This article originally appeared in Vol.62, No.2 (2015) of Pioneer Magazine.
by Fred E. Woods
“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. ” (Narrative of the Wreck of the Barque “Julia Ann” by Captain Benjamin F. Pond)
“Friday 7th September 1855 The Julia Ann sailed to day for San Francisco”, wrote local Latter-day Saint John Perkins in his diary.1 At the time of the ship’s departure from australia, twenty-eight Latter-day Saints were on board, three of whom were missionaries and three others who were crew members. Eleven other passengers and fourteen more crew members completed a total of fifty-six.2 Mission president Augustus Farnham had appointed Elder John Penfold Sr. to be in charge of the company.3 The Saints were singing “The Gallant Ship Is under Weigh,” a hymn written by the famous LDS poet and hymn writer W. W. Phelps.4
Captain Benjamin F. Pond recalled, “The first two weeks at sea were altogether exceedingly unpleasant; head winds, accompanied with much rain. We however entered the south-east trades, and everything again brightened, promising a speedy and pleasant voyage.”5
The following passenger accounts depict the unexpected and horrifying outcome of this “pleasant voyage.” Church member John McCarthy recalled:
“The 4th of October … about 8 o’clock p.m…. the sea became broken, and in about an half an hour the vessel, with a tremendous crash, dashed head on to a coral reef. She immediately swung round with her broadside to the reef, and the sea made a complete breach over her at every swell.”6
Andrew Anderson, the second missionary to Australia in the early 1840s and a Julia Ann passenger, recounted,
“About half-past eight o’clock she struck on a reef…. Word came out from some one for the passengers to go to the cabin, and by the time I got the four children out of bed, the water was knocking about the boxes, I got my leg very much bruised with a large box, with difficulty we gained the cabin, and about ten minutes after we left, house, gaily, and box was all over board, preparations were made to go on the rocks to ascertain whether we could get any footing, as there was no land in sight, the ship was breaking up fast.”7
In her report to the San Francisco Daily Herald, actress Esther Spangenberg, a passenger aboard the Julia Ann, said the man who was at the helm at the time of the wreck was Mr. Coffin, who was said to have a rather ominous name. She added,
“The night was dark, neither moon or stars visible, when suddenly the chief officer called out to the man at the wheel, ‘Hard down your helm/ and in an instant after the ship struck on a reef, from which she rebounded, and afterwards we could hear her bottom grate harshly on the rocks. The Captain . .. rushed on deck, but before he could reach it the ship was completely fast on the reef.”
Spangenberg further described the great confusion that immediately followed:
“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, when their fears were in some measure allayed by a sailor who came to the cabin for a light and told them that, although the ship would be lost, their lives would be saved, as we were close to the reef.”
She also noted,
“The scene that presented itself to my view, shall never be erased from my memory. Mothers screaming, and children clinging to them in terror and in 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 was washing in and out of her cabin.”8
At this time of great urgency, Captain Pond “called for a volunteer to attempt to reach the reef by swimming with a small line. One of the sailors instantly stripped; the log line was attached to his body, and he succeeded in swimming to the reef.
By this means a larger line was hauled to the reef, and made fast to the rocks.” Further, “I commenced the perilous task of placing the women and children upon the reef. A sailor in a sling upon the rope, took a woman or a child in his arms, and was hauled to the reef by those already there…. The process was an exceedingly arduous one, and attended with much peril.”9
A young seventeen-year-old LDS mother, Rosa Clara Logie, would be the first brave woman to volunteer to be transported to the reef, tying her one-year-old baby daughter, Annie Augusta, on the back of her husband, Charles, before she departed.10
Another passenger on the Julia Ann described the ordeal:
“The passengers and crue had to make the best of the way through the foming surf to the coral reef, And when it cairn to my lot to test my strenth in brackers, I had to incounter broeken masts and spares in all directions, but through the aid of divine providance I reach’d the reef safe, while its corals shot fourth poison in all directions from their rugit speers.”11
Captain Pond witnessed a mother desperately crying out for her teenage daughter amidst frantic terror:
“There was a large family on board named ‘Anderson’ a father, mother, three daughters, two sons and an infant. One daughter, a pretty girl, ten years of age, was washed off the deck shortly after the ship struck, and drowned; another daughter ‘Agnes,’ sixteen years old, had escaped to the reef, the rest of the family were still on board. 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 head-long into the sea. A sailor was fortunately near, seized her by the clothes and drew her back again.”12
Peter Penfold told of the harrowing experience that claimed a total of five lives:
“Sister [Martha] Humphries, and sister [Eliza] Harris and infant, were drowned in the cabin. Little Mary Humphries and Marian Anderson were washed off the poop and drowned…. After I had helped to get them all out of the cabin, I came up and found the vessel all broken into fragments, except the cabin, and into that the water was rushing at a furious rate, sweeping out all the partitions.”13
McCarthy wrote that he had engraved on his memory “mothers nursing their babes in the midst of falling masts and broken spars, while the breakers were rolling twenty feet high over the wreck.”
