Monday, June 27, 2011

History: Blockade Runner or Racketeer?

The area around the Island of Bermuda is full of shipwrecks, many of which can be enjoyed by divers visiting the Caribbean (for a short list of same, click here). One of the most famous is the British built Mary-Celestia. MC was a two paddlewheel steamer out of Bermuda who was chartered by the Confederacy to run blockades at ports like Charleston and Savannah. The ship brought in much needed ordinance as well as food and medicines. A recent discovery aboard her, however, may point to the carrying of contraband as well – with or without the knowledge of her officers.

This article from the Bermuda Sun online tells of a small case containing five bottle of wine found wedged up near Mary-Celestia’s bowsprit. As all of her official cargo was removed from the site years ago, this find is particularly curious. What was the wine doing in the bow, away from the cargo holds and the galley?

Some theorize that a warrant man – perhaps the bosun – stashed it away for his personal use. The fact that MC wrecked in 1864 points to another possibility, however. As the article notes, at that point in the war anything but arms and munitions would have been considered frivolous cargo for a blockade runner. But the price for such niceties would have been exorbitant in the beleaguered southern states of the era. Did someone of Mary-Celestia’s crew stow the wine with the plan to sell it at their destination, thus turning a tidy personal profit? As James Delgado, the director of the Maritime Heritage Program for U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin points out in the article: “People have always traded illicitly when there is a profit to be made.” The Laffite brothers could not have put it more eloquently.

The next step is to bring in experts to identify the wine itself, thus determining its value. Unlike the famous French champagne found in the Baltic, however, it does not appear that anyone will be sampling the vintage any time soon. When and if they do, I’ll post an update.

Header: Paddlewheel blockade runner Lady Davis, who was similar to Mary-Celestia


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! People will do just about anything when there is a profit to be made, I find...

Cool pictures in the article and the the other site listing all of the shipwrecks is pretty interesting too.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy and no kidding! I just thought the story was pretty interesting and I wonder why they hadn't found the wine previously.