Mystery Disappearance of the Crew of the Mary Celeste Part 1

About the mystery of the disappearance of the crew of the Mary Celeste a ship discovered sailing on the ocean completely abandoned.


When: November, 1872

Where: The Atlantic Ocean

The Mystery: On December 4, 1872, the Dei Gratia, a British brig skippered by Capt. David Read Morehouse, was somewhere between New York and Gibraltar when its crew spotted a ship moving in a strange and erratic manner. The ship's jib and foremost staysail were set, and it was sailing on a starboard tack. When the crew of the Dei Gratia hailed it, there was no answer.

The captain ordered mate Oliver Deveau to row over and find out what was going on. This small boarding crew identified the ship as the Mary Celeste, which had been docked in New York at the same time as the Dei Gratia. When they went aboard, there was no one there.

While accounts vary, they agree on certain things. In the cabin, all 6 windows were battened up with wood planking and canvas. Chests of clothes were dry, and razors were not rusty--obviously the ship had not been swamped. A vial of sewing machine oil stood upright by a reel of cotton thread, which would lead one to believe that there had been no heavy seas. There was plenty of food and water--enough for months--on board. On a slate in the mate's cabin was the message "Fanny, my dear wife . . ." Water lay on the floor of the ship's galley, and the scuttle hatch was off.

One of the pumps was drawn to let the sounding rod down. There was some damage--a clock was spoiled by water, the compass in the binnacle was broken, there were gashes on the rail, the rigging was torn. The lifeboats, if any, were gone. It looked as though those aboard had left in a great hurry. A woman's clothes and a child's toys lay about, and an impression the size of a child's body was on the captain's bed.

Morehouse ordered Deveau and 2 others to take the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar, where she was put in custody of the British Vice-Admiralty Court as a derelict and an investigation was begun. Morehouse wanted to claim her as salvage.

The inquiry lasted for weeks. It was established that the last entry in the logbook on November 24 gave a latitude of 56 deg. N. and a longitude of 27 deg. 20' W. On board had been the captain, Benjamin Briggs, a straitlaced New Englander; his wife; his baby daughter; and a crew of 7. New evidence provoked questions. Was there a bloodstained hatchet buried in the mast? Had the rails been intentionally slashed? Where were the ship's bills of lading and its manifest? What happened during the 10 days between her abandonment and her discovery by the Dei Gratia? Was an Italian sword found? How were the lifeboats, if any, launched?

The court gave a judgment for salvage of pound 1,700 to the Dei Gratia, and gave the Mary Celeste back to her owners, but it offered no satisfactory explanation of what had happened to the derelict.

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