A Sketch of the Life of
George Bannister, Sr.
born 10 September 1856
South Shields, Durham Co. England
by Mary B. Russell
The fact that my father was forty years old when I was born accounts for the reason that I never remembered him as being anything but a middle aged man. Nevertheless I always have the picture of a man full of vigor, never seeming to tire.
The earliest photo I have is that of a young man in soldier's uniform, the scarlet coat of the British Army. I once asked him how he enjoyed the army, to which he replied that he couldn't stand the discipline, and his mother "bought him out" with a large sum of money. Just how dad met my mother is something I never heard, but he must have been very good looking, and I know we children often complimented him on his good taste in choosing mother.
One of the best childhood memories is the recollection of beautiful walks through fields of grain, along highways banked with hedges of May blossom, through villages with duck ponds in the center, always with dad by my side. He was a wonderful walker, and although he made no special effort to help us children to keep up with him, I for one, was always ready to go. Ten miles meant nothing to us, we set off for a walk with all the anticipation that children now set off for the show. Sometimes dad would choose to walk along the sea shore, and then we heard the larks, rising from their nests in the grass on the sand banks. Their beautiful music could be heard long after they were out of sight. We would stop for lunch at one of the old taverns along the route, and enjoy some crackers and cheese and pop.
Much of my father's time was spent at sea. He was by title called the Donkeyman. This is an engineer without official degree, like a doctor without State license, and with lower scale of pay. Just why dad did not get the title the same as his brothers did, again I do not know. Perhaps some difficulties of his young manhood stemmed from the fact that his father was shipwrecked when he was only fourteen years old. That is an age when a boy needs his father very much. His mother probably wanted him to make a career of the Army as so many generations of her people, the Younghusbands, had done before him. And in so doing the Younghusband men had gained high honors. But my father's temperament was not suited to the rigid discipline of those times, with the result above stated.
Another picture I like to remember is of the times when dad was home from sea, and the dinner table cleared and pushed out of the way. Then the family drew up their chairs close to the fire, and dad played on his banjo while he and mother sang the old time songs. Sometimes the second banjo was played by my brother Dan, and all the family harmonized. I loved those singing evenings, and marveled that my father could seem to play anything he wanted to, without knowing a note of music. Again, there were times when he would tap dance for us, and when I figure up that he was dancing steadily for many minutes at a time when he was up to fifty eight years old, it seems more wonderful to me now than it did then.
There came a period when dad was in charge of the electric station at East Hartlepool, and was at home constantly. This was when I was between twelve years and sixteen years. It was often my job to carry dad's meals to him, and at this time the Elders of the LDS Church would sometimes visit us at our home. If dad was feeling congenial the Elders would share our musical evenings, and it was in this period that dad gave me permission to be baptized in the LDS faith. He himself held aloof, choosing to contend the principles up to this time.
After I left England to emigrate to Zion (1915) and after a particularly harrowing experience at sea (which was during World War I) dad came home to acknowledge that he had known for some time that the LDS missionaries were preaching the truth, but he had been too stubborn to admit the fact. He was baptized in the North Sea, having my youngest sister baptized at the same time. Then he decided to come to America, and pioneer once more at the age of sixty years. After the means needed to bring three of them to America had been spent, there was not too much left to start a new home. Ocean traveling was a once in a lifetime affair in those days, and not many would have started at this age. Dad had once pioneered in a different direction in his early married life when he decided to try Australia, in which country he stayed for ten years.
But he was young then, and this time it was for keeps. I admired the way he determined to keep the laws of the church. After smoking for a lifetime, he threw away his pipe. A glass of mild beer had meant no more to dad that a glass of orange pop would mean to me, but that also was forgotten. He even shaved of his mustache, and so became a new man. Many years later he was examined by a doctor, and complimented on his wonderful physique. His only regret was that he had not given up those bad habits many years before he did.
Dad prospered in Michigan, he built houses and sold them at a profit, so that when mother passed away, he was left with a comfortable sum. But he was too bewildered to take care of his means, and spend much of it traveling between my home, now in Salt Lake City, and my brother's home in Michigan. He passed away in Michigan in May 1933 at the age of 77 years.
The years have mellowed many memories that were not so happy, and have made me appreciate the really heroic changes that came into his life in his later years. He was always frustrated with poor hearing. He was very jealous of mother and liked a great deal of her time and attention, many times to the exclusion of all else. But as I think over the books that it is said he loved to read in his young manhood, - Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Bedes Ecclesiastical History, Darwin's Evolution, Eusebius, etc., I realize that his mind was on a par with his fine physique and it behooves me to give dad his full share of thanks for the fine health that I enjoy today at fifty nine years of age.
As the patriarch told me when I first emigrated "you have been born of goodly parents", and I hope that my life has proven my gratitude for all the care they gave me.