Mary Celeste

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Mary Celeste as Amazon in 1861.jpg
An 1861 painting of Amazon (later renamed Mary Celeste) by an unknown artist (perhaps Honoré Pellegrin)[1]
Career (British North America)Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Owner:Joshua Dewis, William Henry Bigalow and six other local investors[2]
Port of registry:Parrsboro, Nova Scotia
Builder:Joshua Dewis
Laid down:1860
Launched:May 1861
Identification:ICS: JFWN[3]
ICS Juliet.svgICS Foxtrot.svgICS Whiskey.svgICS November.svg
Fate:Ran aground Glace Bay, Nova Scotia 1867, salvaged and sold to American owners
Notes:Official number 376712
Career (United States)US flag 37 stars.svg
Name:Amazon (1868)
Mary Celeste (1869-1885)
Namesake:Mary Celeste
Owner:James H. Winchester (first American owner); G. C. Parker (last owner)
Port of registry:New York
Builder:Rebuilt New York, 1872
Launched:May 1871
Fate:Found abandoned near Azores 1872; intentionally sunk off Haiti 1885.
General characteristics
Tonnage:198 Gross Tons as built 1861[4] 282 Gross Tons after rebuild 1872[5]
Length:99.3 ft (30.3 m) as built, 107 ft (33 m) after rebuild
Beam:22.5 ft (6.9 m) as built, 26.6 after rebuild
Depth:11.7 ft (3.6 m) as built, 16.2 ft (4.9 m) after rebuild
Decks:1, as built, 2 after rebuild
Sail plan:Brigantine
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This article is about the ship. For the album, see Mary Celeste (album).
Mary Celeste as Amazon in 1861.jpg
An 1861 painting of Amazon (later renamed Mary Celeste) by an unknown artist (perhaps Honoré Pellegrin)[1]
Career (British North America)Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Owner:Joshua Dewis, William Henry Bigalow and six other local investors[2]
Port of registry:Parrsboro, Nova Scotia
Builder:Joshua Dewis
Laid down:1860
Launched:May 1861
Identification:ICS: JFWN[3]
ICS Juliet.svgICS Foxtrot.svgICS Whiskey.svgICS November.svg
Fate:Ran aground Glace Bay, Nova Scotia 1867, salvaged and sold to American owners
Notes:Official number 376712
Career (United States)US flag 37 stars.svg
Name:Amazon (1868)
Mary Celeste (1869-1885)
Namesake:Mary Celeste
Owner:James H. Winchester (first American owner); G. C. Parker (last owner)
Port of registry:New York
Builder:Rebuilt New York, 1872
Launched:May 1871
Fate:Found abandoned near Azores 1872; intentionally sunk off Haiti 1885.
General characteristics
Tonnage:198 Gross Tons as built 1861[4] 282 Gross Tons after rebuild 1872[5]
Length:99.3 ft (30.3 m) as built, 107 ft (33 m) after rebuild
Beam:22.5 ft (6.9 m) as built, 26.6 after rebuild
Depth:11.7 ft (3.6 m) as built, 16.2 ft (4.9 m) after rebuild
Decks:1, as built, 2 after rebuild
Sail plan:Brigantine

Mary Celeste was a British merchant brigantine. The ship is famous for having been discovered on 5 December 1872 in the Atlantic Ocean, unmanned and apparently abandoned (the one lifeboat was missing, along with its crew of eight and two passengers), although the weather was fine and her crew were experienced and capable seamen. In fictional accounts related to the ship, she is referred to as Marie Celeste, first by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and later, by others.

When found derelict, Mary Celeste was in seaworthy condition and still under sail, heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar. She had been at sea for a month and had more than six months' worth of food and water on board. Her cargo was virtually untouched and the crew's personal belongings including valuables were still in place. None of those on board were ever seen or heard from again and their disappearance often is cited as the greatest maritime mystery of all time.[citation needed]

The question of why the crew left Mary Celeste has been the subject of much speculation. Hypotheses include the effects of alcohol fumes, underwater earthquakes, waterspouts, or human actions (piracy, mutiny, or errors of judgment).

