Mary Celeste: The mystery of the abandoned ship-3

Mary Celeste: The mystery of the abandoned ship-2


40 years after the event, the highly successful monthly fiction magazine the Strand Magazine invited its readers and contributors to suggest possible solutions to the mystery.

The most notable response was an account from an apparently impeccable source which claimed to be true. A letter from Mr. A. Howard Linford MA, the headmaster of Peterborough Lodge, Hampstead’s largest prep school, claimed to have found the account of the Mary Celeste among some papers given to him by an old employee, the well-educated and much travelled Abel Fosdyk, on his deathbed. In addition, Linford included a photograph of a little girl plus some drawings made by his son to support his account, which appeared in the November 1913 edition of The Strand Magazine under the title “Abel Fosdyk’s Story”.

Image Source: Studies in Starrett

According to these papers, the Mary Celeste carried an eleventh, secret passenger who actually survived the disaster- Fosdyk himself!

Image Source: Studies in Starrett

These papers claim that Fosdyk had to leave the US quickly due to some undisclosed reason. After Captain Briggs, who was Fosdyk’s friend at the time was convinced to allow him on board, a carpenter was hired to build a high special deck on the quarterdeck for his wife and daughter, that would provide them a better view of the mighty sea. It was the supporting struts for this deck that were slotted into the cuts in the bow planks.

One day Captain Briggs engaged in a lengthy argument with the mate about how well a man could swim with his clothes on. To prove his point, Briggs leapt into the water and started swimming around the vessel, accompanied by the mate. Briggs’ wife and daughter, Fosdyk and some crew members stepped up onto the specially built deck for a better view of the scene.

Image Source: Studies in Starrett

Suddenly, they heard a swimming crew member screamed in agony. Looking around, they saw that he was being attacked by a shark, and he quickly disappeared under the water. The remaining members of the crew also ran up onto the specially built deck to better see what was happening, and hence, it promptly collapsed due to their combined weight, tossing them all into the shark infested waters and leaving no one on board the Mary Celeste.

By Fosdyk’s account, what followed was utter chaos, with the raging sharks attacking all those in the water, with the exception of Fosdyk, who had landed on top of the shattered piece of the deck by accident.

The Mary Celeste floated away from their location and by that time, the sharks had devoured all those in the sea with the exception of Fosdyk. However, he was unable to reach the ship. For several days he floated, suffering from thirst and exposure, and was finally washed ashore half dead on the north-west coast of Africa.

For the remainder of his life, Fosdyk feared retribution due to the outlandish details of his story. So he never revealed his story to anybody. He wrote it down in the manner of a diary. It came to light only because his former employer Linford went public with it after his death.

Image Source: Pembroke Daily Observer

The account of Abel Fosdyk was presented in 1913 as a true, untold incident, but it is most likely a literary hoax due to the following reasons:

  • Although his papers tell a neat tale, they offer no solution or explanation to the mystery of how the ship even got to where she was found by the Dei Gratia.
  • While Fosdyk claims to have been one of the Mary Celeste’s passengers, none of the names in his account appear on the official records.
  • The papers were wrong on details that should not have escaped an educated man like Fosdyk. He wrote that the Mary Celeste was a ship of 600 tons, when in fact she weighed about a third of that.
  • Furthermore, his writings say that the crew were English, when in fact they were mostly American and German, a detail that wouldn’t have been overlooked, as he would have at least had a daily interaction with the entire crew. There were only 7 crew members.
  • And there was no evidence that a special deck was ever built or that it collapsed.
  • It must have been highly improbable that anyone, let alone the captain, would go swimming in the middle of the sea around a ship which, according to the Dei Gratia evidence, must have been making several knots at the time.

And even if one ignores all of the above, the Fosdyk papers still don’t explain the missing lifeboat, papers and navigation instruments.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Written by young Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this short story is in the form of a first-person testimony by a survivor of the Marie Celeste, a fictionalized version of the Mary Celeste. It was anonymously published in the January 1884 issue of the reputed Cornhill Magazine.

Image Souce: The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Doyle drew heavily on the original incident, but introduced some fictional elements, which have actually come to replace the real events in the popular imagination. Doyle changed a number of details, including the names of the captain, crew, and passengers. In the story, the Marie Celeste is found to be in an almost perfect state unlike the real ship. Furthermore, the boats were still present on the ship in his version of the story.

The Marie Celeste was taken over by a black passenger. He and his fellow conspirators commandeered the ship, sailed it to Africa and murdered the passengers and crew members.

This fictional story reached a much wider audience than the original story of the Mary Celeste, which has led to widespread belief that the real ship’s name was actually Marie Celeste and not Mary Celeste. Doyle didn’t change the name of the Dei Gratia in his story though. So the name change could have been purely accidental.

Illustration from the first publication of the story in The Cornhill Magazine, January 1884.

When published, one reviewer attributed this story to Robert Louis Stevenson, while critics compared it to Edgar Allan Poe. Though fiction, it was presented as an eye-witness account of the end met by those on the mysterious “ghost ship”. Some took the story as a true account, including the Boston Herald which reprinted the tale, much to Doyle’s astonishment.


In 1924, The Daily Express published a story from a retired naval war veteran, Captain R. Lucy, whose informant, allegedly, was Mary Celeste’s former bosun. A bosun or a boatswain is a ship’s officer in charge of equipment and the crew. However, no such person is registered in the crew list. In this story, Captain Briggs and his crew are cast in the role of predators; they sight a derelict steamer, which they board and find abandoned, with £3,500-worth of gold and silver in its safe. They decide to split the fortune, abandon the already abandoned ship, and start new lives in Spain, which they do using the steamer’s lifeboats. Such an unlikely story was widely believed for a time, when readers were “fooled by the magic of print.”

Image source:

As years passed by, dozens of theories were put forward. Chamber’s Journal of September 17, 1904, suggested that everyone aboard the ship was plucked off one by one by a giant octopus or squid. According to the Natural History Museum, giant squid, or Architeuthis dux, can reach upto 50 ft in length and have been known to attack ships. However, it was remarked that while such a creature could conceivably have picked off a crew member, it could have hardly have taken the ship’s important papers and navigation instruments.

Other explanations have suggested paranormal intervention; an undated edition of the British Journal of Astrology describes the Mary Celeste story as “…a mystical experience, connecting it by processes of reasoning beyond the power of ordinary human understanding, with the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, the lost continent of Atlantis, and the British Israel Movement.”

The Bermuda Triangle has been brought into the mix of arguments as well, even though Mary Celeste was abandoned in a completely different part of the Atlantic. Similar fantasies have considered theories of abduction by aliens in flying saucers, or the ship encountering a mysterious island, newly risen from the deep.

Mary Celeste: The mystery of the abandoned ship-4



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