by Laura Russell Bunker
Longford Parish Church, Derbyshire, where Daniel Morley Jr. and Sarah Fearn christened their first child. Many of Prue Morley’s ancestors lived and worshiped here. The parish is said to have been there before William the Conqueror in 1066 and parts of the building itself date back to 1100 A. D. (Historical Notes on Longford Parish and Church, 1926)
Daniel Morley, Jr., and Sarah Fearn Morley
Parents of Prudence Morley
Stranton Parish Church, West Hartlepool "Here mother (Prudence Morley) sang in the choir, and was married to George Bannister" - (Mary Bannister Russell)
When Prudence Morley’s parents, Sarah Fearn and Daniel Morley left Derbyshire to move to West Hartlepool, Durham County, far reaching events were set into motion. Longford and Sudbury Derbyshire had been the home of their ancestors for hundreds of years. However, Daniel Morley had acquired a good job in West Hartlepool and was soon comfortably established in a home of his own - a much more rare event then than it is now. When their daughter Prudence reached her late teens she started working as a maid in the homes of the gentry, which was about the only work available for females at that time. Her wonderful cheerful personality, coupled with a rare sense of humor and a beautiful soprano voice made her very popular in her circle of friends.
Because Daniel Morley Jr. was a rigid Church of England man, it followed that Prue would be required to attend that church also, and she became a member of the choir of Stranton Church. A young mariner waiting for his ship to sail, decided to attend services at Stranton Church one Sunday morning, and a beautiful soprano voice attracted his attention. He managed to arrange an introduction, and George Bannister met his future wife. The handsome couple had many things in common. George, too, had a fine voice and loved music. His favorite instrument was the banjo, on which he produced a harmonious accompaniment to any melody. Duets by this couple, with the banjo harmonizing were to bring many happy hours to their future family.
Many fine handwritten pages in the family Bible, later found by Mary Bannister, testified to the serious subjects the young couple discussed and studied during this period. Prue remembers the minister at church, weaving on his feet at the pulpit, while advising the congregation to "Don’t do as I do, do as I say." However, the couple were married from the old church on February 16, 1884. The handwritten sheets showed plainly that George continued to make a real study of the scriptures.
Hardly had the first home been furnished and set in order, when George became anxious to move to Australia, that fabulous land of opportunity. But Prue insisted that she would never go to Australia or anywhere else as long as her mother was alive. Her health was poor and she couldn’t bear to leave her. Prue helped take care of her mother until she died one year later. She then sold all her household furnishings to her brother-in-law Tom Adams, and prepared for the long trip to Australia.
Fifty-three years later, Tom Adams wrote to Mary Bannister Russell the following: "I remember your father and mother going to Australia. I bought their furnishings and attended their farewell party. Your father was a very good business man as well as mariner, and he and his wife made a handsome couple. Your mother came to the party wearing a hat trimmed with a lovely bird wing. ‘Kitty Wells’ and ‘I have Caskets at Home Filled with Precious Gems’ both accompanied by your father on his banjo, were among the fine songs they sang for us that night. George expressed his thanks and gratitude for the good feeling that existed among the assembled family and friends. Even after nearly fifty five years I can still see Prue’s lovely smile as they left us that evening."
The trip to Australia took nine weeks at sea. Because of no refrigeration of food, and lack of fresh vegetables towards the end of the trip, Prue contracted dysentery during the last week of the voyage, in addition to discovering that she had started the journey to motherhood. When the ship landed at Brisbane, Queensland, Prue spent a restless week suffering in the hospital. Because labor for hire was so hard to find in Australia (every man wanting to strike out for himself), employers were allowed to visit incoming ships and hospitals to find help. One such man offered a job to George, saying that if he would come and work for him for six months on his sheep ranch, he would cure Prue’s dysentery. George accepted the offer, and the man filled a saucer with brandy, which he then lighted, and after the alcohol had burned away, Prue was told to drink the residue no matter how long it took. Sip by sip the nasty stuff disappeared, and with it the disease. As soon as her strength returned, the three set out for the sheep ranch.
When the six months was up, Prue desired to move back into comparative civilization, and George wanted to try his original idea of gold mining. Prue described their return journey. "There I was in the bush from ten to fifteen miles from any other women in any direction and my time running out. The rancher offered us only one way to travel, and that was with the bullock team that would come periodically for the sheep skins. When the driver arrived the rancher tried to bribe him to not take the young couple. The driver refused the bribe, saying, 'If the missus wants to leave I will take her.'" So off they went under the broiling sun in a partly covered wagon full of sheep shins and drawn by six bullocks (oxen). Prue had brought a hat and an umbrella to protect herself from the hot sun.
After the first few days one water hole after another proved to be dried up, giving no opportunity to replenish their water supply, and there came a day when there was no water to pass around. The first whirlwind carried Prue’s hat away, another one took the umbrella and the wagon cover, but by this time she was not completely rational. What little water could be found was given to her, and at last they came to a small settlement named Torrens Creek.
