Mary Celeste: Atlantic Mystery at Gibraltar on December 13, 1872

by DerdriuMarriner

Everybody knows of Mary Celeste leaving New York in November 1872. Everyone knows of her reaching Gibraltar in December. Nobody knows what happened in between to the “Ghost Ship.”

The New York Times edition of November 5, 1872 announced the sailing clearances, ship captains, and ultimate destinations for:
• Mary Celeste;
• Osprey;
• Pedro.

Two out of the three above-mentioned ships did not launch maritime mysteries with their exiting from one busy port and landing elsewhere. Documents in fact have given Mary Celeste:
• Two departures from the United States of America -- November 5 and 7, 1872 from New York and Staten Island respectively;
• Two disembarkations in southwestern Europe -- December 1872 at the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar and March 1873 at Genoa in northwest Italy.

But by the time of that first docking, Mary Celeste was so abandoned and physically changed as to be almost unrecognizable.

Bay of Fundy (upper right): maritime birthplace of The Amazon, later renamed as Mary Celeste ~

The Bay of Fundy (French: Baie de Fundy), located at northeastern end of Gulf of Maine, experiences among the world's highest vertical tidal ranges.
Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

 

George Spicer became a world-traveling mate and master of ocean-going vessels. But he began life as a Spencer’s Island boy in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. As the descendant of the rural community’s first known sea-loving settlers from Europe in 1778, George commenced with his sailing career by the age of 12. He experienced two years of sailing local ships throughout the Bay of Fundy along North America’s Atlantic shorelines of:

  • Canada, at the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia;
  • The United States of America, at Maine.

He found niches in maritime history as:

  • Fourteen-year-old ferrier of Amazon Captain Robert McLellan’s pneumonia-wracked corpse in June 1861;
  • Second mate on the Amazon for 2+ years until fall 1867.

 

"Amazon of Parrsboro - J.N. Parker Commander - entering Marseille November 1861":

painting commissioned by Captain John "Jack" Nutting Parker, Amazon's second commander
Mary Celeste as Amazon
Mary Celeste as Amazon

 

But what did the Amazon and George Spicer have to do with the Mary Celeste?  George drew upon longstanding associations with the latter’s building, christening, repairing, and sailing under the first-mentioned name. His family had supplied shareholder, shipbuilder, and 25%-owner Joshua Dewis with wood from their 2,500-acre (1,011.72-hectare) timber farm. His father, Jacob Spicer, and his Uncle Isaac Spicer indeed held a total of 16 shares -- and therefore represented 25% ownership -- in the Amazon. He therefore laid claim to front-row seats for:

  • The half brig’s construction during the fall months of 1860 with a barkentine-like square-rigged foremast and schooner-like triangular fore-and-aft mainmast sails;
  • The hermaphroditic brig’s launching into Minas Channel on May 18, 1861.

 

The Amazon was launched into Minas Channel on May 18, 1861.

Minas Basin in early May
Minas Basin in early May

 

Before, during, and following his years of service on the Amazon, George Spicer considered the ship handsome and yar (maneuverable). He did not describe it as unlucky despite:

  • The captain’s dying on the ship’s maiden voyage;
  • The ship’s ramming and sinking another brig after delivery of its first contracted cargo in London, England;
  • The vessel’s undergoing weeks of repairs in Dover, England.

He felt positively about his assignments to the graceful, proud Amazon as second mate and to five subsequent sailing ships (including the brig Globe) as master. He let it be known that each was a “fine vessel” and “good sailor” (Hicks, page 161) until visiting the infamous, neglected, run-down, shoddy Mary Celeste in August 1877.

 

The Amazon, wrecked by a nor-easter in November 1867, was transformed into almost brand-new condition as Mary Celeste by October 1869:

Powerful noreaster in the making as eastern United States and Canada are obscured by clouds associated with western frontal system stretching from Canada through the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, into the Gulf of Mexico
"Powerful Nor'easter Coming Together"
"Powerful Nor'easter Coming Together"

 

Not long after George Spicer’s departure with the unloading of corn shipments from Baltimore, Maryland at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Amazon entered Big Glace Bay in early November 1867 per Captain William Thompson’s command. In the middle of one of the North Atlantic’s howling fall and winter nor-easters, it hit the ground near a dock construction site on Cape Breton Island. George’s father and uncle knew along with Joshua and the other shareholders (including the ship captain) that the Amazon was not worth the daunting removal and repair bills. But by October 1869, the wreck looked almost brand-new after:

  • A name change to Mary Celeste and U.S. registry;
  • Three owners;
  • Work to bottom, keel, sails, spars, stern.

