The Mary Celeste - Mystery at Sea

Originally named the Amazon, the Mary Celeste was built in 1860 at Nova Scotia. By the time she was registered in New York, she had gone through several owners.

On November 7, 1872, the Mary Celeste set sail from New York bound for Genoa. Captain Benjamin Briggs was an experienced seaman, an abstainer from alcohol, and a devout Christian. He commanded a crew of seven. The captain's wife and young daughter also accompanied him on the trip. The Mary Celeste's hold contained 1700 barrels of raw alcohol.

On December 4, 1872, the Mary Celeste was found abandoned and adrift by the crew of the Dei Gratia, which was on her way to Gibraltar from New York. When members of the Dei Gratia's crew boarded her, they found the cargo intact but no sign of the 10 people on board. The ship's papers, sextant, and chronometer were missing. The forward hatch was off and below decks everything was soaked with water. The Mary Celeste's crew had left behind their oil skin boots, indicating that they had left in a hurry. A small boat (the "yawl boat") was missing and a rope was found hanging over the side of the ship. When the Mary Celeste's cargo was unloaded at Gibraltar, nine barrels of alcohol were empty.

There are several theories about the fate of the 10 souls on board. An investigator looking into the matter at the time concluded that the crew got drunk, murdered the captain and his family, and escaped in the yawl boat. This theory doesn't hold water (so to speak) because there were no signs of a struggle and the pure alcohol of the ship's cargo could not be consumed - it was poisonous.

This would also discount the theory that the Mary Celeste was set-upon by pirates - why would they murder everyone on board and leave the cargo intact?

Another theory comes from the "Fosdyk papers". In 1913, an article was published in Strand magazine alleging that a man named Abel Fosdyk had been a secret passenger on the fateful voyage. Fosdyk alleged that Captain Briggs had the ship's carpenter build a special deck in the ship's bow for his daughter. Captain Briggs and several sailors were swimming off the ship when one of them was attacked by a shark. In response to the sailor's cries, everyone on board (including the Captain's wife and daughter) rushed on to the newly-built deck to see what was happening. The deck then collapsed under their combined weight and they all fell in and were also attacked. Fosdyk landed on top of the decking and floated at sea for days before washing up on the African coast. If this account is accurate, why didn't Fosdyk come forward at the time? It also doesn't make sense for crew members to go swimming from a ship that was probably travelling at several knots at the time.

Even the famous author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a take on the Mary Celeste mystery. In 1884 he wrote a story about the "Marie Celeste" called "J. Habaruk Jepson's Statement".

The most reasonable explanation is that Captain Briggs, his family, and the crew abandoned ship. This could have been due to a small explosion caused by alcohol fumes igniting or a rumbling of the cargo. They were likely trailing behind the ship in the yawl boat, waiting to see if the Mary Celeste exploded, when the wind snapped the rope. The occupants of the small craft were either swept into the sea or died of thirst and exposure.

After the incident, not surprisingly, the Mary Celeste was known as an unlucky ship. She changed hands frequently, and was wrecked off the coast of Haiti 12 years later.

So there you have it. This nautical mystery remains unsolved. The only entity that knows what really happened is the Mary Celeste herselfSand she's not talking.



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