Saturday, April 24, 2010

Possible Time of Abandonment

Example of a Logbook
Based on testimony given and other trustworthy sources, it's possible to trace, with some certainty, the movements of the Mary Celeste from noon, 24 Nov to 8:00 a.m. the following day:

Noon, 24 Nov 1872 -- According to the observation taken at this time and noted on her log, the Mary Celeste is at latitude 35°56' N and longitude 27°20' W. All of the Azores are now astern except San Miguel off to the northeast about 100 miles away and Santa Maria dead ahead about 110 miles directly east. She is moving along at 8 knots until 7:00 p.m. when, with freshening wind, her speed increases to 9 knots.

At 8:00 p.m., her royal and topgallant sails are taken in when the first watch comes on duty. By 9:00 p.m. her speed drops to 8 knots at which she continues to midnight. At this time, the log reads, "Knots, 8: Course, E. by S; Wind, west: M.P. rainy." She would be nearing the end of Santa Maria Island. The official record states that "stormy conditions prevailed over the Azores on November 24 and November 25" so it's likely the crew is having an uncomfortable time of it.

25 Nov 1872 -- According to hourly entries in the log between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m., the Mary Celeste continues at 8 knots. As dawn breaks an entry is made on the log-slate, 'At 5, made the island of S. Mary's, bearing ESE" with a similar entry at 6:00 a.m. With this bearing, the point of land observed by the watch must be Ponta Cabraestante which is the northwestern extremity of Saint Mary's -- at an approximate latitude of 37°0' which is slightly further north than her position at noon the previous day.

Why is Captain Briggs, or whoever was directing the course, taking her to the north of St. Mary's, when all hands know they must pass through the Straight of Gibraltar in order to ready Genoa?
  • It's well known to navigators there are no harbors or safe accommodations here or elsewhere on this island.
  • About 21 miles to the northeast of the island's northeast extremity lies dangerous Dollabarat Shoal on which the sea breaks with great violence in stormy weather -- its barely hidden rocks are not visible when the sea is calm.
  • The present course will take them betwen this shoal and the northeast end of the island. With a shifting wind, a common occurence in these waters, the Mary Celeste's position could become a perilous one.
Why is the Mary Celeste going into a more northerly latitude, when she should be going to the southward?

According to the track noted on her chart, it's 8:00 a.m. and she has skirted the island's north shore. The log slate's final record reads, "At 8, Eastern point bore SSW. 6 miles distant." The eastern point observed by the forenoon watch likely was Ponta Castello, a point on the southeastern shore of the island. This point is surmounted by a detached peak of considerable height and is higher than any other place along the island's eastern shore. In the morning light, it would stand out more prominently than Ponta Matos, the island's northeastern extremity, lying about 5 miles to the northwest and probably nearer to the Mary Celeste.

Possible time of abandonment -- Based on the above, it's possible that on Monday, 25 Nov, at some time after 8:00 a.m., something happened which caused the sudden abandonment of the Mary Celeste. As testified by Deveau, "The men's clothing was left behind; their oilskins, boots, and even their pipes as if they had left in a great hurry or haste." Based on the following considerations, it's reasonable to surmise abandonment took place betwee 8:00 a.m. and noon on 25 November:
  • There was no food left on the cabin table
  • The galley stove was knocked out of place and no cooked food was found
  • The Captain's bed had been slept in, but not made
  • There was no sign of interrupted or finished meal or evidence of preparations for serving a meal
  • There was no log-slate record after 8:00 a.m. on a vessel where records had been systematically kept

Friday, April 23, 2010

Court Notes

18 Dec 1872 -- Five days after the arrival of the Mary Celeste, the first session of the Court was held for the purpose of hearing testimony in connection with the claim for salvage by the owners, officers and crew of the Dei Gratia. Oliver Deveau was the first witness called.

Exhibit. "The log now produced is the one I found on board the Mary Celeste, and which I continued in my journey to Gibraltar. It is in my handwriting from the 5th day of December to the 13th day of December, day of arrival, including the marginal notes of Latitude and Longitude. The figures showing the figure of speed are only guess. I had no log on board to heave, and no log-line. When I made the land, I omitted the entry of supposed speed. The weather came on to blow hard after we had made Cape Spartel on the 11th -- Ceuta Light.

