Sunday, October 31, 2010

James B. Chester

James B. Chester, February 28, 1855.

Sometimes erroneously referred to as the James Cheston. (Group, pp. 22.)

On February 28, 1855, in the general vicinity of the Azores, the crew of the merchantman Marathon sighted the bark James B. Chester. The bark was sailing erratically, as if no one was at the helm, and did not answer hails.

Mate Thomas boarded her and found her deserted, as if in a great hurry. The cabins had evidently been ransacked: Tables and chairs were overturned and clothes and books lying around. The ship's papers and compass were missing, but the wool cargo and provisions were still there.

The captain of the Marathon had a prize crew take the Chester to the Albert Docks in Liverpool. There the Chester became a spooky tourist attraction.

There was a lot of speculation as to what had happened to the crew of the Chester on the lonely expanse of the Atlantic, but every theory met with objections. Pirates or mutiny might explain the chaos on board, but what about the lack of blood? The crew might have looted the ship, but what was missing was not really worth abandoning a ship for an open boat in the middle of the ocean. Some said a giant octopus might have gotten the crew and ransacked the cabins in the process, which usually serves as the springboard for the mystics to suggest that then the Atlanteans might have gotten them just as well. (Snow, Mysteries and Adventures Along the Atlantic Coast, pp. 308.)

Some claim that none of the boats were missing. (Chaplin, p. 32.)

Group specifies that the three-masted bark James B. Chester was found some 1,100 kilometers southwest of the Azores.

Could the crew have so misjudged the condition of the ship as to take to the lifeboats in a storm? Or had some unknown terror driven the crew overboard?

Group found the answer in the archives of The New York Times. It had in vain been waiting there to be found by any sensationalist writer who cared to do a thorough search.

April 3: The news that the Marathon found the Chester reaches New York. The cargo is valued at $150,000. Someone tried to bore holes into the hull. Two out of three boats were missing. It is believed that the crew murdered the captain and fled. Another article on the same page reports that the crew of the James Cheston [sic] was picked up by the Two Friends on March 15.

April 6: The owners are notified that the captain arrived in Wilmington, Delaware.

April 10: Eight crewmembers of the Chester disembarked the Dutch ship Two Friends in Savannah on April 7 and were arrested for murder.

April 11: Two crewmembers testify that the captain was sick, bored holes into the hull with the mates, and offered hush money to other crewmembers. One sailor states there was only one foot of water in the hold, not seven as the log claims. Captain White of the Chester arrives in Boston and denies any knowledge of the holes in the hull and asserts the crew abandoned the ship because she was in danger of sinking.

April 12: Captain White and the Mates Chason and Packwood are arrested for barratry. Six crewmembers testify that there was only one foot of water in the hold and that nothing else was wrong with the ship. The article hints that rum may be to blame for the whole affair.

April 13: The two mates accuse the captain of unnecessarily abandoning the ship, as there was only one foot of water in the hold and she was seaworthy. A crewman calls the voyage a "Bacchanalian frolic."

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Bella, April 6, 1854.

According to Berlitz, the Bella was a schooner abandoned in the West Indies. (Berlitz, Without a Trace, p. 21.)

As Kusche observes, this case originates with Harold Wilkins (Wilkins, Strange Mysteries of Time and Space, pp. 7.), who did not give any sources. The London Times and standard works on shipwrecks don't mention the Bella. Lloyd's confirms she existed, built in Liverpool in 1852 and bound for Brazil, but doesn't mention any accident. (Kusche, Bermuda Triangle Mystery, pp. 28.)

The "strange mystery of time and space" Wilkins means is not the Bermuda Triangle. It is rather the Roger Tichborne mystery. Tichborne was lost with the Bella, and the mystery was an imposter claiming to be him.

Wilkins writes that the Bella was overloaded to the point that her cabin furniture was stowed on deck to make room for cargo. She was bound for Kingston, Jamaica. Six days after the Bella had sailed from Rio de Janeiro, another ship found wreckage on her presumed course, including an overturned long boat marked, "Bella, Liverpool." The night before the wreckage was found, the weather had been gusty, but not stormy.

Although Wilkins does not mention where the wreckage was found, Kusche calculates that in six days the Bella could not have sailed farther than Cape San Roque.

So whatever happened to the Bella, as far as the Bermuda Triangle is concerned, the mystery is solved: She met her fate in the South Atlantic, far from the Triangle. This is not a Bermuda Triangle mystery.