Alexander Lindsay Biography




Alexander Lindsay

Not forgetting his Dear Wife, Our Beloved

Mary Keysell Lindsay


Harold Ansell

(Their son-in-law)

In writing a biography it is the usual thing to make particular note of the birthplace of the individual concerned as it reveals and accounts for many of the characteristics with which we are familiar.

Such is definitely the case with our beloved ancestor – Alexander Lindsay, as he was born in Northern Ireland, which gave him a warm hearted, generous personality, outspoken, a brilliant talker with the Irishman’s proverbial ‘gift of gab’.  However, his name is Scottish, his ancestors having their habitat in Scotland of the Protestant faith, who moved to Ireland, shortly after William of Orange, a Protestant, became King of England, Scotland and Ireland in the eighteenth century. 

Alexander was born August 19, 1856, at Ballintaggart, near Portadown, County Armaugh, Ireland.  His parents owned a farm, which was a mark of distinction in those days, as land was usually under control of the nobility and merely leased to those who operated.

Unfortunately, his parents passed away when he was a small boy, and he was raised and educated by an elder brother, William.

This brother became an officer in the British Army, whose military duties took him to various parts of the British Empire.  WE know that Alexander accompanied him to New Brunswick, Canada, and to the West Indies, as a member of his family.

Alexander thus acquired a taste for adventure, so it is not surprising to learn that in his early youth, when sixteen years old, he joined the British Army himself when under the age limit, which handicap he evidently overcame by a bit of blarney.  While in the service he was assigned to some post in the middle of England, where he met and loved Mary Keysell, a gentle girl, who lived in a very small town – Cleobury Mortimer, near Kidderminster.  She was born June 18, 1856.  They were drawn together by the fact that her parents had also died when she was a little girl and her grandparents took over.  Her Grandfather was a prosperous merchant, so Mary was well educated and lived in comparative luxury, as evidenced by the 18 taffeta silk and heavy satin dresses she took to New Zealand.

However, the romance had hard going because Alexander, as a soldier, was sent to the far reaches of the British Empire.  Among other places, he fought in the Ashanti War in Africa.  Towards the end of his enlistment period, a rumor reached him that Mary was being besieged by another suitor, at which Alexander said: “If anybody is going to marry Mary Keysell, it is going to be me.”  He was soon in Cleobury Mortimer, and by his well-remembered powers of persuasion, he won Mary as his bride, and they were married in this little village November 23, 1876, when they were both twenty years old.

The young couple went to live on the farm near Portadown, Ireland, but found rather meager living and eventually decided to accept a government offer to help colonize New Zealand.  They had to wait a short time for a blessed event – Wilson Keysell Lindsay saw the light of day at Laughgall, near Portadown on August 24, 1878.  At this time, Alexander, with characteristic generosity, deeded the farm, which he had inherited, to his brother William, in recognition of his having reared him. 

When the baby, Keysell, was six weeks old, the little family boarded the sailing vessel “Maravall” for New Zealand.  This was strictly a sailing vessel – no steam power – and took 84 days to reach their destination via the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) and during that time they saw land only once, and poor little mother Lindsay was sick nearly every day!  Father Lindsay showed his ability and usefulness by being placed in charge of the musical entertainment, due to his having been a bandmaster in the Army, and he was also made the medical assistant, during the long voyage. 

After arrival in New Zealand, they lived in Auckland for a while, which is located in the North, or “warm” island, then they went to Ruatongata, then to Kamo, which is about 100 miles north of Auckland, where Walter A. was born August 20, 1880.  After a while the family moved to Otonga East, and lived there 10 years, where Annie Helen, William, Alfred Owen and Mildred were born.

It was then decided to move to the Rama Rama Valley and do some pioneering, which Father Lindsay loved to do.  Four sections of 640 acres were acquired.  Some of it was high ground and arable but much of it had to be cleared, consisting of various types of land, such as big timber, huge fern and shrubs, some jungle and cat-tail swamp.

Soon they had enough land cleared to establish a dairy and stock beef cattle.  The place became known as Towai, Bay of Islands, and here was born Dorothy, Coral, John Edwin, Lionel, Gertrude, and Winnifrede Elizabeth, the latter on February 15, 1903.  Gertrude died October 11, 1901 (2 years old) when accidentally burned due to her playing with matches.

