Life History of Captain Benjamin Pond

Earlier, I posted the history of my great grandparents, Charles and Rosa Clara Logie who were aboard the ill-fated ship, Julia Ann that sank in the South Pacific on its way from Sydney to San Francisco.

The captain of that boat told a different story about the sinking than was recorded by my mariner ancestor, Charles, who had been at the wheel of the ship until shortly before it sank.

After the sinking, it was discovered that the charts the ship was using were wrong by almost 100 miles.  The reef they struck was known, but was misplaced on the chart used by Captain Pond.

Here is his history and version of that fateful journey.

Life History of Captain Benjamin Pond

Captain of the ship “Julia Ann”

First trip as a young man – age 19.

But we were not to escape scott free from the prevailing epidemic. My companion was seized out on the prairie some miles before reaching Carthage, the county seat of Hancock County. He weakened and fell prostrate on the road, and it was with the utmost difficulty that I succeeded in reaching the town. Here I was compelled to leave him, and I fear that he died there among strangers, for his trunk was never claimed. Unfortunately, I lost his address, and was therefore unable to communicate with his friends East.

As I neared Nauvoo, I learned by experience that before inquiring the road to the hated city of “Later Day Saints”, I must begin by roundly abusing the Mormons, for there was such an intense feeling among the people of Hancock County against them, and which culminated before many months subsequently in driving them from the State to make a new settlement, and found a prosperous city, “Salt Lake City” in the far far West — that at night, on my first days walk from Carthage, I found myself ten miles further from Nauvoo than when I started in the morning, having been purposely directed the wrong road on the supposition that I was Mormon pilgrim.

Right here I will pause to state a fatiguing experience for the benefit of my son Harry, which gave me a life habit, simple but useful. On my second morning out, I had accomplished about ten miles walk before I discovered that I had left my gold repeating watch, a valuable gift from my father, under my pillow, and consequently, I had to retrace my steps, causing an extra walk of twenty miles, from careless forgetfulness. One experience of this kind taught me a life lesson, to put my watch and purse when traveling in one of my stockings before depositing it under my pillow, for I could not well forget to put on my stocking the following morning.

I spent about a week in Nauvoo, but failed to meet Joe Smith, the Mormon prophet and founder of the sect, as he was then in hiding, to escape the serving of a writ for murder which had been sworn out against him.

I then took passage in a steamer for St. Louis, Missouri, thence in a small stern-wheel steamer to Ottaway at the head of navigation on the Illinois River.

Fourth Voyage of the Julia Ann to Australia

Wreck of the Julia Ann and two months residence of the survivors on a coral reef

in the South Pacific Ocean.

The account of the wreck of the Julia Ann given in the following chapter is a rescript of an address given before the “Tenafly Literary Society,” November 10, 1893, on an assigned subject, viz: “Perils of the Sea,” illustrated by an account of the wreck of the Barque Julia Ann, and two months residence of the survivors on a coral reef in the South Pacific, eliminating only the introductory remarks giving a description of the vessel and incidents already recorded in the preceding pages:

We sailed from Sydney on Friday, September 7th, 1855, with fifty-six souls on board, men, women and children. The day seemed very unpropitious and gloomy, and before our anchor was weighed, it commenced blowing and raining, and in getting out of the harbor, we met with very many annoying accidents.

The first two weeks at sea were altogether exceedingly unpleasant; head winds, accompanied with much rain. We, however, entered the South East trades, and everything brightened, promising a speedy and pleasant voyage.

Twenty-seven days out, October 3rd, I was on the lookout for land all day, and carried a press of sail, in order to pass certain dangerous islands before night. At that day those seas were very incorrectly surveyed. At one time, bound from San Francisco to Australia, about sundown, we raised a reef crossing our course directly ahead of us, about ten miles long, not noticed or marked on any chart extant. Had we been an hour later, the ship would have been a helpless wreck. About two P. M., we sailed directly over the position given on my charts of the Scilly reefs on which the vessel was wrecked, and on my arrival at Tahiti, on looking the matter carefully up, I found that my calculations were correct, and that the position given on the charts was from 60 to ninety miles too much to windward.

At sundown no land could be seen from the royal yards, and I judged myself at least thirty miles past them, and after my arrival at “Bora Bora”, I found that I was correct.

However, in compliance with my usual custom of precaution, when in the vicinity of reefs or islands, at eight o’clock I charged Mr. Coffin, my first officer, to have a good lookout kept, and went below to get some rest.

I had been in the cabin not over half an hour, when the alarming cry of “hard down your helm” was heard; I sprang to my feet, but my heart failed me, as I was nearly thrown upon the floor of the cabin by the violent striking of the ship, and before I could reach the deck, she was thumping hard. On deck the scene was terrific.

It was blowing a trade gale, a high sea was running, the vessel was in the breaker of the coral reef, and no land in sight. I instantly saw there was no hope for the ship, and very little for the lives of those on board. You can form some idea with what force the ship struck. At eight bells, the wind about two points free, port studding sails set alow and aloft, we logged the ship, and she marked over eleven knots.

