Esther “Elizabeth” Yardley Thurman Milner


24 Jan 1825 – 29 Sept 1911

Esther is my third great grandmother on my mother’s mother’s side. She was born in Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwick, England. She was the oldest of thirteen children born to Thomas and Mary Rose Yardley and learned early on how to help her mother with the duties of raising a large family, becoming a good cook and pitching in with the housekeeping. While still a teenager, Esther moved to Birmingham to run her uncle’s household.

In Birmingham, she met Thomas Edward Thurman. The young couple married on 6 Nov 1848. The two had heard of the Mormons through visiting missionaries and agreed to attend their services. Legend has it that when Esther heard the hymn “O My Father”, she immediately formed a testimony for the truthfulness of the Mormon church. Esther and Thomas were both baptized on 7 Mar 1849.

The couple had two children, a boy and a girl, but their daughter died just a few weeks after she was born. Shortly after, Thomas himself died of tuberculosis. Esther, forced to make her own way, opened a pastry shop and ran a boarding house. One of her customers was Charles Dickens, who was said to have later portrayed her as a pleasant and plump matron of an inn in one of his novels.

A few years later, on 5 Feb 1853, Esther and her son left England aboard The Jersey and, six weeks later, they arrived in New Orleans, before making their way north to Keokuk, Iowa, a staging ground for immigrant Mormon pioneers. Here, Esther outfitted herself with a riding horse and a cow for milking. It is said she walked the whole way across the plains so her son and others could ride the horse.

While on the journey toward the Utah Valley, she met John Brewitt Milner. The couple married the following spring and settled in Provo, Utah.

They had seven children, including one daughter who died in infancy. Their fourth daughter, Sarah Ann Milner, my second great grandmother, was born on 29 May 1862 in Provo, Utah.

3 thoughts on “Esther “Elizabeth” Yardley Thurman Milner

  1. Peter Sale

    Hi, – Sorry, but it is Tanworth-in-Arden not Tamworth. Confusing I know. One is north of Birmingham, the other South, though there is no in Arden afetr Tamworth.

    Would you know at what venue Esther married Thomas Edward Thurman ?

    TB was rife in & around Birmingham then. Esther’s great niece also died of TB. – A youngish girl died of TB in Birmingham recently, & though a young doctor diagnosed it. he was over ruled & she died. There was no apology. The Health service in Birmingham has alledgedly been in denial concerning this disease for oveer 50 years which might help it to persist, though immigration from areas where TB has not gone away, probably doesn’t help.

    I was pondering what could have persuaded Esther as a widow to emigrate with a youngish child. I would think taking her child to a cleaner environment with less endemic diseases & the support from her church & its members when she arrived were big factors, & with only a sister who might have been close, to leave behind, & of course her parents, who were probably pre-occupied with the younger children.

    Presumably Charles Dickens stayed at her Boarding House when staying in Birmingham ? Otherise I can’t see how they would have met.


    Peter Sale

    1. Brother Von Ward Post author

      Hi Peter:

      Thanks for your comment and correction. As I understand it, back then a part of the proselytizing tract for Mormons was to “gather the Saints in Zion” (what eventually became Utah) in preparation for the imminent End of Days; fortuitous, too, that this movement happened to coincide with the industrial revolution and generally poor living conditions in England, which certainly must account for some of the success Mormons met with that first wave of conversions and subsequent immigrations.

      Yes, I think the family story is that Dickens stayed in her boardinghouse. I haven’t been able to figure out which fictional character in Dickens’s work might have been inspired by her. Any thoughts?

  2. Brother Von Ward Post author

    I did get this reply from Robert Tracy, Dickens scholar and professor emeritus of English at UC Berkeley:

    Mrs. Lupin, landlady of the Blue Dragon inn in Martin Chuzzlewit is “broad, buxom, comfortable, and good-looking . . . comely, dimpled, plump” with red cheeks. She is a young widow, though “not exactly what the world calls young.” However, Chuzzlewit was published in 1843-44, when your ancestress was not yet 20. So I’m skeptical about the association with Dickens.
    Robert Tracy


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