In 1855, 28 LDS converts set sail from Australia on the first leg of their journey to the Salt Lake Valley. During that journey their ship, the Julia Ann, wrecked on a coral reef near Tahiti.
Through the captain's reports, personal artifacts and underwater archaeological specimens, their historic journey is retold in an exhibit at the Museum of Church History and Art.Before coming to Utah, "The Wreck of the Julia Ann" exhibit was displayed at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.
Paul Hundley, curator of the Australian museum's USA Gallery and organizer of the exhibit, led an underwater exhibition team in 1996 to locate the ship. The group found the site near an atoll 400 miles west of Tahiti. (Please see May 31, 1997, Church News.) Samples of the remains collected for analysis are included in the exhibit.
In addition to the artifacts, the exhibit at the Church museum also includes several learning stations designed to teach children about 19th Century ocean travel.
They can learn how to communicate using flags, read stars for navigation or play checkers on a board similar to those used 100 years ago. They can also search for turtle eggs and sea shells or pretend they have landed on a Pacific island.
More important, however, they can learn what life may have been like for some the Church's Pacific pioneers who, before taking up handcarts or wagons to cross the western plains, sailed across the ocean.
Exhibit curator Marjorie D. Conder said that 19th Century migration, mainly from Europe, is a well-known story. However, she added, "emigration from other places is less well known, and the story of the Julia Ann is one of those stories."
The exhibit tells of the story of the shipwreck using Captain Benjamin Franklin Pond's reminiscences, published in New York in 1858. A photograph of Captain Pond holding a telescope is included in the display, together with a portrait of the First Officer P.M. Coffin that Mr. Hundley located at an auction house in New York.
The Julia Ann – carrying 56 people, including 28 Church members, and 350 tons of coal – was just four week out of Sydney when it wrecked just off Scilly Island Oct. 3, 1855. (Please see May 4, 1996, Church News.) Five Latter-day Saints, including three children, drowned when the ship split in two.
The surviving passengers and crew spent two months on a nearby island eating turtle flesh and coconuts, and drinking water from holes dug deep in the sand.
Of all the ships that carried Mormon immigrants from 1840 to 1890, the Julia Ann was the only ship to wreck at sea, explained Sister Conder.
She is quick to note that 85,000 Church converts crossed the ocean safely before gathering with the Saints. "To me that is the most compelling thing about
sea travel by early membersT," she said.
Sister Conder noted that since the exhibit opened Nov. 6, it has already attracted a lot of attention – especially from descendants of those who survived the disaster.
The exhibit also attracted a lot of attention at the Maritime Museum in Sydney. The Honorable Robert J. Carr, a member of Parliament and Premier of New South Wales, spoke when the display opened there. Elder Vaughn J Featherstone of the Seventy and president of the Church's Pacific Area also spoke at the exhibit's Sydney opening – presenting a special poem he had written on the Julia Ann's journey for the ceremony.
When the Salt Lake exhibition of "The Julia Ann Ship Wreck" closes Feb. 21, 1999, it will travel to California for showings at Newport Beach Nautical Museum and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, then will conclude its schedule at the Museum of Tahiti and the Islands in Punaavia, Tahiti.