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Missions of the Twelve to the British Isles

by David J. Whittaker and James R. Moss

Between 1837 and 1841 there were two apostolic missions to the British Isles. In 1837-1838 Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde established the first mission, concentrating in the area of Preston and the Ribble Valley. Their efforts saw about 1,500 people baptized into the Church. From 1839 to 1841, nine members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles labored in Britain and added another 4,000 converts to the Church. These missions were extremely important. In a relatively short time, the Twelve Apostles established the foundation for the most successful missionary program of the Church in the nineteenth century, organized an extensive emigration program, and established a major publication program. In these activities, they also shared experiences that welded them together as a quorum. The spiritual and administrative dimensions of these missionary experiences prepared the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to assume their key role in the leadership of the Church following their return to Nauvoo, and especially after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1844. These missions were a manifestation of the early LDS recognition of the divine command to take the gospel "into all the world" (D&C 84:61-63; cf. Matt. 28:19) and to "gather" to Zion those who would accept the gospel message. Even as Jesus had commanded his apostles anciently, so had he done with his apostles in the nineteenth century.

THE 1837 -1838 Mission. The Church was barely seven years old when Elders Kimball and Hyde departed for England in July 1837. The Prophet Joseph Smith had directed men to go on missions from the beginning, and the early missionaries had first concentrated in the smaller hamlets and villages of New England and nearby Canada. By 1836, LDS missionaries were venturing into larger cities. On April 3, 1836, the keys of the holy priesthood were bestowed by heavenly messengers upon the Prophet Joseph and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland (Ohio) Temple (D&C 110:11-16). These keys included the authority to gather Israel from the four parts of the earth, which is a missionary activity.

In April 1836, Parley P. Pratt, an apostle, was sent to Toronto with a prophetic promise that the fruits of missionary work there would lead to the introduction of the gospel into England (pp. 130-31). Elder Pratt helped to convert, among others, John Taylor, Isaac Russell, and Joseph Fielding, all of whom had family contacts in Britain and several of whom accompanied Elders Kimball and Hyde when the Prophet assigned them to go to the British Isles on the first mission.

Elders Kimball and Hyde were in England from July 1837 to April 1838. Landing at Liverpool, they traveled north to Preston, where relatives of the Canadian converts provided various assistance, including a place to preach. Finding ready acceptance of their message, they baptized more than 140 people by October 1837. They moved up the Ribble Valley, finding other audiences, particularly among the textile workers throughout Lancanshire. By the time they returned home in April 1838, Church membership had grown to about 1,500 people in Britain, in spite of growing opposition, particularly from local clergy.

THE 1839-1841 Mission. Dissension and apostasy had arisen among the leading brethren, reflecting the larger troubles of the Church in Ohio and Missouri. Seeking Joseph Smith's counsel in 1837, the Twelve were instructed by revelation to be united (D&C 112), but by 1838, some of the original Quorum of the Twelve did not wholeheartedly support Joseph Smith, and quorum president Thomas B. Marsh weakened the quorum further by his personal apostasy. With the death of David W. Patten in 1838, Brigham Young became the senior member of a quorum greatly hampered by defection. The second apostolic mission was also initiated by divine revelation. On July 8, 1838, from the new headquarters at Far West, Missouri, the Prophet Joseph Smith inquired, "Show us thy will, O Lord, concerning the Twelve," and received a revelation that the Twelve Apostles were to leave Far West on April 26, 1839, on a mission "over the great waters" (D&C 118:4). The revelation promised success in their mission and care for their families.

This overseas mission was an opportunity for the Twelve to prove themselves and to take their rightful place next to the First Presidency in leading the Church. The July 8, 1838, revelation gave specific direction, including the naming of four new apostles—John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, and Willard Richards—to fill existing vacancies (D&C 118:6).

