I. AN AUSTRALIAN BACKGROUND
In 1797, Australia was but nine years from her first reception of an English colony -- the group of convicts "transported by the Government" and landed at Botany Bay. Colonists came in increasing numbers from that time on, and it was in this year (1797) that a child who was christened Sarah Elizabeth was born of English parentage in the then little city of Sidney on the east coast of New South Wales.
Little is known of her life before her marriage to James SIMMONDS in her early womanhood. The home was established near the Darling River on the outskirts of Sidney, and here James SIMMONDS went into the cattle and dairy business. His holdings eventually reach into the "Australian Bush" and some of the helpers employed were native bushmen. He became very successful and as the enterprise prospered, most of his time was given to the work of overseeing. It is probable that during these pioneer years of the new country of Australia, life was often a grilling struggle for these young people. The nature of his position and its responsibilities kept James from home much of the time while the management of the home and the rearing of a family of children was the task of Sarah Elizabeth. One day while on an overseeing trip, the attention of James SIMMONDS was attracted to a large number of bees which were swarming over the carcass of a dead creature. He stopped and dismounted to investigate and was stung by one of the bees. He thought little of the matter until he became quite ill and returned to his home. As his distress increased the doctor was called and it was learned that he was suffering from the effects of the poison which had entered the blood stream through the sting of the bee. It was said that these were a species of poison bee. In spite of all that could be done he passed away in a few days.
Stunned by the shock of her husband's death, Sarah Elizabeth yielded to the force of her grief. Nothing else seemed to matter, for James, her shield and defender was dead. The marriage ties had been strong and she had felt entirely secure in his love and protection. But the needs of her children, the demands on her attention by the extensive business interests roused the numbed faculties and proved the stimulus needed, and the brave-hearted woman took up her burdens and carried on to the end of her life. Unaccustomed to leadership or responsibility in business affairs, it was a task indeed to rise to the needs of the moment; and with the task of directing the character building of ten children, the valiant spirit of Sarah SIMMONDS must have been daunted many times. Hers was a deeply religious nature and the family history records that "she was a praying woman." So, taking up her burdens, feeling her way and finding strength according to her needs, she was able to manage her husband’s business until and opportunity came to sell out in the year of 1850.
II. DISILLUSIONMENT IN UTAH
Some time after this, missionaries of the Mormon church came to Australia and held meetings in Sidney. Sarah SIMMONDS chanced to attend one of the meetings. The "angel message," the Restored Gospel, the story of the Seer of Palmyra, touched a responsive chord in the soul of this honest-hearted woman and she continued to attend these meetings. Because she believed, she obeyed. After hearing from the missionaries of the ideal society called Zion, which the church would soon establish, she decided to go to America and accept the honor and privilege of citizenship in the zionic kingdom on earth.
Sarah SIMMONDS faced this undertaking with the same determination, the same confident courage with which she had tackled other difficult situations, and as surely won her way through this. Calmly she set about the task of putting her affairs in order finally – and of preparing for the ocean voyage – for once the step was taken there would be no turning back. All was accomplished in time and she set sail for America with her ten children, seven girls and three boys, bound for the port of San Pedro, California.
Of that voyage there is little to record It is known that one boy was very frail and became seriously ill on the trip across. The accommodations on the "wind jammers" of that time were very poor, the voyage often rough and the provisions for the care of the sick were meager compared with present day standards. That mother must have been torn with anxiety. Without the sustaining support of the loved husband, the concern for the frail boy, the uncertainties as to the wisdom of the step taken and with fear in her heart for the future, one may be sure that on this trip she prayed often and earnestly. She would be sustained in a measure by her faith in God, in the church and in the prospects of the joys of Zion soon to be realized.
About the year 1854 the SIMMONDS family landed in San Pedro, weary but joyful that the ocean ordeal was over and that the "Promised Land" had been reached in safety. The family with what goods had been brought, were taken to San Bernardino by wagon. Here it was planned to stay until accommodations to Utah could be provided.
Through the sale of her business property, her home and goods, Sarah SIMMONDS was well provided with money for the times, and was ready and willing to lay all at the feet of the Bishop in Zion in her love for the Restored Gospel. Soon after reaching San Bernardino she began to hear rumors of certain practices in the church in Utah which had not been mentioned by the missionaries in Australia. While she could not credit these rumors, her cautious nature counseled her to investigate before moving to Utah. Quietly she laid her plans. Before long she learned that a wagon train of flour would be leaving San Bernardino for Salt Lake City soon, and she decided to accompany that train. The wagon train finally was ready for the start. Sarah bid good-by to her children who were to remain in the temporary home in San Bernardino until her return, took her place on one of the wagons, and was off for the great adventure.
