Helen Condie

*This is one of two versions written by Marlene Call Walker. This is the more detailed: for a summary go here.

by Marlene Call Walker

I have loved getting to know my great-great-grandmother, Helen Condie Thackeray.

The lineage of her paternal grandmother, Jean Russell, can be traced back to James I of Scotland and Robert the Bruce, so she has a line that goes to 796 in Hungary.

Thomas Condie, Helen’s father, was born in 1805 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. Helen Sharp, her mother, was born 25 May 1811 in Clackmannan, Clackmannanshire, Scotland. Thomas and Helen were married 21 Aug 1830. My great-great-great grandmother, Helen Condie was born July 24, 1837, the fourth child of this union. Thomas was a miner, which is a story in itself. He was able to quit mining and buy the Crown Inn in Clackmannan, Scotland. Thomas let the Elders, William Gibson and John Sharp, use his inn for church service. Helen Sharp was one of the first to recognize the truth and join the church 1847. However, Thomas at first resisted the teachings of the Elders, even to the point of having his wife leave his house. At that time, Thomas studied the Bible and eventually proved to himself that his Presbyterian beliefs were not correct. The teachings of Isaiah especially made a deep impression on him. Thomas and four of his children were baptized in 1848. The youngest two children, Thomas and Mary, were too young to be baptized.

Thomas was ostracized and lost his business because of his beliefs. The family, together now, fled to Glasgow. Glasgow was a cultural shock for them: the noises, singing, church, and people were very different than in their quiet Clackmannan.

From Glasgow, the family travelled to Liverpool in late 1848. While waiting to board a ship to take them across the ocean, Thomas was cleaning his gun. While he wasn’t looking, little Mary took the cup full of vitriol he was using and drank it. The two eldest children, Janet and Gibson, were immediately sent to find some Mormon Elders. They found Orson Pratt, then President of the Mission. Orson Pratt sent two Elders who administered to Mary. They rebuked the poison and promised her she would live. No sooner had they taken their hands away than she began to vomit and the poison was cast upon the floor. It was so strong that it burned the floor and it took the skin off her throat and tongue. Helen Condie was eleven years old at the time and a witness to this experience.

On January 29, 1849, the family of eight boarded the ship, Zetland, and it sailed off to America and the saints gathered there. Over 360 saints from England and Scotland went aboard. Elder Orson Pratt organized the company of saints with Elder Orson Spencer as President and James Ure and Brother Mitchell as counselors. At first, the ship seemed doomed. The first mate got drunk and the ship nearly sank in the Irish channel. The fireplace caught fire, but after many days they landed safely in New Orleans April 2, 1849. Thomas decided to carry a load off the ship. He fell off the gang plank. No one was around, but he found some hanging rope and pulled himself to safety.

They boarded a steamer and went up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. Then they traveled another seven miles to Grove Diggings in April 1849. There, Thomas and thirty year old Gibson worked in the mines. Thomas purchased two cows for $11. Pork was one cent a pound, sugar five cents and whiskey twenty cents per gallon. In August 28, 1849, while at Grove Diggings, the older sister, Janet, married Joseph Sharp.

Young Helen was introduced to much sickness and death at the time at Grove Diggings: it was an unhealthy place, and cholera was rampant. Little Mary died in 1849. Helen Sharp had a son, their tenth child, Robert. He was born and died in 1849. Helen Sharp later had a miscarriage and came near dying. It took four men to carry here aboard ship on a bed in March 1850 to go to St. Joseph, Missouri.

From St. Joseph, they went by ox team through mud and bad weather to Kanesville where they bought a farm on Mosquito Creek. They planted seeds three times and nothing came up. Orson Hyde, who was presiding over Iowa, called a conference to bless the land from the drought. He wanted the names of the men so he could bless them individually. Before they were finished writing their names, a black cloud appeared and it rained. The men wanted to go home and plant, but they took the time to give thanks. The harvest was good. Thomas and the four children, Gibson, age 15, Helen, age 13, Margaret age 11, and little Thomas each carried the corn on their backs to the mill three miles away to make flour. Then they had to walk home because they had no team or wagon. When the calf they had purchased with their first cow had become large enough to do a little work, Thomas traded the cow for another calf. The calves were broken so they could do some of the farm work. The sale of the grain was not enough for them to travel west and join the saints, so they cut wood and built their own wagon box and a yoke. They then traded meals for the wheels and blacksmithing.

