About the Collection
Robert H. Skelton
by Brian A. Warburton
Robert Hodgson Skelton was born on November 28, 1824, in Carlisle, Cumberland, England. He was the son of Thomas Studholm Skelton and Mary Hodgson. Both of his parents died when he was six years of age. He and his brother and two sisters were taken in by his father’s uncle “Who sucoured (sic) us for a season”1 after the children grew older they were apprenticed out “To learn the art of husbandry”2 Robert worked for a Mr. John Wilson of Kirkhampton for seven years. Mr. Wilson was abusive and Robert left his service as soon as he was able. He hired with several other farmers for the next few years. During this time he said “I was much impressed with the idea of religion and the necessity of a change of life and be adopted into the true church of God.”3 He decided to leave England and come to the United States, which he did in October 1848.
The voyage to America took eight weeks on the ship Lord Maidstone and ended in New Orleans. Robert made his way to St. Louis, Missouri, and found a job six miles west of the city, in the town of Gravi. It was at Gravi that Robert first came in contact with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He had been thinking of joining the Methodist Church but one day while walking by the house of Robert Watson, Mrs. Watson called out to him and invited him to come listen to the Latter-day Saint missionaries at their house. This became a life changing meeting for Robert. “ After investigating all the books I could procure; read the Book of Mormon and so powerfully did the spirit of God rest down upon me, that I was quite a changed man and perfectly absorbed in the work…”4 Robert was soon baptized in March 1849 by Elder James Davidson.
Soon after being baptized Robert went to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and joined the Ezra T. Benson Company of pioneers and left for Utah on July 15, 1849. They arrived in Salt Lake City in late October and Robert was assigned to help settle the Tooele Valley, where he began farming and raising stock. On February 3, 1851, he was ordained to the office of Seventy in the LDS church by President Joseph Young. A special conference was called, by the General Authorities of the church, for 28-29 of August 1852. During this conference President Heber C. Kimball read a long list of names of men who were called to serve missions.5 Robert was called to go to Hindustan (India). He left Salt Lake on October 20, 1852, to travel to California and then on to India. The group of missionaries spent several weeks in the San Francisco Bay area trying to earn the money needed to buy their passage to India. They received a blessing when a member of the LDS church, Mr. Horner, who was a rich man, offered to pay the passage. They traveled to India on the ship Monsoon.
The ship arrived in Calcutta, India in April 1853, Where they found the few saints in either a state of apostasy or, at best, struggling to live the Gospel. The Elders were divided up and assigned to their areas; Skelton was assigned to go to Madras with Elder Richard Ballantyne. The ship they traveled on was caught in a severe storm and almost sunk.6 The Elders began preaching and found the other Christian denominations were very opposed to the Mormons and they spread many derogatory rumors about the church. “The pious Christians, look upon us as gross sensualists, and say it is dangerous to their interests, even to associate with us.”7 He was later called upon to preside over the East India Mission and labored for much of this time by himself, as many of the other missionaries were called back to Utah and one missionary apostatized and left on his own. During this solitary time he wrote about becoming acquainted with Brahmin priests and even visiting their temples. Elder Skelton worked hard trying to spread the gospel, “I preach publicly four times in the week: besides twice privately among the soldiers in the fort.”8 He found very small success among the British soldiers stationed at Fort Saint George in Madras; both he and any interested soldiers were heavily persecuted. Skelton was often physically removed from the fort, only to return again. Obviously the work was progressing much more slowly than had been hoped. When Skelton left India to go home he estimated the church had about 61 members in the mission.9
Skelton returned home almost four years later on May 2, 1856 closing the mission as he left. After a journey of six months he arrived back in Salt Lake City on November 18, 1856. Skelton married Eliza Angelina Gollaher on January 17, 1857. They were the parents of twelve children. Robert soon rose to local prominence. He was a member of the Utah Legislature during the winter of 1856-57, and Mayor and City Councilor of Tooele as well as a member of the bishopric of the Tooele Ward. Robert died on February 1, 1895, and was buried on February 2, 1895, in the Tooele, Utah cemetery.
1 Robert Hodgson Skelton, “ Papers 1852-1941,” MSS 1597, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, 1.
4 Ibid., 2.
5 R. Lanier Britsch, Nothing More Heroic: The Compelling Story of the first Latter-day Saint Missionaries in India (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1999) , 9.
6 R. Lanier Britsch, From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia, 1851-1996 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1998) , 19.
7 Skelton, 96.
8 Ibid., 229.
9 Britsch, From the East. 25.
Britsch, R. Lanier. From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia, 1851-1996. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1998.
“The East India Mission of 1851-56: Crossing the Boundaries of Culture, Religion, And Law.” Journal of Mormon History 27 (fall 2001) : 150-176.
Nothing More Heroic: The Compelling Story of the First Latter-day Saint Missionaries in India. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1999.
Deseret Weekly News (Salt Lake City), 9 February 1895.
Esshom, Frank. Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1966.
Orme, Lafayette. “ Tooele’s First Missionary: Robert Skelton.” (Photocopied). In MSS 1597, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
National Historical Record Company. Portrait: Genealogical and Biographical record of The State of Utah. Chicago: National historical Record Company, 1902.
Skelton, Robert Hodgson “Papers, 1852-1941.” MSS 1597, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Tooele County Daughters of Utah Pioneers. History of Tooele County. Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1961.