5. Shipwrecks

Portrait of John Dean, hero of the Sussex.
Portrait of John Dean, hero of the Sussex.

Portrait of John Dean, hero of the Sussex.

The greatest danger faced by the seamen was shipwreck. Tragedies at sea, with stories of great suffering and heroism, captured the imagination of the public, and were widely reported in newspapers, journals, novels and pamphlets.

John Dean (shown here), who worked for the East India Company in the 1700s, is famous for surviving two disasters. After his ship, The Sussex , was abandoned by its Captain, Dean managed to help steer it to Madagascar. There the ship was fixed, and Dean sailed it on to Mozambique in Africa, but it was wrecked on the way.

Even if a crew member managed to survive a shipwreck and get to shore, it was very hard indeed to get to safety. When the Grosvenor was wrecked on the South African coast in 1782, its 123 survivors had to walk 1000 miles to the Dutch settlements at the Cape. Only 16 of them survived the 117 day journey. The ship was known to be carrying large amounds of gold, silver and precious stones - and the legend of this still undiscovered treasure lived on for many years.