I say that we must have run up the Spanish Coast 30 miles, after leaving Cape Ceuta, or 40 miles: that was after leaving Ceuta at 6 a.m. in sight of land."

Exhibit. The Slate. The Attorney-General reads the entry on the slate log 26 November, "I never used the side of the slate upon which this entry now appears. I left the charts on board the Mary Celeste." To Judge. "I have been master of a brig, myself. I kept the Log on board the Dei Gratia. I have no Master's ticket but a Mate's certificate"

20 Dec 1872 -- The further examination of the witnesses proceeded this day. The witness Oliver Deveau recalled.

Chart Exhibit C. "The chart now produced is the chart I found on board the Mary Celeste with the ship's course marked on it. I used it afterwards myself, for our track here. The words written: 'Mary Celeste, abandoned 5th. December 1872' are in my writing. I put it down merely by guess as the place ewhere I supposed we found the vessel as nearly as I could. The arrows shown on the shart show the way the currents are supposed to run, but they often practically run in a contrary direction. That chart is the chart found in the Mate's cabin."

At the conclusion of Deveau's testimony, John Wright, second mate of the Dei Gratia, was call. His accound agreed, substantially with that given by Deveau. The 20 Dec session of the Court concluded with the testimony of Seaman Charles Lund.

21 Dec 1872 -- The accounts of Seamen Anderson and Johnson were heard. The accounts given by Lund and Anderson were more significant as they assisted Deveau in bringing the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar. Johnson's statement was very brief and generally unimportant as he had not boarded the vessel -- he remained in the small boat alongside while Deveau and Wright were making their examination.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the News


THE REGISTER, Thursday, October 10, 1912
The Mystery of the Mary Celeste

(Digby Courier)

Capt. Oliver E. Deveau died at his home in
Brighton on Tuesday, the 10th inst, aged 76 years. The deceased was born at Cape St. Mary’s, moving to Brighton when he was a young man. He was an old time sailor, a thorough officer and a man capable of sailing a ship to any part of the world. His last voyage was to Cuba some four or five years ago when he was obliged to leave his ship owing to illness and return home. He is survived by a widow, one son, James Deveau, who holds a responsible position with the telephone company in Springfield, Mass., and two daughters, Mrs. Jessie Melanson, of Plymouth, Mass., and Miss Addie A., at home. The funeral was held from his late home on Friday with interment in the St. Croix cemetery at Plympton. The Courier extends its deepest sympathy to the bereaved ones.

The death of Capt. Deveau recalls to memory the mystery of the brigt. Mary Celeste which has called forth during the past 40 years many columns of newspaper stories, magazine articles and even dime novels. The facts of the strange affair are as follows:

On Nov. 15th, Capt. Oliver E. Deveau sailed from
New York for Gibraltar, chief officer of the brigt. Del Gratia. After a rough passage of 26 days they reached the Western Isles after which the weather became very moderate. On Dec. 4th, in latitude 38 20 N., and longitude 17.15 W., they fell in with another brigantine which was under moderate sail andappeared  to be steering a very peculiar course. They bore down on her and found the strange acting vessel to be the brigt. Mary Celeste, of New York, abandoned. She was boarded and Capt. Deveau was placed in charge. The captain of the Del Gratia furnished him with two men which he styled as captain and cook. These three, working night and day, took the strange vessel to port, reaching Gibraltar Dec. 13th, making the run of 600 miles in nine days in heavy weather, working their 200 ton craft successfully but under great difficulties. She was bound to Genoa, Italy, with $80,000 worth of alcohol.

While all kinds of stories have been imagined as to what became of her original captain and crew and why they abandoned their vessel, the whole affair still remains a mystery.

Capt. Deveau has been interviewed by hundreds of newspaper men during the past forty years. He related the entire story to the editor of the Courier in the cabin of the old tern schr. Xebec of
Bear River more than thirty years ago, when Capt. Deveau was chief officer of that vessel and the editor "a small cabin boy."

It was thought that Capt. Deveau and his men would be well paid for his heroic work in saving the Mary Celeste and her valuable cargo, but the whole affair got involved in litigation and the captain’s share became a small one.

