By Richard L. Jensen
More immigrants have come to Utah from the British Isles than from any other area. They have become so fundamental a part of the state that their story is involved in most aspects of its history. British trappers and traders, along with their Canadian and American counterparts, helped open the West for settlement. Charles McKay saw the Great Salt Lake as early as 1825 while exploring northern Utah.

Among the early Mormon pioneers were many who emigrated from the British Isles before they affiliated with the Latter-day Saints. Others were among early converts of the LDS British Mission, established in 1837, who had emigrated to the Mormon city of Nauvoo, Illinois. William Clayton, for example, quickly became active at the heart of Nauvoo society; many other new immigrants remained more on the periphery. Their later immigration to Utah was simply part of the general movement west of the Latter-day Saints from 1846 onward.

As their fellow believers left Nauvoo, thousands of British Mormons were poised across the Atlantic awaiting the announcement of a new gathering place so that the process of emigration might resume. The heralded possibility that they might settle on Vancouver Island failed to materialize; instead, beginning in 1848, they were directed to the Salt Lake Valley, where new headquarters had been established.

Spectacular growth in the LDS British Mission coincided with the founding of the new gathering place. The mission tripled in membership from 1846 to 1851, despite heavy emigration in the last two of those years. Later, fleeing to Zion in troubled times, more Mormons left the British Mission for Utah in the Crimean War years of 1853 to 1856 than in any other four-year period. Assistance from the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, with the benefit of creative financing by Mormon leaders, also reached all-time highs during the same period. Hefty LDS emigration came again during the American Civil War, an economically difficult time for the British Isles. The last major thrust of LDS emigration from Britain was in 1868 as part of a colonizing effort to reinforce Mormon numbers in Utah prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which would open the territory to easier access for the outside world. By that time more than 31,000 Latter-day Saints had left the British Isles for Utah.

The 1870 census showed the British-born Latter-day Saints at their apogee in proportion to the total population of Utah Territory. Nearly a quarter of Utah's inhabitants - 24 percent - were natives of the British Isles. With their American-born children they may well have made up as much as half of the population.

Although Mormon converts from the highly industrialized British Isles came predominantly from the cities, their occupational profile by 1870 was remarkably similar to that of the Utah populace as a whole. Just under half of the English, Welsh, and Scots had occupations in agriculture; about one-fourth were involved in professional and personal service. One in twenty - slightly below the norm - were in trade and transportation, and just under one-fourth - slightly above the norm - were in manufacturing and mining. The immigrants from Britain seem to have adapted to their new, more rural circumstances with remarkable fluidity.

The small number of Irish natives in Utah in 1870 followed a markedly different pattern. They were less than half as likely to be in agriculture. With more soldiers and laborers, they supplied a higher proportion of the professional and personal services. Nearly one in seven was in trade and transportation, and 29 percent were in manufacturing and mining. In many ways, they were precursors of a new type of immigrant from the British Isles, the non-Mormons who had just begun to respond to opportunities in Utah, particularly in the mining industry, after the arrival of the railroad. Few came directly to Utah as immigrants; Irish-born Patrick Edward Connor, a prime mover in the development of Utah mining, was one of the most influential of this group.

In sheer numbers, British immigrants brought remarkable growth to Utah, particularly along the Wasatch Front. Their individual leadership and talent gave direction to and influenced the quality of life. Territorial delegates to Congress George Q. Cannon and John T. Caine were followed in government service by English-born governors John Cutler and William Spry. Welsh-born Martha Hughes Cannon, an early Utah physician, was the first woman in the United States to become a state senator. Robert L. Campbell (a Scot) was Utah's first superintendent of public instruction. Irish Catholic sisters taught at Saint Vincent's School in Salt Lake City. James E. Talmage, from Berkshire, was a geologist and a leading educator.

