This strange tale really caught my attention . . . Five bottles of unopened wine have been discovered stashed in the bow of the American Civil War blockade ship Mary Celestia – 147 years after she sank off Bermuda.
In an effort to confuse and evade monitoring by Union spies, this crafty ship operated under a variety of names: Marie Celeste, Mary Celestia and the Bijou.
Oddly enough this ship bears the same name as the ghost ship Marie Celeste that was found off the coast of Portugal without a single soul on board while she was still sailing in 1872.
The Mary Celestia sank off the south shore of Bermuda in 1864 and is one of Bermuda’s most historic shipwrecks.
The sleek 225-foot long ship weighed 207 tons and was a side paddle wheel steamer, unlike the ghostly Marie Celeste which was a brigantine merchant ship.
She was utilized as a Confederate blockade-runner to smuggle guns, ammunition, supplies and food to the troops in the South.
On September 13, 1864, under the command of captain Sinclair and piloted by a local Bermudian John Virgin, Mary Celestia left for Wilmington, North Carolina. The ship was carrying cargo, which included beef, bacon, ammunition, and much needed rifles for the war effort.
The Mary Celestia made an unusually fast run through the east end channel and up the south side of the island. First officer Stuart announced some breakers he had spotted ahead.
But the local pilot John who was steering the vessel responded saying that he knew every rock out there in the sea. Within seconds, the vessel slammed into a reef and was sinking. The ship’s cook had returned to his cabin and never made it out of the sinking ship.
He was the only casualty. The wreck lies in 55 feet of water, with one of her paddle wheel frames standing upright like a miniature Ferris wheel.
An international team of archaeologists working with Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services found a crate of bottles — which could be fortified wine — in the bow of the shipwreck.
Public Works Minister Derrick Burgess announced at a press conference that a diving expedition in the last week had excavated the bottles of wine from the site. He said:
“What they have found is fascinating — a secret stash of five bottles of un-opened wine, lodged inside the wreck which lay hidden since September 6, 1864.
The Mary Celestia is a wreck with historical significance to the United Kingdom, where she was built, Bermuda, where she operated out of and where she wrecked, and the United States, where she ran as a blockade runner during the US Civil War.
And for this project to take place so close to the anniversary of the American Civil War gives the discovery all the more resonance.”
The excavation project is also being filmed by Look Bermuda for a film about the Mary Celestia and blockade running, which will be shown to schoolchildren.
This discovery comes after Philippe Rouja found one bottle of wine in January, after a series of winter storms removed sand from the site.
I wonder what the wine will actually turn out to be?
Photo Credits: Tane Casserley/NOAA and Ron Lucas