Between 1840 and 1890, approximately 335 organized companies carried more than eighty-five thousand Latter-day Saints by sea to the United States from around the world.1 Remarkably, only one of these vessels, the Julia Ann, was shipwrecked and Mormon passengers drowned. A reporter for the San Francisco Herald, upon hearing an eyewitness narrative of the wreck wrote that it exhibited “a picture of suffering, privation and distress seldom equalled in the annals of maritime disaster.”2 The following is an account of that voyage, a look at the lives of the Mormons aboard, and a description of the ordeal that followed the shipwreck.
Australia accounted for less than 1 percent of the total worldwide Mormon migration. The first group of twenty-nine converts, under the direction of Elder Charles Wandell, left Sydney on 6 April 1853, bound for San Francisco.3 By January 1854, mission president Augustus Farnham and his first counselor William Hyde had set about securing a vessel for the second company to leave for Zion in April. An agreement was reached in the weeks following with Benjamin Franklin Pond, part owner of the relatively small 372-ton American barque, the Julia Ann, skippered by Captain C. B. Davis of New Bedford, Massachusetts.4 The fare per adult was twenty-four pounds sterling, quite expensive considering wages at the time.5 Elder John Perkins, for example, worked as a storekeeper in Sydney and earned two pounds five pence per week.6
The first company of Mormons to sail on the Julia Ann left Newcastle, New South Wales, 22 March 1854, for San Pedro, California, under the charge of Elder William Hyde.7 The vessel made exceptional time for the first leg of its journey, but the latter part became “protracted and tedious” after the ship encountered a “succession of head winds for some fifty days.”8 To replenish supplies, stops were made at Huahine, an island northwest of Tahiti, and again at Hawaii. Periods of seasickness, an outbreak of measles, and the death of a Sister Esther Allen following the birth of her child were the low points of the passage, which lasted eighty-three days. Despite these difficulties, Elder Hyde was impressed by the accommodations, crew, and sailing qualities of the vessel, remarking that “the officers generally have shown us every kindness I could reasonably look for.” After arriving at San Pedro, Hyde wrote to President Farnham with the news that the Julia Ann would soon be back in Sydney, stating that “should there be a company of Saints in readiness I do not think the chances will be very frequent for finding a vessel on this trade, where the same number of passengers can be accommodated.”9 Captain Pond was likewise impressed with the orderly conduct of the Saints and sent word to Farnham, “[I] should be glad to make another passage engagement with you, and hope that another trip may prove more expeditious and successful than our last.”10
President Farnham contacted Captain Pond upon his return with the Julia Ann but found not as many members were ready to make the voyage as previously expected.11 When the vessel sailed, only twenty-eight of the fifty-six passengers were Latter-day Saints: John S. Eldredge, age 34, and James S. Graham, both returning American missionaries; John Penfold, Sr., in charge of the company, and Elizabeth Penfold, his wife; Peter Penfold, 24; Stephen Penfold, 19; John McCarthy, 25; Andrew Anderson, 44, and Elizabeth Anderson, his wife, 44, with their children Jane, 19, Agnes, 17, Alexander, 14, Marion, 10, and James, together with three other children not named; Eliza Harris, 30, and her children Maria, 2, and Lister, 6 months; Martha Humphries, 43, and her daughters Mary and Eliza and son Francis; Charles Logie and his wife and child; and Brother Pegg.12
Although the party was a small one, several members had played important roles in the history of the Church in Australia. Andrew Anderson, his wife, and three children arrived in Sydney on 6 October 1841, as the first known Mormon family in Australia.13 The only active Mormon to precede them was William James Barratt, who arrived in Adelaide, South Australia, November 1840.14 Elizabeth Anderson was baptized in Edinburgh, Scotland, in September 1840 by Orson Pratt.15 Andrew was also baptized by Elder Pratt, most likely at the same time as his wife. After arriving in New South Wales, the family moved inland to Wellington, 240 miles from Sydney, where Andrew worked as a shepherd for Robert Howe, who had assisted in paying the family’s passage from Scotland in exchange for a year’s labor at moderate wages.16 Considering his situation, Anderson was a remarkable missionary in the Wellington district. He traveled extensively, held meetings, and despite the threat of expulsion from the area managed to organize the first branch of the Church in Australia in late 1844.17
Eliza and Edmund Harris were among the half-dozen documented Mormon families to arrive in Australia before the full-time missionaries in late 1851. They were “rediscovered” in May 1852 after reading an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in defense of Mormonism by Elder Charles Wandell. Eliza made a plea to the elders in Sydney for any Latter-day Saint literature, stating, “I care not what I pay for [it],” and requesting the elders to be sent to their home in Maitland as soon as possible.18 Although very poor, Edmund and Eliza were instrumental in introducing and setting up meetings for the first missionaries in the remarkably successful Maitland area. The majority of the first company of sixty-three converts who sailed on the Julia Ann in 1854 were from the Maitland district. Edmund Harris did not travel with his wife and children on the second, and fatal, voyage of the Julia Ann, in which his wife and son were drowned. He had planned on making the trip, but the recent news that assistance could no longer be given through the Perpetual Emigration Fund probably forced him to remain in order to save enough to pay his fare with the following company.
John McCarthy and John Jones were the missionaries sent to open the Maitland area as requested by the Harrises. McCarthy stands out as one of the greatest local converts to emerge from the Australian mission. Born in Ireland and raised in a staunch Catholic family, he began studying to be a priest at an early age. He had a brief encounter with Mormonism while at school and later dropped out of the Catholic church. For this he was disinherited by his parents and “punished for his rebellion. He was placed in a dungeon with skeletons; a horsehair coat, which had been dipped in lime, was placed upon him, and the punishment was so severe from this treatment, that he carried flesh wounds from it for the rest of his life.”19 With the help of a friend, he escaped and boarded a ship as a stowaway. His adventure eventually brought him to Sydney, where he listened to the preaching of Elders John Murdock and Charles Wandell. After his baptism in May 1852, at the age of twenty-two, McCarthy was set apart within the month as a traveling elder to Maitland, where he excelled as a missionary. In the following years, he traveled extensively throughout New South Wales, and he was the first elder to proselyte in what is now Queensland.20 Accounts of his great faith and ability to heal the sick are among the very few existing credible miracles documented in Australia. The following was recorded by Charles Wandell and later published in the Western Standard at San Francisco in 1856 by George Q. Cannon:
As Elder McCarthy was proceeding to the water at Williams’ river to baptize brother Bryant and household; his wheat, being just ready for the sickle was set on fire by the carelessness or malice of a neighbor. The brethren hastened to the spot as quickly as possible. The fire raged fearfully. There was no help, but from God; and the Elder prayed to God to quench the fire; when to the astonishment of the spectators, the fire went out apparently of itself in less than five minutes. What is not the least remarkable, Elder McCarthy, when he rebuked the fire, he went directly into it; and although the flames reached above his head, yet even his clothes were not scorched, neither was the smell of fire found upon him.
These facts were testified to the writer by brothers Bryant’s and Stapley’s families and others, not less than a dozen persons in all.21
Wandell also reported an account by Martha M. Humphries, who wrote that she was “raised from a bed of severe fever,” through the ministrations of John McCarthy at the time of her baptism, 17 December 1853: “I was taken from my bed, against the remonstrances of my physician, who threatened elder McCarthy with prosecution if I died, and was placed in a carriage and taken more than a mile to the water and baptized, and walked home well. I was healed by the power of God.”22
John Penfold, Sr., was appointed by Australian Mission President Augustus Farnham to take charge of the company of Saints leaving on the Julia Ann. He and his family had been baptized by Elder William Hyde on 15 August 1853 in Clarence Town. Three months later the Clarence Town Branch was officially organized, and in accordance with the wishes of the Saints, John Penfold, Sr., was appointed to preside.23 Charles Logie and family were members of the Sydney Branch. He was an experienced seaman, and signed on in Sydney as one of the crew of the Julia Ann and helped load her with coal.24 American Elders John Eldredge and James Graham had arrived in Sydney on 9 April 1853 and were appointed to travel together in the districts of Camden and Penrith in New South Wales. They were returning to Utah after completing successful missions.25
After a final farewell from the Saints in Sydney, the Julia Ann with fifty-six souls and a 350-ton load of coal left Sydney Heads at 2:00 p.m., 7 September 1855, bound for San Francisco.26 As the voyage began, the passengers gathered between the poop and steerage house to sing “The Gallant Ship Is Under Weigh,” but the thought of leaving friends and familiar surroundings for an uncertain future made the departure a more solemn occasion than joyous for many. Most of the adults had traveled from the British Isles to Australia and knew from prior experience the perils of the sea. Cramped quarters, poor food, and months of boredom awaited them, and the cool sea breeze rekindled these memories and created a chill of apprehension and anxiety. Andrew Anderson, upon leaving, commented that the song sounded “more like a funeral hymn than on the occasion it was.”27 Captain Pond expressed the same sentiments in his retrospective account: “The day seemed very unpropitious and gloomy and before our anchor was weighed it commenced blowing and raining, and in getting out of the harbor we met with very many annoying accidents.”28
Nonetheless the converts on board felt God’s church had once again been restored to the earth and were determined to gather and contribute in its restoration. This conviction overshadowed all their fears, as expressed in a letter Martha Humphries wrote to her mother before leaving on the Julia Ann:
and now my dear mother, I will answer that question you put me, of when, are we going. . . . We leave Australia with all its woes, and bitterness, for the Land of Zion next April . . . perhaps you will say, I am building on worldly hopes, that never will be realized, not so, Mother . . . knowing what I know, I tell you, if I knew for a positive certainty, that when we get there, persecutions, such as have been the portion of the saints before, awaited us, I would still insist upon going, what are a few short years in this present State, compared with Life Eternal.29
Rough weather and strong head winds during the first two weeks caused considerable sickness and generally made the passage “altogether exceedingly unpleasant.”30 Many were unable to keep their first few meals down. After they cleared the New Zealand coast and entered the south-east trades, the weather turned fine, and they began to expect a quick voyage. Meetings were held regularly, and at night there was singing and prayer. After twenty-six days at sea, the Julia Ann continued “getting on with good wind,” and aside from seasickness the voyage was a complete success with talk of soon arriving in San Francisco.31
