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Wine found on Marie Celestia wreck

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Public Works Minister Derrick Burgess smiles as he looks at a 147-year-old bottle of wine pulled from the wreck of the US Civil War blockade runner <I>Marie Celestia</I> last week.

Five bottles of unopened wine stashed on the Marie Celestia shipwreck hint at shipmates “making a little money on the side” in the trans-Atlantic black market.A team of international archaeologists has discovered the cart of bottles hidden in the bow of the ship 147 years after she sank off South Shore.The discovery suggests the blockade ship, which was used to transport guns to British-backed Confederate forces during the US Civil War, was involved in the illegal wine trade.The wine, which looks like it has been re-bottled and re-corked, is said to bring a “human story” to the ship, which took about seven minutes to sink in 1864. It is understood that the illegal contraband was stashed in the ship’s bow to keep it out of sight from the ship’s captain and federal inspectors. The “very human story” is said to tie in with the sailing term: ‘one hand for yourself, one hand for the ship’.Public Works Minister Derrick Burgess announced at a press conference yesterday that diving expeditions had excavated the bottles of wine from the site. The international team has been working with Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services. Mr Burgess said this announcement had been “150 years in the making”. He said: “What they have found is fascinating a secret stash of five bottles of unopened wine, lodged inside the wreck which lay hidden since September 6, 1864.“The Mary Celestia is a wreck with historical significance to the United Kingdom, where she was built, Bermuda, where she operated out of and where she wrecked, and the United States, where she ran as a blockade runner during the US Civil War.“And for this project to take place so close to the anniversary of the American Civil War gives the discovery all the more resonance.”Mr Burgess added: “This project is very exciting from so many perspectives from an archeological point of view, for our local marine heritage and for the compelling history that will no doubt be of interest to our residents and visitors alike.”The international team was brought in after Bermuda Government Curator of Wrecks Philippe Rouja found one bottle of wine in January after a series of winter storms churned up the seabed around the site. It meant parts of the ship were exposed that had been buried under sand for years.The crate was found with the five bottles on their side. Investigations are continuing to try to establish what kind of wine it is. The bottles are said to have a “sweet smell” which suggests they could be a fortified wine.The liquid inside the bottles is clear and they fizzed a little on recovery.Whatever the type of wine, the experts at the press conference agreed: “It’s probably not as tasteful as it once was.”The expeditions have also unearthed a couple of leather shoes.James Delgado, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) director of marine heritage, said it was exciting that they had accessed our heritage in a “real and tangible” way.He said: “We all thought it was the rusted iron bones of a wreck, little did we realise what lurked inside the bow.“This speaks powerfully about what history is all about. It demonstrates why history matters and why it is important.”Dr Delgado said it not only brought the three nations of Bermuda, US and the UK together, but also the people of the world.He added that Bermuda was “doing a wonderful job” of preserving its shipwrecks.Dr Rouja said bringing the artefacts to dry land had been “a very delicate operation”. He said they had managed to do it in a matter of days because of recent “immaculate weather”.Dr Rouja said: “The hidden gold in this shipwreck story is this wine.“It’s started to pull together a story, a very personal story we look forward to elaborating in the future.”The excavation project is being filmed by Look Bermuda. The company hopes to make a film about the Mary Celestia and blockade running, which will be shown to schoolchildren.US Consul Grace Shelton and Drew Pettit, director of conservation services, were also in attendance at yesterday’s press conference.Part of Look Bermuda’s underwater film footage aired showing the first time human hands had touched the wine in 147 years.

Excavation slowly reveals sealed wine bottles inside an intact wooden crate buried inside the bow of the 1864 blockade runner Mary Celestia.Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA
Philippe Rouja and James Delgado excavate inside the bow of the 1864 blockade runner Mary Celestia.Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA
The archaeological team works around the bow of the 1864 blockade runner Mary Celestia as the interior is excavated.Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA