Family history research leads Jill Kirby to Protestant missionary ancestors
“It’s not everybody who has their ancestor on a national postage stamp!” says Jill Kirby. Originally from Southampton, England, she currently lives in Salt Lake City.
While researching her family history, she discovered that not one but two of her ancestors were Protestant missionaries from the London Missionary Society. They were David Jones from Wales, who opened up Madagascar to Christianity, and Jean Le Brun from the island of Jersey, who opened up the island of Mauritius.
Jill’s mother was born in London, but many of her ancestors lived in South Africa. Jill’s grandmother and great-grandmother were both born in South Africa. Her great-grandmother’s father was born in Ireland, but he and his wife went to South Africa in 1849.
In another of Jill’s family lines, William White was born on Mauritius, and his wife was from Somerset, England. William’s father John White was born in Dover, Kent. In 1810, John White was sent to Île Maurice (as Mauritius was called under French rule) with his regiment. Later that same year, the island was taken over by the British. So John stayed in Mauritius and married a French lady, Josephine Elizabeth Mabille.
Josephine was born in Mauritius, but her father, John Joseph Mabille, was from Malplaquet in northern France. As Huguenots, he and his wife, Michelle Richin, left France to escape religious persecution, arriving in Mauritius in 1791. They had 10 children.
Josephine Mabille White had two sisters. Coralie Mabille married the Rev. Jean Le Brun, who became known as the “father of Mauritius.” He had been sent there in 1814 by the London Missionary Society to teach Christianity.
“Jean is credited with helping to abolish slavery on the island and starting its free schooling system,” Jill says. The famous Christian missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who opened South Africa to Christianity, once went to Mauritius and met Jean Le Brun, she notes.
The other Mabille sister, Marie, married David Jones, the first Christian missionary to Madagascar, who also translated the Bible into Malagasy. David Jones’s first wife and child died on Madagascar, so he went to Mauritius, where met and married Marie.
“As a convert to the LDS Church, I have nobody in America, no family,” Jill says. “I love hearing about the pioneers in America, but my family were pioneers in Africa. These were real pioneers to the Dark Continent, as it used to be known. It's fascinating to read the history of David Livingstone and my ancestors and what they endured. None of them had slaves. Jean Le Brun is actually known on the island today for the work he did there.A postage stamp honoring him was issued in Mauritius in 2014. My family just went to Mauritius and walked into a shop and bought a book on Jean Le Brun—there's a whole book on him! They've even got a school today named after him. It's quite fascinating to read about interesting people like this.”
Jill believes that the LDS Church owes a debt of gratitude to the people who opened up Christianity in these areas, where they had to teach them everything, from the ground up. Many of the missionaries who went to Africa and Mauritius and Madagascar were killed.