Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Mystery of the "Mary Celeste" by John E Watkins 1919

The Mystery of the "Mary Celeste" by John E Watkins 1919 

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Of all the skippers that have sailed the seven seas, Captain B. S. Briggs, of the Yankee bark "Marie (Mary) Celeste," has been the cause of the most speculation. Nautical experts, savants and literary geniuses of world repute have attempted to solve the riddle which he left in his uncertain wake—a wake which has led everywhere and nowhere upon the face of the mighty deep.

With a stanch hull and strong rig the "Mary Celeste," on November 7, 1873, sailed from New York for Genoa with a cargo of alcohol in casks. Captain Briggs hailed from Marion, Mass. He took along his wife and two-year-old baby. The bark's two mates and one man of her crew were Americans. The other four men in her forecastle were Germans. According to her log she passed the island of St. Mary's, in the Azores, on the 24th of November. Ten days later the British bark "Dei Gratia," bound from New York to Gibraltar, sighted her drifting aimlessly about under partial sail. Suspicious of her eccentric behavior, Captain Boyce, of the "Dei Gratia," hailed her, but received no response. Boarding her, he made a discovery that set his jaws agape and his eyes staring. It was not a scene of blood and carnage, but a spectacle so peaceful that it was uncanny. The "Mary Celeste" had been mysteriously abandoned in the open sea.

Bad weather had not caused her crew to leave her. A bottle of medicine was standing upright on the skipper's table, where a moderately heavy sea would have upset it. Pirates had not frightened Captain Briggs and his comrades away. The cargo was undisturbed and in the forecastle were the sailors' chests, filled with their clothing and money, untouched. Skipper Briggs' gold watch hung beside his berth.

Starvation had not threatened. There was plenty of food. In the galley victuals had been prepared for the next meal. There was also plenty of water. And all about was sea-room enough for a considerable cruise. No shoals or rocky coasts were near.

Yet there was every indication of a sudden, although peaceful, abandonment of the ship. Upon the log slate, following the usual routine entries, had been scrawled:

"Fanny, my dear wife"

The entry was unfinished. Apparently, the event causing the ship's abandonment had come while the skipper was writing it. Was it to have been an account of something untoward that had befallen his spouse? And was this emergency the cause of every one's suddenly leaving the vessel? Mrs. Briggs had hurriedly dropped her sewing. Upon her table in the cabin were threaded needle, scissors and a bit of partly sewed material, lying as if hastily tossed aside. On the open melodeon lay music that had apparently been played since the cabin was last put to rights. There was still the impression left by a baby's head upon the pillow in the crib and toys were strewn about on the cabin floor. On the wall the clock still ticked.

The fore hatch was open, but whether one of the boats had been launched was a matter of doubt. If none was put to sea all aboard the "Mary Celeste" must either have gone into the sea or had been taken aboard some other craft. Yet in all of the intervening years no boat has reported visiting her. And why should it? She was in excellent condition, ready to proceed on her cruise. If Captain Briggs, his family and crew did embark in one of his ship's boats it would probably have been sighted at sea or upon some beach even after it had overturned and drowned its human freight.

No signs of storm. No evidence of famine. No shortage of water. No fear of a dangerous coast. No evidence of piratical attack. No relics of mutiny, struggle or bloodshed. No leakage and nothing wrong with stearing gear, rigging or navigating paraphernalia. What is the answer?

The owner, the late J. H. Winchester, of Railway, N. J., could never venture a solution. Neither could Messrs. Meisner, Ackermann & Co., the New York firm to whom she was chartered. Many fanciful theories as to the fate of her vanished occupants have been offered. According to one, Captain Briggs became insane as the result of rough weather encountered in the open sea. But, granting that he did, were there not seven able-bodied men aboard, capable of resisting his crazy commands? According to another theory, the casks rattling about in the hold sprang a leak and the resulting alcohol fumes, threatening to smother those on board, caused their hasty exodus. But the evidence says that the cargo was intact.

Some would attribute the bark's abandonment to the log slate's vague evidence that some misadventure, some untoward happening, threatened the life of Mrs. Briggs. But if illness or any other danger threatened her, why would her husband, an experienced navigator, take her to sea in an open boat when he had a perfectly good and absolutely seaworthy vessel at his command?

The "Mary Celeste" was taken in hand by Captain Boyce and the crew of the "Dei Gratia." They sailed her to Gibraltar as a prize and she eventually fell into the hands of a skipper who, a dozen years later, was alleged to have run her upon a reef in order to collect insurance for her owners.

Superstitious mariners believe that she had been cursed. Some doubted whether her baptism had been performed with real wine.

The secret of her abandonment by Skipper Briggs remains one of the blackest of the world's nautical mysteries.

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