The Mystery of the Mary Celeste

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The Mystery of the Mary Celeste
Please note It is a maritime tradition to refer to sailing vessels as she. Therefore, the Mary Celeste will be called ’she’ during this article.

The disappearances of the crew of the Mary (pronounced Marie) Celeste is one of the strangest and unsolved sea mysteries of all time. The Mary Celeste was built in 1860 at Novia Scotia and launched in 1861. Her original name was Amazon. After passing through various owners, she was soon sold to an American and renamed as the Mary Celeste.

Captain Benjamin Briggs was an experienced seaman, having commanded three other ships before assuming command of the Mary Celeste at the age of 37. On November 5, 1872, Captain Briggs sailed with a crew of eight, and with his wife and two year old daughter also aboard. They anchored about a mile from port because of weather. On November 7, they were underway again, bound for Genoa, Italy. Their cargo: 1700 barrels of crude alcohol for fortifying wines.

On February 15th, 1872, the Mary Celeste was discovered drifting derelict by the crew of the Dei Gratia. Though slightly damaged (her compass stand had been knocked over and the compass destroyed - the hatch covers were also off.) she was basically seaworthy. Her boat was missing, as was the captain's chronometer, navigation book and ship's register. There was a lot of water between decks, in the forward deckhouse and in the cabin. No sign of her crew or passengers were ever found. The captain's bed was unmade, and had the impression as if a child had lain there. She was estimated to be about 1000 kilometres from her last marked position.

In the hold were the barrels of alcohol, apparently in good condition and properly stowed. The crew of the Dei Gratia split up, and three of them sailed the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar, hoping to claim salvage fees from her owners. To their surprise, however, instead of salvage fees, they came under suspicion of murder for the disappearances of the crew and passengers of the Mary Celeste.

Some of the many legends about the Mary Celeste suggest that she was found with fresh food on the table, or with a cat sleeping on one of the bunks, or that bloodstains were found on one rail (it turned out to be wine). So much time has passed, and the investigation was so confused, that the real truth about her is difficult to determine.

Many theories have been put forward about the Mary Celeste. Some are based on the supernatural. For example, many feel that a giant squid had eaten the entire crew of the ship. Others believe that the ship was cursed, while some claimed that pirates murdered the crew, despite the fact that the last documented pirate attack was in 1832. Another theory is that the crew had gotten drunk off of the alcohol, and in a rage had murdered the captain and his wife. They then took to the boats in escape. A further theory is that the boat either sank during a storm, or the passengers died of thirst and exposure afterward, while adrift.

Many sailors refused to sail in the Mary Celeste, believing her to be an unlucky and cursed ship. They were right. She was eventually wrecked during a storm off the West Indies.

Whatever the real explanation, the Mary Celeste remains one of the most puzzling sea mysteries of all time. To this very day, it is an unsolved mystery…and probably always will be.

Questions Please make sure that you write the questions. All answers will need to be written in complete and detailed sentences.

  1. What was the original name of the Mary Celeste?

  2. What did the supposed bloodstains turn out to be?

  3. Why is it thought that pirates couldn’t have murdered the crew?

  4. What did the crew of the Dei Gratia hope to get by sailing the Mary Celeste back to Gibraltar?

  5. One theory is that he passengers died of thirst or exposure. What does exposure mean in this context?

  6. What could have explained the large amounts of water found on the Mary Celeste by the Dei Gratia crew?

  7. Why will the Mary Celeste (most likely) always remain an unsolved mystery?

  8. Which pieces of modern technological (maritime and everyday) would ensure that mysteries like this would never happen in our day and age?

  9. What do you believe is the most likely explanation for the disappearance of the Mary Celeste? Please explain your answer.

  10. What do you believe would now have to happen for the Mary Celeste mystery to be solved?

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