“‘Was It Not a Revelation from God?’: How Inspiration Helped the Julia Ann Survivors,” Ensign, Oct. 1997, 10
Many members have heard the dramatic story of the Julia Ann, a sailing vessel shipwrecked in 1855 while transporting Latter-day Saints and others from Australia to California. Less well known are details of how inspiration guided the vessel’s survivors.
Early in the afternoon of 7 September 1855, the Julia Ann set sail with a total of 56 people on board, 28 being members of the Church gathering to the United States. Undoubtedly fear and anxiety mingled with anticipation in their hearts, for many had sailed from the British Isles to Australia and were already familiar with the rigors of sea travel. Few, however, could have imagined the harrowing experience that awaited them.
After almost one month at sea, disaster struck. On the evening of 4 October 1855, the ship smashed into a coral reef, and five Saints lost their lives in the bedlam that followed. After hours of struggle, the other 51 emigrants, led by Captain B. F. Pond, were able to reach a small, uninhabited island. There they remained for almost two months, subsisting primarily on shellfish, coconuts, turtle meat, and turtle eggs, before Captain Pond was sufficiently prepared to attempt to seek help.
The captain was faced with two options: by using a small boat salvaged from the wreckage, he could sail 1,500 miles westward to the Navigator Islands or 300–500 miles eastward to Tahiti. Despite the vast difference in distance, the captain determined that sailing 1,500 miles westward was the most logical choice, for strong winds had been blowing continuously in that direction for weeks.
Captain Pond, not a member of the Church, prefaced his account of the “peculiar episode” that followed with these words: “I can simply vouch for the facts, without any attempt to argue, or explain” (see Benjamin Franklin Pond, “Autobiography of Captain B. F. Pond” , 129).
As the captain and his crew members were readying themselves for the westward journey, one of the Church members—apparently John McCarthy, a missionary who had been serving in Australia—reported what Captain Pond called “a dream or vision” in which “he saw the boat successfully launched upon her long voyage” but then “floating bottom up, and the drowned bodies of her crew floating around her” (“Autobiography,” 129). Alarmed, Captain Pond’s men refused to accompany him on the voyage.
The disgruntled captain was forced to change his plans and prepare to sail east. He “then gave strict orders that there should be no more visions told in public unless they were favorable ones, and first submitted to me for my approval.” After several days the missionary approached Captain Pond again, reporting that he had seen another vision. “I asked him if it was a good one,” wrote the captain. “Yes, [the missionary said,] a very good one. 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” (“Autobiography,” 129–30).
The nine-member crew still lacked one man. Said the captain, “I looked [the missionary] over. He was a fine, athletic fellow, and [I] asked him if he believed his vision. ‘Yes, indeed, [he said,] was it not a revelation from God?’ I then suggested that [he could] prove his faith by volunteering for the boat. ‘Of course,’ [he said,] and he did with alacrity” (“Autobiography,” 130).
Remarkably, on the morning of the men’s departure, the winds reversed and began to blow in the very direction that Captain Pond now intended to go.
The captain and his crew spent three long days laboring at their oars and fighting sickness in the battered boat. Finally a welcome cry was raised: “Land ahead!” Captain Pond expressed the joy they felt at the occasion: “Oh, how the cry, the thought, the reality thrilled our every nerve, and our anxious longing eyes gazing at the dim, cloud like outline of a far distant island, gradually lit with renewed fire, and hope again shone out, bright and clear” (“Autobiography,” 128).
But the struggle was not yet over. For a time the distant island disappeared from view, and crew members were forced to contend with a violent sea. Finally, after many exhausting, discouraging hours, the little boat reached the shore. The bedraggled crew were met by wary natives who initially suspected the sailors to be pirates but were persuaded to provide help. Eventually a schooner was obtained from a nearby island and all the Julia Ann’s survivors were rescued. Thus the missionary’s dream, as the captain described it, was “fulfilled against every probability” (“Autobiography,” 130).