The captain of the strange vessel had his wife and child on board besides his crew of eight men. The sewing machine had been recently used. The captain’s clothing and watch were hanging up in his state room. The vessel’s boat and papers were gone. The entire crew appeared to have left in great haste taking practically nothing with them. Marine men from all parts of the world put forth different ideas as to why the vessel was abandoned, but Capt. Deveau could always explain by referring to some circumstance in connection with the way the vessel was found that they were wrong. Capt. Deveau himself could not account for their strange disappearance, nor could anyone else from that day until the present time, and we very much doubt if the mystery will ever be solved.

BERWICK REGISTER, Wednesday Evening, December 15, 1915
A Mystery Ship

Mr. Clarence Ward, in his Old Times articles in the St. John Globe, unearthed an 1852 newspaper account of a mystery ship that was found off
Gaspe. He says:

The case of the "Marie Celeste," found abandoned in the Mediterranean some years ago, with everything on board in order, even to prepared food on the cabin table, and in pots in the gallery, and every evidence of peaceable occupation by officers and men, carried on without interruption of any kind, boats in place, sails and rigging in good order, but not a sign of officers or crew on board, has ever remained an ocean mystery. One of our city papers of
February 28, 1852, contains an account of a somewhat similar case, occurring off our own shores, except that in this case the vessel had suffered some slight damage.

Miramichi February 23: - The courier from Perce to Restigouche, has informed me that when he left below, there was a large barque in the ice off
Gaspe. The barque had her fore-top-sail and jib set. Two men by means of a small skiff, got on board the barque, and found her laden with red pine. There were sixty bags of bread and twenty barrels of four, also the ship’s papers on board. There appears nothing wrong with her but the loss of her rudder, and part of bow-sprit. A crew of men are going on board, with the intention of working her out of the ice, and taking her to some port in Nova Scotia, or Newfoundland; if they cannot clear her, to remain on board till the warm weather sets in. There was not a soul to be found on board, yet strange to say, none of the boats belonging to the ship were gone, all being in their proper place, so that what has become of the crew remains a mystery.

One Of The Greatest Mysteries Of The Sea

Why was the
Nova Scotia vessel Marie Celeste deserted by her officers and crew in December, 1872?

There is not one word in her log-book or elsewhere to give any reason why the ship should be deserted; and the finding of the vessel some time later, still intact and under sale, but without a soul on board, has given rise to one of the greatest sea mysteries within the memory of living men.

After sailing from
New York early in November, 1872, the Marie Celeste was not sighted by any other vessel until December 5, when the Del Gratia which had left New York on November 15 for Gibraltar, hailed the ship but got no answer. Men climbed on board, to find the vessel deserted. The only living thing was a cat contentedly sleeping on a locker.

The Marie Celeste had sailed about a week earlier than the Del Gratia, also bound for Gibraltar, but when found, about 600 miles from that port, was actually sailing in the opposite direction.

The Marie Celeste – built at
Advocate Harbor, Nova Scotia – was a staunch brigantine of 236 tons burden, and seemed to be in excellent condition when found in mid-Atlantic without a soul on board.

Everything about the deck was in good order. There was not a trace of trouble. Most of her sails were neatly furled, and the ship was sailing off the wind though not steering a steady course.

All the captain’s effects – clothing, books, etc. – were found in the cabin. There was an entry in the log-book dated November 24 and an entry on the log-slate dated November 25, showing that they had sighted the
Island of St. Mary (Azores).

The boarding party did not find the ship’s register or similar papers concerning the ship, but only some letters and account books. The dishes and the remains of a meal were still on the table in the cabin. A dress which the captain’s wife was making for her small daughter, who accompanied them, was found unfinished in the captain’s cabin.

The crew’s clothing was all left in the forecastle – their oilskins, boots and even their pipes, as if they had left in a great hurry. The ashes in the galley’s range were still warm, yet not a living soul was found on board and no ship’s boat was visible anywhere on the ocean. Here, surely, was a mystery if ever there was one.

The Vice-Admiralty Court of Gibraltar investigated the case. Enquiries were made far and wide, while the authorities waited anxiously for word of the missing captain, his wife, daughter and crew. But no word ever came. No word has come to this day. Not one of the missing men was ever seen again.

