The Mary Celeste

The Mary Celeste
Built in 1861 in Nova Scotia, Canada, this one hundred feet, 282-ton brigantine ship has had quite an interesting history.

Robert McLellan, the first captain assigned to the vessel, died early on in her maiden voyage. The two captains after McLellan were dismissed of their duties due to disastrous incidents.

A little over a decade later, on November 5, 1872, Captain Benjamin Briggs was in control of the Mary Celeste. He docked in New York City to pick up 1,701 barrels of commercial alcohol to be used for fortification of Italian wine in Italy. The Mary Celeste began its journey from New York to Italy.

Briggs had a small crew of seven, his wife, Sarah, and his toddler daughter, Sophia Matilda, on board with him.

A month later, December 4th, the Mary Celeste was spotted near the Western Islands by the crew of the Dei Gratia, which had been behind the Mary Celeste by about seven days.

It was obvious to the experienced sailors of the Dei Gratia that something was not right with the Mary Celeste, and they moved in closer to the other ship.

Yawing slightly with torn sails, the Mary Celeste produced a confused and concerned feeling among the crew of the Dei Gratia. The vessel should have been in Italy by this time.

The Dei Gratia drew close enough for the chief mate, Oliver Deveau, to board the Mary Celeste.

Although "the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess," there was no reason why it wouldn't be considered seaworthy. Some of the equipment (notably the pumps and compass) and papers were missing or not functioning. The peak halyard rope was tied to the ship, with the other end of the rope very frayed and trailing in the water behind the ship.

The six-month supply of food and fresh water, as well as expensive personal possessions were undamaged. Nine of the 1,701 barrels of alcohol were empty.

Most strange of all: not one soul could be found on board the Mary Celeste. The Captain and his family and the entire crew were missing. They were never seen again.

According to the last entry of the Captain's log on November 25 at 5:00 a.m., they had been battling "heavy weather" for two weeks prior to that date. At that time the Mary Celeste was six miles from the Santa Maria Island of Azares. When found by the Dei Gratia, the Mary Celeste was 400 miles east of Santa Maria.

Many theories have been proposed:

Pirates, although there had been no reports of piracy in those waters for many years, and there were no signs of violence.

The rescuing crew of Dei Gratia, although this seems very unlikely as Captain Morehouse was a close friend of Captain Briggs, and the Dei Gratia was traveling behind the Mary Celeste by about a week

A terrible storm, although surely the experienced Captain Briggs would have been aware that leaving the relative safety of the seaworthy ship for a lifeboat on a stormy sea would have been an unwise decision. One researcher reported that thirteen other sailing ships were abandoned in the sea during that time.

Briggs' distrust of his cargo. He wasn't used to transporting alcohol. Possibly the nine empty barrels had been made of the more porous red oak, rather than the white oak of the other barrels. The porous wood might have leaked, causing a buildup of vapor. If the hold was opened, the fumes and steam might have caused Briggs to panic and order everyone off the boat. Although, the hatch to the hold was secured, and the boarding party did not report any fumes.

Ergot poisoning from contaminated flour, which can produce hallucinations and insanity. Perhaps everyone committed suicide by throwing themselves overboard. Although, when the crew from Dei Gratia sailed the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar, none were affected after eating the same flour, which was considered to be fine.

The luck of the Mary Celeste didn’t improve over the years. Twelve years following the finding of the abandoned ship, after various incidents under several different owners, the last captain purposely ran her into the Rochelais reef in an attempt to sink her. He then attempted to make a huge claim against cargo that did not exist. The captain and his first mate were found guilty and convicted of charges of barratry or ship/cargo fraud.

In August of 2001, an expedition led by author Clive Cussler and film producer John Davis believed they had discovered the coral-covered remains of the Mary Celeste on the Rochelais Reef, near Haiti.


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