June 27, 1934

One Of The Greatest Mysteries Of The Sea

Why was the Nova Scotia vessel Marie Celeste deserted by her officers and crew in December, 1872?

There is not one word in her log-book or elsewhere to give any reason why the ship should be deserted; and the finding of the vessel some time later, still intact and under sale, but without a soul on board, has given rise to one of the greatest sea mysteries within the memory of living men.

After sailing from New York early in November, 1872, the Marie Celeste was not sighted by any other vessel until December 5, when the Del Gratia which had left New York on November 15 for Gibraltar, hailed the ship but got no answer. Men climbed on board, to find the vessel deserted. The only living thing was a cat contentedly sleeping on a locker.

The Marie Celeste had sailed about a week earlier than the Del Gratia, also bound for Gibraltar, but when found, about 600 miles from that port, was actually sailing in the opposite direction.

The Marie Celeste – built at Advocate Harbor, Nova Scotia – was a staunch brigantine of 236 tons burden, and seemed to be in excellent condition when found in mid-Atlantic without a soul on board.

Everything about the deck was in good order. There was not a trace of trouble. Most of her sails were neatly furled, and the ship was sailing off the wind though not steering a steady course.

All the captain’s effects – clothing, books, etc. – were found in the cabin. There was an entry in the log-book dated November 24 and an entry on the log-slate dated November 25, showing that they had sighted the Island of St. Mary (Azores).

The boarding party did not find the ship’s register or similar papers concerning the ship, but only some letters and account books. The dishes and the remains of a meal were still on the table in the cabin. A dress which the captain’s wife was making for her small daughter, who accompanied them, was found unfinished in the captain’s cabin.

The crew’s clothing was all left in the forecastle – their oilskins, boots and even their pipes, as if they had left in a great hurry. The ashes in the galley’s range were still warm, yet not a living soul was found on board and no ship’s boat was visible anywhere on the ocean. Here, surely, was a mystery if ever there was one.

The Vice-Admiralty Court of Gibraltar investigated the case. Enquiries were made far and wide, while the authorities waited anxiously for word of the missing captain, his wife, daughter and crew. But no word ever came. No word has come to this day. Not one of the missing men was ever seen again.

Back