On the evening of 4 October 1855, Sydney time (3 October international time), Captain Pond had been on the lookout for low land all day and appeared anxious and apprehensive. The general area of the Scilly Isles was “a very dangerous locality for navigators.”32 Many of the reefs were incorrectly recorded on the charts, and “an extra press of sail” had been carried with the hope of clearing certain dangerous reefs before nightfall. Knowing land was nearby and expecting to pass between Mopelia and the Scilly Isles, Pond had posted a watch in the foretop. The wind was blowing free, and according to John McCarthy’s report the barque was making eleven and one-half knots per hour. At 7:30 p.m., the sea became broken. At sundown no land could be seen, and the Captain presumed he was at least sixteen miles past any land. At eight o’clock, after a nerve-racking day, Captain Pond decided to go below and get some rest. Before retiring he gave the order to chief officer Coffin to relieve Charles Logie, who had been at the helm since six o’clock. This was a customary precaution always taken by Pond “when in the vicinity of reefs or islands.”33 Coffin was an experienced seaman and whaler who had commanded several vessels for himself and others. After giving Coffin the course he had been steering, Logie also went below to rest as he was off duty until midnight.34
By this time many of the children were asleep below while the majority of adults were out in the general area of the steerage house and poop deck. The night was dark with neither the moon nor stars visible. Soon after 8:30 p.m. an alarming cry of “Hard down the helm!” was heard, and the Julia Ann, with a tremendous crash that sounded like thunder, smashed head-on into a coral reef.35 The bottom of the vessel could be heard to “grate harshly on the rocks,” leaving a gaping hole and lifting the bow of the ship high out of the water.36 The stern of the ship “immediately swung around with her broadside” pressed hard up against the reef, “the sea [making] a complete breach over her at every swell.”37 Pond wrote, “I sprang to my feet, but my heart failed me, as I was nearly thrown upon the floor of the cabin by the violent striking of the ship, and before I could reach the deck, she was thumping hard.”38 Peter Penfold and others were singing on top of the midship house at the time of impact and, finding it too dangerous where they were, headed for the cabin. According to Penfold, “[T]he sea [was] breaking over us every moment, so that it was a thing impossible to stand.”39
Captain Pond remained below momentarily to pick up his nautical equipment and soon after was on deck, only to be met by the stark realization that there was no hope of saving the vessel. Esther Spangenberg, a young non-Mormon passenger, recollects that “his chief desire seemed to be to save the lives of the passengers and crew.”40 All passengers were ordered to head for the aftercabin, and indescribable confusion immediately followed as the steerage passengers rushed into the cabin, “mothers holding their undressed children in their arms, as they snatched them from their slumbers, screaming and lamenting.”41 When the women asked the officers what they should do, they were told to cling to whatever they could, but this in itself was no easy task. As Captain Pond recalled, “the vessel was laboring and thumping in a most fearful manner, and it was almost impossible to cling to the iron railing upon the quarter deck.”42 Miss Spangenberg described her attempt to reach the cabin in these terms:
I managed to reach the deck, and wedged myself between the bittheads, clinging to the iron railing. I looked over ship’s side, but could see nothing but the breakers, which struck the ship with tremendous force. The rudder was broken, and the spanker-boom swinging to and fro, struck me severely in the head, while at the same time I narrowly escaped being swept overboard by a huge wave. I looked on death as certain, but I resolved to meet it bravely, and I returned to my state-room to devote the remaining moments of my life in thinking of friends whom I loved, and that I should never see more.43
John McCarthy recalled, “I saw mothers nursing their babes in the midst of falling masts and broken spars, while the breakers were rolling twenty feet high over the wreck.”44 Andrew Anderson, his wife, and Sisters Harris and Logie were below in the steerage at the time of impact. By the time the Andersons could get four of their younger children out of bed, water was knocking about the boxes. Anderson’s leg was bruised badly by a large box that hit him. With considerable difficulty they made it to the aftercabin.45
Many passengers were still clinging to the poop deck. The bashing from the waves was too much for young Mary Humphries and ten-year-old Marion Anderson. Both were washed off the poop deck into the foaming surf shortly after the ship ran aground and seen no more. Elizabeth Anderson and her husband tried frantically to gather all their children together but in such conditions found it physically impossible to account for eight children.46
The Julia Ann was not sinking but breaking up on the rocks from the continual pounding of the waves. The vessel had precariously fallen over on its seaward side and was jammed hard up against the reef. Although fearful that the ship could break up at any instant, Captain Pond wisely delayed briefly before cutting away the masts and kept the sails up, trying to force the ship as high as possible onto the reef. There was no time to lower boats as the sea had torn them from the davits, and at any rate they were useless in the surf and rocks.47 As the last boat “broke adrift . . . and plunged headlong into the sea.”48 Second Mate Owens and three or four other crew members courageously leaped in after it, only to be catapulted into the reef along with the boat by a large wave. Owens suffered serious injuries and for a time lay incapacitated but soon after continued in his efforts to help others from the wreck.
