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On This Day



On This Day… A Famous Maritime Mystery!

Written by: George Chittenden : 10 Jun 2019

It was on this day, 7th Nov, back in 1872 when the 282-ton sailing ship ‘Mary Celeste’ set sail from New York Harbour on route to Genoa, Italy. On board were the ship’s captain, Benjamin S. Briggs, his wife, Sarah, and their 2-year-old daughter, Sophia, along with eight crewmembers. Less than a month later, on December 5th, a passing British ship spotted ‘Mary Celeste’ at full sail and adrift about 400 miles east of the Azores. The captain, his family and all the crew had vanished! It’s one of the most famous maritime mysteries in history.

The Mary Celeste

The Mary Celeste

She was found by the Canadian brigantine Dei Gratia in a dishevelled but seaworthy condition. Aside from several feet of water in the hold and a missing lifeboat, the ship was undamaged and loaded with six months’ worth of food and water. Her cargo of denatured alcohol was intact, and the captain's and crew's personal belongings were undisturbed. None of those who had been on board were ever seen or heard from again. Why would an experienced captain and his sailors, abandon a perfectly sound ship?

At the salvage hearings in Gibraltar, following her recovery, the court's officers considered several theories including mutiny by Mary Celeste's crew, piracy by the Dei Gratia crew or others, and conspiracy to carry out insurance or salvage fraud. However, no convincing evidence supported these theories. Over the year’s other theories have been suggested, such as alcohol fumes rising from the cargo and effecting the crew, waterspouts, giant squid and of course the supernatural. The Mary Celeste was eventually deliberately wrecked off the coast of Haiti, as part of an attempted insurance fraud in 1885.

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