Joseph Rich reached his 21st birthday January 16, 1862; and by this time, he had become a seasoned veteran in his missionary labors, capable of preaching the gospel with eloquence and vigor, and so absorbed in his work he was scarcely aware of the passing of time. Only a few days before, he had received a letter from home containing some tragic news, which gave him a distinct shock, and set his thoughts more deeply on the uncertainties of life, and the need of faith in the hereafter. The word he received was that George A. Smith, a close boyhood friend, had been killed by the Navajo Indians. For days he could not get this sad occurrence off his mind; and when he did, it was only by giving his entire attention to preaching the gospel. And though he was young, he grew in maturity of judgment, and the strength of his testimony increased.
During March, he, with a couple of his companions, suffered an unjust and thoroughly disagreeable experience of being arrested for a crime which they had not as much as heard of. Getting off the train at Leicester on a short trip to visit some of the members, they were accosted by an officer and accused of being pickpockets. A lady on the train had had a purse and some money stolen, it seemed. Their protestations of innocence availed them nothing, and they were locked up in a veritable dungeon in the city jail, and after long waiting and receiving many insults, they were brought before the magistrate, and convicted of being in league with those who committed the crime, but lack of evidence resulted in their being freed. The experience caused [p. 146] Joseph to reflect seriously on the basic rights of man and the necessity of truth for the administration of justice.
By April 8th, in Nottingham, he received a letter from his father, informing him he had been appointed to preside over the Derbyshire conference; consequently within a few days, he went to that field of labor, and was accepted by the Saints in his new capacity. But time was running out. On April 17th, he and his father went shopping for some strong clothing, suitable for a voyage across the ocean, and the subsequent trip across the plains. A few days later, he boarded the sailing vessel, John J. Boyd, in company with a large group of Saints and a number of other elders, bound for America. His father, also returning home, came on another ship. Two years had passed since he left home--incredible, he thought.
The hazards and discomforts of a sea voyage on a sailing vessel, which are always numerous, proved more pressing than usual on this trip. Joseph and Reuben McBride occupied a berth together in the young men's compartment. The ship moved out into the River Mersey amid songs and hymns of scores of Saints who, joyful at their deliverance from Babylon, gave vent to their feelings in song. The company was organized with J. S. Brown as Captain; John Lindsay and Joseph C. Rich were counselors. A trim Confederate Clipper lay near the John J. Boyd, a grim reminder of the war raging in the states.
The ship hit the sea in a strong wind, and very soon some of the passengers were suffering from sea-sickness. Joseph wrote in his journal, "About half past nine, April 23rd, the tug left us to the mercy of the waves, and a kind Father in heaven. When the anchors were lifted, all hands were singing, laughing and joking. But oh how different the scene before night. Out of 700 passengers, only about a dozen could be found able to do anything. Sister Hardy's little baby five months old died in the afternoon while the father and mother were confined to their berths with sea-sickness. Not a woman on board was able to assist in laying the child out. Brother Brown, Welch, and myself washed, dressed, and laid out the child in the evening. I assisted the sick nearly all day, which came very near making me as bad as any of them, but I stuck it out, and stayed up till 2 o'clock in the morning, doing for the sick and arranging the guards." [p. 147]
April 24th, the following day, the child was sewed up in a sack, and after a short prayer and a few remarks by Elder J. S. Brown, the body of the child was committed to the sea. The wind carried them north between the Isle of Man and Ireland where they wrestled with several days of dangerous calm near the rocky coast of North Ireland, before striking a breeze which carried them out to sea. Joseph was keenly appreciative of the beauty of his surroundings, jotting down in his journal bits of description and observation, which show the development of one of his most charming talents--the ability to express himself well. As he had told Ann Eliza before leaving home, he had studied hard, not only on the principles of the gospel, but on every subject affecting his life and interest. Particularly, he had studied grammar and composition both in theory and practice.
He was at ease, therefore, when he wrote of the beautiful sunny day, with a favorable breeze carrying them on their way, or when he described a painful accident, in which he was hit by a rope and his hat knocked off into the sea. He was glad, so he recorded, that it was not his head. In the Irish sea, they passed other vessels coming and going. Fishing sloops came near and tried to sell them fresh fish; the rugged Scotch coast spread its greenery to their right and the dangerous reefs of Northern Ireland menaced their left. When the wind went down, they were left rocking on the swells without making headway. Then, the rain came in torrents, followed by a clear dry day through which they tacked slowly ahead, with the Saints, having recovered from the worst of their sea-sickness, again singing hymns and showing a renewed interest in their surroundings. Joseph saw and recorded these events vividly.
