Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mary Celeste

On November 7, 1872, the brig Mary Celeste sailed from New York, bound for Genoa, Italy and carrying a cargo of alcohol in barrels. She was commanded by Benjamin Spooner Briggs of Marion, Massachusetts, who was also part owner. There were seven crew on board in addition to Captain Briggs, and also on board were Mrs. Briggs and Sophia, their two year old daughter.

Eight days later the brigantine Dei Gratia, not far from the Azores, sighted a vessel under shortened sail and poor control. The Dei Gratia approached and haled the brig. Receiving no response they boarded her. No one was on board. The ship's boat was missing. There was three feet of water in the hold, but that was nothing unusual given that the weather had been somewhat rough. The forward hatch and the lazarette hatch were off. There was no evidence of fire or explosion, nor of foul play. The binnacle was knocked off its mounts and the compass destroyed. The chronometer, sextant, Bowditch, ship's register and other papers were missing. There was every appearance that the crew had abandoned the Mary Celeste in a great hurry - for example, the crew left its oilskins, valuables, pipes and tobacco.

The Dei Gratia brought the brig into Gibraltar and an inquest ensued. There were suspicions of mutiny, of pirates, and of insurance fraud gone bad. None of these theories had any real basis in proof or motivation. Nine of the 1,700 barrels of alcohol were empty, which was apparently not unusual for such a voyage in the days of wooden barrels.

To many, the leading theory centers on the cargo. The ship sails from cold water to warm. The alcohol warms too and gives off fumes. Perhaps there is a low-order explosion (although no evidence of that was found), insufficient to damage the ship - or leave a trace - but enough to rattle the crew, which drags off a hatch to ventilate the hold and then hurries into the boat to give the hold time to air. Although the crew intends to return to the ship, because he is not a fool the captain brings his instruments and papers. A squall comes up and drives off the ship and the ship's boat sinks. But what about the destroyed binnacle?

The mystery of the Mary Celeste has never been solved or satisfactorily explained. The Mary Celeste (that is the correct spelling) wrecked on a Haitian reef in 1885.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Site Meter