I, however, kept sail on the vessel to force her as high as possible on the reef, and then cutaway the masts, to relieve her from the immense strain. And now the lives of those on board were my first care, and the prospect was gloomy enough. The sea was making a complete breach over the ship, she had fallen on her beam ends, seaward, and threatened to be rapidly torn to pieces by the enormous seas that were rolling in upon her. There was no land in sight, and not a dry rock visible upon the reef. One of our quarter boats was stove when we first struck. I endeavored to secure our only remaining boat, but it soon broke adrift from the davits and plunged bows on, into the sea.

The second mate and three or four sailors nobly plunged after. The boat was stove and turned bottom up, and they were all thrown upon the reef together; Mr. Owens, the second officer, very badly injured and disabled from further exertions.

I now called for a volunteer to attempt to reach the reef by swimming with a small line. One of the sailors instantly stripped, the log line was attached to his body, and he succeeded in swimming to the reef, under the lee of the vessel. By this means a larger line was hauled to the reef and made fast to the jagged coral. A small one for a hauling line was also rove, and I commenced the perilous task of placing the women and children upon the reef.

A sailor in a sling upon the rope took a woman, or a child, in his arms, and was hauled to the reef by those already there, and then hauled back again by myself and others. The process was an exceedingly arduous one, and attended with much peril; but our boats had they not been destroyed would have been useless in such a surf, and it was the only means left us.

In the meantime, the vessel was laboring and thumping in a most fearful manner, and it was almost impossible to cling to the iron railing of the quarterdeck. One or two persons had already been hurled far seaward by the awful throes of the ship. The passengers were collected in the after-cabin, where they were compelled to remain, though the sea breached in and half filled it; and presented themselves as their names were called, to be passed to the reef upon the rope. There was no confusion; up to the last all were subservient to my orders. But the scene rapidly drew to a crisis.

The vessel had fallen off the reef to more than double her former distance; the rope attached to the reed was stretched to its utmost tension, the hauling line had parted for the third time; the crew were all on the reef and after repeated efforts to join us, the attempt was abandoned. At every surge of the sea I expected the vessel would turn bottom up; two large families still remained on board of her with Mr. Coffin (my first officer) and myself; five had been drowned, two washed off the deck, and three out of the cabin; the sea had broken in the forward part, and it was with the utmost difficulty that any one could keep from being washed away.

I urged those remaining to try to reach the reef on the rope before it parted, it was a desperate but only chance for life. The women and children could not, and the men shrunk from the yawning gulf us from certain death. Captain Coffin and I however watching our opportunity as that last destructive roller struck the ship, breaking her in two just abaft the main mast, we slid down on the slack of the rope, and there rolled in a kind of trip sea, tearing off the quarter deck on which the few persons still on board were clinging, washed it completely over us, and anchored it upon the reef, and the lives of those on board were most providentially saved. The sailors who were in charge of the reef end of the rope finding that it had parted from the ship and was adrift, mechanically hauled it in, and to their surprise and delight found Coffin and myself clinging to the end of it.

And here I will pause a moment in the direct narrative to relate a few of the most graphic incidents occurring upon the ship before we had all effected or escape to the reef.

When the ship first struck, Mr. Owens, my second officer, came to me and inquired whether I had not considerable gold on board. I told him I had. He then offered, with my consent, to make an effort to save a portion of it. I went into my stateroom and opened the iron safe in which I had $15,000.in English sovereigns, and much other treasures and valuables. I took two bags of gold containing about $8,000. or $9,000., and gave them to him. I was in great haste, for the sea was breaking over the ship, and my presence was very necessary on deck. I thought it very doubtful whether we could save our lives, and therefore considered the gold of little importance; but as I was closing the safe, I happened to notice a roll of sterling exchange for $10,000 lying before me utterly forgotten. I picked it up and stuffed it into my pocket; it was well that I put it into my pantaloons pocket, for when I left the ship I threw off all my clothes except my pants.

This was the last time I was in my stateroom, or saw the iron safe, which was lost with all its valuable contents. I will here state the somewhat romantic circumstances attending the recovery and preservation of those bills of exchange. The responsibility thrown upon me of preserving and saving human lives during the wreck and up to our final deliverance was so overpowering that I gave no thought whatever to the pecuniary loss, and this roll of exchange stuffed in my pantaloons pocket was entirely forgotten. About two weeks after the wreck, a sudden thought struck me to investigate the contents of my pockets, if perchance something useful might be discovered. I found it no easy matter to affect an entrance, the pocket being hermetically sealed by its long immersion in salt water. I was engaged in picking out and throwing on the ground the obstruction, when Captain Coffin, standing behind me, suddenly called out, “Look out Captain, what are you tearing up?” And when I saw the yellow scraps of paper, for the first time the thought of that exchange flashed across my mind. The pocket was carefully cut out; the money was in one solid wad, much mutilated (all three sets, pounds, shillings, and pence were there). We picked up the torn pieces, wrapped all together in canvas, and sewed it up securely. When I left the island on that boat voyage, I deemed my chance of life and success so very slim that I wrote a farewell note to my parents in New York, giving a brief statement of my pecuniary affairs in shape of a will, wrapped it up with the package of sterling exchange, and gave it to my first officer, Captain Coffin, to be delivered to my father in New York, in the event of his escape from the island. After my arrival in San Francisco, it became necessary for me to return to Australia to settle up my business affairs. I therefore chartered and loaded the ship “Horihant,” and prosecuted my last voyage to Sydney, sailed thence for New York in the ship “Sea King,” via Callao and Panama. On my arrival in New York, I found the package of sterling exchange, preserved more as a keepsake than for any special value. I however sent it intact to the Bank of Liverpool, and by return mail received a check for about $11,000, no unwelcome windfall just then in the face of so great pecuniary loss.