Arriving in Salt Lake City, Sarah SIMMONDS went about the business that had brought her through mountain passes, across plains and deserts, seated on a wagon of flour, lonely and weary, with her usual courage and persistence. One may be sure that she would not be most diplomatic and discreet. Permitting the assumption that she had come to arrange for a home in Zion, she would be able to observe, to make inquiries and to reach conclusions without exciting suspicions concerning her purposes. The account related simply, "that she went, saw, sensed the conditions and returned to San Bernardino, resolved never to move to Utah nor to affiliate with the church in any way."
III. HOME LIFE IN CALIFORNIA
After the high hopes, the faith in the Restored Church, the long wearisome journey across land and sea, it seems to have been a case of just another heartsick mother who had hoped all, dared all and lost all. In the bewildering maze of conditions peculiar to her situation in those early times, small wonder that she regretted ever having left Australia and all it meant to her. As at that other time when her life had dealt a crushing blow, her thoughts turned to her children, their welfare, education and future. She set to work to make a good home, continuing the careful training and fervent prayers. Sarah SIMMONDS bought the "block of land in Los Angeles at the corner of Sixth and Spring Streets, and the old home was just where Ralph’s grocery store now stands. There were few homes in Los Angeles at that time." The children took advantage of the limited school advantages offered then and as they grew into responsible ages the older sons and daughters entered various trades. Two daughters learned dressmaking, one had a millinery shop and one did fine hair work. The frail little boy died about this time, adding one more grief to the others. One son went into business of farming and cattle raising in California, and "one son eventually returned to Australia, married there, reared a large family and bought back a piece of land, a section of the old home just out of Sidney."
Little Sarah Elizabeth, youngest daughter and her mother’s namesake, was eight years old when the family landed in America. She was not merely a namesake but much like her mother in many ways having the same deep religious nature, the same active, alert traits and the same keen insight and understanding. A fine bond of love and sympathy held the two together until the death of Mother SIMMONDS in 1880.
IV. CONTACT WITH THE REORGANIZATION
When the elders of the Reorganized Church came to preach in Los Angeles the mother was immediately interested, for, the record states, "she felt that the Reorganization was intended to come into existence." And "when the real church came she knew it at once." So the mother and her youngest daughter attended the meetings, heard the message gladly and receive it with joy, both being baptized at this time. These men of the early days of the Reorganization – Joseph BURTON, T.W. SMITH, Glaud ROGER, and many others – were filled with the spirit of their office and calling, and were especially moved by the tragic experiences of such faithful souls as Sarah SIMMONDS. They presented their message with all the fervor of those who had come through tribulation themselves, with joy in the new beginning and with the hope of final triumph. This came as balm to the soul of Sarah SIMMONDS.
The older children, embittered by the shocking experience which they considered betrayal, separated themselves from the whole movement and joined the Episcopal church.
V. YOUNG SARAH AND THE SEA CAPTAIN
When little Sarah was fourteen years old, a dashing young sea captain made a visit to Los Angeles where the family now resided. His ship had docked in San Francisco and hearing of a boat which was for sale in Los Angeles, he sailed down to San Pedro and later made a visit in the little city to the north. Through the good offices of a mutual acquaintance, Captain William Robert HOWLAND met the maid from Australia. Although he had traveled the world over and seen beautiful women of many nations, he surrendered unconditionally to the charms of young Sarah. And through he was then 26 and she but 14, he knew this sentiment to be the one love of his life and was not backward in admitting it. In fact he proposed marriage at that time, but Mother SIMMONDS objected on account of the tender years of Sarah and because Captain HOWLAND was a stranger and his character unproved.
So the young sailing master returned to San Francisco, provisioned his ship for another voyage and was soon on a course that would keep him from the girl of his choice for another year, but firmly resolved to "bide his time" and resume the attack on his return. No doubt Sarah was flattered by the attentions of the young Captain for he was not the rough, heavy fisted individual so often seen in masters of trading vessels of that period. He was a handsome, re....[unintelligible].... and it is a safe guess that Sarah secretly decided to wait his return for she felt sure of this.
