Abandoned Ship: The Mary Celeste

Abandoned Ship: The Mary Celeste

The Ghost Ship of the Mary Celeste

One of the most enduring mysteries of the sea is the fate of the Mary Celeste, a wooden ship that was found abandoned and drifting in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872. The ship had left New York for Genoa, Italy, with a cargo of alcohol and a crew of 10 people, including the captain, his wife and their daughter. But none of them were ever seen or heard from again. What happened to them? Why did they leave the ship? And where did they go?

The History of the Mary Celeste

The Mary Celeste was originally built in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1861 and named the Amazon. She was a brigantine, a type of sailing vessel with two masts and a mix of square and fore-and-aft sails. She had a length of 103 feet (31 meters) and a tonnage of 282. She was involved in several accidents and mishaps during her early years, including running aground, colliding with other ships and losing her captain to pneumonia.

In 1868, she was sold to an American owner and renamed the Mary Celeste. She underwent major repairs and modifications, including adding a second deck and increasing her cargo capacity. She changed hands several times until she was acquired by a group of investors led by James H. Winchester, a New York businessman.

In 1872, Winchester hired Benjamin Spooner Briggs as the captain of the Mary Celeste. Briggs was an experienced and respected mariner who had sailed around the world several times. He decided to take his wife, Sarah, and their two-year-old daughter, Sophia, with him on his maiden voyage as the master of the Mary Celeste. He also hired seven crew members, all of whom were known to him or had good references.

The Mary Celeste departed from New York on November 7, 1872, carrying 1,701 barrels of denatured alcohol as cargo. The alcohol was intended for use in lamps and stoves in Italy. The ship followed a common route across the Atlantic, heading south-east towards the Azores islands.

The Discovery of the Mary Celeste

On December 4, 1872, another brigantine named the Dei Gratia spotted a ship about 400 miles (640 kilometers) east of the Azores. The Dei Gratia had left New York eight days after the Mary Celeste and was also bound for Genoa. As they approached the ship, they noticed that it was sailing erratically and that no one was on deck. They signaled to it but received no response.

The captain of the Dei Gratia, David Morehouse, recognized the ship as the Mary Celeste. He knew Briggs personally and had dined with him before they left New York. He sent his first mate, Oliver Deveau, and two sailors to board the ship and investigate.

What they found was puzzling and eerie. The Mary Celeste was deserted but in good condition. There was no sign of violence or struggle on board. The sails were partly set but some were damaged or missing. The rigging was loose or tangled. The compass was smashed and the chronometer was missing. The lifeboat was gone but its davits were still in place.

The cabin was tidy and dry. The captain's papers and charts were intact but his logbook was missing. The crew's personal belongings were undisturbed. There was plenty of food and water on board. The cargo of alcohol was mostly untouched except for nine barrels that were empty.

The last entry in a slate that served as a temporary logbook was dated November 25. It indicated that the Mary Celeste was about six miles (10 kilometers) from Santa Maria island in the Azores.

Deveau returned to the Dei Gratia with his report. Morehouse decided to take the Mary Celeste under tow and bring her to Gibraltar for salvage. He divided his crew between the two ships and set sail for the British colony.

## The Mystery of the Mary Celeste

The arrival of the Mary Celeste in Gibraltar on December 12 caused a sensation. The British authorities launched an inquiry into the fate of her crew and passengers. They suspected foul play or fraud by either Briggs or Morehouse or both.

The inquiry lasted for three months and involved several witnesses, experts and lawyers. It examined various theories and scenarios such as mutiny, piracy, murder, conspiracy, insurance fraud and alcohol explosion. However, none of them could be proven or disproven with the available evidence.

The inquiry concluded that the Mary Celeste was abandoned under circumstances of "grave and imminent danger" but could not determine what those circumstances were. It awarded a salvage claim of £1,700 to the Dei Gratia, much less than the £8,000 they had expected. The Mary Celeste was sold to new owners and continued to sail until 1885, when she was deliberately wrecked off the coast of Haiti as part of another insurance fraud.

The mystery of the Mary Celeste captivated the public imagination and inspired many stories and speculations. In 1884, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a fictional account of the case in which he changed the name of the ship to Marie Celeste and invented a plot involving a vengeful ex-slave who killed the crew. Other writers and filmmakers followed suit, adding more details and twists to the story.

Some of the hypotheses that have been proposed over the years include:

- The crew and passengers abandoned the ship after fearing an explosion caused by fumes from the alcohol leaking from the barrels.
- The crew and passengers abandoned the ship after encountering a waterspout, a tornado-like phenomenon that can suck water and objects into the air.
- The crew and passengers abandoned the ship after being attacked by a giant squid or a sea monster.
- The crew and passengers abandoned the ship after being affected by a psychological phenomenon known as mass hysteria or delusion.
- The crew and passengers abandoned the ship after being lured away by a passing ship or a mirage.
- The crew and passengers abandoned the ship after being involved in a religious cult or a secret mission.
- The crew and passengers abandoned the ship after being abducted by aliens or transported to another dimension.

None of these hypotheses have been conclusively proven or disproven. The fate of the Mary Celeste remains one of the greatest mysteries of maritime history.


(1) The Mystery of the Mary Celeste Ghost Ship - Marine Insight. https://www.marineinsight.com/maritime-history/the-mystery-of-the-mary-celeste-ghost-ship/.
(2) Mary Celeste - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Celeste.
(3) Mary Celeste | Mystery, Maritime Disaster & Ghost Ship. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mary-Celeste.
(5) Mary Celeste - The Ghost Ship - Bermuda. https://www.bermuda-attractions.com/bermuda2_000064.htm.


What happened to the Mary Celeste ghost ship?

As for the Mary Celeste, her end was far less mysterious. In November of 1884, she was sailed right into a reef just off the coast of Haiti; wrecked by a crooked captain who was trying to scam his insurance company. He was charged with fraud and died soon after.

Was the crew of the Mary Celeste ever found?

Apparently, the Mary Celeste had been drifting toward Genoa on her intended course for 11 days with no one at the wheel to guide her. Captain Briggs, his family, and the crew of the vessel were never found, and the reason for the abandonment of the Mary Celeste has never been determined.

What is the theory of the Mary Celeste ghost ship?

Theories over the years have ranged from mutiny and pirate attack to assault by giant octopus or sea monster, while the more scientifically minded proposed an explosion caused by fumes from the 1,700 barrels of crude alcohol in the ship's hold.

Why is the Mary Celeste called a ghost ship?

On December 4, 1872 Mary Celeste, also known as the 'Ghost Ship', was found without a single soul on board while she was still on sail. She was spotted off the coast of Portugal heading towards the Strait of Gibraltar.

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