The First Missionaries to South Africa

The First Missionaries to South Africa
Shouldering their own baggage, Elders Jesse Haven, Leonard L. Smith, and William H. Walker lumbered down the gangway, glad to be on solid ground once again. The trio’s long and sometimes dangerous voyage was over, and they were grateful that the good ship  Domitia  had landed them safely at Cape Town on the south western tip of the continent of Africa.

The three missionaries were part of a contingent of 106 elders who had left Great Salt Lake City on September 15, 1852, “to go into all the world and preach the gospel.”

That the three missionaries’ journey to Africa required over seven months to complete was due partly to their traveling without purse or scrip. Then, too, it was necessary for them to accompany a wagon train from Utah bound for the eastern part of the United States, before they made their way to New York. On December 16 they boarded ship for England, but when they arrived in Liverpool, there was considerable delay until they could arrange for passage to South Africa. Leaving London on February 11, the Domitia encountered squalls, windless days, and only intermittent fair weather, so it took another two months to complete the voyage to Cape Town.

When they arrived at their destination on April 18, 1853, the elders first sought the American consul and subsequently obtained from a local official permission to give a series of lectures on the gospel at the town hall.

In telling of the reaction to one of their first meetings in Cape Town, Elder Walker said, “As soon as Joseph Smith was mentioned as a prophet, they began to hoot and holler ‘Old Joe Smith.’ A mob broke up the meeting in an uproar.”  

On other occasions the elders were assailed with rocks or pelted with softer missiles—rotten eggs and turnips. They were also preceded in their tracting by worried ministers going from house to house, urging the inhabitants to refuse the Mormons food and lodging and to shut their doors against them, hoping to drive the intruders from the country.
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The elders persevered in their faith, however, and found an ally in a man by the name of Nicholas Paul, who lived in Mowbray. A man of considerable means, rare moral courage, and stamina, Mr. Paul defied mob rule by warning those attending a meeting with the elders at his home that “they were welcome to come to the meeting; but the first man that offered an insult on his premises either to the house or to the elders, he would put more holes through, than there were in a skimmer.” 

In spite of the physical abuse and other setbacks, Elder Smith was able to baptize Henry Stringer into the Church as the first convert in South Africa on June 15, 1853. 

An extract from Jesse Haven's journal:
May 23d [1853]
'. . . Today myself, bros Walker and Smith, went on to a mountain called the “Lion’s Head,” for the purpose of organizing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Cape of Good Hope. When we arrived at the spot, we commenced the meeting by singing, then prayer by Elder Jesse Haven, after which we commenced to organize the Church in this Colony.  Elder Haven motioned that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints be this day organized in the Cape of Good Hope. Elder Smith motioned that Elder Haven be sustained as the President of the Church in the Cape of Good Hope.

An extract from Jesse Haven's journal:

'Elder Haven then prophesied, That the Church now organized in the Cape of Good Hope, will roll forth in this Colony, and continue to increase, till many of the honest in heart will be made to rejoice in the everlasting Gospel.  Elder Smith motioned that this mountain now called the “Lion’s Head,” be known hereafter by the Saints throughout the world by the name of Mount Brigham, Heber and Willard.

'After we came down off of the mountain and came back into town, a man made application to Elder Smith to be baptized.'

Two years later, when Elders Walker, Haven, and Smith sailed from Cape Town, the LDS Church had been established with 176 members divided into six branches.