Jarman and the anti-‘Mormon’ debates in Swansea

by Jill Morgan

William Jarman
William Jarman

The Albert Hall in Swansea is a Grade II listed building – a fine, if now dilapidated landmark in the centre of town, still fondly remembered as a cinema by those who are old enough. Originally built in 1864 as the Music Hall, it changed its name after refurbishment in 1881, perhaps to raise it above the common herd of entertainment venues, as it began to offer more serious, cultured entertainment. This included opera, with stars such as Italian soprano Adelina Patti, and visits from well-known individuals such as Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Lloyd George.

But the Albert Hall was also briefly the venue for anti-‘Mormon’ lectures and debates in the 1880s, where opponents of the Church sought to bring it into disrepute, and incite local residents to action, to prevent members and missionaries preaching and living their religion. In September 1888 the Herald of Wales reported one such meeting:


DURING the last ten days the town of Swansea has been disturbed by the most disgraceful proceedings on account of the presence of a man styling himself an escaped Mormon priest from Utah and the pretended disclosures he had made night after night to large and excited audiences in the Albert Hall.’

William Jarman was a native of Devon and a convert to the LDS Church who emigrated to Utah Territory, but quickly became disaffected and returned to Britain. Thereafter he hired himself out as an anti-‘Mormon’ lecturer, and in 1888 the Anti-Mormon Association in Swansea arranged for him to lecture at the Albert Hall. The Herald of Wales continues:

Noah Williams
Noah Williams

The proceedings had become so notorious and so infamous that the lives of the Mormon Christians residing in Grove Place were in peril and their dwelling which had been mobbed by an infuriated rabble had to be specially guarded every night by a number of policemen.

Noah Williams, a Welsh convert who had emigrated but returned to Britain as a missionary, tells in his journal of branch president David Williams asking him to stay at the house in Grove Place because of the threats of the mob:

“Sep 22 [1888] Stayed at Swansea all day. Williams went to Merthyr he wished me to stay at his house until he came back because his wife and the servant girl were afraid to be there without some protection owen to the mob that been in the habit of coming around the howse at night and whooping and yelling and calling them all manner of names and throwing stones at the door but they did not disturb us that night”

Williams lived at 4 Grove Place – around the corner from the Albert Hall. He wasn’t prepared to submit to mob rule, and took Jarman to court. The Herald of Wales reported on the proceedings:

On Saturday last a summons was issued against Jarman the escaped lunatic [Jarman had spent some time in Exeter Asylum] and on Monday last these strange proceedings culminated in the disgrace of its author. He was bound over to keep the peace towards the Mormon body and towards all Her Majesty’s loyal and liege subjects in the sum of £100 for three months.

David Williams was called to give evidence. He listed various threats which Jarman had made against him personally, against other members and against church meeting places.  He had had to request police protection after a crowd some 300 strong had thrown stones at his house after hearing Jarman speak.  A reporter present at Jarman’s lecture gave evidence that Jarman had referred to Williams and those who stayed with him as ‘murderers, bigamists, blackguards &c.’ Another witness from Cardiff gave evidence of Jarman similarly inciting crowds to violence against the ‘Mormons’ there – and having suffered violence at their hands himself, though he was not a member of the church but simply lived in the building where the church met. Witnesses were also called who denied any such behaviour on Jarman’s part.

However, as the newspaper reported:

The stipendiary in deciding the case said he had no doubt at all as to what his duty as a magistrate was. It was... to preserve the peace of the town and to protect all persons who were under reasonable apprehension of danger from violence. The language proved to be used by the defendant seemed to him to fully justify the alarm and apprehension Mr Williams had expressed. He thought there had been a dangerous agitation set on foot and it was absolutely necessary to prevent scenes dangerous to the peace of the town.

The Herald was sympathetic to the ‘Mormon’ cause:

It is difficult to understand how easily the public are misled and how gullible they are on religious questions and this difficulty is increased when the propaganda they listen to is proclaimed by one of the most unscrupulous and foulmouthed liars that ever lectured to a public audience. It is almost unintelligible how many intelligent Christians in our day can take side with religious persecution and become parties to this infamy. It is more than surprising, it is deplorable. ‘

The cover of one of William Jarman’s publications
The cover of one of William Jarman’s publications

Jarman had accused the missionaries of abducting females, having killed his son, threatening to cut the throats of apostates, and having dug his (Jarman’s) grave – all false charges, with the son writing to confirm that he was alive and well. Jarman made similar appearances at local venues - and in the Magistrates courts – in Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff, as well as in many parts of England. He reportedly continued his anti-Mormon crusade until his death some 30 years later.

Adolphus D. Bolitho was treasurer of the Swansea Anti-Mormon Association. His occupation in the 1881 census is given as Master Plumber. However in September 1889 on the christening record of his son, he gives his occupation as Anti-Mormon Lecturer, and it appears that for some years he travelled in this capacity. The Cambrian newspaper reported on the 17 May 1889:

'A SWANSEA MAN IN TROUBLE FOR OPPOSING THE MORMONS. – At Manchester, on Wednesday, Adolphus David Bolitho and William Henry Nicholas, members of an anti-Mormon Society, were summoned for riotous and violent behaviour in the Mormon Church, City-road. On Sunday afternoon, May 12th, Nicholas addressing an open-air meeting, incited a crowd of persons to accompany him the same evening to the church and break up the congregation. This was done, and a panic only narrowly prevented. Defendants were most violent in their conduct, Bolitho shouting out that the Mormons were impostors and murderers. Both men were given into custody. In consequence... constables had to be stationed at the church door to maintain order. Defendants were each fined 20s. and full costs.'

In July of that same year, a letter written by missionary Elder Patterson in Sheffield to George Teasdale – then President for the LDS Church in Europe - was printed in the Millennial Star:

The local Anti-‘Mormon’ Society was quite determined in its efforts to overthrow “Mormonism” and for that purpose, about a month ago, imported the anti-‘Mormon’ known as A.D. Bolitho, who tried all in his power to assist the cause against us by holding forth in the streets, denouncing us as murderers, adulterers, liars, etc.; but thanks to our constabulary his proceedings were cut short. He left suddenly and the Anti’s have been unusually quiet since

Brigham Henry Roberts
Brigham Henry Roberts

B. H. Roberts, who would later become Church Historian, was working as assistant editor on the Millennial Star at the time of Jarman and Bolitho’s activity in Swansea. He was asked to assist in counteracting Jarman’s anti-‘Mormon’ propaganda. His debate against Jarman took place in front of an audience of over 3,000 at the Albert Hall. The Western Mail reported that Roberts was ‘not accorded a favourable reception, being greeted throughout with discordant sounds, and occasionally, by some witty and caustic retorts from the galleries.’

The Herald of Wales printed an extensive interview with Roberts, during which he expressed his sympathy for Mr Bolitho: having engaged Jarman to give his lectures, he had discovered that Jarman was essentially too hot to handle. Roberts was confident in saying ‘I think we have made many friends, and have lost none that we previously had.’

The anti-‘Mormon’ agitation in Swansea was short-lived, as Jarman moved on, and there are no reports of Bolitho creating further disturbances locally.  And branch president David Williams evidently shared Roberts’ optimism and confidence when he stated his belief that,

much good will result from the agitation, and many led to inquire into the truths of the message we bear.”