Joined: Nov 2004
Total Posts: 12
Mormon emigration from Sheffield
Concomitant with the industrial expansion experienced by Sheffield in the 19th Century was an increase in Sheffield's population. In the 1851 census, Sheffield's population was recorded at 135,000 and, according to historian Bruce Robinson, this would have been quadruple the population 50 years earlier.
Consequently overcrowded and unsanitary conditions were commonplace as the city grew at too rapid a pace to be able to accommodate the sudden influx of people. In 1839, Dr. Holland of Sheffield described "scenes of wretchedness" in the city that so appalled him that he often insisted on them "going to the workhouse, simply for protection from cold and hunger".
A cholera epidemic of 1832, which was caused by raw sewage flowing down the streets and crowded conditions, infected 1,347 people and claimed 402 lives. A large graveyard, called the Cholera Garden, was created to cope with the number of corpses.
Such social misery and poor working conditions led to an increase in support for the Chartist movement. Strong support for this organisation, which campaigned for workers rights, was demonstrated by numerous protests between 1835 and 1849.
This high level of support for a political movement which landed many of its campaigners, including George Harney, the organiser for Sheffield, in prison, goes some way to depicting how terrible the conditions for the poor and working class were.
Into this grim world appeared Mormon missionaries, offering people the chance to start a new life in America as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Given the abominable conditions present in many of Britain's industrial towns and cities, it is not difficult to understand why they focussed on these locations to gain converts. In Sheffield, the Church gained many converts, and became the location for one of its first meeting houses.
The Mormon Church was formally organised in America in 1830 and was soon courting controversy and bad press from mainstream Christian church members. In 1844, the prophet and founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, was assassinated whilst in prison on charges of riot and treason. In their book, The Mormon Experience, Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Britton explain why the Mormons faced persecution in America: "The Mormon religion included not only a theology and a standard of morality but also an eschatology, an economic philosophy and a gift of community building that inevitably meant political and economic tensions with their neighbours. "
In spite of this persecution, the first foreign missions were sent to Britain in 1840 with the task of recruiting converts to emigrate and boost Church numbers in America. The burgeoning towns and cities of Victorian England provided rich pickings for the Mormons, yielding plenty of eager converts, who were desperate for the new life the Mormons promised them.
The missionaries were extremely successful and by 1850 the Church had 30,747 members in England, compared with 21,092 in North America and the rest of the world. Estimates from Mormon Church historians suggest that almost 100,000 British followers of the Mormon faith emigrated to Utah, the Mormon state in the 19th Century.
Sheffield based Mormon Church historian Remie Bell has uncovered evidence of attempts by the police to break up church meetings in the city. There were many reasons for the "bad press" surrounding the church in Britain, one of these was the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church accepted and encouraged polygamy, something that was strongly frowned upon by both the Anglican and Catholic churches. Many converts dreamt of making the pioneering journey to Utah and building a new home in a Mormon community, far away from the church's enemies.
In Sheffield one family attained their dream of emigration to this Mormon paradise, by saving every penny they could spare in a black box nailed to the floor. William Memmott, and his wife Ann, became members of the Mormon Church after attending one of the meetings convened by a visiting elder from America. The family soon rose to prominence within the church, with William eventually being appointed President of the Sheffield Conference whilst eldest son Thomas was ordained an Elder in 1859.
A fund to assist converts to emigrate was established by the Mormons. The Perpetual Emigration Fund paid for converts' passage, who then repaid them once they gained employment in Salt Lake City in the Mormon state of Utah.
The Memmott family chose instead to save for 14 years to raise the money to fund their journey. However, when they did leave in 1861, the accumulated monies did not stretch far enough to cover the entire family. The eldest son, Thomas, stayed behind for a year to pay off the family debts and save for his own fare. Thomas's wife Emma, (nee Whitham) made the journey with her in-laws despite being pregnant and in charge of two children, one of whom she was still nursing.
Remie Bell, who has been collating evidence of the emigration from Sheffield, estimates that the Memmott family were among several hundred of the city's converts who made the journey to Salt Lake City in the 19th Century. By 1877, the number of Mormons in Utah had reached 140,000 Mormons and at one stage more than half of those originated from Britain.
Modern day Memmotts
William Memmott's family arrived in Salt Lake City on Thursday September 12 1861 and continued to occupy high profile positions within the Mormon Church. Thomas was ordained as a High Priest in 1901, and later became president of the High Priests in the Millard Stake (the equivalent of a diocese).
The John and William Memmott Family Association was formed in 1972 to help Memmott descendents research their family's heritage. The association now meets once a year, when members of the Memmott family from all across America and the rest of the world attend these gatherings. The association publish a family bulletin each year containing articles on family history, accomplishments, births, and deaths amongst other things. There are now 275 Memmott family surnames on the association's mailing list; although they still believe there are more undiscovered Memmotts out there!
The high genealogical interest within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is due to its belief in the eternal nature of the family and in its belief of performing saving ordinances for those who died without the opportunity to receive them. Members are encouraged to seek out their ancestry and have these saving ordinances performed for them by proxy in temples of the Church.
The story of the Memmott family's emigration from Sheffield and their subsequent enthusiasm for tracing their family history reveals one consequence of migration. By leaving Sheffield, the land of their ancestors, the Memmott family lost many of their roots. Although part of a historic movement, they ended up in a new land, with no history of their own. Tracing the family's heritage enables displaced people to reclaim their roots and identity.