The Saints, under their accepted leaders, were well disciplined. Accordingly, when adverse winds slowed their progress, they agreed to save on their water allowance in case the voyage was longer than anticipated. Later, when they were assembled on the quarter-deck for worship, the third mate and several sailors rudely broke into their midst, knocking and pushing them around and singing loudly in opposition. The matter was handled in an orderly manner by J. S. Brown, the leader, who appealed to the captain. Yet throughout the voyage, some of the sailors and officers were constantly trying to stir up trouble by insulting the women and picking quarrels with the men. [p. 148]
Joseph's diary reads like a ship's log, but more filled with human interest. "Monday, April 28th, cool but fine day. Wind dead against us. Many of the Saints sick. I run and wait on the sick nearly all day, though a boil on my face pains me dreadfully. The sea is rough at times, sending us high in the air then, as it were, dropping us right into a watery canyon. Since the first day out, I have administered to the sick daily with oil and the laying on of hands. Rations of flour, peas, beans, sugar, bread, tea, vinegar, pepper and mustard were served out." A touch of humor is added. "The wind blew heavily at night which caused a great amount of unnecessary music among the tin cans that happened to be loose.
"April 29th, rough, cold and raining. Nearly all hands below deck. Many sick. The cabin doctor, a gentleman, is very attentive to the sick. He opened and drained the boil on my face which soon felt better.
"April 30th. Fine day; breeze in right direction. I got a lot of gruel made early this morning for the sick. Sickness on the decrease. One week today since we left Liverpool, encountering many calms and unfavorable breezes. Still we are 700 or 800 miles at sea. During the evening while the Saints were assembling below decks for prayer, Brother Brown spoke powerfully concerning the proper way of preserving health on board ship; exhorted them to leave their berths early and get on deck in order that the sick might receive the benefit of fresh air."
May 1, 1862 was an anniversary, which Joseph like many another young missionary, referred to with feeling. "Two years ago today I left my home in Salt Lake City. I am, through the blessings of God, well, and on my return, after two years of experience as a missionary of the gospel of peace to mankind, having borne many testimonies to its truth to many hundreds and thousands of God's children in a foreign land.
"May 2. By the pitches and rolls of the vessel this morning, I concluded we were having a stiff breeze. My conjectures were fully confirmed when I got on deck. The waves ran higher than I've ever seen. The day was fine but rather cool. Sister Helen Mitchell of London was discovered in her berth stiff and cold, and apparently lifeless through having succumbed to sea-sickness and partaking of little, if any food for several days. Hot [p. 149] water was applied to her hands, feet and chest. Other restoratives were also used which resulted in restoring her beyond danger. The violence of the elements increased as the sun began its downward path to the western haunts, until when night set in, the ocean presented one angry body of snow-capped mountains lashing each other with all the fury of many contending armies, at times striking each other with such a crash that sent the spray in torrents over our bulwarks, completely submerging the decks, and giving many of the Saints the benefit of salt water baths, though by the wry faces drawn, I perceived many doubted their value. I was on deck most of the day, during which time I, in common with others, participated in four ducklings, which, however, we turned into mirth, instead of grief. Though the wind was blowing hard and the waves running mountain high, the captain kept all sails spread, except the small royals at the top. The carpenter, a gentlemanly sort of man, was busy all day splicing the boom. The storm continued all night, upsetting everything movable, and causing loose cans and dishes to join in a sort of general promenade, making their own music as they went from place to place. On the whole, it was a very laughable sight--and one anything but favorable to those who desired sleep. At times, when the ship would take an extra plunge, a large wave at the same time striking her bows, completely jarring all hands, inundating the decks and copiously discharging a torrent of salt water through the hatches at such periods, some few would groan, and one or two manifested their timidity and fear, one old man and his son in particular, laboring under the delusion that we were very apt to drown before morning."
Death, as well as sickness, stalked the creaky, old sailing vessel, John J. Boyd. Sister Griffith's little boy Parry, who had been low for some time, was given up by the doctor. Elders Rich and Lindsay administered to him, and he immediately felt better. After the storm, there was much sea-sickness. Joseph made broth and served it to those afflicted. May 5th, Dan Vincent Williams, age 7, son of John J. and Rebecca Williams, died at half past four from the effects of a fall down the hatchway. This was the second burial at sea.