In this settlement the first child, Kate, was born on January 22, 1886. In a short while they moved to a larger town called Black Jack. Here George William Bannister was born on April 17, 1887, and Dan was born on January 6, 1889. Later they moved to the town of Charters Towers. Here the day’s supply of meat was delivered early in the morning and was cooked immediately. Vegetables were sold by peddling chinamen whose sing-song voices were often imitated by Prue to her children. "Turn-e-up" (turnips) and "lett-us-see" (lettuce), they called as they tried to sell the greens. George worked in the gold mines, where their eyelids and finger nails and teeth were examined for gold as they came out of the shaft. It is unknown whether he ever tried to mine for himself or not. If he did, he did not become rich.
Homes were very hard to find and their only choice in Charter Towers was between a very large mansion and a small home. For reasons they thought good they chose the small home which was to prove to be a costly choice. This home had a veranda over a creek. On November 4, 1891 little Thomas Carvosa Bannister arrived with rejoicing - no one dreaming of the tragedy creeping up on the family. In June of 1892 little five year old George sickened and died with diphtheria. Quickly, in the terrible heat, as soon as
possible after death, he had to be buried. There was no known cure, and the other children must be protected. The efforts were futile; one month later eight month old Thomas was laid beside his brother struck down by the same killer and the grieving mother knew that another child was on its way to the fold. George Bannister later described how hard it was to watch his children suffer, "oh, it was so hard to see the babies fight and struggle for breath. The little ones flung themselves all over the bed. We could not even hold them still, and doctors could not help them."
Now the doctors started to blame the house, it must be the creek somehow. They must move at once. Now they moved into the mansion, health seemed good all around and perhaps it was at this time that Prue began to think of returning to England, for she started taking in boarders. About this time, George got a blast of rock in his eyes which made him blind for some time. He took much comfort in his banjo to pass the time away. Kate always remembered this period, and later described her mother as she looked then; "lovely auburn hair, pink cheeks, always smiling and singing in her pretty light colored dresses.". As George waited for his eyes to heal, Prue cared for the home, family, and boarders. But underneath the happy surface she grieved for the lost children and at this time there came to her an experience which she always cherished, and which proves that the Lord is mindful of his children everywhere when they try to keep his laws.
"After the work of the day was done, Prue sat in her rocking chair and went into a sleep. It seemed to her that the unborn child she was carrying was already born and she held it on her lap and cuddled and crooned to it. The child must have been beautiful beyond compare, for her later descriptions were so wonderful that I heard her say, ‘If the Lord had asked me, I would have said, Don’t take this one, Lord, take anyone but not this one’." She raised her eyes feeling someone else in the room, and was surprised to see her own mother, Sarah Fearn, coming toward her. Sarah took the baby out of her daughter’s arms saying, "Don’t grieve for the children, Prue, I will take care of them for you." With these words she left the room with the new baby in her arms. And so came the conviction that the soul about to be born would not be allowed to stay with her. God had sent her mother to comfort her and give her strength.
William Bannister was born and named on March 9, 1893, and after twenty days on earth, he returned to his Maker and was laid beside his brothers. His birth and death were registered at the same time. A local minister, hearing of the tragedy, and feeling bound to do his duty, astonished Prue by walking into the house and asking, "Madam, were your children baptized into a church?." "No sir, I don’t believe in infant baptism, least of all in sprinkling." "Then your children have gone to hell," he said. Prue flung the door wide open and pointing to it she said, "Where those children have gone I will be glad to go, and if that is all the comfort you have to offer me, there is the door."
Now the family joined a Baptist church with the Reverend Houchins as the minister. Here they were baptized by immersion and enjoyed their membership. This minister was a great friend to the children, taking them into the country for a change, and giving them a kangaroo for a playmate. Later, George Jr. Came on March 27, 1894, to help fill the vacancies left by the other three boys, and the idea of returning to England continued to simmer under all other cares.
For the second time, Prue’s home was broken up, furnishings sold, pictures taken, and good-bye parties held. Kate was nine years old, Dan was six, and George Jr. was a babe one year old when Prue and the children boarded the ship in Sydney, bound for England in the Spring of 1895. George joined the family in July, and resumed his seagoing occupation, working on the engines of the ships. Some of the ships George traveled on were gone a week, some went to the Far East, and would be gone many months. He was familiar with places in all parts of the world and entertained his family with stories galore. Anytime his ship touched France, he was sure to bring Prue a large plain bottle of Eau de Cologne. It made a powerful astringent when a person had a headache, and was the only perfume she ever used. Its refreshing scent became part of Prue’s personality to Mary.
George was at sea on July 30, 1896, when a flurry of excitement permeated his home. At 22 Cumberland Street. About midnight, the neighbor Mrs. Ward heard a knock on the wall that was shared by their two houses. This was the signal that she was needed, and the baby girl born that night heard the description of it even from Mrs. Ward years later. "There I was having a beautiful sleep and I had to wake up just to help a little bit of a baby, and what good is a baby?" But the laughter on the dear face told her real feelings. Thus Mary joined the family, being named after Prue’s sister, who was to claim much of her time during the next year. Big sister Kate cared for baby Mary for many months as Prue walked back and forth each day to nurse her sister until she finally passed away due to dropsy.
