Steer a Desolate Ship
Mary Celeste was launched in 1861 and first registered as the
She was a two mast brigantine 103ft long, weighing 282 tons, made in Nova Scotia's Spencer Island Canada. Bad luck courted her and she changed hands several times.
Her first master R. Mclellan died after her maiden voyage and she ran aground at Cape Breton in 1867.
A year later Benjamin Briggs a man known for his sobriety and good judgment at 37 became the ships new Master under the name of Mary Celeste, he took on board his young wife Sarah and a two year old daughter Sophie.
Her crew of seven were first class sailors while carrying value freight consisted of 1,700 barrels of alcohol assessed at over $34,000 for the fortification of wine. A return cargo from Italy to New York had been arranged
Moving from the east river in changeable weather, rested, before lifting her anchor on early November morning 1872 and set sail for Genoa Italy.
The ship rose and fell in the Atlantic waves on its determined course. No doubt Sarah would play on her fine harmonium accompanied in song by husband and crew to enliven the journey.
The crew of the Dei Gratia spotted the Mary Celeste on the port bow about five miles away. Captain Morehouse of that ship had dined with Briggs not long before departing and had sailed seven days after.
By telescope they could see this ship slowly drifting in a moderate breeze, her sails were well reduced not set to take advantage of the wind. No distress signal could be seen. The Dei Gratia came to her side to offer assistance if needed. Taking a small boat Oliver Deveau Chief Mate and two men rowed towards the drifting ship and saw the name Mary Celeste.
The Mary Celeste creaked as her blocks swung in the wind and loose barrels ran free below deck. Yellow Jack some times known as the American fever crossed their minds as they looked around. But not a living soul could be seen. Two of the hatches were off and a compass damaged while the ships wheel was loose to answer to the sea. The sextant and chronometer were missing.
The ship was awash with water even between decks. One account said there was evidence of a boat launched. The Captains navigational equipment had vanished along with the register. Some effort seemed to have been made to batten up the windows while the skylight was wide open. A few of the beds had not been used while others unmade and wet. The Captains double bed was wet with bedding strewn about and an imprint of a child on it. His ceremonial sword was still under the bed showing some signs of stain on the blade. The couples clothes and child's toys were fine.
Knives and forks were still in the pantry, no cooked meal ready to be put on the table, about five months of food and water was still unused. Sarah's harmonium and sheet music were still in place while some charts that had been stored under bed had been meddled with. A few charts lay on the wet bed as if thrown aside in a hurry.
A broken clock without its hands hung upside down on a wall, washing hanging on a line nearby. Oilskins, boots, pipes seaman's equipment were left behind. Some say nine barrels of alcohol and others say eleven had been opened, a rope cut was hanging over the side and axe marks on the hull.
In the Mates cabin, charts up to November 24th and a log showing a time of 08.00 on the 25th as the ship had passed Santa Maria island.
Had the desolate Mary Celeste steered herself changing course at will for nearly 600 miles from that last marked point?
One of the two pumps was in fine working condition enough to clear the remaining three and a half feet of water. On the whole she was fit to sail.
Three men were delegated to sail her into port to claim salvage found her fairly trim and manageable to enter Gibraltar at 9am on a Friday the 13th December 1872.
In the Admiralty Court foul play by the crew of the Die Gratia was suggested and as a result only part of the salvage money was granted.
For twelve years the Mary Celeste carried cargoes from cat food to boots. Finally her last Captain attempted to sink her to not avail and had to run her aground in Haiti on an insurance swindle.
The crew and passengers were never found but the following year after the Mary Celeste had arrived in Gibraltar, two life boats were found off the coast of Spain, in them lay six bodies and an American Flag. Three of the Celeste crew were American.
We leave this endless enigma with the front page headline from the New York Times.
Abandoned Ship - No Mutiny yet -but a Scheme to Defraud the Insurance Company.
PS. Nearly every book and web site tells a slightly diverse tale. We are no different.
Acknowledgments to books Without Trace by John Harris.
The Mary Celeste by John Maxwell.
Web sites http://www.maryceleste.net/