Following the final session of General Conference on Sunday, October 5, at 5 p.m. MST, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will have the opportunity to watch a new documentary featuring Mormon maritime migrants on BYUtv.
Fred E. Woods and Martin L. Andersen co produced the documentary, “Divine Providence: The Wreck and Rescue of The Julia Ann” that tells the story of the only shipwreck resulting in the loss of Latter-day Saint lives in the 19th century.
Fred Woods, a professor of Church History & Doctrine at Brigham Young University, wrote in his book of the same name,
“Mormon historians spent so much time focusing on the pioneer trail to Utah and so little on the sail before the trail.”
Of those who answered to call to come to Zion, Brother Woods said only three percent came by handcart, while 90 percent came by water.
In 1995, Brother Woods started the Mormon Migration project to gather and document information about every ship that carried Latter-day Saint migrants between 1840 and 1932. “Of over 500 ocean crossings carrying over 90,000 Mormon immigrants to America in the 19th century, miraculously only one was ever shipwrecked with Latter-day Saint lives being lost,” said Martin Andersen, a filmmaker who has co produced three other documentaries with Brother Woods, all of which have premiered during the last three October General Conference weekends.
In the same time period (1840-1932), Brother Woods found that “59 [other] vessels not carrying Latter-day Saints sank.” Of the Mormon crossings, Brother Woods said “their safety records [were] off the charts.”
“At that time…all of the saints were invited to go to Utah, to go to Salt Lake City, to join with the other saints here and build up the Church,” said Elder Peter Meurs, Area Seventy for the Pacific Area, in the documentary. “That was a vitally important part of the establishment of the Church, to build a center of strength.”
The documentary relates the story of the 56 passengers on board, 28 of them being Latter-day Saint converts. The shipwreck resulted in the loss of five lives, all members of the LDS Church. After the wreck, the passengers and crew found themselves in the depths of the ocean for two days and nights, surrounded by sharks, fighting to survive.
“It’s a gripping story. The story of The Julia Ann is … a great, riveting story,” said Brother Woods.
Watch a trailer of the documentary below.
The survivors took refuge on a nearby, uninhabited island, where they stayed for the next two months. With salvaged pieces of the boat, the captain of The Julia Ann, Capt. B.F. Pond, led efforts to repair their boat and get the survivors off the island. Being led by a dream related to him from one of the Mormon elders on the island, Capt. Pond took a crew of nine and himself to the island of Bora Bora—about 200 miles away—to seek help.
Brother Woods and Brother Andersen both felt the need to share this little-known story with Latter-day Saints and others as a testimony.
“This relatively unknown experience is an excellent example of evidence that there is a God who intercedes in the lives of men,” said Brother Andersen. “Several miracles occurred in saving the survivors.”
Brother Woods said this story is not just for Latter-day Saints. “It’s a message for everyone. We called it Divine Providence because it’s really showing the hand of God that was recognized by the passengers and crew,” he said. “There is no way they could have survived without the divine providence of God, the mercy of God.”
“Divine Providence: The Wreck and Rescue of The Julia Ann” will premiere on BYUtv one hour after the final General Conference session on Sunday, Oct. 5. The book and DVD, sold together, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Deseret Book.