|The Mary Celeste - Fact Not Fiction
The true story
It was 9am on the morning of Friday, December 13th 1872 when people on the waterfront saw a small two-masted sailing vessel entering the Bay of Gibraltar.
The ship was the 'Mary Celeste' of New York, a Canadian built 100 foot brigantine of 282 tons registered in New York. The registered owners were James H Winchester (12/24) Sylvester Goodwin (2/24) and Benjamin Spooner Briggs (8/24).
Her master, Benjamin Spooner Briggs known in Gibraltar to be a staunch abstainer and devout bible reader. At the inquiry the ships main owner James Henry Winchester gave evidence that the Captain was a courageous officer who would not dessert his ship except to save his life. The second-in-command, the Mate, was Albert Richardson, who was also considered by Winchester to be fit to command himself.
But of the good Captain Briggs, his wife Sarah, two year old daughter Sophia Matilda, and the crew of seven, nothing was to be seen or found ever again. And so begins the greatest of mysteries, or at least it might seem.
However, were it not for Dr Arthur Conan Doyle, struggling to establish himself as a writer prior to creating Sherlock Holmes, perhaps the world would not have ever known or cared.
The story, like many a tale, it has grown with the telling, to incorporate speculation of further mysteries, including pirates, creatures from the deep, abduction by aliens, submarines, and time travel.
Conan Doyle's short story about the 'Marie Celeste' (he changed the name from Mary) turned a minor puzzle into one of the most famous legends of the sea. Nevertheless we should recognise it was fiction, for which his editor paid 30 Pounds, which would have been a respectable sum in 1884.
Turning back to the REAL story, which survives because shipping companies and court inquiries leave behind ample records to be researched, we find the following facts;
The vessel was found to be in good seaworthy condition and the general impression was that the crew had left in a great hurry. They had left behind their oil skin boots and pipes. Captain Morehouse's explanation was that they had left in panic thinking the vessel to be sinking. The chronometer and sextant were not found on board. The last entry on the ships slate showed she had made the island of St Mary in the Azores on November 25th.
Now read about the Admiralty Court Inquiry