He recalled that some of the men clung to the wreckage. “Soon afterwards the vessel broke to pieces, and the part they were on was providentially carried high upon the rocks, and they were landed in safety,”14
The courageous, steady character of Captain Pond, who was both an owner and a master of the vessel, was displayed during this entire ordeal. The Western Standard reported, “Capt. Pond’s chief desire throughout the whole sad affair, seemed to be to save the lives of the passengers and crew, as the following noble act illustrates: While the crew were engaged in getting the passengers ashore, Mr. Owens, the second mate, was going to carry a bag containing eight thousand dollars belonging to the Captain, ashore. The Captain ordered him to leave the money and carry a girl ashore;… the child was saved, but the money lost.”15
Captain Pond described in vivid detail their predicament when they finally reached the coral reef:
“It was about eleven o’clock at night when all were landed; we were up to our waists in water, and the tide rising. Seated upon the spars and broken pieces of the wreck, we patiently awaited the momentous future. Wrapped in a wet blanket picked up among the floating spars, I seated myself in the boat, the water reaching to my waist; my legs and arms were badly cut and bruised by the coral. 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.”16
When sunlight broke in the dawn, land was discovered about ten miles away. A rowboat was patched up, and spars and drift wood were assembled to make a raft. The women and children were placed in the boat, led by Captain Coffin, while the men were forced to remain on the reef for a second miserable night. Peter Penfold recalled, “We passed a dreadful night, sitting on some of the broken masts, up to the waist in water. At daylight we were all busily engaged picking up such provisions as could be found.”17
The second morning, rafts were prepared for provisions as well as clothing, and the men slowly swam and waded beside them along the reef. The water was up to the men’s necks, and the shorter ones had to hold on to the rafts. What appears to be especially terrorizing were the schools of sharks that pursued them in their desperate condition. Finally, in a state of complete exhaustion, having had no drink of food for two full days, they reached the island, and were soon greeted by children who quickly escorted them to drinking water, which had come from holes dug beneath the coral sand.
Three days later, Pond led an exploring party to look for more provisions to sustain the castaways. On another island, some eight miles from their main camp, he found a coconut grove. Turtles were also found to lay eggs on the island at night. Pond noted,
“Our hearts dilated with gratitude, for without something of this kind our case would have been indeed desperate. Our living now consisted of shell fish, turtle, sharks and cocoa nuts. We also prepared a garden, and planted some pumpkins, peas and beans.”18
McCarthy noted that “while on the uninhabited islands we held our regular meetings, dividing the time between worship and labor as we have done had we been at our ordinary occupations.”19 With an established routine and provisions now stabilized, the next step for deliverance was to repair the quarter boat. The crew used great ingenuity in pulling strewn materials together in order to construct both a forge and a bellows so that nails could be made and iron work produced.
The survivors were also divided into family units, wherein each group built thatched huts and used leaves from the pandanus tree. Five weeks later, the boat was ready for launching. The craft was not very sturdy, but there was no alternative; it was either make an effort to escape or remain trapped on the desolate reef. The Society Islands were the nearest inhabited land, a little over 200 miles windward. Therefore, Pond decided to go leeward (with the wind, instead of against it) in hopes of reaching the Navigator Islands (samoa), though their distance was about 1,500 miles away.
