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The Mystery of The Mary Celeste
by Brenda Bagshaw

Mary Celeste
  On November 7th 1872, the Mary Celeste set sail from pier 44, New York bound for Genoa in Italy

11 days later the ship was found, abandoned in the Atlantic by Oliver Deveau, the first mate of the ship, the Dei Gratia , in the Atlantic.

Deveau boarded the ship to find:-

No sign of the captain (Benjamin Briggs), his wife (Sarah) and their two year old child. (The Briggs’s seven year old son, Arthur, had been left with grandparents to continue his schooling.)

No sign of the crewmen 1st mate – Albert Richardson, 2nd mate and 4 german crewman

The ships clock was not functioning

The compass was destroyed

The cargo of valuable large barrels of valuable industrial alchol (worth $36,000.00) still intact

The lifeboat missing

The deck wet

A large iron stove dislodged from its moorings

The lower deck strewn with papers and clothing

The last written records were 6 miles east of Santa Maria island

A salvage claim ensued, however the lawyer Frederick Solly-Flood set out to prove there was foul play on the ship...which attracted international attention. Solly-Flood believed that the man who found the vessel had perhaps murdered the crew and staked a claim for salvage.

A decorative sword from the captains chambers was tested for traces of blood... but came back negative. Solly-Flood hid this evidence and tried to trick Deveau, saying that it had been cleaned but there ultimately insufficient evidence to halt or prevent the salvage claim. However only awarded $ 1700 of the $ 36000, suggesting that Solly-Flood’s accusations had held some weight with opinion and a shadow of suspicion was cast over Deveau for the rest of his life.

Solly-Flood turned his attention to the crew, he theorised that the crewman may have been drinking the industrial alcohol and in an inebriated state, tried to take over the ship – but again, Flood could produce no evidence in support of his theory.

Flood is thought to have leaked his theories to the press, to sensationalise the story.

12 years later the prestigious Cornhill magazine published a story (supposedly penned by a survivor from the ship) saying that the crew had been bound and thrown overboard – however, this is thought to be pure fiction (where the ships name hade been changed from the" Mary" celeste to the "Marie" Celeste)– this story was later discovered to have been penned by no less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The story was embellished by Doyle for dramatic effect....an for example, he added that there were warm dinners found on the table.

But the question remains...What happened to the ship and her crew?

There are a few (of the many) theories to consider:-

Theory 1 - A Seaquake

The ship was discovered near to the convergence of 3 of the earth’s tectonic plates – underwater earthquakes (seaquakes) seismic waves could have vertically struck the hull of the ship.

This may have led to the captain demanding that the ship be abandoned and may have accounted for the movement of the iron stove.... however after floating abandoned for 11 days, there is no telling what the effects of poor weather would be and this could account for the dislodged stove - but maybe not the ships clock or destroyed compass.

And a seaquake may have not been severe enough to cause abandonment as the ship would only be abandoned in an absolute dire emergency and there appeared to be no damage to the hull

Theory 2 - Pirates

There were no signs of violence on board the ship and all personal belongings (which could easily be carried) were left in-situ – pirates would not have left the ship and its contents un-pillaged.

Theory 3 - Ignition of Gas from the Industrial alcohol In the Hold - Causing Panic & Exodus

Possibly, the liquid cargo of industrial alcohol could have leaked and released a dangerous gas upon evaporation. There was evidence that 9 of the barrels had in fact leaked – a gas cloud could have combusted causing the crew to flee.

It was a bad winter with heavy seas and high waves and it is plausable that the hatches to the cargo hold would have been shut. However, leaving the hold enclosed with leaking barrels could have lead to a dangerous build up of gas.

If you drop a match into an empty bottle of rum, the fumes/gas will ignite as would happen with the ethanol. A spark may have ignited the gas , blown the hatches (which were dislodged under Devoes testimony) however there were no scorch marks – but experiments indicate that there may have been only very minimal scorching.

Fearing further explosion, the crew could have tied the lifeboat to the rear of the ship & stayed in there (away from danger) and could re-board when required. But they left the sails up and if the wind picked up - they were dragged behind and at some point the roap could have snapped or the lifeboat sunk. The lifeboat was never found.

However, this may not explain the damage only to the ships clock and compass.

Theory 4 - It Was The Curse of the Mary Celeste

The ship itself was thought to be a cursed vessel before this very bizarre public incident - below are a few details of the ships history. The boats original name was Amazon and was said to bring financial ruin or death to anyone aboard (She was Re-named by Captain Briggs – but he did not escape the cursed vessel.)

On the Amazon’s maiden voyage, the captain Robert McLellan was struck down with a case of pneumonia and died within 9 days of boarding her

On the second voyage, the Amazon was struck by a fishing boat and required extensive repairs, whilst under repair, a fire broke out in on board and the captain was dismissed.

During a maiden trans Atlantic crossing, the Amazon collided with another vessel in the English channel resulting in dismissal of the captain.

Last captain decided to dash her to claim insurance – he died in prison awaiting trial

We may never know! and speculation of events (from the sublime to the ridiculous) about the most famous maritime mystery of all wll continue to be discussed for a very long time to come.

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