“Pioneering the Gospel in Australia, Part II: ‘Hunted, Fished … and Gathered’” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 35–38
It was late on a dark, stormy afternoon in May of 1856. The southerly breeze struck chill on the young woman standing with her husband on the deck of the schooner Jenny Ford as the ship was towed out of Sydney Harbor.
Adelaide Ridges clasped her six-week-old son Joseph closely. Beside her, six-year-old Alfred hung over the rail, absorbed in watching the fussy maneuvers of the steam tug. She felt a pang of fear as she remembered how nearly they had lost Alfred during the long voyage from England three years earlier. Down in the hold lay the body of her second child, his tiny coffin sealed in a lead box. Born just two weeks after her baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Anthony Augustus Ridges had lived only thirteen months. Now the family was gathering to Utah, and Adelaide would not leave his little body alone in far-off Australia.
The lead coffin was not the only box Adelaide’s husband, Joseph Ridges, had fashioned for the voyage. The hold of the Jenny Ford also contained a number of large tin packing cases which housed a seven-stop pipe organ Joseph had built in Sydney. (It is a myth that Joseph Ridges built the organ in the Sydney Town Hall. The original Town Hall—now the vestibule—was built thirteen years after the Ridges left Australia. The Centennial Hall, which houses the organ, was not completed until 1889.) Augustus Farnham, president of the Australian Mission, had suggested that Brother Ridges donate the organ he had built to the Church in Salt Lake City, so with the help of members and missionaries, Joseph had dismantled it and packed it in cases for the journey to San Pedro, California.
Adelaide, Joseph, and Alfred Ridges eventually arrived safely in the Salt Lake Valley; baby Joseph, however, survived the ten-week voyage only to die one month after the Jenny Ford arrived in San Pedro. The two Ridges babies were buried together in San Bernardino.1
The organ Brother Ridges had so carefully built and then disassembled was hauled in wagons across the desert by mule teams. It arrived in Salt Lake City on 12 June 1857 and was soon installed in the old adobe tabernacle on Temple Square. It was the forerunner of the big organ Joseph Ridges was to build in the present Tabernacle.
The courage, sacrifice, and devotion of the Ridges family, and the hardships they faced in order to gather with the Saints, typified those of many early Australian members. But the story of the Australian gathering actually began four and one-half years before the Ridges’ voyage. Theirs, in fact, was the fifth Australian immigrant company to arrive in Utah.
In 1851, American elders John Murdock and Charles Wandell arrived in Australia to preach the gospel. In June 1852, however, Elder Murdock returned home prematurely because of poor health. Elder Wandell followed later with the first group of Saints to emigrate from Australia to Utah.
Charles Wandell had considered returning to the United States via London, in order to collect his family (still in New York) on his way to the Salt Lake Valley. However, as the spirit of gathering grew among the members of the little branch he had organized in Sydney, he changed his plans. On 6 April 1853, he sailed for California at the head of a small company of thirty Saints in the Envelope, just as the second group of missionaries from Utah, under the presidency of Augustus Farnham, arrived.
Sydney in that era was a sprawling, bustling metropolis of sixty thousand people. It was in constant turmoil as gold-seekers arrived from Britain, Europe, America, and China.
Elder Wandell had worried about the increasing numbers of English and Welsh Saints who were using their scanty funds to make the voyage to Australia with the intention of getting a “fit-out” for America. In a long letter to the Millennial Star, he painted an appalling picture of life on the goldfields, calling them “the deepest, the most fearful pits” of hell,2 and urged Saints in England to gather directly to Zion.