VI. HISTORY OF THE HOWLAND FAMILY
The mother of Captain HOWLAND was an English woman and his father a Portuguese. The home was established in Portugal, presumably on the coast since it was not far from Phial Island on which a monastery was located. Two sons were born to this union and according to the law of Portugal at that time, the eldest son would have military training while the younger must be educated for the priesthood. According, William Robert was sent to the monastery for his religious education at the tender age of ten, while his older brother was serving in the army. A cousin of William’s was also an inmate of the monastery. The boys became very unhappy and dissatisfied with the conditions there as they grew older and secretly decided to run away as soon as an opportunity afforded.
Possibly through letters from home, the boys learned that a trading ship was due to unload cargo at Phial Island. The Captain, Warren HOWLAND, was a cousin of William’s mother and was called "Uncle Warren."
Having this tip, the boys, now about fifteen years of age, laid their plans to make their escape. Tearing up the sheets, they made ropes, and sometime during the night set for the attempt, they fastened and improvised ropes to the leg of a cot and slid down to a projecting roof below. A stone chimney stood beside this building and down this the boys made their way to the ground. Quietly, they crept out of the grounds and down to the river jetty where the ship was anchored. In the darkness they made their way board ship, down a hatch and into the hold where they curled up in some great coils of rope. Undoubtedly they had smuggled food and water to sustain them during the days of hiding in the hold, for there they stayed until the ship was three days out to sea. On the morning of the fourth day, a member of the crew having been sent into the hold for some supplies, heard an unusual noise and investigated. He found the uncomfortable and badly frightened lads and reported to the captain. There is no record of the interview between the "uncle captain" and the stowaways. However, they were not taken back to the monastery but continued on the voyage to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where they were taken to the home of the captain and his good wife and made welcome. Afterwards William was adopted and given further education by these kind-hearted people. At that time and place, fishing, whaling and seafaring were the occupations to which the men and boys turned to quite naturally and young William Robert was no exception. After a year or two more of schooling he joined a whaling crew operating on Buzzard’s Bay and became an expert harpooner.
But he had one experience which threatened abruptly to end his days. He had successfully harpooned a great whale but through some accident was jerked overboard. The whale proceeded to take his tormentor into the bosom of the deep and the young whaler "shipped a cargo" of salt water. Fortunately, his companions were successful in cutting the rope when he emerged and dragged him aboard boat, where they proceeded to give him first aid. It was an agonizing experience and the boy’s hair turned completely white in those few days.
Before the general use of crude oil and its products, there was a great demand for whale oil and consequently good money to be made in the whaling business. Not long after the harrowing experience with the whale, William HOWLAND was able to buy a trading vessel, and as owner and captain made many trading trips including some to the East Indies for cargoes of spice. It is said that he once carried the "Connecticut nutmeg" as part of the cargo. While a very young man he made a trip around the Cape of Good Hope as well as around Cape Horn. After all this wealth of experience, he was but 26 years old on his first trip to Southern California.
VII. YOUNG SARAH AND CAPTAIN WILLIAM ROBERT HOWLAND
Young Sarah was not wrong in believing that the Captain would return to the attack on her heart and the objections of Mother SIMMONDS, for return he did the next year and this time his pleadings were not in vain, and very shortly they were married, he, at the age of twenty-seven, and she at fifteen. Mother SIMMONDS never had cause to regret having given her consent to this marriage.