All were fully aware the ship was going to pieces and, as there was no land in sight, Pond called for a volunteer to attempt to swim to the reef and find a firm footing. Posthaste a crew member stripped and by the aid of the spanker boom and expert swimming managed to fasten a rope to a rock upon the reef, by which the captain hastily began sending the women and children to relative safety. “The process was an exceedingly arduous one, and attended with much peril,”49 but with no other options available the struggle continued. During this time the passengers were forced to remain collected in the aftercabin, a chaotic haven at best, considering the description given by Esther Spangenberg:
When I reached the cabin, the scene that presented itself to my view, can never be erased from my memory. Mothers screaming, and children clinging to them in terror and dread; the furniture was torn from its lashings and all upturned; the ship was lying on her beam ends; the starboard side of her was opening, and the waves were washing in and out of the cabin.50
The passengers were forced to remain in the cabin until their names were called. Then each attempted to make it to the reef by the rope. The rocks proved to be a poor sanctuary, for not a dry spot was to be found as the sea broke over the reef continually. Captain Pond had given his quadrant, nautical almanac, and epitome to the first man to go to the reef, making it clear that if anyone did survive the night their continued existence depended upon the preservation of these articles. Pond recollects that upon reaching the reef “the man was required to do nothing, but to watch over the safety of those precious articles, to us far more valuable than gold.”51 The captain’s presence of mind in saving this equipment later proved crucial.
Esther Spangenberg remembered her ordeal in getting to the rocks:
The Captain and officers had great difficulty in persuading the greater number of the ladies to [try to escape on the rope]; as for myself, I considered to remain on the ship was sure death, and I might save my life by trying to reach the reef by means of the rope. I therefore bade my fellow passengers farewell, and reached the deck by swaying myself there with a rope, the steps being gone. . . . I was assisted over the side of the ship, by some of the crew, and directed how to haul on by the rope; when, after considerable difficulty, I reached the reef, my clothes torn in shreds, and my person bruised and mangled. But I was fortunate in escaping, even in that plight.52
A number of women and children still remained below and were being helped up onto the poop deck by a few men. Two of the women, Eliza Harris and Martha Humphries, were without their husbands, who had intended to follow them in the next company. Eliza Harris had two children to fend for, her six-month-old son Lister and her two-year-old daughter Maria. She was no match for the conditions. She bravely strapped her son to her breast in readiness to go to the rocks. But before she could begin, a cry was heard, “hold on all!” and “an awful sea struck the ship, tearing up the bulwarks, threatening death and destruction to every thing within reach. A fearful shriek arose from the cabin.”53 The Julia Ann had broken in two across the main hatch. The forward part of the cabin had been smashed in, and the starboard stateroom completely washed away. Eliza Harris, with her boy in her arms, hardly knew what hit her and was engulfed amid the waves and debris of the wreck. Both were drowned. Also in the cabin was forty-three-year-old Martha Humphries, who just before drowning requested of her friends to “protect her children and convey them to Great Salt Lake City, for her earthly career was run.”54 Peter Penfold recalled that after helping the remaining women and children out of the cabin, he climbed up from below and “found the vessel all broken up into fragments except the cabin, and into that the water was rushing at a furious rate, sweeping out all the partitions.”55
One man abandoned his wife and six children and went alone to the rocks. The Captain, feeling there was “no hope [that] the children” could make it across the hauling line alone, implored the mother to save her own life, but she could not bring herself to let her children face death alone, and remained. When her husband reached the rocks, the crew realized that he had deserted his family, and “they threw him back into the sea; the next wave, however, washed him up, and they permitted him to crawl to a place of safety.”56 A seventeen-year-old mother and her husband courageously strapped their baby to his back and struggled together to the reef with the aid of the rope.57 Captain Pond displayed his true colors and high moral character throughout the ordeal by ordering Second Mate Owens, who was about to carry eight thousand dollars belonging to the captain to the rocks, to carry a small girl to safety first. This was done, and “the child was saved, but the money was lost.”58 The rope soon parted, leaving the captain on board “to what appeared inevitable destruction.” He recounts:
There was no confusion: up to the last all were subservient to my orders. But the scene rapidly drew to a crisis.
The vessel had fallen off the reef to more than double her former distance; the rope attached to the rocks was stretched to its utmost tension, the hauling line had parted for the third time; the crew were all on the reef, and after repeated efforts to join us, the attempt was abandoned. At every surge of the sea, I expected the vessel would turn bottom up. . . . I urged those remaining to try to get to the reef, on the rope, before it parted—it was a desperate, but only chance for life. The women and children could not, and the men shrunk from the yawning gulf as from certain death.59
As no more passengers would leave the ship, Pond and Coffin in a last ditch effort to save their own lives threw themselves upon the rope. Nineteen passengers still remained on what was left of the ship, unable to make it safely to the reef: “parents and children, who preferred death sooner than separation from each other.”60
The Anderson family were one of two families still on the wreck, and mother Elizabeth was determined not to leave until she had all her children. Seventeen-year-old Agnes Anderson had escaped to the reef, while the rest of the family remained on board. Captain Pond recorded the following touching scene:
The hauling line had parted, the forward part of the ship had broken up, and no hope remained for those who were yet clinging to the quarter deck; but above the roar of the breakers and shrieks of despair, a mother’s voice was heard, crying “Agnes, Agnes, come to me.” Agnes was seated on the wreck of the main mast, that had floated upon the reef, but no sooner did she hear that mother’s piercing wail, than she sprang to her feet, threw her arms up, shrieking “mother! mother! I come, I come,” and plunged headlong into the sea. A sailor was fortunately near, seized her by the clothes and drew her back again. . . . The mother said she felt as though she wanted Agnes with her and then all would die together.61
Around 11:00 p.m., “just as their last hopes were dying out,” the vessel broke into pieces, and “a heavy sea striking her” carried the quarterdeck high upon the rocks.62 When the vessel finally split in two, the cargo of coal immediately sank and miraculously the part of the vessel on which the passengers clung was carried upon the rocks and “in consequence most providentially saved.”63
The whole ordeal had lasted nearly three hours. Bruised, with lacerated arms, hands, feet, and numerous other injuries, the fifty-one surviving men, women, and children waited for the dawn. Many were sitting on parts of the broken masts and others on pieces of the wreck. Peter Penfold records they spent a dreadful night “up to the waist in water.”64 They were stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, uncertain of exactly where they were, and all conceded there was no chance of survival on the reef for any extended amount of time. The chance of being rescued by a passing ship was almost nonexistent as they were miles off course and in dangerous water.
