Mary Celeste: One Hundred Thirtieth Anniversary of Shipwrecking on January 3rd or 4th 1885

by DerdriuMarriner

Mary Celeste endured rough loads, waters, and weather. The ship handled collisions and scandals. Deliberate sinking off Haiti was Mary Celeste’s undeserved end on January 3, 1885.

The name Mary Celeste calls up:
• abandoned possessions;
• empty barrels;
• flooded galleys, frayed ropes;
• marked hulls, missing crewmembers, passengers, records;
• opened hatches;
• saturated decks;
• tattered sails;
• uncompleted logbooks, unlashed wheels.

It conjures one of the world’s most intriguing mysteries and survivalist ships. The mystery derives from crewmembers and passengers abandoning Mary Celeste to the will of waves and winds without indicating:
• triggers;
• whereabouts.

The survivalism emerges in:
• omens during maiden voyages of June 1861;
• scandals over collisions in November 1867, registries in November 1868 – October 1869 and early 1872, and salvage in December 1872 – March 1873;
• violence from freshwater accidents in 1861 and unscheduled landings in November 1867.

Tragedy finally finds Mary Celeste on January 3, 1885.

Mary Celeste: youthful beauty under name of Amazon

"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


Dates define daily lives. They dominate the lifespan of one of the world's most enigmatic and famous ships. They express the bravely high and devastatingly low points during the two dozen years of Mary Celeste's serviceability. The plucky brigantine with fore-and-aft-sailing mainmast and square-rigged foremast indeed finds representation within two maritime history-related extremes: Clarity and supposition in reconstructing and understanding events. Mary Celeste’s finest moments get documented as:

  • Launching into Nova Scotia’s Minas Channel in May 1861;
  • Portrait-painting in Marseilles, France, in November 1861;
  • Second-mating by George Spicer for 2+ years until November 1867;
  • Transatlantic preparations by Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs (April 24, 1835 – November 25, 182?) at New York’s Pier 44 October 20 – November 4, 1872.


Three-fourths of Benjamin Spooner Briggs' family disappeared with him on his last voyage across the Atlantic as captain of Mary Celeste:

He was accompanied by his wife Sarah Elizabeth Cobb Briggs and their two-year-old daughter Sophia Matilda; their seven-year-old son Arthur remained onshore to attend school.
undated portrait of Benjamin Spooner Briggs


Mary Celeste’s worst moments contrastingly challenge interpretation. They do not clarify refits in:

  • England from collisions in Dover Strait in 1861;
  • Upper eastern North America from collisions with Big Glacier Bay’s rocky shores in 1867.

They do not elucidate re-registries by owners:

  • #2 -- from Cape Breton Island -- on November 9, 1867;
  • #3 -- Richard W. Haines -- November 1868 – October 1869 through maverick customhouse brokers for reflagging Canada’s Amazon into the United Statesian Mary Celeste;
  • #4 -- James H. Winchester -- October 1869 – early 1872, fall 1872.

They do not illuminate trials of:

  • Early 1872 regarding J.H. Winchester & Co.’s registry;
  • December 18, 1872 – March 4, 1873 respecting Dei Gratia’s salvaging Mary Celeste off Portugal.


Dei Gratia, Canadian brigantine's bizarre encounter with Mary Celeste off Portugal serves as first record of the inexplicable finale to abandoned ship's trans-Atlantic voyage.

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


The most defining moments in Mary Celeste’s two decades of service as a slow but sturdy cargo ship of Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean waters come in:

  • 1861, with Captain #1, Robert McLellan, dying on the maiden journey and Captain #2, Jack Parker, sinking another vessel on the maiden shipment;
  • 1867, with Captain William Thompson ramming Big Glacier Bay;
  • 1872, with Captain Benjamin Briggs vanishing with all nine others on board;
  • 1873, with Gibraltar admiralty court proceedings vilifying Dei Gratia’s and Mary Celeste’s crews.

All five events converge to present as fact the rumors of Mary Celeste as a ghost ship of cursed past, present, and future. They culminate in Mary Celeste’s violent retirement on January 3, 1885.


Mary Celeste as derelict ghost ship sighted by Dei Gratia

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)


Joshua Dewis’s original construction and the subsequent Haines and Winchester overhauls configured a cargo-carrying, money-making ship. Salvage proceedings nevertheless ensured unprofitable futures. Captain George W. Blatchford finalized delivering Captain Briggs’s cargo of 1,701 industrial wine-filled barrels by month-end in March 1873.  But he and subsequent Captain John Q. Pratt found problems with:

  • Chartering cargoes;
  • Raising crews.

The unprofitability led to Cartwright and Harrison’s ownership of February 1874 – 1880. David Cartwright put Mary Celeste up for sale after:

  • Cargoes of horses and lumber going missing during storms en respective routes to Mauritius and Uruguay;
  • Death of Captain Edgar M. Tuthill in St. Helena en route from Calcutta.

Wesley A. Gove and four shareholders were Mary Celeste’s final owners.


Saint Helena: South Atlantic island of volcanic origin has witnessed famous death of Napoléon Bonaparte (August 15, 1769 – May 5, 1821) and less famous death of Edgar M. Tuthill, one of Mary Celeste's captains.

NASA Expedition 19 crew
NASA Expedition 19 crew


Thomas L. Fleming assumed Mary Celeste’s captaincy until August 1884. Crewman Jacob English, first mate Joseph E. Howe, and helmsman Ernest Berthold contended that Thomas’s successor grounded Mary Celeste off Haiti at 1:30 p.m. on January 3 - 4, 1885.  Boston Judge Carpenter found Captain Gilman C. Parker and three of six shippers guilty of defrauding the $25,000-insured freight and ship with:

  • Dog collars, not cutlery;
  • 54 cases of worn rubber overshoes, not ladies’ boots;
  • 975 barrels of spoiled fish, not pickled herring;
  • Melted fat, not butter.

