A Conversation for The Mary Celeste
All is revealed
Researcher 227688 Started conversation May 13, 2003
It turns out this isn't a mystery at all, and hasn't been since about 1932 when one of the conspirators that created the legend 'fessed up to a tenacious reporter. But still the half truths abound.
If you want to read the honest, straight-up truth as reported by someone who did the research, you can read it in one of Andreas Schroeder's books, either:
* Scams, Scandals, and Skulduggery: A Selection of the World's Most Outrageous Frauds
* Cheats, Charlatans, and Chicanery: More Outrageous Tales of Skullduggery
* Fakes, Frauds, and Flimflammery: Even More of the World's Most Outrageous Scams
I forget which of the three had the Mary Celeste story in it, but they are all excellent and highly recommended.
For those willing to put up with my half-remembered recollection of events, read on.
What happened was that the Mary Celeste had the bad fortune to be docked at New York harbour when a strike was declared, and they could not get a crew to man the ship. The costs of sitting in port while the cargo aged were astronomical, so Captain Briggs as co-owner was quite keen to find a solution.
Who should come along but the Dei Gratia. They had a full crew complement, so after some negotiation it was decided that half the Dei Gratia crew would board the Marie Celeste and sail her on. Captain Briggs would get more crew members at another port, and the two ships would meet up off the coast of Portugal.
The only trouble was that Captain Briggs did something that the loaner crew considered an absolute no-no. He brought his wife with him. Having a woman onboard was considered the height of bad luck and you couldn't walk below decks without hearing somebody muttering, "It will all turn out badly, I'm telling you."
Sure enough, things turned out badly. Mrs. Briggs had insisted on bringing a piano on board so that she could while away the time playing music. Unfortunately, it turned out not to have been battened down properly. During some weather, it came loose and crushed Mrs. Briggs to death.
After this, Captain Briggs became disconsolate. Ho could often be seen staggering around the decks in a blind drunk at all hours of the night. One morning, he wasn't to be found in his cabin or, indeed, anywhere else on the ship. He had vanished, but no one thought it much of a mystery. He was assumed to have been lost at sea.
The first mate decided that, rather than picking up extra crew he would go directly to the rendezvous point with the Dei Gratia and discuss the matter with her captain, Morehouse. It was there they hatched their ingenious plan.
You see, when a ship is abandoned whoever retrieves her is entitled to the ship and its cargo. Once the Dei Gratia took back her crew, and with the captain dead, that left only the first mate to actually occupy the ship. If he got a large enough cut of the proceeds, he would be willing to book on to the Dei Gratia under an assumed name. All the crew could share in the take to keep them quiet, and Captain Morehouse could claim salvage rights on an apparently abandoned ship. Of course, they had to come up with some explanation as to how they had found the abandoned ship, and thus was the legendary ghost ship Mary Celeste legend born.
The Schroeder book has all the details on the ensuing trial and the enventual tracking down of the true story.
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