Mary Celeste, with a history of misfortune, was said to be "cursed" even before she was discovered derelict with no apparent explanation, a classic ghost ship. In 1885, Mary Celeste was destroyed when her last owner intentionally wrecked her off the coast of Haiti in an attempt to commit insurance fraud.

Early history[edit]

Mary Celeste was a 282-gross ton brigantine. She was built in 1861 by the shipbuilder Joshua Dewis as Amazon at the village of Spencer's Island, Nova Scotia. She was the first vessel of many larger vessels to be built at the Spencer's Island ship yard. Amazon was owned by a group of eight investors from Cumberland County and Kings County, Nova Scotia, led by Dewis, and William Henry Bigalow, a local merchant.[2] The Amazon was registered at the nearby Nova Scotia town of Parrsboro, the closest local port of registry to the yard.

Amazon's first captain, Robert McLellan, the son of one of the owners,[6] contracted pneumonia nine days after taking command and he died at the very beginning of her maiden voyage. He was the first of three captains to die aboard her.[7] Under John Nutting Parker, the next captain of Amazon, she struck a fishing boat, and he had to steer her back to the shipyard for repairs. At the shipyard, a fire broke out in the middle of the ship. Her first trans-Atlantic crossing also was disastrous for her next captain, after she collided with another vessel in the English Channel near Dover. This resulted in the dismissal of the new captain.

After this inauspicious beginning, the brigantine had six profitable and uneventful years under her Nova Scotian owners. She travelled to the West Indies, Central America, and South America, and transported a wide range of cargoes. In 1867, the ship ran aground during a storm off Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. After she was salvaged, she was sold for $1,750 to Richard Haines of New York and was repaired at a cost of $8,825.03.

In 1868, Amazon was transferred to the American registry, and the following year was renamed, Mary Celeste.[8] The intention of the new owners was to take her across the Atlantic and make a profit trading with the Adriatic ports. The ownership of the sailing ship was divided into 24 shares distributed among four partners:[9]

Disappearance of crew[edit]


On 5 November 1872, under command of Captain Benjamin Briggs, Mary Celeste docked on the East River of New York City and took on board a cargo of 1,701 barrels of commercial alcohol intended for fortifying Italian wines on behalf of Meissner Ackermann & Co. The cargo was worth approximately $35,000 and the ship and cargo together were insured for $46,000. Mary Celeste then set sail from Staten Island for Genoa, Italy.[citation needed]

The crew for this voyage included a Dane, two Americans (the first mate and cook),[citation needed] and four Germans, all of whom spoke fluent English, had exemplary records, and were considered experienced, trustworthy, and capable seamen. Briggs had spent most of his life at sea, had captained at least five ships, and had owned many more. In addition to the captain and seven crewmen, as passengers, were the wife of the captain, Sarah Briggs, who had sailed with her husband many times, and their two-year-old daughter, Sophia.[citation needed] Their seven-year-old son, Arthur, had been left in the care of his paternal grandmother in Marion, Massachusetts.

Before Mary Celeste left New York, Captain Briggs spoke to an old friend, David Reed Morehouse, from Nova Scotia. He was captain of the Canadian merchant ship Dei Gratia, also a brigantine. Briggs and Morehouse had served together as sailors when they were young. Briggs, Morehouse, and their wives had dinner together on the evening of 4 November.[10] During the conversation that evening, they discovered they had a similar course across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean.[citation needed]

Morehouse was still waiting for his cargo to arrive, however, when Mary Celeste left port on 5 November. Morehouse's cargo eventually arrived, and on 15 November, Dei Gratia finally set off with 1,735 barrels (275.8 m3) of petroleum in her hold. Dei Gratia left New York harbour seven days after Mary Celeste (some sources say eight days later) had set sail.[11]


An engraving of Mary Celeste as she was found, abandoned

Sporadic bad weather had been reported in the Atlantic throughout October, although Dei Gratia encountered none and her journey across the ocean in November was uneventful. Just short of a month after leaving port, on 4 December 1872 (some accounts state 5 December, which is the equivalent date in nautical days), at approximately 1pm, the helmsman of Dei Gratia, John Johnson, sighted a ship about five miles (8 km) off their port bow through his spyglass. The position of Dei Gratia was approximately 38°20′N 17°15′W / 38.333°N 17.250°W / 38.333; -17.250Coordinates: 38°20′N 17°15′W / 38.333°N 17.250°W / 38.333; -17.250, some 600 miles (1,000 km) west of Portugal.