When I stationed Mr. Owens and some men to endeavor to save our only remaining boat, he put the two bags of sovereigns in his stateroom, and when the boat was washed away with Mr. Owens and his crew there was no time to think of gold. After a while, the sailor who was on the rope taking passengers to the reef, told me that he must have a pair of boots before he could go again, as his boots were cut to pieces by the sharp coral. I went down to my stateroom to get him a pair, but something had fallen against the door inside, and I could not open it. I returned to the deck for the purpose of getting an axe to break it open, when “hold on all,” rang in my ears, and I had barely time to seize hold of the mizzen rigging when an awful sea struck the ship, tearing up the bulwarks, threatening death and destruction to every thing within its reach. A fearful shriek arose from the cabin, and when I returned not a vestige of my stateroom, or its contents, remained. That resistless sea had stove in the forward part of the cabin washed away the starboard staterooms, with two women and a little child. The poor mother had lashed her infant to her bosom, and thus they found a water grave together. There was a mother with six children; the husband and father selfishly deserted them, and escaped to the reef, before the hauling line parted. I urged the mother to improve the only chance to save her own life. She sobbingly exclaimed, “No, I cannot leave my babes, we will die together.” When the husband and father reached the reef, the sailors inquired where his family was; he replied, “on board the ship.” In their indignation at his cowardly desertion of them, they seized and threw him bodily back into the sea. A friendly wave washed him back again, and they allowed him to crawl to a place of safety upon the reef.

There was a large family on board named Anderson, a father, mother and three daughters, two sons and an infant. One daughter, a pretty girl, ten years of age, was washed off the deck shortly after the ship struck and drowned. Another daughter, Agnes, sixteen years old, had escaped to the reef, the rest of the family were still on board, the hauling line had parted, the forward part of the ship had broken up, and no hope remained for those who were yet clinging to the quarter deck; but above the roar of the breakers and shrieks of despair, a mother’s voice was heard crying “Agnes, Agnes, come to me.” Agnes was seated on the wreck of the mainmast that had floated upon the reef, but no sooner did she hear that mother’s piercing wail, than she sprang to her feet, threw her arms up, shrieking, “Mother! Mother! I come, I come,” and plunged headlong into the sea. A sailor fortunately near, seized her by her clothes, and drew her back again. The family was eventually saved, when the quarterdeck was washed upon the reef. The mother said she felt as though she wanted Agnes with her, and then all would die together.

Again, when the ship first struck the reef, I took my nautical instruments and gave them to one of my most reliable men, and sent him the first one to the reef upon the rope with the charge that, “all of our lives might depend upon their safety, and if I found him alive, I should also expect to find those precious instruments in his possession.” I also had barrels of bread and other provisions thrown overboard, but all that we eventually gathered was ruined for use by the salt water.

Our situation of the reef can be better imagined than described. It was about eleven o’clock at night, when all were landed; we were up to our waists in water, and the tide rising. Seated upon spars and broken pieces of wreck, we patiently awaited the momentous future. Wrapped in a wet blanket picked up among the floating spars I seated myself in the boat, the water reaching to my waist, my limbs and arms were badly cut, and bruised by the coral.

Though death threatened ere morning dawn, exhausted nature could bear up no longer, and I slept soundly. It was near morning when I awoke. The moon was up and shed her faint light over the dismal scene; the sullen roar of the breakers sent an additional chill through my already benumbed frame. The bell at the wheel, with every surge of the sea, still tolled a knell to the departed, and naught else, but the wailings of a bereaved mother, broke the stillness of the night, or indicated life among that throng of human automata; during the long hours of that weary night, the iron had entered their souls, and the awful solemnity of their situation was brooded over in silence.

At morning’s dawn low islands were discovered, distant about ten miles. Again all was activity. Immediately set about patching the boat, whilst others collected spars and drift stuff to form a raft, on which to place the women and children. A little after sunrise, I started for the land, though our boats would scarcely float.

The first island on which we landed presented a very barren appearance; it was covered with the banana tree; birds were plentiful and very tame, but after a diligent search no water, fruit or vegetables could be found. We proceeded to another, and nothing but disappointment awaited us. Water was madly sought for in vain; and late in the afternoon we returned disappointed and unsuccessful to our companions on the reef. I then placed the women and children in the boat, and sent them in charge of Mr. Coffin to the land, while the rest of us remained on the reef for a second night. A small raft had been found, but not large enough for all to sit upon.

Early on the morning of the second day, Mr. Coffin returned to us with the boat, and I immediately dispatched him again in search of water, for the want of which we were nearly famishing; while the rest of us commenced in earnest preparing a couple of rafts, on which we placed what provisions and clothing could be collected. And about ten o’clock made an attempt to reach the island, by wading along the reef, our boats in tow, the old and helpless men, of whom where were several, being placed upon them. Energy, perseverance and above all, necessity, can accomplish almost impossibilities, and we were successful.