In 1896 an event took place, which had far-reaching consequences for the Lindsay – the Mormon elders arrived there but the people were very bitter against them.  One day two missionaries appeared and asked permission to use the school house for a meeting the following Sunday.  The chairman of the school board was named Lambert and he was brow-beating other members of the school board to deny permission, stating: “No damned Mormon will have the use of the school house.”

Father Lindsay, who was working with the others on the road nearby, heard the altercation and came up to join in the discussion.  He told Mr. Lambert that while he might be chairman of the board, he wasn’t the whole school board, finally saying: “These people have come to us as gentlemen, let us act no less in our treatment of them.”  After further discussion, the other members of the board said: “Well, Alex, if you want them to have the school house, it is all right with us.”   Then Father Lindsay asked the missionaries where they were staying and when informed they had no place, he pointed across the valley to his home and said while he did not care anything about their religion, they were welcome to stay with him.

Later, the family discussed the situation, unfavorably.  Keysell and Walter were particularly upset, indicating the Mormons would be the last church they would ever join.  However, the family decided to attend the Mormon meeting the following Sunday, and when they did something clicked, it was different to the other religions.  They studied the new gospel under direction of the missionaries, and before long they knew it was true, and Father Lindsay, Walter, Helen, William and Alfred were baptized September 18, 1897.  Mother Lindsay and the other children over eight years of age were baptized about a year later, except Keysell, who resisted until July 10, 1899.

Immediately upon joining the church, the family was ostracized by their neighbors and friends, although they had been very popular.  No one came to visit their farm except on business.  This continued for nearly three years and during this time three or four other families joined the church. However, the community missed the leadership of Alexander, who had been bandmaster of the local band and leader in much of the entertainment, and also instructor of many of the bands in the neighborhood.  Also missed was the football playing ability of Keysell and Walt, so eventually the family was again in high standing with their neighbors.  Even though Father Lindsay preached the gospel at every opportunity.  It is significant that when the Lindsays sailed for the United States in 1903, the wharf was packed with their friends to see them off although it had been necessary to travel about 16 miles by horseback or wagon to the railway station, and then an additional 30 miles via train to reach the nearest port.

The Lindsay family left Auckland, N. Z., April 22, 1903 on S. S. Maura for Suva, Fiji Islands, where they arrived April 27, and transferred to a much larger vessel, the S. S. Aurangi, for transportation to Victoria, B. C.  The ship arrived in Honolulu May 6, 1903, where baby Winnifrede, not quite three months old at the time, innocently created quite a sensation and some confusion.  When the American doctor came aboard to check the passengers, the count showed there was one passenger short.  The count was made four times and with the same result.  It was feared a passenger had been lost at sea.  Finally, the missing passenger was discovered to be Winnifrede, lying asleep in her berth.

The Lindsay family arrived in Victoria May 13, which was 21 days after leaving New Zealand; after several days clearing customer and complying with the various governmental regulations they left on S. S. Majestic on May 18, at 8 P.M., arriving Seattle the following morning, thence to Portland via train, arriving La Grande the evening of May 20, 1903, of which event, Father Lindsay wrote in his journal as follows: “In coming down the canyon (from Pendleton) most of the children were disappointed at their surroundings as they were looking for a flat country, but when we got to La Grande and saw the beautiful valley, their disappointment was quickly dispelled.”

They found President Jordan at Alicel, who drove them around the valley in his buggy, and introduced them to President Bramwell at the Round Valley house – “where we were kindly entertained by Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson. Such was our first introduction to the Grande Ronde Valley.” 

Alexander was filled with the spirit of the gospel.  He had explained the gospel to many of the passengers on the ship and distributed many tracts and showed equal zeal in La Grande, so it is not strange that after seventeen months, he was called on a mission to Great Britain, leaving La Grande October 4, 1904, for Salt Lake City, where he was set apart and left there October 20, 1904.  After visiting the World’s Fair at St. Louis, he arrived Boston, Mass., and sailed from there October 26, 1904 on S. S. Winifredian – 6816 tons, for Liverpool.

The well-being of his family was ever in his mind, as witnessed by this quote from his journal, November 2, 1904: “We are now about seven hours ahead of La Grande time, and I frequently look back and try to imagine how my dear ones are getting along and what they are doing, praying that all may be well with them **** they are talking of taking a group picture of our company – 34 elders for Great Britain and the European mission.”