Johnson discerned that there was something wrong with the other vessel. She was yawing subtly, and her sails seemed to be torn slightly. Johnson alerted his second officer, John Wright, who also assessed the ship and had the same feelings about her.

They informed the captain. As they moved closer, they saw the ship was the Mary Celeste. Captain Morehouse wondered why Mary Celeste had not reached Italy already, as she had a head start on his own ship. According to the account given by the crew of Dei Gratia, they approached to 400 yards (366m) from Mary Celeste and cautiously observed her for two hours. She was under sail, yet sailing erratically on a starboard tack, and slowly heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar. After seeing no one at the helm or even on deck, they concluded she was drifting although the ship was flying no distress signal.[12][13]

Oliver Deveau, chief mate of Dei Gratia, boarded Mary Celeste. He reported that he did not find anyone on board and said that "the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess". There was only one operational pump, two apparently having been disassembled. He also reported that there was a lot of water between decks and three and a half feet (1.1 m) of water in the hold; however, the ship was not sinking and still was seaworthy.[12]

Except for the captain's logbook, all of the ship's papers were missing. Both the forehatch and the lazarette were open, although the main hatch was sealed. The ship's clock was not functioning and the compass was destroyed, The sextant and marine chronometer were missing. The only lifeboat that had been on the Mary Celeste, a yawl located above the main hatch, also was missing. The peak halyard, used to hoist the main sail, was missing as well. A rope, perhaps the peak halyard, was found tied to the ship very strongly. Its other end was trailing in the water behind the ship, but it was very frayed.[12]

Deveau returned to his ship and reported to the captain. Two men, Charles Augustus Anderson and Charles Lund, then boarded Mary Celeste. The cargo of 1,701 barrels of alcohol was, Deveau reported, in good order. When it eventually was unloaded in Genoa, however, nine barrels were found to be empty.[11]

A six-month supply of uncontaminated food and fresh water was still aboard. It appeared that the vessel had been abandoned in a hurry. The personal possessions and artefacts of the crew were found where expected, making a piracy raid seem extremely unlikely. There was no sign of a struggle, or of any sort of violence.[11]

At the inquiry, Oliver Deveau stated that he saw no preparations for eating and there was nothing to eat or drink in the cabin.[citation needed] Nonetheless, popular stories circulated about untouched breakfasts with still-warm cups of tea on the cabin table. They are untrue and most likely originated with fictionalised accounts of the incident,[14] or through rumors.

Admiralty inquiry[edit]

Report on Mary Celeste Inquiry in The New York Times, 24 February 1873

As Dei Gratia was a Canadian vessel of British registry, Captain Morehouse sailed Dei Gratia to Gibraltar while his first mate, Oliver Deveau, sailed Mary Celeste to the same destination, arriving a week-and-a-half later. An investigation was held in the vice admiralty court in Gibraltar under Sir James Cochrane,[15] to determine the circumstances of Mary Celeste and apportion marine salvage rights.

During the sitting of the vice admiralty court, the judge praised the crew of Dei Gratia for their courage and skill. The attorney general of Gibraltar, Frederick Solly-Flood QC, in his role as Queen's Proctor to the court, deemed it necessary to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate the vessel and determine the causes of its abandonment in the middle of the ocean. Copies of the several log entries were made. The inquiry lasted three months and attracted media attention worldwide.[citation needed]

Mary Celeste was visited by John Austin, surveyor of shipping in Gibraltar, and he was assisted by an inspector, John McCabe. A local diver and marine expert, Ricardo Portunato, was sent to make a detailed examination of the exterior of the hull on the behalf of the vice admiralty court. Austin discovered what he believed to be a few spots of blood in the captain's cabin, an "uncleaned" ornamental cutlass in Briggs's cabin, a knife (without blood), and a deep gash on a railing that he determined had been made with a blunt object or an axe, but he did not find such a weapon on board. Portunato believed the damage was recent.[citation needed] Part of his testimony reads:

