The Wreck of the Julia Ann

BYU Studies Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 1989

by John Devitry-Smith


Part One


Between 1840 and 1890, approximately 335 organized companies carried more than eighty-five thousand Latter-day Saints by sea to the United States from around the world.1 Remarkably, only one of these vessels, the Julia Ann, was shipwrecked and Mormon passengers drowned. A reporter for the San Francisco Herald, upon hearing an eyewitness narrative of the wreck wrote that it exhibited "a picture of suffering, privation and distress seldom equaled in the annals of maritime disaster."2 The following is an account of that voyage, a look at the lives of the Mormons aboard, and a description of the ordeal that followed the shipwreck.


Australia accounted for less than 1 percent of the total world-wide Mormon migration. The first group of twenty-nine converts, under the direction of Elder Charles Wandell, left Sydney on 6 April 1853, bound for San Francisco.3 By January 1854, mission president Augustus Farnham and his first counselor William Hyde had set about securing a vessel for the second company to leave for Zion in April. An agreement was reached in the weeks following with Benjamin Franklin Pond, part owner of the relatively small 372-ton American barque, the Julia Ann, skippered by Captain C. B. Davis of New Bedford, Massachusetts.4 The fare per adult was twenty-four pounds sterling, quite expensive considering wages at the time.5 Elder John Perkins, for example, worked as a storekeeper in Sydney and earned two pounds five pence per week.6


The first company of Mormons to sail on the Julia Ann left Newcastle, New South Wales, 22 March 1854, for San Pedro, California, under the charge of Elder William Hyde.7 The vessel made exceptional time for the first leg of its journey, but the latter part became "protracted and tedious" after the ship encountered a "succession of head winds for some fifty days."8 To replenish supplies, stops were made at Huahine, an island northwest of Tahiti, and again at Hawaii. Periods of seasickness, an outbreak of measles, and the death of a Sister Esther Allen following the birth of her child were the low points of the passage, which lasted eighty-three days. Despite these difficulties, Elder Hyde was impressed by the accommodations, crew, and sailing qualities of the vessel, remarking that "the officers generally have shown us every kindness I could reasonably look for." After arriving at San Pedro, Hyde wrote to President Farnham with the news that the Julia Ann would soon be back in Sydney, stating that "should there be a company of Saints in readiness I do not think the chances will be very frequent for finding a vessel on this trade, where the same number of passengers can be accommodated."9 Captain Pond was likewise impressed with the orderly conduct of the Saints and sent word to Farnham, "[I] should be glad to make another passage engagement with you, and hope that another trip may prove more expeditious and successful than our last."10


President Farnham contacted Captain Pond upon his return with the Julia Ann but found not as many members were ready to make the voyage as previously expected.11 When the vessel sailed, only twenty-eight of the fifty-six passengers were Latter-day Saints: John S. Eldredge, age 34, and James S. Graham, both returning American missionaries; John Penfold, Sr., in charge of the company, and Elizabeth Penfold, his wife; Peter Penfold, 24; Stephen Penfold, 19; John McCarthy, 25; Andrew Anderson, 44, and Elizabeth Anderson, his wife, 44, with their children Jane, 19, Agnes, 17, Alexander, 14, Marion, 10, and James, together with three other children not named; Eliza Harris, 30, and her children Maria, 2, and Lister, 6 months; Martha Humphries, 43, and her daughters Mary and Eliza and son Francis; Charles Logie and his wife and child; and Brother Pegg.12


Although the party was a small one, several members had played important roles in the history of the Church in Australia. Andrew Anderson, his wife, and three children arrived in Sydney on 6 October 1841, as the first known Mormon family in Australia.13 The only active Mormon to precede them was William James Barratt, who arrived in Adelaide, South Australia, November 1840.14 Elizabeth Anderson was baptized in Edinburgh, Scotland, in September 1840 by Orson Pratt.15 Andrew was also baptized by Elder Pratt, most likely at the same time as his wife. After arriving in New South Wales, the family moved inland to Wellington, 240 miles from Sydney, where Andrew worked as a shepherd for Robert Howe, who had assisted in paying the family's passage from Scotland in exchange for a year's labor at moderate wages.16 Considering his situation, Anderson was a remarkable missionary in the Wellington district. He traveled extensively, held meetings, and despite the threat of expulsion from the area managed to organize the first branch of the Church in Australia in late 1844.17


