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The Curious Case Of The Ghost Ship ‘Mary Celeste’ And Its Missing Crew

The Curious Case Of The Ghost Ship ‘Mary Celeste’ And Its Missing Crew
Image credit: Astonishing Legends

A mystery exceeding 135 years and beyond, the story of the Mary Celeste is indeed an enigma. Termed as a Ghost Ship as its mysterious voyage traveled past folklores, no one really knows what happened to it and her Captain, his wife, their infant daughter and the other seven crew members.

A secure wooden ship, sailing itself without any crew. What happened? Where did they go?
The ocean is mysterious as it holds lost secrets and souls in its uncharted territories and graves to create a vast frontier of horrors and Land Ho! Conspiracy Theories.

The history of the doomed vessel

history of mary celeste

The Mary Celeste wasn’t always known infamously by this name. Built in Spencer’s Island, Love Scotia (1960), her registration under the maiden name ‘Amazon’ described her as a 107 long feet Brigantine vessel with a 26 long feet two-shift mast, depth of 11.7 feet and a gross tonnage of 198.42.

From the moment it was created, it was cursed.

1861: Set for sail under her first captain, Robert McLellan and owner Joshua Dewis, the ship was bound across the Atlantic to London, sailing towards Five Islands with a cargo of timber. The Captain fell ill before completing this journey and died while the ship was in sail. Her fate was already sealed with the death of her first captain.

1867: Encountering further misadventures, the ship changed her owner to Captain John Nutting Parker where she collided with a two-mast vessel in the English Channel carrying fishing equipment in the marrows of East-port, Maine.

1868: Continuing to change hands with a number of owners, the ship was tossed to an American Mariner, Richard W. Haines who renamed her Mary Celeste, a name which will go down in the mysteries of the sea. Going through many extensive repairs and renovations, the ship was built brand new for further voyages it was bound to take.

1869: Due to the unsettling nature of the ship, it was sold again and taken under command by Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs, under which the seafaring incident of the missing crew would take place.

November 7, 1872: It set sail from New York Harbor bound for Genoa, Italy with a total of ten crew members including the Captain, his wife Sarah and their two-year-old daughter Sophia. In the hull of the ship, there was a cargo of 1700 crude alcohol barrels.

December 4, 1872: The ship was found deserted with no signs of any of the ten crew members by the Canadian brigantine Dei Gratia Captained by David Morehouse, off the shore of Azores Islands, Portugal. It was found in an amiable condition with only a lifeboat missing with a frayed rope trailing behind the ship and nine broken casks of alcohol apparently used for no immediate purpose. Two water pumps were found disassembled and three and a half feet of water was found in the bottom hold of the ship. The last log was made ten days before after which no sign of life was found on the ship as it aimlessly trailed on the Atlantic Oceans.

1873: With the crewless Mary Celeste, Dei Gratia docked on Mainland Europe and an immediate investigation was launched under Frederick Solly Flood to know what happened to the ship, and to find out whether the Dei Gratia crew was responsible behind this mystery. At the salvage hearings in Gibraltar, fearing possibilities of foul play, unresolved suspicions led to a relatively low salvage award.


1873-1884: After the salvaging, the ship saw a series of owners and captains, never sticking with one and continued to sail for 12 years, never unleashing itself from the mystery of the disappearances of its previous crew.

1885: The vessel sailed its last under Captain G.C Parker. Its end was as tragic as it was for its previous owners and sailors. The ship was deliberately run aground into a reef near Haiti as a plot for insurance fraud to claim the money he deserved for the ship.

The ship, damaged beyond repair, holding the spirits of the past still did not sink in the waters and had been seen by seafarers floating like a Ghost Ship for many years to come.

What happened to Mary Celeste’s 1872 voyage and crew?

mary celeste alien abduction?

No wreckage yet no survivors. What exactly happened to the ill-fated 10 crew members the ship was supposed to sail?

