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Reading Comprehension for Grade 4

The Mary Celeste

The Mary Celeste, a sailing ship, was built in 1861 in Nova Scotia, Canada. It was at first named The Amazon. On its first voyage, it was badly damaged in an accident. While workers were repairing the ship, it caught fire. In 1863, it hit another ship. Four years later, The Amazon ran aground off the Canadian coast. The ship was damaged again and they had to rebuild it. The ship’s owners renamed it Mary Celeste’.

On November 5th, 1872, Mary Celeste sailed from New York and headed for Genoa in northern Italy. On the 4th of December of that year, about halfway between the Azores and the Portuguese coast, another ship, Dei Gratia, sighted Mary Celeste. There was something strange about the way it was sailing.

The captain of Dei Gratia hailed the ship. When the captain did not get any response, he sent out some men in a small boat to investigate. After a while, his men returned, pale and shaken. They had found no one on board Mary Celeste, nor were there any clues as to what might have happened.

The ship’s papers and the captain’s navigation instruments were missing. Only the logbook was still aboard but there had been no entries in it for the past ten days. There was plenty of food and water, and there seemed to have been no violence. There was no fire or smoke damage anywhere on board. Nor was there any evidence that the ship had nearly capsized. In fact, the men had found Mary Celeste in good sailing order.

However, a lifeboat was missing and the things left behind showed that the people on board Mary Celeste had left the ship in a hurry. The crew had left behind jewelry, money and other valuable items. There was also an unfinished letter, the remains of a half-eaten breakfast and the captain’s watch, which was found in the main cabin. Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife, their two-year-old daughter and a crew of seven had been aboard Mary Celeste, but they were never found.

Many explanations have been given for their disappearance. It has been suggested that pirates boarded the ship and killed the crew. However, it seems odd that they did not steal the cargo or take any valuables.

Another explanation was that the crew had murdered the captain and his family, and then somehow escaped to another vessel. But there is no proof to support this story. There were no signs of a struggle on board, and if the crew had escaped, some of them would surely have turned up later.

Yet another theory was that the captain and his crew panicked, possibly because they mistakenly believed the Mary Celeste was taking on water. Thinking that the ship might be sinking, they took to the lifeboat. While they were waiting to see what happened, a storm blew up. The lifeboat sank and everyone drowned, leaving the Mary Celeste to sail on alone, a ghost ship.

There were other, more improbable, theories offered for the disappearance of everyone aboard the Mary Celeste, but none of the explanations could be proved, and no one really knows what happened on that sailing ship. Investigations were carried out but, until today, the fate of the people aboard Mary Celeste remains a mystery.

  • Rearrange the following events in the order in which they happened according to the text.
    A. Mary Celeste sailed from New York.
    B. The Amazon was built.
    C. The Amazon was renamed as Mary Celeste.
    D. The Amazon caught fire.
    E. Dei Gratia sighted Mary Celeste.
    F. The Amazon ran aground off the Canadian coast.
  • Why were the men who were sent to investigate the Mary Celeste ‘pale and shaken’ when they returned?
  • Write a summary of the theories that have been given regarding the cause of the disappearance of the Mary Celeste in no more than 70 words. You may start with the following words.

    It was suggested that…..

Answer Scheme

  • B -> D -> F -> C -> A -> E
  • This is because they had not found anyone on board the Mary Celeste. Also, they had not found any clues as to what might have happened.
  • It was suggested that pirates boarded the Mary Celeste and killed the crew. Another theory proposed was that the crew had murdered the captain and family, after which they escaped to another vessel. A third theory was that the captain and the crew panicked as they mistakenly believed that the ship was sinking, and took to a lifeboat. A storm then blew up, sinking the lifeboat and killing everyone.

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