The Atlantic Ocean was calm the morning of December 5, 1872. Miles from land, Captain Morehouse, skipper of the British brig, “Dei Gratia”, called out to one of his men. “Deveau, hand me my spyglass.”
“Aye, Captain.” Pulling the brass instrument from its mahogany case, Deveau handed it to Morehouse. “What is it?” he asked, shading his eyes to peer into the ocean.
“Yonder.” He pointed east to a ship coming into view and moving erratically across their course. Studying the vessel, he shook his head. “Something’s not right.” He pursed his lips. “Deveau, hail that ship.”
Saluting, Deveau cried up to the crow’s nest. “Ahoy, that ship,” he commanded, hands cupped to carry his voice.
The crewman did as ordered, shooting a pistol, crying out and flailing a black oilskin, but there was no re-call, only an ominous silence.
Within minutes, the entire crew of the “Dei Gratia” was on deck, standing motionless, watching the quiet ship that was now just a few meters from their starboard.
Captain Morehouse handed the spyglass back to Deveau. “It’s the ‘Mary Celeste’, he stated with assurance. “I saw her last month when docked in New York - a proud ship with masted sails.” He turned to his first mate. “Weigh anchor and get a crew of two men and row over to see what this is about, and be quick.”
The anchor was dropped and Deveau and his crew boarded a squall to be lowered over the keel into the sea. All aboard the “Dei Gratia” watched and waited in whispered silence as the men rowed to the silent vessel. A little over and hour later Deveau and his men returned from the “Mary Celeste”. Each was visibly shaken.
“What is it?” Morehouse asked, as they disembarked from the squall boat. “You look as you’ve seen a ghost.”
Deveau shook his head. “I...I can’t explain it, Captain. It’s like everyone on board that ship’s vanished.”
“Vanished? But she’s seaworthy.”
“Aye, but the ship’s like an empty coffin, Captain. The windows in the cabins are battened-up with wood planking and canvas; as if readying for a storm.” He looked portside to the ocean then back to the abandoned ship. “Yet the sea’s been calm these past weeks.”
“It’s unnatural,” another crewman spoke up. “There’s water all about the galley, but right in the middle of it is a vial of sewing machine oil standing straight up, not so much as tipped over. Not possible in heavy seas, Sir.”
Morehouse nodded. “Go on.”
“There’s plenty of food and water, enough for months. We found woman’s clothes and toys for a child strewn about, all dry. And, the Captain’s bed had a hollow in it, like some child had slept there.”
“Aye Captain, Deveau said. “When we looked in the mate’s cabin there was a slate hanging on the wall with a message, ‘Fanny, my dear wife...’ then it just quit, like someone or something stopped it.” His voice faded. “It’s ghostly, Captain.”
“Did you bring the logbook?” Morehouse asked.
“Aye.” Deveau handed it to him. “Look for yourself.” He pointed to the neat, but flourished writing in the ledger. “The last entry was ten days ago, November 25, 1872. The ship’s name is as you said, the ‘Mary Celeste’, from New York. Her Captain, Benjamin Briggs, from New England. Manifest states he brought along his wife and baby daughter with a crew of seven bound for Gibraltar.”
Morehouse studied the logbook, shaking his head.
“A couple more things, Captain.”
“The lifeboats are gone. And, there’re gashes on the railing as if pirates had boarded her.”
The other crewman spoke up again. “The compass in the binnacle is broken and the rigging torn. No man abandons his ship in a squall. I agree with Deveau it had to have been pirates.”
“Anything else?” Morehouse asked.
“Only this,” Deveau said, handing him a brass clock. “Found in the Captain’s quarters. Ruined by water, but everything around it is bone dry.”
Morehouse nodded and motioned to Deveau. “I want you and your two men to take the ‘Mary Celeste’ on to Gibraltar. Have her put into the custody of the British Vice-Admiralty Court as a derelict.”
“What shall we tell them, Captain?”
The canvas sails of the “Dei Gratia” flapped in a rising breeze. Morehouse gazed at the abandoned ‘Mary Celeste’, and gave the sign of the cross. “Tell them,” his voice cheerless, “we found her crew and passengers vanished and are claiming her for salvage.”
In a matter of weeks, the court gave a judgment for salvage to the “Dei Gratia” of £1,700 (over $300,000 in today’s dollars) and gave the “Mary Celeste” back to her owners. No explanation has ever been offered as to the fate of the ship or of her passengers.
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