steam-powered blockade runner

Mary Celeste discovery hints to a shady past

The Mary Celeste

By James Whittaker - BDA Sun

A bottle of wine, discovered by scuba divers in the wake of Hurricane Bill, could help piece together an untold subplot of one of Bermuda's most storied shipwrecks.

The corked bottle, dated 1853, was found amid the wreckage of the Mary Celeste - a steam-powered blockade runner used to transport guns to British forces during the American Civil War. And experts believe it could hint at the ship's role in a trans-Atlantic black market wine trade. 

The ship went down off the South Shore in 1864 claiming the life of the cook, who is rumored to have scrambled below decks in a futile bid to retrieve his wages.

The latest discovery, made by curator of wrecks Phillipe Rouja, hints at another role for the fated paddle wheel steamer.

"It's not worth that much in itself, but what it tells us about the story is more pleasing," said Mr Rouja.

"The wine had to have come from France, so while they were running guns it seems as though they were also running bottles of wine.

"Somewhere there was probably a buyer for this. It speaks to a black market trade."

The discovery was made in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Bill. The storm churned up the seabed around the wreck, exposing parts of the ship that had been buried under sand for years.

"You usually cannot see the stern at all but this time it was completely exposed, right down to the keel."

After making the find Mr Rouja immediately closed off the wreck to recreational divers. It is relatively unusual to discover new artifacts on Bermuda's shipwrecks, which have been heavily salvaged over the years, and he was keen to preserve the site.

He had planned further archaeological dives in a bid to retrieve pieces of the crate and confirm his theory that the wine bottle was part of a larger order destined for sale in the South.