The Mary Celeste
sometimes referred to (incorrectly) as the Marie
Celeste, was originally named the Amazon a 282-gross ton
brigantine  built in 1861 by the shipbuilders of Joshua Dewis,
Island, Nova Scotia. She was discovered December 4 or 5 (exact
day uncertain) 1872 by the Dei
Gratia some 600 miles west of Portugal purportedly abandoned yet still
under sail and heading for the Strait
of Gibraltar. The disappearance of the crew and passengers of the Mary
Celeste has been a subject of speculation and
controversy for almost a century and a half and has been referred to as
one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time.
voyage began normally enough, the Mary Celeste after taking aboard a
cargo of commercial alcohol, worth at the time about $35,000
set sail November 7, 1872, from Staten Island, for Genoa, Italy, under
the command of Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs an experienced seaman
and master mariner.
Along with the Captain and a capable carefully chosen
crew (a Dane, four Germans and two Americans) were the Captain’s wife
and their two year old daughter.
Prior to sailing Briggs and his
wife had dined with an old friend, David Reed Morehouse, the Captain of
the Dei Gratia (also a brigantine) and his wife. During the
it came to light that both ships were bound for the Mediterranean. As
fate would have it, however, the Dei Gratia was delayed waiting for
cargo, finally sailing seven some say eight days later. If the ships
had left together perhaps the mystery would have never been a mystery
In any event approximately a month later (December 4 or
5) the Dei Gratia overtook the Mary Celeste and after cautiously
observing her for 2 hours determined she was abandoned and drifting.
The Dei Gratia’s chief mate, Oliver Deveau, finally boarded the
brigantine reporting back that the ship was crewless and partialy
flooded but still seaworthy (only one pump was operational, the other
two having been disassembled).
The Captain’s logbook was found
but other papers were missing. The forehatch and storage locker were
open but the main hatch was sealed. The sextant and chronometer were
missing, the clock broken, the compass destroyed. The ships lifeboat, a
yawl, was also missing, a rope, perhaps a halyard, was found trailing
in the water its end frayed.
untouched food and
still warm cups of tea on the cabin table are apparently untrue, Deveau
stating he saw no prepared food or drink in evidence.
ships were sailed to Gibraltar (the Dei Gratia was a British Empire
vessel) arriving a week and a half apart. Two investigations were held,
first by the British then by the Americans.
Even though no
evidence of piracy, foul play, mutiny or violence was ever found (an
finding of blood on a sword and in the Captain’s cabin was discovered
rust) the salvagers only received a sixth of the insurance money,
suggesting investigators were not totally convinced of their innocence.
The cargo was eventually delivered to its destination (Genoa) as per
the original contract.
the following 13 years the Mary Celeste change hands 17 times, until
last captain and owner G.C. Parker deliberately ran her aground off
Haiti January 3, 1885. This rather lame attempt at insurance fraud
proved unsuccessful, however, when in spite of also being
to sink. Parker was arrested following an
investigation but died before his trial.
A number of theories relating to the mystery have been advanced, some
Six months of stored food and water along with the crew’s personal
effects were found, this along with a lack of visible signs of struggle
make piracy unlikely.
Insurance fraud: Unlikely, the insurance
on ship and cargo though substantial (in
current money approximately $680.000) was
not a great amount per person when split amongst both crews all of
which would have to keep the secret some having to assume new
Mutiny: Unlikely, both captain and crew had excellent reputations.
A freak storm might have caused the crew to abandon ship in the missing
lifeboat (there was extra water in the bilge). Unfortunately no storms
were reported in the area.
Seaquake and the risk of explosion: Nine of the
1,701 barrels of alcohol were empty, perhaps jarred open by an undersea
quake (seismic activity is common in the area). If the leaking
containers had filled
the hold with combustible fumes, the possibility of explosion might
have panicked the crew causing them to abandon ship.
Unfortunately no smell of alcohol was reported. 
waves: Extreme or abnormal waves  are a threat even to large modern
ocean-going vessels and might have washed crew and passengers
overboard. Once thought to be folklore, modern satellite images have
confirmed their existence.
And finally a “Bermuda Triangle”
like event, though the Mary Celeste’s route (between New York and
Gibraltar) was in the North Atlantic nowhere near that
 The brigantine, its name derived from the Italian word brigantino and a
favorite of Mediterranean pirates, was originally a small ship
carrying both sails and oars; later the term came to mean a merchant
ship with two masts, the mainmast being fore-and-aft rigged while the
foremast is square rigged.
 A watch at various ports was put into place, but nothing untoward
ever came to light.
Upon returning to the Dei Gratia, Deveau had allegedly reported the
cargo of 1,701 barrels of alcohol to be intact; upon unloading in
Genoa, however, nine barrels were found to be empty.
Not to be confused with tsunamis (triggered by undersea quakes) rogue
waves seem to occur where fast currents and strong winds converge.
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