Most of the water for a distance was deep. In one place, for over a mile, it took us to our necks, the shorter men being compelled to cling to the rafts. Several deep inlets had to be crossed when our best swimmers were called into requisition. In one of these attempts I nearly lost two of my best men. Large numbers of sharks followed in our wake, at one time I counted over twenty, and not infrequently we were compelled to seek safety from them upon the rafts.  Late in the afternoon we reached the island, completely exhausted, but our hearts swelled with gratitude as we were conducted by the children to some holes dug in the coral sand on the beach, where they had obtained drinkable water. We had been forty-eight hours in the salt water, two days exposed to the rays of a tropical sun, without food or drink. We never found any fresh water supply on any of the small islands other than by digging; the water we obtained in this was brackish, but fairly good.

The island that we reached with our rafts, and where we made our permanent camp was a low, oblong coral reef, rising just above the surface of the sea, perhaps fifty rods long by twenty rods at its widest point, covered quite thickly with a low tree of the banyan species. Our first great anxiety was a search for something to eat. Remember, we had been literally fasting for forty-eight hours, without a morsel of food. Under such circumstances you may well believe that we were neither very particular nor squeamish. We found the island fairly swarming with a small red land crab[ , about half the size of one’s fist, not a crab, but we knew no other name, and so dubbed them crab. They were a crawly affair, naturally disgusting to the touch or taste, but they were food to the famishing, and we seized upon them with avidity. In about a week we cleared the entire island, not one more of the creeping things could be found.

I well remember the excitement and glorification among our little party of castaways on the discovery of our first turtle. About five days after our landing, I was seated with my officers at our camp fire discussing the situation, the rapidly diminishing supply of our only food, the delectable crab, was causing the keenest anxiety, when a loud shout from a party of sailors some distance from us up the beach attracted our attention. They were shouting and dancing in a circle around something to us invisible. Every one rushed to the spot, and there found a large turtle in the hands of the Philistines. And this find meant to us a new lease of life. Knowing the habits of the sea turtle during the incubating season of seeking the land at night and depositing their eggs in the dry sand on the beach, we organized parties, watch and watch, to patrol the beach during the entire night on the lookout for turtle, and when one was found, they would turn him over on his back, and the following day the night’s catch would be brought to camp. Our largest find in any one night was five turtles. Every turtle killed was carefully divided among the several messes, first saving a portion to be jerked and dried in the sun, for the purpose of accumulating provisions for our proposed boat voyage. We soon began to gather more turtle than we needed for our daily consumption. We therefore built a stockade turtle pen to keep them, to be used as needed, believing that they would live on land as well as on the deck of a ship at sea, where they can be kept for months alive by simply throwing sea water over them occasionally during the day. But in this we were disappointed, for every morning we found a dead turtle or two in our pen, and as we could not afford to lose any, we lived on turtle, butchered, alamode, after death.

And right here I will correct a misstatement made by Miss Spangenberg, in a letter published in the San Francisco Daily Herald, in which she says that we obtained fire by rubbing barro together. Not so. On the night of the wreck, when I found the ship was hopelessly doomed, I tried to provide as fast as possible for just such circumstances as we were finally placed in, among other things, the need of matches. I therefore put a large quantity in my overcoat pocket, but on leaving the wreck I threw off my overcoat and all surplus clothing. Afterwards this coat was found floating on the reef, but the matches were water soaked and spoiled. Fortunately a sailor had three or four matches in the lining of his hat, where he had been in the habit of keeping them to use in an emergency for lighting his pipe. With these we started a fire, and took good care to never allow it to go out while we remained on the reef.

Three days after our landing I took an exploring party in the boat, and upon an island some eight miles, from the one on which we had located, discovered a grove of cocoanuts. Our hearts dilated with gratitude, for without something of this kind, our case would have been indeed desperate. Our living now consisted of shellfish, turtle, sharks and cocoanuts. We also prepared a garden and planted some pumpkins, peas and beans. They came up finely and flourished for a few weeks, then withered and died, for lack of deepness of soil. I have been asked where we got seeds to plant. The damaged provisions, such as bags of peas and beans found upon the reef furnished seeds that when planted grew; a pumpkin was also picked up on the reef, from which we obtained seeds.

Having found means of present subsistence, my next object was to repair the boat. It was one of our quarter boats, small and badly stove, but no other hope seemed to offer for a final deliverance from captivity. We constructed a forge and smith’s bellows to make nails and the ironwork necessary. Several trips were made to the wrecks, from which we obtained canvas, boards and many necessary articles. A lookout was also established at the cocoa island, as perchance a passing vessel might be signaled, and at night parties were sent out to hunt turtle. We build a small punt, or bateau, for use on the lagoon, while our larger boat was being repaired, and fitted for sea service. We also gathered broken barrel staves on the beach and made kegs and vessels to hold water.

We divided ourselves into families, built huts and thatched with the leaves of the pandanus tree. All the provisions found were thrown into one common stock, and equally divided among each mess every morning, and we gradually became reconciled to our sad fate.

