Liverpool Mercury 1913
The Brig MARIE CELESTE
Is the mystery solved at last
Solution forwarded by Abel FOSDYK the only survivor
The tale of the greatest mystery of the sea.
In the autumn of 1872 a brig the Marie Celeste left New York bound for Genoa, weeks passed and the owner received a notice from the United States Consul at Gibraltar.
The American brig Marie Celeste of New York was brought into this port by the British barque DEI GRACIA, MARIE CELESTE was picked up on December 5th, abandoned, Brig in perfect condition, but was taken possession of by the Admiralty Court as a derelict, fate of crew unknown.
It appears that Captain BOYCE of the DEI GRACIA when in hailing distance of the brig remarked to his mate ADAMS, that there seemed to be something curious with the vessel, as she drifted closer not a soul was seen on the decks.
The urgent hoist was run up, but still no reply. On the calm sea a boat manned by two sailors carrying both the Captain, and the mate of the DEI GRACIA and pulled towards the strange brig.
The two Britons made their way aft noting the ship’s condition, not a thing appeared missing. The two men searched not a human being, dead or alive, could be found.
There had been no mutiny as there were no signs of a struggle, nor piracy as the money box and valuable cargo were untouched.
The two British sailors revealed some startling discoveries.
A sewing machine was found and a thimble lying on its side in the corner of the machine proving there could have been no storm.
The article being sewn was a child’s pinafore, the woman had stopped sewing in the middle of stitching a sleeve.
The table showed four persons had risen from a half, eaten meal, the child had almost finished her porridge, by the Captain’s place was a hard boiled egg in two halves in their shells.
At another place a bottle of cough medicine, the cork lay on the cloth, evidence there had been a calm sea.
In the mate’s cabin were two watches on the table.
In the forecastle pans on the table contained a breakfast ready cooked, showing the sailors were about to gather for a morning meal.
Under clothing washed was hanging on a line over the forecastle, showing the sailors had left in a hurry.
The ship’s log was entered up to November 24th, some 10 days before the vessel was encountered by the DEI GRACIA.
While the binnacle and compasses were found the chronometer was missing, not another thing was missing, only the ships papers.
The sailors had not stopped to take their pipes of tobacco, and even more curious, none of the boats were missing.
Now comes the explanation or the solution.
Mr A. Havard LINFORD, Headmaster of Peterborough Lodge, had committed to his charge an old servant, Abel FOSDYK, on his death bed he gave to Mr LINFORD for safe keeping, a quantity of papers, amongst them, he told Mr LINFORD could be found an account of the MARIE CELESTE.
The account, a survivors story.
Abel FOSDYK commenced his story by stating that the MARY CELESTE [ as he calls the ship ] sailed out of New York for Europe in the early autumn of 1872, the party on board consisted of 10 men, besides the Captain and mate and in addition two passengers in the cabin, namely, the Captain’s wife Mrs BRIGGS and, “Baby,” their little girl, “Baby,” was about 7 yrs old.
For the first few days the sea was smooth but on the 5th day the wind freshened and increased to a gale, which lasted 4 days and nights, after a few days of better weather the ship entered a region of squalls and gales which seemed endless.
For about a month the weather was awe-inspiring, although the brig was undamaged this put a strain on the Captain and his nerves were well-nigh shattered.
His wife also became seriously ill. Even when the weather improved the skipper showed no signs of calming down, but became as FOSDYK put it, “most peculiar in his manner,” Later he appeared to be breaking down utterly and would pace up and down the deck, like a caged animal.
FOSDYK who appeared to act as steward or cook went into the cabin one morning and saw the Captain was in one of his strange, irritable moods, bent on quarrelling with some body.
He forced a discussion with the mate on the subject of swimming with the clothes on and in order to prove the truth of his contention, he prepared to jump into the sea and swim around the ship.
This he did despite the efforts of his wife and the mate to dissuade him.
Acting on Mrs BRIGGS suggestion, two of the men, young Bill and Joe the carpenter accompanied him.