 

In early November 1867, Mary Celeste as Amazon grounded on rocky shores of Nova Scotia's Glace Bay during brutal nor-easter.

Glace Bay North Breakwater Lighthouse, eastern Cape Breton Regional Municipality, northeast Nova Scotia, eastern Canada
Glace Bay North Breakwater Lighthouse, eastern Cape Breton Regional Municipality, northeast Nova Scotia, eastern Canada

 

James Henry Winchester, the ship’s fourth owner as the Mary Celeste’s second owner, added to renovations after three busy years of Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean cargo-running. The Mary Celeste left New York with:

  • Cargo hold accommodating shipments of 3,500 barrels and total weight of 275+ tons;
  • Copper-sheathed, nearly hollow wooden hull;
  • Double decks;
  • Five foremast yardarms;
  • Forward deckhouse for crew and galley;
  • 40-foot (12.19-meter) mainmast boom;
  • Rebuilt, recaulked boards;
  • Roomy quarters for the captain (and family) and for the first mate;
  • Stern-built lazaret for crew food and supplies;
  • Two masts rising 75+ feet (22.86+ meters) from the deck.

The above-mentioned repairs garnered $14,000 in insurance policies on a ship whose owner-estimated value jumped from $2,600 to $16,000.

 

The crew of Dei Gratia sighted Mary Celeste on the afternoon of December 4, 1872: According to nautical time, which starts the day at noon, the date was December 5, 1872.

Dei Gratia from painting by Giuseppe Coli at Messina, Sicily, in April 1873
Dei Gratia from painting by Giuseppe Coli at Messina, Sicily, in April 1873

 

But the crew of the Dei Gratia came across a far less pretty sight between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. on December 4 (civilian date) – 5 (nautical date), 1872. They caught up with the Mary Celeste yawing about halfway between the Azores and Portugal. They found:

  • Boarded-up, canvas-covered portholes;
  • Broken binnacle and compass;
  • Dismantled portside rail;
  • Dragged rigging;
  • Flooded bilge (with 3.5 feet [1.07 meters] of water), deckhouse, galley;
  • Free-spinning, rudder-driven, unlashed wheel;
  • Lifeboat-related fenders near the main hatch;
  • Littered utensils;
  • Open captain’s skylight;
  • Opened deckhouse, fore, lazaret, main hatches;
  • Sail-draped galley stovepipe;
  • Sounding rods and well pump-like boxes on deck;
  • Spar-lashed stern davits;
  • Splintered hull;
  • Swinging cabin doors;
  • Tattered yardarm sails;
  • Upended stove.

Nobody was aboard.

 

Abandonment issues: Mary Celeste as derelict ghost ship sighted by Dei Gratia

wood engraving in three colors by Rudolph Ruzicka (June 29, 1883 - July 20, 1978)
wood engraving in three colors by Rudolph Ruzicka (June 29, 1883 - July 20, 1978)

Conclusion

 

First mate Oliver Deveau boarded the Mary Celeste to:

  • Investigate with sailor John Johnson and second mate John Wright;
  • Navigate with seamen Augustus Anderson and Charles Lund 600 nautical miles to Dei Gratia’s first stop before delivering 1,735 barrels of petroleum to Genoa, Italy.

He headed toward the Mediterranean past midnight of December 5th after:

  • Make-shifting the rigging;
  • Pumping 3.5 feet (1.07 meters) of saltwater from the bilge.

Separated during the Strait of Gibraltar’s night-long storms on December 11th, both ships reached Gibraltar on Friday the 13th (even though by civilian reckoning 4:00 p.m. still was the 12th for the Dei Gratia). Decision-making thereby transferred from the hands of sailors to those of history and the law.

 

Mary Celeste's abandonment issues: 2 sails were set; 1 was hanging; 1 was lowered; 2 were ripped away; the remainder were furled.

black-and-white closeup of tricolor engraving by Rudolph Ruzicka (June 29, 1883 - July 20, 1978)
black-and-white closeup of tricolor engraving by Rudolph Ruzicka (June 29, 1883 - July 20, 1978)

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

Dei Gratia's first mate Oliver Deveau hailed from Plympton on Nova Scotia's scenic St. Mary's Bay, located 85.79 nautical miles (98.79 miles; 158.99 kilometers) southwest of Mary Celeste's birthplace near Parrsboro:

Picturesque Smuggler's Cove, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Oliver's hometown
St. Mary's Bay, Nova Scotia, maritime eastern Canada
St. Mary's Bay, Nova Scotia, maritime eastern Canada

Sources Consulted

 

Ambler, Eric; and Innes, Hammond. 1959. The Wreck of the Mary Deare. Blaustein-Baroda Production Company.

