The Mary Celeste Legend
Tom Ware, master storyteller, tells it one more time.
The distant vessel did not seem to be steering aright.
Welcome to the Mary Celeste Legend.
It was a wild, windy wet day when, on the 5th of December in the year 1872, Captain Morehouse, of the Yankee Brig, Dei Gracia, brought his spyglass to bear on a distant sail. They were now well east of the Azores out of New York and bound for Europe. The weather had been bleak, blowy and blustery since they’d left. Captain Moorehouse watched the ship for some time before he realized that there was something amiss. The distant vessel did not appear to be steering aright. She kept dropping off, coming around into the wind again and then dropping off. It seemed as if there was no one at the helm.
Indeed, there was no one at the helm.
Indeed there was no one at the helm, for the ship was deserted. As the Dei Gracia approached her, Moorehouse recongnized the vessel as one belonging to a personal friend, Captain Benjamin Briggs. Indeed, he had dined with Briggs and his wife, Sarah, only a month or so earlier in New York. Now here was Brigg’s ship behaving in a very unusual way.
Captain Benjamin Briggs, master of the ill-fated ship.
Tom Ware, master storyteller, might not have the true version of events...no matter. A yarn is a yarn.
After around two hours, and after hailing her for a long time, Captain Morehouse put a boat over and his first mate, Oliver Deveaux and a handful of his crew boarded the abandoned vessel. As they pulled past her stern they could see her name. She was definitely the 262 ton Mary Celeste, out of New York. So what had happened?
Captain Briggs. Here is his well-to-do home.
As the clambered aboard they had no idea they were about to initiate a legend.
When the sailors clambered aboard they had no idea that not only were they about to initiate a legend which continues to this day. They were also going to find themselves up on a criminal charge – a charge which could lead, if proven guilty, to death by hanging
There was not a soul onboard.
Now, it so happened that there was not a soul onboard the Mary Celeste. And it looked like Captain Briggs, his wife, the two-year old daughter, Sophie, indeed, all those aboard had left in a great hurry. And there were also other quite strange circumstances. Despite the weather having been inclement for days, the sailors had left behind their precious oilskins. Why? Indeed, they hadn’t even taken their pipes and tobacco. The main hatch was open. And although there was a fair amount of water in her bilges, the 1,701 barrels of raw alcohol, the cargo she’d been commissioned to take to Genoa in Italy, was all intact. Nothing broken down there.
So, too, did Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Doyle wrote a short mystery story. Most of it a complete fabrication, which made statements like: The meals were on the table, the food still warm on the galley stove. Mary Celeste because the Marie Celeste. But it was the way the story was written. One of the great mysteries of the sea was born and to this day is still debated
What had forced them to leave?
What had happened to the crew? Had they all become drunk and done something stupid? Had there been a mutiny? An undersea up-heaval and subsequent tsunami? Had a mysterious sea monster taken them all? Were they abducted by some mysterious alien force? Had it been piracy after all? The brigantine was deep in the water – did they think she’d founder? What had forced them to leave?
So what brought the brigantine unstuck?
Today that mystery has still not been solved as far as many are concerned. Some authors who’ve studied the case say that the red-oak barrels of alcohol had leaked, putting dangerous fumes throughout the ship. That Captain Briggs had ordered the main hatch cover off to ventilate the vessel They had then all repaired to the ship’s boat whilst the ventilating took place. But surely, if this were done they’d have been tied to her with a hawser? As it was, there was report of a frayed rope hanging from her side. Had it been deliberately cut?
Tom Ware opines that they did leave to ventilate the ship of alcohol fumes. But who cut the painter and why?
Some say that the Mary Celeste had over ridden a tremendous undersea explosion. There was some evidence of this, as the stove in the galley appeared to have come loose on its mountings. And there had been under sea volcanic activity. The Azores lie on an undersea fault line.
Others hypothesized that the line between ship and boat was cut and that the Mary Celeste had sailed away faster than the crew could row to catch up to her, the little boat later foundering in heavy seas.
It is said that Conan Doyle, budding author, started it all to gain publicity for his famous hero, Sherlock Holmes.
Yes, a real mystery. But we do know that this ship was salvaged and went on for many years before eventually being wrecked off the coast of Haiti. That was a common end for many a sail-driven vessel. But when we think the Mary Celeste we think of the mystery that surrounded her on that day.
What really happened?