Affidavit of Ricardo Portunato, Diver
In the Vice Admiralty Court of Gibraltar. The Queen in Her Office of Admiralty Ag't. - The Ship or Vessel name unknown supposed to be called the Mary Celeste and her Cargo found derelict.
I, Ricardo Portunato of the City of Gibraltar, Diver make oath and say as follows:
1. I did on Monday the 23rd day of Decbr. last by direction of Thomas Joseph Vecchio Esqr. Marshal of their Honble. Court and of Mr. John Austin Surveyor of Shipping for the port of Gibraltar proceed to a ship or vessel rigged as a Brigantine and supposed to be the Mary Celeste then moored in the port of Gibraltar and under arrest in pursuance of a warrant out of their Honble. Court as having been found derelict on the high Seas for the purpose of examining the State and condition of the hull of the said vessel below her water line and of ascertaining if possible whether she had sustained any damage or injury from a collision or from having struck upon any rock or shoal or otherwise howsoever.
2. I accordingly minutely and carefully examined the whole of the hull of the said vessel and the stern keel, stern post and rudder thereof.
3. They did not nor did any or either of them exhibit any trace of damage or injury or any other appearances whatsoever indicating that the said vessel had had any collision or had struck upon any rock or shoal or had met with any accident or casualty. The hull Stern, [sic] keel Sternpost and rudder of the said vessel were thoroughly in good order and condition.
4. The said vessel was coppered the copper was in good condition and order and I am of opinion that if she had met with any such accident or casualty I shld. have been able to discover and shld. have discovered some marks or traces thereof but I was not able to discover and did not discover any.[16]

Horatio J. Sprague, Consul of the United States in Gibraltar, also wanted an investigation because American citizens were missing in the Mary Celeste incident and it was possible that they had been murdered. He immediately asked for a visit to the ship by his personal representative, United States Navy Captain R. W. Shufeldt of the frigate USS Plymouth.[12] Shufeldt's brief visit aboard Mary Celeste led him to challenge the report of his British colleagues. For him, the cuts were mere scratches that could have been caused by anything, and the "traces of blood" did not appear to be blood to him, but rather, were rust. "Blood" seen on an "uncleaned" sword also was rust according to Sprague and Shufeldt, who conducted scientific tests on the substance, to prove it was rust.[citation needed] There was no evidence of piracy or foul play, nor of mutiny, struggle, or violence.

Eventually, the salvagers received payment, amounting to one-sixth of the $46,000 ($741,000 in current money) insurance covering the ship and its cargo, indicating that the authorities were suspicious of the Dei Gratia crew.[11][17] The commercial alcohol remaining aboard Mary Celeste, being heavily insured, was sailed to Genoa by George W. Blatchford, as originally intended (as previously stated nine barrels were found to be empty on being unloaded).[citation needed]

The results of the commission of inquiry encouraged authorities in Washington, D.C. to send instructions to all consuls and officers in their ports to report anyone matching the description of Briggs or other crew members of Mary Celeste, or any group that could have landed sailors belonging to the Mary Celeste. Word also was sent to look for any of the items missing from Mary Celeste, such as the two pumps or her navigation equipment. No information was reported. Locals at ports in the Azores were questioned as well, but none was able to provide assistance.[citation needed]

Later history and fate[edit]

Of all the unlucky vessels I ever heard of, she was the most unlucky.[18]

—David Cartwright, an owner of the ship

James Winchester considered selling Mary Celeste after the mysterious event for which she was now notable. Later, his mind was made up after the vessel claimed the life of his father, Henry Winchester-Vinters, who drowned in an accident in Boston, Massachusetts, when she was brought back to America. Winchester then sold Mary Celeste at an enormous loss. Over the next 13 years, the ship changed hands 17 times. By then, Mary Celeste was in very poor condition.[citation needed]

