A Voyage of Mystery

When the Mary Celeste set sail from the New York harbor on November 5, 1872, it was an ordinary event for the busy port which handled arrivals and departures of numerous vessels in the course of the day.

For Capt. Benjamin Briggs also it was just another voyage in a long seafaring career. The skipper had with him a crew of seven in addition to his wife and a two-year old daughter. But this was nothing out of the ordinary as Mrs. Briggs often sailed with her husband on his sea trips. If anything, the presence of his family on board may have looked to Briggs as another family picnic on the sea with the prospect of a little sight-seeing in Italy.

The fine weather on that November day promised a trouble-free run to Genoa, Italy, where the Mary Celeste had to deliver a cargo of oil and barrels of raw alcohol. So nobody on the ship could have the slightest inkling that they had embarked upon a journey that would go down as one of the most mysterious voyages in the maritime annals.

One month into its journey, the ship was found abandoned in high seas, with nobody on board. All its passengers had vanished into thin air never to be seen again.

The first anybody came to know about this mysterious affair was Capt. David Reed Morehouse of Capt. Benjamin BriggsCredit: Public Domain Wikimedia Commonsthe brig Dei Gratia who had sailed from New York on 15 November. When he was about 600 miles west of Gibraltar in the Atlantic Ocean, he espied a brig from afar. He readily recognized it as the Mary Celeste. Its skipper Capt. Briggs was his friend. As it happened they had dined together in New York before Briggs left for Italy days before Morehouse himself sailed from there. So why was Briggs still here?

Wondering if something was wrong, he tried hailing the Mary Celeste for nearly two hours. When he got no response, he sent his mate to investigate.

Nobody There

On boarding the Mary Celeste, the mate didn’t find any sign of life on it.

Except for the missing lifeboat, there wasn’t apparently anything wrong with the vessel.

There were no signs of any untoward happenings such as fire anywhere. The ship didn’t lack the supplies of food either. While there was some water in the bilge, there wasn’t a hole in the ship that could drown it.

The mate found the ship’s log intact in the mate’s cabin but there was no entry of any unusual events which had led the crew to abandon the ship apparently in haste. The seamen had not bothered to take their pipes, tobacco and oilskins. But strangely enough the captain did have time to take his papers and instruments with him as they were not found anywhere on the ship.

Captain Morehouse had the Mary Celeste taken to Gibraltar. He handed over the ship to the authorities and claimed the salvage money

Efforts To Unravel The Enigma

After the Mary Celeste was found, it was hoped that its survivors would turn up somewhere. But they didn’t. Nor was found any trace of the lifeboat in which they were supposed to be sailing after abandoning the ship. When all hope was lost for the luckless crew, rumors and theories started making rounds and continue till now.

Could it be that the captain Briggs had gone mad and killed everybody and then killed himself? Did some pirates capture the crew and killed them all? Did the crew mutiny, kill the Captain and his family and then flee on the lifeboat? And wasn’t it possible that a giant octopus devoured everybody on the ship as well as the ship’s papers and instruments?

Engraving Mary CelesteCredit: Public Domain Wikimedia CommonsEven Captain Morehouse became a subject of speculations that he may have been behind all this to claim the salvage money. All these suppositions, suspicions and theories were put to naught by the court of inquiry that was set up to look into the mystery.

Sword and Clock

Much was also made of an antique sword and a clock on board the Mary Celeste. It was found that the sword had been cleaned recently and the clock was hanging upside down. Had the sword been used and then traces of blood wiped off after the crime? Why was the clock hanging the wrong way?

The investigation revealed that these clues had no bearing on the tragedy at all. The mate of the Dei Gratia had tried to clean the sword found there to pass his time. He had also tried to restart the clock that had stopped. When the clock didn’t start working he had put it back upside down inadvertently.

Cashing on the public curiosity about the unsolved puzzle, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a mystery novel based on the ship which was a precursor to his famous Sherlock Holmes stories. Apart from this, the Mary Celeste has been a subject of other works of fiction and movies also.

Over the years the interest in the fate of the Mary Celeste has not waned. A recent theory puts forward a seaquake as the cause of the disappearance of the passengers of the ship.

Unanswered Questions

So what exactly happened?

Where did all the people go and how? Nobody knows – not yet.

Mysterious Mary Celeste

The Mysterious Mary CelesteCredit: Public Domain Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Public Domain Wikimedia Commons