However, soon thereafter, devastation set in; the weather changed and a tornado swept the quarter boat away. Fortunately, the craft was eventually recovered and was not injured. After eight weeks of being stranded on the Scilly Islands, the weather suddenly changed its course and blew windward (towards the northwest), which Pond recognized as “Divine Providence in our favor.”20
The craft was launched with a crew of ten brave men, who would need to row continuously for several days, both day and night.21 Spangenberg recalled that as the small craft was about to embark on its vital mission,
“We invoked God’s blessing on the captain and the nine brave men who accompanied him, who boldly risked their lives in an open, crazy boat, to cross an open ocean, to endeavor to bring us succor and relief. As we watched the boat recede from the land … there was not one amongst us but was aware that on that boat… depended our very existence.”22
Pond explained that those aboard this untrustworthy craft felt that their days were numbered after rowing several days:
“The sea … so sluggish, arose in all its might, and power, threatening to engulph us, in its appalling throes. 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…. Thoughts of home mingled in our prayers… .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 … the sudden cry of “land! land!” again startled us from the lethergy of despair which seemed, with its cold, icy hand, to gripe our very hearts… .Tears of gratitude filled our eyes…. We pulled along outside of the reef about two hours, looking in vain for an entrance,… when a native who was engaged spearing fish inside, guessing our difficulty, motioned to us to proceed further up the reef, on complying with which we soon found a ship entrance to a fine harbor, and saw the huts of a native village at the head of the bay.”23
Pond later suggested that a Mormon elder’s prophetic dreams was also a significant factor in determining which direction the small crew would travel towards safety:
“My passengers were mostly Mormons… One of their Elders had a dream or vision.24 He saw the boat successfully launched upon her long voyage, and for a day or two making satisfactory progress. Another leaf in the vision, and the boat is seen floating bottom up, and the drowned bodies of her crew floating around her…. After some days the same Mormon Elder came to me having had another vision…. He saw the boat depart with a crew of ten men, bound to the eastward; after three days of rowing, they reached a friendly island where a vessel was obtained and all hands safely brought to tahiti…. You have heard the account of how literally his dream was fulfilled against every probability.”25
After finally reaching bora bora in late November, Pond records that he and his nine-man crew “could not walk for some time after being removed from our boat by the natives.”26 Pond went for help and eventually found it with the help of the British Consulate, who recommended Captain Latham, docked with the schooner Emma Packer.27
On December 3, the castaways on Scilly Island were rescued.28 Recalling this joyful, redemptive event, John S. Eldredge expressed his profound gratitude:
“We were delivered from our exiled and desolate situation by the untiring perserverance of Captain B. F. Pond, master of the barque Julia Ann, connected with the charitable good feeling of Captain Latham, master of the schooner Emma Packer, that came to our relief. We were taken off the Scilly Isles, where we were wrecked, on the 3d of December, making it two months that we were left in this lonely situation on an uninhabited island. 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.”29
Did the Mormon converts aboard the ill-fated Julia Ann voyage regret the trip when tragedy arose and five lives were lost? Perhaps this question can be answered best by the additional witness of two of the passengers, one who barely survived and the other who lost her life. Their letters exemplify the faith and fortitude so common among Saints who attempted the sail and trail journey to follow what they perceived as inspired counsel to gather to Zion. Writing to his son from Tahiti, Peter Penfold, noted,
“Father and mother and we all are in good health and spirits, though we have lost all our worldly goods, and all that we had; yet we have faith in God, and trust He will deliver us soon from this place. Do not forget to come along the first opportunity; though we were shipwrecked, that is no reason you should be. I hope to see you all before long in the land of the free, surrounded by the saints of the Most High God.”30
The other letter was penned by Martha Humphries before she departed Australia aboard the Julia Ann and her subsequent drowning:
“And now my dear mother, I will answer that question you put me, of when, are we are 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. … I tell you, Mormonism is truth, and the only truth.”31
“Father and mother and we all are in good health and spirits, though we have lost all our worldly goods, and all that we had; yet we have faith in God, and trust He will deliver us soon from this place. Do not forget to come along the first opportunity; though we were shipwrecked, that is no reason you should be. I hope to see you all before long in the land of the free, surrounded by the saints of the Most High God.”
—Peter Penfold, writing to his son from Tahiti
This article is a condensed version of Chapter 4: “The Wreck of the Julia Ann and Survival Tactics” from Fred E. Woods, Divine Providence: The Wreck and Rescue of the Julia Ann (Springville: Cedar Fort, 2014), 39-62.
- Diary of John Perkins, Sept. 3-7, 1855.
- See also the list of Mormon passengers aboard the Julia Ann, Marjorie Newton, Southern Cross Saints: The Mormons in Australia (Laie: Institute of Polynesian Studies, BYU—Hawaii, 1991), 224. For known Julia Ann first-person voyage accounts, see http://mormonmigra- tion.lib.b3n1.edu.
- Andrew Jenson, “The Julia Ann Wreck,” Deseret Weekly News, May 14, 1898, 697.
- “The Gallant Ship Is Under Weigh” was written on the tenth anniversary of the Church, April 6, 1840, by W.W. Phelps (Joseph Smith Jr., History of the Church 4:103; hereafter cited as History of the Church.)
- Captain Benjamin F. Pond, Narrative of the Wreck of the Barque “Julia Ann” (New York: Francis & Loutrel, 1858), 14.
- John McCarthy to George Q. Cannon, first published April 25, 1856, in the Western Standard, an LDS periodical in San Francisco, with Cannon as editor. Republished in Deseret News [Weekly], July 2, 1856, 130. Andrew Jenson, “The Julia Ann Wreck,” 698, notes, “The Scilly Islands consist of a number of very low islets or motus . . . about 185 miles west of Riaiatea and 300 miles west northwest of Tahiti. Besides the circular reef composing the island a hidden reef extends westward for many miles. It was on this reef that the Julia Ann was wrecked.”