And here I will anticipate a question that has probably already suggested itself, and that had occasionally trouble me, but which in the crowding anxieties and perplexities that pressed upon me, I had found no opportunity to investigate. And that was, how it happened that with a good lookout on the foreyard, the ship should have dashed so recklessly and without warning to her destruction. However, the answer came to me unasked in this manner: Our night patrol and captured five large turtle on one of the outlying island, and I sent two men in the punt across the lagoon to bring them to camp. The sailor in charge, against the protest of his companion, undertook to bring them all in one trip, the consequence was the boat was swamped in the middle of the lagoon. With my glass I saw the men struggling in the water, but was quite powerless to help them. When night set in, I had a large beacon fire kindled, in the hope that it might possibly be of use to them, and about nine o’clock one of them came puffing in half drowned. He had supported himself with an oar, and thus succeeded in reaching land. He came to me with a grievance. Said that he would never trust himself afloat again with that man, (his sailor companion) that he had nearly drowned him twice, and he would take good care not to give him another chance. Said that on the night of the wreck that fellow was ordered aloft to lookout, taking him along for company. That he saw a long white strip of water ahead and pointed it out, and asked what it could be, but our bright look-out was near sighted, and could not see any thing peculiar, but thought he would go down into the forecastle for his spectacles, and of course before his return the doomed ship had solved the mystery. A startling revelation. Five lives lost, great anxiety and suffering incurred, a large amount of property destroyed, all owing to the near sightedness of a common sailor, and yet did it ever occur to the Captain of a ship to have the sight of his forecastle men examined?

We divided ourselves into families, built huts and thatched with the leaves of the pandanus tree. All the provisions found were thrown into one common stock, and equally divided among each mess every morning, and we gradually became reconciled to our sad fate.

The nearest inhabited islands were the Society Group, supposed to be three hundred to five hundred miles dead to windward of us; for more than five weeks it had been blowing a steady trade gale from the east, and I reluctantly abandoned the hope of ever reaching them, and turned my eyes to leeward. The Navigator Islands seemed our only chance, and though the distance some fifteen hundred miles was appalling, I determined to steer for them, trusting to a kind Providence for our success. I selected four of my men for a boat’s crew, and fixed the day for our departure.

Nothing now remained for us but to survey the opening from the lagoon to the ocean, which had been neglected owing to the want of a suitable boat, but the existence of which had never given many uneasiness. And you may judge of our dismay when, after two days diligent search, no passage could be found, and the fact that we were imprisoned in a circle of angry breakers became apparent. Gloomy despair seemed to fill every breast; those most active and energetic heretofore seemed prostrated; but bewailing our unhappy lot and future prospects would never affect deliverance, and I summoned all of my flagging energies to the task. I scattered the ship’s crew and officers in every direction over the reef, and commenced a systematic search for any break in the rocks that might offer a chance for the launching of a boat. Three days were spent in this manner upon the reef, and a spot finally selected, whereby carrying the boat some two hundred yards and in favorable weather offered a hope of success.

On the following day I determined to make the trial. But my own spirits now seemed crushed. I felt like one going to the stake, a foreboding of evil came over me. The weather was unsettled and threatening, and I retired to my tent as I thought for the last time, unhappy and without hope. The clouds gathered in gloomy grandeur, and finally broke in a tornado over the island. In vain I sought repose and sleep. About three o’clock in the morning I arose and walked down upon the beach, and there indeed was experienced the climax of my distress, for the boat upon which all our hopes centered had disappeared.

I called the second mate, and as the report spread from tent to tent, men, women and children, yet in the gray dawn of morning, gathered upon the beach, and gazed upon the spot where the night previous, they had seen the priceless boat so snugly moored. Their great misfortune could hardly be realized. Our compass, nautical instruments and everything of value had been exhausted in its construction. The loss of all these banished hopes from every breast, and seemed to seal the doom of the entire party. Some threw themselves in despair upon the beach; the silent tear trickled down the cheeks of speechless women; others moaned aloud at their sad, sad fate, for our provisions were nearly exhausted, and starvation stared us in the face.

I endeavored to cheer them with the hope that the boat had dragged her anchor into deep water, and after drifting across the lagoon would anchor herself again off one of the leeward islands. This eventually proved to be the case, and the boat was recovered, nearly full of water, but not injured. The weather now seemed to be breaking up; the trade winds blew less steadily, and all appearances indicated change. Secretly influenced by a gloomy, undefined premonition of evil and disaster, as the result of my proposed attempt to reach the Navigator Islands, I was now determined on the apparently more desperate course of double banking the boat with a crew of ten men, and watching a favorable opportunity, endeavor to pull to the nearest windward islands.

Against this course Captain Coffin, an old whaler, opposed all his influence and experience. Said he would rather venture alone than with ten mouths to feed, that it would be impossible to pull our boat, so deeply loaded, against a headwind and sea, and there was no place under our lee where we could make a harbor in the event of our encountering what we might expect–easterly weather; that in fact, it was a life of death undertaking, success or certain destruction awaited us. But desperate diseases require desperate remedies. I proposed it to my crew, and with but a single exception, they all volunteered. We now impatiently waited for a suitable opportunity to launch our boat.

At daybreak on the morning of the third of December, just eight weeks from the day of our wreck, I was aroused by Mr. Owens. The wind was blowing in gusts from the northwest; the night had been stormy; heavy clouds hung in the western horizon; the whole firmament was overcast, and a drizzly rain rendered the entire aspect of nature chilling and unpromising. I hesitated long, but it was the first westerly wind we had since our residence on that island, and I gave the orders for our departure.

