a boy I remember a school friend pointing to a iron-railed tomb in Wilford
Churchyard and muttering ‘Thats the grave of a pirate’. Some 20 years
later I’ve found the description does appear to be vaguely accurate but
I think the tomb should really be referred to as ‘the grave of an adventurer’.
John Deane was born in Nottingham in 1679. Despite
being the son of a comfortably wealthy ‘gentleman’, Deane took the unusual
step of working as a drover. A profession considered below his families
stature that no doubt raised a few eye brows at the time. Not long
afterwards he started to poach deer from local estates. This was
the pivotol moment in his life. With game keepers closing in, Deane decided
things were getting to hot for him in Nottingham. He ran away to
sea and joined the Royal Navy.
In 1704 Deane participated in the siege of the Spanish sea
port, Gibraltar. It was captured by the Royal Navy and still remains
in British hands to this day. Sir George Rooke was so impressed by Deanes
ability that he promoted him to the rank of Captain. He was still
He later left the Navy and decided to go into the business
of Merchant Shipping. In 1709 he bought his own ship and named it
the ‘Nottingham Galley’. The Galley set sail from London for Boston
in 1710 with Deane in command. He intended to sail to North America
and trade his cargo of 'cordage'. On the 11th of December the
ship was wrecked of the coast of New England, the survivors scrambled onto
a small, inhospitable rock called Boon Island. The rock measured
a mere 100 X 50 yards (91 metres X 48 metres). The crew were marooned
there for 26 days with nothing to eat, nothing to burn and only a piece
of canvas to protect them from the elements before being rescued.
They managed to survive for such a long period by resorting to cannabalism,
eating dead crew mates. The story created a sensation rivalled in
its time only by the Mutiny On The Bounty some years later.
from the Maine State Museum have recently explored the wreck site. Nine
cannons and numerous fuses and cannon balls have been salvaged from the
wreck. The museum has kindly promised to donate one of the cannons to Wilford
once they have been suitably treated after nearly 300 years under the ocean.
One of the crew proclaimed Deane, had been responsible
for the disaster which Deane equally loudly denied. The mate, Christopher
Langman accused Deane of deliberately trying to wreck the ship to claim
its insurance value. Langman's description of Deane also makes Captain
Bligh look soft. Langman alleged Deane had beat some of the crew
during the voyage until he had 'disabled several of them' and 'knocked
down one dead'. He disputed almost every line of John Deane's account
of the wrecking and no doubt damaged Deanes reputation. Langman is
referred to as 'a liar and a coward' who 'hated Deane with an abysmal hatred'
by the well respected the historical novelist, Kenneth Roberts. The
dispute fueled the fire of the story even more. After returning to
Nottingham, his brother Dr Jasper Deane took the loss of the ship very
badly after investing so much of his money into the enterprise. Eventually
a ferocious argument erupted between the two brothers. A scuffle
developed and Jasper Deane collapsed and died from a ruptured blood vessel
after being pushed away by John Deane. This no doubt added more mileage
to the excited interest in the story.
In 1714 John Deane joined Peter The Greats new Russian navy.
Deane probably went to Russia to escape his ‘Boon Island’ reputation. Many
other Europeans with a past to leave behind also decided to take advantage
of the opportunities offered in a modernising Russia. The Czar needed
experienced naval officers for his war with Sweden. Deane was given
command of a frigate and established himself as an bold and effective commerce
raider. It is from these activities attacking merchant shipping that
he probably somewhere got the label of a ‘pirate’. The Great Northern
War between Russia and Sweden raged for 21 years between 1700 and 1721.
After a number of defeats, Russia managed to acquire parts of the Baltic.
Deane remained in the Russian navy until the end of the war. Captain
Deane was credited with capturing a score of enemy ships as prizes although
he was evetually court martialled for losing a futher two prize ships.
The American historian, Richard Warner, belives the court martial was the
product of a conspiracy by Russian officers, jealous of Deane's success.
The Czar is alledged to have intervened to reduce Deane's sentence from
a long period in the harsh conditions of Siberia to a single years detention.
During his time in Russia, John Deane wrote two important documents describing
the Russian Navy. They were titled ‘A History Of The Russian Fleet
During The Reign Of Peter The Great’ written in 1724 and ‘The History
Continued to The Commencement Of 1725’.
Spy & Diplomat
Deane returned to Europe and for a while and then returned
to Russia as a British spy. He helped gather information on Jacobite
groups (even breaking thier coded letters ) and Russian naval strength
until late 1726. He soon after took advantage of his Boon Island
fame to become the British Consul for Ostend & Flaunders. He
remained as a diplomat for 17 years before returning to Nottigham to retire
in Wilford. According to a feature in the Nottingham Evening Post
Deane continued his spying activities for the first 10 years of his time
in Ostend & Flaunders.