"Of all the unlucky vessels I ever heard of, she was the most unlucky." (David Cartwright, co-owner of "Mary Celeste")
|"Mary Celeste" when she was still called "Amazon" in 1861|
|Golden Age of Illustration icon Howard Pyle's imagination of the "Flying Dutchman" (1900)|
“Mary Celeste” never was considered to be a lucky ship. Launched in 1861 as “Amazon” in Nova Scotia, the brigantine had to delay her maiden voyage to London because her skipper fell ill. When she eventually sailed, she was damaged running into fishing equipment of Maine and finally making it to the Channel, the future ghost ship collided with a brig in the fog and sank her. Six years later, “Amazon” was driven ashore in a fierce storm off her native Nova Scotia and battered almost beyond repair. However, she was bought by an American shipping consortium, underwent a complete overhaul, was seized by debtors and finally set sail as “Mary Celeste” from Pier 50 on the East River, New York, under the command of one of her new owners, an old Atlantic hand, 37 years old Benjamin Briggs, of Wareham, Massachusetts, with her crew of 7, the skipper’s wife Sarah and his youngest daughter Sophie, two years old. “Mary Celeste” left New York for Genoa with a cargo of 1,701 barrels of undrinkable raw alcohol on 7 November, the last time she was seen before she became a myth. A week later, another brigantine, the Canadian “Dei Gratia” under her Nova Scotian master David Morehouse left New York for Genoa as well and about three weeks later, halfway between the Azores and the coast of Portugal, “Dei Gratia” sighted a two-masted sailing vessel on an erratic course with some of her canvas flying loose and her rigging damaged. It turned out to be the “Mary Celeste”. The two brigantines closed and seeing no one on deck, Morehouse sent two men to investigate. They found nobody below decks either. “Mary Celeste” was abandoned. She had obviously been through rough weather, "the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess“, as the mate of the “Dei Gratia” noted, her navigation equipment was missing along with her lifeboat and some barrels of alcohol she had loaded were discovered to be empty. All personal belongings as well as the food supplies were left untouched, but there was no trace of her people. The last entry in her log was made 9 days earlier off the Azores, nothing unusual was reported.
Morehouse sailed “Mary Celeste” to Gibraltar and into a salvage court hearing there that ended with accusations of foul play in regards to insurance fraud against him and lost Briggs. Morehouse and his crew were acquitted of this and other charges and along with the idea of trickery committed by Captain Briggs, several other attempts to explain the fate of the crew of “Mary Celeste” came up, from piracy and mutiny to the kraken having plucked her people from the decks and other rather metaphysical ideas. Unsurprisingly, the myth of the Bermuda Triangle was brought into play as well, even though the “Mary Celeste” was traceably nowhere near the West Indies, let alone the Bermudas. None other than Arthur Conan Doyle saw to it that one or the other myth rather than a scientific explanation is usually seen at the base of the “Mary Celeste’s” tale. His short story “J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement” about a hence unknown survivor spawned a series of hair-rising tales and made “Mary Celeste” the best known ghost ship in naval history and admittedly, the events of late November and early December 1872 were never fully explained. Quite in contrast to the ship’s further fate. She was released after the salvage court hearing’s ending, sailed again under new ownership, retained her reputation as “unlucky ship”, naturally, and was finally sunk in January 1885 with a cargo of cat food and rubber boots somewhere off Haiti in an attempted and this time proven insurance fraud.
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|A contemporary newspaper illustration of "Mary Celeste" showing her in the state she was found in by "Dei Gratia" on 4 December 1872|
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