November 4, 1904:  “I came on deck this morning at 2 A.M. and found the Irish coast close by.  Brother Brown later drew my attention to the green on the hills – this was my native land, after an absence of 26 years, how I wished mama was with me to enjoy this sight.”

Elder Lindsay was promptly assigned to the Irish mission, along with Elder Roy Passey, arriving at Belfast, Nov. 6, 1904, which city had a population of 386,000 people.

To further quote from his journal – Nov. 8, 1904, after recording that he had been sent to Portadown, near his birthplace:  “Had quite a long talk with my brother William on the gospel and think I made an impression for good.  The old home is wonderfully improved in every respect, the house is nice and comfortable, and the ground is tilled to perfection, **** such is my arrival in the home of my childhood **** may God bless my loved ones and protect them from harm is my constant prayer.”

Nov. 30, 1904:  “Distributed 204 tracts *** Saw my sister – (Mrs. Nugent) *** came home and had a fresh herring for dinner, the first for 26 years, it was a great treat.  I wished that mama was with me to also enjoy it.”

Dec. 10, 1904:  “My companion and I are fasting for two days to prepare us for administering to the sick, and that the Lord may open the way that we may gain access to the people to preach the Word to them.”

Jan. 12, 1905:  “We came to the lodge where our meeting was to be held and found a lot of people assembled a half-an-hour before the time set for the meeting.  We sang a song, “Love at Home” and I spoke to them about New Zealand until time of our service, when I found to my great joy that the room was quite full – about sixty people had gathered to hear the men from America speak on the Gospel.”

Feb. 8, 1905:  “I visited my sister – she is the same good, humble, kind sister, she is interested in the Gospel and is half-way through the Book of Mormon.”

Feb. 15, 1905:  “I again visited my sister and on the way back met my brother William and walked with him as far as Stanleys.  He is as hardheaded as ever, but I think not as bitter against me.  I told him I hoped he would see Mormonism some time, and he said – ‘Never in this world’ and I told him—he would in the next.”

The above excerpts are typical of entries from his journal which tell of his enthusiasm for the work he was doing which culminated in baptismal services Dec. 10, 1905:  “I had the privilege of baptizing four honest souls, my sister being among the number.  They were all my converts from Portadown and great cause for rejoicing.  I baptized them in the following order: Mr. Lonsdale, Mrs. Lonsdale, Mrs. Nugent and Mrs. Vennard.” 

Just prior to this time, he visited Scotland, seeing the sights of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Loch Lomond, etc.

TRANSFERRED TO ENGLAND – President Heber J. Grant transferred Alexander Lindsay to England in December 1905 being assigned to the Birmingham Conference, where he arrived Dec. 16, and he immediately arranged for a visit to Kidderminster, his journal for Dec. 19, reading:  “This morning I pulled out for Cleobury Mortimer, arriving about noon. What memories came back to me, all trending towards my dear wife, who is so far away. *** I was impelled to see Will Hartland, and what was my surprise when a lady came to the door, and it was my long lost sister Nellie.  I knew her in a moment and inquired if I could see Mr. Hartland, and she asked me in.  After fooling her for a few moments I made myself known and then we had a time of rejoicing.  No one can comprehend the pleasure in meeting my lost sister-in-law for she is more to me than any of my own blood, for mama’s people are my people.  It is my prayer that I may be the instrument in the hands of the Lord to lead her and her dear ones to the perfect light of everlasting truth.”  (This refers to Nellie Keysell Hartland—younger sister of Mary Keysell Lindsay.)

After Christmas, he was asked to establish himself in Birmingham where the Church had a flourishing branch and he immediately was much in demand for preaching and contacting many of the investigators, who had been somewhat hesitant about joining the Church.  (This can be attested by the compiler of this biography, as he was living there at that time, and can bear witness of his great success and popularity.)  From his journal May 6, 1906:  “This morning we all started to the Dudley baths *** we all were very happy as 19 souls were baptized into the fold.”

May 7, 1906:  “We went to Blackheath where the people were giving Elder Poulton a farewell testimonial.  When he introduced me, he said: ‘You will now hear from your favorite Elder – Alex Lindsay’, which the people greeted very heartily.”