And here I will pause for a moment to state another of what we recognized as direct special Providence in our behalf. Considering our resources, we had succeeded admirably well in fitting up our boat; had gathered jerked turtle meat and cocoanuts for provisions; had succeeded in making tight kegs from old barrel staves and hoops found upon the reef to carry the water needed. But how to secure light for our binnacle at night was an unsolved problem. We had damaged matches that could be only used as applied to a spark. We had also the steel and tinder, but the needed flint to get the spark could not be found. We had searched every crook and crevice as we thought on the reefs and islands unsuccessfully, and no light for our binnacle meant probable aimless steering loss and destruction of the boat’s crew.

On the day before our departure, with a small party of sailors, still in the prosecution of what seemed a hopeless search for a stone that could be used with steel and tinder, I had reached a small island, the most distant one from our camp and somewhat difficult of access, and in consequence had been seldom visited by us. Working our way through a thick tangle of underbrush, we came to an open space, and I believe that my eyes fairly bulged with astonishment as I descried a small pool of freshwater, beside which lay a bucket and large flint stone. I seized the stone, and with a shout, exclaimed, “A gift from God, boys we are saved, we are saved.”

On our subsequent arrival in Tahiti, I met the man to whom the stone and bucket belonged. Some years previously he had visited those reefs in search of pearl oysters, and made his camp by that pool of fresh water, and left his flint and bucket on his departure.

You understand our situation; we were on a chain of small low islands, connected from island to island by a coral reef and angry breakers, inclosing a beautiful lagoon, perhaps ten miles across; at low water we could pass from one island to another by wading.

Every man, woman and child, capable of service, started on foot, while the crew pulled the boat with water and provisions across the lagoon to the place selected to try the reef, distant about eight miles. The boat was carried over the reef some two hundred yards, and placed in the breakers, where she was held securely by the united strength of fifteen to twenty men, while her water and provisions were stored, her crew at their stations, and at the word, we were safely launched once more upon the open sea.

And just here again, please emphasize another of those wonderful interpositions of Divine Providence in our favor. For the eight weeks that we had been on those reefs the wind had blown incessantly from the east, accompanied with a heavy choppy sea. But on the night previous to our departure, it hauled to the southwest, very squally, with occasional heavy dashes of rain. The sea was dark, boisterous and altogether presented a very dangerous outlook, and this was the condition of the weather when we finally put to sea, its only redeeming feature to us was the fact that the wind, such as it was, and if we could stand it, was favorable to the course we desired to steer.

Having cleared the boat from the reef and obtained the open sea, we were almost immediately compelled to throw overboard a large portion of our water, provisions and every article that could possible be spared to lighten the boat. And thus our boasted liberal supply that we had collected and saved with so much perseverance and economy suddenly vanished in the sea, leaving us a scant pittance for perhaps five or six days.

Having made everything snug as possible, we shaped our course, proposing to send before the wind, but suddenly the wind lulled, a dense black cloud rolled up, covering the entire firmament, shutting out the day, and enveloping us in almost Egyptian darkness, and such a downpour of water burst from the cloud–in the language of scripture, it seemed as though “All the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of Heaven were opened.” The rain seemed to fall in solid sheets; though intensely sharp, far beyond any previous experience of ours, the downpour was very brief in its duration. The clouds cleared as suddenly as they arose; the sun burst out upon the face of the great deep; the rain had beaten down the boisterous sea, which now rolled in long smooth swells. It was a dead calm, and for three days and nights there was not breeze enough to blow out a candle. I will also mention another curious fact. We were all of us, for a day or two, very seasick. The men labored at their oars, and vomited over the thwarts. Mr. Owens, my second officer, was so intensely sick that he lay stretched in the bottom of the boat, and for the first twenty-four hours I had to run the boat without relief, before he could take his trick at the helm.

After three days of incessant toil, hope, fear and despair alternately predominating, A Land ahead! Oh, how the cry, the thought, the reality thrilled our every nerve, and our anxious longing eyes gazing at the dim, cloud like outline of a far distant island, gradually lit with renewed fire, and hope again shone out, bright and clear, and yet the most fearful portion of our voyage had still to be experienced, for now old Boreas blew out fresh and strong, contrary to our course, and the sea yesterday so sluggish arose in all its might and power, threatening to engulf us in its appalling throes.

For hours and hours, the fearful but unequal contest was maintained, till human endurance could bear up no longer, and we lay exhausted in the bottom of our little boat, now floating at the mercy of the sea, the goal of our hopes, and our very lives, that dim cloud upon the verge of the horizon, gradually faded from our view.

Oh, the blank despair of that moment! And as we drew the tarpaulin over the boat to shelter us from the dashing spray, thought of home mingled in our prayers. Late in the afternoon, as we lay huddled together under the protecting cover of the tarpaulin, drenched by the salt spray, faint and exhausted by severe toil, listlessly gazing out upon the combing, raging sea, that threatened instant destruction, the sudden cry of “Land, land,” again startled us from the lethargy of despair, which seemed with its cold icy hand to grip our very hearts.

