Robert Hodgson Skelton, a 28 year old from the industrial north of England orphaned at age 6, wrote revealing entries in his diary about the missionary journey of the men called to Asia and Australia. I’m parsing Skelton’s along with Levi Savage’s and Hosea Stout’s diaries to piece together the journey from Salt Lake to San Bernardino.
What Americans Savage and Stout do not notice are the traces of Britain along the trail that Skelton notices.
Imagine for a moment Skelton, orphaned at 6 in the dark crowded industrial north near the border of Scotland, seeing his British comrades transplanted to the south of Utah. Here is a little piece of Britain in Utah through the eyes of a man who might have lived a similar life had he not escaped at a young age to try out a life in America. He met the Mormons in St. Louis. How did these men do you suppose feel about mining in Utah after having left the coal industry in England?“at sun down we arrived at Coal Creek, were we found a warm hearted band of Saints, consisting mostly of English brethren; who have come from the Coal Iron mines. We had scarcely entered the fort when President Hunt came running out to greet us, and in a very short time both of us, & our animals, were well cared for being distributed among the brethren, according to their room & means. The brethren here have not setled [sic] without experiencing much privation, as to the comforts of life, and having to organizing every thing from the raw native elements, have had many very great difficulties to surmount, which were unavoidable in this peculiar location in and a thousand miles from civilized countries Heavy Forges, machinery, Cranks &c &c are to be had only at the sacrifice of great toil, having no casting apparatus of this description as yet, Furnesses have to be built at an immense expense owing to the many inconveniencies [sic] and contingences all ending this new, but arduous undertaking. They are about to experiment on the sec-ond furnace in a few days. much praise is due to them, for their indefatigability, and untiring zeal having prossecuted the work with incredible vigour, seeing they are but a handful, numbering only twenty five fa-milies: but are all of the right working kind; most of whom have been brought up in the Coal & Iron mines in Eng-land. They have fenced in a large field and raised an abundance of grain, and the Lord has greatly blessed their labours. [sic]” (Skelton v.1 p 11-12)
The coal iron mines of Britain in the 1840s were the backbone of the Second Industrial Revolution. Inventions allowed men to mine coal at greater efficiencies but still at great risk to the human labor force. These men in Skelton’s journal are those who joined the Mormons in England and transplanted themselves to rural Utah. Did they leave to become Mormon or did they become Mormon to leave or some other reason entirely?