So far, the first recorded merchant dereliction in the Bermuda Triangle was the French ship Rosalie. In official and unofficial records she is quite an enigma. The London Times reported her as being found derelict in the Bahamas. The article for the 6th of November is dated August 27, 1840, and states she “was discovered to be completely abandoned. The greater part of her sails were set, and she did not appear to have sustained any damage. The cargo, comprised of wines, fruits, silks, &c., was of a very considerable value, and was in the most perfect condition. The captain’s papers were all secure in their proper place. . . .The only living things found on board were a cat, some fowls, and several canaries half dead with hunger. The cabins of the officers and passengers were elegantly furnished, and everything indicated they had only recently been deserted. In one of them was found several articles belonging to a lady’s toilet, together with a quantity of ladies wearing apparel thrown hastily aside, but not a human being was to be found on board. . . .She is very large, recently built, and called the Rosalie.”
This Times story seems an amalgam of 2 separate incidents: the grounding of the Rossini in the Old Bahama Channel and the actual Rosalie. The Rossini was a simple case of a crew abandoning a ship because it ran aground. She then floated free and drifted eerily along without a crew. She was then picked up at sea by the British coasters, Sunflower and Resolute, who in turn towed her to Nassau, where she was quite a puzzlement since they had not known how she came to be derelict. Her crew, however, had been rescued and were safe in Cuba.
As for the Rosalie The British Maritime Museum holds records for her, via the records of an insurance company. This lists the Rosalie as having been built in 1838, of 222 feet wood. According to this, her fate was “missing.” She vanished somewhere, presumably in the area of the Sargasso Sea in 1840. However, this insurance company, 40 Acres and Mule, registered this information over a century after the incident. They do not state where they got it.
In trying to account for the Rosalie, several have tried to claim that she was the same as the Rossini. There is, however, very little similar in their accounts. The Rossini did not carry a cargo of silks and fruit and wines (a very French cargo). The procurators of Her Majesty’s Vice Admiralty Court were more interested in what to do with a cargo of perishable cured hams. Nothing is said of fruit, a far more perishable commodity, or wine, a far more valuable one.
Lloyd’s Lists, notorious for repeating mistakes told them (they usually corrected them, however), reports that the derelict Rossini was brought into Havana on 5th of September. However, the Vice Admiralty Court proceedings still reside in Nassau. Rossini was brought into Nassau a derelict. This much is proven. The ship brought into Havana must have been another, quite possibly the elusive Rosalie. One perhaps can affix blame to both the London Times and Lloyds in mixing up the ports, names and dates of two different incidents. Other mistakes are obvious. Rossini was definitely headed from Hamburg to Havana. The Times article says that this was the course for Rosalie. In actuality, her course was Brest to New Orleans according to the insurance company.
However, due to the trouble in getting documents out of Cuba, it may be best to go over a few other inconsistencies in the story to highlight that more than one ship is involved in the “legend.”
For example, Lloyd’s agents in Havana said the Rossini ran aground on the Muares in the Old Bahama Channel on the 3rd of August and found on the 17th. The London Times said that their information regarding the Rosalie came by letter from their Nassau correspondent on the 27th of August. This is 2 days after the Rossini was towed into Nassau. This does suggest that the Rossini inspired the Times article. “The greater part of her sails were set,” it read. “The vessel, which must have been left within a very few hours, contained several bales of goods addressed to different merchants in Havannah.” This now no longer sounds like the Rossini. By this time it had been derelict since the 3rd of August when it had run aground in Cuba. It had not recently been abandoned. The article also says the cat, canaries and other fowl were half dead with starvation. The captain’s papers were found in their place. If this was Rossini, by this time the animals would be dead. The ship’s papers are also something that any captain would take with him, as they identify him, his cargo, his ship, etc., to the local authorities. It seems unlikely the Rossini’s captain would have left his papers aboard ship. The crew would furl the sails and cast the anchor before abandoning a grounded ship unless, of course, they thought they were sinking. But that would have been easy to determine quickly.
If, however, the Rosalie was suddenly abandoned north of Cuba in late August while on its way to New Orleans, then its papers might still have been aboard ship, and when found any livestock aboard might still be alive, though famished. It is also possible that the Rosalie merely vanished. Perhaps the reporter in Nassau confused the names of a missing ship with the derelict ship. Yet there may be another derelict ship involved. Then there is the problem with the Lloyds report. They reported that the Rossini was brought in derelict into Havana on the 5th of September. We know this is wrong. The VAC Proceedings at Nassau began on the 25th, and were concluded by the 30th. What ship was actually brought into port?
When, on the 5th of September, a derelict ship was towed into Havana, did Lloyds agents merely assume it was the Rossini because she had been reported as having run aground the month before? It is certain Rossini was towed to Nassau. What ship was towed into Havana?
Now that the work of Commander S.D. Sigsbee is getting more attention, we can well imagine more than one derelict can be found in the same general vicinity. His work, Wrecks and Derelicts of the North Atlantic, published in 1894, covered 7 years of studying derelicts in the North Atlantic. Between 1887 and 1893, 1,628 were reported, most being found in the area we today delineate for The Bermuda Triangle. It is very easy indeed to believe that in 1840, when there was little academic interest in assessing North Atlantic travel, that many hundreds vanished or were found derelict that had never been documented let alone investigated or by any true meaning of the word.
It will be difficult if not impossible to shed light on these many obscure cases or even to flesh out the accounts that have come down to us quite confused.