Despite his warning, the English Saints continued to come. Not only did they find it extremely hard to raise the funds needed to reach Utah from Australia, but many, as Elder Burr Frost expressed it, “made shipwreck of their faith” on the diggings.3
Still, Augustus Farnham was sure there were “some good and honest people in these lands, as can be found on the earth. These must be hunted and fished out and gathered.”4 William Hyde agreed. The Lord had a people upon this land, and “although the devil shows them all the treasures of the earth at a glance, it matters not, they will receive the truth when it is presented.”5
Elder Hyde found the rich pastoral and agricultural country of the Hunter Valley, one hundred miles north of Sydney, fruitful. Between his landing in the colony in April 1853 and his departure eleven months later, he organized the Williams River, Clarence Town, and Newcastle branches. He returned to the Salt Lake Valley at the head of a company of sixty-three Saints, all but two from the Hunter region.
They sailed from Newcastle, the port at the mouth of the Hunter River, 22 March 1854 in the Julia Ann. During a special conference prior to sailing, Elder Charles Stapley, Sr., (great-grandfather of the late Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Council of the Twelve) and Richard Allen, Sr., were appointed counselors to William Hyde for the journey.
For the Saints, shipboard life quickly worked into a routine that included daily meetings for prayers, Sunday services, and school for several of the children, taught by Richard Allen, Jr.
Except for Esther Allen (wife of Richard, Sr.), who died on April 18 of complications resulting from childbirth and was buried in Tahiti, the company arrived safely at San Pedro, California, after nearly three months at sea. They soon moved to San Bernardino.
The LDS settlement there had been established in 1851 by Elders Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich of the Council of the Twelve, at the direction of President Brigham Young, who intended to form a chain of settlements between Salt Lake City and the Pacific coast. The Saints gathering to Utah from warm climates such as Australia and India, President Young suggested, should travel via San Bernardino, where they could rest and be outfitted for the last leg of their long journey to the Salt Lake Valley.
The Julia Ann returned to Sydney with Elder Hyde’s recommendation that she be chartered again if there was another company ready.
In late February or early March of 1855, President Farnham visited Melbourne and instructed the American elders there to form a company to travel to the Salt Lake Valley. Elder Burr Frost, a counselor in the mission presidency, was sent to Adelaide to gather the Saints there. Twenty-seven members traveled from Adelaide to Melbourne to join them.
Elder Frost chartered the brig Tarquinia, which sailed from Melbourne on 27 April 1855 with seventy-two people on board, about sixty of them Latter-day Saints. Along with the group of Saints from Adelaide, there were a number from the Gold Diggers’ Branch in Bendigo, a few from Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), and the remainder from the Melbourne and Castlemaine branches.
After five weeks at sea, however, the Tarquinia was in trouble. Serious leaks developed, and eventually she had to disembark her passengers at the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands, where she was condemned. This caused serious financial hardship for most of the company, who, having paid their full passage from Melbourne to California, had to raise additional funds to take them from Hawaii to California.6
Before word of the Tarquinia mishap reached President Farnham, he had dispatched another company of twenty-eight Saints on the Julia Ann, which sailed 7 September 1855. Among the company were Andrew Anderson and his family. Brother Anderson had been one of Orson Pratt’s first converts in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1840. Licensed to preach in Australia when he emigrated there with his family in 1841, he had organized the first known branch of the Church in Australia.
The Julia Ann ran onto a coral reef off the Scilly Islands about 9:00 P.M. on the night of October 3. Five women and children drowned, including Andrew Anderson’s ten-year-old daughter, Marian. Most of the passengers were saved because a courageous seaman swam to the reef and fixed a line that allowed them to escape. The survivors were rescued after the captain, some of the crew, and a few of the brethren rowed an open boat two hundred miles east to Bora Bora. Help was dispatched, and the company, who had lived on turtles, wild fowl, and other food they gathered, were ferried to Tahiti.7
News of the tragedy, received in March, deeply shocked the Saints and the four remaining American missionaries in Australia. In Sydney at the annual conference of the Australian Mission on 6–7 April 1856, a subscription for the relief of the shipwrecked Saints was taken up.8
News of the wreck and terrible hardships endured by the company brought sorrow and distress to President Young. In the Fourteenth General Epistle to the Church, the First Presidency exonerated the owner and crew of the Julia Ann, but warned the elders in all 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.”9
It was just two or three weeks after receiving news of the Julia Ann disaster that President Farnham signed the contract with the captain of the Jenny Ford to transport from Australia what was to be the largest company of Saints in the history of the mission.