Map of Haiti showing the Island of Gonâïve

Her last captain and owner, G. C. Parker, reportedly made no profit whatsoever and deliberately wrecked Mary Celeste in an attempt to commit insurance fraud in the Caribbean Sea on 3 January 1885. She was loaded with an over-insured cargo of scrap, including boots and cat food. The plan did not work, as the ship failed to sink after being run onto Rochelais reef,[19] located off the western coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and south of Gonâve Island.[20] Parker then tried to burn the wreck, but the vessel remained intact even following the fire, although the ship's log was destroyed thereby, along with Benjamin Briggs' prior entries in it.[citation needed]

Parker then filed an exorbitant claim for a cargo that never existed. A subsequent investigation revealed the fraud.[21] Parker sold the salvage rights for $500, claiming that there were 125 casks of Bass ale on board, 975 barrels of herring, and $1000 in cutlery among other items although none of these items were on board. The ship and its cargo was insured by five companies for a total of $34,000.[18]

Captain Parker was arrested and put on trial for barratry (the intentional destruction of a vessel). At the time, the sentence for doing so was death. Jurors routinely refused to convict people of this crime, however, due to the death penalty. So despite the clear evidence of the fraud and of Parker's guilt, the jury deadlocked, with five of the twelve jurors refusing to send him to death. That law was revised three years later so that it was no longer a capital offence.[18]

Despite Parker's acquittal, nearly everyone indicted for actions related to the shipwreck went bust. Captain Parker died three months later.[18] The partially burnt hulk of Mary Celeste was deemed beyond repair.

The tradition about the ship indicates that she was left to slip off the shoal and sink.[citation needed] On 9 August 2001, an expedition headed by author Clive Cussler (representing the National Underwater and Marine Agency) and Canadian film producer John Davis along with divers from the Nova Scotian company, EcoNova, announced that they had found the remains of the brigantine where Parker had wrecked her. A detailed magnetometer survey of the bay, off the Isle de Gonâve, revealed that only one shipwreck was present—and that it had run onto Rochelois Reef with great force. The damaged coral from its impact delineated a battered channel with the wreck firmly set onto the reef. A maritime archaeologist, James P. Delgado, identified the wreck as Mary Celeste based on the location (18.641238 N, 73.206750 W), the fact that no other wreck was present in the bay, and by analyzing vessel fastenings, ballast, timber, and evidence of the fire. All of the evidence, including a mix of Nova Scotian and New England, and Southern U.S. timbers matched the wreck with historical accounts of Mary Celeste.[22]

Another researcher has disputed Cussler's claim. Scott St. George of the University of Minnesota and formerly of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona, analyzed samples from pine wood fragments recovered from the site in order to reconstruct the year the timber in question had been harvested, using dendrochronology. Based on this method, St. George concluded that the wood had been cut from trees still living at least a decade after Mary Celeste sank,[23] putting the authenticity and identification of this shipwreck in question. St. George's reconstruction of several fragments to assemble a tree ring sequence also has been questioned.[citation needed]

Speculation and theories[edit]

Since her discovery in 1872, many theories have been proposed to explain the mystery of the Mary Celeste.

Vapour emission from barrels of alcohol[edit]

All of the most plausible explanations are based on the barrels of alcohol.[11] Captain Briggs had never hauled such a dangerous cargo before and did not trust it. This idea was put forth by the major shareholder of the ship, James Winchester, and is the most widely accepted explanation for the crew's disappearance.

Nine of the 1,701 barrels of alcohol in the hold later were discovered to be empty. Those nine had been made of red oak, not white oak as were the others.[11] Red oak is more porous than white oak and thus, more likely to emit vapor. This could have caused a build-up of vapour in the hold.[11] Poorly secured barrels could rub against each other and friction between the steel bands on the barrels could cause sparks. At one point, the possibility of explosion, however remote, might have panicked the crew into abandoning ship.[11]

Historian Conrad Byers believes that Captain Briggs ordered the hold to be opened, resulting in a violent escape of fumes and steam. Believing his ship was about to explode, the theory continues, the captain ordered everyone into the lifeboat, failing to properly secure it to the ship with a strong towline. The wind could have picked up and blown the ship away from them. The rope failed. Byers believes that those in the lifeboat could have drowned or died of hunger, thirst, or exposure.

A refinement of this theory was proposed in 2005 by a German journalist, Eigel Wiese. At his suggestion, Dr. Andrea Sella at University College London created a reconstruction of the ship's hold in 2006 to test the theory of the ignition of the alcohol vapours. Using butane as the fuel and paper cubes as the barrels, the reconstructed hold was sealed and the vapours ignited. The force of the resulting explosion blew the hold doors open and shook the scale model. Ethanol burns at a relatively low temperature with a flash point of 13 °C or 55.4 °F. Only a minimal spark is needed, for example, from two metal objects rubbing together, but none of the paper cubes in the Sella experiment were damaged, or even scorched. This theory may explain why the remaining cargo in the Mary Celeste was found intact and that the fracture on the ship's rail could have been made by one of the hold doors as it blew open. Perhaps, this fire in the hold could have been violent enough to frighten the captain and the crew into lowering the boat, but the flames would not have been hot enough to leave burn marks. “What we created was a pressure-wave type of explosion,” says Sella. “There was a spectacular wave of flame but, behind it, was relatively cool air. No soot was left behind and there was no burning or scorching."[24]

Brian Dunning in a Skeptoid podcast on this subject adds, "The ethanol vapors in the Mary Celeste's hold would burn even cooler and quicker than butane, though probably much less dramatically, with a blue or invisible flame, unlike the butane's yellow flash. But it certainly would have been every bit as alarming to the crew, if it had happened."[25]

A frayed rope trailing in the water behind the ship suggests that the crew remained attached to the ship in the lifeboat, hoping the emergency would pass. The ship was abandoned while under full sail, and a storm was recorded shortly thereafter. It is possible that the rope to the lifeboat frayed because of the force from the ship under full sail. A small boat in a storm would not have fared so well as the Mary Celeste. This explanation was expounded in a 2008 investigation and television documentary that both featured and satisfied one of the descendants of the original ship's captain.[26]

In recent books, Brian Hicks and Stanley Spicer revived the theory that Captain Briggs opened the hold to ventilate it while the ship was unable to move through the lack of wind. The release of noxious alcohol fumes from the hold might have panicked the captain and crew into abandoning ship for the yawl tied to the halyard by an inadequate rope. If this broke during a weather change and consequent wind, that could easily explain the sudden and mysterious exit from the ship. Hicks claims that the cargo was a different material, methanol, which is toxic.[citation needed] The records do not support this.[citation needed]

This theory's main flaw comes from the fact that the boarding party found the main cargo hatch secured.[11]


One contemporary reporter for the New York Times suggested that Mary Celeste may have fallen victim to an act of piracy, the crew murdered, and thrown overboard, as Ottoman pirates had been known to operate in the area.[27] However, there were no signs of violence on Mary Celeste.[11] Only common navigation equipment was missing. It is unlikely that pirates would fail to remove the cargo or the crew's valuables after killing the crew.


Another theory has suggested there was a mutiny among the crew who murdered a tyrannical Briggs and his family, then escaped in the lifeboat. This theory is strongly discredited by the fact Briggs had no "tyrannical" history to suggest he was a type of captain who might have provoked his crew to mutiny. By all accounts, he was well-respected, fair, and able. First Mate Albert Richardson and the rest of the crew also had excellent reputations and were experienced, loyal seamen.[14]


After the admiralty court proceeding, Solly-Flood proposed that the crew, after consuming the alcohol from the kegs that were recovered empty, murdered the Briggs family in a drunken stupor. The mutinous crew are then presumed to have erased their tracks to give the illusion of having disappeared, then they would have left in a lifeboat.[citation needed]

However, the captain was a teetotaller and unlikely to tolerate drinking on board or a crew inclined to drink alcohol.[14] Once again, there was no trace of struggle or violence aboard the vessel, and the crew had good records.[11]

Premature abandonment[edit]