One shipper killed himself. Raphael Boris paid $4,875 with interest for fish fraud. But with Captain Parker’s untimely death, U.S. Attorney George P. Sanger terminated proceedings on October 22, 1885.


On October 22, 1885, U.S. Attorney George Partridge Sanger terminated Mary Celeste proceedings pursuant to Captain Gilman C. Parker's untimely death.

portrait of George Partridge Sanders, Massachusetts native, born in Dover on banks of Charles River and educated at Harvard University
Joshua L. Chamberlain, Universities and Their Sons, Vol. III (1899), p. 96
Joshua L. Chamberlain, Universities and Their Sons, Vol. III (1899), p. 96


The Caribbean island of Hispaniola accommodates French-speaking Haitians and Spanish-speaking Dominican Republicans. It counts among world-famous events the shipwrecks of:

  • Mary Celeste;
  • Santa María, Christopher Columbus’s (October 31, 1450? – May 20, 1506) flagship.

That reputation gets the attention of such respected marine archaeologists as Clive Cussler and professional divers as John Davies and Mike Fletcher. It inspires the above-mentioned trio’s prioritizing Mary Celeste’s tomb as a National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA) project. Site verification on April 5, 2001 involves:

  • Ballast stones from New York rivers;
  • Charred planks from mid-nineteenth-century Nova Scotia;
  • Copper sheathing from the 1860s;
  • Grounding trench in 12 feet-deep (3.66-meter) waters off the artificial island of discarded conch shells formed over Mary Celeste’s remains.  


Mary Celeste's presumed resting place: Rochelais Reef, appearing (lower right) as irregular rectangle in Gulf of Gonâve between Gonâve Island and Tiburon Peninsula. ~

Mary Celeste is the only ship recorded to have sunk at Rochelais Reef, south of Gonâve Island, west northwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), February 1994
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), February 1994



Civilian time defines day as 24 hours between two midnights. Nautical time contrastingly determines diurnal limits between two noons. Maritime-related record-keeping therefore disagrees sometimes, by:

  • Time-keeping systems;
  • Viewer perspectives.

Mary Celeste’s world-famous boarding and wrecking consequently find respective dates of:

  • December 4 – 5, 1872;
  • January 3 – 4, 1885.

Perhaps the ship’s launch categorization -- as a brigantine despite lacking even one mandatory square mainmast sail -- foretells the above-mentioned ambiguities inherent in Mary Celeste’s performance evaluations. But perhaps the vessel’s demise gives honorable endings to the world’s most controversial freighter. Mary Celeste is the only shipwreck found exactly where records indicate: bearing hard, heavy loads under shanty-supporting, shell-built islands in the Haitian Gulf of Gonâve’s Rochelais Reef.


Marine archaeologist and adventure novelist Clive Cussler (born July 15, 1931) noted that Mary Celeste holds unique distinction of being only shipwreck to be found in exact recorded location:

Haiti's western gulf, Gulf of Gonâve, is presumed to hold remains of Mary Celeste.
Gonâve Island, reef-fringed island primarily composed of limestone
Gonâve Island, reef-fringed island primarily composed of limestone



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Located on Gulf of Gonâve, southeast of presumed shipwreck of Mary Celeste at Rochelais Reef, Léogâne, on northeastern Tiburon Peninsula, was epicenter of Haiti's devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010:

A LCU (Landing Craft Utility) from the 22nd MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) delivers humanitarian aid and supplies to the beach at Léogâne.
January 2010 U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Theodore W. Ritchie
January 2010 U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Theodore W. Ritchie

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 History. Retrieved January 5, 2015.

  • Available at:

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

Chamberlain, Joshua L. 1899. Universities and Their Sons: History, Influence and Characteristics of American Universities. With Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Alumni and Recipients of Honorary Degrees. Volume III. Boston MA: R. Herndon Company.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Collins, Paul. “Ghost Ship.” Articles > Culturebox > 2011/12. Retrieved January 5, 2015.

  • Available at:

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

Doyle, Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan. 1884. "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement." The Cornhill Magazine, New Series Vol. II (January to June 1884): 1-32.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Doyle, Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan. 1884. “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement.” Page By Page Arthur Conan Doyle > The Captain of the Polestar and Other Tales. Retrieved January 5, 2015.

  • Available at:

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

  • Available via HathiTrust at:$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 January 5, 2015.

  • Available at:

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 News. London, England: University College London. Retrieved January 5, 2015.

  • Available at:

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:

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

“Mary Celeste.” Expeditions. Scottsdale, AZ: National Underwater & Marine Agency. Retrieved January 5, 2015.

  • Available at:

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

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. 1900. Volume X. New York: James T. White and Company.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

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:

“The True Story of the Mary Celeste.” Smithsonian Web > Show. Retrieved January 5, 2015.

  • Available at:

Watt, Jim. 1995. “Mary Celeste – Fact Not Fiction.” Mary Retrieved January 5, 2015.

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Williams, Capt. David. “Mary Celeste Was Abandoned During a Seaquake!” Retrieved January 5, 2015.

  • Available at:

Woody. "Mary Celeste." Mysteries Blog. Retrieved January 5, 2015.

  • Available at:

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


Wreck of Mary Celeste is believed to lie in Gulf of Gonâve, between Gonâve Island and Tiburon Peninsula.

Skyline of Anse-à-Galets, eastern Gonâve Island: largest city on island
Skyline of Anse-à-Galets, eastern Gonâve Island: largest city on island
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Sea Hunters II by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo

Mary Celeste themed books

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

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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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: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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