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The Ghost Ship "Resolven," the Welsh "Mary Celeste"

Stephen has been exploring the history, legends, and folklore of his home province of Newfoundland Labrador for the better part of 40 years.

Painting of the "Mary Celeste," circa 1861

Painting of the "Mary Celeste," circa 1861

The Mary Celeste

Most people have heard the tale of the famous "ghost ship" the Mary Celeste. The story of this ill-fated vessel is considered to be one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time.

The Mary Celeste was an American cargo vessel. In November of 1872, it set sail from New York City, with a crew of eight plus the captain's wife and two-year-old daughter, headed for Genoa, Italy. It never arrived. On December 4, 1872, the ship was found adrift off the Azores. When crew members from the Dei Gratia, the British ship that discovered the abandoned brigantine, boarded the Mary Celeste they found the ship empty, the entire crew, as well as the captain and his family, were gone. Further inspection of the vessel determined that all of the cargo was still there, and pretty much intact, and the personal belongings of the passengers and crew were still on board.

What exactly happened to those aboard the Mary Celeste has been the subject of much speculation for more than a century. Countless books and articles have been written on the subject, and many documentary films have explored this mystery. Yet, there is another such tale of a ship being found abandoned and adrift upon the seas that few people have ever heard. It is the story of the SV Resolven.

The USS "Niagara." This is very much how the SV "Resolven" would have looked under full sail.

The USS "Niagara." This is very much how the SV "Resolven" would have looked under full sail.

The SV Resolven

The SV Resolven was a merchant brig that operated out of Aberystwyth, in west Wales, sailing between Welsh ports and Canada with cargoes of timber and cod. It was captained by John James, a master mariner from Newquay, Wales.

On August 29, 1884, the Resolven was spotted by the HMS Mallard, adrift between Baccalieu Island and Catalina, off the northernmost point of Conception Bay North, Newfoundland, Canada. After signaling the brig and receiving no reply the captain of the Mallard ordered that the Resolven be boarded. The boarding party soon discovered that the ship was empty. The captain and all crew members were gone.

According to the Mallard's log book, they found no sign of damage or disturbance, and could see no reason for the crew to have abandoned ship. The fire was still lit in the galley, and food was on the table. The only clue to what may have happened to those aboard was a missing lifeboat.

The log book from the HMS "Mallard"

The log book from the HMS "Mallard"

Curiously there was one other missing item, a stash of gold coins belonging to the captain, that was reported to have been on board. The coins are believed to have been valued at around £300, a small fortune at the time.

Were the missing captain and crew the result of a robbery, or an attack by pirates? Perhaps. The ship, however, showed no signs of a disturbance or violence. Certainly something you would expect to see in either such case.

The Resolven was towed into the port of Catalina, where it was eventually refitted and put back into service. Neither the captain nor any of the crew was ever seen or heard from again.

Newspaper photo of John James, captain of the "Resolven."

Newspaper photo of John James, captain of the "Resolven."

The Body on Random Island

Shortly after the Resolven was found adrift, two brothers from Deer Harbour came upon the body of a man on nearby Random Island. Dressed in a Captain's uniform, the body was found sitting beneath a tree on top of a hill, facing out toward the ocean. It appeared that he had died where he sat. The man apparently had no identification and carried only a gold pocket watch.

The two brothers, however, did not report their discovery to authorities, they simply buried the body themselves. It is not known why the brothers choose not to disclose this but it is reported that one of the brothers seemed to become suddenly wealthier. When he died his widow, who had been showing signs of senility, went on a spending spree with gold sovereigns.

Due to the men's decision not to report the body, no connection was ever made between the dead man in the captain's uniform and the ghost ship found adrift in the bay, at least until recently.

The Bible belonging to captain John James, that had been left on board the "Resolven."

The Bible belonging to captain John James, that had been left on board the "Resolven."

New Clues to an Old Mystery

The story of the body in the captain's uniform may never have come out, or been connected to the Resolven mystery, if not for a Newfoundland woman who recently came across the website of Will Wain, the great-grandson of Captain John James, who had been researching the mystery of the Resolven in an attempt to determine what may have become of his great-grandfather. Reading about the ill-fated captain and crew put her in mind of a story that had been passed down through her family, that of a body that had been found by her grandfather and his older brother.

She realized that the month and year of her grandfather's discovery of the body in the captain's uniform matched that of the Mallard's discovery of the Resolven. She quickly contacted Mr. Wain who immediately recognized the significance of this new information.

Mr. Wain made a trip to Newfoundland to meet with the woman. He also met the lady's brother, who took him to the site where the body was found. Mr. Wain's investigation into what may have happened to his great-grandfather and the crew of the Resolven is ongoing. Perhaps this new information will provide the clue that will solve at least part of the mystery.


Bevan N. (2015) - Could the 131-year-old mystery of the Welsh Marie Celeste about to be solved,

Wain W. (2008) - The Welsh Ghost Ship Resolven,

Davis S. (2017) - The Resolven: A Historical Mystery at Sea,

CBC Broadcast (2014) - What do Marine Protected Areas Really Protect?,

Facebook Page, The Ghost Ship of Trinity Bay

© 2018 Stephen Barnes


Stephen Barnes (author) from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador on February 20, 2018:

Hi Mary, thanks for reading.

According to the last update that I read the great-grandson was planning a return trip to Random Island, and it is my understanding that an exhumation is planned. He is also working on a book about the incident and his investigations that he hopes will be out later this year. I will have to update the article if there is any new information.

The story of the Resolven is not very well known. I was aware of it because it has become a part of Newfoundland Folklore, given that it was found just of our coast. Locals in the area have referred to it for years as the "Ghost ship of Trinity Bay". In Nautical terms a Ghost Ship is any ship found adrift without a crew.

And yes, there is certainly no shortage of strange tales surrounding the sea.

Mary Wickison from USA on February 19, 2018:

How fascinating. Did they dig up any remains where the two men had buried the man?

Although I had heard of the Mary Celeste, I didn't know the history. The Resolvin, I had never heard of.

There are some unusual stories surrounding occurrences at sea.

Stephen Barnes (author) from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador on February 19, 2018:

Thank You Alexander. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on February 18, 2018:

I love this. Keep up the good work.