Unnerving & Abiding Maritime Mystery – The Youghal Connection

October 16, 2019

As we approach our Spooky Wookey season when it’s all “Ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggie beasties”, I feel it timely to remind you of the Youghal link to a particularly Spooky Wookey occurrence at sea, back in the late 1800s. I write, of course, of the great unresolved maritime mystery – the “Mary Celeste”.

The story begins on Nov 7th 1872 when the sailing vessel “Mary Celeste” set out from New York, bound for Genoa, in Italy. On board were the Captain, Benjamin Briggs, his wife, his 2-year old daughter, together with his experienced 7-man crew and a cargo of 1700 barrels of industrial alcohol. All fair sailing and ship ahoy etc. etc.…..nothing unusual about that! However, just 28 days later “Mary Celeste” was spotted, adrift and abandoned, sails slightly damaged, but its cargo intact, by a Sea Captain Moorhouse, on board his ship “Dei Gratia”. This was strange, very strange….ship not manned, her food and water reserves in order, though her lifeboat was missing. There was even a meal prepared and there were glowing embers in the stove. Curiouser and curiouser!
Where was the Briggs family? Where was the crew? …What happened? NOBODY KNOWS!

There has been and still is huge speculation and many theories as to what happened, including piracy, angry sea gods, mutiny, severe waterspout, even alien abduction, as to what occurred on the Mary Celeste – all discounted.

Captain Moorhouse and his crew took “Mary Celeste” to Gibraltar and were eventually, though subject to suspicion by the Gibraltar Attorney General, awarded salvage and commended for their resourcefulness and courage.

So what happened to the “Mary Celeste” after that? Well now, she did not have a happy ending – She was sold by Captain Moorhouse & Co at a considerable loss. She subsequently lost lots of money sailing the West Indian shipping routes and tragically, 3 of her captains died in service. She was not instilling much confidence within her industry. She succumbed to the deep when she was deliberately steered into a reef off the coast of Haiti and wrecked, by Gilman C. Parker, a less than honest captain. He was attempting an insurance scam (yes, insurance fraud even back in 1884). He was charged with fraud, found guilty, imprisoned and died shortly afterwards.

Now we come to the “Dei Gratia” and the Youghal connection. Eventually, I hear you say!
Well, here it is. The “Dei Gratia”, she that discovered “The Ghost Ship”, was sold in 1881 to the successful Youghal shipping merchant, Martin Fleming. She continued to operate in and out of the busy Youghal harbour until 1907. “Dei Gratia” too had her own share of troubles though– she sank twice, was re-floated twice, thus gaining an “unlucky” tag in her industry. She ended her days as a coal hulk at Cobh. Today, the story is that she lies buried under one of the piers at Haulbowline Island, Co. Cork.

The Youghal shipping merchant, Martin Fleming, continued in his successful shipping business and went on to purchase the beautiful “The Kathleen and May” in 1908 to replace the Dei Gratia and to join her sister ship the first “Nellie Fleming” – Ships that are much loved by the Youghal and East Cork population.

On the 23rd morning she came on a craft
That was drifting like fog from the west
The crew were amazed that the ship was afloat
With no man on the Mary Celeste”

This article originally appeared on Youghal.ie

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