A 2007 Smithsonian television documentary proposed the theory that Briggs became convinced that the ship could not proceed safely to Italy, perhaps when he discovered (by failing to see Europe when expected) that the chronometer was running slowly. This might have led him to think that he was much farther east than he was. One of the two bilge pumps was choked with foreign matter (coal dust from a previous cargo, wooden debris dropped by carpenters working on the ship in port, or both) in the bilge water. As a result he may have overestimated greatly how much water was in the bilge. This theory proposes that Briggs, his family, and the crew, believing that the bilge pumps indicated that the ship was sinking, departed the ship in the lifeboat and headed for Santa Maria Island at the southeast end of the Azores; but that en route to Santa Maria, the lifeboat sank and never reached shore.[28]

In popular culture[edit]

In popular culture, the mystery of the Mary Celeste has been used frequently as an icon by writers of fiction. This may take the form of direct adaptations of the story, or stories based on the idea of an abandoned ship, inspired by the Mary Celeste incident.

A fictional depiction by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is credited as popularising the Mary Celeste mystery. In "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", printed anonymously in the January 1884 Cornhill Magazine, Conan Doyle presented his theory on what had happened. Doyle drew very heavily on facts surrounding the real event, but included a considerable amount of fiction, calling the fictional ship Marie Celeste, and claiming that no lifeboats were missing ("The boats were intact and slung upon the davits"). Much of Doyle's fictional content and the incorrect name—have come to dominate popular accounts of the real incident—and were even published as fact by several newspapers.

In 1913 a purported explanation of the mystery appeared in the monthly fiction magazine, The Strand Magazine, under the title, Abel Fosdyk's Story. This account was ostensibly the "true" story of Abel Fosdyk, sole survivor of Mary Celeste. It differs in certain respects from the known facts of the case and generally, is accepted to be a literary hoax.

The first film version of Doyle's fictional story was the now rare 1935 British film entitled, The Mystery of the Marie Celeste (also known as The Phantom Ship). This film presented a non-supernatural explanation of the event.

A 1938 short film entitled The Ship That Died presents dramatisations of a range of theories (mutiny, fear of explosion due to alcohol fumes, and the supernatural).[29]

The 1956 novel The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes is loosely based on the fate of this ship. A film adaptation was made in 1959.

The Doctor Who serial The Chase (1965) suggested that the arrival of time-travelling Daleks caused the terrified crew of this ship to jump overboard.[30] In the 1983 episode Mawdryn Undead, a derelict spaceship is linked to the Mary Celeste.[31]

The ship was mentioned in episode one of the Japanese drama, Kindaichi Shonen no Jikenbo 3.

In the Image Comics graphic novel Who Is Jake Ellis? the lead character's mysterious past is referred to as "the CIA's Mary Celeste".

In The Goon Show episode titled "The Mystery of the Marie Celeste (solved)", written by Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes and originally broadcast in November 1954, the Marie Celeste mystery is solved.


At Spencer's Island, Nova Scotia, the Mary Celeste and her lost crew are commemorated by a monument at the site of the brigantine's construction and by a memorial outdoor theatre built in the shape of the vessel's hull.[32] The ship's origins and fate are explored in an exhibit nearby, the Age of Sail Heritage Centre. At the hometown of Benjamin Briggs in Marion, Massachusetts, the Sippican Historical Society maintains a permanent Mary Celeste exhibit with artifacts from the brigantine's final voyage.[33]


Ship's records[edit]

The crew and passengers of the vessel are listed in the ship's records reproduced from the original in the National Archives, Washington, D.C.[34]


Benjamin S. BriggsCaptainAmerican37
Albert G. RichardsonMateAmerican28
Andrew Gilling2nd MateDanish25
Edward Wm HeadSteward and CookAmerican23
Volkert LorenzenSeamanGerman29
Arian MartensSeamanGerman35
Boy LorenzenSeamanGerman23
Gottlieb GoudeschaalSeamanGerman23


Sarah Elizabeth BriggsCaptain's wife30
Sophia Matilda BriggsThe Captain's daughter2