In early 1852, preparation for the journey west was made. Being 13 years old, Helen Condie was lucky: she came west in the Isaac Russell Company and drove a team most of the way. She learned to handle many hard things of her rough life and she built up physical strength. Russell brought the machinery for the first sugar factory.

The family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley September 2, 1852. The Condies established a home on the corner of 1st West and 7th South streets in the Fourth Ward in Salt Lake City.

On April 6, 1853, at the age of sixteen, Helen remembers attending the laying of the corner stone of the Salt Lake Temple. Her father and her brother helped with the ground breaking.

* * *

George Thackeray was the only member of his large family to join the church. He came on the ship, the Ellen Maria, from Liverpool, England in 1851 or 1853. In Salt Lake City, Thomas Condie, George Thackeray, and Gibson Condie were engaged in making adobe bricks to erect the barracks for Johnston army.

George and Helen Thackeray were married 12 May 1855 in the endowment house in Salt Lake City. The couple had four children in Salt Lake, Helen Elizabeth, Martha, George Robert and Thomas.

Brigham Young called them to settle Lost Creek. Thomas Thackeray was only 6 months old when his parents moved. The first winter the snow came early and deep, feed was scarce and many of the cattle starved and those that survived were too weak to get on their feet without assistance. Thomas Condie and Gibson Condie practiced and learned to lift a cow onto its feet. They went on the bare hillsides to pull the dry bunch grass, fill a bed tick and carry it to feed the animals. They walked to Henefer to attend meetings and dances. Thomas Condie walked to Salt Lake City several times to attend lectures.

When residents applied for a post office in 1863, the name Croydon was given to the area. Croydon is about ten miles away from Morgan. The road to the area was very crude and dangerous. They had to cross the river thirteen times to get there. It took a full day to go there and back by oxen. Even as late as 1972, the road to the Morgan are was not in good condition for travel.

Croydon was somewhat isolated from the other settlements. Most of the residents went to Echo to get needed provisions. The received mail three times a week at Walker’s store. Some families traded wood they had harvested to trade for flour. Croydon was organized as a branch Oct. 1863.

In the spring of 1865, the Condies were determined to go back to their home in Salt Lake. The melting snows had increased the waters to overflowing. Their journey via Echo, Coalville, Wanship, Silver Creek and Parleys Park was started. Since there were no bridges then from Croydon to Morgan, teams forded the Weber River 16 times. Gibson tried his team of oxen first breaking the reach. The wagon box, minus the stove and some boxes with 23 year old Thomas were thrown into the river. The oxen were stuck. With time and effort, Thomas was able to get out of the river walk back to camp and he got his team of oxen and climbed on his ox’s back and after much effort, finally pulled the other oxen free. Dick and Lion saved the day.

George and Helen Thackeray’s first home in Croydon was a dugout in the side of a mountain. It was later used as a root cellar. Then, logs were cut and hauled for a one-room house with straw on the floor and a dirt roof over tree limbs. It was so crudely built that they put cow hide on the roof to keep the mud dry so it wouldn’t leak through and wet things. Helen worked with an umbrella on her head. The families had little meat but were healthy on grains, pig weeds, nettles, sego lily bulbs and many other greens. The Indians were many and treacherous and caused them much trouble. Some times they had to flee for their lives.

The women usually had a cast iron pot, frying pan, brass kettle to carry water and to milk the cow, two or three chairs, a home-made bedstead to sustain a tick filled with dry grass or straw, a tin candle stick or tin plate holding a saturated rag in some meat drippings, no machine for washing or sewing, but they made a home. Helen says of the twenty families who lived there, there were no deaths for the first eight years. The Thackerays had 3 children and lost one baby in the years 1865-1870.

Helen was Croydon’s first Relief Society President which was organized by Eliza R. Snow on 14 Oct 1873 with a member ship of 25. Her first counselor was Mary Pennington Hopkins and second counselor. Fanny Jones Swann with Hannah Smith London as Treasurer, Rachael Chapman, quilt supervisor, and teacher, Martha Thackeray. All were related except Sister Hopkins. The Bishop was George Knight there were 25 members who met in her home for the first year. She was Relief Society President for 33 years until 1905. Thomas was Bishop for two years while she was Relief Society Pres.

