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Sidney Alvarus Hanks

Question: How many years did Sidney Alvarus Hanks serve on a mission to the Society Islands?

Answer: Sidney Alvarus Hanks, son of Benjamin Hanks and Martha Knowlton, was born on August 16, 1820, at Madison, Lake County, Ohio. In his early twenties, Sidney moved away from his home, and upon hearing the Mormon elders preach the Gospel, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Shortly after his baptism, Sidney was directed in a dream to return and visit his home in Ohio. Arriving there, he found a younger brother, Ephraim Knowlton Hanks, who had recently been released from a United States ship of war, was also visiting the old home. Ephraim went to Chicago to get work, while Sidney returned to Nauvoo to labor on the Temple. Not finding his Chicago job to his liking, Ephraim decided to join his brother at Nauvoo. Soon after his arrival in Nauvoo, Ephraim was baptized, and both were thereafter staunch and valiant church workers. Sidney labored on the Temple at Nauvoo until it was finished.

In 1843, Sidney’s older brother, Knowlton F. Hanks, born in 1816, had also joined the Church and at age twenty-seven, was called to serve a mission to the Society Islands. Before leaving, Knowlton was afflicted with consumption, and it was thought that he would recover during the voyage. However, Knowlton did not recover, and he died November 3, 1843 and was buried at sea.

In the spring of 1847, Sidney (age 26) traveled to Utah in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company. They arrived in Utah on July 24, 1847. Sidney was part of the 4th Company of Ten led by Luke Johnson. The following August 26, Sidney left the Valley with President Young and a number of others to return to Winter Quarters to aid the migration the following year. In 1848 Sidney traveled to Salt Lake once again in Brigham Young’s Company. In the distributing of lots for home sites, Sidney located on the east side of what was named the State Road, later as State Street, one and a half blocks south of the Eagle Gate, Salt Lake City, in the Thirteenth Ward.

At the General Conference of the Church held in Salt Lake City in April 1850, Sidney (age 29) was called with others to fill a mission to the Society Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The Society Islands are a group of islands located in the Pacific Ocean and part of French Polynesia. He left Salt Lake City on May 7, 1850. Sidney would serve from 1850 to 1861, a total of eleven years.

The missionaries arrived at Tabuai on Monday, October 21, 1850. There they found Elders James S. Brown and John Hawkins, who most heartily welcomed the new arrivals. Sidney spent the first seven months studying the language, building boats and meeting houses, after which until August 5, 1851, Sidney, with these two brethren visited the branches on Anaa and baptized a number of people.

On August 3, 1851, a conference was held on the island of Anaa, largely attended by about five hundred natives, about two hundred seventy of whom were members of the Church in good standing. After the conference Sidney was kept in the water for about an hour baptizing over seventy people. Among these was a king from the Windward Islands, a new convert.

Sidney was appointed to go to the islands of Takapoto and Takaroa to open the mission effort there. Sidney labored in these far islands for eight years, a greater part of the time alone, and in remote sections of the archipelago out of the usual route of vessels of any kind, doing a mighty work in the conversion of souls to Christ. He was particularly favored with the gift of healing the sick, even to the raising of the dead, and drew many into the Church.

The missionaries on the principal islands had a great deal of trouble with the French governor general who acted as the tool of the Catholic priests, who, with other sectarian priests were doing all they possibly could to hinder and harass the Mormon missionaries and frustrate the efforts of the Elders. This finally resulted in the elders being sent home. Sidney, however, was located on far away islands, beyond the reach of the priests and accomplished a splendid work. He became lost to his brethren and failed to get his release when the others went home, as the release was sent to the wrong island. Sidney served for eleven years, refusing to leave until he was honorably released.

While Elder Hanks was on an island, Penrhyn, which was seldom visited by foreigners, he was without food for five days, when he met a white man who gave him a little to eat. The white man led him to the house of the king whose daughter of fourteen years lay dead and prepared for burial. When Sidney saw her, he dropped on his knees and prayed with great power, and the dead girl was raised to life. Sidney taught the king and the residents of the island, nearly all of whom were baptized. He remained with them for several months, during which time the white man left and went to the island of Takaroa, Sidney’s old field of labor. The man told the story of Elder Hanks on the island of Penrhyn, not knowing he was among Sidney’s friends, who had given him up as lost at sea. Soon Sidney arrived and all were surprised to see him.

Missionaries who would come many years later would report that the natives always spoke reverently of Elder Hanks as they held him with great love and respect. Finally, a release reached him, and Sidney returned home in 1861. There are no known photos of Sidney. His trunk with his personal possessions were stolen while he was serving this mission in the Society Islands.

At age 41, Sidney married Mary Ann Cook on June 7, 1862, in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were married by Bishop Edwin D. Woolley. Mary Ann was the daughter of Benjamin Cook and Mary Jones, of St. John, Worcestershire, England. She was born on June 22, 1830. Their first child, a boy, was born September 11, 1863 in Salt Lake City. He lived only a week. Shortly after this, they went to live on a farm in Wallsburg, near Heber City, Wasatch County, Utah, where their second child, a girl, named Mary Ann, was born on April 19, 1865. Thence they moved to Snyderville, up in Parley’s Canyon in Summit County, where Sidney built and operated a shingle mill. At this place their third child, Lydia Cook, was born, January 21, 1868.

In March 1870, the family again moved, going back to Salt Lake City, to the original homestead on State Street. A short time later, Sidney wanted to visit his relatives living in Heber City, Wasatch County. Before reaching his destination, somewhere in Silver Creek Canyon, he was overtaken by a terrific mountain blizzard. It was six weeks before his body was found. According to his tombstone, Sidney died on March 10, 1870; but he was not buried until April 23, 1870 as his body was not recovered until then. He was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Source: Midway Biographies, Page 657, by Sidney Alvarus Hanks,; “Mission to the Society Islands,’; “Incidents in the Life of Sidney Alvarus Hanks,’ By his daughter, Lydia Hanks Perry;

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