Captain Laura Favall | The Salvation Army

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Captain Laura Favall

SS Wairarapa Shipwreck
Posted October 31, 2008

On Sunday, 28 October, 1894, the SS Wairarapa neared Auckland when dense fog and deteriorating weather caused poor visibility. Only six hours steam from Auckland they ran into trouble.

On board two women, Salvation Army officers Captain Laura Favall and Staff-Captain Annette Paul, were reading scripture before retiring for the night. Howling winds and fearsome waves battered the vessel. As Paul closed the Bible her eyes fell by chance on a passage that said, ‘Be ye also ready.’

At eight minutes past midnight the ship hit rocks off Great Barrier Island, striking just beside the two women’s cabin. Annette woke Laura and cabin companion Miss Wilkinson. The women donned their life-belts, knelt in prayer and headed on deck along with other terror-stricken passengers and crew.

The night was pitch black and waves washed over the ship. The deck was now crowded with people and the ships cargo of 16 crated horses. Lifeboats were launched but only two successfully made it to shore.

The ship rolled and tossed people and crated horses into the sea. The horses drowned but lifeboats cut adrift saved many of the people.

Still safe on deck the two brave officers stayed together. Laura put her arm around Paul and said, ‘We will die together.’

Battling to keep hold of the reeling ship, clinging to the rigging and railing for dear life, Laura and Annette could be heard singing ‘Jesus, lover of my soul’. Amid the howling tempest an extraordinary peace came upon the passengers. They ceased their sobbing and wailing to listen.

Laura loosened her grip on the rigging to comfort a distraught women saying, ‘God is with us now’ and then added in a loud voice for everyone to hear, ‘If you have not trusted him before, the blood of Jesus can cleanse you now!’

The two Salvation Army women sang, prayed, comforted and spoke to passengers for the 12 hours they clung precariously to the ship.

By midday the storm had lessened and two crew members swam ashore with a rope—which hung dangerously over the rocky waters. The first woman to go down the line reached the shore successfully. Laura was the second to try.

Before she left she smiled and said, ‘When thou pass through the waters, I will be with you,’ and bravely went down the line. Her hands were bleeding and cut and the waves dashed against her frail body. A sudden wave loosened her grip but she managed to catch it again. A second washed her off and again she caught hold. But a third huge wave swept her into the raging sea.

When her body was found later, with not a mark on it, her face bore a heavenly smile that even engulfing waves could not diminish.

All but two people remaining on the deck made it to safety—including Staff-Captain Paul and another Salvationist, Auckland bandsman Mansell Harding, a fireman on the ship.

Of the 271 people onboard that night, the ships captain, John McIntosh, and 120 people lost their lives.