The Mary Celeste - Facts not fiction

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The Gibraltar Chronicle, the local daily traces its history back to 4th May 1801 and was the first to publish the news of the victory of Trafalgar on 23 October 1805. Thus the newspaper was well established and had been running for some years prior to the arrival of the Mary Celeste.

It is interesting to read that the improbable tale of a phial of sewing machine oil, found balanced, originated in their story.

13th. December 1872

The Dei Gratia, from New York to this Port for orders, which arrived here yesterday afternoon, reports having fallen in with the brigantine Mary Celeste, of New York, bound to Genoa laden with alcohol, derelict, in Lat. 28° 20' N. Long. 17° 30' W. The mate and two men of the Dei Gratia were placed on board the derelict in order to bring her into port, and as she appears to have been water-tight, the Captain of the Dei Gratia cannot account for her having been abandoned. Silk and other dresses were found on board, which shows that there must have been one or more lady passengers on board. The Mary Celeste arrived in The Bay this morning.

31st. January 1873

In the Chronicle of the 13th December last appeared a short paragraph announcing the arrival of the vessels Dei Gratia and Mary Celeste, the latter of which was found abandoned at sea by the former. An inquiry into the case was at once instituted and has been going on ever since. As the circumstances of the case are very extraordinary, a summary of the facts elicited may be of interest.

The facts are as follows :--

On the 13th December last a report was made by the Master and crew of the British ship Dei Gratia that on the 5th of that month they had found, in Lat. 38° 20' N. long. 17° 15' W., a derelict ship which they made out to be the American brigantine Mary Celeste. They further stated that at the time when they fell with the derelict, their own ship, the Dei Gratia, was on the port tack, the wind being from the North, whilst the Mary Celeste, with her gib and foremast staysail set, was on the starboard tack ; and also that the derelict was perfectly sound and that there was not the least apparent cause for her having been abandoned.

This latter statement was in itself so extraordinary that the Queen's Proctor in the Admiralty Court, P. Solly-Flood, Esq., ordered a special survey of the vessel in the first instance on the 23d December last by Mr. Austin, surveyor of shipping, and Ricardo Portunato, diver, accompanied by the Marshal of the Court, Mr. T. Veecbio. The result of this, and a subsequent survey was, in brief, as follows:--

1. As regards the cargo - it consisted of barrels marked as containing alcohol, all of which were well stowed and in good order and condition, except one which had been started.

2. As regards the exterior of the hull below the water line - it did not in any part exhibit the slightest trace of damage, nor was there any appearance that the vessel had come into collision with any other ship, nor that she had struck on any ground or rock, nor, in short, that she had sustained any injury whatever, the hull, the copper with which it was covered, the stern, sternpost, and rudder being all in, good order and condition.

3. As regards the interior of the ship - a very minute survey showed most clearly that not only had the vessel not sustained any accident, but that she could not have encountered any seriously heavy weather. The whole of the hull, masts, and yards were in good condition, and the pitch in the water-ways had not started, which must have been the case had any bad weather been experienced.

The deckhouse, made of thin planking and six feet in height above the deck, was perfect, there not being a crack in the planking nor even in the paint. The seamen's chests and the clothing found on board were perfectly dry, some razors even being quite free from rust. Moreover, a small phial containing oil for use with a sewing machine was found in a perpendicular position which, together with a thimble and a reel of cotton discovered near it, had not been upset, as must have been the case if the ship had been subject to any stress of weather.

Spare panes of glass were also found stowed away and unbroken. All the articles of furniture in the Captain's cabin, including a harmonium, were in their proper places and uninjured by water, the music and other books being also dry. Finally, the conclusion arrived at by the surveyor, Mr. Austin, is that there exists no apparent reason why the vessel should have been abandoned.

No bills of lading nor manifest were found on board. The effects found in the captain's cabin were of considerable value and proved that a lady and a child had been on board.

But, in addition to the above facts, a sword was discovered which, on its being drawn out of its scabbard, exhibited signs of having been smeared with blood and afterwards wiped; farther, the top-gallant rail had marks on it apparently of blood, and both bows of the vessel had been cut, to all appearance intentionally, with some sharp instrument.