And true enough, as the sun emerged from the dark storm cloud to sink into the sea bright and beautiful in the far west, lighting up the circling horizon, the clear outline of an island mountain peak could be distinctly seen in the southeast. Tears of gratitude filled our eyes. Our sail was hoisted to the now favoring breeze. Again our oars were manned, and our little boat fairly trembled at the onward impetus given by the hope resuscitated nerves of my but recently faint and exhausted crew. The darkening shades of night soon shut from our view that lone mountain top, rising as a beacon hope from the sea, and in its stead, the mariner=s compass served as our sure guide till morning again dawned, and discovered to our enraptured gaze the fertile slopes of a mountain island, distant about fifteen miles. As we neared the land, the wind gradually subsided, and the sea no longer broke in heavy combers as on the day previous but rolled in long, heavy swells upon a reef that encircled the island. We pulled along outside of the reef about two hours, looking in vain for an entrance, and in our impatience, once more to tread a hospitable shore, and partake of the luxurious fruit that hung so temptingly beyond our reach; we had about made up our minds to attempt to land upon the reef through the breakers, when a native who was engaged in spearing a fish inside, guessing our difficulty, motioned to us to proceed further up the reef. On complying with which we soon found a ship entrance to a fine harbor, and saw the huts of a native village at the head of the bay. And now having safely reached one of the Windward Islands against all human probability when we departed from Scilly reefs, I will give you a peculiar episode in connection with that boat voyage. I can simply vouch for the facts, without any attempt to argue, or explain.

My passengers were mostly Mormons, bound to Salt Lake City, densely ignorant and very superstitious and were bitterly opposed to my first proposition of trying to reach the Navigator Islands. They argued, the distance to be so great, some fifteen hundred miles, that if we succeeded in reaching them they would starve to death before we could hope to send them relief. They could not, or would not understand why we might not steer in the face of head wind and sea to the Society Islands, which were so much nearer. We, however, as nautical men, determined to act on our own judgment in that matter, and steadily continued our preparations until our plans were blocked in a most unexpected manner. One of their Elders had a dream or vision. He saw the boat successfully launched upon her long voyage, and for a day or two making satisfactory progress. Another leaf in the vision, and the boat is seen floating bottom up, and the drowned bodies of her crew floating around her. This tale so wrought upon the superstitions that not a man would volunteer to go with me, and I was reluctantly compelled to change my plan.

I then gave strict orders that there should be no more visions told in public unless they were favorable ones, and first submitted to me for my approval. After some days the same Mormon Elder came to me having had another vision. I asked him if it was a good one. Yes, a very good one. He saw the boat depart with a crew of ten men, bound to the eastward; after three days of rowing, they reached a friendly island where a vessel was obtained and all hands safely brought to Tahiti. When I, by compulsion, changed my plans and decided to double bank the boat and try to pull to windward, only nine men offered, including myself. It was useless to start short handed, and I had been waiting unsuccessfully to get one more man to complete my crew. On hearing this very good vision, I looked my man over. He was a fine, athletic fellow, and asked him if he believed his vision. “Yes, indeed, was it not a revelation from God?” I then suggested that it would be a good way to prove his faith by volunteering for the boat. “Of course he would”, and he did with alacrity, and thus was my crew completed. You have heard the account of how literally his dream was fulfilled against every probability.

We were met on our landing by a crowd of copper colored natives, and escorted to a large bamboo house in the centre of their village. We could communicate only by signs, and I endeavored to make them understand who and what we were, but evidently our reception was not very cordial. They seated us on the ground in a distant corner of the long room, stationing half a dozen stalwart men, suspiciously like a guard, in front of us, and we began to experience not a little anxiety as to what kind of company we had fallen among. By and by those who seemed to us chiefs, or men in authority, gathered around a table on which was placed bread fruit for their noon meal, and much to our relief one of them bowed his head and asked a blessing. Our anxieties at any rate were allayed, for we found that we were among Christians, and we quietly awaited events. Later in the afternoon a new comer appeared upon the scene, one who could speak broken English. It seems that he was absent in a distant portion of the island when we arrived, and they immediately dispatched a messenger to summon him. He informed us that we were on the Island of Bora Bora, the most westerly of the Society Group. That the king was on a visit to a neighboring island. The reason that we had been treated with so much incivility and suspicion was the fact that only a short time previously a boat=s crew landed on their island, claiming to be shipwrecked mariners. They were received with the greatest cordiality and kindness, but had proved themselves treacherous: kidnapped some of their women and endeavored to escape in their boat. Had been pursued, and a bloody conflict occurred. They were said to have been escaped convicts from a British penal settlement, and our boat’s crew appeared to them like a second edition of the same sort.

The missionary belonging to this station was the only white resident on the island, and he was absent on a visit to his home in England.