Joseph wrote in his journal: "Brother Williams informed me this was the last of his boys, and the fourth one he had lost within sixteen months. I got the corpse laid out while warm, [p. 150] and after the sisters had dressed it, Brother Lindsay and myself rolled him in a clean white sheet. We got one of the brethren who had been a sailor to assist in sewing him up in gunny sacks, after which we carried him and laid him on a board extending about five feet over the bulwarks. Everything was now ready. The passengers were nearly all spectators. Brother Brown delivered a short sermon and prayer applicable to the solemn occasion, after which the corpse was slid from the board clear of the sides of the vessel. A sudden plunge and splash was heard but for a moment, and the lifeless clay of little Dan disappeared beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Latitude 52 40'; longitude 26 10'."
Sunny days followed, with a favorable and gentle breeze, and the old John J. Boyd rolled on toward the promised land, frequently passing other ships eastward bound. May 12th, another death, Parry Griffith, age four, died of a fever; a few hours later, his younger brother, Thomas, died of the same disease. Joseph described them as two of the most "intelligent and nice children that I ever saw."
The mother, May Ann Griffith from Leominiter, Herfordshire, was nearly frantic with grief.
May 14th, the two dead children were buried in the ocean, latitude 44 15'; longitude 45 25'. The mother was delirious part of the time. Joseph again wrote, "Beef and pork were again rationed out by the steward. Three ships in sight. Administered to several of the sick."
May 15th was a cold day. Four sailing ships and one steamer were seen; the wind was good until nightfall. Saturday, May 17th, was another day of sadness. Emily Eckersley, daughter of James and Mary Eckersley, age one year four and a half months, died of inflamation in her lungs. Also, Charlotte Beard, another child, daughter of Stephen and Emma Beard, died of consumption. They were also buried in the sea. On May 20th, the seventh death occurred. The deceased was Charles Wilkins of Berkshire, age 67.
By May 27th, the John J. Boyd approached the Port of New York. The Latter-day Saints aboard, in spite of the sickness and death they had experienced, were in good spirits. Having been constantly encouraged by their leaders, under whose direction they had held daily religious services, they regarded [p. 151] their preservation to the goodness of God. They felt they had reason for complaint against the conduct of certain of the ship's officers and men; yet on the whole Captain Thomas had been just and kind; and they wanted to show their appreciation by presenting him with an expression of their feelings. Accordingly, they had their own leaders draw up and present the following memorial to Captain J. H. Thomas of the ship, John J. Boyd, under date of May 27, 1862.
"On our near approach to the Port of New York, we the undersigned on behalf of the Latter-day Saint passengers on the John J. Boyd from Liverpool cannot feel to bid adieu to Captain Thomas without paying him that token of respect and gratitude for the high and honorable bearing shown to us, and the vigilance for our rights and peace, and esteem for that manly conduct so prominent in a gentleman, in conjunction with his duties as our Captain the five weeks we have been entrusted to his care, and with the generous, free and lady-like affection earned by his lady to the wants of the weak, will have an impression on the minds of all, that cannot readily be effaced by time or events. We feel constrained to mention the high respect and kind protection extended during our religious services.
"And now as our travels may part us, we beg to express the satisfaction of our journey, and wish for him and his lady every gift that God can bestow in His infinite wisdom.
James S. Brown, presidentJohn Lindsay, counselorJoseph C. Rich, counselorWilliam Fuller, clerk.
Joseph was met by his father at New York, and together they went to the Stevens House, where they registered, after which they took a stroll up Broadway to the St. Nicholas Hotel, where they met Governor Cummings, Brigham Young, Jr. and other friends from the west. Joseph and Brigham took a tour down to Barnum's Museum to see some of the curiosities. But Joseph's thoughts were turning toward home. When he returned to the Stevens House to sleep, he was eager to get started across his battle-scarred country toward his loved ones in Utah. . . . [p.152]
BIB: Rich, Joseph C., [Diary], IN Poulsen, Ezra J., Joseph C. Rich--Versatile Pioneer on the Mormon Frontier (Salt Lake City: Granite Publishing, 1958) pp. 147-52. (CHL)