Blumberg, Jess. November 2007. “Abandoned Ship: The Mary Celeste.” Smithsonian Magazine.com: History. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/abandoned-ship-the-mary-celeste-174488104/?no-ist

Brookesmith, Peter. 1989. Appearances and Disappearances: Strange Comings and Goings from the Bermuda Triangle to the Mary Celeste. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books.

Collins, Paul. “Ghost Ship.” Slate.com: Articles > Culturebox > 2011/12. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/2011/12/the_mary_celeste_the_unluckiest_ship_to_ever_sail_the_seven_seas_.html

Cussler, Clive; and Dirgo, Craig. 2004. The Sea Hunters II. New York, NY: Berkley Books.

Fay, Charles Edey. 1942. Mary Celeste: The Odyssey of an Abandoned Ship. Salem MA: Peabody Museum.

  • Available via HathiTrust at: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b557001

Ganeri, Anita. 2012. Lost in the Bermuda Triangle and Other Mysteries. New York, NY: Rosen Central.

Hicks, Brian. 2004. Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew. New York, NY: Ballantine Book, Random House Publishing Company.

Hitchcock, Jayne A. "The Mary Celeste (1872)." Hitchcock Models. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.jahitchcock.com/hitchcockmodels/celeste.html

Innes, Hammond. 1956. The Wreck of the Mary Deare: A Story of the Sea. New York, NY: Alfred Knopf.

Jack, Albert. 2009. Loch Ness Monsters and Raining Frogs: The World’s Most Puzzling Mysteries Solved. New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Land, Jon. 2013. The Tenth Circle: A Blaine McCracken Novel. New York, NY: Open Road Integrated Media.

Lee, Adrian. 20 May 2006. “Solved: The Mystery of the Mary Celeste.” ucl.ac.uk: UCL News. London, England: University College London. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/inthenews/itn060522

Margollé (Élie) et (Frédéric) Zurcher. 1869. Les météores. Ouvrage illustré de 23 vignettes sur bois par Lebreton. Troisième édition. Paris: Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/lesmtores00zurcgoog

Martin, Valerie. 2014. The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. New York, NY: Nan A. Talese / Doubleday, Random House LLC.

“Mary Celeste.” NUMA.net: Expeditions. Scottsdale, AZ: National Underwater & Marine Agency. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.numa.net/expeditions/mary-celeste/

Matthews, Rupert. 2010. Unexplained. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Parker, William Frederick. 1910. Daniel McNeill Parker, M.D.: His Ancestry and A Memoir of His Life: Daniel McNeill and His descendants. Toronto: William Briggs.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/danielmcneillpar00parkuoft

Spicer, Stanley T. 1988. Captain from Fundy: The Life and Times of George D. Spicer, Master of Square-Rigged Windjammers. Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press.

“The True Story of the Mary Celeste.” Smithsonian Channel.com: Web > Show. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/sc/web/show/130102/the-true-story-of-the-mary-celeste

Watt, Jim. 1995. “Mary Celeste – Fact Not Fiction.” Mary Celeste.net. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.maryceleste.net/

Williams, Capt. David. “Mary Celeste Was Abandoned During a Seaquake!” DeafWhale.com. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.deafwhale.com/maryceleste/

Woody. "Mary Celeste." Mysteries Blog. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://mysteries-blog.blogspot.com/2010/07/mary-celeste.html

Yolen, Jane. 1999. The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

 

On December 12/13, 1872, the Mary Celeste reached Gibraltar and entered into the pages of history's mysteries.

"American Shipping off the Rock of Gibraltar": 1873 oil on canvas by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (July 29, 1817 – May 2, 1900)
Strait of Gibraltar, southern Iberian Peninsula, southwestern Europe
Strait of Gibraltar, southern Iberian Peninsula, southwestern Europe
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemper

The Mary Celeste was discovered adrift on the open sea by another ship in 1872 -- with no sign of captain or crew. What happened?
Mary Celeste themed books

Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew by Brian Hicks

On December 4th, 1872, a 100-foot brigantine was discovered drifting through the North Atlantic without a soul on board. Not a sign of struggle, not a shred of damage, no ransacked cargo—and not a trace of the captain, his wife and daughter, or the crew.
Mary Celeste themed books

Don't Give Up the Ship: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Don't Give Up The Ship
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Captain from Fundy: The Life and Times of George D. Spicer, Master of Four-Rigged Windjammers by Stanley T. Spicer

Apprenticeship, the hardships and dangers of the sea, storms, lost ships, mutiny, murder, shipwreck, personal tragedy, as well as episodes of courage, perserverance and humour.
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/13/2015, DerdriuMarriner
 
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