Question: Did Theodore Thurley assist in laying the cornerstones for the Far West Temple?
Answer: Theodore Turley was born on 10 April 1801 in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, to William Turley and Elizabeth Yates. At the age twenty, on 26 November 1821, he married Frances Amelia Kimberly, also of Birmingham. (She bore him ten children before her death in 1847 at Winter Quarters, Nebraska.)
Around 1826 they emigrated to Canada where Theodore worked as a Methodist preacher. In 1837 Parley P. Pratt visited Theodore and taught him the restored gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Theodore “received the truth the first time [he] heard it,” and Elder Pratt baptized him on 1 March 1837.
Following his own conversion Theodore conducted missionary work and “built up a Church of seventeen members in three weeks.” The following year Theodore moved to Kirtland, Ohio, to live amongst his fellow church members, arriving there on 28 July 1838. He then participated in Zion’s Camp and served on the committee to move the Saints to Missouri.
In Far West, Missouri, Theodore assisted in laying the cornerstones for the temple that was to have been built there. However, mob persecution in Missouri soon forced the saints to abandon their settlements, and Theodore was influential in assisting the poor church members move to Illinois. After all the saints had been evacuated, he helped establish the community of Nauvoo, Illinois, the next home for the church, He built “the first house that was built by a Mormon” in Nauvoo.
In 1839 Theodore was sent on a mission to the British Isles. Despite being extremely ill, he accepted this calling and left his wife and six children for the East Coast to obtain passage to England. On the journey there, he and his companions, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, John Taylor, and Reuben Hedlock, stopped at Kirtland to visit the temple and their old homes.
After arriving in Liverpool, England, in January 1840 he attempted to convert friends and relatives in and around his birthplace. Of them he exclaimed: “O!! I desire their salvation, I pray God to give me his Holy Spirit to help me and give them hearts to understand.” But Elder Turley recorded much opposition to the work: “Satan rages amongst the people. They threaten my life; the influence of priest-craft is so great that it makes it hard work.” In Stafford the police even jailed him for more than three weeks for preaching without a license, but he stayed optimistic and prayed to God “to ask according to His will in all things.”
At the conclusion of his mission, he led a group of two hundred English saints back to America aboard the ship North America, embarking from Liverpool on 8 September 1840. After reaching Buffalo, New York, the group split, half of them settling near Kirtland, and the other half journeying with Theodore to Nauvoo.
In 1842 Theodore married Mary Ann Clift; on 6 March 1844 he married her sister Eliza Clift; and on 26 April 1844 he married a third sister, Sarah Ellen Clift. They bore him four, two, and three children, respectively, but all but three of them died in infancy.
Theodore worked as a gunsmith and served in the Nauvoo Legion during this time. In 1846, Theodore moved to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, with his family after the saints had been expelled from Nauvoo. Here he endured great trials as his first wife, Frances, and fourth wife, Sarah, both died in 1847, and his third wife, Eliza, left him with her surviving child. Sarah’s three children and two of Frances’ children also perished here. On 10 July 1849, Theodore, his remaining wife Mary, and six surviving children from his first marriage, embarked for Utah in the Silas Richards Company. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in late October 1849.
Theodore lost his second wife, Mary, in March 1850, leaving him with several children to care and provide for. He married Ruth Jane Giles on 18 June 1850 to help raise them, and she bore two children of her own and adopted a third. The Turleys were then called on a settlement mission to San Bernardino, California. There Theodore worked as town assessor as the community was being established. He also supervised efforts to mine gold in the surrounding mountains, and served as school commissioner and treasurer. His prominence in the community is further evidenced by an Independence Day speech that he was called to give on 4 July 1856.
The following year, however, Brigham Young summoned the entire community back to Utah.
Theodore settled in southern Utah, living first in Washington, then in Beaver. He remained very active in church affairs, and spoke in conferences of the church on numerous occasions.
Theodore Turley passed away at home in Beaver, Utah, from cancer of the mouth on 22 August 1872 and is buried in the Beaver Cemetery.
Source: Excerpts from Theodore Turley, “Diary, 1839-1840,” Vault MSS 129, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University; FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com.