Divine Providence: Story of LDS shipwrecked immigrants documented in film

Written by: 
Ethan Toledo~Multimedia Journalist

In hoping to tell the story of the only ship of LDS Church immigrants wrecked with loss of life and address the theme of divine providence, filmmakers Fred Woods and Martin Andersen from Utah, presented the story, their research, and a teaser of a movie “A Divine Providence: The Wreck and Rescue of the Julia Ann,” on Jan. 19 in BYU-Hawaii’s Little Theater. The BYUH Religion Department and The Mormon Pacific Historical Society sponsored the event.

“We wanted to get across the theme of divine providence that the hand of God was indeed among the Saints as they made efforts to gather to Zion in the 19th Century,” Woods said.

Woods gave the background and history behind the story of the Julia Ann, including the history of the church and missionary work in Australia. Andersen told about the creation of the film, their reason for coming to Hawaii to do some research, and then presented a 7-minute teaser trailer that featured illustrations of the story and excerpts from journals of the passengers.

“We have a story that is true [and] that has never been told,” said Andersen. “There are many times you rehash things over, but I haven’t heard this out there yet, and it’s a great story that should be.”

Andersen said he was excited they had the opportunity to be the ones to introduce people to the Julia Ann tale. “Professor Woods alerted me to [the story] a couple years ago as one of the stories that we wanted to do, and I actually approached him this summer, saying, ‘This is the story we need to do next.’”

Woods and Andersen were in Hawaii because they were following the route of the Julia Ann. After the survivors were in Tahiti, “they eventually made it to Honolulu,” said Woods. “So we want to do research in filming in these different places, and I’m interested in the passenger list in the Hawaii state archives and journals that are in BYU-Hawaii. We’re just wanting to capture the bigger picture of the Pacific migration,” he said.

Andersen and Woods were very thorough with what they covered in their research. Andersen mentioned they didn’t only want to know how many people were on the ship but they also wanted to know who was there, what they were there for and what brought them to the place. Woods loves making documentaries because of the chance to paint a picture and show a story as well as tell it.

The Julia Ann was a ship that transported immigrants from Australia to America. She had previously made a successful voyage in 1854, transporting a number of LDS immigrants to San Francisco. Her second voyage departed on Sept. 7, 1855, and was set for San Pedro, Calif. On the boat were 56 passengers, exactly half of which were LDS immigrants. On the evening Oct. 3, 26 days after their departure, the saints were singing “The Gallant Ship is Under Weigh,” a W. W. Phelps tune which they had sung also at the time of their departure. At that time, the Julia Ann struck a coral reef, and the captain knew almost immediately that there was no saving the ship.

The immigrants evacuated the ship, and by 11, they were clear of the now sunken boat. Five of the immigrants had been thrown into the water and drowned. The women and children floated in the small raft they had crafted while the men stood with bare feet on the coral reef in waist-high water. In two days, they traveled along the reef to a deserted island where the inhabitants stayed for two months, living off of turtle meat and crabs.

Captain Pond thought that waiting to be found was not an option, and instead decided to attempt to row to Bora Bora, a 400-mile journey east in tradewinds, which blew from east to west. When Captain Pond and nine other men departed, the wind blew in their favor. They rowed for three days and three nights, and on the fourth day, they could see their destination. However, a strong storm came, throwing them off course and blowing them away from the island.

From there, Captain Pond was able to secure rescue for the passengers and the crew, and after some time in Tahiti, those on the Julia Ann eventually were able to make it to America.

“We might see it as a tragedy that of all these ships, here’s one that sunk, and five lives were taken. And a lot of people would say that’s the story,” said Andersen, “That’s part of the story, but the story is about the 51 survived and why did they survived.”

The film is scheduled to be released sometime later in 2013.