“The Date-Book of Remarkable and Memorable Events connected with Nottingham and its neighbourhood” by John Frost Sutton does not disappoint with its entry for August 18 1761:
“Death of John Deane, Esquire, at his residence at Wilford, in the 82nd year of his age. Captain Deane was born in the reign of Charles II, in the year 1679, and was the youngest son of a gentleman of moderate fortune living in Nottingham. When he attained a proper age for business he took the strange fancy of being apprenticed to a butcher. He was not satisfied with this, but being bold and spirited, he became associated with a gang of poachers and deer stealers. At length, dreading detection, he thought it prudent to go to sea.
In this new occupation Deane was happy in his job, and there is strong reason for believing that he was with Sir George Rooke at the capture of Gibraltar, where he was raised for his bravery to the rank of a naval captain.
Here is the striking shape of the “Rock of Gibraltar”:
In 1710, when laid up and without employment, Deane, along with his father and brother, purchased a vessel which they named, The Nottingham Galley. After filling the ship with merchandise, Captain Deane took command and sailed for North America.
Here is that happy, happy ship:
The ship was unfortunately wrecked on the New England coast.
Here is a sketch from the time:
The crew landed with great difficulty on a barren island.
The island was actually called Boon Island, and was well known as a very good place to die:
Deane and his crew were destitute of both clothes and provisions, the sea having swallowed up everything. Here they remained for twenty-six days exposed to severe hunger and cold. Three of the seamen perished, and the survivors were driven to the horrid and revolting necessity of feeding upon one of the dead bodies.
“Here we are!! Come and get it! Raw leg again!!”
On the 5th of January, 1711, a vessel came near enough to perceive their signals, and when despair had almost driven them mad, they were providentially rescued.”
A number of websites attach a great importance to this shipwreck, given its almost four weeks of bleak, desperate horror.
A good example would be ‘boonislander’ or Stephen Erickson, who, in his own words, is a resident of Portsmouth in New Hampshire and a co-author of a new book on the wreck of the Nottingham Galley, the splendidly titled Boon Island: A True Story of Mutiny, Shipwreck and Cannibalism. He wrote:
“The Nottingham Galley is one of the most important episodes in maritime history for a number of reasons. It may have been the most well-known shipwreck controversy prior to the Bounty mutiny. The story is famous for cannibalism; they ate the ship’s carpenter.
No shipwreck castaways were ever less prepared for the subfreezing temperature they were forced to endure, and lived to tell about it; they were without food, freezing, and compelled to lie for weeks at a time, huddled together on solid rock. “
The shipwrecked men had certainly been forced to rely on their own ingenuity. A piece of sail provided a shelter of sorts and there was enough cheese soaked in salt water to last around a week. Ironically, the first to die was the cook. They respectfully consigned him to the waves. The next to go was the ship’s carpenter. He was out of luck, because by now they were hungry enough to eat him, allegedly wrapped in pieces of seaweed.
They were unable to light a fire, so it had to be raw. What a pity they were never able to kill a seal and eat that.
For those of you interested in the precise details of gastronomy, the usual tale is that:
“they hacked off the feet and hands, gutted the bodies and then cut them into quarters like a pig or a cow.”
“Wrap in raw seaweed and serve at Atlantic Ocean temperature. Serves up to a dozen.”
Later, despite severe frostbite for those who had not yet eaten their own hands and feet, the men tried to build a boat, but it sank and took two men with it. A second boat fared equally badly but a corpse drifted to the mainland and alerted the locals as to what was happening on Boon Island. They were finally rescued in the early days of January 1711.