The Amazon

The Amazon was a brigantine, a ship with two mast of which the foremast is square rigged. It was built in 1861 at Spencer’s Island in Nova Scotia, and she reached 99 feet and displaced 198 Gross tons. She was owned by a consortium of 8 merchants.

Her start to life was rather unfortunate. Her first Captain, Robert McLellan died from pneumonia 9 days into her maiden voyage. Her second Captain, John Nutting Parker, crashed it through a fishing boat and then let a fire rage on deck during the repairs. He was let go.

After this, however, she had many peaceable and profitable years doing South and Central American runs. She ran aground during a storm near Nova Scotia in 1867, salvaged and resold. The new owners wanted her to do trans-Atlantic trips to trade with Adriatic ports. To this end they rebuilt her to 107 feet with a gross tonnage of 282. She was renamed the Mary Celeste and relauched in October 1872.

To cope with the dificult Atlantic crossing, an experienced lifelong sailor Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs, 37, was hired to skipper the bark.

Briggs was well-known as an excellent and fair captain, and had a good reputation amongst owners and crews alike. Briggs brought his wife and two year-old daughter on the trip, leaving his eight year-old boy in the care of his mother. They were accompanied by a crew of seven, a characteristic amount for the small brigantine. They were mostly of German nationality, with the exception of the first and second mates and the cook who were American, Danish and American respectively. On November 5, 1872, the ship docked on New York City’s East River and picked up a cargo of 1,701 barrels of commercial raw alcohol intended for fortifying Italian wines on behalf of Meissner Ackermann & Co.
1692 of the barrels were made of white oak and nine were crafted out of red oak. The Mary Celeste set sail from Staten Island, New York to Genoa, Italy. The cargo was exceptionally valuable, worth around $35,000 (an extemely large amount of money for the time, $520,000 in current money) and it was heavily insured in Europe. Seven days later, another brigantine, the Dei Gratia carrying 1735 barrels of petroleum set sail on the same route. The sea was notably calm on the trip.

It was the helmsman of the Dei Gratia, John Johnson, who 600 miles from the coast of Portugal and exactly a month into the trip, spied the Mary Celeste 5 miles of the port-side bow. He immediately got a cold feeling. Firstly, the Mary Celeste, having departed 7 days before them should have been in Italy already. Secondly, and more telling, its torn sails were flapping in the gentle wind.

When they boarded the ship, it got stranger yet. The ship was totally abandoned, yet it was in perfect condition. There was some water in the hold, but not more than normal after a month at sea, or at least not nearly enough to sink her. Not a soul on board, just the creak of ropes pulling unmanned sails and the echo of empty cabins. All the ships papers, except the Captain’s log were missing. There was plenty of fresh food and water. The chronometer and compass were broken and the sextant was missing. A rope was found tied to the stern with it’s badly frayed end dipping into the water. The only lifeboat was missing.

The next mystery was the location of the ship and the set of her sails:

When he examined the ship’s log, the captain of the Dei Gratia found that the last entry was on November 24. That would have been 10 days earlier, when the Mary Celeste had been passing north of St. Mary’s Island in the Azores — more than 400 miles west of where it was found. If it had been abandoned soon after that entry, the ship must have drifted unmanned and unsteered for a week and a half. Yet this could not have been. The Mary Celeste was found with its sails set to catch the wind coming over the starboard quarter: in other words, it was sailing on the starboard tack. The Dei Gratia had been following a similar course just behind. But throughout the 400 miles from the Azores, the Dei Gratia had been obligated to sail on the port tack. It seems impossible that the Mary Celeste could have reached the spot it did with its yards and sails set to starboard. Someone must have been working the ship for at least several days after the final log entry.

(from Occultopedia)

Piracy was immediately ruled out: there was no sign of a struggle, and all the valuables were still on board.

The Dei Gratia‘s first mate took control and sailed the mysterious vessel to Genoa, where an inquiry was launched into the fate of the crew. No conclusion was reached. When the ship was eventually offloaded, the nine red oak barrels were found to be empty all though not breached in any way.

The ship’s owner was in two minds whether to sell the ill-fated ship, when his father was drowned sailing the ship back to America. It then passed through seventeen hands in the next thirteen years till it eventually was wrecked in a failed insurance scam near the Carribean.

The mystery of the Mary Celeste would have passed into quiet maritime lore if it hadn’t been for two incidents. The first was a story published in the respectable Cornhill Magazine’s January 1884 issue. It was called J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement. It told the story of the Marie Celeste, and its fate at the hands of revengeful African savages. The detail of the story and the fact that it was loosely based on the tale of the original Mary Celeste lead many to be fooled and to believe the yarn was real. It sparked off a new interest in the ship, and speculations ran wild and continue till this day (it is still often referred to as the Marie as opposed to Mary Celeste in much popular culture). Many who were not as easily fooled speculated as to the real author, putting the finger on Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe. Our good friend Arthur Conan Doyle, then a young and upcoming writer, took this as a great compliment as he was in fact the original pen. Read the story here, which with a contemporary eye has one of the most bizarre plots, and a strange fixational fear of the black body.

The second incident was very similar with an even more bizarre plot. Known as the Abel Fosdyck Papers, it was presented as true in a 1914 issue of Strand magazine. In it a highly respected schoolmaster A. Howard Linford claimed to have found papers belonging to Abel Fosdyck his late servant. They explain the Mary Celeste mystery in terms of an offbeat bet, a collapsing observation deck and a swarm of sharks. This true story set off another wave of fascination with the poor ship. If one were to read the tale closely, he does however claim the Mary Celeste weighed 600 tons and that the crew were English.

To be honest, you can read a thousand other accounts that explain the mystery. Many have something to do with the Bermuda Triangle, or water spouts. But what really strikes me, and sticks in my mind is the unbearable, deep and mysterious sadness of an empty boat, rocking on a calm sea. It’s like a word without a meaning.

Till The Sea Gives Up Its Dead | 2009 | Bizarre, True History | Tags: , , , , | Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *