People say I am much like my father. My posture, my eyes, and my sense of humor have all come from him. But he has also passed on something else—a legacy treasured by seven generations of my family. Let me explain.
On January 20, 1815, my ancestor Thomas (1)* Williams was born at Horncastle, England. His mother died two years later, so he and his three siblings were raised by their father, John Williams. John trained Thomas to be a carpenter, but Thomas aspired to a different career.
A religious revival was then sweeping through England. Preacher John Wesley had split off from the Church of England to form the Society of Methodists, a group that emphasized personal Bible study and evangelism. Wesley’s teachings spread like wildfire, and the Williams family firmly embraced them. Thomas became a Wesleyan preacher and promptly volunteered for missionary work in the South Pacific. In July 1840, he and his bride, Mary, (2) landed at Lakeba Island,* Fiji, a volcanic isle then inhabited by cannibals.
LIVING AMONG CANNIBALS
During their early years in Fiji, Thomas and Mary endured severe hardships. They labored long hours in primitive conditions and tropical heat. They also confronted unspeakable horrors—tribal war, strangling of widows, infanticide, and cannibalism—and the local people generally resisted their message. Mary and her firstborn son, John, fell sick and nearly died. In 1843, Thomas wrote: “My heart was overwhelmed within me. . . . I was on the edge of desperation.” Yet he and Mary persevered, drawing strength from their faith in Jehovah God.
Thomas, meanwhile, put his carpentry skills to good use by building the first European-style house in Fiji. The dwelling featured a ventilated raised floor and other innovations that aroused great curiosity among the local Fijians. Just before the house was completed, Mary gave birth to her second son, Thomas Whitton (3) Williams, my direct ancestor.
In 1843, Thomas senior helped to translate the Gospel of John into Fijian, a task that he found particularly challenging.* He was, however, a gifted anthropologist with keen powers of observation. He carefully recorded his research in his book, Fiji and the Fijians (1858), a classic account of 19th-century Fijian life.
As a result of his 13 years of toil in Fiji, Thomas’ health finally broke down, and he and his family moved to Australia. After a long and distinguished career as a clergyman, Thomas died at Ballarat, Victoria, in 1891.
“GOLD” IN THE WEST
In 1883, Thomas Whitton Williams and his wife, Phoebe, (4) moved their young family to Perth, Western Australia. Their second-oldest child, Arthur Bakewell (5) Williams, my next direct ancestor, was then nine years old.
When Arthur was 22, he sought his fortune at Kalgoorlie, a gold-mining boomtown some 370 miles (600 km) east of Perth. There he read some literature published by the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. He also subscribed to Zion’s Watch Tower. Fascinated by what he read, Arthur began sharing his newfound knowledge with others and holding meetings for Bible study. From those humble beginnings sprang the modern activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Western Australia.
Arthur also told his family about what he was learning. His father, Thomas Whitton, supported Arthur’s association with the Bible Students but died soon afterward. His mother, Phoebe, and his sisters, Violet and Mary, also became Bible Students. Violet became a full-time evangelizer, or pioneer. Arthur said that she was “the finest and the most zealous and earnest pioneer Western Australia produced.” Arthur was probably biased, but Violet’s zealous example greatly influenced the next Williams generation.
In time, Arthur married and moved to Donnybrook, a fruit-growing town in southwest Western Australia. There he was nicknamed “Old Mad 1914!” because of his zealous proclamation of Bible prophecies pointing forward to that year.* The teasing stopped when World War I broke out. Arthur regularly witnessed to customers in a store that he owned, where he displayed Bible literature prominently in the window. The window also displayed a sign that offered 100 pounds to anyone who could prove the Trinity—an unscriptural doctrine that Arthur firmly rejected. No one ever collected the money.
The Williams’ home became a focal point for group Bible study and congregation meetings in Donnybrook. Later, Arthur built a Kingdom Hall, or meeting place, in town—one of the first in Western Australia. Well into his 70’s, he would don a suit and tie, saddle up his old horse named Doll, and go preaching far and wide throughout the Donnybrook district.
Arthur’s children were deeply affected by their father, who was quiet and dignified, yet zealous. His daughter Florence (6) served as a missionary in India. His sons, Arthur Lindsay (7) and Thomas, like their father, served as longtime congregation elders.
SWEET LADY WILLIAMS
Arthur Lindsay Williams, my great grandfather, was known and loved for his kind disposition. He always had time for people and treated them with respect. He was also a champion axman, winning 18 regional wood-chopping events in 12 years.
Arthur, however, was less than impressed when his two-year-old son, Ronald (8) (my grandfather), took an ax to a small apple tree next to the family home. Ronald’s mother carefully bandaged the tree, and it eventually bore apples of exceptional sweetness. Dubbed the Lady Williams apple, the new variety became a forebear of the Cripps Pink apple, one of the world’s most popular apple varieties.
Ronald, or Gramp, as I call him, later turned to more constructive pursuits. He and Grandma served for years as volunteer workers on Witness construction projects in Australia and the Solomon Islands. Now nearly 80 years old, Gramp still serves as a congregation elder and helps to build and renovate Kingdom Halls in Western Australia.
HONORING MY HERITAGE
Following our family legacy, my parents, Geoffrey (9) and Janice (10) Williams, worked hard to raise my sister, Katharine, (11) and me (12) to value Christian principles. At age 13, I made those values my own. While attending a Christian assembly, I heard John E. Barr, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, urge young ones in the audience: “Do not waste the most precious thing you have—the opportunity to know and love Jehovah.” That night I dedicated my life to Jehovah. Two years later, I started pioneering.
Today, I enjoy preaching full-time with my wife, Chloe, in Tom Price, a remote mining town in the northwest of Western Australia. We work part-time to care for our needs. My parents and my sister, Katharine, and her husband, Andrew, pioneer in Port Hedland, some 260 miles (420 km) to the north. Dad and I also serve as congregation elders.
Seven generations ago, my ancestor Thomas Williams determined to serve Jehovah God. That legacy of faith and service has been passed down to me. I feel truly blessed to have such a rich spiritual heritage.
The number corresponds to the individual in the pictures that follow.
Formerly called Lakemba Island, it is located in Fiji’s eastern Lau Group.
Missionary John Hunt translated most of the Fijian New Testament, which was published in 1847. The translation is noteworthy in that it uses the divine name, “Jiova,” at Mark 12:36, Luke 20:42, and Acts 2:34.
See the appendix topic “1914—A Significant Year in Bible Prophecy” in the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses and available online at www.jw.org.