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William and Hannah Rees Howell

A biographical sketch 

William Howell was born in Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales 14 December 1803. He and Hannah married 14 November 1829 in Llsamlet, Glamorgan, Wales. We assume Hannah and William joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about 1850. By that time the Howells had four children: David born about 1831, Sarah born 26 December 1833, Susanna about 1835, and Eliza about 1837.1 

Swansea, the largest city of Glamorgan, had been desecrated by the coal mining industry. The hills were pitted and scared by the mining, the smelters polluted the air and the river was so polluted no grass or trees grew on it’s banks or nearby. Most of the inhabitants (including William Howell) were employed in the mines for low wages. Even children worked all day in the mines. This was reason enough to want to emigrate to America, but the convincing reason was persecution that attended the Howell’s membership in the Church. James C McKnight2 wrote: “At work and in the community Mormons were despised, taunted, and belittled. Their friends and neighbors would no longer associate with them.” In 1853 the family embarked from Wales to Australia. 

McKnight wrote, “In the latter part of October, 1853 a small company of Welsh Latter-Day Saints arrived in the village of Newcastle, a seaport about 75 miles northeast of Sydney. They had come from Swansea in Glamorgan . . . for the purpose of getting money to go on to the Salt Lake Valley.” Included in this group were the Howell family and Hannah’s parents (and maybe children)3  

November first an LDS missionary, Elder William Hyde, came to Newcastle to preach. When these Welsh emigrants heard there was a missionary in the area they sent for him. Elder Hyde wrote that he found them in a very unhappy condition. He said they were miners by trade and extremely discouraged. They had traveled 1800 miles and upon their arrival in Australia there was a week of torrential downpour and flooding. Elder Hyde wrote, “I found them, as the saying is, pretty tolerably well slimed over, and just about ready to be swallowed up in the vortex of the world, and be forgotten. They had lost the Spirit of God, and no wonder. They had no confidence in themselves, and as a matter of course, had none in each other.” He met with those who would hear him, preached to them, and charged them to renew they covenants by being rebaptized “so they could be numbered with the Saints in Australia.” 

In December, 1853, the mission president, Augustus Farnham, and Elder William Hyde called a meeting of the Welsh emigrants and perhaps others at the home of the Howell’s. There William Howell was set apart as president of the Newcastle Branch of the Church. January 1st, 18544, at a quarterly conference of the Church in Australia, William was present and was sustained as president of the Branch. Elder Hyde reported that William and Hannah Howell sang duets in Welsh at the Conference. 

Continuing, he wrote that he was driven to exhaustion from his labor and excessive heat and became ill. He had not strength, could not sit up without fainting. That evening (January 22nd) William and Hannah came to see him and William, he said, “Laid hands on my head and blessed me in the name of the Lord and the Lord heard his prayer and strengthened me.” 

Sometime later their daughter Sarah (20 years old) became extremely ill and bedridden. Sarah had never been baptized and believing if she were baptized she would be healed. Her father reportedly had baptized two people the previous December: nevertheless; he sent to Sydney for missionaries. A missionary by the name of James McKnight (a Scottish emigrant) arrived. As Sarah was too weak to walk to the river James carried her and baptized her. Afterward she was well enough to walk with the group back to her home.  

In early 1855 the Howell family was ready to emigrate to the Salt Lake Valley: however; the mission leaders requested that William stay and serve a mission as there were so few to spread the gospel. He, Hannah and their two youngest daughters remained. Daughter, Sarah, married the missionary, James McKnight, and they left with the group of Saints on the Tarquinia, April 27, 1855. 

Further records are sparse or nonexistent. We have no record of William’s mission or why he and the family chose not to emigrate. Only from Church records we know that they first settled in Newcastle, then lived in Melbourne and finally moved to Castlemaine. William Howell was mentioned in Alonzo Colton’s journal, who wrote of a group of LDS miners who organized a company in the Castlemaine diggings which included William Howell.  

In 1862 the Howell’s were living at Aberdeen Hill, Castlemaine, and William was a foreman at a quarry digging rock for the railways. There was a terrible accident and William was rushed to the hospital where he died six days later, October 26, 1862. Recently his tombstone has been located where he was buried in the Chewton Cemetery in the Wesleyan/Methodist section.5 

In 1865 Hannah Rees Howell emigrated to America in 1865 on board the “Albert” in company with J D Spencer and his family. 

Written October 2009 by Bev McKnight Cooper