Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Mary Celeste

There are legends and tales told amongst sailors the world over of sea creatures and Ghost ships that appear out of nowhere and disappear in the same way. I am fascinated by the tales of the ghost ships like The Mary Celeste or the Flying Dutchman. Today we will start to take a look at just some of those Ghost ships…

The Amazon, an ill fated vessel later to become the Mary Celeste, was launched in 1860 from a port in Nova Scotia. She was 103 feet long overall displacing 280 tons and listed as a half-brig. In the 10 years before she was to become the Mary Celeste, the ship was involved in a multiple accidents at sea and was owned by several different individuals before being sent to the New York salvage auction where she was purchased for $3,000. After extensive repairs, she was re-christened under American registry as The Mary Celeste.

Along with his wife and young daughter the new captain, 37 year old Benjamin Briggs, a master with three previous commands, left New York on November 7, 1872 bound for Genoa, Italy. The crew was made up of eight other members and the cargo consisted of 1700 barrels of raw American alcohol. None of those on board would ever be seen again.

On December 5, 1872, the ship Dei Gratia came upon the Mary Celeste floundering on the sea. The captain of the Dei Gratia knew Captain Briggs and was surprised to see the ship derelict as Briggs had a reputation as an excellent captain. Men from the Dei Gratia boarded the abandoned Mary Celeste to determine what was going on.

The ship was found in good seaworthy condition. It appeared as though the crew had left in a great hurry. They discovered that the chronometer and sextant were missing. There was water between the decks and the Galley was in bad shape. The stove was knocked out of place and cooking utensils were strewn about. There were no lifeboats aboard the ship and everything was soaked. A rope was found hanging over the side of the ship trailing in the water.

The crew from the Dei Gratia managed to get the Mary Celeste into port. When the cargo was unloaded, they found 9 of the barrels of alcohol empty.

What happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste? Some feel that the cargo became unstable and that the captain decided to trail behind the ship in the lifeboat until such time that it was safe to board. However, for some reason, the ship outdistanced the lifeboat leaving the crew helpless on the sea.

Another theory involves foul play. However, no evidence was ever found to prove that. Some think that the ship was caught in the middle of a seaquake. And still others claim the crew was eaten by sharks during a swim.

A British Board of Inquiry in Gibraltar gathered evidence and testimony from the boarding party that had discovered the Mary Celeste. Lack of evidence of violence ruled out piracy or foul play, but no conclusions as to the fate of those aboard was ever reached.

Newspapers in America and England took little passing notice of the incident, and it soon faded from public interest as the loss of a small ship at sea was not uncommon in those days.

The popular mystery of the Mary Celeste did not begin until 1884 when Arthur Conan Doyle (the future author of the Sherlock Holmes series) writing under a pseudonym published a story about a derelict ship which he called "Marie Celeste". It was titled "J. Habakuk Jepson's Statement". This tale recounted some of the actual events of the Mary Celeste with considerable added fictional and provocative detail which stirred up controversy and captured the public interest. Since then, and to this day, no two versions of the story are the same.

Whatever the reason for its being found abandoned and adrift, the story of the Mary Celeste stills fascinates people. Something about the image of a ship sailing alone, the crew and captain missing... without a trace. It is another part of our big weird world!

I’m Average Joe

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