On March 7, 1873, smallpox came to Croydon. Mary Jane, known as Jennie, was born in 1874. Helen and George Thackeray gathered rocks and built a house of rock which had a store in the front in 1874 with the help of young Thomas. It had 12 inch wide walls and is still in use after many additions and alterations. His father Thomas Condie built a two room log house in 1875. This was added to in 1884 and 1888 and it is still standing

Among the first buildings in Croydon was a church and school house built in 1875. The first school house was built behind where the Croydon Meeting house was later built. The school was one room. They sent east for their pencils, costing about 75 cents a piece. Slates were use for paper. The school was a log building, dirt roof about 18 by 30 feet. This was used as a meeting house, recreation hall as well as school. The benches were made from huge logs flattened and smoothed so they could write on them. The benches were placed along the side of the room. Near it were three walls of a fort. The walls were built of sandstone laid up with mud. School was held a few months of the year. A new schoolroom was built of lumber and shingled roof in 1876.

Helen and George’s ninth child, Howard, was born February 1877. The Croydon Ward was organized July 11. 1877. In 1878 there was a diphtheria epidemic which caused many deaths. A special fast and prayer meeting was held and the disease was abated. Adeline, their tenth child, was born in 1879. In 1880, many cattle died of starvation. The grasshoppers were so numerous that everything green was eaten. They hauled hay from Kaysville, a distance of about 75 miles, at $25 a ton. The white chapel was built 1880, with an iron bell. Their hymnals were words only. Tithing was paid in kind.

In 1883 Helen’s mother, Helen Sharp Condie, died of pneumonia at the age of 72.

In 1885, Helen Thackeray cautioned sisters by saying, “We are living in trying times.” She exhorted the sisters to do their duties and said they were a blessed people, for the destroyer had not been in their midst for a long time. “While in prosperity and peace we should serve God and encourage our daughters not to follow the pride and fashion of the world.” (See An Enduring Legacy, Volume 11, Page 192.)

One of her duties as Relief Society president was to clean the chimneys of the coal oil lamps and light them. It took time to wash and polish them. Helen sent her children to gather wool from the fences and weeds for the Relief Society quilts that they made.

In 1887 at the age of 82 her father, Thomas Condie died. That same year, Helen took up the study of medicine and obstetrics and became the doctor and midwife of Croydon and surrounding communities. A Doctor’s Certificate dated April 6, 1893 was issued to her to practice obstetrics within the Territory of Utah. It is signed by seven of the leading physicians of that time. It was the practice for the physicians to bleed their patients, so the pioneers used home remedies and faith and blessings for healing. Helen was a person sought after for this purpose from the beginning.

1892 was the church’s 50th Jubilee Celebration. In Croydon, it was held in the schoolhouse. Bishop John Hopkins Presiding. Talks were given by President Helen Thackeray and George Knight and others in the morning and afternoon. They held a dance that night and a diner and dance the next night. There were 140 Croydon ward members at that time.

In spite of the hardship and privations of pioneer living, this couple raised nine of their ten children to adulthood. George Robert, their third child, married Annie Elizabeth London and they had nine children, George Robert is my great grandfather. The two younger girls, of the Thackerays, Mary Jane and Adeline, never married. They moved to Denver Street in Salt Lake City in 1905. My husband and I got to visit them. Jennie was a registered nurse while Addie taught school until her retirement. All of these children have been active members of the church and all of them took out their own endowments in the temple, except Adeline.

At the age of 53, George died of influenza March 25, 1890. Three of the children were already married and Thomas married the next year in 1891. In 1905, Helen was released as President after 33 years of service. She moved from the rock house to Salt Lake City to be with her daughters where she worked in the Salt Lake Temple. Howard, Helen’s ninth child moved, into the rock house with the store in the front. When he moved from Croydon to Morgan, the house and store were sold to Joseph E. Rees and Ada Blanche Thackeray, granddaughter of Helen, in 1916. They ran the store until 1932, when the Rees family moved from Croydon to Morgan.

I remember the attic where Grandma Rees kept the remaining unsold goods from the store, especially the buttons and rick rack. Mother went there for buttons for my dresses that she made for me. I save buttons, a practice I got from my grandmother, Ada Rees.

The home was then occupied by Douglas Thackeray and Roy Thackeray. It was sold, and in 1961 all the Thackerays left Croydon.

Helen died November 8, 1929. She was taken back to Croydon, Utah to be in the cemetery next to her husband. Her life has been a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel and one of long hours of untiring service to others and to her family.

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  1. Thank you Marlene Call Walker.
    Its great to read about Grandfather George Robert Thackeray.
    It was my family line that left Croydon 1961. The line of Horace Thackeray son of George Robert Thackeray.
    Another piece of the puzzle put in place.
    Burnett- Son of Ralph, Son of Horace, Son of George Robert thackeray

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