Mary Celeste

From Academic Kids

The Mary Celeste was a ship found abandoned off the coast of Portugal in 1872. What happened remains unknown.



The Mary Celeste was a 103 feet brigantine weighing 282 tons, under Captain Benjamin Briggs. Originally built as the Amazon in Nova Scotia in 1861, the ship seemingly had bad luck, and due to numerous negative occurrences, had changed hands several times. It became the Mary Celeste in 1869.

On November 7 1872, the Mary Celeste picked up a cargo of American alcohol (for fortifying wine) shipped by Meissner Ackermann & Coin in New York City and was bound for Genoa, Italy.

On December 4 1872 (some reports give December 5th, due to a lack of standard time zones in the 1800s), the Mary Celeste was found abandoned, half way between Portugal and the Azores. The ship seemed to be in good condition, but no one was aboard.

Captain Briggs, all officers and crew (a total of 7) and passengers (Briggs's wife, Sarah E. Cobb and child Sophia Matilda) were never found. Their fate may never be known, and rumors abound. Some cite a connection with the Bermuda Triangle, though the ship was far from it.

The Mary Celeste was found by the Dei Gratia, captained by Captain Morehouse, who knew Captain Briggs. The Dei Gratia had left New York harbor only seven days after the Mary Celeste. Coming across the ship, the crew observed her for two hours, and concluded that she was drifting. They noted that there were no distress signals flying on the ship. Oliver Deveau, the Chief Mate of the Dei Gratia led a party in a small boat to board her. He reported finding only one pump working, with a lot of water between decks and three and one-half feet of water in the hold. He reported that "the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess".

The forehatch and the lazarett hatch were both open, the clock was not functioning and the compass was destroyed. The sextant and chronometer were missing, suggesting the ship had been deliberately abandoned. The only lifeboat appeared to have been intentionally launched, rather than torn away. Other accounts claim the lifeboat was still on the ship.

The cargo of 1700 barrels of alcohol was intact, though when it was eventually unloaded in Genoa, nine barrels were noted as being empty. A six-month supply of food and water was aboard. All of the ship's papers except the captain's logbook were missing. The last log entry was dated November 24 and placed her 100 miles west of the Azores. The last entry on the ship’s slate showed her as having reached the island of St Mary in the Azores on November 25th.

The crew of the Dei Gratia split in two to sail the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar where, during a hearing, the judge praised the crew of the Dei Gratia for their courage and skill. However, the admiralty court officer Frederick Solly Flood turned the hearings from a simple salvage claim into almost a trial of the men of the Dei Gratia, which Flood suspected of foul play. In the end, the court did award prize money to the crew, but the sum was much less than it should have been, as "punishment" for wrongdoing which the court could not prove.

After being recovered in 1872, the ship was then used for 12 years by a variety of owners before being loaded up with boots and cat food by her last captain who attempted to sink her, apparently to claim insurance money. The plan did not work as the ship refused to sink having been run up on the Rochelois Reef in Haiti. The remains of the ship were discovered on August 9, 2001 by an expedition headed by author Clive Cussler (representing the National Underwater and Marine Agency) and Canadian film producer John Davis (president of ECO-NOVA Productions of Canada).

Dozens of theories have been proposed to explain the mystery of the vanished crew and passengers, ranging from the reasonable to the absurd. Some suggested there was a mutiny among the crew who murdered Briggs and his family then escaped in the lifeboat. However, Briggs was known as a very religious, just and fair man. He was not the kind of Captain to provoke his crew to mutiny. First Mate Albert Richardson had served in the American Cival War before going away to sea and the rest of the crew also had excellent reputations. When all theories have been tabled, the answer to the mystery most probably lies with the barrels of raw alcohol. Alcohol fumes were known to be volatile, even explosive. A strict, New England Puritan, Briggs had never hauled such a dangerous cargo and did not trust it. Nine barrels leaking would build up a lethal mixture of fumes in the hold. Historian Conrad Byer believes that after a few calm days at sea, Captain Briggs ordered the hold to be opened. There was a violent rush of fumes and then steam. Captain Briggs believed the ship was about to explode and ordered everyone into the lifeboat. In his haste, he failed to properly secure the lifeboat to the ship with a strong towline. The wind picked up and blew the ship away from them. The occupents of the lifeboat either drowned or drifted out to sea to die of hunger, thirst and exposure.

Mary Celeste is the proper spelling of the ship's name though it may sometimes be found as the Marie CÚleste. This spelling is from an Arthur Conan Doyle story entitled J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement, published in 1884, part of The Captain of the Polestar. Doyle's story drew very heavily on the original incident, but included a considerable amount of fiction which has become mixed with fact in the public mind. Old sailors sometimes claimed that they had been aboard the Mary Celeste. Little credence is given to these stories.

In early 1873 it was reported that two lifeboats landed of the shores of Spain. One had a body and an American flag. The other had five bodies. It was never investigated whether or not it could be the remains of the crew of the Mary Celeste.

Ship's manifest

The crew and passengers are listed in the ships log as:


Name Status Nationality Age
Benj. S. Briggs Captain American 37
Albert C Richardson Mate American 28
Andrew Gilling 2nd Mate Danish 25
Edward W Head Stewd & Cook American 23
Volkert Lorenson Seaman Dutch 29
Arian Martens Seaman Dutch 35
Boy Lorenson Seaman Dutch 23
Gotlieb Gondeschall Seaman German 23


Name Status Age
Sarah Elizabeth Briggs Captain's Wife 30
Sophia Matilda Briggs Daughter 2


  • The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved, Lawrence David Kusche - ISBN 0879759712
  • Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and her Missing Crew, Brian Hicks - ISBN 0345463919
  • The "Mary Celeste", John Maxwell - ISBN 8715011186

External links

nl:Mary Celeste


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