The educational advantages as well as the years of world travel had made of the young man a polished gentleman, and Sarah was as charming as she was fine and intelligent. He followed the sea for a number of years after marriage, then decided to leave it, sell his holdings and become a sheep raiser. During the time he had followed the sea, the trading vessels were not equipped as they are now. "During those days of old wind jammers, there was no way of having fresh foods of any kind, due of course to lack of refrigeration. All food was old or quite salty and Captain HOWLAND contracted a severe kidney ailment which in later life was the cause of his death." Ten years after his marriage he took a twenty-year lease on Catalina Island, also San Clementa, both of which at that time were wild land, and proceeded to build up his fortune in sheep-raising. A home was built on Catalina, and at that time only three families resided on the island. The young people set to work at once to beautify their surroundings, planting trees, flowers, shrubs, etc. At one time, a fig tree was to be planted and Sarah wanted to turn the first shovel of dirt in making the pit to receive the roots of the prized tree. The tree was planted and in two days a son, the first white child born on the Island of Catalina, was born to Captain and Mrs. HOWLAND. Three children had come to the couple on the mainland, but this boy was the first white child to so honor the beautiful island. On the night this child was born, William HOWLAND started out in a boat to bring a woman who had received some nurse’s training and who lived on the opposite side of the island. But a great storm having arisen, he found he could not make the trip by boat so returned to the home. Mounting a horse and leading another, he made that fearful journey overland, through mountain passes, across canyons in darkness and tempest, and finally brought the woman safely to his home. In fancy, one must follow the lone rider. A sea man, accustomed to all kinds of wind and weather on the sea, yet faced with the necessity of crossing the rough country of Catalina Island in darkness and tempest must have been a dismaying situation. Yet William HOWLAND never faltered, but, steeled by the consciousness of the demands of the moment, he went forward into whatever might be before him. The simple statement "that he brought the woman safely home that night," reveals nothing of the darkness, the buffetings of the tempest, the rock strewn canyons whose streamlets, now raging torrents, must be negotiated; the treacherous trails over mountain precipices, hazardous at best and shockingly dangerous under the circumstances, which in some way must be followed. A man of less courage and determination would have failed, but the needs of the hour had to be met; the faith and trust of the loved wife and Mother SIMMONDS, justified. The sterling character revealed by such feats, in a measure, explains the rapid advance and splendid success of William Robert HOWLAND as a boy and man.
The old HOWLAND home on Catalina Island still stands and the place is called Howland’s Landing. The fine old fig tree lives and yields its fruit in season.
When the boy who was born on Catalina Island was twenty years old he was taken very ill with an obstruction of the bowel. His case did not yield to treatment and the family became greatly alarmed. His sufferings had been intense, but one night he had become quiet so that only his mother remained at his bedside watching. It was a warm night in summer and the windows were open. Sometime during the night when all was quiet, Sarah HOWLAND saw a personage enter the room through an open window. He came and stood by the bed looking down at the young man. He then put out his hand as though to touch the boy and the mother noted the beautiful, long, slender hand. Instinctively, she murmured to the personage, "Don’t take him now." The personage withdrew his hand, looked at the mother and said, "I will come again," and left as he.... [unintelligible].... The boy spoke to his mother saying, "Who was that person who stood by the bed, mother?" He lived seven years and passed away by an attack of pneumonia. The boy’s name was William Percival HOWLAND.
Although William HOWLAND had heard much of the gospel story from his wife and Mother SIMMONDS, his first contacts with the missionaries were with Elders D.S. MILLS, Joseph BURTON, and Hyrum HOLT. He was convinced of the truth but the story is told that it was the singing of Elder Hyrum HOLT which, in the end, broke down his resistance and led to his surrender. After the preaching services, all would sit about the fire and sing hymns until a late hour. The historian relates that "they drove to Santa Ana, the home of D.S. MILLS, and were baptized in the Santa Ana river." Three sons, and two boys who lived with the family and worked on the farm, were baptized at the same time. At this time the family were living on a large farm on the mainland which had been purchased before leaving Catalina Island. Here William Robert HOWLAND died in 1898, leaving the children and his beloved Sarah who died some years later in the city of Los Angeles. Both were faithful members of the church and bore their testimony to the end of their lives.
VIII. LAST YEARS
The life of Mother SIMMONDS during her later years was, in a great measure, tranquil and free from hardship or anxiety. She lived in the comfortable home of her youngest daughter, Sarah Elizabeth HOWLAND, and died there in 1880, at the age of 83. She had lived a consistent religious life, a strong, faithful believer to the end. Even after the great disappointment in the church as she found it in Utah, she had the conviction that the true church existed, and when the Reorganized elders came to California, she immediately felt the assurance that here was the have she had been seeking; here was the vindication of her faith, and here the "rest" into which she might confidently enter. She bore a testimony of the truth to the last, and passed on joyful in this hope and assurance. She was a mother in Israel, a valiant defender and an example of faith and works.
An interesting sidelight is found in the item that a son of William and Sarah HOWLAND married a daughter of Joseph and Emma BURTON, and that this daughter, Dora, her daughter and son Drexel, great-grandson of Joseph and Emma BURTON, are faithful and active workers in the Central Los Angeles Branch. Also, a daughter of William and Sarah HOWLAND married Frederick ADAMS, he being a son of Hermina Bosshard ADAMS. Sister ADAMS is a truly staunch defender of the faith. Her daughters are all members and workers in the church, one the wife of Bishop David CARMICHAEL of Santa Ana, California.
The author wishes to acknowledge the very helpful assistance of Sister Grace ADAMS in furnishing the material for this story.