Eliza and Edmund Harris were among the half-dozen documented Mormon families to arrive in Australia before the full-time missionaries in late 1851. They were "rediscovered" in May 1852 after reading an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in defense of Mormonism by Elder Charles Wandell. Eliza made a plea to the elders in Sydney for any Latter-day Saint literature, stating, "I care not what I pay for [it]," and requesting the elders to be sent to their home in Maitland as soon as possible.18 Although very poor, Edmund and Eliza were instrumental in introducing and setting up meetings for the first missionaries in the remarkably successful Maitland area. The majority of the first company of sixty-three converts who sailed on the Julia Ann in 1854 were from the Maitland district. Edmund Harris did not travel with his wife and children on the second, and fatal, voyage of the Julia Ann, in which his wife and son were drowned. He had planned on making the trip, but the recent news that assistance could no longer be given through the Perpetual Emigration Fund probably forced him to remain in order to save enough to pay his fare with the following company.


John McCarthy and John Jones were the missionaries sent to open the Maitland area as requested by the Harrises. McCarthy stands out as one of the greatest local converts to emerge from the Australian mission. Born in Ireland and raised in a staunch Catholic family, he began studying to be a priest at an early age. He had a brief encounter with Mormonism while at school and later dropped out of the Catholic church. For this he was disinherited by his parents and "punished for his rebellion. He was placed in a dungeon with skeletons; a horsehair coat, which had been dipped in lime, was placed upon him, and the punishment was so severe from this treatment, that he carried flesh wounds from it for the rest of his life."19 With the help of a friend, he escaped and boarded a ship as a stowaway. His adventure eventually brought him to Sydney, where he listened to the preaching of Elders John Murdock and Charles Wandell. After his baptism in May 1852, at the age of twenty-two, McCarthy was set apart within the month as a traveling elder to Maitland, where he excelled as a missionary. In the following years, he traveled extensively throughout New South Wales, and he was the first elder to proselyte in what is now Queensland.20 Accounts of his great faith and ability to heal the sick are among the very few existing credible miracles documented in Australia. The following was recorded by Charles Wandell and later published in the Western Standard at San Francisco in 1856 by George Q. Cannon:


As Elder McCarthy was proceeding to the water at Williams' river to baptize brother Bryant and household; his wheat, being just ready for the sickle was set on fire by the carelessness or malice of a neighbor. The brethren hastened to the spot as quickly as possible. The fire raged fearfully. There was no help, but from God; and the Elder prayed to God to quench the fire; when to the astonishment of the spectators, the fire went out apparently of itself in less than five minutes. What is not the least remarkable, Elder McCarthy, when he rebuked the fire, he went directly into it; and although the flames reached above his head, yet even his clothes were not scorched, neither was the smell of fire found upon him.


These facts were testified to the writer by brothers Bryant's and Stapley's families and others, not less than a dozen persons in all.21  Wandell also reported an account by Martha M. Humphries, who wrote that she was "raised from a bed of severe fever," through the ministrations of John McCarthy at the time of her baptism, 17 December 1853: "I was taken from my bed, against the remonstrances of my physician, who threatened elder McCarthy with prosecution if I died, and was placed in a carriage and taken more than a mile to the water and baptized, and walked home well. I was healed by the power of God."22


Part Two

When John Devitry-Smith was a senior at BYU,

he wrote this article. 


John was from Molong, New South Wales, Australia. 


Related to the article, John expressed his gratitude “to Steve Ngatai, Harvey Guy, Margaret Pratt, and his parent for their inspiration that made this article a reality.”


The article is well documented.  Obtain footnotes from the original text in BYU Studies.


Part Two

Part Three

Part Four