- Andrew Anderson to Augustus Farnham, recorded in the Diary of Augustus Farnham, copies in LDS Church Library Archives, Salt Lake City; hereafter cited as CHL; also published in Zion’s Watchman 2, no. 5 (May 24, 1856), 76.
- Esther Spangenberg, “Particulars of the Wreck of the Bark Julia Ann,” San Francisco Daily Herald, Mar. 11, 1856, 2. This is Captain Pond’s first officer, Peter M. Coffin.
- Pond, Narrative of the Wreck, 15.
- McCarthy to Cannon, April 25, 1856, 130.
- “The Wreck of the Bark Julia Ann,” Jan. 28, 1856, letter to the editors by a passenger on the Julia Ann, San Francisco Daily Herald, April 16, 1856, 1.
- Pond, Narrative of the Wreck, 28.
- Peter Penfold to Charles Penfold, Zion’s Watchman 2, no. 5 (May 24, 1856), 77-78. Just before she drowned, Martha Humphries asked her fellow Saints to “protect her children and convey them safely to Great Salt Lake City, for her earthly career was run.” (See John McCarthy, “History of John McCarthy,” comp. Stella B. Nielson, CHL, 11.)
- McCarthy to Cannon, April 25, 1856, 130.
- Western Standard, Mar. 15, 1856, 2. Esther Spangenberg, “Particulars of the Wreck,” in Pond, Narrative of the Wreck, 9, echoed these same sentiments of both Captain Pond as well as his crew: “Next to God, our thanks are due to Captain Pond, his officers and crew, for their noble exertions in our behalf. They fearlessly risked their lives in endeavoring to do all in their power to save the passengers.”
- Pond, Narrative of the Wreck, 18.
- Peter Penfold to Charles Penfold, Zion’s Watchman, 78.
- Pond, Narrative of the Wreck, 18-19.
- McCarthy to Cannon, April 25, 1856, 130.
- B. F. Pond, “Autobiography of B. F. Pond, written at the request of his Wife and Children” (Tenafly, New Jersey, June 15, 1895), typescript, National Archives, Washington, D.C., 215, 218. The theme of “divine providence” or “providence,” seems to play a key role in Pond’s “Autobiography” and is attested several times, 34, 57, 136, 249.
- Pond, Narrative of the Wreck, 20-24.
- Esther Spangenberg, “Particulars of the Wreck,” in Pond, Narrative of the Wreck, 11.
- Pond, Narrative of the Wreck, 31-32.
- This elder is thought to be Elder John McCarthy.
- Autobiography of B. F. Pond, 221-22.
- Pocket Memorandum of B. F. Pond, “Papers of B. F. Pond,” original in possession of Pond’s great grand-daughter Meg Rasmussen.
- It appears that Pond went directly to Captain Latham of the Emma Packer, as this vessel was recommended to him by the British Consulate at Raiatea. (See letter of Alex Chisholm, British Consul on Raiatea, to Captain Pond, “Papers of Captain B. F. Pond,” Nov. 23, 1855.) The survivors waited nearly another two weeks for their deliverance.
- Shortly after the survivors of the Julia Ann were rescued, the wreckage of the vessel was apparently spotted; the log book of the schooner Rob Roy, whose master was Captain Ruxton, for Dec. 21, 1855, notes: “Run down on Scilly Islands, find it very low and uninhabited. . . . S. W. side Noon observed the wreck of a vessel on the reef.” (See log book of the Rob Roy [Captain Ruxton], Paul Hundley private papers in possession of author.)
- Letter of John S. Eldredge in Deseret News [Weekly] 6, no. 17 (July 2, 1856), 130. News of the wreck was also published in other major newspapers both in Australia as well as in America. See for example, “Total loss of the American Barque Julia Ann,” Sydney Morning Herald (April 2, 1856), 6; “Letter Addressed by Captain Pond to the United States Consul at Tahiti,” New York Herald (Mar. 17, 1856), 2. . . . Captain H. Eldredge, master of the ship Oregon, in a letter from Huahine dated November 29, 1855, wrote to Captain Pond offering the assistance of his ship in the rescue of the passengers. In a note that Pond wrote referencing the letter from Eldredge, Pond stated that the Oregon arrived at the Scilly Islands shortly after the Emma Packer and rescued three people: “The ‘Oregon’ reached Scilly reefs… [and] was fortunate in rescuing 2 Mates and one passenger of the Bark ‘Julia Ann’ who were found on an outlying reef abandoned by their boat and would undoubtedly have perished had not the ship ‘Oregon’ providentially put in an appearance. B.F.P.” (See Captain H. Eldredge to Captain B. F. Pond, Nov. 29, 1855, in possession of Meg Rasmussen.)
- Peter Penfold, Zion’s Watchman 2, 78.
- Martha Humphries to her mother, Dec. 8, 1853, Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia.
- Artwork by Ivan Aivazovsky