Leaders in business, mining, and industry from the British Isles included the Walker brothers in banking, the Castleton brothers and William Jennings as merchants, John W. Donnellan and Matthew Cullen in mining, Charles W. Nibley in lumber and sugar, David Eccles in banking, and furniture maker Henry Dinwoodey. John Sharp superintended the Utah Central Railway and the quarry for the Salt Lake temple and served as a director of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Churches frequently provided a focal point for group identity. This was particularly true for Irish Catholics, who owed much to the pioneering efforts of Father Lawrence Scanlan. John Taylor as president and his nephew George Q. Cannon as his first counselor in the LDS Church illustrate the leading role British immigrants played in their church in the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth. Other British-born counselors in the LDS First Presidency included John R. Winder, Charles W. Penrose, and Charles W. Nibley. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were George Teasdale, James E. Talmage, and Charles A. Callis. Brigham H. Roberts and George Reynolds were prominent members of the First Council of the Seventy.

British immigrants filled more than their proportional share of local leadership positions in the LDS Church. Of 605 bishops and presiding elders in Mormon congregations in the United States from 1848 to 1890, twenty-nine percent were born in the British Isles. Twenty-three percent of stake presidents during the same period were born in the British Isles.

Just as remarkable was the part played by British women in Mormondom. May Anderson, second general president of the Primary Association (1925-1939), initiated what became Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City. She also helped establish kindergartens in Utah. Ruth May Fox was general president of the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association from 1929 to 1937. Matilda M. Barratt, a counselor in the first general Primary presidency from 1880 to 1888, made generous financial contributions that benefited emigration and education. May Green Hinckley, from Derbyshire, was the third general president of the Primary, serving from 1940 to 1943.

British musicians made major contributions in early Utah. William Pitt's Nauvoo Brass Band was prominent in Utah music and theatre, and all but one of the Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir's first eight directors were born in the British Isles. Among these, Evan Stephens was Utah's most prolific composer. Southampton native Joseph Ridges built the famous Salt Lake Tabernacle organ.

Poetess Hannah Tapfield King, poet John Lyon, and authors Edward Tullidge and T. B. H. and Fanny Stenhouse made significant contributions to literature in Utah, as did editors George Q. Cannon of the Salt Lake Herald, Charles W. Penrose of the Deseret News, Edward L Sloan of the Salt Lake Herald, and James Ferguson of The Mountaineer. Tullidge and Elias L. T. Harrison edited Utah's first magazine, Peep O' Day, and Harrison and William S. Godbe founded the Utah Magazine, forerunner of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Prominent British-born dissenters from Mormonism included Welsh immigrant Joseph Morris in the early 1860s and several leaders of the Godbeite movement in the late 1860s and early 1870s, including William S. Godbe, Elias L.T. Harrison, Edward W. Tullidge, T.B.H. Stenhouse, and William Shearman.

Artist and businessman Harry Culmer helped usher in a new era of cooperation between Mormons and Gentiles in Salt Lake City as president of what later became the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. Other British-born Utah artists included Alfred Lambourne, George M. Ottinger, and Alvin Gittins.

Local organizations, particularly those of Scottish and Welsh immigrants, fostered the cultural heritage of their native lands. The Cambrian Society, organized in 1895, sponsored Eisteddfod festivals, helping maintain the Welsh language and culture. The Caledonia Society, organized in 1884, and the Caledonia Club (1892), were later joined by Scottish social clubs, a football (soccer) club, and at least three bagpipe bands.

In 1980, 3.2 percent of Utah's residents had been born in the British Isles. Concentrated in the cities, they were less than half as likely to live in rural areas as the population of Utah as a whole. Just over three-fourths of these immigrants were born in England, about 11 percent in Scotland, 3 percent in Ireland, 2 percent in Wales, and 1 percent in Northern Ireland. But the heritage of the British Isles was more evident in the fact that in the 1990 census 44 percent of Utahns claimed English ancestry, 8 percent Irish, 5 percent Scottish, and 3 percent Welsh.

See: P. A. M. Taylor, Expectations Westward: The Mormons and the Emigration of their British Converts in the Nineteenth Century (1966); and Frederick S. Buchanan, "Imperial Zion: The British Occupation of Utah," in Helen Z. Papanikolas, ed., The Peoples of Utah (1976).

Disclaimer: Information on this site was converted from a hard cover book published by University of Utah Press in 1994. Any errors should be directed towards the University of Utah Press.