Friday, February 9, 2018

A Desert Island between Deserts

The Wreck of the Julia Ann, painted by Captain Pond's sister, Edith Pond

I love reading and learning about people who endure heroically to overcome great obstacles.

There is some irony in this because I can endure almost nothing. Two hours of socializing sends me to bed for an afternoon. Too long a walk can knock me down for a week. I will have to lay down and rest once I finish writing this today.  Maybe reading about the physically strong is a form of escapism for me.

In preparing a lesson for my next Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP) meeting, I have discovered another amazing event. One principal character led a life worthy of novels even before the main adventure.

John McCarthy was born to a well to do Irish family in 1820.  As a teenager, he attended a boarding school for potential priests where he became dissatisfied with some Catholic doctrines. John began to rebel and was punished by being forced to wear a horse hair coat dipped in lime while sleeping in a dungeon.

Kind friends helped McCarthy escape. His parents were so upset their son would not become a priest, they disowned him. Without other resources, John stowed away on a ship. Once discovered, he worked hard to prove his worth and served as a sailor for several years.

Eventually John settled in Australia where he met and joined LDS missionaries. He preached for three years before being assigned to join the main group of Mormons in Utah.  After much preparation, John and 27 other Mormons made up half of the passengers on the American ship Julia Ann, bound for San Francisco.

McCarthy was a prolific writer. Stories of what happened next are largely based on his account of the journey.

Captain Pond
The ship and her captain, Benjamin Pond,  had successfully made the same voyage earlier that year. Unfortunately, this time, the captain was given an incorrect chart, so that one month into what should have been a three month voyage, they were eighty miles off course.

In the middle of the night, the ship collided with a reef and started to break apart. Two women and three children were washed overboard. Before more could be lost, a brave sailor took a rope and swam to a section of the reef that was above water. They then formed something similar to a zip line which passengers and crew used to escape the ship.

 A young mother, 17 years old, volunteered to be the first to sit on a sailor's lap and ride to safety. She wrapped her baby in a shawl and tied it to her husband's back. Just as she was setting off, her husband and baby were washed overboard, but sailors were able to grab her husband by the hair and rescue him. All three of the little family survived.

Getting everyone to the reef was only a temporary solution because there was no food, water, or shelter. For two and a half days, the survivors endured tropical sun and salt water while a small boat was repaired well enough to bring them to a nearby island.

The island, which would be their home for seven weeks, was inhabited only by rats and seabirds. There was no running water, but the survivors were able to dig for water that was palatable once filtered through sand. All of the survivors worked together to gather food and water. The captain was impressed to discover a sixty-year-old woman out at night hunting for turtles.

Eventually the small boat was strengthened for a longer journey to seek an inhabited island and appeal for rescue. Nine men, including Captain Pond and John McCarthy, set off. After three days of rowing into the wind, they reached Bora Bora. Soon the castaways were brought to Tahiti to recover. They eventually found passage on other ships bound for California.

Later, many of these people travelled by wagon from California to Utah and helped establish towns all over Utah and Nevada--an adventure full of additional trials and triumphs.

I am trying to find the right way to be inspired by such tales of courage and faith. Like many LDS people, I feel weak in comparison to my forebears. The disability that leaves me pretty useless on my better days exacerbates the feeling. 

Like a true English major, I find comfort from poetry more readily than from scripture: 

When I Consider How my Light is Spent --by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
   And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest He returning chide;
   “Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
   Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
   Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
   And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
   They also serve who only stand and wait.”
For those of you who stopped reading when you saw poetry, here is the key point. Milton has gone blind and feels useless, but realizes that God does not need him; he needs God. The key line is the last one, that makes most sense if you think of servants in royal households. "They also serve who only stand and wait." 
I may need to sit and wait, but will try to be useful as I can. 
(Efforts toward starting the podcast have slowed down knitting and knitting photography, so be patient with me. I have been spinning prodigiously and will try to better photograph my efforts for next week.) 

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