The Mary Celeste

... was found by the Canadian brigantine Dei Gratia, in a dishevelled but seaworthy condition under partial sail and with her lifeboat missing. There was no sign of any passengers or crew, and her cargo of methylated spirits was intact. The last log entry was 25 November.

At the salvage hearings in Gibraltar, following her recovery, various possibilities of foul play were considered, including mutiny by the crew, piracy by the Dei Gratia crew or others, and conspiracy to carry out insurance or salvage fraud. There was no convincing evidence to support any of these theories, but unresolved suspicions led to a relatively low salvage award.

The inconclusive nature of the hearings fostered continued speculation as to the nature of the mystery, and the story has repeatedly been complicated by false detail and fantasy. Hypotheses that have been advanced include the effects on the crew of alcohol fumes rising from the cargo, submarine earthquakes, waterspouts, attack by a giant squid, and paranormal intervention.

After the Gibraltar hearings, the Mary Celeste continued in service under new owners. In 1885 she was deliberately wrecked off the coast of Haiti as part of an attempted insurance fraud.

The story of her 1872 abandonment has been recounted and dramatised many times in documentaries, novels, plays, and films. The slightly different name Marie Celeste was invented by Arthur Conan Doyle in a fictional retelling of the story, and has has become a byword for unexplained desertion.

© Haydn Thompson 2017