any members or missionaries.
Although the spirit of Mormonism evidently faded to little more than a memory, William Barratt retained his interest in religion. In the early 1850s, he held services in his own house until the Bald Hills Congregational Church was erected in 1856 with Reverend Newland as minister. Later, William Barratt himself became a lay minister. No records were kept for the parish until 1862, but from the first entries William Barratt’s name is prominent. Accounts emphasize his continuous missionary work, religious conversation, “Christian fellowship,” and leadership role in church activity. The following resolutions proposed by William James Barratt on 21 February 1869 help illustrate his continual struggle to fulfill the religious needs of those around him and supply some form of organization to the small branch:
1. That after this date the members at Bald Hills meet every Lords day for prayer and mutual Exhortation, Edification, comfort etc., and the brethren, in the absence of the Pastor, to preside in rotation as by the plan to be made for that purpose.
2. That with a view to encourage the study of the sacred scriptures, bibles be provided for the use of the congregation.
3. That a roll of church members meeting at Bald Hills be prepared by W. J. Barratt and laid for approval before a future meeting of the church and that such roll in its approved form be entered into the minutes of such meetings.35
Over the years he conducted business ranging from the hanging of hats and whitewashing of the interior of the chapel to representing the parish at the Southern Association conventions of the church. Some of the sermons he preached throughout the district have been preserved by the family.36 A local history refers to Barratt as “one of the most prominent local preachers who conducted services for both Methodists and Congregationalists.”37
Clearly, William James Barratt was born to preach. For whom he preached and the exact doctrines he taught may not have been all that important to him as long as he could be of service and uplift those around him. If he had continued to espouse the radical doctrines of Mormonism, he would probably have found little audience among the settlers of the Inman Valley and little opportunity to play a part in the development of the colony and society around him.
Although he was an active Latter-day Saint for only a few short years, William Barratt indirectly brought many into the LDS Church through his only known convert, Robert Beauchamp. It is possible that he converted others. Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson made a trip to Australia in 1896 and recorded: “From Private sources I have learned that Elder Barret [sic] did baptize a few.”38 William James Barratt died 10 September 1889 at Bald Hills and is buried some twelve miles away in the churchyard cemetery at Victor Harbor.39 He was a remarkable man whose name continues to hold a certain mystery and excitement. Despite the fact that he had no further contact with the Church after 1841, his humble introduction of Mormonism into Australia has evolved into a current membership of more than seventy thousand in the land Down Under.