Pond wrapped himself in a wet blanket he had found among the floating spars and climbed into the battered boat, where he sat waist-deep in water. According to his later account,
Though death threatened ere morning’s dawn, exhausted nature could bear up no longer, and I slept soundly. ’Twas near morning when I awoke. The moon was up and shed her faint light over the dismal scene; the sullen roar of the breakers sent an additional chill through my already benummed frame. The bell at the wheel, with every surge of the sea, still tolled a knell to the departed, and naught else but the wailings of a bereaved mother broke the stillness of the night, or indicated life among that throng of human automata; during the long hours of that weary night the iron had entered their souls, and the awful solemnity of their situation was brooded over in silence.65
Esther Spangenberg recalled the night in similar terms:
I cannot help but return thanks to Him who rules the sea and land, for His mercy and kindness to me and others, in first rescuing us from a watery grave, and afterwards sustaining us through that night of horrors. Imagine our situation, the water above our knees, standing on a sharp reef, with the tempest howling above us, the sea washing and roaring like a lion for his prey at our feet, cold, naked and dispirited, women lamenting, children crying, and none of us certain but the next moment would be our last. . . . The ship’s bell could also be heard, tolled by the motion of the waves, as if it were our funeral dirge.66
At first daylight, a full realization of their situation settled on the survivors as no land could be seen. If land could not be reached in the next few days and fresh water found, many would die where they stood. At length, to the relief of all, some of the crew sighted land about eight miles distant directly into the sun.67 All were in agreement that they had to get to the island and find a supply of drinking water. In spite of extensive damage, the quarterboat saved by the crew was hastily repaired with “copper and canvas,” and although the boat would scarcely float, Captain Pond and a few crew members rowed out to survey the land a little after sunrise, assuring the others they would return with a report as soon as possible. The first island they encountered was covered with rocks and “presented a very barren appearance,” and although it was covered with pandanus trees and a variety of unusually tame birds, “no water, fruit or vegetables could be found.”68 The islands, three in number, turned out to be little more than sandbars, and at low tide it was possible to wade from one island to the next. The highest point was no more than twelve feet above sea level, and the “only inhabitants were rats and sea-fowl.”69 The islands were completely encompassed by a coral reef approximately seven miles long and five-and-a-half miles wide that formed a beautiful lagoon.70 As evening was closing in, the party was forced to return with the disheartening news, arriving back at the reef about 4:00 p.m.71
Those who remained on the reef had been busily engaged wading around picking up any provisions that could be found. After considerable difficulty, a makeshift raft was built from floating spars and pieces of the wreck to carry the salvaged supplies. Among the items found was the ship’s clock. It was still operational, but after it ran down it never worked again.
The precarious situation of those remaining on the reef is well illustrated by young Miss Spangenberg: “We remained in the water all that day, keeping as close as possible to prevent the sharks from attacking us, as there were a great many of them swimming about close to us. We had nothing to eat all day, and truly presented a miserable group; almost naked, our faces bloated, and our lips swollen to an unusual size.”72
With the return of Captain Pond and the quarterboat, the women and children were loaded and taken to the land by Captain Coffin, where they spent another “wretched night, lying on bare rocks”73 which were, nonetheless, a marked improvement over the reef. Ever gallant Captain Pond remained on the reef for another night, during which the tide came up so high the men were obliged to stand and still the water came around their middles. Unfortunately all the men could not fit upon the makeshift raft, and some were forced to stay in the water.74
After one day and two nights on the reef, the men were desperate for drinking water. When Coffin returned on the second morning, Pond sent him again in search of water. As it would take too long to carry everyone to the islands by the quarterboat, a precarious plan to “walk” around the circular reef in an attempt to reach the land was adopted. About ten in the morning, after loading the two rafts with several bags of flour, a barrel of bread, beans, peas, and whatever clothing could be found, the men began wading along the reef pulling the rafts in a bid to reach the islands. The older and more helpless men were placed aboard the rafts as the water proved deep most of the way. For over a mile they were up to their necks with the shorter men being forced to “cling to the rafts.” Sharks posed an ominous threat, and at regular intervals the men were compelled to scurry from the water onto the rafts; at one time over twenty sharks were counted in their wake. Attesting to the difficulties encountered in wading along the reef, Pond records, “Several deep inlets had to be crossed when our best swimmers were called in requisition. In one of these attempts I nearly lost two of my best men.”75
By late evening, after hours of steady, painstaking progress, they finally trudged onto dry land, exhausted. The magnitude of the feat they had just accomplished was briefly forgotten as the children directed the men to a number of holes filled with fresh water. Drinking water had been obtained by digging a hole in the sand below the level of the sea. A pearl shell placed at the bottom of the hole would soon fill with water filtering through the sand, which rendered it comparatively fresh and palatable. For a more permanent and ample supply, a common flour barrel was later buried in the coral sand, level with the surface.76
A fire was started by using a sun glass, and a light meal of roasted shellfish was prepared for the men. Now that all had arrived on the island, Captain Pond called the survivors together and stated, “[A]s they were cast upon a desolate island a common brotherhood should be maintained, and every man should hunt birds and fish for our common substance.”77 All consented to the proposition, and the company began to improvise and do the best they could with what they had: “We divided ourselves into families, built huts, and thatched them with the leaves of the pandanus tree. All the provisions found were thrown into one common stock, and equally divided among each mess every morning, and we gradually became reconciled to our sad fate.”78
Two days after arriving at the reef, Pond took an exploring party to the far side of the reef about seven miles distant and discovered another small island with a fine grove of about twenty coconut trees. “Our hearts dilated with gratitude, for without something of this kind our case would have been indeed desperate.”79 On the chance that a vessel might pass by, a lookout was shortly thereafter posted on the island where the coconuts were found.