Whilst the Captain and the two sailors were swimming easily, the rest of the crew together with Mrs BRIGGS and, “Baby,” were standing on a little platform called, “Baby’s quarter deck,” which had been placed across the bows of the ship, resting on the two sides and the bowsprit. The carpenter had been requested to put up the structure some few days before.
Suddenly there came an unearthly shriek from one of the swimmers, and the onlookers leaning at one end on the port side, were precipitated into the sea.
FOSDYK gave a graphic description of his struggle to regain the ship, he noticed a platform they had known as, “Baby’s quarter deck,” was dangling at one of its ends to the bowsprit, and Big Bill was hanging by both hands to the other end. There was not another soul to be seen.
"Bill,” I cried out, what’s happened?”
His answer was, “You fool, there’s a shark between the Captain and the ship!”
“Shark,” its not a pleasant word to hear when you are in the water.
Feebly I screamed out, “Help, help!” when there was no help, and just then the platform came down right on top of Bill. Almost immediately a huge shark shot from the port side of the ship, swam rapidly towards me portside and disappeared. Mad with fright I struggled to the platform on which Bill was already clinging. I grasped it and wriggled myself to a place of security.
Big Bill had been fatally injured by the fall of the platform and after his death FOSDYK was the sole survivor of the ship’s company.
There was no one on board and FOSDYK could not have possibly reached the deck even had he been able to propel his frail raft into the direction of the MARIE CELESTE. As it was he saw the ship disappear into the distance.
After enduring the torture of thirst and starvation, in a state of semi-consciousness, he was washed ashore on the North West coast of Africa, and he eventually succeeded in reaching England.
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Dear Sir, Re Marie Celeste
I have for many years been desirous of making public the account of that vessel that came into my hands in a strange manner.
This account I have enclosed for your consideration.
R. C. GREENOUGH, 2nd Officer, S.S. TORTUGUERO, Garston Dock, Liverpool, Oct 31st, 1913.
I read with surprise that the reasons which led to her desertion, and the ultimate fate of her crew, were matters of conjecture only. Nor could any reason, theoretical or otherwise, be given to explain why the crew of the brig should deport so hurriedly and disappear from human ken.
The attempts made by so many eminent writers to solve the mystery, I have read with interest.
Some of them resort to the supposition of mysterious forces affecting the crew. It is impossible to uphold the theory that they were suddenly blotted out by either, spiritual or superstitious means. The could have only been removed by human agency.
It is a very prosaic solution to the mystery, yet to my mind the only possible one. I will now relate certain happenings, which will, I think, convince you of the truth of the solution.
It was, I think, the end of, 1904, or spring of 1905, that I was serving as an apprentice on the bargue ARDORINHA, she was of Swansea then, I believe now sold to Mr A. D. BORDE of Nantes.
We were bound for Chili with coal, and had, had a succession of flat, windless days, and were drifting, with the current, in the early morning we sighted a group of small islands, 4 miles distant, I asked the boatswain, what the islands were, “St Paul’s Rocks,” he said, “desert islands, top of a mountain sticking out of the water, many a ship has gone to there on a dark night.”
We received an order to lower the cutter into the water, the mate wanted sand, which he used for scrubbing the decks.
I thought myself lucky to be one of the crew picked on that occasion.
We tied up the boat to rocks, in a kind of bay, North West, of the islets. There was a perceptible swell here and we had difficulty in preventing the boat from grounding.
We used caution grounding on account of the great number of sharks abounding here.
We found no sand, many crevices in the rocks were filled with a kind of guano, from the droppings of the seabirds.
Propped up, in the shade of a high peak on the island, under a shelving rock, we found the skeleton of a man, his bones, bleached snow white, some sailor, his ship wrecked and sunk, had crawled here to die.
My companion lifted the bones, carrying them to the edge of the rock, and threw them in the sea, for burial.
I picked up a bottle from under the rocks, where the bones had rested, It was stuffed with soiled and faded papers, I thought it may be an account of buried treasure, a chart or something of that kind, I stowed it in my pocket, without remarking about it.
I remember with what, breathless eagerness, I broke the bottle, that night, and tried to read the whereabouts of my buried treasure.
Imagine my disgust on finding that though there were several sheets in the bottle, and all of them closely written, parts were mouldy and damp-stained as to be quite illegible, and the others just as impossible to read, in short, written in German.