Departing in conditions of poverty and illness and trusting in the promises of God that all would be well with them and their families, most of the members of the Twelve made their way in various groups to Liverpool. By April 1840, they were together for the first time as a quorum in a foreign land. On April 14, 1840, in Preston, they ordained Willard Richards an apostle and sustained Brigham Young as "standing president" of their quorum. They held a general conference the next day in which they conducted Church business and further organized the mission. On the 16th they met again as a quorum and further planned their work. On the next day, they separated to various assigned geographical areas: Brigham Young and Willard Richards were to assist Wilford Woodruff with the work he had already begun among the United Brethren in Herefordshire; Heber C. Kimball was to return to the areas of his 1837-1838 missionary successes; Parley P. Pratt was to establish a mission home and publishing concern in Manchester; Orson Pratt was assigned to Scotland, where the work had already begun; John Taylor was to go to Liverpool, Ireland, and the Isle of Man; and George A. Smith was assigned to the area of the Staffordshire potteries. In time, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith would extend their work to London.

Under Brigham Young's direction, these apostles diligently supported each other and showed their love for the British people. In their journals and letters to each other they shared the burdens and joy of the hard work they were assigned to do. Truly on their own for the first time, they were forced to depend on the Lord and upon each other for assistance in the challenges they faced. Although they sought the Prophet Joseph's counsel on a variety of items, the distance from him often forced them to make decisions before a response could be received. In all major decisions the Prophet Joseph seems to have approved of their course of action.

In addition to providing leadership to the expanding British Mission, which saw an additional 4,000 converts join the Church by 1841, their efforts had at least three other related consequences: (1) the establishment of a successful emigration program that saw the first converts gathered to Nauvoo, with at least 50,000 members emigrating from the British Isles to America (see Perpetual Emigrating Fund); (2) the use of Britain as a base for further LDS missionary activity into continental Europe and other countries, such as South Africa, India, and Australia; and (3) the laying of the foundation for extensive LDS publishing in the nineteenth century. The Millennial Star, begun in 1840, became one of the most important LDS periodicals. Later editions of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants followed the text and format of those published by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in England. The same is true of the Manchester Hymnal. Also, various pamphlets defending and explaining Church doctrine were issued in regular editions in England. In fact, Liverpool became the LDS book supply depot for most of the nineteenth century.

A major consequence of the 1839-1841 mission was the impact it had on the quorum itself. Beginning in 1841, following the return of the Twelve to Nauvoo, Joseph Smith gave them more direct responsibility in administering the affairs of the Church. They were assigned management of the Church press in Nauvoo, were directed to supervise emigration, were placed on the Nauvoo City Council, and were given direct responsibility over Church finances. They were then brought into closer association with Joseph Smith and entrusted with greater responsibilities in many areas as they took their position as the quorum next to the First Presidency (D&C 107:23-24; 124:127-128).

Perhaps the greatest indication of their true calling as apostles was their vital role of leadership in the Church just before and following Joseph Smith's death in 1844. This mantle of authority, both spiritual and administrative, had been clearly established during the period of their British Mission experience.


Allen, James B.; Ronald K. Esplin; and David J. Whittaker. Men with a Mission: The Quorum of the Twelve in Great Britain—1837-1841. Salt Lake City, 1991.

Bloxham, V. Ben; James R. Moss; and Larry C. Porter, eds. Truth Will Prevail: The Rise of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the British Isles, 1837-1987. Solihull, England, 1987.

Crawley, Peter, and David J. Whittaker. Mormon Imprints in Great Britain and the Empire, 1836-1857. Provo, Utah, 1987.

Esplin, Ronald K. "Joseph, Brigham and the Twelve: A Succession of Continuity." BYU Studies 21 (Summer 1981):301-341.

Esplin, Ronald K. "A Preparation for Ascendancy: Brigham Young and the Quorum Experience in England, 1840-41." In "The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830-1841," pp. 427-98. Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981.

Esplin, Ronald K. "A Great Work Done in That Land." Ensign 17 (July 1987):20-27.

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Jensen, Richard L., and Malcolm R. Thorp, eds. Mormons in Early Victorian Britain. Salt Lake City, 1989.

Pratt, Parley P. The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt. New York, 1874.

Taylor, P. A. M. Expectations Westward: The Mormons and the Emigration of their British Converts in the Nineteenth Century. Edinburgh and London, 1965; Ithaca, N.Y., 1966.

Whittaker, David J. "Mormonism in Victorian Britain: A Bibliographic Essay." In Mormons in Early Victorian Britain, ed. R. Jensen and M. Thorp, pp. 258-71. Salt Lake City, 1989.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Missions of the Twelve to the Brittish Isles

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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