The first week the group survived mostly on crabs while the search for a more stable and substantial supply of food continued. John McCarthy writes, “Too much cannot be said in commendation of the Saints in this very trying situation. I have seen an old lady of sixty years of age out at night hunting turtles.” Within the week a three-hundred-pound turtle was found on the beach, which provided a good meal for all.80 They soon discovered that the turtles came up on the beach at night to lay eggs in the sand. The boys in the party were assigned to go out at night and lay them on their backs, and the next morning one would be brought in for food. A pen was soon built for them and one killed every day. With the coconuts and turtle eggs and meat plus flour and other foodstuffs saved from the ship, the risk of starvation had been averted for a time. The women improvised their own brand of pancakes by grating the coconut meat and then mixing it with turtle eggs and a little flour.81 Sharks were caught intermittently and added a little variety to the castaways’ diet. A garden planted with pumpkin, pea, and bean seeds from foodstuffs saved in the wreck flourished for a few weeks then withered up and died.82
The captain had saved his quadrant and found by taking observations from the sun that they were some three hundred to five hundred miles from the nearest populated island of the Society group. He also ascertained that the Julia Ann had struck the southwest reef of the Scilly Isles; they had been sixteen miles off course due to an error on his charts.83 Forty-seven days passed before any attempt was made to go for help. The only hope of deliverance was with the quarterboat. To make nails and the ironwork necessary to repair the boat, a forge and smith’s bellows were constructed, and several trips were made back to the reef to obtain “canvass, boards and many other necessary articles.”84
The trade winds were constantly blowing from the east, the direction of the Society Islands, and Captain Pond wrote: “[I] reluctantly abandoned all hope of ever reaching them, and turned my eyes to leeward. The Navigator Islands seemed our only chance; and though the distance—some 1,500 miles—was appalling, I determined to steer for them.”85 This decision was supported by Chief Officer Coffin and the rest of the crew as the wisest course to take. Pond picked his four best men, and a departure date was set. They immediately began searching for an opening from the lagoon to the open sea, but for two days no opening could be found. “[W]e were imprisoned in a circle of angry breakers. . . . Gloomy despair seemed to fill every breast, those most active and energetic heretofore, seemed prostrated.”86 Pond’s leadership was now needed more than ever, and with all his energy he dispersed the crew in every direction in a last-ditch systematic search for a break in the rocks. After three days an area was selected.
The fatigue and stress of the ordeal were pressing hard on all the survivors, particularly upon Captain Pond. He knew it was his decision that would determine the fate of his company:
My own spirits now seemed crushed; I felt like one going to the stake; a foreboding evil came over me; the weather was unsettled and threatening, and I retired to my tent—as I thought, for the last time—unhappy and without hope. The clouds gathered in gloomy grandeur, and finally broke in a tornado over the island.87
His life or death decision continued to weigh heavily upon his mind, and with the tropical storm he could not sleep. About three in the morning, he walked down to the beach where he discovered that the boat had disappeared. The devastating news spread like a plague from tent to tent. Soon the party of despondent men, women, and children had gathered, gazing in despair at the location “where the night previous they had seen that priceless boat so snugly moored.”88 Everything of value had been placed in the boat in readiness for departure. The compass and nautical equipment were the lifeblood of the attempt. All available materials had been exhausted in repairing the quarterboat.
Captain Pond, with his usual tenacity and vigor, tried to convince the group that the boat must still be nearby and had probably “dragged her anchor into deep water, and after drifting across the bay, anchored herself again off one of the leeward islands.” A search began and shortly after, as predicted by Pond, the boat was discovered, “nearly full of water” but undamaged.89
At this point, Captain Pond made a fateful decision that affected the whole party. In a strange turnabout and against all logic, he decided to row in the direction of the Society Islands:
The trade winds blew less steadily, and all appearances indicated a change. Secretly influenced by a gloomy, undefined premonition of evil and disaster, as the result of my proposed attempt to reach the Navigator Islands, and having no charts—all of my charts were lost—I now determined on the apparently more desperate course of double banking the boat with a crew of ten men, and, watching a favorable oppourtunity, endeavor to pull to the nearest windward island. Against this course Capt. Coffin, an old whaler, opposed all his influence and experience—said he would rather venture alone than with ten months [mouths] to feed; that it would be impossible to pull our boat, so deeply loaded, against a head wind and sea. . . . That, in fact, it was a life or death undertaking—success or certain destruction awaited us. But desperate diseases require desperate remedies.90
Pond’s idea was accepted by the crew with the exception of Chief Officer Coffin, whose experience, logic, and common sense outweighed his confidence in Pond. Coffin “said he was an old man, and preferred to die where he was.”91 Nevertheless the decision had been made, and all waited “impatiently” for an opportunity to launch the boat.
