Shipwrecked Mormons Intrigue Curator

Display of artifacts planned, survivors' descendants sought

By Kirsten Sorenson

Glade Ian Nelson of Kaysville, Utah is thankful his pioneer great-grandparents were on the first voyage of the Julia Ann 1854 that carried Mormon immigrants from Australia to San Francisco.

That's because the second voyage, which carried 28 members of the LDS Church, broke apart on a coral reef near the Society Islands on Oct. 2, 1855. Five Mormons, two women and three children, died in the shipwreck, about 400 miles from Tahiti in French Polynesia.

The others spent 48 hours in the sea before finding refuge on Scilly, a desolate, uninhabited island. Several men later rowed 250 miles to Bora Bora for help. The survivors were rescued nearly two months after the shipwreck and taken to Tahiti. Meanwhile, they lived in family units and ate only coconuts and fish and drank water from holes dug deep in the sand.

But of all the ships that carried Mormon immigrants in the church's pioneer years of 1840-1890, the Julia Ann was the only craft to wreck. Some 85,000 converts crossed the oceans safely to take part in the gathering of saints in the Great Basin.

Nelson, manager of international operations for the church's Family History Library, said his ancestors James and Mary Warby were part of the 85,000 who made it safely to the American continent and on to what is now Utah.

The 142-year-old tragedy has intrigued Paul F. Hundley, curator of the USA Gallery at Australian National Maritime Museum of Sydney. Hundley has already led one expedition to investigate the wreckage and hopes to plan for another to find the actual ship, which originally was 118 feet long and 25 feet wide, and raise it.

He also wants to search for where the survivors encamped after and for descendants of the ship's survivors in hopes of locating any surviving personal effects. Hundley was in Salt Lake this week on his way to Boston for a maritime museum conference.

The curator said the ship wrecked during a violent storm because a nearsighted crewman on watch forgot his glasses. By the time he returned from below deck to retrieve them, the ship smashed into the reef. The stern section lifted onto the reef and the bow fell into the deep water.

The bodies of the five Mormons washed away in the storm: Mary and Martha Humphreys, Eliza Harris and her infant son, Lister, and 10-year-old Marian Anderson, were never found.

After the wreck, the ship's crew rigged a pulley system from the ship to the reef and ferried survivors across the water in the arms of the captain. The first was 17- year-old Rosa Clara Logie, who was pulled hand over hand to the reef. The captain left her standing on the sharp coral.

"They were standing waist deep in the water, the whole night, probably half-naked and no shoes," Hundley said.

Gradually, most of the company, including Rosa's husband, Charles, and her baby daughter, Ann, made it to the reef. He said the disaster was tremendous for that period of time. "It's equivalent to modern air disasters," Hundley said. After the group encamped on the island, they made several trips to the boat to salvage material supplies, coal and personal effects. "It was sort of Swiss Family Robinson on a big scale," Hundley said. "But without the romance."

When Rosa Clara arrived in San Francisco, Elder George Q. Cannon presented her with a small pewter teapot in recognition of her bravery for being the first to go to the reef. Of the 23 LDS survivors of the wreck, all but one family migrated to Utah; one stayed in California.

They were common people: millers, papermakers and farmers. A total of 120 Mormons migrated in the two voyages of the Julia Ann, Hundley said. He and other archaeologists are preparing an exhibit of artifacts recovered from the wreckage of the Julia Ann. And he said he believes his team has found the site where the ship ran aground.

They already have found copper sheathing that protected the hull, copper fastenings used in the construction of the vessel, an anchor, rigging, ballast and some of the 350 tons of coal the ship was carrying as cargo. The material was dispersed over an area 50 meters wide and several hundred meters long. The items will be displayed at the Australian museum next year and may tour Utah and California.

Hundley said the wreck was important because it was a vessel involved in trade and commerce, and was important to Mormon migration. It was part of the first of only two organized migrations from Australia.

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