As a Church History Specialist in the Merthyr Tydfil Stake I was curious to know what local libraries might hold relating to the Church. Swansea reference library, I found, had a first edition of Llyfr Mormon – the Book of Mormon in Welsh, dated 1852. The Book of Mormon was translated and distributed in instalments and by subscription. Members who paid their ‘book money’ and collected all of the instalments could have them bound according to their preferences – and their purse. There was no indication of who this copy might have belonged to, but in Swansea University library there was another first edition, this time with an inscription on the flyleaf – George Bywater’s Book, July 30th, 1852. A little research identified the owner as George Gwilym Bywater (1828-1889) who joined the Church in 1848 in Garndiffaeth near Pontypool (Monmouthshire), along with several other members of his family.
In 1854 George left Liverpool for Utah Territory aboard the Golconda. More than 450 Saints were on board, about half of them Welsh. But in September 1860 he was called to return to the British Isles as a missionary. The Missionary Database 1830-1930 shows that he was set apart by George Q Cannon and served for four years (see history.churchofjesuschrist.org/missionary). Although he appears on the 1860 US census living in Utah, he also appears on the 1861 UK census – living in Eglwysilan (about 12 miles north of Cardiff), with his occupation given as Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The Deseret News of 5th October 1864 reports his return to Salt Lake City at the end of his mission, in company with another returning missionary Thomas Jeremy, who had served as president of the Glamorgan Conference with George Bywater as his counsellor. The remainder of George Bywater’s life is well documented, as is his work on the Utah railroad as an engineer. The Millennial Star of June 1898 included a notice of his death and spoke of him in glowing terms: “Of his heart, and of his brain, words of the highest praise might be spoken without doing him full justice. He belongs to that class of men whose numbers are so limited and who, instead of being forgotten when they are gone, are honoured more after they are dead than while they are living.”
He was very well respected, and his memory is preserved through these references to his life and work. But why George Bywater’s book was left behind in Wales remains a mystery. Whatever the reason, more than 150 years later his Welsh Book of Mormon was on a shelf in Swansea University library, and available for loan! I suggested to the librarian that it was valuable in more ways than one and might better be kept in a more secure location. It now resides in the library’s special collections. It’s still available on request but is now more carefully preserved.
How many other such treasures are hidden away in libraries around the UK? Such documents help to tell the stories of the early days of the Church in Britain through the individuals who made them. They are tangible reminders of the heritage of faith from which members benefit many years later.