  1. ^ Art gallery of Nova Scotia, "Tall Ships of Atlantic Canada", Ship Portrait Information "Amazon"
  2. ^ a b Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, "Tall Ships of Atlantic Canada", Amazon Registry Information
  3. ^ "On the Rocks Shipwreck Database", Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, "Amazon-1867
  4. ^ Registry of Nova Scotia, 1866, p. 177
  5. ^ Registry of American & Foreign Shipping, 1873
  6. ^ Thomas H. Raddall, "Mary Celeste", Footsteps on Old Floors, New York: Double Day, 1968, p. 167
  7. ^ "On the Rocks: Shipwrecks of Nova Scotia". Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia. 5 October 2007. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  8. ^ ""Amazon-1867" Maritime Museum of the Atlantic On the Rocks Shipwreck Database". 5 October 2007. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  9. ^ Charles Edey Fay, The Story of the Mary Celeste (1942), Appendix G
  10. ^ The World's Greatest Unsolved Mysteries
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Abandoned Ship". Smithsonian magazine. 2007. Retrieved 24 August 2008. The British brig Dei Gratia was about 400 miles (640 km) east of the Azores on 5 December 1872, when crew members spotted a ship adrift in the choppy seas. Captain Morehouse was taken aback to discover that the unguided vessel was Mary Celeste, which had left New York City eight days before him and should have already arrived in Genoa, Italy. He changed course to offer help. 
  12. ^ a b c d "Seaquake". Deaf Whale. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  13. ^ Jim Webb. "The Mary Celeste - Fact Not Fiction". Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c Macdonald Hastings, Mary Celeste, (1971) ISBN 0-7181-1024-2. One story in particular, "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was particularly influential, but did not mention food and drink.
  15. ^ Begg, ~Paul. Mary Celeste: The Greatest Mystery of the Sea. ISBN 1317865308. Retrieved 29 September 2014. 
  16. ^ "La Mary Celeste". Guide de l'inexpliqué (in French). Arkayn Software. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  17. ^ 300 Years of British Gibraltar 1704-2004 by Peter Bond (publ. by Peter-Tan Publishing Co.)
  18. ^ a b c d Paul Collins (6 December 2011). "Ghost Ship". Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  19. ^ "Rochelois Reef". 18.622171;-73.188858: 21 September 2004. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  20. ^ Clive Cussler, expedition leader (9 August 2001). "World | Americas | Famous ghost ship found". BBC News. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  21. ^ ""Amazon-1872" Maritime Museum of the Atlantic On the Rocks Shipwreck Database". 5 October 2007. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
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  24. ^ Sella, Andrea. "Solved: The Mystery of the Mary Celeste". UCL News. University College London. Retrieved 11 August 2012. 
  25. ^ Dunning, Brian. "The Mystery of the Mary Celeste". Skeptoid podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc. Retrieved 11 August 2012. 
  26. ^ ""The Mystery Of The Mary Celeste: Revealed", ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Broadcast 8:35pm Thursday 13 November 2008". 13 November 2008. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  27. ^ "A Brig's Officers Believed to Have Been Murdered at Sea.". New York Times. 26 February 1873. Retrieved 19 June 2008. It is now believed that the fine brig Mary Celeste, of about 236 tons, commanded by Capt. Benjamin Briggs, of Marion, Mass., was seized by pirates in the latter part of November, and that, after murdering the Captain, his wife ... 
  28. ^ Smithsonian documentary "The True Story Of The Mary Celeste", and shown on Yesterday (TV channel) 10-11pm Friday 5 October 2012 and 8-9pm 30 December 2013
  29. ^
  30. ^ "The Chase - Details" Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide, BBC.
  31. ^ {{cite AV media It was also referenced in the show's spin-off, "The Sarah Jane Adventures" in the episode "The Last Sontaran". | people = Peter Moffatt (Director) | title = Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy | publisher = BBC Video | date = 1 February 1983}}
  32. ^ Marilyn Smulders, “ 'Thinking with your hands' Dal students create outdoor cinema in Spencer's Island”, DalNews August 30, 2007
  33. ^ "History of Marion", Sippigan Harbour, Southcoast
  34. ^ Fay, Charles E. (1943). "Appendix J". Mary Celeste: Odyssey of an Abandoned Ship. Peabody Museum. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]