Many passengers thought the captain should remain with them in case the attempt failed, and to satisfy those remaining Pond proposed to stay with them, but the crew adamantly objected, stating they would not leave without him. All agreed the captain had led them successfully this far and he should continue to do so. There would be no second chances, and all hopes of rescue lay with the captain and his men being able to row the quarterboat hundreds of miles, find a ship, and come back to rescue the others.
On 3 December, almost seven weeks after the wreck, Captain Pond was awakened by Second Mate Owens and informed that for the first time since their arrival on the island the wind was blowing from a westerly direction. After a stormy night, the clouds hung heavy and overcast with a drizzly rain still falling. Pond hesitated for a long moment then gave the order. The day of departure and hopeful deliverance had finally come, and Pond with nine other men, including John McCarthy and Charles Logie, prepared to leave. Their provisions consisted of two casks of water, a little salt pork salvaged from the wreck, and some jerked turtle. When all had climbed aboard, the boat was almost level with the water and there was a great danger of being swamped in the waves breaking over the reef. Providentially, they succeeded in getting safely over the breakers and were cheered on by those ashore.
After three days of steady progress, their greatest fear was realized when the wind blew up again from the east and storm clouds began to gather. Nevertheless, they continued rowing. The captain sat at the helm steering and trying to inspire his men despite the obvious odds against them. Pond later wrote a letter to his niece Orella recounting what they all thought were their final days of mortality:
For hours, and hours, the fearful but unequal contest, was maintained, ’till human endurance could bear up no longer, and we lay exhausted in the bottom of our little boat, now floating at the mercy of the sea. The goal of our hopes, and our very lives, that dim cloud upon the verge of the horizon, gradually faded from our view! Oh! the blank despair of that moment; and as we drew the tarpaulin over the boat, to shelter us from the dashing spray, thoughts of home mingled in our prayers; for the sailor, in his hour of peril, never forgets his youthful home. . . . Thus for hours we were driven at the mercy of the raging wind and sea, but not forgotten by a kind Providence.
Late in the afternoon, as we lay huddled together, under the protecting cover of the tarpaulin, drenched by the salt spray, faint and exhausted by severe toil, listlessly gazing out upon the combing, raging sea, that threatened instant destruction, the sudden cry of “land! land!” . . . Tears of gratitude filled our eyes.92
After four days of hard rowing night and day, they had reached Bora-Bora. They spent two annoying hours of rowing outside the reef looking for an entrance then determined to attempt to go directly through the breakers. A native who was spearing fish observed their difficulties and motioned them farther up the reef. Shortly thereafter, they found a fine harbor and a small native village.93 The natives at first were suspicious, thinking the men pirates, but nevertheless gave them a good meal of poi and breadfruit. Their attention then turned to the welfare of their stranded company.94
There was no ship available at Bora-Bora large enough to attempt the rescue. Pond attempted to persuade the captain of a small native schooner to take him to Tahiti, but the captain became suspicious and instead sailed to Maupiti and informed the king of the newly arrived strangers. In the meantime, Pond had sent part of his crew to Riatia with a letter to the British consul asking for immediate assistance.95 The consul, Mr. Chishom, had no way of contacting the United States consulate at Tahiti. Feeling the situation an urgent one, he sent a message to Captain Latham, master of the schooner Emma Packer,96 which was docked at the nearby larger island of Huahine waiting for a load of oranges.97 A plan was devised in case no help could be found there that John McCarthy and two of the crew would go to Maupiti to try to find a boat.98 Fortunately, Captain Latham responded to the request for assistance without delay, only touching long enough at Bora-Bora to take Captain Pond aboard and thereafter making directly for the Scilly Isles.99
On 2 December 1855, sixty days after being shipwrecked, the forty-one castaways still on the island “in a state of anxious suspense, thinking continually of the success of our company” sighted the Emma Packer.100 Returning missionary John Eldredge writes, “I need not attempt to describe our feelings of gratitude and praise which we felt to give the God of Israel for His goodness and mercy in thus working a deliverance for us.”101 The ship lay a short distance from the island for a day and a night, then came closer in and sent a boat.102 All survivors were taken aboard the Emma Packer, and early the following morning they sailed for Huahine, arriving there 11 December 1855. Here they saw the grave of Sister Allen, who had died on the previous successful voyage of the Julia Ann. After a stay of three days, they continued on to Tahiti, arriving 19 December.103 The survivors “arrived in a most destitute condition, having saved literally nothing from the wreck; from the captain down to the cabin boy.” They were all shoeless and had “barely sufficient clothing to cover their persons.”104 Many of the children had spent their time swimming and playing along the beach and were almost as dark as the natives.