A small yacht was lying at anchor in the bay, belonging to the king, and through the interpreter, who professed a great desire to aid us to the best of his ability, I endeavored to persuade the Captain to carry us to Tahiti distant some sixty to seventy miles further to windward, where an American Consul resided, but he refused to have anything to do with us; seemed to fear that we would take possession of his vessel. However, after a good deal of dickering, he finally offered to take me alone, starting the next day, if I would immediately, that same afternoon, send off my crew to Riatia, lying some fifteen miles to the southward of Bora Bora, where they informed me a British Consul lived. I felt this to be pretty hard lines for me personally, but it was the best, and in fact, only thing to be done under the circumstances, and I reluctantly consented. And now I encountered almost as much difficulty in persuading my own men to leave me alone on that island. They had no confidence whatever in the Asurley natives. However, to use their own words, “The Captain knew best, and they would obey orders.” But I will confess to an awful feeling of loneliness and desertion creeping over me as I stood upon the beach and watched them pull away to sea again, leaving me behind and alone. At daybreak on the following morning I was astir, hoping to get a bright and early start for Tahiti, only to find that during the night the yacht and my friendly interpreter had disappeared, gone to parts unknown. I sat down quietly in my tracks, making no effort whatever to communicate with the natives, sick, heartsick, discouraged, utterly helpless. A little after mid-day, I observed a six oared whaleboat pulling rapidly across the bay, apparently a new arrival from the sea. As I lay there listlessly watching their movements as they stepped ashore, the natives gathered around them pointing towards me, as I supposed, telling the story of my advent among them. Presently one of the new comers started towards me, and as he approached, the scales seemed to fall from my eyes, the blood shot through my veins, as I recognized the face of an old familiar friend, a Mr. Barfe, whose home was in Huania. He had come across collecting cocoanut oil. He was profuse in offers of assistance; gathered his men, and we immediately started in his boat, in an effort to overtake my men at Riatia. About half way across we met my boat’s crew returning to me, bearing a letter from the British Consul full of sympathetic expressions for my disaster, and requesting me to remain in Bora Bora, as he had dispatched an express to Huania, where several American vessels were lying, containing the assurance that I might expect one at the earliest possible moment to call for me and proceed to the rescue of the castaways remaining on Scilly Reefs. In response I returned with my boat’s crew to the island of Bora Bora, and there awaited the promised assistance.

The day following a large number of boats arrived at Bora Bora from Riatia, the news of the wreck having spread like wildfire in all directions, to visit the scene of the disaster, but they were all too small to be of any service. However, on the morning of the second day, the fine large schooner, Emma Packer, appeared off the harbor, Captain Latham having received the British Consul=s dispatch while lying at Huania made no delay in getting his vessel to sea, and coming to my relief. He also brought a letter to me from the Captain of the ship Oregon, saying that I might expect his vessel to be under way from Scilly Reefs within a few hours after the departure of the Emma Packer to render any needed assistance.

I boarded the Emma Packer, and sailed for the rescue of my poor, distressed fellow-voyagers of the Julia Ann. We sighted Scilly Reefs about ten days after our departure there from, and much to our surprise, with our glasses we could discover no signs of life on the islands, though we sailed entirely around them, and Captain Latham was quite disposed to return, arguing that the people must have been taken off by some other vessel. He however, in compliance with my earnest request, remained off the reef over night, for I was determined not to return without first effecting a landing, and personally inspecting my old camping grounds, and we were rewarded early the following morning by discovering a group of people gathered on the point of reef nearest to our vessel, frantically waving a signal. Words simply fail me in any attempt to describe the scene that met me, as I sprang from the relief boat into the outstretched welcoming arms of those more than half-starved castaways.

They were speedily embarked, and taken to Tahiti, where the American and British Consuls took charge of their different nationalities, and provided for their necessities.

And now answering one or two questions that are almost invariably asked, when the incidents of wreck have been the subject of conversation, and I will close.

In the face of such experiences were you not cured from all desire of ever again venturing upon the ocean? This question is asked without much reflection, or consideration of human nature. And I will answer it, in the good old Hibernian style, by asking another. A young man drives out upon the highway with a pair of young mettlesome horses, affrightened by a passing train; they dash furiously along the road beyond control, until horses, vehicle and driver are piled in one heterogeneous mass by the wayside, the driver glad to escape with his life and broken limbs, does he for all future time ignore the use of fine blooded stock, and choose the drone cart horse, or the staid plow team, that require a constant Agee up, go long and application of the whip to secure the most moderate trot, because perchance in the use of one there is assured perfect safety and of the other, possible danger? Your answer is mine, most emphatically, “No.”

On the contrary, while toil, exposure and hardship, peculiarly incident to the life of the sailor, may possibly drive some to the abandonment of their profession, it is this very sense of peril and danger to be encountered and overcome that proves almost its sole attraction; courage and true manhood are as inseparable as light, and the sun’s rays pass an object between the sun and our earth and daylight is obliterated, ‘tis all obscurity and darkness, and so likewise, take from man the principle of courage, and you have a human monstrosity.

While no man may assume to himself credit for the possession of physical courage, the want of it is a most unpardonable disgrace. The exposed coward is invariably hooted from the society of decent men; courage in man is the element that commands the love of woman, and its opposite, in the gentler and more delicately toned nature of woman, is that which woes and wins to her embrace and protection man, all rugged and hardened in life’s battles though he be, as the balmy summer’s wind bends to her will the mighty oak.

The keenest and most tangible sense of enjoyment of my entire life has been experienced standing upon the quarter deck of my ship in the morning watch after a night spent in battling successfully with the driving tempest, my ship under storm sails riding safely to the gale, and as my eye stretched out over the vast tempest-tossed ocean, and then peering into the heavens, thickly studded with stars, and there, selecting one, countless millions of miles distant, and with it marking out a sure highway over that trackless waste of waters to our destined port, it is then, and amid such scenes, that man realizes in himself his mortality and his immortality, his wonderful capacity, and his utter dependence.

Infidelity and skepticism are dethroned, and he knows the truth, the reality beyond all cavil, that God created man in his own image, but a little lower than the angels, breathing into his nostrils the breath of Eternal Life, and that man, redeemed from the taint of sin, might indeed be a fit associate of those celestial beings, who sing God’s praises around the throne of Heaven

Copyright (c) Lee Drew 2012-01-10 08:00:00
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