BERWICK REGISTER, November 23, 1938
The Story of The Mary Celeste

(By C. W. Moffatt in Maritime Advocate and Busy East)

The Story of the Nova Scotia brigantine “Mary Celeste,” one of the mystery ships of the Atlantic, has been written and dramatized but to this day the mystery surrounding her remains unsolved.

The ship was built by Joshua Dewis, of Spencer’s
Island, Cumberland County, and launched in 1860 as the “Amazon.” Seven years later she went ashore on the rugged coast of Cape Breton Island near Port Morien. Refloated and repaired she sailed again only to meet a similar fate on the coast of Maine.

An American syndicate purchased the grounded ship, made her seaworthy and changed her name to the “Mary Celeste.” Taken to
New York she was loaded with alcohol and set sail for Genoa on November 7th, 1872. Her departure was well remembered by the people on the dock at New York that November morning for there stood with them a seventeen-year-old girl who had recently married First Mate Albert G. Richardson, a native of Maine. With tears in her eyes she stood there waving a fond goodbye to her husband of less than a month. On board the “Mary Celeste” Captain Benjamin Briggs stood on the bridge looking out to sea while his wife and young daughter joined the First Mate in waving farewell to the lonely girl on the dock. As the brigantine spread her sails and disappeared from sight the spectators and the young bride on the dock turned away little knowing that they had seen the crew of eight and the Captain’s wife and daughter for the last time.

On December 4th, twenty-eight days later, the Captain of the “Dei Gratia” sighted the “Mary Celeste” off the
Canary Islands. She was drifting in a light breeze with sails set and apparently no one at the wheel. The “Dei Gratia” sent out a boat and the Captain and members of the crew boarded the brigantine. They found everything ship-shape with the exception of a loose hatch-cover which was stained with blood. Near by lay a sword smeared with blood. There was a broken rail, but everything else was in first class condition. In the Captain’s quarters breakfast was on the table untouched. The sextant and chronometer was missing. The ship’s log revealed that the last entry had been made on November 24th at , but offered no solution to the enigma.

The Captain of the “Dei Gratia” was not troubled by the mystery, the seas abound with them, so he took the “Mary Celeste” into
Gibraltar where she was manned by a new crew.

After the ship had docked at
Gibraltar many stories were circulated as to what had happened. Since then many explanations of the mystery have been offered. The most generally accepted belief is that on some morning between the 25th of November and the 4th of December, while the “Mary Celeste” was sailing along quietly and the captain and his family were at breakfast, there was a terrific explosion. This explosion may have resulted from an accumulation of alcoholic fumes in the hold. To account for the blood on the hatch cover and the sword, it is thought that a sailor must have been near the hatch with a sword in his hand when the explosion threw the hatch cover up at him causing the sword to pierce his body. It is further supposed that the suddenness of the explosion created a panic and in a few moments everyone including the Captain and his family were crowded into a single boat and lowered into the sea, the rail having been broken in the rush. As they pulled away from the “Mary Celeste” with great haste expecting she would instantly be blown to the winds by further gas explosions, a stiff breeze sprang up and carried her away. Too late they realized their mistake. They could see her in the distance sailing fast away. With the boat overcrowded and a gale rising, they presumably all met death by drowning.

After she had been manned by a new crew at
Gibraltar and delivered her cargo of alcohol at Genoa the “Mary Celeste” returned to the United States. For the succeeding twelve years she was idle for want of cargo. In 1885 she sailed from Boston, Massachusetts, for Port au Prince and was wrecked off the coast of Haiti. $30,000 cargo insurance is said to have been collected by her owners.

There were eight persons beside the captain’s wife and daughter on board the “Mary Celeste” as she sailed from
New York on her ill-fated voyage. They were: Capt. Benjamin Briggs, his wife and daughter, of Marion, Massachusetts; Mate Albert G. Richardson, a native of Maine; Andrew Gilling and Edward William head, of New York City; Volkert Lorenzen, Arian Harbens, Bos Lorengo and Gottlieb Goodschaad, all of Germany.

Today the only authentic painting of the brigantine “Amazon” or “Mary Celeste” hangs in the
Fort Beausejour Museum, which is located near Sackville, New Brunswick. The question of what took place on board the “Mary Celeste” on that fall day, sixty-six years ago remains unanswered, a dark mystery of the sea.