With the loss of all worldly goods, the party expected to be provided for by the American or English consuls until they could find a way to continue on to the United States; however, the American consul said they were not authorized to make provisions available to English citizens, and the English consul refused on the grounds that they were on an American ship. Fortunately, the United Board of Masonic Lodges showed great compassion and took immediate measures to relieve the destitute party’s wants by providing shelter and food for all.105
A ship stopped at Tahiti on its way to Sydney in late February 1856, and letters were sent back to President Farnham explaining details of the disaster. This news was not received until 30 March 1856 and “cast a sad gloom over the mission.”106 The news of the Julia Ann disaster reached Brigham Young 30 April 1856. President Young gave instruction by letter to George Q. Cannon asking Charles C. Rich for means to bring the stranded Saints to San Francisco, but apparently nothing came of this.107 In the fourteenth General Epistle of the Presidency, Brigham Young recounted the event and the loss of five persons, adding, “the remainder barely escaped with their lives.” A general word of caution was then issued:
Without reflection upon the officers of the Julia Ann all of whom are well spoken of by our brethren, or even upon the strength and sea worthiness of the vessel which we understand was good and new, still we wish to caution our Elders, not only those in Australia but all in foreign countries, not to permit an over anxiety to emigrate and gather with the Saints to make them careless or indifferent to the kind and condition of the vessel in which they embark, nor to the character of the officers and crew on board. This is the second instance of vessels, sailing from that mission with Saints on board, not reaching their destination. In the other case no lives were lost, though the vessel had to put into port where she was condemned and the Saints, after having paid their passage to the western coast, were left on the Sandwich Islands. It is a matter worthy of record, and a source of great joy and satisfaction to us, that in all our foreign emigration those are the only losses by sea, of that character, that have occurred.108
James Graham and John Eldredge decided to return with the Emma Packer to Huahine and, after remaining there one month, met with the opportunity of continuing on to Honolulu aboard different whaling ships.109 The two met again in Honolulu, where they found some of the seventy-two Mormons who had sailed from Melbourne, Australia, 27 April 1855, aboard the Tarquinia.110 A number of passengers from the Tarquinia paid Eldredge’s and Graham’s passage to San Francisco aboard the Francis Palmer, which departed Honolulu 1 April 1856 and arrived in San Francisco after a twenty-three day passage.111
John McCarthy, after borrowing two small schooners from King Tapoa at Maupiti, found that Captain Pond had already taken everyone from the island twelve hours previous and so returned the schooners to Maupiti. McCarthy, never one to miss an opportunity, turned his attentions to sharing his beliefs with those on Maupiti. Before long he had baptized a Captain Delano, King Tapoa’s interpreter, and through Delano was able to preach to the natives. After a stay of about three weeks at Maupiti, he sailed to the island of Raiatea where he baptized a Mr. Shaw and Mrs. Showers, ordaining Shaw an elder before he left. After spending two weeks at Raiatea, he continued on to Tahiti in a French sloop and from there on to San Francisco, arriving 14 April 1856. John McCarthy married Eliza Telford in 1858 and eventually settled in Smithfield, Utah, where he had nine children. He returned to his homeland of Ireland as a missionary in 1877. McCarthy, truly one of the great early Mormon figures in Australia, died 25 August 1898 at Smithfield.112
The Saints remaining at Tahiti were kept by the Freemasons’ lodge until 19 January 1856, when they could no longer feed them. The party again solicited the help of the English consul, who agreed to feed them until the end of February. In late February, Charles Logie, his wife and child, along with Peter Penfold and family, and orphans Maria Harris, Frank Humphries, and Eliza Humphries, all embarked for San Francisco.113 After living for a time in San Bernardino, the Logie family eventually settled in American Fork, Utah. The Penfold family also made it safely to Utah. Maria Harris was probably reunited with her father, who left Sydney aboard the Jenny Ford in May 1856 and later settled near Payson, Utah.
The Anderson family with their seven children, the last of the shipwrecked company, sailed from Tahiti 5 May 1856 on the G. W. Kendall, arriving in San Francisco 27 June 1856 after a tedious passage, nine months after leaving Sydney.114 Ironically, the Andersons would never make it to Utah after fifteen years in Australia, which Andrew referred to as “this my exile.”115 Andrew Anderson, the first recorded Mormon in New South Wales, joined the RLDS church on 2 August 1868 and was ordained a priest the following year at Washington, Alameda County, California. He lived near Mission San Jose. He died 1 January 1891, age eighty-one, while visiting his daughter at Petaluma.116 His wife Elizabeth died 21 January 1894.117
Captain Benjamin Pond was forcibly detained in Tahiti by the French government at the request of the British consul, who felt Pond was still responsible for his passengers and was obligated to find a way for them to continue on to California. After numerous requests, Pond was eventually released and sailed for Panama and then on to San Francisco.118
All accounts of the disaster speak highly of Captain Pond and the crew, whose determination, courage, and quick thinking greatly reduced the loss of life. The account of Esther Spangenberg is typical and a fitting conclusion to this remarkable story:
Next to God, our thanks are due to Captain Pond, his officers and crew, for their noble exertions on our behalf. They fearlessly risked their lives in endeavouring to do all in their power to save the passengers. For one moment neither the Captain or his officers ever lost their presence of mind. Had they done so, the loss of life would have been great.119