May 20, 1906:  “After passing the sacrament, Pres. Harwood said: ‘Elder Lindsay, I want you to speak for an hour.’  I smiled and said I would do my best but not guarantee any time.  However, I spoke for an hour and five minutes, and think I gave satisfaction.  Pres. Harwood said he liked that *** ‘the last time you only spoke for 55 minutes.’”

In September Elder Lindsay visited Stratford-on-Avon and saw Shakespeare’s birthplace and other points of interest. Also visited Blackpool, a famous seaside resort, north of Liverpool.

To quote again from his journal:  Sept. 30, 1906:  “After Sunday School, we all went to the Turkish baths, and there I baptized eight of my converts, and my companion, Elder Blake, baptized six, making fourteen admitted to the fold of Christ.”  Among those baptized were Ellen Keysell Hartland, so his prayer to be the instrument in bringing her into the church, as mentioned by him in December was fulfilled.  He also baptized her sisters-in-law, Maggie Hartland and Annie Hartland, along with Hannah, Francis Charge, Ida Mary Charge, Kate Smith and Annie Bowers.

October 19, 1906:  “I have received notice of my impending release.  I can truly say I have never had such kindness shown me in all my life.  Brother Ernest Cooke, in a very neat speech, presented me with a beautiful diamond scarf pin and I responded, at a social gathering.  Just as I finished, Sister Salt fainted.  She had been worked up and was not very strong and the excitement was too much for her, but she soon recovered.”

October 21:  “Went to Sunday School.  When we settled in our classes, I was surprised to see Brother Harold Ansell arise and begin a speech to me in behalf of his companions in the class, and then presented me with a very neat dressing case.  I was truly overcome with surprise although I new the boys and girls loved me.  I thanked them for their kind thought and gave them some counsel regarding their future.  We were all affected, the tears running freely.”

October 21, 1906:  “My last meeting with the saints and friends of Birmingham, many had come all the way from Smethwick to see and hear me for the last time.  *** I preached the most powerful sermon I had ever done and when I began to bid the saints farewell, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.”

October 23, 1906:  “Well, the time came when I had to part from all my dear good friends of Birmingham, many of whom were at the station.  How bad I felt at leaving all these good people *** train pulled out leaving them all in tears.  Truly I gained the love of these people – they had been extremely kind to me all through my mission.”

In his journal, Father Lindsay kept a record of his activities, month by month, and recapitulation shows that he distributed nearly 10,000 tracts, visited 2400 strangers in their homes, and held 1640 gospel conversations with non-members which, of course, was outside of his valuable work with members of the Church.

He boarded the splendid S. S. Oceania on October 24, 1906, and arrived New York October 31, where he visited with relatives for several days in several nearby cities, such as Schenectady, Amsterdam and Troy, before departing for the West. 

There was naturally great rejoicing when Father Lindsay returned to La Grande after an absence of more than two years.  He found that the family had prospered while he was doing the Lord’s work, as besides maintaining him on the mission, a new home had been built on the mountain ranch, under the management of William, who had given up two years of his college life to take care of the ranch, with financial help from the other boys.  Later, Father Lindsay bought a valley place also, to facilitate the children going to school and also for feeding of the stock in winter.

Shortly after he returned home, Father Lindsay was called to be a Home Missionary, (similar to what is now known as a Stake Missionary) and was much in demand as a speaker throughout the Union Stake, which in those days embraced a wide territory, as it included Emmett, Idaho, and the John Day country.  When his term expired, he was appointed President of the Union Stake Religion Class and occupied that position until that organization was abandoned by the church in favor of the Seminary movement.

Mother Lindsay was also active in church work and for twenty years was in the Stake Presidency of the Union Stake Primary Association, being first counselor to Ellen Stoddard, and with Aurelia Nibley as second counselor.

No couple was more loved, honored and respected than Father and Mother Lindsay in the Grande Ronde Valley where they spent all the remaining years of their life.  One of their highlights was the celebration of their Golden Wedding Anniversary at La Grande in 1926, attended by all the children and grandchildren.  Printed program of this occasion was again distributed at the annual meeting of the Alexander Lindsay Genealogical Society last year at La Grande.

Father and Mother Lindsay spent the winter several times in Salt Lake City renewing friendship with the church members and missionaries whom they knew in New Zealand, and also doing temple work which they enjoyed very much.

Father Lindsay passed away at La Grande, December 16, 1930,and Mother Lindsay March 8, 1936.