The American Civil War blockade runner Mary Celestia continues to  reveal new information. *Photo supplied
The American Civil War blockade runner Mary Celestia continues to reveal new information. *Photo supplied

FRIDAY, AUGUST 19: Dr. Philippe M. Rouja, Conservator of Historic Wrecks, announced today that laboratory and historical analysis of the artifacts excavated from the bow of the American Civil War blockade runner Mary Celestia continue to reveal new information – and forgotten secrets – of a contraband stash of private goods hidden inside the steamer when it crashed into the reefs off Southampton on September 6, 1864.

In June, Dr. Rouja from Conservation Services co-led an international team of archaeologists including the Director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Dr James Delgado, the Director of Waitt Institute for Discovery of La Jolla, California, Dr Dominique Rissolo  and a team of local volunteers to excavate the sand inside the bow of Mary Celestia.  The project followed Dr. Rouja’s earlier discovery of intact, corked bottles of wine with their liquid contents.  The team uncovered a wooden wine crate still packed with four bottles of wine, and a loose, fifth bottle of wine.  Laboratory analysis of the wine will soon begin working with experts in Bermuda and France.

The archaeological excavation also recovered several pairs of shoes and a wooden “last,” a form used by shoemakers to manufacture shoes, a wooden hairbrush, and two other bottles, which analysis and research have identified as a 19th century cologne and perfume.  Both bottles are intact and sealed with their original contents inside.  This is a rare and unique discovery, as usually bottles of this type are found empty or broken.

The cologne, a green-yellow liquid inside a narrow clear bottle, is embossed “Murray & Lanman, Florida Water, No. 69 Water Street, New-York.”  The oldest known sample of this famous American eau- d’vie, the bottle’s discovery was a revelation to the cologne company, which recently celebrated its 203rd year in business.  Now known as Lanman & Kemp-Barclay, Inc. and located in New Jersey, the company still makes Florida Water based on their original 1808 formula, and have offered to work with the team to analyze the contents of the bottle from Mary Celestia.

Analysis of the other bottle of perfume, with a clear liquid inside, sealed by a glass stopper has begun. Working with renowned perfume historian David Pybus in the U.K., who also analyzed intact perfume from the wreck of the Titanic, it appears that this bottle contains the oldest known sample from a now defunct high end London perfumery founded in the 1850’s.

More details will follow as research continues. 

“The presence of the perfume and cologne add a new, human dimension to the finds inside the bow,” noted Dr. Rouja. 

The team co-leaders, Dr. Rouja, NOAA’s Dr. James Delgado, and the Waitt Institute’s Dr. Dominique Rissolo, believe the wine, shoes and perfume were placed inside the bow, in an area used by the crew to store spare equipment, rope and paint, to evade Confederate government inspectors when the steamer ran the U.S. Government imposed blockade of its rebellious southern states during the American Civil War. 

Bermuda was a central transshipment point during the blockade years of 1862-1865.  Luxury items were banned by the Confederates in 1864 as the maritime stranglehold of the blockade led to shortages of food, munitions and uniforms for the Confederate armies, but the promise of up to a 700% profit for illicit cargo like the wine, perfume and shoes – the latter a rare commodity in the war-torn south – or the gratitude of family and friends of the crew reportedly led to contraband stashes such as the one found inside Mary Celestia.

Jean-Pierre Rouja of LookBermuda / LookFilms who are producing a Documentary on the project  says: “The article on the National Geographic website confirms that this is not just a local story. With the recent global interest in shipwreck wine and champagne and the current 150th anniversary of the Civil War, our film will have International appeal to the exact Demographic that Bermuda is trying to attract, and this is just the beginning of the PR that we are generating for this project.

We are now in the next phase of the production coordinating with the Charleston Historical Society as this is where the ships owners were based and are contributing to a series of articles in their local papers.

The upcoming sampling of the wine will become an International Media event in of itself as we are assembling a group of international wine experts / celebrities for that purpose. Once we identify it’s most likely origin we will be following that story line as well.

Jim Butterfield, one of the films sponsors says: “This international exposure helps showcase Bermuda’s most incredible marine environment which has world class wreck sites for divers and those that like to snorkel in shallow water".

For More Information please see the project blog: