The Mary Celeste: the history of a mystery

Historian article

By Graham Faiella, published 3rd February 2023

Graham Faiella guides us through the historical evidence and literary speculation surrounding one of the ultimately unresolved incidents of recent times.

One hundred and fifty years ago, sometime between 25 November and 4 December 1872, the brigantine Mary Celeste was abandoned at sea somewhere between the Azores and the coast of Portugal. Another brigantine, the Dei Gratia, came upon her on 4 December. Some of her sails were set. She was sailing roughly westward, erratically, in the opposite direction to where she should have been headed, south-eastward towards the Straits of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean.

Two men from the Dei Gratia boarded her. They found her mainsail down and secured, as were some of her foresails. There was water in her bilges but nothing serious. Down below deck the cabin and galley were wet. Her cargo of 1,701 casks of industrial denatured alcohol was intact. On deck they saw signs of rough and tumble: the binnacle (compass pedestal) was knocked over, two of the ship’s three hatches were open and the hatch covers lying on deck nearby, and the rigging of the ship was somewhat bedraggled.

What they found overall, though, was a generally seaworthy vessel, and, moreover, under sail (though only partly). What they did not find on board was either hide or hair of the ten persons who set sail in the Mary Celeste from New York a month before...

This resource is FREE for Historian HA Members.

Non HA Members can get instant access for £2.49

Add to Basket Join the HA