Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mormonism comes to the colony

Song of a Mormon Elder in New Zealand.

Come all ye Gentile sinners
And listen to my song ;
It's for your good I speak to you,
I won't detain you long,
I'm an ambassador
From Zion — Brigham's State!
And if you'll kindly hearken,
It's glories I'll relate.

Utah ! Utah !
You tarry here too long !

There we've got no unemployed —
All are busy as bee-hives
Attending to their corn and kine,
Their children and their wives.
So if you'll be wise,
You'll come along wi' me,
And settle down in Joe Smith's land
In peace and liberty !

Chorus — Utah, &c.

In that glorious land of ours
Every man is his own boss ;
He's plenty vittles for his wives,
His children, and his hoss.
This tiny island state
Will soon bust up, I guess —
With taxes growing daily,
And with income getting less.

Chorus— Utah, &c.

Now I ask you in good faith —
Who would here consent to tarry,
When there he can have corn and oil
And twenty wives to marry ?
This land is only good for swells
Who pass time making rules,
By which themselves they benefit
At the expense of fools !

Chorus — Utah, &c.

Upon mature reflec-shi-on
My counsel to you all is —
Leave this land to the rabbits,
To the Tories and John Hall.
And in taking my departure,
Which won't be very long,
I'll leave to you as legacy
The chorus of this song.

Chorus— Utah, &c.

(Tuapeka Times, 17 December 1879)

2009 appears to mark 130 years since Mormons (known today as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) began to become a real part of the religious fabric of New Zealand. Perhaps to their initial detriment, stories both factual and inflated had tumbled out from America about them, long before the church elders crossed the Pacific and decided to campaign for converts in the New Zealand colony. Stories particularly about the Mormon practice of polygamy. Especially about the polygamy. Reading the early reactions of mainly Protestant New Zealand to the coming of the new Church from Utah however tells us more about the late Victorian colonial mindset than it does about the early LDS church in this country.

To begin with, reports about the church’s progress here in 1879 were brief and matter-of-fact.

A Mormon emissary, we learn from the Rangitikei Advocate, has been promulgating the doctrines of the faithful in the Manawatu. It is said that he has not made many converts, but he announces his intention of returning to the district.
(Evening Post, 20 March 1879)

Mormon Elders are going to preach in Lyttleton next Sunday.
(North Otago Times, 1 May 1879)

It appears that there is a Mormon " nest" in the Cathedral City, of all places in the Colony. From recent disclosures in the Christchurch Police Court, it seems that; a number of the Latter-Day Saints hold service in a public hall. Whether the sealing process has been undergone by them or not has not transpired, but it is scarcely probable that in a community such as ours any attempt to spread Mormonism, and to have it flourish, will be in any way countenanced, or even permitted.
(Grey River Argus, 8 October 1879)

Two Mormon missionaries have arrived here (in Auckland), but are unable to get a hall to lecture in.
(Evening Post, 30 December 1879)

The Tuapeka Times reported a rumour in January 1880 that “one among our oldest Poverty Bay settlers” had applied to lease a block of land from the Government in order to set up a Mormon settlement. Meanwhile, the missionaries in Auckland had solved their meeting space problems, delivering “several discourses” at the Friendly Socities’ Hall in Cook Street. The Otago Witness advised that “Mormon converts are selling off right and left” in order to take part in an exodus to Utah that April. The paper went on to describe baptisms where converts “stripped to their nightdresses”.

By February, it was announced that there were three converts in Auckland, due to be baptised according to Mormon Church rites at Onehunga. (Evening Post, 9 February 1880)

The Auckland Evening Star publishers seemed to be quite beside themselves, watching the trickle become a flood. To them, it appeared that the coming of “Mormonism” was like a scourge, yet another social disease.

“Auckland is just now passing through a period of affliction. Judging from the form of various visitations it can only be supposed that we are being punished for our sins. We have had the Mormons amongst us for some time past, more recently the Communists, and now we are threatened with pleuro-pneumonia …

“Our business just now is with the Mormons. The elder who visited this city some months ago to proseletyse, after they had passed through the usual nine days’ ordeal of all wonders and novelties, settled down to business, and they have since been quietly spreading their doctrines and making converts. These are chiefly found in the homes of the poor, or amongst people whose mental condition renders them peculiarly liable to religious enthusia.

“Last evening was a memorable occasion in the career of the Mormon missionaries, being marked by the baptism of two converts, one a man who occupies a position in connection with the management of the harbour, and the other was a married woman with three children. The ceremony took place after the Mormon service, between 9 and 10 p.m. and the spot selected was the Graving Dock. It will be satisfactory to all concerned in this work that the dock has at last been turned to some more than ordinary purpose.

“The converts were attired in white smocks and took their ‘plunge’ under the gentle handling of Elder Lorenson, Elder Pearce pronouncing the benediction with outspread hands from the top of the coping stones above. The affair was witnessed by a select few. No serious consequences are anticipated, though one of the converts, the male, complained of the cold water, and the shock to his system, the thermometer being about 80° out in the shade – of the noon of course.”
(Star, 1 March 1880)

Elder Pearce at the time was about to be embroiled in just the kind of scandal the New Zealand public expected from the members of the church – wife stealing. The Star of 2 March described how Pearce had induced Mrs. Lacey, a fisherman’s wife, to agree to accompany him (with her three children) to Salt Lake City. She it was who had been one of the nighttime converts at the graving dock. But, the paper went on to report, the plan went awry when her husband found out, got a warrant, and had his errant wife forcibly removed from the mail steamer where she waited with her children for Elder Pearce. “The true outcome of these Mormon missions is now disclosed,” the Star tutted. “It is the seduction of respectable women from their husbands, and the corruption of our homes.”

The Otago Witness, 1 May 1880, summed the scandal up.

"What an extraordinary people is this !" wrote Voltaire when he came to England— they have seventy religions, and only one sauce !" The sauce was probably "melted butter," at that time the only condiment distinctively English. We have since added "Worcester" and perhaps another or two to our one sauce, but we have added at a much more rapid rate to our seventy religions. The soul, and not the stomach, you see, is the chief British concern! (Something wrong about logic if it conducts to such an inference as that.)

Here in New Zealand we are just importing a new religion from America. Two Mormon elders have appeared in Auckland as propagandists of the faith delivered to Joseph Smith, and, have prospered sufficiently to attract to their meeting such a theological and political celebrity as the Rev, Dr. Wallis, M.H.R., and to have started a vigorous controversy in the newspapers.

"As for the charge of a stealing a woman, we don't entice any man's wife or daughter away. We have, thank the Lord, plenty of our own [no doubt !] and we are not sent to steal woman, but to preach the true Gospel. . . But if a man is a brute to his woman, are the Saints to blame because the woman, embracing the gospel of truth, wants to go where she will be treated as a human being, having equal rights with men?" I can't suspect Elder Sorenson of having read Herodotus, or I should say he was paraphrasing the explanation which the Persians used to give of their habit of carrying off Greek girls. They didn't steal the girls, not in the least; they merely permitted them to sail away on board their ships. Out of women-stealing, says the Father of History, wars arose between Greeks and Persians — and between Mormons and Gentiles — he would add, if alive to write history now. Brother Sorenson should take warning … We might tolerate him in preaching additional marriage privileges to men. That is a different matter. Polygamy on that side might be worth considering. It is in applying the doctrine to women, and teaching them to insurrect and elope, that his troubles will begin.”


  1. Sounds like the same arguments used today against Muslims - same old, same old ;)