150-Year-Old Perfume Found In Shipwreck

August 19, 2011 | 6 Comments

Analysis of the artifacts excavated from the Mary Celestia shipwreck 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. Philippe Rouja, Conservator of Historic Wrecks [pictured below] 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.

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The perfume discovery announcement 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 – which have to be at least 147 years old – 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.

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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 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.

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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.

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.

Jim Butterfield, one of the films sponsors, said, “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”.

This project is being filmed by LookBermuda/LookFilms as part of their upcoming film about the Mary-Celestia and Blockade Running. As well as being broadcast in Bermuda and the US the film will be made available to the island schools via the LookBermuda Educational Media Foundation.

All photos courtesy of Look Bermuda/Chris Burville. For more information visit www.mary-celestia.com

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  1. Shipwreck Featured On National Geographic : Bernews.com | October 25, 2011
  1. Weldon Wade says:

    Awesome find!

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  2. James Delgado says:

    It is great to see the latest news on this exciting project being shared with everyone in Bermuda, and it is a pleasure and a privilege to work cooperatively with our friends and colleagues there. I wanted to add that Dr. Rouja is doing a tremendous job on behalf of Bermuda's heritage and tourism. The National Museum of Bermuda, headed by our friend and colleague Dr. Edward Harris, is also another internationally known organization and example of why Bermuda is renowned as one of the world's great wreck diving destinations as well as a repository of unique and significant underwater cultural heritage.

    - James Delgado, Director, Maritime Heritage Program for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

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  3. Very exciting find. Congrats to Conservation Services for the recovery.

    http://www.treasurechasers.com

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  4. Justin says:

    Wow. That is truly an amazing find. I have half a mind to try to smell some Florida Water when I get the chance- I want to know what perfume tastes were popular 150 years ago! That goes in and out of style like anything else. Right now, the light, airy, semi-fruity fragrances seem to be in style. So many women wear D+G Light Blue right now, for example. 30 years ago, heavier, oriental style scents like Yves St Laurent's Opium were the norm. I actually read a book about the fragrance - "Orgasme... Made in France" by Robert Miller (http://rhmiller.com). It got me interested in the history of perfume making and the trends of the industry. I really am curious as to what Florida Water smells like!

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  5. Florida Water is a light, bright, citrus-floral cologne. Some brands add more spice than others do, usually cinnamon. Murray & Lanman (or Lanmann & Kemp-Barclay) makes a fresh, light Florida water which is not very heavy on the spice. It's rather similar to another, even older, grand classic cologne - 4711. Pleasant to use by both men and women. Nice and fresh!

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