The ship's log, which was found on board, showed that the last day's work of the ship was on the 24th of November, sea time, when the weather allowed an observation to be taken which placed the vessel in Lat. 36° 56' N., Long. 27° 20' W. The entries on the slate log were, however, carried on up to 8 a.m. on the 25th, at which time the vessel passed from W. to E. to the north of the Island of St. Mary's (Azores), the eastern point of which at 8 a.m. bore S.S.W., 6 miles distant. The distance of the longitude of the place where the Mary Celeste was found from that of the island of St. Mary's is 7° 54', and the corrected distance of the latitude from the position last indicated in the log is 1° 18' N., so that the vessel apparently had held on her due course for 10 days after the 25th November, the wheel being loose all the time.

But the log of the Dei Gratia shows that during the time from the 25th November to the day when she met the Mary Celeste, the 5th of December, the wind was more or less from the ndrth, and that she was on the port tack during the whole of that period. It appears, therefore, almost impossible that the derelict should have compassed within the same time a distance of 7° 54' E., at all events on the starboard tack, upon which she was met by the Dei Gratia., and the obvious inference is that she was not abandoned until some days after the last entry made in the log.

Naturally, various theories are set up to account for this extraordinary series of facts, and the finding of the sword and the blood stains are held to point to some deed of violence. Be this as it may, the fact remains that up to the present date not a word has been heard, nor a trace discovered, of the Captain, or the crew, or the lady and her child. The Captain, B. S. Briggs by name, is well known in Gibraltar, and bore the highest character. It can only be hoped that by giving the utmost publicity to the circumstances some light may be thrown upon this, at present, most mysterious case.

4th March 1873

We have been favoured with a copy of a report made by Captain Shufeldt, U. S. ship Plymouth, after a visit paid by him to the derelict Mary Celeste, abandoned at sea, evidently under very extraordinary circumstances, as detailed at length in the Chronicle of the 31st of January. Captain Shufeldt, with everyone who has examined the ship, is of opinion that she was abandoned by the master and crew without sufficient reason, probably in a moment of panic.

He considers that she may have strained in a gale and for the time leaked so much as to seriously alarm the master, and it is possible that at this time another vessel in sight induced him, as his wife and child were on board, to abandon his ship thus hastily. Should this surmise be correct, the time which must elapse before he and his crew are again heard of must depend upon the distance of the port to which the rescuing vessel happened to be bound.

Captain Shufeldt altogether rejects the idea of a mutiny, because there is no evidence of violence about the decks or in the cabins, and, with regard to the damage about the bows of the ship, he considers that it amounts merely to splinters in the bending of the planks, which were afterwards forced off by the action of the sea, and not in any way betokening any intention of wilfully damaging the vessel. The Mary Celeste is confessed on all hands to be at the present moment staunch and sea worthy, and Captain Shufeldt maintains that the master and crew will either be heard of some day, or, if not, that they have perished in the boat for which they abandoned their own ship. For the present the mystery remains unsolved, but it is satisfactory to note that the opinion of a practical man, such as Captain Shufeldt, and an analysis made by Dr. Patron, of this City, of the alleged bloodstains coincide in refuting the theory of violence.

The possible fate of those who were on board the Mary Celeste is sad enough without the addition of mutiny and bloodshed. It will be observed that the opinion of Captain Shufeldt with regard to the marks on the ship's bows is in direct contradiction to that expressed by the surveyors here.

15th March 1873

In the Vice Admiralty Court yesterday the Hon. the Chief Justice gave judgment in the Mary Celeste salvage case, and awarded the sum of £1,700 to the master and crew of the Nova Scotian brigantine Dei Gratia for the salvage services rendered by them; the costs of the suit to be paid out of the property salved.

The Mary Celeste was valued at $5,700, and her cargo at $36,943, total $42,643, so that the award may be set down as one fifth of the total value. The Judge further thought it right to express the disapprobation of the Court as to the conduct of the Master of the Dei Gratia in allowing the first mate, Oliver Deveau, to do away with the vessel which had rendered necessary the analysis of the supposed spots or stains of blood found on the deck of the Mary Celeste and on the sword, and his Lordship also decided that the costs of the analysis should be charged against the amount awarded to the salvors.