Monday, July 26, 2010

History of the Mary Celeste

An 1861 painting of the Amazon
by an Unknown Artist
Possibly Honore Pellegrin
The keel of the Amazon was laid in 1860 by the shipbuilders of Joshua Dewis at the village of Spencer's Island, Nova Scotia. Sometime in May 1861 she glided down the ways, receiving her name, which she bore until 1868 when she was renamed Mary Celeste.

She was owned by a group of nine investors from Nova Scotia and was registered on 10 Jun 1861 at nearby Nova Scotia town of Parrsboro, the closest local port of registry. Her official number was 37,671.

In her first register, she was described as "brigantine rigged", having two masts, the foremast being square-rigged, and the mainmast, fore-and-aft or schooner-rigged. In the Atlantic Mutual Vessel Record she was described as a half-brig. She had a billet-head and a square stern. At that time she only had one deck. She was "carvel-built" of native wood such as birch, beech and maple up to light load-line; then spruce to the rails, with pine to finish the cabins. Her measurements were: length 99.3'; breadth 25.5'; depth 11.7'; gross tonnage 198.42 tons.

An Awkward Beginning

The Amazon's first trip began shortly after her registration and ended nine days later. Her first captain, Robert McLellan, son of one of the owners, contracted pneumonia after taking command and died 19 Jun 1861. John Nutting Parker, her next captain, struck a fishing boat and 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 was also disastrous for her next captain after she collided with another vessel in the English Channel near Dover, England.

After this awkward beginning, the brigantine had several 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.

Registration Records

On 31 Dec 1868 she was formally transferred to American registry and her name changed to Mary Celeste. Register No. 485 was issued to Haines, described as "the only owner of the ship of vessel called the Mary Celeste". The new owners' intention was to take her across the Atlantic and make a profit trading with the Adriatic ports.

According to Register No. 339 dated 13 Oct 1869, another change took place in ownership, all of New York. The name of the master given as Walter S. Johnson:
  • James H. Winchester (six-eighths)
  • Sylvester Goodwin (one-eighth)
  • Daniel T. Samson (one-eighth)
On 11 Jan 1870 Register No. 16 was issued at New York with another change in ownership:
  • James H. Winchester (four-eights)
  • Sylvester Goodwin (one-eighth)
  • Daniel T. Samson (one-eighth)
  • Rufus W. Fowler (two-eights - designated as master)
On 29 Oct 1872, less than two weeks before the departure on her fateful passage, Register No. 22 was issued at New York replacing No. 16:
  • James H. Winchester (twelve twenty-fourths)
  • Sylvester Goodwin (two twenty-fourths)
  • Daniel T. Samson (two twenty-fourths)
  • Benjamin S. Briggs (eight twenty-fourths)
The vessel was described as follows: two decks (instead of one as before); two masts as before but her length increased to 103'; her breadth to 25.7'; her depth to 16.2'; and her capacity under tonnage deck to 271.79. According to the inspection record dated Oct 1872, these changes and repairs were noted: three-quarter poop extended over all; several new timbers; new transoms; part new knightheads, stern and stem; new bends and topsides and stern; patched with yellow metal. It was probably at this time that her topsail was divided for easier handling, into an upper and lower topsail. This is how she was rigged when the Dei Gratia found her.

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