On inquiring around the ship, though many could speak German, no one could read it, the sheets were then confined to the ditty-drawer in my sea chest.
They remained there unheeded till the end of 1909, I was 2nd mate on a tramp steamer, we were loading grain at Rosano, it was my duty to tally the bags as they were chuted down from the top of the, “barranca,” to the ship below. The man who was tallying against me was a German, who spoke perfect English. We became friends and one day, when work was stopped he began to teach me the German alphabet.
The sight of the familiar characters brought the papers to my mind, I brought them up to him and asked if he could read them, he said, “Yes,” and on his request, I lent them to him, that he might study them at his leisure.
Eventually he said he had translated as much as he could.
I am dying, my ship struck these rocks at dawn, 3 days ago. She sank immediately. Only I of all the crew reached this shore alive.
There is no water. I am dying of thirst. It has been a voyage of disaster. Fate has been against me all through. I am Master and part owner of this ship. We,.....
[here the writing has disappeared from half the page]
the 2nd engineer killed in the engine room. Three deaths in 2 days. Then came the poison 7th day out. I can blame no one for this it was the food was bad. Noon all were well, midnight, some were dead, the others, nigh on it, I do not …….
[many words missing]
I wish I had …….
two days I went to seek the others, she had stopped, Fires out, nearly all were dead, only 6 alive, mate, engineer, 2 firemen, one sailor. The others …….
[several lines missing]
it was --.
chronometer had run down, in my agony I forgot to wind, only one on ship. It was the final catastrophe, ship helpless, too weak to get steam on boiler, and for 3 days we lay, knew must seek assistance to take us to Gibraltar for crew. That was ruin, ship not insured, H. ENGLISH found cargo it was prison and confiscation.
[nearly half a page missing]
Managed to get steam to give steerage way. I headed for Lisbon. Early morning sighted small brig becalmed, I took a little note of her. Mate said, “Take her crew,” it was the devil’s voice.
soul on deck only the steersman. But they came out when we shouted and threw a ladder over. Went aboard, Captain asked why we came. His wife and child were with him. It was hard, it would have been easy without the woman, but the mate got behind the Captain, he, and two others, and threw him. His wife fainted. Then we pointed pistols. Crew went into boat quietly. One man shot, he went into the sea. It …….
[some words missing]
took chronometer and ship’s papers and then went back to my ship. We left no one on board. The brig was called the, MARIE CELESTE. Would to God, I had never seen her. Then the child would be yet alive.
I cannot forget the child.
I promised them nothing to lose, and fell in with my wishes. But her Captain cursed me with great oaths. He would have killed me, had I let him free. The woman cried all day through. I thought she would die. Only the child was happy. She was too young to understand.
The steamer seemed better than the brig. Now her body lies in the sea and …….
with the brig’s chronometer. There was no error or rate with it. I asked the brig’s mate, he said it was 16mins slow. Didn’t know how much was losing, three seconds, he thought. I asked, ……, alive now, I see now the mate was wrong. At noon the day we struck, the chronometer put us at past 30 miles off these rocks. The chronometer rate was wrong ……. Memory so much.
[much here missing]
struck at 6 bells in the first watch, in thick rain we could not see ahead. I was on the bridge, she sank at once, almost with the crash into deep water. I heard a great cry, and shriek of the child -----, shark got her. I hear her cry still, I have murdered that child.
I reached the shore and lay until dawn, I was alone, all the others dead. I was mad with grief, then with thirst, now thank God, I am dying.
I am writing this in my note book, I wonder ------, a great crime. The need was great, but, Oh God, the child, It lies ------ in a little bottle I found washed ashore, it will keep it dry in the rainy season….
I write no more …….
This then is the story as my German friend translated it, there seems little doubt but that the steamer was engaged in a trade requiring secrecy. What her name was, or where she was bound was not stated, or else the mould has obliterated it. The statement about the faulty error of the chronometer seems feasible enough, and undoubtedly led to the foundering of the steamer.
I have written the translation as it was given to me, of the truth of it, I leave others to judge.
R. G. GREENHOUGH
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