In 1884 Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, published a story which included the tale of a ghost ship which Conan Doyle called the Marie Celeste. According to this tale, one of the passengers shot the ship’s captain, making it look like suicide, and then murdered most of the other people on board. Conan Doyle’s fictional account was generally believed to be true, and some contemporary newspapers published parts of it as fact. This stimulated public interest in the ship and rumors started spreading. It was said that there was no sign of life on board, expect for the ship’s cat. The sailors’ pipes, still stuffed with tobacco, were on the table in the galley (the ship’s kitchen). So, it was said, were mugs full of warm tea, and plates of half-eaten breakfast.
Since these rumors first appeared, there have been a number of theories concerning what might have happened on board the ship. Perhaps the ship was in the Bermuda Triangle and the crew disappeared into the twilight zone. Or maybe a huge sea creature ate them. There again, they might have been abducted by aliens. These rumors captured the public’s imagination in the 19thcentury and, even now, most people are convinced that they are true. However, it is just a story. The real story is about a ship called Mary Celestewhich was found abandoned somewhere between the Azores and the coast of Portugal (nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle).
The Mary Celeste left New York on 7th November 1872, carrying a cargo of alcohol which was being shipped to Genoa, Italy. It was discovered by the crew of another ship, the Dei Gratia.
They tried to signal to the crew of the Mary Celest, but got no reply. The captain and crew observed the ship swaying uncontrollably for two hours. Finally, the captain sent a few of his crew to board Mary Celeste. The found that one of the ship’s pumps was out of order and there was a lot of water between decks. They also observed that the hatches which had covered the entrances to the cargo hold had been blown off. There had been seven or eight days of bad weather prior to their finding the Mary Celeste.
The boarding party found some navigational instruments missing, along with some official ship’s papers. In their statements at the inquiry held in Giblartar, the crew of the Dei Gratia reported that the whole ship was wet and the galley was a mess, with the stove having been knocked out of place. They also said that there had been no lifeboat on board, and there was a thick rope hanging from the side of the ship.
Other theories have included the idea that there was a seaquake, although the Azores Mateorological Service has said that there is no record of an earthquake or any volcanic activity at that time. The most plausible theory seems to be the one about a small explosion caused by alcohol leaking from the barrels in the ship’s hold. Certainly, when the Mary Celeste eventually arrived in Genoa, nine barrels were empty. The explosion could have blown the hatches off, and would undoubtedly have terrified everyone on board.