Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Survival on a Pacific reef, eating coconuts and turtle meat

Divine Providence: the Wreck and Rescue of the JULIA ANN. / Fred E. Woods. Published by CFI, an Imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc, Springville, Utah, 2014.

A new resource in the Library is “Divine Providence the Wreck and Rescue of the JULIA ANN” by Fred E. Woods. The book is an account of mid-19th century Mormons, whose faith prompts them to leave their Australian homes and take passage on the barkentine JULIA ANN at Sydney bound for San Pedro, California. Anticipating a journey of 3 months, shipwrecked voyagers found subsistence on the lonely island reef in local flora and fauna on Manuae in the Society Islands; the original group of 63 crew and passengers had become some 50. The group remained at Tahiti into the following year, before their eventual rescue by another ship bound for the American West Coast.

The book is an account of their story and much more. For researchers beginning a study of immigration and crossing the Pacific Ocean in sailing ships of the mid-1850s, it is a trove of published primary sources in the form of letters, articles, portraits, and biographies. To prepare the reader for the details surrounding the wreck on October 3, 1855, background is given on the Mormon faith and the “call to gather. Articles and journal entries by Church leaders describe the history of the then-budding religious group known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, people for whom the wide-spread mission of the Church had come full-circle: they were now called back to the home church in North America. The call was the instruction from the Church fathers to resolve the disparate nature of the Morman Church and to build up a unified church in North America.

The history of Mormons in the United States in the 1850s is tied to the migration stories of many thousands seeking Zion, a religious mecca recognized by the Mormons or Latter Day Saints, sometimes called “Saints”. Difficulties facing travelers to the center of Zion on the West Coast or in a Western state would be no more or less grueling for other groups except that Mormons for over 25 years had experienced a diaspora of their members to far-flung countries such as Great Britain and Australia and were then in the process of calling them back.

Practicing Mormons in Australia had endured persecution for their faith and were anxious to join in the gathering. Even so, migration from one country to another in the 1850s was an undertaking fraught with danger, involving overseas and overland travel; some travelers would never arrive at their intended destination, being buried at sea or in a grave on some unknown and foreign land. Particularly arduous were long ocean passages over the Pacific Ocean, a body of water fed by rogue and unforgiving storms, hidden coral reefs, and islands charted incongruous with reality at best. A ship’s captain and crew were charged with responsibilities for which no guarantee existed, even if their reputations, commendable.

The captain of the barkentine JULIA ANN, was Benjamin Franklin Pond, whose experience commanding the JULIA ANN in a first voyage from Sydney to San Francisco would have prepared him for the second voyage. But charts were not always accurate: in his autobiography, the reef on which the ship was wrecked, was located on his charts to be “from sixty to ninety miles too much to windward”, hence the miscalculation resulted in tragedy. Of the passengers and crew aboard, 5 were taken by the waves which freely claimed them, at the point of the ship's impact with the reef.

Most helpful for visualizing the story, the book carries a DVD illuminating the autobiography of Captain William Pond, which details you may read and/or watch as a reenactment of the shipwreck on October 3, 1855.

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