The ‘Mary Celeste’ was an American-registered merchant brigantine discovered adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean off the Azores Islands on December 4, 1872. Thus was born one of the most durable mysteries in nautical history: What happened to the ten people who had sailed aboard the ‘Mary Celeste’? Through the decades, a lack of hard facts has only spurred speculation as to what might have taken place, writes RAY CLEERE.


It is a riddle which has fascinated us for 150 years. What really happened aboard the legendary ‘ghost ship’, the ‘Mary Celeste’ 150 years ago on December 4th, 1872? Her crew went missing and were never seen or heard from again.

The abandoned ‘Celeste’ had the maritime world totally mystified. The fate of the 10 people aboard remains a mystery 150 years later.

Then named the ‘Amazon’, the ‘Mary Celeste’ was a 282 ton American cargo ship which was built in 1861 at Spencer’s Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Having been launched on May 18th, 1861, it encountered a number of mishaps.

During the maiden voyage, its captain caught pneumonia and later died. The ship was damaged on several occasions, most notably in October 1867, when it ran aground in Cow Bay, Cape Breton Island.
The following year, 1868, the ‘Amazon’ was sold to an American, Richard W. Haines, who renamed it the ‘Mary Celeste’. Over the next several years the ship underwent significant structural changes, and it was eventually sold to a group who included Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs.

The ship began its fateful voyage from New York harbour on November 7th, 1872, with more than 1,700 barrels of alcohol destined for Genoa, in Italy. On board were 10 people, who included Captain Briggs, his wife, Sarah, and their two-year-old daughter, Sophia, along with eight crewmen.

Over the next two weeks the ship encountered heavy weather conditions. According to the last log entry, which was recorded at 5a.m. on November 25th, the ‘Mary Celeste’ was about 6 nautical miles (11 kilometres) from the Azores. Its fate after that remained unknown. It would never reach its intended destination.

Ten days later, on December 5th, 1872, the British ship, ‘Dei Gratia’, was about 400 miles east of the Azores, when crew members spotted a ship floating aimlessly in cold silence in the choppy seas. Captain David Morehouse was taken aback when he discovered that the unguided vessel was the ‘Mary Celeste’, which had left New York harbour eight days before him and should have already arrived in Genoa in Italy. He changed course to offer help.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own