On 28 May 1856, the Jenny Ford sailed with 130 Saints on board. Along with Augustus Farnham himself (Absalom Dowdle was left to replace him as mission president) and the young Ridges family, the Jenny Ford took many of the stalwarts of the Sydney Branch who had labored long and faithfully.
The sailing of the Jenny Ford marked the high point of the Australian LDS emigration. Several smaller companies left over the next ten or fifteen years, but by the mid-1870s the practice of waiting for enough Saints to form a company had been dropped. “I have adopted the policy of shipping the Saints off to Zion, as soon as they get means to go, for fear their means might slip out of their hands,” wrote President William Geddes in 1874.10
The poverty of the Saints in Australia and their difficulty in saving enough to travel to Utah had been a recurring problem. In 1854, the Ninth General Epistle of the First Presidency was received in Sydney. In accordance with its instructions11, President Farnham began to take donations for the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. He had apparently already had the plan working to some extent before the Julia Ann had sailed; he told the Saints at a conference in April 1854 that he had called for funds to assist the poor of the last company, and would have to do so again.12
But on August 19, President Brigham Young wrote to President Farnham, explaining that the fund was smaller than needed, the number of poor in Britain was comparatively large, and the opportunities to outfit for the trip to Utah were far better in Australia, so the activities of the fund could not be extended to that country.
If the funds of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund were not to extend to the Australian Saints, they would have to be self-sufficient. But gather they must. “We are determined to the utmost of our power to push the Saints to Zion,” President Farnham had written. Now he urged the Saints in the far-flung conferences of his mission to “lay aside every degree of extravagance, let your wants be few and simple, … laying aside all you can for gathering; if you are faithful and diligent in doing your part the Lord will do His, and you will be gathered.”13
The doctrine of the gathering was widely disseminated in Australia by the American missionaries. Orson Pratt’s warnings to “flee out of Babylon,”14 and Brigham Young’s letters, echoing his clarion call to “Come!” and build up “the valleys of Ephraim”15, were circulated through Zion’s Watchman, from the Hunter River District to the goldfields of Victoria, from Adelaide to Hobart Town and Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).
Certainly the Australian converts, after baptism and confirmation, experienced what has been called “the baptism of desire,”16 as their thoughts quickly turned toward gathering with the Saints. “The Saints here are very anxious to come to Zion with songs and share in her blessings and tribulations, with her to stand and fight or flee as the command of God shall be,” wrote Albert Aspinall from Sydney to President George A. Smith, First Counselor in the First Presidency, in 1870.17
Among the main blessings offered the Australian Saints were, of course, the blessings of the temple. “We have many ordinances to attend to which pertain to our own salvation,” William Hyde had explained in a farewell letter on behalf of his Julia Ann company, “and also to the salvation of our dead, which we cannot attend to in our scattered condition.”18
The policy of encouraging the Saints to gather to Utah continued until the turn of the century, when the First Presidency began encouraging the Saints throughout the world to stay and build up the Church in their homelands. The first Latter-day Saint chapel in Australia was built in Brisbane in 1904 and dedicated in 1906 as part of a worldwide policy of establishing permanent overseas branches. Within the next twenty years, chapels were built in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth. But still, small numbers of Saints, filled with a longing to visit the temple and be one with the body of the Church, continued to emigrate to Utah, often after considerable sacrifice.
The various British colonies in Australia federated in 1901. The infant nation, fighting for greater population, was not inclined to view tolerantly the activities of any group which might deplete its already small numbers. In 1918, however, the Federal Minister for Immigration finally approved repeated requests for visas to allow a larger LDS missionary force to enter the country. Alexander Hunt, senior civil servant aide to the Minister of Immigration, wrote to mission president Arnold D. Miller that the requests had been approved “on the understanding that no immigration propaganda will be carried on to induce people to leave Australia for the United States of America.”