Juan Fernandez Islanders Commemorate Brooklyn Landing

Contributed By By Charles Acevedo, Church News contributor

  • 16 May 2014

Missionaries and members from Chile’s Isla Juan Fernandez Branch sing hymns to commemorate the 168th anniversary of the landing of the ship Brooklyn. The ship carried more than 200 Mormon pioneers.  Photo by Charles Acevedo.

Article Highlights

  • On May 4, 1846, the Brooklyn’s passengers found a sanctuary of rest on the islands.
  • It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the Church reestablished a presence in this historic place.
  • Today there are 17 members in the branch.

On May 4, members of the tiny Isla Juan Fernandez Branch gathered at the Cumberland Bay waterfront to commemorate the 168th anniversary of the arrival of seafaring Mormon pioneers traveling aboard the ship Brooklyn.

Standing on a tree-lined waterfront on a cold, rainy day, the members sang hymns on the site where the Brooklyn pioneers once sang hymns.

On February 4, 1846, 238 pioneers sailed from the Port of New York after answering the call of the prophet Brigham Young to gather in the West. The ship traveled south on the Atlantic before sailing around South America’s Cape Horn. They then traveled north on the Pacific, eventually reaching the San Francisco Bay in California.

The sea-traveling pioneers faced many difficulties during their voyage, including storms, tropical heat, cramped conditions, boredom, and bitter cold.

Weary and in need of provisions, the ship’s captain chose the port of Valparaiso, Chile, as a stopping point. However, another storm prevented the Brooklyn from stopping in Valparaiso, so the captain diverted its course to the Juan Fernandez Islands, some 360 miles off the coast of Chile.

On May 4, 1846, the Brooklyn’s passengers stepped upon firm ground. They found on the islands a sanctuary of rest and plenty. Their respite provided them with much-needed food, along with the strength they needed to continue their journey to California.

During their short stay on the islands, the pioneers collected dry wood and fresh water. They caught fish, which were then salted and stored in barrels. The islanders showed the pioneers kindness and gave them fruits and vegetables.

The stop also offered the pioneers an opportunity to bathe, wash their clothes, hike and explore, and hunt for game.

Caroline A. Joyce, a pioneer, would write, “We toured the island, visited the caves; we [visited what is believed] to be the true cave of Robinson Crusoe. I was fortunate to take a nap in that placid place during a pleasant afternoon.”

The island was being used at the time as a prison camp for the Chilean government. Some prisoners accompanied the pioneers during their hunts, serving as valued guides.

The island was also remembered as a place of mourning. On May 6, 1846, the pioneers buried the body of Laura Goodwin, a pregnant woman who died in a fall during a storm at sea. She left behind a husband and seven children.

The small home where members of the Isla Juan Fernandez Branch meet for Sunday services and other Church activities. Photo by Charles Acevedo.

At the funeral service, the group’s presiding authority, Elder Samuel Brannan, spoke about motherhood and the role it plays in the eternal worlds. The service was attended by most of the passengers and the ship’s crew. The few families living on the small island also attended the funeral even though they did not understand English.

On May 9, 1846, the fully restocked Brooklyn and her well-rested crew and passengers raised anchor. The captain then navigated a course that eventually led to Yerba Buena, California.

It was not until the early 1980s that the Church reestablished a presence in this historic place when Chilean member Richard Ponce and his family moved to the Juan Fernandez Islands. The Ponces eventually established a branch of the Church that continues to function today.

Today there are 17 members in the branch. They faithfully participate in meetings and Church activities in a small house on Lord Anson Street.

The branch is even enjoying a small measure of growth. Two new members—Gladys Osses and Hector Torres—were recently baptized in the Pacific Ocean.