Still being mindful of the worth of religion, the family started to attend the Baptist church on Tower Street. But sometime after the birth of Annie on December 29, 1899 Prue found a tract under the front door, entitled, "Little Children Need no Baptism". This being the subject nearest to her heart and mind she gave a hearty welcome to the two men who called later to see if she had read the tract. Elders Jones and Spencer were married men of thirty odd years, and were dressed in frock coats with satin lapels, and wore high shiny hats. They explained that they were missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in their pleasant way they discussed the subject of the tract.
Many conversations followed on various religious topics, and when George came home he was drawn into them also, with the result that when Annie passed away on June 15, 1901, Elders Jones and Spencer were asked to conduct the funeral services. Prue now made the decision that Mormonism, so called, was a divinely restored Gospel, but in her new found joy she allowed her enthusiasm to lead her into an indiscretion that caused a rift between her and her husband for fifteen years. Instead of waiting for George’s return from sea and securing his permission and possibly his company, she and Dan were baptized on July 16, 1901. Young George was baptized on October 15, 1902. On both occasions, George was away at sea. When George returned the second time, his reply was, "You have got the boys, but you will never get the girls."
Soon they moved to the other end of the street, No. 97 Durham Street. Here on July 12, 1904 little Prudence was born. So tiny she was; a head no bigger than a teacup. Seven year old Mary thought at first that it was her own doll.
When Mary was twelve years old, she asked her father if she could be baptized into the LDS Church, as she had been attending Sunday School with her brother George every Sunday. "Why don’t you give your permission, George?", Prue said. "You have nothing to lose and your continued refusals will only build up a bitterness against you." Finally he replied, "All right, tell her she can go ahead."
Eventually, fifteen years after his wife Prue was baptized, George did join the LDS Church. This event had occurred after a most hazardous voyage during WW1, where his ship had been held in the Baltic sea by the German navy. All the crew abandoned ship at St. Petersburg, Russia and crossed the Baltic sea on a sled. Somehow he managed to cross Norway and Sweden safely, and found a small ship that was willing to risk the crossing of the North Sea to the English coast. He lost all his possessions and was sick most of the time, but it was better than the alternative of being caught and put in a concentration camp. Upon reaching home, he asked for baptism. In a letter to his daughter Mary (who was now in America), George admitted that he had known for some time that the Book of Mormon was true and could not have been written by any man. He had been taking the book to sea and was very familiar with all the doctrines.
So he and young Prue were baptized on the Same day in the North Sea, on 25 Jan. 1916. When he joined the Church in Jan. 1916, he was 61 years old, and though he had been used to a pipe and a glass of beer
most of his life, he gave them up and never touched them again. Eventually, George,
Prudence, Mary and young Prudence found themselves together again in Pontiac, Michigan, near Dan and his wife Nellie Bolton.
After Mary was married and living in Salt Lake City with her husband Clyde A. Russell and their three little children, she visited her ailing mother and together they made plans for her and George to move west and live with her in Salt Lake City as soon as her health improved. At last their dreams of gathering to the heart of Zion as a family were coming true! Prudence laid on her bed and gazed out an open door. "Mary," she said, "I wouldn’t change places with the Queen of England." But that evening she passed away. Though Mary was stunned with grief, during the next two nights she had a wonderful experience. She was "conscious of a very lovely peaceful feeling." She was blessed with heavenly sleep, and upon waking up, she "felt full of perfect health.... The baby had slept all night through, for the first time in his life, and he too was very, very good. "Prue had thought mother had tucked her in, and I knew mother had not left us. The next night repeated the same wonderful experiences, and we were able to take care of funeral arrangements." Mary took comfort in knowing that her mother "is united with her four children and her dear mother whom she loved as I loved her."
During this time, Clyde sent Mary a sweet letter, "which he closed with some of the most beautiful lines that I have ever read:
Now let there be no regrets, God never forgets
The pain and the sorrow we know
When it gets too intense, He always relents,
And off to His presence we go."
Prudence Morley Bannister was the first on the Bannister side of our family to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was a pioneer to us - she went before and prepared the way! How grateful we are that this cheerful, determined woman had the faith and courage to recognize the truth when she heard it. Perhaps her spirit was softened because of her trials, so she was prepared to hear the Gospel when it was presented to her. Even though she never reached her dream of being with her family in the heart of Zion, she made it possible for us to be raised in the Church and strengthen the stakes of Zion wherever we may be. Looking back on the struggles of her own and her mother’s lives, Mary wrote, "But God is very good, and He controls all things to work out for our good. Someday we will be fully satisfied."
May we live true to the example she set, by letting our trials soften us to the Spirit, instead of making us bitter and hardened. Let us live true to the Gospel that has been bought for us at such a dear price, that our ancestors will be able to watch us from above, and "be fully satisfied."