Many theories have been formulated to give an explanation for these lost lives. The legends have never ended and as we try to figure out the various plausible causes we can give to their disappearances, we also find how one theory never sticks. Some of the theories which have been given are:


Alien Abduction: One of the most loved theories by conspiracy fanatics is that the crew members vanished without any trace due to the paranormal activity caused by aliens. It has been argued given the perplexing nature of the disappearances that something from the unknown was involved.


Ghosts of the Spirits Dead: In its fairly long-serving surviving time the ship has witnessed many deaths, disappearances, possibly murders and wreckages for us to believe that perhaps the ship was haunted. The death of its first Captain and spirits incorporated in the mast of the ship might have led to the crew members running for their lives away from an unnamed entity, or they had become the newest additions to the infamous guests inhabiting the ship.



Sea Monsters & Tentacle Octopuses: Borrowing from fictional myths, legends and folklore, the disappearances have been linked to sea monsters that had a hearty meal of our ten beloved crew members.


Sea-quakes & Storms: Due to geographical disturbances and natural disasters, the ship must have been battling a sea earthquake or a deadly storm. One of these must have caused a crack in the hull of the ship and consumed with the fear of sinking, the crew members must have escaped in the lifeboat only to perish. But upon further research on the days when the vessel was in the Atlantic Ocean, there had been no reports of any sea-quakes or major storms. Moreover, the ship suffered no damage as it was found with everything intact, which might not have been the case if they had been hit by a storm.


North African Pirates: A flawed theory had been that perhaps the crew had been attacked by African Pirates, who were a menace in the Atlantic see during the 1800s. But then why were no major personal items of the crew or navigational equipment stolen except for the nine broken caskets of alcohol among the 1700?


Revengeful plot by a slave: In 1883, Sir Author Conan Doyle tried to decode the mystery behind the missing crew in his short story ‘J. Habakkuk Jepson’s Statement’ where their fictional disappearance had been attributed to an ex-slave.


Murderous intentions of the Dei Gratia: Even when the ship was docked after it was found floating aimlessly in the Atlantic Ocean by the Dei Gratia, there was a proper investigation launched so as to not give the criminals the salvage price for the ship which they captured. It was thought that they had killed the crew members to claim the insurance and the Dei Gratia crew forever remained under the suspicious eyes of the authorities.



Miscalculation of the Voyage: Originally when found, the Mary Celeste was 120 miles beyond its course and in a location where it was not supposed to be. Perhaps, due to the miscalculation of the voyage path, the crew members were lost and had left the ship in a single lifeboat. But this would still not explain the hasty retreat by the crew members or as to why would they not steer back to their original course.


Drunken Crew and Mutiny: It is thought that the crew was forming a mutiny to overthrow the Captain, given the reason that they were sailing off course. With the nine broken caskets of alcohol, the crew must have been intoxicated and obtained the courage to take this decision. But the alcohol which was in the cargo was not the drinking kind and in its crude form would have caused blindness. Having no experience of steering a ship, the remaining crew must have fled in the lifeboat, never to be seen again.


Fear of Explosion: Perhaps the most plausible theory of all was that the Mary Celeste must have been sinking with two water pumps not functioning and due to the fear of explosion by the leakage of alcohol vapors from the nine broken barrels, Captain Briggs and the crew made a hasty escape.

Here lies the Mary Celeste

Here lies the Mary Celeste

Ghost Ships have been a staple for movies, books, folklores, documentaries and pop-culture. Suspicions fostered around the nature of the mystery of Mary Celeste and termed her as a Ghost Ship. The story of the enchanting Mary Celeste has been dramatized in various novels, movies, documentaries and short stories.

Further readings and different explanations behind the mystery of the ship can be done through the detailed Smithsonian Documentary, ‘The True Story of the Mary Celeste’ or read in the book ‘The Mary Celeste’ by Jane Yolen.

Another famous Hollywood representation of the Ghost Ship has been done by early cinema where the movie ‘The Mystery of the Marie Celeste / Phantom Ship’ can be seen for its eerie visuals and production.

Read also: Where is Malaysian Airlines’ Flight MH370?

What do you think?

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Written by Taru

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